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Inscrutable Kentucky Derby picture may begin to clear

Updated January 16, 2020 - 6:18 pm

The early outlook for the Kentucky Derby is cloudy, very cloudy.

I’m not talking about the weather, which expected to be “fair, quite cool, with a dry track” in the Louisville area on the first Saturday in May, according to Sandi Duncan, managing editor at the Farmer’s Almanac.

I’m speaking of the lack of any solid favorite as we set off down the Road to the Triple Crown.

Usually the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner automatically assumes the mantle of early Derby favorite. But 45-1 long shot Storm the Court’s head victory on a deep Santa Anita track that many horses struggled over left many wondering if he’s the real deal. The 8-5 favorite, Iroqouis Stakes winner Dennis’ Moment, stumbled at the break and never got involved. Meanwhile, Eight Rings, the Bob Baffert-trained winner of the American Pharoah Stakes and second choice at 5-2, pressed the pace before fading.

Maxfield, who would have been among the favorites, was scratched before the race with what was described as an issue with his right front leg and subsequently underwent surgery to remove a chip from an ankle. The colt is back at the track and could still make the Derby field if all goes well over the next few months.

Champagne Stakes winner Tiz the Law led the individual entry betting in the first Kentucky Derby futures pool in December, closing at 12-1 and trailing only the ever popular “all other 3-year-olds” at even money. But his star lost some luster with a third-place finish next out in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Other horses have staked a claim as favorite, including Kentucky Jockey Club winner Silver Prospector, Jerome Stakes conqueror Independence Hall and Authenticate, another 3-year-old from the bottomless Baffert barn, who triumphed in the Sham Stakes on Jan. 4.

The haze may begin to clear Saturday with the $200,000 LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds. On the other hand, the Derby picture could get even more inscrutable.

Scabbard, the 7-2 morning line favorite, may provide a useful measuring stick, as the runner-up in both the Saratoga Special and Iroquois Stakes finished a well-beaten fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If he runs well in the 1 1/16th-mile LeComte, the results of the Juvenile will look even more fluky.

#RJhorseracing featured races

Despite the blackout, the LeComte was irresistible to the #RJhorseracing handicappers, who will also attempt to decipher the $150,000 Toboggan Stakes (Grade 3), a 7-furlong test for older horses at Aqueduct.

In the latter, the handicapping crew is backing 2-1 morning line favorite Mind Control, who’s returning off a nearly five-month vacation. They have Sunny Ridge (9-2) and T Loves a Fight (5-1) tied for second.

Mind Control is a tough read here. He has a class edge over his competition but has been beaten twice returning from shorter layoffs while still running well.

I’ll go instead with Nicodemus (5-1), who’s shortening up in his second race back from a layoff, a maneuver that trainer Linda Rice used last year with success. I’ll go with Mind Control for second and T Loves a Fight to show.

In the LeComte, which drew a full field of 14, the crowd ‘cappers were deadlocked at deadline between 7-2 morning line favorite Scabbard and Silver State (5-1), who tries stakes company for the first time off two sharp races for trainer Steve Asmussen. They have Mr. Monomoy (9-2), a half-brother to 2018 champion filly Monomoy Girl, checking in third.

Scabbard has been facing the best in the division, but he’s also returning from a 2½-month layoff and may not be fully cranked up. I’ll try to beat him with Enforceable (15-1), who made up ground late on the Kentucky Jockey Club on a sloppy track and should get a solid pace to run at. I’ve got Scabbard to place and Mr. Monomoy to show.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Nevada bettors would not be able to wager on the LeComte Stakes.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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