Michael “The Wizard’’ Kipness has been a professional horse racing handicapper since 1986. The Las Vegas resident analyzes the 20-horse field for Saturday’s 148th Kentucky Derby, designating each horse as a contender or a pretender.
Visit Wizardraceandsports.com for his full card selections and wagering strategies for Oaks Day (13 races) and Derby Day (14 races).
Post position, horse, jockey, morning-line odds:
1. Mo Donegal, Irad Ortiz Jr., 10-1
Improving colt exits a ground-saving, off-the-pace win in the Wood Memorial. Bred well for 1¼ miles. Reunited with Ortiz, who must overcome a tough rail post and avoid being jammed back into the first turn. A clean trip would only enhance his chances. Contender.
2. Happy Jack, Bejarano, 30-1
Well beaten in the Santa Anita Derby, 12 lengths behind Taiba and Messier, foes he meets up with again in the Derby. Does not benefit from the added distance. Pretender.
3. Epicenter, Rosario, 7-2
Has won four of his past five starts, including a decisive win in the Louisiana Derby. To his credit, he won that race at 1 3/16 miles, making him one of two horses in this field who has won going this far (only one-sixteenths mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby). I question the quality of the field he defeated but not his class and steady progress. Must overcome a tricky inside post. That might force the hand of Rosario to use him hard in the early stages, which could take its toll on him late. Contender.
4. Summer is Tomorrow, Barzalona, 30-1
Could be the pacesetter early on, but there’s simply too much other speed and pressers for him to have any starch left in the stretch. Pretender.
5. Smile Happy, Lanerie, 20-1
Played second fiddle to Zandon and Epicenter in his past two starts, showing no punch late at 1⅛ miles. The Derby distance will be his undoing. Pretender.
6. Messier, Velazquez, 8-1
No knocking his second-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, where he was doing the dirty work chasing quick fractions, only to be overhauled late by Taiba. Should benefit from that race returning from a two-month layoff. Bred for the distance, but the downgrade in trainers from Bob Baffert to Tim Yakteen must be a concern. Contender.
7. Crown Pride, Lemaire, 20-1
Beautifully bred Japanese invader should have no problem handling the Derby distance. The second horse in the field who has won at 1 3/16 miles. He’s a sweet mover and has been training steadily at Churchill for several weeks. The question is does he have the quality to match up with his U.S. counterparts and how much did the trip from Japan to Dubai to Churchill take out of him. Japanese-bred horses made a big splash in the Breeders’ Cup last year and were even more dominant in the Dubai World Cup in March. Contender.
8. Charge It, Saez, 20-1
With only three starts, all at Gulfstream, after beginning his career in early January, it might be a lot to ask of him to ship to Churchill and win stretching out to 1¼ miles. If you like White Abarrio, then you must consider Charge It, who ran just as good, and possibly even better, following a tough trip. With Todd Pletcher calling the shots with a steadily improving 3-year-old, it wouldn’t be a shock if he was competitive. Contender.
9. Tiz the Bomb, Hernandez Jr., 30-1
Hopeless long shot who should have been installed much higher than 30-1. He’s a turf and synthetic horse, not a dirt runner. Also wants shorter than 1¼ miles. Pretender.
10. Zandon, Prat, 3-1
Steadily improving colt in the hands of superb trainer Chad Brown. Exits an impressive win in the Blue Grass. Was bottled up toward the rear of the field. Made several moves in traffic without being hard used. Was only asked to run in the final one-eighth mile when a hole opened and he burst through. Must avoid trouble in the Derby, where stretching out in distance will test his endurance. Perfect rider in Prat but likely to be overbet. Contender.
11. Pioneer of Medina, Bravo, 30-1
Shown steady improvement as a 3-year-old, but proven to be a cut below the main competition. Will be part of the early pace, but figures to wilt in the stretch. Pretender.
12. Taiba, Smith, 12-1
On pure talent and what he’s shown in just two starts, there’s little doubt he is something special. To win a six-furlong race in his debut and then score a decisive win in the Santa Anita Derby a month later, stretching out to 1⅛ miles, is unheard of. That doesn’t mean Taiba will win the Run for the Roses. It’s a lot to ask to go 1¼ miles on the first Saturday in May for a horse who began his career two months ago. Add to that the fact that Taiba won the Santa Anita Derby off Bob Baffert’s training and has now had four weeks between races with trainer Tim Yakteen. That’s not a positive. Yakteen is a competent horseman, but he’s certainly no Baffert. Maybe Taiba is simply a freak and another American Pharoah or Justify. Contender.
13. Simplification, Jose Ortiz, 20-1
Dueled into defeat in the Florida Derby. He clearly prefers shorter distances. He must also venture outside of Florida for the first time. All seven starts have been at Gulfstream. Pretender.
14. Barber Road, Gutierrez, 30-1
He will take back and make one run and probably will pass several horses, but not enough of them to make an impact late. Wants shorter and weaker opposition. Pretender.
15. White Abarrio, Gaffalione, 10-1
He’s a neat 3-year-old who has proven to be a bargain-basement $40,000 two-year auction buy and then sold privately following his debut. Beautifully handled by top young trainer Saffie Joseph, he sat a perfect trip winning the Florida Derby despite having missed a workout before the race because of illness. He’s trained beautifully for the Kentucky Derby and is 2-for-2 as a 3-year-old. All four of his wins have come at Gulfstream. I have doubts about his ability to win at this level, going 1¼ miles. But his tactical speed will have him in perfect striking position turning for home. Contender.
16. Cyberknife, Geroux, 20-1
Another improving 3-year-old in the hands of master horseman Brad Cox. Exits a career-best race off Lasix in the Arkansas Derby despite acting a bit goofy in the stretch. The added distance, much bigger field and his antics do him no favors. Pretender.
17. Classic Causeway, Leparoux, 30-1
Figures to be gunned hard to the lead from his outside post because he’s a one-dimensional speedster. Might have the early lead, but it won’t last long. Pretender.
18. Tawny Port, Santana, 30-1
Rode a strong outside closer’s bias to victory in the Lexington at Keeneland last time out. This is a far more monumental task. Pretender.
19. Zozos, Franco, 20-1
No match for Epicenter last time out. Will be part of the early proceedings but will falter in the stretch. Post 19 also dooms him. Pretender.
20. Ethereal Road, Contreras, 30-1
What would a Kentucky Derby be without Wayne Lukas being a participant? Enough said. Pretender.
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