Recap and thoughts on Kentucky Derby 139: Orb gets the trip, prevails in the slop

Chart: Equibase
Recaps: Bloodhorse  / DRF /
Beyer Speed Figure: 104
Post-Race Comments: Winners / Losing Trainers / Losing Jockeys

The Churchill Downs strip on the first Saturday in May of 2013 was dotted with puddles, deep, and officially listed “Sloppy- Sealed”. Eight of the nineteen entrants had previously raced on dirt labeled “good” or “sloppy” to varying degrees of success, but handicappers know that one off-track can be completely different from another.

With that and recent history in mind, it was conceivable to believe the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby could be won by an inconceivable entrant who would simply relish the conditions. Instead, it was the favorite Orb who delivered his trademark wide come-from-behind burst starting on the backstretch, going into the second turn and finally down the stretch passing fifteen foes when it was all said and done past the wire.

The victory gave Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey his first sniff of the roses while the industry applauded an old-school trainer known for never pushing undeserving colts along the Derby trail. His patience, clean record, and belief in his horse finally give thoroughbred fans a story they won’t be ashamed to read now and through the rest of the Triple Crown season.

It’s no secret that jockey Joel Rosario can ride. Indisputably the hottest jockey of 2013 will now be elevated to late night television appearances and national news features pushing his young legacy even closer to the all-time greats.

The second place finish of Golden Soul surprised most everyone except his trainer Dallas Stewart, who always preached the son of Perfect Soul wanted to go farther and could also excel in the slop. He will go next to the Belmont, perhaps representing Orb’s biggest threat to the Triple Crown.

Calvin Borel got what he wanted with an off-track and close to the rail post for Revolutionary, but the Louisiana Derby winner didn’t have a strong enough kick to catch the winner. Revolutionary will also sit out the Preakness and wait for the Belmont.  

As always, the Kentucky Derby was not without its disappointments. The biggest “what-ifs” will undoubtedly come from those trainers and jockeys who would love a do over on a fast track. The result most likely would have been the same, but several prominent horses like Verrazano, Itsmyluckyday, and Goldencents were clearly spinning their wheels in the slop. Verrazano also suffered a gash on his hind leg, but the track and pace contributed more to his undoing than any superficial cut.

Will we handicappers ever learn that the Kentucky Derby will most likely always have an early fast pace? Since 2000, 11 of 14 Derbies have had an opening quarter below 23 flat and 12 of 14 a second quarter at or below 47 flat. Those times are blazing for a mile and a quarter race and of course favor mid to back-of-the-pack horses.

Some thought this trend would end in 2013 due to the new point system hopefully eliminating sprinters from entering, but when you have 19 horses in a race, the game plan for several will always be to try and steal the race up front. You can blame Mike Smith or the blinkers for Palace Malice’s surprising aggressiveness, but he was closely flanked by Verrazano, Goldencents, Oxbow, Vyjack, and Falling Sky at various moments of the race, all creating upfront pressure.

Congratulations to all those who cashed tickets Saturday and thanks for following the Derby trail on this site. It was a bumpy and unpredictable ride as usual, but we came out with a deserving winner who will hopefully end this awful Triple Crown drought. 

Kentucky Derby 139: The Picks

There are distance questions. His morning workouts- including his breeze last Saturday- were relatively quiet compared to others.  The Wood Memorial set up perfectly for him and he did not win convincingly. He is similar to Gemologist (my top pick last year), which means he’ll fold Saturday.

I’ve heard all of it, but my eyes- looking at replays, gallops, and paper- keep telling me Verrazano is the most talented 3-year-old in his class. The 14 post should allow him to be in a comfortable spot towards the front and hopefully out of the way of inevitable trouble on the inside. He has the speed, class, and I believe pedigree. Too often the dam side of Derby horses is ignored. The average winning distance of damsire Giant’s Causeway was 8.2 furlongs- the second longest of any horse in the Derby field. According to clocker reports, looked good galloping over a sloppy Churchill track.

Yes, another one with distance questions. I’m on the side that believes he needed the Florida Derby after a layoff and will improve Saturday. Could run a similar race as Verrazano by stalking on the outside. His speed figures prove he should be on the top shelf. One of the few in the Derby to race on a sloppy track… and in that contest ended up winning a sprint stakes by 4-lenghts. Back to pedigree: there are troubling distance signs on both sides, but to label Lawyer Ron a miler is completely ignoring his multiple Grade 1 signature wins at 9 furlongs.

Speed figures suggests this horse is not what he was as 2-year-old, but the Arkansas Derby (G1) win was visually the most impressive final prep of any other horse in the Derby. Should be coming from the back in the end and just needs daylight to open up his stride. Sire Dixie Union was not known for producing distance horses until last year’s Belmont winner Union Rags shattered that perception. The dam side shows some promise too. Keep in mind, this is his third race off the long layoff and he’s trending upward.

Notable horses not included and why:
Orb- Tough to bet against considering last four races and reports on his workouts and gallops at Churchill Downs.  Watching replays I noticed that every one of his victories comes from making a wide move into the turn.  You would think post 16 would allow him to do that Saturday, but this is a horse that likes to stay back. I’m betting the crowded field won’t allow that wide run.

Goldencents- I can’t shake his San Felipe from my mind, despite the Santa Anita Derby win and trainer Doug O’Neill’s belief in his improvement. I don’t think Goldencents will like the early pressure from all sides he will get Saturday. Distance concerns as well.

Revolutionary- Simply don’t like the post. In more cases than not, the first three posts are smashed towards the rail in the opening stages of the Derby. It helps he comes from the back of the pack, but that’s a lot of traffic to dart in and out of after a possible troubled start. Will the jockeys really open up the rail again for Borel? If the track is sealed, I might have to reconsider however. 

Daily Feed: Vyjack gets a blow out// Normandy Invasion has to be corralled// Picks roll in

Backside Buzz 5/2 (Churchill Downs)
Haskin: And they’re off (Bloodhorse Blog)
Bringing ‘big data’ to horse racing (The Walll Street Journal)
Analyzing wise long-shot bets (Bleacher Report)
The Derby: It’s about where you sit (The Wall Street Journal)

Vyjack breezes 5/2 (Churchill Downs)
Verrazano gallops 5/2 (Churchill Downs)
Orb gallops 5/2 (Churchill Downs)
Goldencents gallops 5/2 (Churchill Downs)

Vyjack- CD- 3F- 37:00- B- 8/9

Andrew Beyer (Washington Post)

Post positions set, no problems for favorites// PPs, replays, previews, picks, more…






Black Onyx

Joe Bravo

Kelly Breen



Gary Stevens

D. Wayne Lukas



Calvin Borel

Todd Pletcher


Golden Soul

Robby Albarado

Dallas Stewart


Normandy Invasion

Javier Castellano

Chad Brown



Rosie Napravnik

Tom Amoss


Giant Finish

Jose Espinoza

Tony Dutrow



Kevin Krigger

Doug O'Neill



Rafael Bejarano

Todd Pletcher


Palace Malice

Mike Smith

Todd Pletcher


Lines of Battle

Ryan Moore

Aidan O'Brien



Elvis Trujillo

Eddie Plesa Jr.


Falling Sky

Luis Saez

John Terranova



John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher


Charming Kitten

Edgar Prado

Todd Pletcher



Joel Rosario

Shug McGaughey


Will Take Charge

Jon Court

D. Wayne Lukas


Frac Daddy

Victor Lebron

Kenny McPeek


Java's War

Julien Leparoux

Kenny McPeek



Garrett Gomez

Rudy Rodriguez



Fear the Kitten

Alan Garcia

Mike Maker


Kentucky Derby previews: Churchill Downs / Bloodhorse / DRF


My Kentucky Derby 12 (Thoroughbred Zone)
A celestial selection (LEO Weekly)

1. Black Onyx
Dosage: 2.08
TrueNicks Grade: C
Jockey: Joe Bravo
Trainer: Kelly Breen
Best Beyer/BRIS: 90/96

Race Replays:

2. Oxbow
Dosage: 2.50
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Gary Stevens
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Best Beyer/BRIS: 95/101

Race Replays:

3. Revolutionary
Dosage: 3.00
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Calvin Borel
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Best Beyer/BRIS: 102/105

4. Golden Soul
Dosage: 1.92
TrueNicks Grade: C
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Best Beyer/BRIS: 89/100

Race Replays:

5. Normandy Invasion
Dosage: 3.80
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Trainer: Chad Brown
Best Beyer/BRIS: 99/104

Race Replays:

6. Mylute
Dosage: 2.00
TrueNicks Grade: C+
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
Trainer: Tom Amoss
Best Beyer/BRIS: 93/105

Race Replays:

7. Giant Finish
Dosage: 1.59
TrueNicks Grade: D
Jockey: Jose Espinoza
Trainer: Tony Dutrow
Best Beyer/BRIS: 86/93

Race Replays:

8. Goldencents
Dosage: 1.67
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Kevin Krigger
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Best Beyer/BRIS: 105/106

Race Replays:

9. Overanalyze
Dosage: 3.00
TrueNicks Grade: A+
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Best Beyer/BRIS: 99/104

Race Replays:

10. Palace Malice
Dosage: 2.64
TrueNicks Grade: C
Jockey: Mike Smith
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Best Beyer/BRIS: 93/102

Race Replays:

11. Lines Of Battle
Dosage: 1.95
TrueNicks Grade: A+
Jockey: Ryan Moore
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Best Beyer/BRIS: 74*/91*

Race Replays:

12. Itsmyluckyday
Dosage: 3.00
TrueNicks Grade: C
Jockey: Elvis Trujillo
Trainer: Edward Plesa Jr.
Best Beyer/BRIS: 104/111

Race Replays:

13. Falling Sky
Pedigree: Lion Heart/Sea Dragoness (Sea Hero)
Dosage: 1.40
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Luis Saez
Trainer: John Terranova, II
Best Beyer/BRIS: 92/92

Race Replays:

14. Verrazano
Dosage: 2.06
TrueNicks Grade: B
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Best Beyer/BRIS: 105/104

Race Replays:

15. Charming Kitten
Dosage: 1.59
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Edgar Prado
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Best Beyer/BRIS: 88/96

Race Replays:

16. Orb
Dosage: 3.21
TrueNicks Grade: A
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Claude “Shug” McGaughey III
Best Beyer/BRIS: 97/102

Race Replays:

17. Will Take Charge
Dosage: 3.33
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Jon Court
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Best Beyer/BRIS:  95/101

Race Replays:

18. Frac Daddy
Dosage: 2.33
TrueNicks Grade: N/A
Jockey: Victor Lebron
Trainer: Kenny McPeek
Best Beyer/BRIS: 91/101

Race Replays:

19. Java’s War
Dosage: 1.40
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Trainer: Kenny McPeek
Best Beyer/BRIS: 96/97

Race Replays:

20. Vyjack
Dosage: 1.80
TrueNicks Grade: C
Jockey: Garrett Gomez
Trainer: Rudy Rodriguez
Best Beyer/BRIS: 96/100

Race Replays:

Also Eligible:

21. Fear the Kitten
Dosage: 1.11
TrueNicks Grade: A++
Jockey: Alan Garcia
Trainer: Mike Maker
Best Beyer/BRIS: 84/92

-Individual past performances and pedigree info linked from-

-Race Replays linked from Bloodhorse Replays or YouTube

*Lines of Battle BRIS and Beyer only taken from Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf- his lone start in the U.S.