Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Litfin At Large: Lots of Good Options in Kentucky Derby

Good Magic, Justify the key plays in a deep field.

Hola, and welcome to the Cinco de Mayo edition of Litfin At Large, highlighted, of course, by a look at the 144th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), and also featuring the two other grade 1 races at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May—the $300,000 Humana Distaff for filly-and-mare sprinters, and the $500,000 Old Forester Turf Classic for older males.

Let's take them in reverse chronological order, first and foremost the Run For The Roses.

Kentucky Derby (Churchill Downs, race 12, 6:50 p.m. ET): This is unquestionably one of the deepest Derby fields to come along in quite a while, so deep that Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner and 2-year-old champion Good Magic (6) is 12-1 on the morning line.

It is also one of the most intriguing editions in memory, as the first three betting choices, Justify (7), Mendelssohn (14), and Magnum Moon (16), are all bucking significant historical trends.

A look at the major contenders in post position order:

Audible (5)—This $500,000 New York-bred son of Into Mischief  has been one of the strongest finishers in the field thus far, winning his last four starts by a combined 20 lengths, climaxed by two dominating performances in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1). Paradoxically, he is "over" on dosage—remember dosage?—with a D.I. of 5.00 that is above the 4.00 cutoff point. Be that as it may, Audible has already outrun his pedigree, since his dam, Blue Devil Bet, was a dyed-in-the-wool sprinter.

Good Magic—A lot of supporters jumped off the champ's bandwagon after he came up empty in the Xpressbet.com Fountain Of Youth (G2) first time back from a four-month layoff, but the $1 million Curlin  colt rebounded nicely to win the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Handicappers who look for the reprise of previously successful patterns take note: Last year's peak performance at Del Mar was the third race of his form cycle at the longest distance he had yet tried, and the same scenario is now in play.

Justify—One of four colts in the race by the late Scat Daddy, and one of two undefeated runners in the lineup trying to become the first Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 who did not race as a 2-year-old. We were seven weeks into 2018 before this chestnut prodigy was unveiled by Bob Baffert Feb. 18, and less than seven weeks after that, he beat two-time grade 1 winner Bolt d'Oro convincingly in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). I suppose if Big Brown  could win the Derby from post 20 after three prior starts, then Justify can win, too, but how short a price can you take on a horse with no experience in fields larger than seven, and no experience away from Santa Anita?

Hofburg (9)— Another with just three races under his belt, but Bill Mott wasn't enshrined in the Hall Of Fame for running horses where they don't belong. The Juddmonte Farms homebred by Tapit  is a half sister to the multiple grade 1 winner Emollient (also Juddmonte/Mott), and features A.P. Indy on both sides of his pedigree. Four weeks after a wide-trip maiden win off a six-month layoff, he improved his Equibase Speed Figure from 102 to 107 finishing a clear second behind Audible in the Florida Derby. An anticipated fast pace could work in his favor.

Bolt d'Oro (11)—There aren't any major knocks on this son of Medaglia d'Oro , who was coming off a hard-fought effort in the San Felipe (G2) when unable to run down a loose Justify four weeks later. He is stakes-seasoned with a versatile running style and a viable threat if he bounces back to something close to the 118 ESF recorded in his seasonal debut.

Enticed (12)—Another by Medaglia d'Oro, he could easily have been put up in the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) after being herded and bumped twice by Vino Rosso. He was a gutsy winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs last fall, and earned a solid 113 ESF taking the Gotham Stakes (G3) despite a wide trip two starts ago.

Mendelssohn—The Dubai-to-the-Derby route has its best chance to break through with this $3 million Scat Daddy colt, who successfully shipped to the United States to win a 14-horse renewal of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T). He is a half brother to Into Mischief and the great Beholder, and turned in a compelling performance to win the UAE Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Naboodah Group (G2) by 18 1/2 lengths first time on dirt, earning a 125 ESF that is tops in the Derby lineup. The Meydan surface typically favors speed, and while Mendelssohn was no doubt running with the grain of the track, there is no denying his talent and versatility. Note also that he has toted 126 pounds or more in all but one of his starts.

Magnum Moon—The other undefeated runner looking to break the Apollo curse, and accorded a reasonable chance after shipping to Oaklawn Park twice to win the Rebel Stakes (G2) from just off the pace and the Arkansas Derby (G1) on the front end, each time at the expense of the grinder Solomini (17). His come-home times in both of  those races (:31.25 seconds in the Rebel and :36.47 seconds in the Arkansas Derby) were solid, and he is tractable enough to stake out a good early position breaking outside most of the others with early foot.

Vino Rosso (18)—It's been 15 years since Funny Cide and Empire Maker  came out of the Wood to run one-two in the Derby, but while this son of Curlin comes off a forward move (ESF 106) second time in blinkers, circumstances were highly favorable for his come-from-behind tactics, as the Wood was run over a track that strongly favored closers.

The bottom line: Good Magic should be more-than-fair odds even if bet below the line. His biggest obstacles shake out as Audible, Justify, and Mendelssohn. The group falling somewhere in the "not impossible" ranks include Flameaway (4), Hofburg, Bolt d'Oro and Magnum Moon. Potential bombers to round out tris and supers are My Boy Jack (10), Enticed, Solomini, Vino Rosso, and Combatant (20).

For multi-race play:
A - 6, 7
B - 5, 14
C - 4, 9, 11, 16

Old Forester Turf Classic (Churchill Downs, race 11, 5:25 p.m. ET): Beach Patrol (10) came within a half-length of a championship when edged by Talismanic in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T), and much earlier in the 2017 season he missed by the same half-length margin in this race. Chad Brown has had virtually all of his grass runners firing off the bench in recent weeks, and one would expect this consistent veteran to press the pace just outside Shining Copper (2).

Deauville (1) was beaten less than a length by Beach Patrol in the Arlington Million (G1T) last summer (his second near miss in that race), and comes off a beneficial tune-up run at Newmarket less than three weeks ago.

Brown's other runner, Kurilov (3), was a solid second in strong edition of the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes (G1T), finishing in between Heart to Heart, who returned to win the Maker's 46 Mile (G1T), and Hi Happy, who subsequently took the Pan American (G2T).

Synchrony (7) and Arklow (6) were one-two in the Mervin Muniz Memorial (G2T) last time out. The latter gets some bonus points for handling all the Derby day hoopla winning the American Turf (G2T) a year ago.

A - 10
B - 1, 3
C - 6, 7

Humana Distaff (CD, race 6, 1:13 ET): This is such a wide-open event that six of the eight runners are pegged anywhere from 3-1 to 5-1 on the morning line. Nearly half the field—Finley'sluckycharm (1), Lewis Bay (5), and American Gal (8)—finished less than a length apart in the Madison Stakes (G1) at Keeneland four weeks ago.

Finley'sluckycharm is undefeated in six starts under the Twin Spires, but is under the gun breaking from the rail.

American Gal probably needed the race, which was her first since a decisive win in the Test Stakes (G1) last summer, and her first against older rivals. She would absolutely benefit from more patient handling this time.

The best of the new shooters are Ivy Bell (3), who overcame trouble to win the Inside Information Stakes (G2) under confident handling in her initial outing for Todd Pletcher, and Skye Diamonds (4), an erstwhile mid-level claimer coming off third-place finishes in the Las Flores (G3) and the Santa Monica Stakes (G2).

A - 3, 8
B - 1, 5
C - 4