By Kevin Martin
There is a significant talent gap between the elite runners and the likely also-rans in this year’s Kentucky Derby. In the last ten years, the Derby has brought two huge upsets with Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009). As much fun as it is to see an upset, this won’t be the year for such a result. The 2015 class lining up for America’s most popular horse race includes a handful of horses with superstar potential.
Like last year, the Kentucky Derby favorite will arrive in Louisville with California connections. American Pharoah and Dortmund – West Coast-based colts both trained by Bob Baffert – are the likely favorites when the gates open for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on Saturday.
American Pharoah has won four of five career races. His only loss came in his debut race last August. He won two Grade 1 races in California on his way to earning the Eclipse Award for the best 2-year-old in the country. He won his first race in 2015 over a muddy track by six lengths. In his most recent start, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, he made an eight length victory look easy. The only knock against the expected morning line favorite is that he has never had to overcome adversity. Of course, that’s because he is so good, but he will be tested in the Kentucky Derby and it remains to be seen how he’ll react to a challenge. Jockey Victor Espinoza who won the Derby aboard California Chrome last year will ride American Pharoah.
Dortmund – the son of the 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown – has won all six of his career starts. In his three races this year, he has been on the lead most of the way but he demonstrated the ability to come off the pace in his three wins as a 2-year-old. He showed a tremendous amount of fight in his 3-year-old debut when he lost the lead in the stretch but fought back to beat future graded stakes winner Firing Line in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. He has experience at Churchill Downs where he won a one mile allowance race last November. The only question for the long striding Dortmund: Can he carry his speed the classic 1 1/4 mile distance of the Kentucky Derby?
Entries Carpe Diem and Materiality are a tier below the top two but they have an abundance of talent. Carpe Diem has won four of five with his lone loss coming in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile where he ran a game second. He won his two starts with ease this year in the Tampa Bay Derby and Bluegrass Stakes. His speed figures are a notch below the likely favorites but he won’t need to improve by much to be in the mix at the finish.
Materiality has only three career starts but has shown significant improvement in all three. He capped his three starts with a monster performance in the Grade 1 Florida Derby where he beat graded stakes winner Upstart. All of his races have come as a 3-year-old and he would become the first to win the Derby without a race as a 2-year-old since 1882. His lack of experience might finally catch up to him this Saturday but anyone who saw him in the Florida Derby wouldn’t be surprised if he finds his way to the winner’s circle.
The previously mentioned Firing Line won the Grade 2 Sunland Derby by a resounding fourteen lengths in his most recent start. While he destroyed a weak field, he has run within a head of Dortmund twice in his five race career. He enters the Kentucky Derby under the radar since his last race came in New Mexico but he clearly has talent. Considering his efforts against Dortmund and his Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, he stands a chance on Saturday.
Jockey Calvin Borel has won three of the last eight runnings of the Derby so it’s always a good idea to take a look at his mount. He will ride El Kabeir who is a consistent and versatile runner with four wins from nine career starts. He won two graded stakes at Aqueduct this winter and the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last year. After doing all his best running close to the pace, he overcame a slow start and made up twelve lengths to win the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in March. He will need to improve to finish in the money Saturday, but with Borel aboard he should have a clear view of the finish line as they run down the stretch.
Frosted beat El Kabeir by five lengths in the Wood Memorial in a performance that was just as baffling as it was impressive. Frosted entered 2015 with great promise but started the year with two dull performances in graded stakes races in Florida. After a fourth place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in February, where he appeared to quit in the stretch, he underwent a minor medical procedure to fix a breathing issue. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin shipped him from Florida to New York where he rebounded to run the best race of his career in the Wood. The son of superstar stallion Tapit, Frosted is a contender if he duplicates his most recent performance.
International Star dominated the 3-year-old races at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans this year. He enters the Derby off three straight graded stakes wins in Louisiana. He beat questionable competition in the “Big Easy” and his speed figures have been a tier below the top choices. A sentimental choice due to his affable owner Ken Ramsey, International Star seems an unlikely winner in spite of his perfect record in 2015.
The field for the 141st edition of the Kentucky Derby will be drawn on Wednesday. The post-time for the race is Saturday at 6:24 eastern.
If you’d like a full rundown of all the Kentucky Derby colts and some tips on how to play the races, check out Hello Race Fans