CRAWFORD | Breaking down each Kentucky Derby starter, in 100 words or less
Eric Crawford gives a quick preview of the 20 Kentucky Derby starters -- each in 100 words or less.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For those of you who want the quick-hit preview of Saturday's Kentucky Derby, here's your chance. Forget the fancy profile of the 20 starters for the 143rd running of the race, here's the abridged version.
Meet the 20 starters for the Kentucky Derby, each described in 100 words (or less) in post-position order (with morning line odds).
1. LOOKIN AT LEE (20-1). Generally the inside post is an automatic throw-out, but trainer Steve Asmussen’s colt is going to look to drop back anyway. Jockey Corey Lanerie’s strategy will be to drop back, save ground along the rail, and come running hard at the end. And Lookin At Lee should be closing hard at the end. No way you should throw this one out, he’s got a shot at getting into the money, if not giving the Hall of Famer Asmussen his first Derby win. Odds: 20-1.
2. THUNDER SNOW (20-1). One day, Godolphin Racing is going to win the Kentucky Derby. They get quality horses. Saeed bin Suroor is an accomplished trainer. Thunder Snow is a Group 1 international winner and has passed the eye test on the track at Churchill. The No. 2 post is a problem, however, and traveling across the world presents an enormous challenge. He’d be the first UAE Derby winner ever in the money at the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Christophe Soumillion is a native of Belgium and has won a slew of major races in France. Thunder Snow has a bright future – on turf.
3. FAST AND ACCURATE (50-1). He’s won three straight, the last a win in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes, but his speed figures aren’t impressive, and his greatest success has come on synthetic tracks or grass. His lone start on the dirt was not good. He’s the second Mike Maker-trained horse to be a supplemental Derby entry, meaning owners had to pay $200,000 to because he wasn’t nominated earlier. Jockey Channing Hill will try to get him on the lead early, but he’s no guarantee to be fast enough to do that.
4. UNTRAPPED (30-1). Probably the least accomplished of the trio Asmussen will send into the Derby, he’s won just once in six starts, and was sixth in the Arkansas Derby in a wide trip in his last race. It’s doubtful he’ll handle the Derby distance. His best race was a second in the Grade 2 Risen Star in February, and he gets back his rider from that race, Ricardo Santana. He was second on a muddy track the start before that. Maybe a messy Derby Day would put him in play.
5. ALWAYS DREAMING (5-1). The Todd Pletcher-trained colt has a world of talent, and if this Derby were to produce a dominant winner, he’s perhaps the most likely to be it. But his over-the-top exuberance in training, coupled with Pletcher not sending him out in front of the morning crowds for daily gallops, is a concern. It’s a risk vs. reward question with this colt. He’s been the most consistent performer in this field, and speed figures fit the bill. He blazed in the Florida Derby. He’ll either take off and dominate this race, or flame out.
6. STATE OF HONOR (30-1). The folks who hang out on the backside year-round and watch these horses closely really like this colt. He’s looked sharp in training, and hasn’t gotten a ton of attention, given that he’s stabled with the favorite. He figures to take off and vie for the early lead, but it’s tough to see him doing that and having enough left in the tank to hang for part of the money at this distance against this competition. Lost to McCraken, Tapwrit and Always Dreaming in preps leading up to the Derby.
7. GIRVIN (15-1). He’s had some foot issues. His last work was solid, but when you look at the workout board and see “SWIM” in the notation, it’s not generally a positive. Just based on form, he’s a contender, and he gets a top-notch jockey in Mike Smith. But those foot issues are hard to overlook, because the 20-horse field and distance of the Derby have adversity written all over them. Still, his only loss in four career starts was on the turf, and you can’t take anything away from his Louisiana Derby win.
8. HENCE (15-1). I guess if there’s a “wise-guy” horse in this year’s field, Hence would be it. He’s getting quite a bit of backside buzz. I could fill up a couple of desk drawers with worthless betting slips from wise-guy horses of the past. I’d love seeing the Calumet Farm-owned colt return that historic owner to the Winner’s Circle, but it’s tough to see him running as well here as in his last start, a victory in the Sunland Derby. He’s another Asmussen entry, and I will say, I keep having the sneaking feeling that Asmussen could get there this year.
9. IRAP (20-1). Team O’Neill (trainer Doug O’Neill, owner Paul Reddam, jockey Mario Guttierrez), the guys who brought you I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016), are back with their longshot winner of the Blue Grass Stakes. His speed figure in that race was legit, and he beat a lot of competition. Before that, he’d done nothing to suggest Derby entry, let alone greatness. He has both speed and stamina in his breeding, and does have a trainer who knows what he’s doing where the Derby is concerned. If he wins, I’ll say I should’ve seen it coming. But I don’t.
10. GUNNEVERA (15-1). His trainer’s harrowing tale of being kidnapped twice in Venezuela has gotten a ton of attention, but the horse himself is worth a look. He’s been consistent, doesn’t throw in any clunkers, and has a solid late-charging style. It’s tough to win the Derby with that style, because there are so many traffic concerns in the field. But his consistency impresses me, and I feel like he’s going to get up late to be in the money, and is a legitimate threat to hit the line first at a solid price.
11. BATTLE OF MIDWAY (30-1). What a great year it is for Derby horse names. I’m always glad to see World War II get a shout-out. This lightly-raced colt from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer wouldn’t appear to have the speed or the seasoning for an accomplishment like the Kentucky Derby. He did get up for second in the Santa Anita Derby, but little else distinguishes him. He is consistent, and did break his maiden on a course rated wet.
12. SONNETEER (50-1). The Desormeaux brothers are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with this Calumet Farm colt who, with 10 races, is the most seasoned in the field. The experience is the good news. The bad is that he hasn’t won any of those 10 races. He would be the first maiden to win the race since Broker’s Tip in 1933. For a lot of sentimental reasons, a Sonnetteer win would be great. But sentiment rarely cashes tickets.
13. J BOYS ECHO (20-1). Speaking of sentiment, Dale Romans winning the Derby would kick off widespread celebration in Louisville. Romans grew up on the Churchill Downs’ backside, working around his dad’s barn. J Boys Echo ran a huge race in the Gotham March 17, and like most of Romans’ starters in the Derby, has the breeding for the distance. His jockey, Robby Albarado, is out with an injury, but he gets a first-class rider in Luis Saez. But J Boys Echo likely will need some things to go his way, having finished fourth behind three Derby rivals last time out in the Blue Grass.
14. CLASSIC EMPIRE (4-1). There are two ways of looking at the Mark Casse-trained favorite – either you think he’s vulnerable because of the obstacles he’s faced this year (foot abscess, back soreness) or you think he’s stronger for overcoming them. We likely won’t know until Saturday. He’s the son of Pioneerof the Nile (sire of American Pharoah). He’s won in big settings, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He also hasn’t returned to the form that won him that race. He showed something of his old fight in winning the Arkansas Derby, and has looked good in training. If he moves forward again, he wins.
15. MCCRAKEN (5-1). If home-track advantage counts for anything – and in the Kentucky Derby, it does – the Ian Wilkes trained co-second choice is a serious contender. He’s 3-for-3 at Churchill, and has looked perhaps better than any of his competitors during training. His flat performance in the Blue Grass was likely due to coming of a two-month layoff, but he gets a ride from a rising star in Brian Hernandez. The big problem with his form is that he just hasn’t been fast enough, and distance could be a concern.
16. TAPWRIT (20-1). The only real money I’ve made on Derby Day has been betting on horses who were down the depth chart. Thunder Gulch instead of Timber Country. Charismatic instead of Cat Thief. So Tawrit, out of Pletcher’s barn, will be tempting. His fifth-place Blue Grass performance, by far his worst since breaking his maiden, wasn’t good, and that’s tough to put out of mind. He beat State of Honor in the Tampa Bay Derby, but it’s tough to peg Derby hopes on that, despite his $1.2 million price tag by Tapit.
17. IRISH WAR CRY (6-1). If this Graham Motion-trained colt hadn’t suffered what his trainer called a “total disaster” in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 14, he’d probably be the favorite. He’s posted more triple-digit speed figures than anyone in the race, and is coming off a sharp 3 ½-length victory in the Wood Memorial. He’s by Curlin, and though no horse has won out of the No. 17 post, it could be a good spot for him to stay out of trouble and stalk the pace from the start.
18. GORMLEY (15-1). John Sherriffs has won the Derby with an absolute shocker, so coming with the Santa Anita Derby winner, who has two other graded stakes wins under his belt, is a little different. One thing to keep in mind is the amount of work Sherriffs has put in with this colt, from training him to lay off the pace to preparing him for big crowds and commotion, taking verbal cues from jockey Victor Espinoza. He’s getting better – and won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes over a sloppy track.
19. PRACTICAL JOKE (20-1). He hasn’t won as a 3-year-old, after posting back-to-back Grade 1 wins as a 2-year-old. He didn’t appear to have much left in the tank at the end of the Blue Grass, though he still finished second. The chances of him stretching it out and winning over an additional furlong would seem slim. He hasn’t beaten some of his more highly regarded Derby completion in his past three races, so there’s little reason to think he will here.
20. PATCH (30-1). Everybody’s sentimental favorite, because he had to have his left eye surgically removed, will start from the far outside, which means he’ll see none of the 19 horses to his right. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, we’ll find out. Regardless, he’s made only three career starts. He’s a nice story, but the Kentucky Derby might be asking too much of him, too soon.
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