Todd Pletcher’s quartet of Kentucky Derby runners have arrived safely at Churchill Downs and have a big chance of providing him with his third winner. His Florida Derby victor Audible is the most popular with bettors and the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby betting.
Unlike some of his rivals this son of Into Mischief has proved that he is tactically flexible. Audible can be held back off a strong pace and pass horses when it matters. With a number of pacesetters in the line-up that versatility could prove crucial. Javier Castellano is entrusted with employing the appropriate tactics on May 5.
Jockey John Velazquez is also looking for his third Kentucky Derby win, he partnered Always Dreaming for Pletcher successfully last year and scored on Animal Kingdom for Graham Motion in 2011. Velazquez is set to ride Pletcher’s Vino Rosso, the Wood Memorial winner, another colt that has proved he can emerge from mid pack to win. This son of Curlin out of a Street Cry dam will not be inconvenienced if the early fractions are strong.
Pletcher also saddles the unbeaten Magnum Moon who was last seen winning the Arkansas Derby from the front under Luis Saez who takes the ride again. Pletcher has yet to confirm a jockey for his Louisiana Derby winner, Noble Indy.
Bob Baffert had to rethink his Kentucky Derby strategy after his key contender McKinzie was scratched from the race with a hock problem in early April but is fancied to gain his fifth victory. Fortunately Baffert’s barn is brimming with talent and Justify is now the Kentucky Derby favorite.
Justify was set to run in the Arkansas Derby but contested the Santa Anita Derby instead after McKinzie’s demise. This son of Scat Daddy led from flagfall under Mike Smith, shunning the rail but beat Mick Ruis’ Bolt D’Oro three lengths with minimal encouragement.
Justify started as the 9/10 favorite at Santa Anita suggesting that he had showed plenty of ability in his work at home. He did not race as a juvenile but is undefeated in his three starts. He has promise aplenty but encountering a field of this size for the first time could be a challenge. His veteran jockey Mike Smith has never won the Run for the Roses.
Another potential front runner is Promises Fulfilled. He emulated his sire Shackleford by producing a gate-to-wire victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 3. He was not fancied by bettors to do so and was sent off at 18/1.
His trainer Dale Romans is habitually positive about his horses’ chances and said before the race that he would not be surprised if this colt won as his work at home had been eye-catching. That result should encourage all potential racehorse owners who do not have huge budgets. Promises Fulfilled was purchased for $37,000 as a yearling.
In contrast the Fountain of Youth favorite Good Magic, the juvenile champion and Breeders’ Cup winner was a $1 million yearling purchase. He was beaten four lengths into third at Gulfstream Park but redeemed himself by winning the Blue Grass Stakes for Chad Brown on April 7.
The European Kentucky Derby raider Mendelssohn cost a colossal $3 million as a yearling. This tall son of Scat Daddy was looking horribly expensive until he finished second in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October. Mendelssohn went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November beating Graham Motion’s Untamed Domain a length.
Mendelssohn is a half-brother to the star dirt mare Beholder and his breathtaking win in the UAE Derby has given his connections hope for a first Kentucky Derby win. His Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has saddled five horses in this race for the ambitious owners of Ballydoyle, Derrick Smith, John Magnier and Michael Tabor. To date their best result was a fifth placing in 2011 when Master Of Hounds was beaten five lengths to Animal Kingdom. Master Of Hounds had never run on dirt before and was narrowly beaten in UAE Derby on Tapeta.
The UAE Derby is now run on dirt and Mendelssohn’s debut on the surface he was bred to enjoy produced a startling result. It was the colt’s first run beyond a mile and the extra distance seemed to suit him too. Mendelssohn soon took the lead under Ryan Moore and never saw any of his rivals, striding nearly 20 lengths clear of Doug Watson’s Rayya with Steve Asmussen’s Reride in third.
Racing experts in the US and Europe took note but that form could be deceptive. UAE dirt and US dirt are not the same. That phenomenon could also account for the victory of the relatively unfancied Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup. Thunder Snow beat Baffert’s 5/4 favorite West Coast nearly six lengths, taking the lead soon after the gates opened under the very capable Christophe Soumillon for Godolphin’s trainer Saeed Bin Suroor.
Mendelssohn is best odds of 9/2 (+450) in Europe while one of the top American-facing bookies, the well-regarded Bovada, is +400 but most appealing currently is the +622 available with Bookmaker. So the 144th Kentucky Derby is a particularly interesting one for bettors with the first really feasible European challenger.