Obviously, winning the Derby involves a myriad of issues—from proper preparation, to the ability to handle both the surface and distance. The jockey isn’t a defining factor, but he also isn’t just an idle passenger. That said, who’s looking hot when it comes to the Derby, and who’s not?
News that Alan Garcia will ride Regal Ransom in the Kentucky Derby bodes very well for his chances, and sinks Desert Party for me (sorry, Ramon Dominguez). In fact, coupled with the outstanding workout he posted last Saturday, Regal Ransom moves up several spots among my top contenders—and, I’m sorry to say, at the expense of Dunkirk who I like less and less each day, not only due to the “Toddster Factor,” but particularly with Edgar Prado up instead of Garrett Gomez. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Prado’s talents, but he doesn’t appear to be enjoying a banner year thus far. As of April 22, he’s actually not among the top ten in earnings, and even further behind in percentages (a modest 14% win). And despite Dominguez winning at an astonishing 30% clip (which was mostly at a severely-depleted Aqueduct where he—and only he, it seems—got the best horses), I’m not enamored with Desert Party much. Alan Garcia just really clicked with Regal Ransom when they reunited in the UAE Derby.
Garrett Gomez is winning at a phenomenal 24% rate, which should please those who believe Pioneerof the Nile can transfer his form to dirt. However, just because I Want Revenge and Papa Clem have done so, doesn’t mean it will happen for the Zayat horse—at least first up, if ever. Of course, the same thing could be said for Mr. Hot Stuff (who I have been touting as a Derby contender). However, as a son of Tiznow and full-brother to Colonel John, Mr. Hot Stuff has precedent on his side—after failing in the Derby on his first dirt try, Colonel John came back East and won the G1 Travers. [As an aside, I missed his website last year—why don’t more race horses have these? A great idea to draw and involve fans!] Empire Maker’s progeny, on the other hand, appear more comfortable on turf and artificial surfaces. And I just don’t think Pioneerof the Nile has actually demonstrated any progression in his last two races. And just who will Eoin Harty get to ride Mr. Hot Stuff? His previous jocks—Gomez, Bejarano and Nakatani—have all taken other rides, although I bet they’re hoping Square Eddie doesn’t run so Nakatani can be reunited with the gorgeous near-black colt.
Among those jockeys who already have a strong bond with their mounts, I particularly like Rafael Bejarano (Papa Clem), Joe Talamo (I Want Revenge), and Gabriel Saez (Friesan Fire). Bejarano is riding gangbusters in California, cranking out wins at an impressive 21%. Admittedly, he’s had no Derby success in four previous attempts: Andromeda’s Hero (8th), Point Determined (9th), Dominican (11th) and Anak Nakal (7th). Still, he could pull it off with this son of Smart Strike.
Joe Talamo may not yet be among the elite, but he is ahead of Prado in earnings and just one back in wins—and I love him on I Want Revenge! He really knows this horse, but his relative inexperience in big races may adversely affect IEAH’s horse on Derby day. Or maybe not. The same argument was used with Gabriel Saez last year, but he rode Eight Belles to an outstanding second place finish, and looks to do much better with Friesan Fire.
Coming in off strong meets at Gulfstream and Keeneland—not to mention a dual Classics winner last year in Big Brown—Kent Desormeaux (Hold Me Back) would naturally be considered a wise bet, but the Giant’s Causeway colt just strikes me as an artificial surface (and turf) specialist. WinStar’s other colt, the Toddster-trained Advice, looks highly-unlikely to take to the Derby distance, being by Chapel Royal, so I think its their third horse, Mr. Hot Stuff who is their best chance.
As for riders totally new to their mounts, Julien Leparoux (General Quarters) is a wise choice, but Eibar Coa sticking with Musket Man is either brilliant or too bad for his connections. I like Musket Man, I really do. I think he’s a horse that has and will continue to outrace his pedigree, so I would not be surprised to see him among the top five finishers. I just not all that thrilled with Coa, to be honest. I'm also still debating the wisdom of Mike Smith replacing Joel Rosario on Chocolate Candy.
Who do you like, and why?
Bet on the Kentucky Derby