Commentary

Where we are with the 2014 Derby

Just qualifying for the Kentucky Derby can be a difficult feat

Updated: April 22, 2014, 12:41 PM ET
By Steve Davidowitz | Special to ESPN.com

It never fails. Every year around this time, we realize that several top rated contenders for the Kentucky Derby have fallen by the wayside due to injuries or similar reasons. Making the Derby with a healthy horse is so difficult that we always lose some good horses along the way.

On a few occasions in fact, important defections have come so late they turned the Derby upside down.

In 1957, for example, Calumet Farm's General Duke was supposed to be the odds on favorite to win the Derby, but was knocked out of the race hours before it was scheduled to be run. Yet, no one was seen crying for Calumet that year, as their longshot Iron Liege won that Derby in General Duke's place.

In 1992, A.P. Indy was scratched off the official track program the day before, throwing that Derby into a wide open scramble won by longshot Lil E Tee. The victory did have its redeeming quality. Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day rode Lil E Tee for his only Derby victory in more than two dozen attempts. Five weeks later, a fully recovered A.P. Indy won the Belmont Stakes.

On a few occasions in fact, important defections have come so late they turned the Derby upside down.

In 2009, I Want Revenge, impressive winner of the Wood Memorial after overcoming a terrible trip, was expected to be a heavy favorite. Unfortunately, he was injured the morning of the Derby and was out for the year.

In 2010, Eskendereya, a dominating, undefeated winner of the Wood Memorial, was scratched and retired a week before the race. Nevertheless, his trainer Todd Pletcher still found himself in the Churchill Downs winner's circle after Super Saver earned him his first and only Derby trophy to date.

This year, nothing that dramatic has happened, at least not yet. But we did lose several prominent Derby contenders, including Shared Belief, the 2013 Juvenile Champion who entered the year as the probable horse to beat. However, Shared Belief suffered an injury in January that kept him from resuming training until a few weeks ago.

We also lost a half-dozen other highly regarded Derby contenders during the prep race season. These include Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner New Years Day; Havana, who was second in the BC Juvenile; Florida Derby winner Constitution and a talented pair trained by last year's winner, Shug McGaughey --Top Billing and Honor Code.

Just recently, we also lost Cairo Prince, winner of Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. Each of those horses could have been among the leading betting choices to challenge probable Derby favorite California Chrome, who so far has enjoyed an unblemished campaign free from setbacks.

The same cannot be said for a handful of other promising contenders, who failed to live up to expectations and did not earn enough Derby qualifying points to be among the top 20 allowed into the race. These include Social Inclusion, Bayern, Strong Mandate, Noble Moon, Kristo and Bond Holder. (Social Inclusion and Bayern, still might get in with some late defections.)

Two other qualified horses were withdrawn from the 1-¼ mile Derby -- Albano and Toast of New York. Albano was caught on the wire by Intense Holiday in the Risen Star Stakes and his connections say we might see him in the shorter 1-3/16 mile Preakness in Baltimore, May 17. Toast of New York won his Derby ticket in Dubai, but his European based connections are pointing for top level turf races in England and France.

There are a few more defections pending, including Midnight Hawk, winner of the Sham Stakes, who was second in the San Felipe and Sunland Derby prior to finishing second .in the Illinois Derby last Saturday. Trainer Bob Baffert said Monday, he is skipping the Derby in favor of the Preakness.

Despite so many missing horses from this year's Derby, no one should be surprised that this year's 140th running of the Kentucky Derby still will be oversubscribed when entries are taken Wednesday, Apr. 30.

As most know, only 20 will be allowed to run, but there will be up to four horses on an also eligible list that could get in with late scratches.

Right now, Santa Anita Derby winner California Chrome is the clear cut wagering favorite with a long list of contenders and longshots to consider for play.

Below are all the eligible horses still in the race, ranked according to their Derby qualifying points. While I have added a comment about what they are bringing to the dance, if you're in Las Vegas on Derby weekend, please stop by The Wynn, 7:30 PM, Friday evening, May 2 for my 100 percent free, comprehensive, Kentucky Derby seminar. Good Luck and Good Handicapping to us all.

1. California Chrome: Big SA Derby winner, must avoid speed duel.
2. Vicar's in Trouble: Won La. Derby; has good stalk-n-go style.
3. Dance With Fate: Won Blue Grass on synthetic; one OK dirt race.
4. Wicked Strong: Stretch runner came to life to win the Wood.
5. Samraat: Game performer was wide when 2nd in the Wood.
6. Danza: Late developer won Ark. Derby; Todd Pletcher-trained.
7. Hoppertunity: Won Rebel; OK 2nd SA Derby; Bob Baffert trained.
8. Intense Holiday: Won Risen Star, 2nd in La. Derby; Pletcher.
9. Wildcat Red: Game 'speed type'; sharp 2nd in Fla. Derby.
10. We Miss Artie: Spiral Stakes win on synthetic; no dirt form.
11. Ride On Curlin: Another game performer; gritty 2nd in Ark Derby.
12. Chitu: Won Sunland Derby; in Derby Trial at CD, Sat. Apr. 26.
13. Tapiture: OK early form; weak Ark Derby 4th; S. Asmussen trained.
14. Ring Weekend: Won Tampa Derby; troubled 2nd at Calder.
15. General a Rod: Still another game performer, 3rd in Fla. Derby.
16. Medal Count: 2nd in Blue Grass; has dirt win; D.Romans trained.
17. Candy Boy: Disappointing 3rd in SA Derby; solid in Feb. win.
18. Uncle Sigh: Still another game colt; close to Samraat twice.
19. Vinceremos: OK Tampa dirt form; poor in Blue Grass; Pletcher.
20. Harry's Holiday: Erratic form on dirt & synthetics; hard to gauge.
21. Commanding Curve: Stretch running 3rd in La. Derby; needs scratch.
22. Pablo Del Monte: Set pace vs. track bias in Blue Grass; fair on dirt.
23. Bayern: Set pace, when 3rd in Ark. Derby, Baffert wants in w/him.
24. Social Inclusion: Promising; lightly raced; 3rd in Wood; wants in.

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