Ever since the four final major preps produced significant upsets, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) has painted a murky and muddled picture. Talk to 10 people and you are likely to get 10 different picks.
The uncertainty of this seemingly wide-open Derby was best exemplified when Dialed In was pegged as a lukewarm 4-1 morning-line favorite at Wednesday’s post position draw for the May 7 classic. Meanwhile, the 9-2 second choice, juvenile champion Uncle Mo, is questionable to even make the starting gate because of a gastrointestinal infection, and the third choice, Nehro (6-1), is still only a maiden winner and has to do what no horse has been able to do—win from post No. 19.
About the only thing we know for certain is that someone will win Derby 137 at Churchill Downs. Post time is slated for 6:24 p.m. EDT and the race will be shown on NBC. A total purse of $2,196,800 is up for grabs with the winner receiving $1,436,800.
The first leg of the Triple Crown for 3-year-olds, the 1 1/4-mile Derby will be followed by the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 21 and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 11. There has not been a Triple Crown winner since 1978 when Affirmed pulled off the hat trick.
Robert LaPenta’s Dialed In earned his status as the morning-line favorite by winning two of three starts this year, including the April 3 Florida Derby (gr. I) by a head over front-running Shackleford. As he has done in all three of his wins, including a maiden score at Churchill in December, Dialed in will likely be coming with a late run under Julien Leparoux.
The son of Mineshaft will try to give trainer Nick Zito his third Kentucky win. The Hall of Famer also won in the race in 1991 with Strike the Gold and 1994 with Go for Gin. LaPenta and Zito teamed up to finish second in last year’s Derby with Ice Box.
The last favorite to win the Derby was Big Brownin 2008.
“I’m just confident with a horse like this,” Zito said. “To me, he’s a special horse. He always tries hard; it’s nice to have a horse like that. You know he’s going to put in his run.”
Mike Repole’s Uncle Mo has been questionable to make the Derby ever since he finished third in the April 9 Resorts Casino New York Wood Memorial (gr. I) and was subsequently diagnosed with the gastrointestinal infection. He has trained well since being at Churchill, but it is difficult to tell how well he has responded to his internal treatment. As of Thursday, Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher have said that the status of the Indian Charlie colt is still up in the air, even though he was entered in the race.
If he is in the starting gate, Uncle Mo will be looking for the same success he enjoyed at Churchill in November when he romped in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to complete an undefeated season. After winning the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream in March, he was upset by Toby's Corner in the Wood. Toby’s Corner, who would have been one of the Derby favorites, was declared from the race earlier this week with an untimely injury.
Uncle Mo will be trying to give Pletcher his second straight Derby win. After being 0-for-24 in his previous tries, Pletcher won with Super Saverlast year. John Velazquez, seeking his first Derby win, would have the mount on Uncle Mo.
Repole and Pletcher will also send out Stay Thirsty (20-1), who won the March 5 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct and finished seventh in the Florida Derby. The Bernardini colt will be ridden by Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez. Stay Thirsty has had three solid works since arriving at Churchill. He will not wear blinkers, as he did in the Florida Derby.
“He’s trained very well,” Pletcher said. “We’re happy with how he is coming into the race.”
Zayat Stables’ Nehro was a late-comer on the Derby scene, having broken his maiden in February at Oaklawn Park. Despite losing his next two, the son Mineshaft ran two big races, missing by a neck in both the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Arkansas Derby (gr. I). Nehro will be making his third start in six weeks. He will try to win for Steve Asmussen, a perennial leading trainer at Churchill but still searching for his first Derby triumph. Corey Nakatani will have the mount and they will likely be coming from off the pace.
No horse has ever won the Derby from post No. 19, but nobody has won from post No. 17 either, which is where Kiaran McLaughlin trainee Soldat (12-1) will be breaking from. Despite that, many believe that the War Front colt has a big chance, especially if the track if off. There is a 30% chance of rain in Louisville on Saturday.
Soldat romped in a Jan. 21 allowance race at Gulfstream Park in his season debut in the slop and followed up with a front-running victory in the Feb. 26 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II). He finished a disappointing fifth in the Florida Derby, the first time he did not hit the board in eight lifetime starts. The colt, who raced three times on turf last season, did most of his training at Palm Meadows in South Florida before shipping to Churchill earlier this week. Alan Garcia will be in the irons.
“He’s really picked his head up since coming to this cooler weather,” McLaughlin said. “Going from hot to cool for a horse is like a vitamin shot. I am drawing a line through the Florida Derby. I think he is ready to run a good race.”
Soldat should be running close to the pace, but the early leader is likely to be California invader Comma to the Top (20-1), who missed by a head to Midnight Interlude (10-1) in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Comma to the Top, who will make his 14th start, will break from post 6 under Pat Valenzuela.
Also likely to be near the early lead are Shackleford (12-1), Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Decisive Moment (30-1), Louisiana Derby upsetter Pants On Fire (20-1), and Uncle Mo, if he makes it to the gate. Pants On Fire will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who attempts to become the first female rider to take the roses. Mucho Macho Man (12-1), who won the Risen Star (gr. II) before finishing third in the Louisiana Derby, could be close too. He will has hit the board in seven of eight career starts for trainer Kathy Ritvo.
Other horses that could be coming from off the pace are Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) victor Brilliant Speed (30-1), Spiral Stakes winner Animal Kingdom (30-1), and Derby Kitten (30-1), who was the last horse to draw into the field after winning Keeneland's Coolmore Lexington (gr. III) April 23.
Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch (10-1) has trained brilliantly since coming to Churchill, but had his chances severely compromised when he drew unenviable post No. 1. Veteran trainer Jinks Fires will have his son-in-law, Jon Court, in the irons.
“I’ll just tell Jon to get a good position, save ground, and figure a way to get out,” Fires said.
Completing the field is Sunland Park Derby (gr. III) winner Twice the Appeal (20-1), who will be ridden by Calvin Borel, the winner of three of the last four Derbys; Blue Grass runner-up Twinspired (30-1); Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) winner Santiva (30-1); Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) upsetter Watch Me Go (50-1); and the lone European invader in the field, Master of Hounds (30-1), who shipped in from Ireland earlier in the week.
$2 million Kentucky Derby (gr. I, Race 11, 6:24 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Archarcharch (KY), J K Court, 126, W H Fires, 10/1
2. Brilliant Speed (FL), J Rosario, 126, T Albertrani, 30/1
3. Twice the Appeal (KY), C H Borel, 126, J Bonde, 20/1
4. Stay Thirsty (KY), R A Dominguez, 126, T A Pletcher, 20/1
5. Decisive Moment (FL), K D Clark, 126, J D Arias, 30/1
6. Comma to the Top (FL), P A Valenzuela, 126, P Miller 30/1
7. Pants On Fire (KY), R Napravnik 126, K J Breen, 20/1
8. Dialed In (KY), J R Leparoux, 126, N P Zito, 4/1
9. Derby Kitten (KY), J Castellano, 126, M J Maker 30/1
10. Twinspired (KY), M E Smith, 126, M J Maker, 30/1
11. Master of Hounds (KY), G K Gomez, 126, A P O'Brien 30/1
12. Santiva (KY), 3/C LA S Bridgmohan, 126, E Kenneally, 30/1
13. Mucho Macho Man (FL), R Maragh, 126, K Ritvo, 12/1
14. Shackleford (KY), J L Castanon, 126, D L Romans 12/1
15. Midnight Interlude (KY), V Espinoza, 126, B Baffert, 10/1
16. Animal Kingdom (KY), R Albarado, 126, H G Motion, 30/1
17. Soldat (KY), A Garcia, 126, K P McLaughlin, 12/1
18. Uncle Mo (KY), J R Velazquez, 126, T A Pletcher, 9/2
19. Nehro (KY), C S Nakatani, 126, S M Asmussen, 6/1
20. Watch Me Go (FL), R Bejarano, 126, K O'Connell, 50/1