BOZICH | Picking the Kentucky Derby winner by Replay Review
Replay is a pain in basketball, football and baseball, but YouTube video replays have become a valuable tool in picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – What’s the surest way to get it right in college basketball?
What’s a major reason baseball games stretch more than three hours? How do we determine when a catch is not a catch?
By going to replay.
But if replay has become an annoying tool in basketball, baseball and football, it’s become a handicapping must in horse racing.
You might prefer to watch Kentucky Derby horses work in the morning at Churchill Downs. YouTube has turned me into a video guy.
The replay of any Derby prep race is always a click away. D. Wayne Lukas is sharp enough to pick a Derby winner by observing the way a colt moves in the morning. I want to see how he performed in a crowd in the afternoon. They’re not running the Derby at 7:15 Saturday morning.
As much as past performance charts, pedigree and backstretch workouts, studying the final Derby preps is the perfect place to begin your Derby handicapping. Considering I’ve picked one Derby winner since 1989 – California Chrome four years ago – I need the help.
There’s no reason to dwell on that. Anybody can have a bad year.
Instead of listening to trainers, jockeys or the Churchill Downs sponsorship police, I’ve gone to the video.
My thoughts on the winners of six of the most important Derby preps after emerging from my YouTube coma.
Justify – Santa Anita Derby
Everybody loves Bob Baffert’s colt, including trainers of horses Justify defeated. I get it. Justify won the Santa Anita Derby the way Katie Ledecky wins her races. He runs like he’s double-parked. (Santa Anita Derby replay.)
Great is a reasonable word to describe how the son of Scat Daddy has performed this year while winning three races by a combined 19 lengths. His speed figures also fall into the exceptional category.
Michael Wrona’s race call intensified the hype. When the track announcer summarizes your performance by saying:
“Another exhilarating exhibition by the supremely gifted athlete. He’s on a dizzying ascent to greatness,” it’s reasonable to believe you’d better get on the hype train.
Nothing about the Santa Anita Derby reminded me of the situation Justify will encounter on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
Seven-horse field. One of the last horses to load, one colt outside, five horses inside. Jockey Mike Smith took the colt quickly to the lead. He saved ground with a comfortable spot not far from the rail. He dictated the pace. He was never crowded. Never bumped.
Yes, Bolt d’Oro, a formidable runner, challenged him in the stretch. Justify was three lengths the best.
Winning the Kentucky Derby is not as easy as Justify made it look in the Santa Anita Derby.
Maybe he is that much better. I need more proof.
Vino Rosso – Wood Memorial
This colt isn’t drawing as much hype as Justify or Audible, but his performance in the Wood Memorial will force me to give him serious consideration. (Wood Memorial replay.)
His jockey, John Velasquez, rode the colt with patience and poise in the nine-horse field. He had nine lengths to make up on the backstretch. No rush. He had five horses to outrun moving into the clubhouse turn. Remain calm. There was traffic to navigate, as he moved away from a pack of four contenders in the lane. No issue.
The stretch was a gut check. One-on-one. Vino Rosso vs. Enticed, the 6-to-5 favorite.
No contest. Vino Rosso increased his lead from a head to three lengths at the wire.
It was the kind of move that a horse needs to make to win the Kentucky Derby. Don’t discount this horse.
Good Magic – Blue Grass Stakes
Skip Away won the Blue Grass Stakes but could not win the Kentucky Derby. Ditto for Holy Bull.
Those were Hall of Fame horses. The path to the Kentucky Derby winner's circle rarely goes through Lexington any more.
No horse has completed the Blue Grass/Kentucky Derby double since Strike the Gold scored by Nick Zito in 1991.
But if you watch the way Good Magic won the Blue Grass for Chad Brown, there is legitimate reason to believe that he can join the list. (Blue Grass replay.)
The video shows a colt that was clearly the best in a 15-horse field. That's not the 20-horse Derby mob, but it is the largest field we've seen this spring. A horse willing to rate in the middle of the pack, less than five lengths from the front, is worth studying.
Good Magic demonstrated the tactical speed to position himself for success at the top of the stretch. He did not have an extra burst for more separation at the wire. That's a reasonable question. But he was good enough to beat Flameaway by a length and a half.
Audible – Florida Derby
Jockey John Velasquez chose Vino Rosso over Audible. He’s one of the best riders on the planet. Remember that.
But Velasquez would not be the first jockey to take the wrong mount. If you watch the way Audible outran eight horses to win the Florida Derby by three lengths, you understand Velasquez had a tough decision because Audible showed as much grit at Vino Rosso. (Florida Derby replay.)
Eighth after a quarter mile, Audible eased to fifth on the backstretch, about four lengths back. Audible was at least three wide in a five-horse pack moving into the stretch and then easily separated. As the track announcer confirmed, Audible delivered a “no doubt about it,” victory, officially by 3 lengths.
I’ve seen the typical move a horse makes to win the Derby. It’s the kind of move Audible made at Gulfstream.
Magnum Moon – Arkansas Derby.
Yes, Virginia, Todd Pletcher trains half of the six winners of the top Kentucky Derby prep races.
Although Magnum Moon led nearly every step of the 1 1/8th mile Arkansas Derby and stretched his lead from two lengths to four down the stretch, his performance left as many questions as answers. (Arkansas Derby replay.)
When you’re the horse on the lead and the track announcer summarizes the call after the first quarter by saying, “And they are not going fast at all,” you can tell the Hall of Fame it’s too soon to work on a statue.
The colt looked like he was trying to get to the finish line by way of Little Rock. He drifted so close to the grandstand somebody could have handed jockey Luis Saez a beer.
That won’t work at Churchill Downs.
Mendelssohn – UAE Derby
If Mendelssohn wins the Kentucky Derby and you don’t include him in your exotic wagers, that’s on you, especially if you watch the replay of his jarring 18-length score in Dubai. (UAE Derby replay.)
Although Mendelssohn "flew out of the gate," for an early lead, he was pressed by most of the nine-horse field down the backstretch. With a half-mile to run, four horses were trying to swarm him.
Then it was a coronation.
One length. Three lengths. Six lengths. 10 lengths. Forget about it.
One of the first rules I learned about covering racing is that you never compare a horse to Secretariat. Ask the Arazi Fan Club.
But if Mendelssohn comes to Churchill Downs and proves he’s capable of making the same kind of move that he made in Dubai, I’m prepared to negotiate an exception for a colt that wins by 18 lengths and is trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Study the videos. You can find reasons to talk yourself into – and out of – the winners of these six Derby preps.
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