Can California Chrome win the Kentucky Derby?

I love trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner, which is surprising since I have been so bad at it over the years.  Still, I feel compelled to give it another go, so here is my analysis:

I’m going to toss Harry’s Holiday, We Miss Artie, Vinceremos, Commanding Curve and Pablo Del Monte whose Beyer speed figures seem too slow to be competitive.  Seven of the horses – count ’em seven – have done their best running at or near the front of the pack, including morning line (5/2) favorite California Chrome who has blown away the field in his last four races by a total of more than 24 lengths.  His last two Beyer figures are the best in the field (107 & 108 respectively).

I want to like this horse, with an accomplished, deserving, aging (77 years old) trainer who is bringing his first horse as trainer to the Derby and will likely never have another chance to win the Derby.  This is a blue collar guy’s horse, not regally bred and is being ridden by Victor Espinoza,a former bus driver who took riding lessons outside a farm in Mexico before moving to the U.S. and becoming one of this nation’s leading jockeys.  He won his only Kentucky Derby 12 years ago.

However, there are significant red flags that will give one pause.  Chrome’s sire never won a route race & his dam once raced in an $8,500 claimer.  Chrome is not bred to run this far or be this good, and yet …. betting against this horse feels like betting against Seabiscuit.  Chrome’s pace profile is good, but there are alot of fast front running horses here, & 5 other fast mid-pack horses ready to pounce.  But hey, I love Seabiscuit, I believe Chrome is the best of the front runners, so Chrome is a contender for me.

All seven of Wildcat Red’s lifetime races have been good, the last three of which have been excellent, so he must be considered as another serious front end threat.  Wildcat should offer good value at morning line odds of 15-1.

Danza, Candy Boy & Ride on Curlin are three mid-pack horses to take a good look at.  All are coming into the race in good form. Danza has only 4 lifetime races but its last race was very impressive, the CD clocker has been impressed with Danza’s morning works and I believe trainer Todd Pletcher to be one of the very best at his craft.  So, rolling Danza back in three weeks does not concern me. Danza’s pace figures are very good as well.  Danza figures to give good value.

Any improvement from Candy Boy puts him right in the mix – & I love Gary Stevens, 3 time Kentucky Derby winner, as the pilot.

Ride on Curlin looks like an improving horse to me & the switch to jockey Calvin Borel will help.  He had trouble in the Arkansas Derby & still got 2nd with a 94 Beyer.  Bred to run all day, expect an improved effort today & maybe a fourth KD win for Borel.

Closer Medal Count is another to keep your eye on.  Son of Dynaformer, Medal Count has the running style that may win this race if he can find the turf & synthetic closing kick that has deserted him so far on dirt.  Dynaformer was the sire of poor Barbaro, 2006 KD victor.   He has the pedigree, is big, fast & trainer Dale Roman says Medal Count may be the best horse he has ever trained.  Considering he trained Roses in May, Kitten’s Joy, & Shackleford, that is good enough for me.

So who’s the winner?  Well, last year’s hot pace cooked all the horses that got close to it, allowing Orb to come from something like 17th place to win.  This year’s jockeys may be so aware of this they might hold back on the front end …. but I doubt it.  So I’m going to key Danza, a good value horse who seems ready to run another big race.  I’ll also bet California Chrome with savers.  I’ll be watching the tote board too, looking for overlays of the six contenders I have mentioned, and will likely dutch some of them.

Good luck at the races!

– Ron Classen,