weather icon Clear

Trainer Baffert holds pair of aces in Kentucky Derby

Trainer Bob Baffert has two good reasons to feel confident about winning his fourth Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday. They are American Pharoah (5-2) and Dortmund (3-1).

He has two aces in the hole, while other trainers are holding jacks and 10s. But as we have learned through history, the Kentucky Derby rarely goes as planned.

If the Derby is run like a ballet, American Pharoah will win. He is poetry in motion. If it’s a street fight, which it is more often, then I prefer Dortmund.

Dortmund is a huge 17-hands horse. Smaller horses will bounce off him like Nerf balls as he motors his way around.

Both Baffert horses have early speed, but they will not duel one another. One will lead and one will stalk. I’m guessing the latter would be Dortmund.

As brilliant as American Pharoah has been, he has not been tested. It’s not his fault because no one can get near him. However, the Kentucky Derby seldom is won the way War Emblem (2002) did, nearly unopposed, wire to wire.

Typically there is a contested early pace. That is followed by half the field falling apart from the top of the stretch as horses either tire or discover they’re not bred to go this far. That’s when a host of long-shot plodders close through the field.

I had liked Carpe Diem (8-1) as a contender until he drew post 2. His jockey John Velazquez now has few options inside a 20-horse field, and none of them are good.

A horse I believe can pair up big races is Frosted (15-1). He won the Wood Memorial with style under Joel Rosario. He sat back and made one run. If he can repeat his Wood race, he might give the Baffert colts their money’s worth.

Then there is Firing Line (12-1). He twice came within inches of beating Dortmund in the Los Alamitos Futurity and Robert Lewis. If you like Dortmund, you should like Firing Line, too.

In every Derby, there are long shots that close from far back to finish in the money. Four deep closers I am going to use in vertical wagers include Danzig Moon (30-1), International Star (20-1), Keen Ice (50-1) and War Story (50-1).

If one of them can finish in the money with Dortmund, I most likely will cash a vertical bet or two.

Dortmund has the physique that could hold up to the grueling nature of three Triple Crown races in five weeks. We have not had a Triple Crown champion in 36 years since Affirmed in 1978.

Odds are we are not going to have one this year either, no matter how easily the Derby is won.

The hype on American Pharoah has been over the top. It’s been fueled by two things. Baffert has called the horse the best he’s ever trained, and he has trained a lot of great ones.

Then highly respected Southern California clocker Gary Young compared American Pharoah to Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew (1977). That’s like calling Bryce Harper the next Babe Ruth.

First, let’s get through Saturday to see if Baffert’s pair of aces is good enough to win the pot.

ENG’S PICKS — Dortmund, Frosted, American Pharoah, International Star, Firing Line

■ PINCAY APPEARANCE — Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. will be at the Green Valley Ranch race book Saturday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. He will be available for autographs and photos.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Sports Betting Spotlight Videos
Irish War Cry due for good race, pick to win Belmont

With Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness champion Cloud Computing skipping the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the Triple Crown races will produce three different winners for the second consecutive year.

This weekend is filled with festival-style horse racing

Today the trend is for racetracks to cluster their stakes in a festival-style program. Thus, the Met Mile will be among nine graded stakes on the Belmont Stakes card June 10.

Always Dreaming’s Preakness run proves ‘horses are human’

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming by various accounts came bouncing out of Churchill Downs in good order. His Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher felt good about his preparation.

Kentucky Derby offers clues for Preakness winner

Always Dreaming is the horse the racing industry will be rooting for. A win in the Preakness sets up another Triple Crown chance in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Preakness questions immediately face Always Dreaming

After Always Dreaming crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby, the first question was, “Is he good enough to win the Triple Crown.”

McCraken gets nod to win Kentucky Derby

Many experts are calling this the most wide-open Kentucky Derby in years. When I hear that, I get cynical. Wide open was in 2009 when Mine That Bird destroyed the field at 50-1 odds.

Kentucky Derby week means betting seminars in Las Vegas

The Kentucky Derby attracts the most novice and casual bettors of any race in our sport. With that in mind, there are all kinds of free Derby seminars next week.

Patience is necessary for future bets in horse racing

I love making future bets, not only in horse racing but also other sports. That’s because horseplayers learn a basic tenet early on. Our goal is to bet a little to win a lot.

‘Super Saturday’ should solidify Kentucky Derby field for many horses

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, are also bred to race two turns.