The narrative leading upto the Derby has been a fractured and compelling one, with one horse emerging as the clear leader as plenty have taken major prizes and points across the way, beating each other in the process, whilst there have been plenty who have not had their chance to shine in warm-ups and trial who could improve considerably.
Nyquist, despite winning all seven of his starts, hasn’t impressed everyone including the clockwatchers and ratings men to a notable extent but he has made his credentials clearer and is deserving of his favouritism.
The outstanding juvenile of last year, he went four wide around the first turn and three wide around the home turn but had more than enough in hand when winning the Breeders’ Cup juvenile, and in two wins this season he has looked at least as good, showing enough toe to hand off Exaggerator in the San Felipe Stakes before romping home in the Florida Derby, going further clear the more ground he covered. The form of the latter can be questioned as many, including Mohaymen, didn’t run to form there, but his attitude cannot, most of his other form cannot, and post 13 should be OK if he breaks well enough for the forward going type with Outwork and Danzing Candy stuck out wide in 15 and 20.
Exaggerator couldn’t get past Nqyuist in the San Vincente and was third behind Danzing Candy (gave weight) in the San Felipe, before Kent Desormeaux timed everything right to win the Santa Anita Derby in a wide margin. He was a little flattered by the result that day given the early speed and the slop, but if there is enough pace then few will be coming better late and this trip is a bonus as well.
Mohaymen did not enjoy the slop when favourite for the Florida Derby and can be forgiven on that basis, although the form of his Fountain Of Youth win was not well represented by Zulu, since well beaten as he stepped up to Grade 1 level. He still retains potential though and we’ve not seen the best of him.
Gun Runner has already shown himself much better at three than two with a pair of wins at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, on the latter occasion posting what seemed a good fast time figure (the final time of 1m43.94s was more than a second faster than the Grade 2 race for fillies at the same distance earlier on the card.). However over this distance he may struggle to hold off the charge of Mo Tom, blindsided behind him the last twice here. The latter has potential to outrun his price, but he must prove himself good enough here.
Brody’s Cause was one of the top juveniles last year, winning the Futurity at Keenland when coming from a seemingly impossible position of calm fractions to get past Exaggerator, and then reversing that form in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he took a solid third. Things didn’t drop at all right for him at Tampa Bay on his reappearance, but he was a solid winner of the Blue Grass when beating My Man Sam with plenty of ease relative to the winning margin and holds one of the more solid form chances. Post 19 is not idea, but with plenty from inside him trying to go fast and rush up the early fractions then he can drop in and if there’s enough pace he’s a major threat.
Mor Spirit has never been outside of the top 2 in his seven starts and paid the price for going too quickly when he was second in the Santa Anita Derby, following scalding fractions behind Danzing Candy. The track was too wet for him that day and before he’d tried to give weight to Danzing Candy the time before, but one wonders how stall 17 complicates his own chances. Danzing Candy was a recommended each/way bet after his win in the San Felipe when he was a smooth winner who promised to improve from that winner. When in the Santa Anita Derby, he tried too hard to do the same and ended up being beaten on a sloppy track. One can forgive him that, being trying to set the pace in this field from 20 is a very hard task.
The pace collapsed in the Arkansas Derby, where Creator took the prize after coming from last to first (making up 16 lengths) to give Steven Asmussen yet another hand in the race and WinStar Farms a first winner for the combination. He can go well if there’s enough pace, and if that happens to be the case, then Suddenbreakingnews, forced to go widest of all around the home turn, can be involved too. Beaten half a length at Oakland Park, he was giving 4lbs that day to the winner and appeared to get outpaced around the home turn before coming fast late. A winner of the Southwest before finding the lack of pace in the race too much in the Rebel, it’s tempting to give him a chance here at 25/1 with much of the pace from 10 and outwards here, especially on these revised terms. Rebel Stakes second Whitmore was a fair third there but looks to have a struggle to reverse that form on these same terms.
The Wood Memorial has a chequered record as a Derby trial but the way that Outwork managed to last off strong fractions before holding off Trojan Nation in the deep stretch after duelling hard with Matt King Coal. The performance of the hold-up horses in that race suggests his performance can be marked up and he is respected on that basis; Trojan Nation’s previous form suggested that he was heavily flattered by the pace meltdown and the chances of such a scenario happening again would seem to be lessened; Other closers seem to have better claims in any case. Outwork can go well but will be hard pressed to do the same again if there is enough pressure on the front race. Shagaf, a previously smart winner of the Gotham when he got well on top late, hated the track at Aqueduct and was well behind even Trojan Nation in the early stages. His stamina is assured and connections are confident after a good week’s training.
Outwork had duelled hard with Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby but came out the best fair and square after a protracted duel, getting the best of the argument late on. He gave 4lbs to his stablemate there on just his second graded start (a previously impressive winner of the Sam F.Davis Stakes, having been beaten on his January return). The upping in trip by 1.5f and a 68 day break may not be ideal for some, but he looks overpriced on the bare balance of his form to date. It’s hard to suggest that Majesto can reverse the Florida Derby form here in any circumstance. Tom’s Ready trainer had the 35-1 2nd in 2013 & 38-1 2nd in 2014, so has to be respected, but the utter disrespect with which he was treated by Gun Runner.
Lani had already posted useful pair of performances on Dirt in Japan (twice a winner at Tokyo) showed a game attitude to win the UAE Derby. Some are of the opinion that the second did not help herself there (previously very impressive winner earlier in UAE season). Behind early, he made his ground in the back straight and was fighting around the home turn, which is encouraging for his attitude. Bred in the purple for this, it would be no surprise to see him take yet another step forward but the bare form of those around him does not convince. Oscar Nominated’s win in the Horseshoe Classic was a game one, but the time did not impress the clock-watchers and this is a very hard dirt debut for him.
Advice – UK Bookmakers
2 pts win Nyquist (3/1 general)
1 pt each/way Destin (16/1 SkyBet)
1 pt each/way Suddenbreakingnews (20/1 Bet365)
Advice – US Players
1 pt win Destin (21/1), and Suddenbreakingnews (22/1)
Advice – Already Advised
2 pts each/way Nyquist, Kentucky Derby (12/1 general), 2 April