Six Bold Predictions For Derby Day By Jackson Muniz

Neither Blue Grass runner will hit the board

Let’s start with Verifying because I think it’s pretty simple for him. And I will fully admit I may be biased with this guy because I backed him pretty heavily in the Blue Grass. But he could not have had a softer trip that day and he still couldn’t get the job done. The pace was moderate at best and he got a dream trip stalking a huge longshot. He was all alone in the clear the entire trip, he had no pressure throughout because there wasn’t any speed in the race. And then when the real running started he could not hold off Tapit Thrice. That trip was probably in the 99.9 percentile of good trips and he’s going from that to the freakin Kentucky Derby where there’s a huge field of 20 and several bad trips in store. I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to back him after that race, especially at only 15-1.  I actually think the two post is good for him because Tyler will have no choice but to be aggressive early. The only possible complaint about the Blue Grass trip was that he was too passive in waiting for Tapit Thrice to pull alongside to ask Verifying for run and he was obviously never going to outkick that foe. Another mini prediction here is that Verifying will be the leader heading into the first turn. 

I don’t have anything against Tapit Trice the horse. I actually think he will probably be the best horse coming out of this race and will win at least a couple big races this summer/fall. That includes the Belmont where he will almost certainly be a short price regardless of Saturday’s result. If the Derby was only a ten horse field he’d probably be the pick. Unfortunately for him though, there’s 20 horses lined up and his running style combined with the five post gives him almost no shot in my opinion. 

There have been ten runnings of the Derby since the Trail was switched to the points system. Eight of the winners that crossed the wire first, were no worse than third at any point in the race. The two exceptions were Orb in 2013 and last year with Rich Strike. Both of those guys came from the clouds, and in both instances the pace was suicidal running to the half in 45 and 2. On paper, it’s nearly impossible to envision them going that fast early on given the lack of true front runners in the race. I almost want to pretend last year never happened and focus on the previous eight winners who all were close to the lead throughout the race. That’s the winning formula. 

Tapit Thrice is the exact opposite of that. He has no tactical speed and with the inside draw he will have a swarm of fifteen runners closing in on him that will probably shuffle him back even further from the front. The case has been made that he showed more early speed in the Blue Grass, but I’m not so sure. You have to remember that going into that race there were only two horses that had any kind of early speed and there were seven confirmed deep closers. Somebody had to be midpack early on and it just happened to be him probably because he was a better animal than those rivals. 

He’s also never really had any traffic issues. Obviously he’s slow out of the gate so as a deep closer you’d expect he would’ve had to navigate traffic at some point in his career, but that hasn’t been the case. He hasn’t proven that he can start and stop and start again-and there’s a good chance that’ll happen in a 20 horse field. And on top of that, the three runners drawn directly on either side of him are all much faster early on than he is so he will have a tall task to gain any kind of position early. I just don’t see how he isn’t way back there early on chasing a moderate pace by Derby standards and he’s not a horse I would back as the likely second choice. Again, I think he is immensely talented and there’s a good chance he’ll have a huge year. It just won’t include a Derby win. 

The American Turf will produce the Breeders Cup Mile winner this year

Obviously we won’t know the BC winner until November, but I am super pumped for this loaded race and wanted to mention it. There has been a lot of chatter about this crop of three year olds being on the slow side for Derby standards. The opposite is true for the turf crop. If this group keeps improving, this could be one of the best crops of turf runners we’ve had in a long time. Let’s dive into the race briefly 

I made a case on the Monster pod for Major Dude to hit the board in the Derby. He didn’t make the race, but shows up here as a logical contender. I did not expect him to be favored though, and I won’t be using him if the morning line holds since I think there are nine or ten serious racehorses in here. Same for Far Bridge and Carl Spackler who are both immensely talented, but will be short prices. And both have questions. Far Bridge has been sold since his last race, obviously Pletcher is more than capable, but you still never know. And I’m not a fan of Chad Brown scratching Carl Spackler from the Transylvania due to the post. He didn’t think he could overcome that? Well, he drew way outside again so they’ll find out on Saturday if he can. And Johannes is interesting shipping from California. He’s faced absolutely nobody but he has run very fast figures. 

Talk of the Nation is very intriguing at 10-1. He is certainly fast enough on figures and is coming off a couple dominating performances down at Tampa. He’s tactical, drew well, and Mo Stash validated his last performance by winning the Transylvania. The other I’m interested in is Webslinger. I have to demand every bit of that 20-1 from the 14 post. He has a vicious late kick and I thought he did very well to get up for third last time out in a race where the pace completely held together. And I like that he’s basically paired up Beyer tops, suggesting a peak performance is in store for Saturday. 

Back to my bold prediction. It will be a big ask for an American three year old to win the BC Mile. A lot can change in six months, but if last month is any indication then Modern Games may not be the same horse. Chez Pierre needs to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Andddd then who else is there?? Certainly nobody in America as of right now. I’m sure the Euros will bring over a few decent ones, but maybe this is the year their “B team” isn’t good enough. 

Several in this crop have already run Beyer figures at or around 90. For comparison, Annapolis was probably our best three year old turf runner last year and he didn’t accomplish that until July. Our turf horses typically begin to peak towards the summer/fall and I think there are nine or ten serious contenders in this spot, all lightly raced. Just based on sheer volume there’s a good chance at least a few of these keep improving quite a bit and can run in the 100’s come November, which just might find someone in the Winner’s Circle on BC Saturday. 

Big Invasion will dominate the Turf Sprint and become the early favorite for the BC

Ok this probably isn’t a “bold” prediction but it is my lock of the day. I would be SHOCKED if you get 7/2 on Big Invasion. I really hope we do though because I would get the big guns out and fire away at that price. 2-1 seems more realistic, perhaps even closer to 3/2. But this guy was super impressive last year winning several turf sprints by big margins. And he did it at multiple tracks and distances. Obviously something went wrong at Kentucky Downs, but he was given time off and once again turned in an impressive performance at Gulfstream. The 5 furlong trip was probably a tad too sharp for him but it didn’t matter as he unleashed his powerful late kick to get up late over Yes I Am Free, who was loose on the lead. And that speedball is really having himself a year winning three of four at Gulfstream against some tough competition. Yes I Am Free validated Big Invasion when he returned to dominate a handicap race by three lengths last weekend. 

This will be his second start off a layoff and he already has a win over this turf course. There looks to be plenty of speed for his late kick, it’ll be up to Rosario to work out a trip in this full field, but he’s the best turf sprint jockey in the country by a significant margin in my humble opinion. If he’s improved at all as a four year old it’ll be lights out for the competition. I’m fully expecting him to win this race comfortably and establish himself as the early favorite for the BC turf sprint. Ice cold exacta over Motorious. 

Side Note! Dear BC Committee and to whomever else it may concern, please don’t run the turf sprint at 5 furlongs this fall. Those races at Santa Anita really are as simple as whoever makes the front end wins the race. All you have to do is look at the 2019 BC for evidence. Give the closers a chance! Preferably down the hill but even 6 furlongs out of the shoot is a much more fair race than the 5 furlong configuration in Arcadia. Sincerely, Jackson

D Wayne Lukas will win a stakes race on the undercard

This one is a combination of having a couple legitimate contenders and a little karma. For those that aren’t familiar, Lukas had entered Ethereal Road in the Derby last year. Unfortunately the horse had a little issue the day before the race. There was a decent chance it would’ve cleared up by Saturday, but they weren’t 100% certain so they scratched the horse right before the Friday deadline to ensure another horse could get into the race. That horse happened to be Rich Strike and he only posted the biggest upset in Derby history. Lukas is owed some good karma for letting Rich Strike into the field last year and it’ll be repaid on Saturday. 

His best shot is definitely Caddo River. This horse has cutback written all over him as he’s been running well going two turns and making bold moves for the lead that he can’t sustain. His last race in particular was very good. He made a move into a very swift pace and just got a little tired late, getting outkicked by a talented Baffert runner.  He drew well on the far outside where his tactical speed should allow Gafflione to adapt to the pace. And the one time he ran this one turn mile at Churchill he won impressively with a career high figure. The only real concern is the lack of Lasix, he hasn’t run as well off it as he has with it. But he has a lot of other things going for him and should be a playable price. 

His other opportunity comes in the wide open Pat Day Mile with another horse begging for a cutback and that horse is Bourbon Bash. I’m willing to draw a line through his last race in the Arkansas Derby where he actually got bet down quite a bit but didn’t do any running at all. He was progressing quite nicely before that and he’ll have to move  forward off those efforts two and three back if he wants to be competitive. But they’re still being ambitious with this spot and he’s had a few easy works since. Both starts two and three back he came from off the pace and made a big move into contention before tiring late going two turns. This one turn mile should be perfect for him too and he picks up the services of Prat at 12-1. 

Brad Cox will win four stakes races on Friday, but will be shut out on Saturday

I’m pretty confident that Brad Cox will win the Oaks with either Wet Paint or Botanical especially with the rain looking pretty imminent on Friday. I also wouldn’t completely rule out The Alys Look either making her second start off a layoff. Caravel will be a short price to win, but I’m actually less confident about her chances then his Oaks runners. Looks like there’s a good amount of speed lined up here and I’m not certain she likes this turf course, especially with it being wet. But she’s still the BC winner and strictly the one to beat. 

I’m looking forward to seeing what Flashy Gem does in the Edgewood. She was ridden passively last out to avoid confronting her stablemate Botanical, but there was a point in the stretch where I thought she was going to win. No such accommodations will be made for this race and I’m looking forward to her getting back on the turf at 10-1. A Mo Reay is in possibly the most contentious race of the day, but she’s improving with each and every start and 5-1 is a solid price for this recent Grade 1 winner. And finally West Will Power is coming off a powerful victory in the New Orleans Classic and returns to a track which he’s had plenty of success over. Also looks like he’ll be the controlling speed at 2-1.  

Saturday is a different story. Wadsworth would be a big longshot with a poor draw if he does make it into the field for the American Turf, I’ve already discussed how tough that race will be. Materya is certainly a contender but I’ve always thought she’s just a cut below the best female sprinters. She has to find a way to turn the tables on Wicked Halo AND beat Goodnight Olive which I find unlikely. I’d probably prefer Hot and Sultry over her as well. I’ve already made the case for Caddo River in the Knicks Go, so I’m against Zozos at a short price. I’m also not certain he’ll enjoy the cutback to one turn and would prefer Endorsed and Baby Yoda over him. 

He’s got four chances in the Derby as well, but I’m mostly against all of them as win candidates. I already touched upon Verifying earlier. Jace’s Road would be a huge upset, his only good victory came in wire to wire fashion against much lesser, and he had zero excuses in the Louisiana Derby when he was well beaten. Angel of Empire will be the shortest price of the Cox quartet. He’s obviously turned the corner this year and I love that his figures keep improving with each start. My concern is that he is too similar to Tapit Trice and will be far out of it early. I just don’t think that’s the winning trip even if the pace really hits up. Plus he’ll be no worse than fourth choice. And finally Hit Show. I briefly considered him as an upset candidate before he drew the rail and I also didn’t like that he couldn’t overcome some adversity over a much weaker field. He is improving with each start though and I’ll have him underneath since he’s somewhat tactical and should love the ten furlongs. 

Derby Prediction: Derma Sotogake wins the Derby, Two Phil’s is in the top 4

I’ve been preparing to make Two Phil’s my top pick for over a month now, but I get the feeling there won’t be much separating these two on the tote board come Saturday and I think Two Phil’s has more questions to answer than Derma Sotogake. The draw didn’t do him any favors and Loveberry was ice cold at the Keeneland meet. 

With that said, I still think he’s coming into this race in excellent form and I’m expecting him to be in contention at the top of the stretch. I loved his race two back in the Risen Star where he was close to the pace that fell apart, made the first move into that hot pace to gain the lead, and just couldn’t sustain the bid. It was a full field of 14 that day and I love how he was able to settle in between horses and then weave his way through traffic and split horses to make the front end. That experience will serve him well for Saturday, because he’s likely going to be near the rail throughout the race and will have to navigate his way past tiring front runners. Biggest question is obviously can he reproduce that figure on the dirt, but he ran well enough in Louisiana that I think the jump in figures was more him just becoming a faster animal as he matures and gains more experience. I won’t be surprised if he wins, but I will mostly be keying him underneath. 

Derma Sotogake will break a couple “curses” on Saturday. No horse has ever won from the 17 post and no Japanese runner has ever won the Derby. Neither curse bothers me. I think he actually got the best of the draw since all the speed drew much closer to the inside. The three horses on either side of him are not threats to go the lead and really there’s not much tactical speed among those six either. Derma is plenty quick from the gate, but this draw gives him more room for error if he happens to break a bit slower than usual. 

He’s proven to be very versatile throughout his career. Obviously he wired the field in Dubai and has that weapon at his disposal, but he’s also won from off the pace. I’m anticipating his trip will be somewhere in between, maybe stalking the pace from the third or fourth spot if a couple of the inside runners are intent on making the front. But again he’s shown the adaptability to be placed anywhere so as long as he breaks with the field, he should be able to work out a pretty decent trip. And as I said earlier, the winning formula lately has been to be on or near the lead throughout which Derma is widely expected to be. 

The international thing doesn’t scare me either. I backed both Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn which clearly didn’t work on those days. But those horses also had very successful careers, definitely better than the majority of the Americans in those fields, and they didn’t lose the Derby because they were international runners. There are a million ways to lose the Derby, Thunder Snow even invented a new one! Japan has also dominated the international dirt racing scene these past couple years. We’ve seen their “C team” win a race like the Breeders Cup Distaff and place second by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby. This is supposed to be one of their good ones. So no, the international aspect doesn’t worry me, if the horse is good enough and can work out a good trip he can win. 

It has been widely reported that many well-respected figure-makers have his UAE Derby as the fastest Derby prep, some even by a few points. And there’s a good chance he will be around 10-1. Between rumors of another Mattress Mack bet and the Rich Strike/Mine That Bird effect, I won’t be shocked if he drifts up from that morning line. Derma Sotogake has a lot going for him. I will take 10-1 all day on a horse that I know will be forward, that I know can get the distance, and that I know has the highest figures coming into the race.


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