This year’s Kentucky Derby has an odd feel to it, personally.
While I love the race for the abundant wagering opportunities and sheer pageantry, there was always that nagging hope we’d finally see a horse break the agonizing Triple Crown drought that stretched back to 1978, just months before I was born.
Having never witnessed a Triple Crown feat, I longed for it. Each year, I bought into every horse that won the Derby, that he was finally the one.
In 2014, I was all in on Harris Farms-bred colt California Chrome, who just missed in the Belmont and left me heartbroken for 365 days. Then came the dominant American Pharoah last spring, and the rest is history. His accomplishments were a total thrill for me, but fortunately – and unfortunately – we must start over.
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The last long drought between Triple Crown winners was a 25-year gap between Citation in 1948 and the fabulous Secretariat in 1973. After Secretariat’s dominant performance, two more Triple Crowns followed relatively quickly, with Seattle Slew and Affirmed doing the deed back-to-back in 1977 and 1978.
Is a repeat Triple Crown winner possible this year? My gut says no, as this year’s class appears relatively mediocre. Or perhaps there’s another star in the making. If the latter is the case, the obvious choice to capture the nation’s attention is the undefeated Nyquist.
7 for 7 Career record for morning-line favorite No. 13 Nyquist (3-1)
Starting in the No. 13 post and the morning-line favorite at 3-1, Nyquist actually enters the Derby with a more impressive résumé than American Pharoah. Nyquist is 7-for-7 in his career, winning the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a 2-year-old and smashing highly regarded Mohaymen in the Florida Derby five weekends ago. Nyquist also is extremely versatile with his running style – he can win on the lead, sitting just off the pacesetters or coming from midpack. However, his speed figures are fairly light and he might be better at shorter distances than the demanding mile and a quarter of the Derby.
Last year, I fully backed American Pharoah, and while I usually try to avoid falling in love with favorites, he just felt special to me. There was that buzz that was unmistakable, that if he could just stay healthy he would dominate his peers. I respect Nyquist and will use him in my exotics, but on the win end, I’m leaning elsewhere.
3 Horses in the Derby that also raced in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as 2-year-olds (Nyquist, Brody’s Cause, Exaggerator)
Top choice: No. 19 Brody’s Cause (12-1) – This well-bred colt out of Giant’s Causeway is a deep closer, meaning he does his best running at the end of the race when a lot of horses are tiring. Brody’s Cause broke his maiden at Churchill Downs and has trained strongly there the past few weeks, important factors for me. Some horses thrive at Churchill; others don’t. Starting way wide in the 19 hole, Brody’s Cause will need some racing luck to avoid the numerous traffic jams that happen in a 20-horse field, but his jockey, Luis Saez, has had a huge winter and spring so I trust him to give his horse the best possible chance to win. Third start of the year, we should see his best.
103 Top Beyer speed figure in the field, owned by No. 11 Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby on a sloppy track
Others to consider for exotic plays – No. 20 Danzing Candy (15-1) is the likely pacesetter of the Derby, but landing the far outside post may change the tactics. It’s very possible Nyquist will go to the lead. If that happens, it will be interesting to see if the Candyman can sit off a leader and be able to finish. If Nyquist and the few other horses that have shown early lick decide to be passive and let Candy go at a relatively easy pace up front, he can be very dangerous. My gut says this horse will finish in the exacta or nearly dead last. ... No. 17 Mor Spirit (12-1) has been battling Danzing Candy in the California prep races and couldn’t hang with Candy on his best day. That said, this Bob Baffert trainee feels like he’s sitting on a monster effort, and this may be legendary jockey Gary Stevens’ last chance at history. I’m using this horse aggressively in my plays. ... No. 16 Shagaf (20-1) is lightly raced with only four career starts, with his lone poor effort coming on a muddy track last month. Jockey Joel Rosario just returned from injury, and he’s one of my favorites. The upside is there with this one, and he has the tactical speed to hang close early and hold off the numerous deep closers. ... It would not surprise me to see No. 2 Suddenbreakingnews (20-1) be a major factor in the exotic bets, as he fires every time from way back. Buried inside, he’ll need a lot of luck to get a winning trip, however.
I’m against – No. 3 Creator (10-1) and No. 11 Exaggerator (8-1).
My plays – $100 on No. 19 Brody’s Cause to win; $5 exacta box 17-19-20 ($30); 50-cent trifecta 19 over 2-13-16-17-20 over ALL ($45); 50-cent trifecta 2-13-16-17-20 over 19 over ALL ($45). Total investment: $220.
Best of luck, and may the fastest horse win!
Have a question, comment or hot tip for Exacta Kenny? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.