Welcome to the Derby Countdown, your source for anything and everything in the last days leading up to Kentucky Derby 139 on May 4 at historic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Anthony Stabile, best known for picking 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide at odds of over 12-1, will break down the top contenders for this years’ Run for the Roses, exclusively on VegasInsider.com, culminating on Friday, May 3th with an extensive analysis of every runner that steps into the gate for the most exciting two minutes in sports. On both May 3rd and May 4th, Kentucky Oaks and Derby Day, you’ll be able to purchase Stabile’s Pick Packs, full of selections and plays for two of racings’ most exciting days of the year. To purchase Anthony Stabile Kentucky Derby products, CLICK HERE!
With less than a week until the 139th Kentucky Derby, we’ll spend the next few days taking a look at the almost two dozen horses still pointing to the Run for the Roses. Of course, only 20 can run and who’s in and who’s out will be decided by the newly implemented points system that replaced the old graded stakes earnings disaster.
Normally when I write the countdowns and previews I try to cover the runners by region, and will do so to some degree from hereon in, but this initial edition will be dedicated to a trainer, Todd Pletcher.
When the first Saturday in May rolls around this year, there is a pretty good chance that Pletcher, a fairly dismal 1 for 31 in the Derby with Super Saver being his lone winner back in 2010, will be saddling a record-tying five runners in the Derby. He could have easily saddled eight or nine if it hadn’t been for injuries suffered by both Violence and Shanghai Bobby and for him showing prudence by not entering point qualifiers Winning Cause and Forty Moves. We’ll start with the colt that has the most points and who may in fact be sent off as the favorite, the undefeated VERRAZANO.
By the time this Derby is over, you’re going to wish you had a dollar for each time you heard that Apollo way back in 1882 was the only Derby winner to have not raced as a two year old. That tidbit, along with the fact that his pedigree suggests he may have distance limitations may be the only two bullets his naysayers have going onto the Derby because it’s hard to knock what he’s done on the track.
After toying with maidens on New Years’ Day at Gulfstream Park, Verrazano won an entry level allowance contest by over 16 lengths a month later at Gulfstream as well. Obviously a serious Derby contender, Pletcher decided to send the son of More Than Ready to the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, a curious decision for such a lightly raced horse when you consider that the Tampa surface is considered one of the quirkiest in the country.
Verrazano passed his stakes and two turn debut with flying colors, essentially going gate-to-wire by a comfortable three lengths over eventual Blue Grass winner Java’s War. A trip to New York for the Wood Memorial was up next and while his ¾ length score wasn’t nearly as visually impressive as any of his first three starts it was probably his most useful and informative for Pletcher.
Sitting a couple of lengths off of a longshot pacesetter, regular rider John Velazquez, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom, set Verrazano down to grab the lead at the start of the far turn before gathering him back to keep him in a bit of a dogfight with the one-time pacesetter.
After disposing of the cheap speed, Verrazano held off an early stretch bid from the then undefeated Vyjack and the furious late rally of Normandy Invasion under a vigorous hand ride by Johnny V. While the early pace was somewhat pedestrian, Verrazano came home the last three furlongs in :36 3/5 and galloped out strongly past the wire.
Verrazano arrived at Churchill Downs in mid-April and has impressed everyone who has watched him train over the course. A five furlong move in 1:00 15 on 4/21 was followed up by a sparkling :59 2/5 move going the same distance on 4/27, his last major work before the Derby.
When Pletcher won his lone Derby three years ago, it wasn’t with either of his main riders, Johnny V. or Javier Castellano in the saddle, it was with Calvin Borel, racing’s newest inductee into the Hall of Fame, who this year will pilot REVOLUTIONARY. Oddly enough, Borel, who also took the 2007 running aboard the popular Street Sense and the 2009 renewal aboard 50-1 upsetter Mine That Bird, picked up the call after Castellano decided to ride Normandy Invasion instead of this colt by War Pass.
Sent off as the favorite in each of his six starts, Revolutionary burned an awful lot of wagering money in his first three starts, all around one turn, going off as the heavy chalk at odds of 7-5, 3-10 and 2-5. It wasn’t until his first try around two turns that Revolutionary finally got the job done, at a relatively robust even money, in a one mile contest over the inner track at Aqueduct.in late December.
His next start would come over the same course a little over a month later in the Withers. Revolutionary gave his backers fits again, breaking a bit slowly and trailing throughout most of the race before uncorking a furious late rally in the lane to get up in the last two jumps by a neck at a shade under odds of 4-5. Still, he overcame plenty of adversity that day and while the quality of the field was suspect and his speed figure was on the slow side many figured he’d be a colt that would make an impact on the Derby Trail.
Nearly two months after his Withers tally, Revolutionary faced his biggest test to date in the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and was the highest price of his career, 2-1. Again breaking towards the rear and last early, Revolutionary came five wide on the far turn and gamely won a deep stretch battle by a neck over longshot Mylute by the same margin he took his previous race by.
Anyone and everyone in Louisville agree that revolutionary has arguably been one of the two or three best looking on the track in the weeks since the Louisiana Derby. He’s worked a pair of half miles, covering the distance in :48 4/5 on 4/21 and :48 1/5 on 4/27 while scraping paint along the rail under Borel. Though neither of those times are as flashy as some of his competitors, it’s the way he’s doing it and training in general that has made him the talk of the town.
Sometimes that talk can be negative and that was the case with OVERANALYZE heading into his last start in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Though he was flying a bit under the radar, the rumor mill still managed to churn out info that had him having traveled terribly to Hot Springs and not handling the track at all. The result: a rousing 4 ¼ length score off of a wise trip under new rider Rafael Bejarano, who was subbing for Velazquez, that thrust him right back into the Derby picture.
Coming into the season, Overanalyze was one of the winter book favorites after winning three of five starts as a juvenile, including the Futurity going six furlongs at Belmont and his last start of the year, the Remsen going nine furlongs where he battled gamely through the stretch before holding off Normandy Invasion by a nose.
In his only other start this year, Overanalyze got the worst of the draw in the Gotham, pulling the outside post 11 which forced him into a wide trip before finishing a non-threatening fifth as the 8-5 favorite.
A son of Dixie Union, Overanalyze worked a sharp half mile in :47 on 4/27 at Churchill in what will be his lone morning drill before the Derby.
Like Verrazano, PALACE MALICE will be making his fifth start of the year come Saturday. After breaking his maiden in his second start last year, Palace Malice went on the shelf for over five months before popping up in an entry level allowance contest at Gulfstream where he finished second going seven furlongs over a sloppy track.
His subsequent three starts came against graded stakes foes. He almost stamped his Derby ticket in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds but could manage just a third place finish when beaten a half-length. Then in the Louisiana Derby he had a nightmare trip while racing inside and basically being forced to steady and check for a quarter mile in the stretch.
Desperate for Derby points, Pletcher wheeled this son of Curlin back two weeks later in the Blue Grass, switched riders and finished second by a neck despite sitting a perfect trip and getting his head in front in deep stretch at one point. Another who’s worked just once between his last start and the Derby, a solid half mile at Churchill in :47 1/5 on 4/27, he’ll get the riding services of Mike Smith, who upset the 2005 Derby aboard 50-1 Giacomo.
CHARMING KITTEN was right behind Palace Malice when the hit the wire in the Blue Grass and almost grabbed the brass ring under Joe Bravo, who’s otherwise committed in the Run for the Roses, leaving this son of turf specialist Kitten’s Joy without a rider as of this writing.
The Kentucky Derby will actually be his conventional dirt debut as his first seven starts have come over synthetics and on the turf. Both of his wins have come on the turf, including a minor stakes named after his sire earlier this year at Gulfstream. He was absolutely flying last out which likely has his connections thinking he’ll relish the added distance of this race. Charming Kitten worked a half mile at Churchill on 4/27 in:48 2/5.
Mike DempseyMike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders' Cup. The 2015 Triple Crown saw Mike correctly predict American Pharoah to win both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Mike nailed the Exacta and Trifecta in the Belmont Stakes. Mike had a solid 2014 Triple Crown race season, correctly picking the winning horse in 2 of 3 races. He selected I'll Have another to win The Preakness, and nailed Union Rags to win the Belmont Stakes as his top pick. Mike also had past succes in the Kentucky Derby, winning with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and rode his top picks, Super Saver and Street Sense, to the finish line in 2010 and 2007 respectively. No handicapper in the industry works harder to bring you analysis that produces profits at the track! Mike's Reports include his selections, detailed analysis, a fair odds line, and wagering recommendations for the entire card. Join Mike each day with daily picks from Belmont and Churchill Downs or capture the 2nd jewel in the Triple Crown with Mike's Preakness Stakes package. You can also get his Weekend Best Plays Report in his Multi-Track package or sit at the track with him for 30 Days with his Monthly Horse Package!
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Jerry SessaJerry "Shots" Sessa has been involved in horse racing for over 30 years. He now brings his meticulous handicapping style to VegasInsider.com. When Jerry posts picks you are getting his best bets...when you win, he wins. Jerry opened the 2016 Triple Crown season by hitting his Derby Day best bet, Nyquist. He also nailed the Derby exacta for a $30.60 payout. On 4/16/16 at Keeneland, Jerry hit an $819 exacta that led to a $38k Trifecta & a $300k Super.
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