Revealed within the pages of my book The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derbyare the talents top Kentucky Derby contenders display on the road to Louisville. Also detailed in those pages are characteristics that don’t lead to a successful “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May.
A careful examination of Derby history shows that slow-footedness out of the starting gate registers as a huge impediment, regardless of a horse’s ability to rally furiously in the stretch. The perfect poster pony for slow-footedness from the gate is this year’s Florida Derby favorite Greatest Honour (6-5).
His three-race win streak includes graded stakes victories in Gulfstream’s top early-season preps, the Holy Bull Stakes and the Fountain of Youth. In those wins Greatest Honour rallied from seventh of nine horses and ninth of 10 horses, respectively.
Early-season preps host the hopes of every local equine hero and flash-in-the-pan speedster. These wannabe stars tend to overextend themselves in the opening sequence of a race, setting the stage for late runners like Greatest Honour to easily romp on past them down the stretch.
But things get serious in the final Kentucky Derby prep races at a mile and an eighth. Instead of the longer distance favoring the late-closing winners of February and March races, the higher purses and greater prestige attract top talent that can run fast early and withstand challenges late. Early speed becomes the key factor most of the time.
In short, Greatest Honour faces his greatest challenge and it’s likely to be insurmountable for him.
Forcing the early pace will be Nova Rags (12-1), runnerup in the Grade 3 Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. A winner of two sprints, Nova Rags was well positioned early in the Sam Davis, which was his first try around two turns. All the way around he stayed close to the talented speed demon Candy Man Rocket. Improvement seems likely.
If Nova Rags can’t take the next step forward, the lightly raced Collaborate (6-1) has a shot. His awesome 12-length trouncing of Maiden Special Weight runners at Gulfstream stopped the timer just two-fifths of a second shy of the stakes-winning time in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes earlier this year. Collaborate accomplished this in only his second start lifetime. His final quarter of a mile in 25 seconds and his half-mile work in 47 seconds following that race suggest significant achievements lie ahead.
[Racing fans can check out my weekly race analysis on my YouTube channel “Instant Value Handicapping”.]