The Kentucky Derby captures the imagination like no other horse race and there is nothing better than backing the winner. We attempt to unravel the conundrum with our Kentucky Derby Tips for the 2012 renewal, run on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Bodemeister: Not many horses that did not race as two year olds have been successful in the Kentucky Derby but the Bob Baffert trained Bodemeister looks to have a good chance of improving the statistics. On 14 April at Oaklawn Park, Bodemeister destroyed his opposition in the Arkansas Derby, a one mile one furlong Grade One contest. He broke smartly and led the field of eleven runners from the very first turn under Mike Smith. Never relinquishing the lead, he surged clear about a furlong from home to beat his stablemate, Secret Circle, by over nine lengths. It was only his fourth start and he more than delivered on Baffert’s hopes for him after impressive work at home.
A month earlier, Bodemeister also came second in a Grade Two contest, the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, going down to Mike Harrington’s Creative Cause by less than a length.
Owned by Zayat Stables, Bodemeister is a son of Empire Maker, a Belmont winner. He won his maiden in similarly emphatic style. If he can reproduce his Arkansas Derby form on May 5 he could well become the first horse to repeat the feat of Apollo way back in 1882. Apollo was the last Kentucky Derby winner who did not hit the track as a two year old. That statistic may be a cause for concern but Baffert’s phenomenal record in the Kentucky Derby and Bodemeister’s recent form make him a major contender. As long as jockey Mike Smith does not go mad in the lead and set silly fractions this horse could make all.
Union Rags: The colt is trained by Michael Matz who has form in the Kentucky Derby, winning in 2006 with Barbaro. This colt had a highly successful campaign as a two year old, winning for his owner and breeder, Phyllis Wyeth, before being sold to Chadds Ford Stable. Under new ownership this son of Dixie Union won the Grade One Champagne Stakes at Belmont impressively. He nearly scored again in the Grade One Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November 2011 but was beaten by a head by Michael Maker’s Hansen.
On 31 March 2012 Union Rags finished third in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park when possibly left with too much to do by J R Leparoux at the end of the race. He was beaten by two relative outsiders, Patrick Byrne’s Take Charge Indy who won under Calvin Borel (77/10) with Agustin Bezara’s Reveron (31/1) finishing second by a length under Elvis Trujillo. In a lesser Grade Two contest at Gulfstream Park in February he won comfortably by four lengths having tracked the leaders. Leparoux will have to judge the pace carefully and make sure that he does not leave Union Rags with too much ground to make up at the finish of the Kentucky Derby if the pace is sensible. One of the favourites in the Kentucky Derby betting and one of our tips.
Gemologist: He will be trying to replicate the success of Super Saver in the 2010 Kentucky Derby for his connections. Like Super Saver, Gemologist is trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by WinStar Farm. If Calvin Borel, Kentucky Derby winning jockey in 2007, 2009 and 2010 rides him on Derby day that has to improve his chances of victory.
Gemologist scored in the Grade One Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct on 7 April 2012 under Javier Castellano, holding off a strong challenge from Kiaran McLaughlin’s Alpha to win by a neck. This is a horse who really tries his best to win. He succeeded in the Grade Two Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs as a two year old. This son of Tiznow is a serious contender who should make the frame at the very least.
Alpha: This Bernardini colt trained by Kiaran McLaughlin looks to have a serious chance of providing a first Kentucky Derby winner for Godolphin Racing. Godolphin are obviously keen to establish themselves as a respected name outside their usual hunting grounds of the UK and Dubai. Alpha may have finished a disappointing eleventh in his last run as a two year old in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but has redeemed himself since. We could not put you off a wager on this one.
Alpha won the Count Fleet as well as the Grade Three Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in 2012, landing both his first and second race as a three year old. In his third run, his close second to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial Stakes under R A Dominguez at Aqueduct in April suggests that he is a genuine contender for the top 2012 Kentucky Derby honours.
Hansen: This Michael Maker trained colt has been impressive from day one of his racing career for his eponymous owner and breeder, Dr Kendall Hansen. He was a worthy favourite triumphing in two outings at Turfway Park as a two year old. He then followed up with an impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November 2011, establishing his credentials on dirt and beating the favourite, Union Rags, by a head. The second favourite, Michael Matz’s Creative Cause, was a length behind in third with Dale Romans’ Dullahan five lengths adrift in fourth.
As a three year old, this son of Tapit won the Grade Three Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in early March, delivering for favourite followers at 4/5, winning by three lengths under R A Dominguez. On April 14 he was second in the Grade One Blue Grass Stakes on the Polytrack at Keeneland to Dullahan by just over a length. We could not quibble if he made your shortlist of Kentucky Derby tips. The only thing against him is his name. I am no shrink but is there some sort of unnecessary ego thing going on there?
Dullahan: Landed a surprise victory in the Grade One Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity as a two year old and it would not be a major surprise if he made the frame in the 2012 Kentucky Derby for trainer, Dale Romans. He could only manage fourth place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (won by Hansen) but, as a three year old, he succeeded in balancing the score with Hansen, the 6/5 favourite in the Blue Grass Stakes in mid April, beating him by a length and a quarter when sent off at 16/5.
His regular jockey, Kent Desormeaux, has already won the Run For The Roses for Bob Baffert, Neil Drysdale and Richard E Dutrow Jr. It would not come as a shock if Dullahan, a son of Even The Score, triumphed in the 2012 Kentucky Derby for Romans. He is a half brother to the surprise 2009 Derby winner, Mine That Bird. Dullahan’s times prove that he certainly has more pace than Mine That Bird and, whilst he is generally viewed as an all weather surface specialist, he stands a significant chance if he can show his class on the Churchill Downs dirt course.
These horses all have live chances to claim the top prize but Bodemeister and Union Rags have to be the two top Kentucky Derby picks.