04/30/2015 11:49AM

Fornatale: Top contest players weigh in on Derby


As a special feature for the Kentucky Derby, I asked a handful of well-known contest players for their thoughts on the race. They provided an interesting array of thoughts on the key contenders and some interesting longshots.

Rich Goodall, 2008 National Handicapping Championship champion
“I have been on the #8 DORTMUND bandwagon from the very beginning, but I would be drummed out of the contest players’ union if I picked one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby. So, my pick is #10 FIRING LINE at 12-1 on the morning line. DORTMUND did beat him twice, but only by a head each time, and Gary Stevens is a great big-money rider. Firing Line came back to win the Sunland Derby by 14 lengths, and horses out of that race have shocked the Derby world before. Why not again?”

Sally Goodall, 13-time NHC qualifier
“I am going to go for the gusto with #9 BOLO at 30-1 on the morning line. His Santa Anita Derby run wasn't terrible, and in the San Felipe, he seriously challenged DORTMUND in the stretch, only to take the scenic route to the wire. His two wins may have been on the turf, but with Rafael Bejarano aboard, I just think 30-1 is too good to pass up. I sometimes get sick of hearing the word ‘value,’ but if ever there was a time to employ the 'V’ word, this is it.”

Jonathon Kinchen, currently in second place on the NHC Tour
“Many have said this potentially could be the best Derby field ever assembled. With that said, I am 100 percent comfortable taking 2-1 on the best, most talented horse in this field, #18 AMERICAN PHAROAH. He looks the part and has done nothing wrong over the track. He has drawn outside and is tactical enough to get a great trip. I have never seen the hype on paper combined with the hype in the morning workouts quite like this. I am a believer and am hoping to see something special.

“American Pharoah obviously does me no good in a tournament setting unless it is late and I am trying to hold position; #15 FROSTED, #12 FIRING LINE, and #6 MUBTAAHIJ all fit in terms of my typical tournament play. FROSTED really impressed as a 2-year-old, running wide in the Remsen to get second, and he impressed me even more in the Wood, traveling farther than every other horse in the field. FIRING LINE has never run a bad race and has shown there isn’t much between him and DORTMUND. He has looked great in the mornings, and I expect the veteran Gary Stevens to give him a great ride. MUBTAAHIJ has been super-impressive in Dubai. Watching those races, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his apparent turn of foot. It is also comforting that he has successfully navigated 1 3/16 miles twice already.”

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

Chris Larmey, nine-time NHC qualifier
“This looks like a great Derby. You have six or seven horses in here who could have been the favorite in some other year. My choice as the most likely winner and the best value is #3 MATERIALITY. He would be my contest play unless I needed more than the 10-1 to 12-1 price that he will probably be at post time. MATERIALITY is undefeated. He has the fastest Beyer figure of all the contenders coming into the race. He has already won twice at nine furlongs. He has already been battle-tested going toe-to-toe with one of the other top contenders while winning the Florida Derby. He has good tactical speed but does not need the lead. He is well bred by an Eclipse Award champion and Belmont and Preakness winner (Afleet Alex) and a half-brother to a Grade 2-winning filly (My Miss Sophia). He will be ridden by the reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey (Javier Castellano) and is trained by the reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer (Todd Pletcher). All those reporting on workouts say that he has been training up a storm since winning the Florida Derby, and he has had a full five weeks to recharge and get ready for the big race. Wow! To sum it up, he is the fastest horse with the most upside, training well, with the type of connections, breeding, and running style that are definitely capable of winning the Derby. That is a lot to like and sure sounds like a likely Derby favorite in almost any other year, but not this year. He is very likely to go off at double-digit odds!”

Nick Tammaro, who won more than $100,000 at the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge
“In what shapes up as a Derby for the ages, Bob Baffert packs a punch as potent as 2001 (with Congaree and Point Given) and 1998 (with Real Quiet and Indian Charlie) in his tag team of #18 AMERICAN PHAROAH and #8 DORTMUND.  I prefer the latter because of his ontrack performances both at Churchill Downs and most recently at Santa Anita. His versatility is a major weapon in that jockey Martin Garcia can take him back to make one run should the pace quicken. Underneath DORTMUND, I will use longshots FIRING LINE, BOLO, and TENCENDUR, who have posted strong yet underrated performances in prep races.”

If you’re interested in contest play, make sure to check out my blog area on DRF.com, the DRF Players’ Podcast, and the DRF contest sites: NHCQualify.com, BCQualify.com, DRFQualify.com, and PublicHandicapper.com.