3 Derby Horses: Justify, My Boy Jack & Audible

It’s still way too early to get a deep grasp on the Kentucky Derby. Among other things, workouts and post positions are essential parts of the Derby equation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t summarize and analyze what we do know. I’m going to pick 3 horses and see if I can form an opinion on them.

Justify: Starting with anybody but him felt sacrilegious. He’s blazing fast along with being quite precocious — he’s 3 for 3 with a Santa Anita Derby in his belt (with 3 100 or higher Beyer figures.) But only 3 for 3. Because it only takes to the fourth sentence to mention the “Curse of Apollo” — no horse has won the Derby unraced at 2 since Apollo in 1882. “The Curse” isn’t a statistical quirk; it’s a measure of maturity. The Derby is chaotic and overwhelming for many young horses. An experienced horse is calmer. Can Justify overcome the curse? Baffert brought us a Triple Crown — perhaps this is next. He’s fast enough that he could still be affected and win (think of Curlin for a good effort). I think this is a question that every handicapper has to ask for themselves over the next few weeks.

My Boy Jack: You have to like the smart move to go to the Lexington to get the points to qualify for the Derby. He was originally a turf horse and ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, finishing 3 lengths behind Mendelssohn. My Boy Jacks faces Mendelssohn in a rematch of sorts on Kentucky Derby Day. He came back in January after a brief vacation and tried the Dirt in the Sham, finishing a well-beaten third. Interesting, he moved around running at 4 different tracks on his Derby trail. He’s fast, but I don’t know if he is Derby fast and his best win (other than maybe the Lexington) was in the mud at Oaklawn in the GIII Southwest. His profile doesn’t quite scream Derby resume.

Audible: This is a horse that has done nothing wrong. You can excuse the sprinting effort on debut in September — even though he made up tremendous ground. And then all he’s done is win, starting with stretching out to a mile at Aqueduct. He blew away an allowance field, albeit there were only 4 horses running. At Gulfstream, he brought it to a new level, running Derby-level speed. He was dominant in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby is trained by über-trainer Todd Pletcher. He has the experience that some of the field lacks. I think he stands a good chance come Derby day, and will likely be on most of my tickets.


Holy Bull

The Derby Trail is picking up with 3 points races this week — the Withers, The Holy Bull, and the Robert B. Lewis. The focus is Gulfstream for the second week in a row; We’ll visit some returning friends in a competitive edition of the Holy Bull. The Holy Bull, a Grade II is 8.5 furlongs and starts viciously close to the turn and a decided disadvantage. Mississippi has scratched and will run in an allowance on Sunday, rather than start from an outside post. Hollywood Star has also scratched.

Here are the horses with a chance:

Enticed: Godolphin-owned colt that won a slow Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill in the fall. He beat Tiz Mischief by a head and many think these are the top two horses, despite the layoffs. Enticed could eventually be the best horse in the field, but will it be today? He’s a very strong contender for the win spot; don’t expect good odds at all — he’s a very logical place to land.

Free Drop BillyA grade 1 winner in the Breeders’ Futurity, but then well up the track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If we get that horse from the G1 win, he certainly can compete for the top spot. A fast pace would help.

Master Manipulator: Trained by Eric Guillot, he needed a soft pace to break his maiden on the lead. Guillot can place ambitiously, so this colt seems a bit over his head here. But you never know with Guillot and a horse that can be placed on the lead. The connections are strong — Southern Equine and Calumet Farm — and he cost $360K.

Audible: He’s done everything right, progressing through first two NY conditions and then demolishing open company in a first-level allowance. Yes, it was just an allowance, but he shows many positive attributes and he’s comparatively fast in this field. He was a $500K purchase, is trained by Pletcher, ridden by Castellano, and owned by golden owners WinStar Farm and China Horse Club. He has enough early speed and ample late speed. His stakes debut is against challenging company, but I expect him to find the winner’s circle here.

Tiz Mischief: Beaten by a head in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he essentially duplicated his maiden efforts in a slow race. Unless others don’t improve, I don’t see him winning today.

Pony Up:  He’s an X factor horse — he’s run well on the turf (not great, however) and this is a requisite dirt try to see if he can chase Triple Crown glory. It’s not the fastest field, so if he takes to the dirt, he has a good chance.

Analysis:  I’m all over Audible here. I’d like to see him at 7/2 or greater to make a bet. Pony Up might make a good (smaller) longshot bet if he’s over 10-1.



The Holy Bull (GII)

Great 3YO racing tomorrow from Gulfstream Park, including Kentucky Derby points on the line in the the Holy Bull.

The race features several contenders who have already earned qualifying points. A win won’t be enough to join El Kabeir and International Star as likely qualifiers, but will stamp the contender as a key player throughout the winter. Here’s the list:

  • Upstart: 6 points
  • Frosted: 4 points
  • Keen Ice: 2 points

I’ll start, however, with another horse — Bluegrass Singer. Despite being cross-entered in the Hutchinson, is likely to start here. He’s plenty fast on paper, but his improvement has come at a specialist distance — the 1-turn mile at Gulfstream. He could like the two-turns today, but the added distance risk is enough to raise questions to look elsewhere.

Frosted and Keen Ice exit the Remsen, which was a very tricky race to handicap. At the top of the lane, Frosted looked ready to roll, but Leave the Light On had more in the stretch.

Frosted could have matured during the layoff, but I see very little reason to support him today at a low price, especially with his effort last out. Someone is going to move forward to win this race — yes, it could be him, but I’d rather look elsewhere.

I liked Upstart in the Breeders’ Cup and do rate him with a very solid chance today. He’s got the speed, but I’m hesitant to take a low price off the layoff for Violette. I’d certainly recommend using him in bigger multi-race exotics, but I’d be hesitant to single him. Instead, I’d add Godolphin’s First Down, who has a tremendous amount of positives and a 12-1 morning line. He won on debut for Albetrani — something that doesn’t happen very often:

Screenshot 2015-01-23 18.32.15


In that debut, he beat Frosted. First Down then faced two of the division leaders — El Kabeir and Blofeld — on a wet track in only his second start. In contrast to some of the others here, his breeding (Street Sense/Storm Cat) suggests that he should enjoy the extra distance.

I’ll use Upstart and First Down in the very fun multi-race wagers on this deep card, and I’ll play First Down to win at 5-1 or greater. Good luck!

Image: JL Decker, Copyright 2006.