The Daily Jay – May 3, 2024

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In the Derby, it could be Johnny V’s day

In the Derby, it could be Johnny V’s day

By Charles Jay
May 3, 2024

Generally I do not like the Kentucky Derby very much as a handicapping proposition, because it’s so crowded. Let’s face it – there’s no other major race here in America that allows 20 horses to take part. And that presents a set of complications that doesn’t necessarily facilitate the best participant to cross the finish line first.

Then again, sometimes it does. And that’s one of the reason there is so much anticipation involved – whoever wins the Derby is the only contestant still in the running to win the Triple Crown.

And Triple Crown talk has been revived in recent years. That’s because American Pharoah and Justify have now done it. 

Both horses were trained by Bob Baffert, who was told to get lost by   Churchill Downs, with a two-year suspension that was extended another year, which of course pissed him off quite greatly. The suspension was largely the result of Baffert’s Derby winner, Medina Spirit, testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. 

He apparently hadn’t demonstrated enough contrition, so the Churchill Downs people decided on the extension. Baffert really felt as if his three-year-old, Muth, could run away with the race, so obviously he was anxious to enter. Of course, Baffert usually has a few top three-year-olds, so he’s always anxious to enter.

In the past, he’s handed his horses off to an assistants when serving a suspension. But not here. Instead he’s pointing Muth toward the Preakness Stakes and Pimlico, where they’re a little more welcoming of him.

To give you some perspective, in the Preakness future wagering pool, Muth is the favorite over the rest, and that includes the two favorites in the Derby – Fierceness and Sierra Leone. 

In other words, you could make a substantive argument that the best horse isn’t even in the Derby.

But hey – there’s still some talent on hand. And maybe what makes this race especially intriguing is that there is some history going against the favorites – well, at least one of them . Sierra Leone is 3-1 in our latest WagerWAR odds, breaking from the #2 gate, which has not produced a winner in this race since 1978, when Triple Crown winner Affirmed did it.

However, Fierceness (the 5-2 favorite) caught something of a break. In the draw for post positions, he drew #17. That’s a gate from which no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby, in 44 tries. But then fate intervened, with Encino (which was post #9) scratching, so Epic Ride moves into the race on the far outside as ban also-eligible and Fierceness draws in one spot.

If you put a lot of stock in post positions, maybe you’ll want to check out a Derby preview I wrote early in the week for the folks at Sportshub, where I discuss that at length (please note that it was before Encino scratched). 

One way or another, I’m going to move with FIERCENESS here, and in doing so I feel fortunate that I’m avoiding that cursed #17 spot. Johnny Velasquez is extremely confident in the saddle, and he’s beaten history before. Two of his three Derby victories (don’t forget, he also rode the DQ’d Medina’s Spirit as well) have come on the only two horses in the last 67 years to win this race with a layoff of six weeks or more (Animal Kingdom and Authentic). 

I’m not so sure he wants to keep riding all that much longer. He’d like to win another Derby – which would make this his fourth, officially – and then perhaps after the Triple Crown races, or the Breeders Cup, he’ll explore representing other jockeys as an agent.

It might be just right to see the Hall of Famer riding off into the sunset a winner.

Author: channeljay