While this year’s Run for the Roses marks the golden anniversary of Cannonero II’s most improbable of Derby victories, shrewd handicappers will look to more recent history leaning on facts rather than sentiment in finding their Derby contenders.
Since the points system was implemented in 2013, favorites have won all but the last two runnings of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and “cheap” speed types (front running horses with distance limitations) have all but been eliminated leading to races with moderate early pace and fairly predictable outcomes (swerving incidents aside).
The favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby, Essential Quality checks all the boxes. With 150 points, he is the only starter in the field this year to come close to the average number of points accumulated by a Derby winner (130). Not only is he undefeated in five starts and battle tested having been a champion at two, but he’s capable of adapting to any pace scenario. The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) winner possesses enough tactical ability to put himself into the race in the early stages if Rock Your World, the most likely pace setter, chooses not to do so. He draws ideally in post 14, with speed to his outside and inside. Most significantly, he is the only multiple graded stakes winner in the field, one of only two to win two stakes this year, the other being Rock Your World.
Short on experience but seemingly long on talent, Rock Your World also has to be respected by virtue of his early speed. While there may be talk that others may try and make the lead, to this point, no one else has proven they can be as quick early nor have they proven they can be as effective if they even try. It’s hard to know how far Rock Your World’s speed will carry him as it’s hard to gauge the competition he’s been beating, but with his record and style he must also be considered a top contender. After that, it gets a little less certain, but on class, Known Agenda and Hot Rod Charlie are the wild cards and on looks in training Mandaloun steals the show.
But as tempting as it is to swing for the fences, best advice, don’t overthink things. Trust what’s in front of you, cross your fingers, and may they all have a safe, clean run!
Enjoy the Kentucky Derby!
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