[This post, as well as previews of some of Friday's stakes race at Churchill, is also available on the TimeformUS blog.]
Most of the Derby trainers expressed satisfaction - and probably, mostly relief - after the post position draw. Even Jimmy Jerkens, whose Wicked Strong drew the dreaded #20 post, at least was able to smile as he said: "I’m trying to convince myself it’s not a bad post, but I don’t know if I can.” The trainer seemed more concerned that his horse would have to stand behind the gate for so long while the others were loading. Strategically, considering that the game plan has always been for Wicked Strong to close from well off the pace, perhaps it won't be fatal given the near certainty of a fast pace. Jerkens said that Edgar Prado, who has ridden him the past, texted him: "Perfect." Don't know about that, but hey, any closer needs things to go his way anyway in order to get an unimpeded path no matter what post he breaks from.
California Chrome was on the track on Wednesday, and the Daily Racing Form's clocker Mike Welsch wasn't particularly impressed. "I gotta tell you, he is not the most impressive horse to watch when he gallops. He was not striding very smooth....Out in Southern California, he might not have had many opportunities, if any at all, to set foot on a wet racetrack like we had this morning. But it's something you have to be concerned about."
Richard Migliore, on HRTV's Pursuit of the Crown, expressed similar concerns. "I really didn't like how he carried his tail even." Ok, that's probably "too much information." Both gentlemen were quick to point out that they don't have a frame of reference as to how the colt generally trains. "It's what's out of character for a particular horse, and she [HRTV's Zoe Cadman] says he looks much better going fast." Which is the idea. Stay tuned for more if and when he trains faster over a fast track.
Uncle Sigh had a half mile blowout, or a workout, or whatever you call it when it doesn't get timed. Welsch however caught him galloping out an extra furlong in 13 seconds. I thought he looked great, and so did The Mig. He's listed at 30-1 morning line; and man, at that price I'm going to have more than just a few bucks on him. (I wrote more about Uncle Sigh in my last entry.) Here's our Pace Projector for the Derby, which shows Uncle Sigh in front.
(You can see the post positions here.) Now, remember that we add some early pace juice when a horse adds blinkers. And it's that extra credit that is responsible for Uncle Sigh being projected as the leader. That very well may come to pass. As trainer Gary Contessa has conceded, you don't quite know what one will get when you slap on the hood. However, sharpening his early speed is definitely not what the trainer has in mind.
"He's much more focused (with blinkers); he's rating kindly," Contessa said. "Everybody that puts blinkers on before the Derby worries about being the next Palace Malice. I see that he's rating kindly in behind horses; we put him in behind horses and made him eat dirt. We've done our due diligence this last month and we've worked him where he has to come up through the rail. I don't see any hesitancy, and I always saw hesitancy in (Uncle Sigh) without the blinkers." [KentuckyDerby.com]
Personally, I think that we're going to see Wildcat Red (#10) much closer to the front than is pictured here; and probably General a Rod (#8) as well. Those two have shown that they want to be in front, no matter how fast or slow the pace is. That's their style, and I sure don't expect any conscious effort to change anything now. Samraat (#6) may very well be closer early as well. Vicar's In Trouble will likely have to gun from the rail post. California Chrome (#5), assuming he's running fast on Saturday, will also probably be closer. I don't believe that Ride on Curlin (#19) will be gunning toward the front from that post considering the way he closed in the Arkansas Derby, a change of tactics that would seem to serve him well. So, while we all love Pace Projector, I have some issues with it here.
Medal Count is a horse who is getting a lot of positive attention from Welsch, and from the folks on Pursuit of the Crown for his appearances on the track this week. But he's another horse who has shown a clear affinity for synthetic, specifically that at Keeneland. So, as with Dance With Fate, I'm just not buying the hype.
With Wicked Strong in the #20 hole, morning odds maker Mike Battaglia has installed Hoppertunity as the 6-1 second choice. [UPDATE: He's scratched. Damn.] Don't know if I'm buying that either. I think that bettors will see that he lost to California Chrome by five lengths and shy away. I'm looking for Danza, Intense Holiday, Wildcat Red, General a Rod, and Samraat to be bet a bit lower than what they are listed at in the morning line.