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2014 Kentucky Derby- Mike Jr.’s Picks

Mike Jr’s Picks for Kentucky Derby 140

Slew o' GoldAs I was preparing for this year’s Kentucky Derby head-to-head showdown with the old man, I couldn’t help but think of my first “Derby” experience. The year was 1983 and I was 3 days away from my eighth birthday. At 7 (going on 8), I was a kid that was in the know. I knew all the words to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Billie Jean”.  I knew all the members of the A-Team.  I didn’t have a Swatch watch (but desperately wanted one, lol). I was looking forward to Return of the Jedi and the release of Nintendo.Sunny's Halo I also “knew” that my dad knew everything there was to know about horse racing. That year was special because for the first time, dad let me look at the entries for the Kentucky Derby and decide which one I thought would win. Even before then, we kind of had an unspoken rule that whenever two teams competed in a major event (like the Super Bowl for instance), we chose opposite sides. It seemed to me that was what made watching any sporting event fun- to see if I could “beat” the old man with my pick. So you can see why it was of major importance to me that I “select” the winning Derby horse that year. After pouring over the form (in other words, deciding which names I liked best), I chose Slew o’ Gold as my selection. Maybe it was because I thought gold implied he would win, or maybe I had overheard dad talking about Seattle Slew in the past- either way I’m not sure.  Long story short, Slew o’ Gold ran 4th. Dad had Sunny’s Halo, of course. Still, the thrill of picking a Derby winner has stuck with me ever since, and in many ways, is why this site even exists 31 years later. So it’s time to put on the Thriller album, strap on my lucky Swatch watch and hope that this year I can find one to beat Dad.

California ChromeFor starters, let’s look at the big elephant in the room- California Chrome. I first touted CC back in July of last year in the Del Mar Graduation Stakes. In my 2 Year Old Stakes Watch for that race, I had CC for my value play and looked for him to win at a good price. He won that race and paid $14.40 for the win. It’s very unlikely that he will pay that well this Saturday, should he win. As much as I like California Chrome, I just can’t commit to him as the winner here. He is truly a great horse, but I just don’t think he can pull this one off. The public is already on the Chrome bandwagon, but I can’t join them this time. Should he prove me wrong and win the Derby, I’ll hitch a ride with them because we could very well have the next Triple Crown winner, should he prove to be the beast the public thinks he is. Until then, I have to pass. The early speed is going to be blistering in this one and although he may very well hit the board, I don’t see him having the stamina to get the job done.

HoppertunityI already know that Dad has picked Danza, and he has good reasons. But since I’m picking against him- I have to toss Danza as my pick. I honestly feel he has a legitimate shot in the Derby because I trust the old man’s opinion, but for the sake of finding my own value play here I will look elsewhere. I will certainly be putting a side bet on him (foolish not to!), but he’s not my choice. That brings me to the horse that I thought would have the best shot… at least until he scratched- Hoppertunity. I can’t tell you how sick this made me, as I’m sure his connections felt the same way! I could give you a dozen reasons why this horse had the best shot, but that would just be a waste of time. Let’s just say had he not scratched, he would have more than likely been my top choice. Such is the game of horse racing.

Vicar's In TroubleThere are a ton of great horses in this field! Looking over the form I see several that have impressed me this year. Horses like Samraat, Uncle Sigh, Wildcat Red, General a Rod, Candy Boy and Tapiture (just to name a few) have all shown extraordinary talent leading up to this race.  After his win in the Le Comte, I had a strong liking for Vicar’s In Trouble. After drawing post position one, though, I think he really is in trouble! I believe that Rosie is going to try and push him to the lead before the first turn and in this race, that could be disastrous for his chances. He just won’t be able to stay towards the front with the speed that is certain to be there and he’ll be too tired when he needs it most.  It worked well for him in the Louisiana Derby, but will not bode well for him in the Kentucky Derby. UPDATE– With the scratch of Pablo Del Monte on Friday morning, Churchill announced that post position 1 would be left open and everyone else would bump down. In Rosie’s case, Vicar’s In Trouble will now start from the 2 hole, a much better position than the one. This might convince Rosie to stalk as opposed to pushing forward for the lead. If so, this could work out in Vicar’s In Trouble’s favor. Either way, there’s just too much of a question there for me to give him my full support. Wicked Strong is another amazing horse I would love to back, but starting from the stadium could be tough on him. ChituThe opening in post position one doesn’t help him at all, as he will still start from the far outside in the auxiliary gate. He’s too nervous in the starting gate and he will feel like he is in the middle of that roaring Derby crowd. He certainly has the talent to win this race- I just think that he will have a rough start and I’m not so sure he can overcome that. Chitu is another overlooked horse who I think could go toe-to-toe with California Chrome. Like Chrome, he’ll be searching for that front-end lead and with this bunch all fighting for it, he’ll burn himself out. Intense Holiday certainly has the running style I am looking for in this one, but he’s got a few red flags about him that has me doubting. He has some untapped potential that I believe we may see later on in the year, but I’m not convinced that we’ll see it in the Derby. The same could be said about Medal Count.

Ride On CurlinThat gets me narrowed down to my top 2 choices (besides my feelings about Danza). Let’s start with my second choice- Ride On Curlin. I’ve touted ROC before, too, but there’s just something about this colt that keeps me coming back to him. Before I go any further, I will say that I was slightly annoyed when I heard that Jon Court wouldn’t be riding him in the Derby. I’ve always liked Court and I would love to see him land a Derby win before he retires. Unfortunately, it won’t be this year. The good news is that he was replaced by Calvin Borel. “Bo-rail” has his work cut out for him as he will be coming from the far outside to get to his favorite spot on the rail- but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Since ROC likes to stalk or close, he has time to let the speed go forward and cut across as needed to get where Borel will want him. Borel pulled this move with Mine That Bird in 2009 from post position 8, and I see no reason why he couldn’t do the same from further out. He was so far back early on in that race that it seemed Mine That Bird didn’t have a prayer. By the end of that Derby, Borel had saved enough horse to blast past them all. He hugged the rail so tight that day that I could have sworn there were paint marks on one side of Mine That Bird, lol. ROC has made steady improvements in each of his races this year and Borel has won on him in the past, so I feel good that he is peaking at the right time and has a great jockey with Calvin Borel. At any rate, Ride On Curlin should be there at the finish given a good trip. I will definitely be making a wager on him.

Dance With FateBut my top choice is one I really never expected I would pick- Dance With Fate.  Going into the Bluegrass Stakes, I really thought there was no one in that field that I could imagine having a shot at the Derby, truth be told. But Dance With Fate rocked that race with a super-impressive win that I just can’t ignore (although I believe the general public will). Like Ride On Curlin and Danza, Dance With Fate seems to be peaking at the right time and should be ready to give us a show on Saturday. Although he hasn’t fared well on dirt, his win in the Bluegrass was just too impressive to pass up. He did put in a solid work on Santa Anita’s dirt with a handily :47 over 4 furlongs and was 2 of 64 that day. He seems to have adjusted well to the dirt at Churchill and I believe he will be ready on Saturday. Because of Hoppertunity and Pablo Del Monte’s scratches, Dance With Fate will start from the 11 slot. The only concern for this spot is that he will have to wait the longest as the other horses load, but he is a calm loader and this shouldn’t be an issue. He has Chitu and Wildcat Red on both sides of him and most of the speed for this race on his inside. This will allow jockey Corey Nakatani the chance to position Dance With Fate where he wants him early on and that could make all of the difference in the world. Nakatani is an excellent choice for this horse and I hope to see him win his first Kentucky Derby here.

Dance With FateHere’s how I see it shaking out. There will be a big rush for the front-end lead that will include Chitu, Wildcat Red, Vicar’s In Trouble and possibly California Chrome, as well as several other front runners in this field. If California Chrome is not on the lead he will either be very close or completely out of it because he doesn’t handle dirt in his face well. He also has a tendency to break poorly. In stalking positions will be Candy Boy, Samraat, Tapiture and possibly Medal Count. Uncle Sigh’s connections claim that he will be stalking as well, but with the blinkers on I look for him to be close to the lead. We might even see a repeat of what Palace Malice did in last year’s Derby when he had the blinkers on. Trailing the field will be the likes of Danza, Wicked Strong, We Miss Artie, Intense Holiday, Ride On Curlin and our boy, Dance With Fate. As the front-end wears down, these closers will come running. I believe that Nakatani and Borel have the best shots at getting their horses in the best positions to win the 140th Kentucky Derby. I believe it will be Dance With Fate first, Ride On Curlin a close second and Danza and Candy Boy rounding out the superfecta. Dad may think that Danza’s the “boss”, but come Saturday, I believe he will have a “dance with fate”! Good luck everybody!

 

On a side note, my kid brother, Bobby (who doesn’t follow horse racing at all) has settled on We Miss Artie as his pick for this year’s Derby. Bob randomly picked a number without knowing the horse’s name. Around here, Bob is best known for his art skills, so it seems fitting that he gets We Miss Artie as his play. Mom, on the other hand, feels that Wicked Strong has this one in the bag (or at least his name makes her think so, lol) Whoever you have, we at HHR wish you and yours the best of luck!

 

Kentucky Derby Showdown Picks

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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at HandicapHorseRacing.com and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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