My top pick: No. 3, Revolutionary.
Longshots I like: No. 6, Mylute; No. 10, Palace Malice; No. 12, Itsmyluckyday.
Race’s key contenders: No. 5, Normandy Invasion; No. 8, Goldencents (colt partly owned by Rick Pitino, coach of University of Louisville’s basketball team); No. 14, Verrazano; No. 16, Orb.
Horses are listed by post position. Odds are my estimates of how gamblers will bet the race.
-No. 1, Black Onyx -- Scratched from race.
-No. 2, Oxbow (30-1) -- As a matter of course, I bet against every single horse that trainer D. Wayne Lukas sends out in stakes races. Desperate to recapture lost glory days, he consistently overreaches. I can’t take this program seriously.
-No. 3, Revolutionary (6-1) -- He’s shown the intangibles I like to see in a Derby contender. In his Withers Stakes win, he zigzagged through traffic, weaving, bobbing, braking and re-accelerating in a move that mimics the kind of effort often needed in the crowded Derby field. In his Louisiana Derby victory, he re-rallied after losing the lead to Mylute. My main concern is that he has a nasty habit of walking out of the starting gate. In the Derby, that can put him behind a wall of 19 rivals. An alert start is key for my top pick.
-No. 4, Golden Soul (50-1) -- He’s one of those blah types of colts that will pass a handful of leg-weary stragglers in the stretch en route to a mid-pack finish. Here’s my call: ninth place, beaten by 13 1/2-lengths.
-No. 5, Normandy Invasion (8-1) -- His stock is rising after he rallied late to take second behind Verrazano in the Wood Memorial. I have two concerns: a) Does he really want to win races? He keeps falling just short, having lost his last three races by a combined 2 1/4-lengths; b) He’s showing signs of becoming hard for the jockey to handle; I’m not sure he’ll relax enough in the early stages of the Derby to give himself a shot late. I’m negative.
-No. 6, Mylute (20-1) -- If Revolutionary is my top choice, I have to like this horse at least a little as a longshot. He improved when the blinkers were removed for the Louisiana Derby and made a bold run at Revolutionary, battling with him right down to the wire. Playable at this price.
-No. 7, Giant Finish (60-1) -- Can I get a show of hands out there from folks who think this horse has a shot of winning? Right, no one, that’s what I thought. Me neither.
-No. 8, Goldencents (6-1) -- The Santa Anita Derby winner definitely has ability. I just don’t know that he has the right makeup to excel at the Derby’s 1 1/4-mile (2 kilometer) distance. He’s too high-energy and eager in the early stages of races, wasting energy that’s needed for the stretch. Besides, do you really want to bet on a Pitino-owned horse in a race in the heart of Louisville? The locals are going to back him blindly and drive down his odds. I’m betting against.
-No. 9, Overanalyze (12-1) -- I’m underwhelmed by the Arkansas Derby winner. He’s just got no wow factor.
-No. 10, Palace Malice (20-1) -- There’s some talent here. Forget about his Louisiana Derby flop. It was the result of brutal traffic trouble. He adds blinkers for the Derby, which could either move him forward five lengths or back 20. Playable at this price.
-No. 11, Lines of Battle (30-1) -- He’s something of a wild card because this will be his first race over a dirt surface. My guess is he gets beaten by 30 lengths.
-No. 12, Itsmyluckyday (15-1) -- This is a horse that’s been forgotten about after he was run down by Orb in the Florida Derby. He’s talented, though, and stands to improve off that effort. Playable at these odds.
-No. 13, Falling Sky (50-1) -- He’ll be running with the leaders early and jogging at the back of the pack late. No chance.
-No. 14, Verrazano (4-1) -- Brilliantly fast, undefeated and a deserving Derby favorite. For those of you contemplating taking odds of 4-1 on him, though, there are two key questions you should worry about: a) Is his form tailing off now after he burst onto the scene in Florida over the winter with his two most eye-catching performances? b) How will he respond if he breaks a step slow and is stuck behind other horses for the first time in his career? I’m taking a stand against.
-No. 15, Charming Kitten (50-1) -- If he manages to lose by fewer than 40 lengths, his owners should be pleased.
-No. 16, Orb (9-2) -- He’s gotten better and better over the past four months and figures to relish the Derby distance. I have two concerns: a) He’s shown he needs to be in the clear when making his move at the leaders; in the crowded Derby field, that means fanning wide on the turns; b) He’s a high-strung sort that can get sweaty and keyed up in the paddock; the Derby crowd could bring those nerves out like never before and prove to be his undoing. Watch him closely as he comes onto the track.
-No. 17, Will Take Charge (30-1) -- Another D. Wayne Lukas colt. (See horse No. 2.)
-No. 18, Frac Daddy (30-1) -- I doubt this one is good enough to be a factor here and so does his trainer, who’s indicated the horse is likely in over his head. For those looking for positives, he’s run his best races over this Churchill Downs dirt course.
-No. 19, Java’s War (15-1) -- A horse that seems better suited to grass and synthetic surfaces than dirt. I’ll pass.
-No. 20, Vyjack (20-1) -- I’m not sure he’s cut out to run this far. Don’t like the outside post for him either.
(David Papadopoulos, the team leader for Latin America markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)
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