The new points system for qualifying horses for the Kentucky Derby appears to have served its purpose. The race is full of horses with the preferred pedigree and running style to handle the distance. While this has served to restore some purity to the race, it has also made the race tougher to handicap because many of the horses now excluded by the points system were easy toss-outs for handicappers. This field of 20 is very even. A case could be made for every one of them to win.
Orb was made the morning-line favorite, in a bit of a surprise, over Verrazano, who many thought would be made the favorite after remaining perfect in the Wood Memorial. In that race, Verrazano got the job done, but appeared to show some distance limitations, giving up ground to Vyjack and Normandy Invasion in the deep stretch. Verrazano is expected to try to win the Derby on the lead, and there will be horses that attempt to keep up with him in the early going. He will be challenged. Orb likes to come off the pace, so he could well be the one to chop down Verrazano in the stretch. He has been training well at Churchill Downs and looks great. He also comes into the Derby on four straight wins.
After these top two horses, there is not much of a drop in quality to the next tier of contenders. Three of those horses come into the Derby following impressive wins in Grade I qualifying races. Goldencents is part-owned by Rick Pitino, coach of the NCAA basketball champion Louisville Cardinals. With his Louisville connections, expect the odds on Goldencents to be a bit depressed. Additionally, Goldencents is trained by Doug O’Neill, who trained last year’s Derby winner, I’ll Have Another. Java’s War and Overanalyze finished their prep seasons well by winning the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby, respectively. Of these, Java’s War will want to come from way back, while Overanalyze prefers to stalk from mid-pack.
Normandy Invasion and Vyjack, second and third to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial, also should be respected. Normandy Invasion has only a maiden win so far, but has no bad races and always finishes strong. Many expect him to bat cleanup if a rapid pace unfolds and compromises the chances of the front-runners. Vyjack was undefeated before running third in the Wood and also has an impressive late kick. Forgiving the Wood Memorial miss, Vyjack looks like a strong contender.
There are enough front-running types in this year’s Derby to ensure an honest, but not blistering pace. This anticipated pace scenario usually benefits the stalking types over those that like to run on the lead or close from way back. The pace scenario, along with the added distance of the Derby, is reason enough to take a stand against the undefeated Verrazano.
There is no reason to exclude the likely favorite, Orb. He should be vying for the win at the end. But for value, Overanalyze could be a better choice. Both have proven they can lie in stalking position and pounce as the front-runners begin to get weary in the stretch. Overanalyze has overcome trouble in several of his races. This ability is needed to survive the bumping and maneuvering that goes on in the Derby. For additional value, Vyjack could go off as high as 15-1, and at that price, is a good value.
Recommendation: Pick Overanalyze to win. Box Overanalyze, Orb and Vyjack in an exacta. Add Normandy Invasion to complete a trifecta box.
Liam Durbin is owner/handicapper of e-ponies.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun