If you’re handicapping the Kentucky Derby, you have to remember one thing: it’s not your typical horse race.
It’s not just about the spectacle, although 150,000 people watching the race at Churchill Downs certainly can play into it. There’s also the fact that up to 20 horses—19 this year, for now—can run. Other major races like the Preakness Stakes limit fields to 14.
In short, anything can happen in the Derby, as we all saw last year with Rich Strike’s epic upset in the final strides. The 80-1 shot who got in the race less than 36 hours before it started has not won in his six races since. That includes a fifth-place finish, out of six, in the Alysheba Stakes here in Louisville.
So, go ahead and pore over past performance charts. Rewatch key Derby preps. Follow a track guy (or gal) on Twitter, and find your Derby horse.
Just understand that no matter how you see the race unfolding, it can all go haywire once the horses break from the starting gate.
So, with all that said, here’s how I’m playing the Derby.
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Can Favorite Forte Pull It Off?
Before I go further, I should disclose that I’m the Zippy Chippy of Derby forecasters. I’m still waiting to break my maiden, although that should have happened with Maximum Security four years ago.
But I digress.
I’ve been high on Forte for more than a month since his astounding stretch run propelled him to victory in the Florida Derby. No Kentucky Derby prep can actually mirror what horses will experience in the Run for the Roses, but the April 1 race at Gulfstream Park came close. Forte battled his way from being ninth at the half-mile mark to earn the win, and he looked like he had more than enough left after the 1-1/8-mile race to handle the extra distance in the 1-1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.
Forte should be the favorite come Saturday, so if you bet him, don’t expect a big payout.
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Late Scratches Could Shake Things Up
While I still think Forte is the horse to beat on Saturday, one late development is worth noting. Thanks to a slew of scratches that took place on Thursday, Mandarin Hero is now in the field, and he should attract a lot of interest.
The Japanese-bred colt made his U.S. debut last month in the Santa Anita Derby, and he finished second to Practical Move by a nose. But if the 1-1/8th race had been an eighth longer, I think Mandarin Hero would have been the winner.
Because he was an also-eligible who made the field because Practical Move and Lord Miles were scratched, Mandarin Hero will have to start from the outside, in the 18th gate in the field of 19. That’s not the obstacle it has been in the past and could actually help him avoid getting bottled up in traffic even if he has a longer distance to cover. At the very least, he deserves to be considered in any exotic wager.
I’ll go ahead and throw in one more horse I’m considering as well. Two Phil’s comes to Louisville after winning the Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway in late March. Turfway is a tapeta course and not dirt. Still, he has won at Churchill before, albeit on a muddy track.
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