In the weeks leading up to the first Saturday in May, the most common question I get asked is: Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?It makes sense. Covering the horse racing industry is my job, after all. Usually, I have some kind of answer. I may not have my final pick, but I have waded through the probables and have found the few contenders I find worthy. Not this year.
“At this moment in time, I have to admit that about half of the prospective field could win this year, and I would not bat an eye. Which has made the "who do you like" question a bit of a dreaded one. On the plus side, my hesitation to declare the next Derby winner is because there are so many nice horses. Sometimes I think half the field can win, but it is because it features a mediocre crop of runners or a vulnerable favorite. In those years, I try to find a long shot that can bring home the roses. Cashing win tickets on the likes of War Emblem, Giacomo and Mine That Bird has validated that philosophy. This year, though, I just don't see a crazy long shot crossing the wire first. A decision by trainer Larry Jones on Tuesday morning to withdraw outsider Mark Valeski from contention echoed my sentiments. "This is a very deep field," Jones said. "We feel like we belong with them, but there's going to be a horse that runs 15th that's a very good horse. It's not like you just go out there and hope that if Union Rags gets a bad trip then we win. What with Gemologist, Bodemeister, Alpha, Take Charge Indy, somebody's going to get a good trip other than just, say, Mark Valeski." The post position draw is always important when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, but this year I will be paying extra attention. A bad draw on Wednesday evening could be the difference I need to separate one horse from another. With all that said, at this moment in time, I am most drawn to the California horses I'll Have Another and Creative Cause, the 1-2 finishers of the Santa Anita Derby, respectively. Creative Cause caught my eye last fall prior to his third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which took place at Churchill Downs. His pedigree says that he should enjoy the 1¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, and he has already shown he can perform over the surface. Furthermore, he is a classy colt who has never been worse than third in eight career starts. He has the seasoning, pedigree and grit it takes to win the Derby. And if I like him, I have to like I'll Have Another, who bested him by a slight nose in the Santa Anita Derby. Union Rags and Hansen finished ahead of Creative Cause last November in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but I am not convinced either of them is going to enjoy the distance of the Kentucky Derby. That final furlong has bested many a nice horse. The horse I am most curious about is Bodemeister. If he reprises his eye-popping performance in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, no one is going to catch him. However, he seems vulnerable to "bouncing" after such a massive performance, and it also doesn't help that history isn't on his side.
We feel like we belong with them, but there's going to be a horse that runs 15th that's a very good horse.” -- Larry Jones, Mark Valeski's trainer
Should Bodemeister win on Saturday, he will be the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old.
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