By: Kevin Martin
It has been a few years since the Kentucky Derby had a consensus favorite. Big Brown was the last back in 2008 when he won the Derby at odds of 2 to 1. When the gates open for the 140th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, California Chrome’s odds could be the lowest of any favorite this century. California Chrome, impressive winner of his last four races, is the stand-out among this year’s crop of 3-year-olds.
No other colt in the Derby field has paired together two strong performances like California Chrome in winning the Grade 2 San Felipe and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He dominated fields that included graded stakes winners by a combined twelve lengths. He has won six races from ten career starts and has not lost since last November. Prior to his two graded wins, he won two stakes races for California breds also by big margins.
California Chrome is trained by the 77-year-old Art Sherman. Sherman’s last connection to a Derby horse came in 1955 as an employee for the trainer of Swaps. Sherman was in attendance at Churchill Downs when Swaps won that year’s Derby. California Chrome will make a great story should he become the first colt bred in the Golden State to win the Derby in over fifty years.
Main Threats to Beat Chrome
Wicked Strong was among the promising 3-year-old prospects at the end of last year. He fell off everyone’s list of early Kentucky Derby contenders after his first two performances of 2014 when he finished fifteen lengths out of the Grade 2 Holy Bull in January then showed little improvement in an allowance race a month later. He jumped back into the mix, and is now considered the likely second choice behind California Chrome, after a stellar performance in winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York on April 5th. Wicked Strong is trained by the New York-based Jimmy Jerkens. His father Allen Jerkens, also a trainer, is known as the “Giant Killer” for a history of saddling upset winners, the most famous coming in 1973 when he beat the mighty Secretariat twice. The Jerkens family “Giant Killer” gene could serve Wicked Strong well against the formidable California Chrome.
Danza entered the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in April with just three career starts and none beyond one mile in distance. The Todd Pletcher trained colt had a perfect trip under veteran jockey Joe Bravo and won the 1 1/8 mile Arkansas Derby at odds of 41 to 1. Pletcher, who trained 2010 Derby winner Super Saver, has brought a few lightly raced colts to the Kentucky Derby, including last year with Verrazano, but has yet to get one of his inexperienced runners into the winner’s circle on the First Saturday of May. Of the main contenders, Danza is the biggest mystery. With just one strong race in his short career, it’s fair to question whether he can repeat his Arkansas Derby performance in Kentucky.
Hoppertunity and Candy Boy finished second and third but far behind California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby. While it would be easy to knock their chances based on that performance, both have won a graded stakes in 2014, and have the ability to win the Kentucky Derby should California Chrome have an off day. Of the two, Candy Boy has the most upside. He has run against, and beaten, some talented horses in his three graded stakes attempts where he has never been worse than third.
Hoppertunity finished second in the Santa Anita Derby. He made his debut in January and did not race as a 2-year-old. He won a roughly run edition of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March. That experience could prove useful in the Kentucky Derby with the inevitable jostling and bumping that comes with a twenty horse field.
Medal Count is among the likely longshots worth considering. His trainer Dale Romans has done well with colts who, like Metal Count, have done their best running prior to the Derby on turf or synthetic surfaces. In last year’s Kentucky Derby, his jockey Robby Albarado guided longshot Golden Soul to a second place finish. He did so with a perfect rail running ride — a tactic that has earned his fellow Cajun jockey Calvin Borel three Kentucky Derby wins. Albardo learned something in that race and it could pay dividends to those bettors who back Medal Count.
Intense Holiday finished an unlucky second in the Louisiana Derby in his last start. An excusable loss considering the slow early pace of the race, a scenario ill-suited to his late running style. Prior to that, he won the Grade 2 Risen Star with an impressive stretch run. The late charging stretch runner will get a fast pace in the Derby and will be passing tiring horses in the stretch. He is the type that could give his backers a thrill as they approach the finish line on Saturday.
And, of course, another longshot with a chance would be the one ridden by three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel. He will be aboard Ride On Curlin, who has never won a graded stakes race, but has been third or better in eight of nine career starts. He should be at least 15 to 1 even with the presence of Borel in the saddle. Borel has an uncanny ability to get the most out of his Kentucky Derby rides.
If you’d like a full rundown of all the Derby colts and some tips on how to play the races, check out Hello Race Fans.