When the folks at Churchill Downs dreamed up the Kentucky Derby points system, I was skeptical at first. Not anymore. It has worked by producing fields of in-form horses that, for the most part, also are bred to race two turns.
“Super Saturday” will solidify the Derby field for many. The top two finishers of the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby and will make the Derby starting gate for sure.
The third-place finishers will earn 20 points, which for now will put them on the bubble. If they had points to start with, then the 20 is gravy.
In the Wood, Irish War Cry will try to redeem himself off a miserable race in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Graham Motion picked a good spot for redemption. The Wood field is full of horses with potential. But only Irish War Cry has a big win on his resume in the Holy Bull.
Mo Town is another colt looking to rebound for his trainer, Anthony Dutrow. He was a badly beaten favorite in the Risen Star. He has been training brilliantly for this.
Two lightly raced colts — Battalion Runner and Cloud Computing — appear capable of a minor upset. Their trainers, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, are in dire need of Derby points.
The Blue Grass drew only seven horses, but on paper is the strongest of the three Derby preps.
McCraken (7-5), undefeated in four starts, figures to take some beating. He had to skip the Tampa Bay Derby because of a minor ailment. McCraken has 20 points, so he needs to finish no worse than fourth to make the Derby.
Tapwrit (5-2) lost to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa, but then won the Tampa Bay Derby in a big way. That win takes the pressure off him in the Blue Grass. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, could have five or six starters in the Derby.
Practical Joke (7-2) wintered at Gulfstream Park, so he will be a barometer of the South Florida form.
The Santa Anita Derby would have been a six-horse field had San Felipe winner Mastery not gotten hurt. With Mastery out, the field doubled in size.
This is the last Derby stand for trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill. Baffert entered three horses and O’Neill four. It would be hard to imagine a Kentucky Derby with neither trainer involved.
This is a rebound race for several horses who bombed in their Derby prep last time out.
American Anthem ran awful as the chalk in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. Thus, Baffert wheels him right back in here. Royal Mo ran with American Anthem in the Rebel, which in this case is bad form.
Gormley and So Conflated also were demolished last time out.
The one horse I haven’t knocked is Iliad, who ran second to Mastery in the San Felipe. He remains a horse with huge upside.
My picks are Irish War Cry in the Wood, Tapwrit in the Blue Grass and Iliad in the Santa Anita Derby.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. You can buy his Santa Anita Park picks at racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @richeng4propick on Twitter.