By Jeff Nunn of CardinalSportsZone.com | Photos by Amber Chalfin
As the calendar turns to March, the majority of people who
reside in this area will be closely paying attention to college basketball.
I also will be intently watching college basketball, but I can’t help but
start getting myself familiar with the contenders for the 144th running
of the Kentucky Derby. While I follow thoroughbred horse racing year-
round, I don’t follow it quite as closely as I do from February through June.
Now let’s take a look at a few of the horses I believe are currently top
contenders for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Bolt d’Oro: Also known as the Bolt Show, he is the most polished
contender. He is the favorite to win Derby as tabbed by Las Vegas. He
raced four times as a 2-year-old, winning three times and running third
once. The one third place finish came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile,
where he ran wide the entire race. It was estimated that running so wide
cost him about 10 lengths. Bolt lost by a total of 5 . lengths. As a result of
the race (I believe), regular jockey Corey Nakatani was replaced by Javier
Castellano. Javier will be on board when Bolt makes his 3-year-old debut
in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10. A pulled muscle kept Bolt d’Oro from
making his 3-year-old debut in the San Vicente at Santa Anita, but he is
fully healthy now and training very well. He is the son of Medaglia d’Oro,
who was a runner-up in both the Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic. He
finished 4th in the 2002 Kentucky Derby.
Good Magic: Has raced three times as a 2-year-old. He ran second in both
of his first two starts. He finally broke his maiden in the biggest race of the
year, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, making him the 2-year-old champion.
That win was impressive and some experts believe he will continue
to get better from that performance – and I agree. It is likely we will see
him on March 3 where it is believed he will make his 3-year-old debut
in the Fountain of Youth Stakes race. He was the most expensive of the
contenders, going for $1 million as a yearling. He is the son of Curlin, who
was a two-time Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
McKinzie: This Bob Baffert-trained colt is undefeated in three starts as a
2-year-old. The connections are deciding between the San Felipe Stakes
on March 10 or the Rebel Stakes on March 17 to make his 3-year-old debut.
I’m guessing the Rebel is more likely so he won’t have to face Bolt d’Oro
until the Kentucky Derby. Baffert named the horse after Brad McKinzie, a
longtime friend of the trainer and a former executive for Los Alamitos Race
Course who passed away. He is a very dangerous horse and one to keep an
eye on as it gets closer to the first Saturday in May. He is the son of 2007
Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.
Audible: This horse has four races under his belt, winning three of them
and finishing third in the other. He made an impressive 3-year-old debut
by winning the Grade 2 Holy Bull, beating several Derby contenders. This
Todd Pletcher-trained colt will likely race next in the Florida Derby on
March 31. If he were to win that race impressively, then look for him to
be in the mix for the Run for the Roses. I think people want to see a little
more out of him before they are ready to talk about him as a Top 3 Derby
contender. Regardless, he is worth watching to see if he progresses.
Justify: This horse did not race as a 2-year-old and just had his first race on
Feb. 18 – but he won so impressively he is now on the Derby trail. Trainer
Bob Baffert said he has a plan and that Justify will likely be headed to the
Kentucky Derby. However, we do not know the plan. I assume he will have
two races prior to the Derby and hopefully earn enough points to enter.
Could be very interesting but, in my opinion, he most likely won’t win the
Kentucky Derby because history says so. No horse that didn’t race as a
2-year-old has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. Curlin (3rd
in 2007) and Bodemeister (2nd in 2012) were the 2 closest to break that
streak – but didn’t. Could Justify actually do it? We’ll have to wait and see.
A lot can, and will, change before May so this list may make several
alterations between now and then. Unless there is an injury, I feel pretty
confident that the Top 2 will be the ones to beat. They seem to be just a little
better than all the rest. That’s not so say that one of the others can’t improve
enough to beat them.
Most people are aware that for a horse to gain admittance to the Kentucky
Derby, they must do so through a points system called Road to the Kentucky
Derby. This point system was established in 2012 for the 2013 Kentucky Derby
and has had several changes over the past few years. This system currently
allows the 18 horses with the most points earned through the designated
races to enter the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The final two
spots to complete the full field of 20 horses will be filled from the winners
of Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby and European Road to the Kentucky
Derby. The European Road to the Kentucky Derby is new for the 2018 race,
while the Japanese entrant was established in 2017.
The Road to the Kentucky derby is broken up into 2 separate series. The
first is called prep season consisting of 20 races that earn smaller amounts
of points towards gaining a spot in the KY Derby. The second series is called
Kentucky Derby Championship Series. It consists of 16 races that are much
more prestigious, where horses have the opportunity to earn much more
points than the prep series. There are seven races where the winner can earn
100 points. Therefore, owners and trainers can pick their spots carefully as
to find the races that are most beneficial for the combination of earning
points as well as time off between races.
These championship races will be exciting to watch and will be the key
determining factor as to whom I place my win wager on for the Run for the
Roses. If you want to win some money on the Derby, watch these races and
see which horses make steady improvements with every start.
Jeff Nunn bet and won his first Kentucky Derby in 1994. Since then, he
has bet the Kentucky Derby every year, during two of which his Derby horse
scratched and he didn’t get to change my wager. In 18 of the remaining 22
Kentucky Derbys, the horse Jeff wagered on finished in the Top 4. He has
correctly wagered on the winner eight times while hitting the exacta in six
of those years. Luck or expertise? You decide (and take Jeff’s advice at your
own risk). Regardless, always gamble responsibly.
Jeff Nunn’s Top 10 Kentucky Derby Horses
Other notables to watch: Enticed, Free Drop Billy, Flameaway,
Firenze Fire, Bravazo, Mourinho, Impact Player, Principe
Guiherme, Magnum Moon and Sporting Chance.