Saturday, April 20th.
By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been a long time (131 years) since a horse won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. Trainer Todd Pletcher's Verrazano looks to be the colt to snap the streak on Saturday.
Verrazano began his career on Jan. 1 with a 7 3/4-length score at Gulfstream Park. He followed that effort up with a 16 1/2-length win in an allowance race a month later.
The son of More Than Ready then stretched his speed around two turns in both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial to remain unbeaten. However, there are many handicapping experts who look at the Wood as a negative race considering he did not draw off to win by open lengths.
Verrazano was put to the whip for the first time in his career in the Wood, only winning by three-quarters of a length in the slow time of 1:50 1/5. Still, the January foal already had locked up a spot in the Derby. In addition, jockey John Velazquez looked behind for the competition at least nine times throughout the running of the race, showing total confidence in the undefeated colt.
There also are some folks who question Verrazano's chances of winning at 10 furlongs, especially being sired by More Than Ready. Nevertheless, five sprinter/miler horses have sired Kentucky Derby winners over the last 11 years: Leroidesanimaux, Boundary, Elusive Quality, Distorted Humor and Our Emblem.
More Than Ready is a descendent of Hail To Reason, whose sire line has three Kentucky Derby winners (Barbaro, Sunday Silence and Sunny's Halo) in the last 30 years. It doesn't sound that strong, but when matched against the other top contenders it actually is not that bad.
Revolutionary and Java's War come from the Blushing Groom sire line that has just one win in 30 years, while Orb and Normandy Invasion come out of the Seattle Slew line that has zero victories since Seattle Slew became a sire of sires.
Goldencents and Vyjack come from the Storm Cat line, which also has never had a Derby winner. Finally, Overanalyze is by Dixie Union, who is not known as a sire of distance horses.
The bottom line in this year's race is the trip. Verrazano should work out a wonderful trip, sitting behind Falling Sky, Goldencents and maybe Oxbow. The key to victory rests with Velazquez and his ability to move Verrazano at the right time, and then be able to hold off the likes of Orb, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion and Overanalyze.
Speaking of those four, they will be the colts who have the best chance of winning if Velasquez moves Verrazano too early.
THE NEXT GROUP OF FOUR
Orb is coming into the race in fine form (four wins in a row) and trainer Shug McGaughey is extremely confident in the colt's chances. In fact, there is growing support for Orb as the betting favorite over Verrazano.
Revolutionary has looked outstanding at Churchill Downs for Pletcher. The expected third choice, especially with jockey Calvin Borel, has raced just twice this year with two victories. That is not necessarily a bad thing as the last six Derby winners ran only two times in their 3-year-old season prior to the Run for the Roses.
Overanalyze is the third Pletcher horse in the top four. It is true he ran very slowly in the Arkansas Derby and he's never won two consecutive starts, but he also has run in six straight graded races. The bay colt has more natural speed than Orb and Revolutionary, so he might get the jump on those two, particularly if the early pace is slow.
Normandy Invasion has been training well in Louisville and should appreciate the added distance. However, he's won just one race in five lifetime starts.
THE NEXT BATCH OF FIVE
Java's War has run impressively on dirt, synthetics and turf. Don't forget, his second-place finish to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby came off a 3 1/2-month layoff. The main problem will be positioning. It is highly likely he will be 19th or 20th at the start, and if the pace is not that fast, he'll need to run a career-best to win.
Goldencents could be the leader approaching the far turn. Unfortunately, he will have to deal with the oncoming Verrazano, and if he passes that test, he'll have to hold off the charges of the other top-flight runners. When combined with a pedigree unsuited for 1 1/4 miles, it is doubtful trainer Doug O'Neill will replicate last year's Derby win with I'll Have Another.
Palace Malice comes into the Run for the Roses off a heavy schedule that includes two races since March 30. He is a gritty colt from the very successful Mr. Prospector sire line, but Pletcher is adding blinkers for the race and horses coming into the Derby with equipment changes are not that successful.
Itsmyluckyday runs better fresh, so improvement from his Florida Derby effort is expected, but outside of Shanghai Bobby, he has not defeated anyone of note.
The bandwagon for Mylute has picked up steam over the last couple of weeks, which means he will not be anywhere near the 30-1 odds he should be. The second-place finisher in the Louisiana Derby has a lot going for him: Two starts as a 3-year-old, from the Mr. Prospector sire line, improving speed numbers and a powerful closing kick. The main problem is that the kick usually comes a furlong too soon, which leaves Mylute hanging down the stretch.
Starting off with a mythical bankroll of $100, place $48 to win on Verrazano, $5 exacta boxes of Verrazano with Orb, Revolutionary, Overanalyze and Normandy Invasion and $2 exactas Verrazano over Java's War, Palace Malice, Mylute, Charming Kitten, Black Onyx and Golden Soul.
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Verrazano - Undefeated star is the one to beat.
2) Orb - Must not be too far back as pace will be slow.
3) Revolutionary - Same could be said for son of War Pass.
4) Overanalyze - Pletcher colt will be slightly overlooked.
5) Normandy Invasion - Has been working well in Louisville.
6) Java's War - Might be at the mercy of the early pace.
7) Palace Malice - Needs best effort to get the roses.
8) Mylute - Talented but does not have killer instinct.
9) Goldencents - Distance the main question for this colt.
10) Itsmyluckyday - Will be a factor for the first mile.
11) Vyjack - Solid five-furlong work late last week.
12) Charming Kitten - Ran as well as No. 6 in Blue Grass.