We've secured the assistance of Daily Racing Form's Southern California correspondent Steve Andersen to guide us through the field for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
By Steve Andersen, Daily Racing Form
Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs may be historic. Justify, the expected favourite, is trying to reverse an ancient trend of being the first winner not to race as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Mendelssohn, the thrilling winner of the UAE Derby at Meydan on March 31, carries the hopes of Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien, but has never faced a field this deep.
With that in mind, here's a rundown of the 20 runners for Saturday night's Classic (2350 BST).
7. Justify – Has run only three times and has shown improvement in each performance. Scored an authoritative win in the Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 7, leading throughout and repelling a threat from two-time Grade 1 winner Bolt d'Oro. Trainer Bob Baffert has compared this colt to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Post 7 is a very good draw for a colt who can lead or race prominently.
5. Audible – Winner of his last four and rapidly rising in the division following a comprehensive three-length win in the Florida Derby. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who won this last year, Audible has a stalking style that could be very effective.
6. Good Magic – The champion two-year-old male of 2017, Good Magic has had mixed results this year, finishing a quiet third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February, and beating what may have been a modest field in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 7. He is trained by Chad Brown, America’s leading trainer the last two years.
10. My Boy Jack – A stayer who may catch the eye in the final furlong, if he can weave his way from the back of the field. A stakes winner at Oaklawn Park in February in the mud and in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland last month, he is trained by Keith Desormeaux and will be ridden by his brother, Kent.
11. Bolt d'Oro – The beaten favourite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, the colt was promoted from second to first after being bumped by a rival in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 10. The second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby was better than looked after Justify was unchallenged for the first half-mile. Victor Espinoza, who won recent Derbys on California Chrome and American Pharoah, is a major asset.
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14. Mendelssohn – Brilliant in United Arab Emirates Derby on March 31 winning by 18 1/2 lengths, but quality of rivals he faced must be questioned. Yes, he is trained by Aidan O’Brien, but this is a terribly difficult assignment, going from Ireland to Dubai to Ireland to Kentucky, in a matter of weeks when his rivals have not had to endure such extensive travel.
Ryan Moore knows him well, but that may not be enough. Moore has won with 18 of 90 mounts in his career in North America, but is winless in 18 starts in dirt races.
16. Magnum Moon – Has a wide draw, which could require ample energy to secure position in the first run through the straight. Unbeaten in four starts for Todd Pletcher. Won the Arkansas Derby from the front on April 14, but drifted toward middle of track in the final furlong. There will be no easy lead here.
The sneaky longshots
4. Flameaway – If he is not consumed by a quick pace, he could be in the first four at the finish. Never worse than second in four starts this year, he was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Good Magic in the Blue Grass Stakes after leading to early stretch.
9. Hofburg – Trained by Bill Mott, this colt was a clear second to Audible in his stakes debut in the Florida Derby. Must show remarkable improvement to win, leaving a placing as a more logical outcome.
12. Enticed – Godolphin’s hope and the winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last November. Was second by three lengths to Vino Rosso in the Wood Memorial, but had traffic problems in the stretch. Has drawn well for his patient style.
18. Vino Rossi – Well, someone on the list of legitimate hopefuls was bound to draw poorly. Scored a breakthrough win by three lengths in the Wood Memorial, closing from off the pace after breaking from the outside in a field of nine. This will be a big job for jockey John Velazquez to guide this prospect to good position in the opening quarter-mile.
1. Firenze Fire – A colt with little or no chance was hampered badly by the inside draw. Finished fourth in the Gotham Stakes in March and Wood Memorial in April, both at Aqueduct, never reaching contention.
2. Free Drop Billy – A Grade 1 stakes winner at 2, he is winless in four starts this year, with a second to Audible in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February. A troubled fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes, Free Drop Billy will close early, but it is unlikely to be enough.
3. Promises Fulfilled – Likely to be on the lead, which could be dangerous as the pace could be red-hot. He led throughout the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in February, but faded in early stretch of the Florida Derby and was beaten 35 lengths by Audible.
8. Lone Sailor – Second in the Louisiana Derby on March 24, and has yet to win a stakes. Has drawn well for his closing style, but has not shown Derby-winning ability.
13. Bravazo – Trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, he won the Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds in February at 21/1, but was no factor in the Louisiana Derby on March 24, finishing eighth. Even with his best, a win is unlikely.
15. Instilled Regard – Joined field in late April after a few horses were removed from consideration. Fourth in the Santa Anita Derby when 10 lengths behind Justify, a result highly unlikely to be reversed.
17. Solomini – Won the Los Alamitos Futurity in California in December, but was disqualified for causing interference in the straight. Winless in two starts this year, failing to threaten the leaders. At best, he can run along to gain a placing.
19. Noble Indy – Won his first stakes in the Louisiana Derby where he led by two lengths early in the straight, faded to third and then rallied to win by a neck over Lone Sailor. A very wide draw is no help for a colt with only four races.
20. Combatant – Has never won a stakes and is unlikely to do so here from an outside post. Has been second, third or fourth in five consecutive stakes in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Justify is easy to respect, but hard to back with his lack of experience. Audible is moving in the right direction for Pletcher and was generally expected to be 4/ or 5/1 on the day. Mendelssohn will be a bad bet with bookmakers, carrying far too much expectation. He will need to be even better than his UAE Derby to beat a talented group of Americans.
Bolt d’Oro will be a threat with the presence of Espinoza. My Boy Jack can win or run 10th.
All things considered, an each-way bet on AUDIBLE is recommended.
Steve Andersen is the Southern California and contributing international correspondent for Daily Racing Form (DRF.com), who finds his way to Cheltenham twice a year. He can be followed on Twitter via @drfandersen