Super Saver among best bets in wide-open Kentucky Derby field
Sloppy track, poor posts for two favorites present rare handicapping challenges
Churchill veteran Calvin Borel makes Super Saver (15-1) an attractive choice
Backtalk, Dean's Kitten, Homeboykris, Make Music for Me shouldn't be in race
The 136th Kentucky Derby lost some luster on Sunday when likely favorite Eskendereya pulled out of the race with a left front leg injury. At the same time, however, the Derby became even more delicious for those who like to hit the windows every now and then. A case can be made for more than 10 horses earning the blanket of roses on Saturday afternoon, as many of the contenders have produced similar performances speed-wise. Add in the fact that the top two morning line choices, Lookin At Lucky (3-1) and Sidney's Candy (5-1), drew the worst two posts -- Nos. 1 and 20, respectively -- and the strong likelihood for a sloppy track on Saturday, and racing fans have a handicapping challenge absent in most Derbies.
So then without much conviction, here are the top four selections, with morning-line odds, for the Run for the Roses.
4 Super Saver (15-1)
After a very good two-year-old campaign, this Todd Pletcher-trained colt has yet to win in two starts in 2010, finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby and second in the Arkansas Derby. However, according to all reports he has thrived physically since arriving at Churchill Downs and should be ready to fire his best race yet.
He has the best trainer in the country (albeit one who has never won the Derby). He has won at Churchill (by five lengths). He has won in the slop (by seven). He is bred to get the 1¼-mile distance. But best of all, he is ridden by Calvin Borel, who has won two of the last three Derbies and knows the quirks of Churchill better than any jockey, something which will be invaluable if facing the expected sloppy track. Borel should be able to get Super Saver, a close-to-the-pace type, to carry his speed farther than he should in a race loaded with front-end speedballs.
The main concern with Super Saver is the slow come-home time from his last race; horses usually don't crawl in their final quarter mile in their last Derby prep and then win the roses at 10 furlongs. But the guess here is that he has improved since arriving in Louisville and will get Pletcher his first Derby.
11 Devil May Care (10-1)
Not only does Pletcher win his first Derby, he runs 1-2. This filly's last race, a win in the Bonnie Miss, was as good as any of her competitors', and according to those who watch the workouts, she has trained beautifully in Louisville, particularly on the slop. Her post position sets up perfectly for her stalking running style, and assuming she's seasoned enough with just five lifetime races and two this year -- all against fillies -- she should stay right with the best of the boys.
10 Paddy O'Prado (20-1)
This choice is based on one angle: No one has trained more sensationally on the slop than Paddy O'Prado. He has absolutely skipped over the surface at Churchill, and we all remember what happened last year with a longshot who loved the slop. Otherwise, there would be very little reason to like this Dale Romans-trained colt. Five of his six career races have come on either grass or synthetic, and in his only dirt start (in the slop at Churchill), he lost by 11½ lengths and finished seventh. (Granted, it was his debut.)
16 Awesome Act (10-1)
This chestnut son of Awesome Again looked brilliant in winning the Gotham in early March, but in the Wood Memorial four weeks later he stumbled out of the gate, lost a shoe, fought his jockey the whole way and finished 9¾ lengths behind Eskendereya, in third. If you can forgive him for his Wood performance because of all the trouble, then Awesome Act is a leading contender, especially considering that trainer Jeremy Noseda loves his colt's chances of moving up in the slop. To be fair, Noseda also is uncertain about his colt's ability to get the Derby distance, but Awesome Act's sire was great at 10 furlongs so he gets the benefit of the doubt.
Morning line favorite Lookin At Lucky is working well, and trainer Bob Baffert knows the way to the winner's circle on the first Saturday in May. But his best Beyer speed figure is just a 98, and the No. 1 post position does not do him any favors. He obviously could win, but there are others who provide better value.
Stately Victor's going-away, 4½-length win in the Blue Grass was either a synthetic surface aberration (he is 0-for-2 on conventional dirt) or the result of a three-year-old colt coming around at the right time. So he'll either win or finish out of the money. The guess here is the latter. ...Sidney's Candy would be the top choice if the track is fast, but the transition to not only dirt but also the slop is enough to make us look elsewhere. ...Florida Derby winner Ice Box could pick up the pieces and finish in the money if the speed collapses, which is a decent possibility. ...Conveyance should be in the lead after a mile, but 10 furlongs is a long way to carry that speed and fight off the top closers. ...American Lion is coming around at the right time, but also faces a tough task with the expected early fractions. ...Mission Impazible looks the part of a Grade I winner, but hasn't proven he's fast enough. ...Discreetly Mine is bred for the distance but did not show any late kick in the Louisiana Derby. ...Jackson Bend tries hard all the time but has shown nothing to suggest he'll excel at 10 furlongs. ...Noble's Promise has serious distance limitations. ...Dublin had a poor last work at Churchill and had no excuses in the Arkansas Derby. ...Line of David had a terrible workout on the slop and is a candidate to finish last. ...Backtalk, Dean's Kitten, Homeboykris and Make Music for Me -- all 50-1 shots -- should not even be in the field, but, then again, Mine That Bird was 50-1 last year. So who knows.
For more Derby observations, follow Gene on Twitter at SI_GeneMenez.