Derby Details 2021 Edition 16

Tom Carley with jockey Pat Day

Derby Details 2021 Edition 16

Week 1 Derby Thoughts

By Tom Carley

April 21, 2021

We are just 10 days from the Derby.   Instead of analyzing races this week at Keeneland, I have been studying past performances for the Derby. I want to share my thoughts in a different format than prior years.

I see this Derby in terms of “the haves” and “the have-nots”.  The top end of the field is very talented.  Because of the recent defections, there have been several horses that have drawn in that would not peak my interest.  I think a small number of horses can win the race.  The value is going to be able to find the longshot horse to play underneath in the exactas, trifectas and superfectas. 

Change in Approach

When something does not work, then you change your process.  I have not hit a Derby winner since Barbaro, even though I have spent considerable time and effort handicapping each year.  This year instead of trying to pick a winner in the week’s prior to the race, I am going to find reasons to eliminate horses that I do not feel have a chance.  Then, when the workouts and post positions are drawn I can have a smaller size (maybe 10 horses) to focus on.

First Horses Tossed Out

There are a handful of horses that I believe you must throw out immediately as they have no chance to win the race. I am not saying these horses might not fill out the trifecta or superfecta, but for the next week I focus on trying to eliminate horses that I do not believe can win the race:

Get Her Number   The horse ran twice this year and has not hit the board.  This horse also ran in front wraps the last race.  The horse did win 2 of 3 races last year, including a Grade 1 on the lone dirt start of 2020. Has only won twice in 5 career starts.  The maiden breaker was on turf.  He is not bred to get 10 furlongs.   Dam’s average wining distance is 7.1 and sire is 6.5 furlongs.  

Dream Shake   Has only won once in 3 career starts.  This horse’s lone win was at 61/2 furlongs.  This horse, with his sire average winning distance of 6.7 furlongs, looks much more like a miler than a 10 furlong horse.  

Hidden Stash   Has not won a race in 2021. Only two career wins were maiden (on third try) and optional claiming race.  The rider will choose to ride elsewhere.  

Rombauer       Has never won on the dirt.  Won career debut on turf and won the El Camino Real Derby on poly two starts back.  Ran a distant third in the Bluegrass, but never threatened the winner. 

Helium    Has only ran three times.  Only ran once this year. Has not raced since March 6.  Likes to be near the lead and this race will have faster horses on the front end.   The horse’s two races as a 2 year old were on poly.  While the horse has never lost, he will be taking a huge class jump today.   

Medina Spirit   Had epiglottis surgery in mid-March.  Had one race afterwards and did not fire in the Santa Anita Derby.  Will have to work very hard to stay near the lead as he prefers.  While he won the Robert Lewis, I was not impressed with the gallop out and think that distance might be an issue.  

Bourbonic        Won the Wood Memorial.  Before that had dropped to maiden claiming in December to break his maiden in his 3rd career start (one was on turf).  Likes to close which means he will have to find space to run by tiring horses. Will have a very inexperienced Derby jockey on board.   

Super Stock      Won the Arkansas Derby.  Nothing against the horse, but his win reflects the pace of the Arkansas Derby.  There will not be a repeat of this pace scenario in the Kentucky Derby.   This horse has faced many of the top tier horses entered today and has not won a race with them.  One thing that I do like is this horse has a great two year old foundation. 

Horses that Interest Me

Essential Quality  Too many positives. The overwhelming favorite.

Hot Rod Charlie     Changed to a front running style in the Louisiana Derby.  What I like is his versatility.  When he ran 2nd in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, he broke 8th and made a move up the backstretch and eventually got the lead.  The ability to adapt to the pace picture can’t be overemphasized. 

Known Agenda      Did not close from as far as it appeared in the Florida Derby.  Still made a jet like burst through the top contenders as the horses approached the stretch and had enough to hang on.    Some will question the quality of horses that he beat, but I have been impressed with Soup & Sandwich in Louisville.  

Midnight Bourbon    I really do not think he liked the track in New Orleans.  This makes his performances more impressive.   He has taken to Churchill like a pig to slop.   Mike Smith has felt strong enough bout him to take the mount.  A model of consistency. He has never been off the board.  I like the 2-year-old foundation running in the Champaign and Iroquois. 

A lot of questions to be answered in the next few weeks as the horses work on the Derby track.

Horses I am “Wait and See”

I am still undecided on these horses.  The works of the next week will determine my opinions:

Like the King I am leaning against this horse.  He is only here because Churchill bumped the point value of the two Turfway races to put them on par with the other major preps.  He only intended to run on dirt once (one other time when a race was rained off the turf) and that was in July 2020 in a sprint at a lower level track.  I am still confused by the April 10th turf work, even though he did work on dirt April 18.

Rock Your World A lot of people like this horse and I can’t question anyone’s opinion.  The horse has done all that has been asked.  He has never lost.  He has stretched out and performed well at each step.   What concerns me is how he will react in a crowded dirt field.  Turf races are crowded so he might benefit.  He has shown speed and there is a lot of speed in this field.   I would prefer him to have a better 2-year-old foundation and to be arriving at Churchill much earlier than he is.

Mandaloun I have liked him all along.  Yes, he threw a clunker in the Louisiana Derby, but he had been steadily improving before that race.  Geroux does stay on this horse as opposed to riding others.  He had a bullet work at Churchill April 10.  Should like the added distance.  

Highly Motivated        I liked how he battled Essential Quality in the Blue Grass Stakes.  What I really like about him is that he won the Nyquist on Breeder’s Cup Saturday against the track bias.    Castellano has indicated he would take the mount if the horse runs.  

Soup and Sandwich    One of the horses that will be wanting to be on the front end.  I just do not know how fast he is.  He tired as the distance went to 9 furlongs.  How will he handle 10 furlongs?  I do like the trainer and the barn is high on this horse.

Sainthood Has never ran a bad race.  Visually, I was impressed with his closing in the Jeff Ruby.  I am just trying to figure out if he was helped by the polytrack.  My 2nd favorite of the Pletcher group.

Speed horses

Trying to visualize the pace is a key step to handicapping.  Speed horses have had much recent success in the Derby.  The following horses are the horses I see that will vie for the lead:

Hot Rod Charlie

Like the King

Rock Your World

Medina Spirit

Midnight Bourbon

Caddo River

Soup and Sandwich

Tactical horses

Essential Quality

Super Stock

Known Agenda


Highly Motivated



Closing horses


Dynamic One


Hidden Stash

Get Her Number

My full analysis will be out late next week.  

Enjoy “the ride” to getting there…

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