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!
Today’s installment of the Derby Countdown takes us to two places that probably couldn’t be more different if they tried – California and Arkansas. We’ll start on the West Coast where the most interesting development may not be their lone representative, GOLDENCENTS, but the fact that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who at one point had over a half dozen head pointed towards the Run for The Roses will not have a runner in the race for the first time in five years.
Don’t get me wrong, Goldencents has plenty of storylines of his own. His trainer, Doug O’Neill, of course won last years’ Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another and was poised to take a run at the Triple Crown before he was forced to scratch his colt the day before the race due to a recurring leg injury.
His jockey, the outspoken, cocky and confident Kevin Krigger will be making his Derby debut and will look to become the first African-American rider to win the Derby, a race dominated by black jockeys in its’ early days, since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902.
And let’s not forget about Goldencents himself who’s done little wrong in his six race career. He debuted at Del Mar last Labor Day weekend, where he went gate-to-wire over the synthetic course by over seven lengths. Off that effort alone O’Neill felt the son of Into Mischief was worthy of a trek east for the prestigious Champagne at Belmont.
After breaking a bit awkwardly, Goldencents found his way to the lead but was soundly defeated by the eventual B.C Juvenile and Eclipse champion Shanghai Bobby. Goldencents found himself making another road trip six weeks later, this time to Delta Downs for the lucrative Delta Jackpot. Making use of his abundant early speed once again, Goldencents set a fast early pace en route to a 1 ¾ length score in his final start as a juvenile.
Coming into this year as one to watch in regards to the Derby, Goldencents started the year off on the right foot, overcoming a bit of early trouble and showing the ability to rate off the pace when he won the Sham at Santa Anita as the big favorite. But two months later in the San Felipe, Goldencents found himself entrenched in a wicked speed duel with the now-injured Flashback and tired through the stretch to finish fourth
O’Neill pressed on and decided to run his colt in the Santa Anita Derby. Coming off his San Felipe flop, the public sent Goldencents to post at better than 6-1, and in an effort reminiscent to the one he put forth in the Sham, Goldencents sat just off the early pace before rolling home by 1 ¼ lengths.
Goldencents has worked twice at Santa Anita since the S.A. Derby it’s doubtful that either move instilled any fear in his rivals as an easy half mile in :48 2/5 on 4/17 was followed by a somewhat pedestrian six furlong work in 1:16 1/5.
While Goldencents is the lone product of the California preps this year to make it to Louisville, Hot Springs was a hotbed of Derby productivity as the four we’ll talk about today, along with Arkansas Derby victor Revolutionary, all earned points in Oaklawn Park preps.
Two of those runners, WILL TAKE CHARGE and OXBOW, are trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Derby four times with Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Grindstone in 1996 and Charismatic in 1999.
As is his want, Lukas is taking an extremely unconventional approach with Will Take Charge, who was last seen in mid-March gutting out a head victory over his stablemate in the Rebel. Lukas decided a couple of weeks after the Rebel that Will Take Charge would TRAIN up to the Derby without racing in another prep.
After breaking his maiden at second asking last year, Will Take Charge ran against stakes company in his five starts since with mixed results. He finished dead last in the KJC at Churchill before coming back to finish second in a minor stakes at Remington Park. Things turned around once he got to Oaklawn as Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones by a neck before finishing well behind runaway Southwest winner Super Ninety Nine in his last start prior to the Rebel.
Lukas has trained this son of the great Unbridled’s Song vigorously, working him five times since his last start, including two drills going a mile. Will Take Charge finished his serious training with a five furlong move in 1:01 at Churchill on 4/29. Jon Court, who’s piloted the colt to all three of his career wins, will ride.
Oxbow has taken a far more traditional path to Churchill Downs, and in true Lukas fashion, will be making his tenth career start in the Derby. After breaking his maiden in his fourth start going seven panels in gate-to-wire fashion at Churchill, Oxbow has also been fed a steady diet of stakes competition.
After finishing fourth in the CashCall over the synthetic track at Hollywood Park, Oxbow stamped himself a Derby contender with an astounding 11 ½ length score in the LeComte at the Fair Grounds. Next out in the Risen Star, Oxbow took the worst of a four horse blanket finish when he was beaten a half- length before heading out to Oaklawn.
After his aforementioned second place finish in the Rebel, Lukas switched riders to fellow Hall of Famer Gary Stevens for the Arkansas Derby. Stevens has won three Derbies himself, two of which came for Lukas aboard Winning Colors and Thunder Gulch with his third coming aboard Silver Charm in 1997. Stevens decided to take Oxbow back to last, a move the son of Awesome Again didn’t appreciate one bit yet still managed a fifth place finish after putting in a bit of a run going into the far turn.
Since the Arkansas Derby, Oxbow has turned in a pair of works at Churchill. On 4/22, he went five furlongs in 1:01 before covering the same distance in a sharp :59 4/5 on 4/29. Expect Oxbow to be forwardly placed on Saturday, especially after that last work.
Though a bulk of his points were earned in Florida, FALLING SKY earned his final points in the Arkansas Derby when he finished a tiring fourth after setting an honest, fairly contentious early pace. After winning two of three starts last year, including a minor stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, Falling Sky started his year with a gutsy, front running, neck score in the Sam F Davis over the same course.
Then, in the Tampa Bay Derby, Falling Sky made the mistake of trying to battle Verrazano in the early stages but was quickly disposed of yet still managed to hang on for the show dough. Trainer John Terranova has obviously had the Derby in mind for a while when you consider the fact that he shipped Falling Sky to Churchill before the Arkansas Derby. He’ll have a new rider in Luis Saez this Saturday and is another who figures to be on or near the lead. On 4/26, Falling Sky finished his serious training with a sharp five furlong drill in :59 3/5.
FRAC DADDY may be one of the beneficiaries should the pace be hot up front and may finally be turning into the colt his trainer Ken McPeek thought he could be after an abysmal start to the year. Frac Daddy capped off his juvenile campaign with a second place finish in the KJC, an effort many felt was much better than the winning one.
But after two horrible efforts at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby in which he didn’t come within the same area code as the winner, Frac Daddy closed nicely through the lane at Oaklawn to grab place money in the Arkansas Derby. Victor Lebron, who was aboard last out, will ride once again in the Derby. In his lone workout since his last start, Frac Daddy covered five furlongs in 1:02 at Churchill on 4/27.
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 daily with top picks from Belmont or Keeneland. 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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