Way too early picks for this year’s Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby, the shining star of North American Horse racing and the first jewel of the Triple Crown, will be taking place the first weekend of May. Every owner, trainer, and jockey in horse racing dreams of having a horse “Run for the Roses.” However, given that the race is restricted to 3-year-olds, even the fastest horses in the world have to make the best of just a few races to even qualify for the Derby. With the big day less than 5 months away, I will break down the current top contenders, give my picks for next year’s Derby, and predict which horse I think might have a shot at winning the big race
Qualifying for the Kentucky Derby is no easy matter. In order to even make it to post, Kentucky Derby hopefuls must first qualify by finishing in the top 4 of predetermined Kentucky Derby prep races. These races award points based on the horse’s finishing position, and as the Derby gets closer, the points awarded by these prep races increase.
So far, from the 8 prep races that have already been run, eFive Racing’s up and coming star GOOD MAGIC sits atop the leaderboard. Trained by East Coast Legend, Chad Brown, GOOD MAGIC’s already impressive start towards qualifying for the Kentucky Derby was spurred forward by his impressive victory in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile where he finished above the west coast superstars BOLT D’ORO and SOLOMINI. Although GOOD MAGIC has 24 points, both BOLT D’ORO trained by Mick Ruis and SOLOMINI trained by Bob Baffert are not far behind with 14 points apiece. All three of these horses look to be early favorites not only to qualify for the Derby but also to win. You would be hardpressed to find any serious horse racing fan that would be discounting any of these three at this point in the game, and early Vegas odds place all three as top contenders to win the big race.
Although those three stars are already well on their way toward the Kentucky Derby, many more horses look to earn their spot in the May 5th race. The most recent 2-year-old to win a Grade 1 stakes is the promising MCKINZIE, who, like SOLOMINI, is trained by the west coast’s top trainer Baffert. Although MCKINZIE won last week’s Los Alamitos Futurity, his victory was the result of controversy when he was awarded first place following the disqualification of SOLOMINI. Although SOLOMINI crossed the finish line first, he was dropped to 3rd place due to a stewards inquiry of illegal contact with the second place horse INSTILLED REGARD. Regardless of the controversy, the exciting stretch run demonstrated that all three of these horses have what it takes to run well against good competition and can be expected to be competitive in future Derby prep races.
With only one prep race remaining in the calendar year, horse racing fans can look forward to the 2018 campaign. On January 1st, every racehorse in America will officially turn one year older, meaning that the 2-year-old horses of today will officially become 3-year-olds for the 2018 calendar year. It is at this point that many horse racing fans believe that the road to the Triple Crown truly begins.
As we enter 2018, some horses already have some serious hype. One such horse is the Jonathan Thomas trained CATHOLIC BOY who is coming off a recent win in the Grade 2 Remsen. Although CATHOLIC BOY has already shown his ability by winning a graded stake on the turf, he proved that a surface change to dirt is no issue for him as he defeated impressive company including AVERY ISLAND. But CATHOLIC BOY isn’t the only horse with early points toward the Derby. FREE DROP BILLY, winner of Keeneland’s Breeder’s Futurity, also looks impressive early, however, to qualify for the Derby he will have to improve off of his disappointing performance at the Breeder’s Cup. ENTICED, who currently sits slightly ahead of FREE DROP BILLY in the Derby prep standings due in part to his win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes also looks tough to beat as we enter 2018.
However, the Derby will undoubtedly have underdogs as well. These horses, some of which may be maturing later than their peers, may not have even run in a graded stakes race yet. One such underdog is ST. PATRICK’S DAY, a full brother to 2015 Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH. Although he broke his maiden in September, he has not raced again since and has therefore not had a chance to face real competition, leaving many to doubt his chances in upcoming prep races. Another horse that has faced only maiden competition is the Todd Pletcher trained MONTAUK, who like the current favorite BOLT D’ORO, is a son of one of the top sires, MEDAGLIA D’ORO. PRINCIPE GUILHERME, another horse that has started just once, won impressively in that start and looks to bring trainer STEVE ASMUSSEN his first ever Kentucky Derby win; to do so he will first have to prove that he can compete with stakes quality horses.
Other underdogs include the horses that started their careers off well and won stakes races but have had to take a break due to injuries and are therefore behind their competition in the Derby standings. This group includes the impressive COPPER BULLET who was looking to be one of the best 2-year-old horses of the year before he had to take a break from the track in August due to a minor injury following his victory in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special. If he can return as impressive as he was before his injury, he will certainly be one of the toughest horses to beat.
The most extreme underdog Kentucky Derby hopefuls of all will be those that have yet to even start a race at all in the 2017 season. Although in theory, it wouldn’t be impossible to qualify for or even win, the Derby without starting as a 2-year-old, these horses have a lot to overcome. Not only will they have to get the hang of racing against other horses for the first time ever, but they will also have to overcome “The Curse of Apollo.” As the curse goes, no horse has won the Derby without starting in at least one race as a 2-year-old since APOLLO in 1882. And this isn’t to say that horses haven’t tried; more than 60 unraced 2-year-olds have qualified for the Derby since 1882, yet not a single one has finished in first (Although BODEMISTER was close with a second place finish in 2012). One horse that could potentially break this curse is the as of yet unraced FAVERSHAM, a full brother to the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner CALIFORNIA CHROME. Although he is yet to race, his workouts have been impressive, suggesting that he may be at least a little bit like his brother.
And finally, this year’s Derby is expected to have at least a few foreign invaders. With new additions to the scoring system, both a European and a Japanese horse will be given a chance to qualify for the 2018 Derby. The most likely European contender is the Aidan O’Brien trained winner of the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf, MENDELSSOHN. Although he will have to prove that he can make the adjustment from turf to dirt, MENDELSSOHN, a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner BEHOLDER looks to have a pedigree that will allow him to make the change in surface with ease. To do so, however, he will have to overcome US NAVY FLAG, another Aidan O’Brien trained horse that already tried running on dirt when he competed in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile in November.
With all the horses hoping to prove themselves in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, it will undoubtedly be an exciting road to the triple crown and an even more exciting “Run for the Roses.” Given the information we have now, the following are my top 12 contenders for the 2018 Kentucky Derby:
1. Bolt D’oro, Mick Ruis
2. Good Magic, Chad Brown
3. Solomini, Bob Baffert
4. Catholic Boy, Jonathan Thomas
5. McKinzie, Bob Baffert
6. Montauk, Todd Pletcher
7. Free Drop Billy, Dale Romans
8. Instilled Regard, Jerry Hollendorfer
9. Mendelssohn, Aidan O’Brien
10. Copper Bullet, Steve Asmussen
11. Enticed, Kiaran McLaughlin
12. St. Patrick’s Day, Bob Baffert
To find out how these horses and many others will do, tune in to the Kentucky Derby prep races or head down to your local track to watch the prep race nearest to you. In the coming months I will be highlighting some of the best of these races and will be updating the top contender’s list. Finally, be sure to tune in on May 5th and watch 2018’s Kentucky Derby champion run to victory in what will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting races of the year.