Never has there been a Kentucky Derby that had me this perplexed. Everything about the race tells me that there is going to be a hellacious speed duel up front that will fry anybody who goes anywhere near the lead. That means that the pick should be a deep closer, a Giacomo type who will come from the clouds and swoop past exhausted horses in the stretch. The problem is that the deep closers in the field (Jazil, Steppenwolfer, Seaside Retreat and, maybe Storm Treasure) simply aren't very good or very fast horses. Every other horse in the race is a stone frontrunner or a stalker. And even stalkers will be in trouble if they run the first half in :45.60, entirely possible with this speed-crazed group.
If this were the third race on a Thursday afternoon I would probably just pass and turn the page to the fourth race. That, of course, isn 't possible. It is, after all, the one and only Kentucky Derby. Any horseplayer who doesn't make a bet on this race should be excommunicated from the corps.
Sinister Minister, Sharp Humor and Keyed Entry will probably be the three out winging on the front. I don't think the talented and underappreciated Brother Derek will be too far behind. Because of the likely fast pace, I have eliminated those four.
That leaves me with the a large group of talented stalkers to choose from. And the pick is ... POINT DETERMINED.
In the Santa Anita Derby, he was 4 ½ lengths behind a fairly moderate early pace (:47.40, 1:11.20). With Brother Derek rolling along up front, he had little chance of catching him. He did about the only thing he could do–he ran evenly and did pass a horse in the stretch. It was not at all a bad effort and it signaled that he is manageable enough to sit, at the very least, in mid-pack in this Derby. He is an improving horse who evidently has not yet reached his peak. If he gets the right kind of trip and he improves just a length or two off of his last start he can absolutely win this. That he is trained by Bob Baffert certainly doesn't hurt.
SWEETNORTHERNSAINT would be the pick if I thought he was as rateable as Point Determined is. He is a very good horse who is on a roll and has consistently posted some of the best speed figures of any 3-year-old this year. Jockey Kent Desormeaux simply can't get anywhere near the front early. If he does, his goose is cooked. If he can manage to wrangle this one back to seventh or eighth early he has a big chance.
JAZIL and STEPPENWOLFER are two longshots that could win if the race completely falls apart. Neither is quite fast enough on paper to get the job done, but funny things happen in races where the pace situation gets crazy. Of the two, Steppenwolfer looks a little better since he is more consistent and was facing a good horse in Lawyer Ron.
There are plenty of good horses in this race, which may be the most competitive Derby in years. But I have knocks on most. Barbaro is obviously a very talented horse, but he is probably better on the grass and I don't like the fact that he has raced just twice since Feb. 4. And he is still another who might bet too close to the pace early. Bob and John won a very weak Wood Memorial and has yet to show he can beat the very best horses around. Lawyer Ron's speed figures aren't quite up to par. He hasn't topped the 100 Beyer mark in his last three starts and a similar effort figure-wise won't get the job done. Though he rated nicely in the Rebel, he still looks like a horse who wants to be up near the pace. With just three lifetime starts, Showing Up, who did not start as a 2-year-old and has had just three career starts, doesn't have the experience to get the job done. He must buck several historical trends to win this.
Picks: 1. Point Determined 2. Sweetnorthernsaint 3. Steppenwolfer
How to play the race: Box Point Determined, Sweetnorthernsaint, Steppenwolfer in the exacta and trifeca. Save with wins bets on Point Determined and Steppenwolfer.
Kentucky Derby television coverage begins Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.