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Kentucky Derby 140: Separating the wheat from the chaff

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This Saturday will be the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. Because of its popularity, it is the only race during the year that is allowed to have 20 entrants. Because of the excess of horses, there is always a handful who are there only for the mint juleps, so lets see which of the 20 have a legitimate chance of winning.

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California Chrome – The first six races for this horse were heavy does of mediocrity peppered with moments of brilliance. Running in State Bred races, the son of Lucky Pulpit looked destined for the occasional stakes race at Golden Gate Fields, just earning enough for feed and gas back down the Pacific Coast Highway. Then on December 22nd the light went on, or maybe it was new jockey Victor Espinoza who got on. Running in the King Glorious Stakes at the now defunct Betfair Hollywood Park, California Chrome put on a show, burying a field of California bred’s by over seven lengths. Since the jockey change, California Chrome is 4 for 4 and all in overwhelming fashion.

Why he could win the Derby - This race begins and ends with California Chrome. What makes him so impressive is that this is a horse that has shown he can be tactically placed without needing to be on the lead. Coming out of post 5 should ensure that he finds himself somewhere in the middle of the first group of horses. Often times the favorite in the Derby is one who is bred to go long but needs to close from off the pace. The result is a nightmare trip and a ton on money burned. What sets California Chrome apart from other favorites and really any horse in this field is that he can maintain a high cruising speed. Which translates to his last quarter, looking just as impressive as his first. In the Santa Anita derby it was only a matter of straitening out for home before he kicked away from the field. Unless he is the type that really likes Southern California, and wants nothing to do with Churchill, he should be very live down the stretch and any closer is going to have to earn it to catch him.

Wicked Strong – Wicked Strong ended his two year old season with an impressive third in an strangely run Remsen. The Remsen featured the highly touted Honor Code and Cairo Prince who engaged an extremely slow pace, which made it difficult for closers that day. Wicked Strong was the best of the rest, which set him up as a top Derby contender going into the Gulfstream Park meet. Unfortunately that track was as unfavorable to closers as the Remsen was and the best Wicked Strong could muster was a 4th in an allowance race. Knowing Gulfstream Park would provide nothing for the Hard Spun colt, veteran trainer James Jerkins rested him up and returned him back to Aqueduct in the Wood. On that day Wicked Strong legitimized his two year old form by winning impressively against Social Inclusion and Samraat.

Why he could win the Derby – Wicked Strong’s progress and handling leading up to Derby day have been nothing short of text book. A $375K Keenland September purchase by Centennial Farms, Wicked Strong has champion bloodlines, his sire was a top notch G1 winner, and his dam Moyne Abbey is out of Derby’ and Preakness winner Charismatic. There are not many scenarios where the pace will be anything like the slow pace in the Remsen and if any deep closers are coming late it should be Wicked Strong

Intense Holiday – In his short career Intense Holiday has competed against more talent than possibly any other horse in the field. In eight races, he has run in six stakes races, in each one he gave a fair account of himself, while saving a little room to improve. After he broke his maiden, Todd Pletcher put him in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, going up against titan’s Honor Code, and Havana. Then in the Remsen it was Cairo Prince and Wicked Strong. From there he got third, first, and second all in deep competitive fields.

Why he could win the Derby - With the scratch of Hoppertunity, Intense Holiday drops from 12-1 down to 8-1 in the morning line. This may be in part due to a buzz about how good the son of Harlan’s Holiday is working out this week down at Churchill. Then again it may also have something to do with the fact that this colt has schooled in six top quality prep races since breaking his maiden last October. Intense Holiday may be a case of a three year old with enough seasoning to be peaking at the right moment.

Vicar’s in Trouble – The last time a LA bred horse ran in the Derby was in 96’ and there has never been a winner from the Bayou State. This Saturday that could all change. And if that happened then it would also be the first time a woman jockey won the race, gutsy and tough as nails, Rosie Napravnik will take the mount on the diminutive colt; Vicar’s in Trouble. One of the few superstar dirt runners in the Ramsey barn, the son of Into Mischief looks like a very talented and very fast. The main question will be how he handles 1 post. The distance may also be a factor, but he looked strong going a mile and an eighth in the LA Derby. With 4 wins in six races, his only ‘bad’ race was a dull 6th on a synthetic surface. That aside, his other loss came in a deep field in the Risen Star where he came out of the 14 post. With a short run-up to the first turn Vicar’s in Trouble was put behind the eight ball breaking from post 14, nevertheless he still made a visually impressive four wide sweeping move on the turn for home. After that he showed his grit, blowing away a field of 10 in the LA Derby.

Why he could win the Derby – With the exception of the nightmare post, the tenacious colt has gate speed, and is also capable of making a winning move. This is a quality not many horses possess, usually gate speed translates to winning on the lead, while horses known for strong winning moves conserve their speed for one move from off the pace. Vicar’s in Trouble has shown he’s capable of both. Another positive to take out of the Louisiana Derby is that he has outran any distance limitations people may have had about him.

Chitu – Bob Baffert almost didn’t have a legitimate contender entered in this years run for the roses, but a late scratch in the Derby Trial gets the winner of the Sunland Derby in. Chitu flew under the Derby radar when he got second at 5-1 to Candy Boy in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. That day Candy Bo turned a ground saving rail trip into a win. In his next out Chitu out dueled stablemate Midnight Hawk in winning the Sunland Derby.

Why he could win the Derby – Chitu is interesting because his sire, Henny Hughes is known for his sprint pedigree, and probably was a shock to even his connections when held game throughout the entire two turns of the Robert Lewis Stakes. The connections only got more reinsurance when he won with the added distance at Sunland. However on the dam side Chitu is out of Sea Gift who’s sire is the great A.P. Indy. This is line is somewhat similar to last years winner Orb, who was out of Malibu Moon a son of A. P. Indy.

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