Going against the Derby grain

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By Shawn Rychling


Welcome to closing weekend at Aqueduct as NYRA gets ready to wrap up a frigid spring with a full weekend of racing at the Big A.


Belmont Park is set to open next Friday, April 27 for a 3-day opening week through Sunday, April 29 and won’t return the following week until the Kentucky Derby weekend for another 3-day weekend of racing, Friday-Sunday, May 4-6.  In fact, the Belmont schedule is a little inconsistent with some 3, 4, and 5-day racing weeks.


More on Belmont to come, but first, we’ll focus on the Kentucky Derby which is now just two weeks away.


In an otherwise lackluster Derby prep season, a star and favorite has emerged from the West Coast and that’s the late-blooming Justify from the barn of Bob Baffert and owned by Winstar Farm.


Unraced as a 2-year-old, Justify broke his maiden by 9 lengths on Feb. 18 at Santa Anita, posting a 104 speed figure for his 7-furlong debut. He took an allowance March 11 by six with a 101 fig, and then appeared to toy with the highly-regarded Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, posting a 107 speed figure.


With those impressive performances behind him – and certainly with Baffert as his trainer – Justify seems to be the pick of just about everyone. The lack of depth of this 3-year-old crop.


All of that said, Justify has one big thing working against him. Only one horse has won the Kentucky Derby without the benefit of a race in its 2-year-old season. That horse was Apollo, and we have to go back to 1882 to find that result.


With that in mind, and the fact that horses often regress after their third career starts, there is a big opportunity to beat Justify at Churchill Downs and here are a few value options:


Bolt d’Oro: This Medaglia d’Oro colt out of an A.P. Indy mare figures to be able to run all day and has six starts under his belt – two this year and four last year.  He hasn’t won since September, but trainer Mike Ruis has acted as if his horse is doing just what he expects this spring. And the 101 and 102 speed figures are nothing to be ashamed of.


Audible: Is 4 for 5 in his career and dominated the Florida preps winning both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby for Todd Pletcher. The speed figures – both 99 – were a major step forward over last fall. Also showed he could win from on or off the pace and that versatility is always a plus in the Derby.


Vino Rosso: Took the overland route in the Wood Memorial and while he did not beat a great field, he won impressively with a 98 speed figure and his form is going in the right direction. Also has Todd Pletcher in his corner and is the horse jockey John Velazquez has picked to ride.


Noble Indy: Another Pletcher horse which won the Louisiana Derby in his final prep and we like the trend in speed figures over his four career starts: 77-84-91-95. Perhaps another forward move is in the cards.


Those are just four possible ways to beat the favorite at Churchill Downs and one other note on that: Since Spectacular Bid in 1979, the post time Derby favorite has won the race only five times.  That is 5 for 38. It is true, however, that some chalky picks have taken the last four Derbies.


So there’s some food for thought on this year’s Run for the Roses which is always a great day!


Hot List picks and analysis for closing weekend at Aqueduct are available on the MyWinners site by clicking here.  Good luck!