05/03/2012 10:35AM

2012 Kentucky Derby: The big two leave little room at the top

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Tom Keyser
Gemologist is undefeated after winning the Wood Memorial but is unlikely to be better than the third betting choice in the Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Gemologist has won all five of his starts, including the important Wood Memorial last time out. He also owns two victories here at Churchill Downs. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, won the Derby just two years ago, has won five Eclipse Awards, and leads the nation in purse earnings this year. And his jockey, Javier Castellano, has won more money this year than anyone in his profession.

Yet when Gemologist starts on Saturday in the 138th Kentucky Derby, he is likely to be no better than the third choice, behind Bodemeister and Union Rags. That is one of the prime examples of the depth and quality of this Derby – a horse with Gemologist’s credentials is playing third fiddle.

[KENTUCKY DERBY: Get PPs, watch analysis video, read latest updates]

Bodemeister, the runaway winner of the Arkansas Derby, and Union Rags – whose link to Barbaro, narrow loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and troubled third-place finish in the Florida Derby have made him a fan favorite – are the likely top two choices in the Derby. But this field is so good that the winner of the Florida Derby, Take Charge Indy, and Santa Anita Derby, I’ll Have Another, are likely going to be at least 10-1.

And the list of serious contenders certainly does not end there. Hansen is returning to the scene of his greatest triumph, last year’s BC Juvenile, in which he beat eight members of this Derby field. A record nine horses from the Juvenile are in the Derby, and they have acquitted themselves well this year. For instance, Creative Cause, third in the Juvenile, won the San Felipe and narrowly lost the Santa Anita Derby, and Dullahan, fourth in the Juvenile, won the Blue Grass.

The consistency with which this group has performed, and the name recognition afforded by horses who were the headliners six months ago still being prominent today, has contributed to making this one of the most anticipated Derbies in years, certainly on the par of the 2007 field, whose first three finishers were Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin.

[KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD: Watchmaker's odds, video contender profiles]

For Pletcher, this has been a Derby blessedly free of drama. Although he won two years ago with Super Saver, he lost the horse who was seemingly his best chance that year, Eskendereya, a week earlier. And last year was a soap opera with Uncle Mo, who clearly was in poor health all week and finally was scratched the day before the race with what was subsequently diagnosed as a rare liver ailment.

Part of the reason Gemologist has not received as much attention as he likely deserves is that Pletcher brought his horses in late this year, arriving on Tuesday. It was eerie earlier in the week to walk by his barn, which is normally filled with top-class runners, and see the stalls barren. Gemologist and El Padrino, Pletcher’s other Derby runner, did their serious training in recent weeks in Florida at the Palm Meadows training center. Pletcher likes the position he’s in.

“I think both horses are coming up to it as well as we could hope,” he said. “They’re two big, strong horses, who carry plenty of weight. For me, I don’t recall two coming into the race physically as well as these two.”

Gemologist is in the better form of Pletcher’s duo.

“He’s undefeated and won the Wood,” Pletcher said. “I like his development. And he’s 2 for 2 at Churchill Downs. That’s significant.”

And there may still be more to give. Gemologist appeared to idle when he made the lead in the Wood, but when challenged late by Alpha, he accelerated anew, traits likely passed down by his sire, Tiznow, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“From the races I’ve seen, he does appear to be saving something,” Pletcher said. “He has been very reminiscent of Tiznow in a couple of his races. He’s got a competitive, fight-back kind of spirit. It’s nice to know there’s a little more left.”

El Padrino won the Risen Star in February and looked like one of the elite Derby contenders at the time, but his stock fell when he and jockey Javier Castellano finished fourth in the Florida Derby behind Take Charge Indy and that race’s heavy favorite, Union Rags.

“I don’t think it was a terrible race,” Pletcher said. “Javier rode the race he was supposed to ride, keeping the favorite in a compromised position. But I think that took our horse out of his natural style. He’s more of a grinder instead of a horse that you can hold up and expect to sprint home.”

There are a number of compelling stories in this Derby, none more dramatic than that of trainer Bob Baffert, who – with Bodemeister and the longshot Liaison – is seeking his fourth Derby win only five weeks after suffering a heart attack in Dubai. Bodemeister is also attempting to become the first horse in 130 years to win the Derby without having raced at age 2.

Union Rags is trained by Michael Matz, who masterfully prepared Barbaro for his breathtaking Derby victory in 2006. Union Rags is owned by Phyllis Wyeth, who was paralyzed from the waist down in an auto accident 50 years ago, and she is married to Jamie Wyeth, scion of one of America’s great family of painters.

“I think he’s a real good horse,” Matz said. “I hope so, for Phyllis’s sake.”

Speaking of painting, Dr. Kendall Hansen, the majority owner of Hansen, thought it would be cute three weeks ago have the tail of his near-white colt painted blue for the Blue Grass. The Keeneland stewards did not approve, nor did trainer Mike Maker, leading to a tense, circus atmosphere surrounding the colt in the hours leading up to the race.

This time, “We’ll tone it down. We’ll let the horse do the talking,” Dr. Hansen said.

Jockey Calvin Borel is seeking his fourth Derby win in the past six years aboard Take Charge Indy, who has brought trainer Patrick Byrne, once a national leader, back from oblivion.

Trainer Graham Motion, jockey John Velazquez, and Barry Irwin, chief executive of the Team Valor International syndicate – who teamed to win last year’s Derby with Animal Kingdom – are trying to repeat this year with Went the Day Well. If they are successful, it will be the first time that has happened since Riva Ridge and Secretariat in 1972-73.

Prospective could give owner John Oxley his second Derby win, having captured the race with Monarchos in 2001.

Like Pletcher and Baffert, trainer Steve Asmussen also has two horses in the Derby, Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat, both of whom have trained sharply leading up to the race, particularly Daddy Nose Best.

Kentucky native Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Alpha, is seeking his first Derby win, and it would be an emotional victory for McLaughlin, whose father, Ray, died last month after battling Parkinson’s disease.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is after his fifth Derby win with Optimizer, but his impact on this race extends beyond that longshot. His former assistants Maker, McLaughlin, and Pletcher all have runners in this Derby.

“They’re all from Lukas University, graduated with honors,” Lukas said.

Done Talking is the first Derby runner for trainer Hamilton Smith, 67, a respected veteran of the mid-Atlantic region.

Trinniberg will try to stretch his keen speed another quarter-mile, to 1 1/4 miles, after winning seven-furlong stakes in his last two starts.

Irish-based Daddy Long Legs is trying to provide his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, with his first Derby win.

Rousing Sermon would give trainer Jerry Hollendorfer his first Derby win to add to his collection of three Kentucky Oaks trophies.

There were 21 horses entered in the Derby, but a maximum of 20 can run. My Adonis was placed on the also-eligible list at entry time, and could get into the race only if there was a scratch by 9 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning, when advance wagering was to open.

If 20 start, the purse will be $2,219,600, with $1,459,600 to the winner.

The Derby is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m. Post time for the Derby is listed as 6:24 p.m. The Derby will be televised live by NBC Sports, in a three-hour show beginning at 4 p.m. There is live coverage of the undercard on NBC Sports Network from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as a post-Derby show on NBC Sports Network from 7 to 7:30.

It will be humid. The forecast from Weather.com is for a high temperature of 86 degrees, and a 30-percent chance of isolated thunderstorms.

Because of the weather, many horses are likely to get warm and sweaty. How it will impact the horses is unpredictable. Both Bodemeister and Union Rags, for instance, tend to get hot regardless of conditions.

Also worth watching is the load at the starting gate. Derby horses are double-loaded, with posts 1 and 11 going in first, and so on. Alpha, who will be one of the first to load in post 11, reacted poorly in the gate here for the BC Juvenile. He has been schooled extensively since, but nothing can approximate the tumult of Derby day.

Kentucky Derby (G1), Post Time: 6:24 ET

Purse: $2,000,000; 1 1/4 miles

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

Watchmaker Odds

ML Odds

1

Daddy Long Legs

A. O'Brien

C. O'Donoghue

30-1

30-1

1

Optimizer

D.W. Lukas

J. Court

50-1

50-1

1

Take Charge Indy

P. Byrne

C. Borel

15-1

15-1

1

Union Rags

M. Matz

J. Leparoux

5-1

9-2

1

Dullahan

D. Romans

K. Desormeaux

12-1

8-1

1

Bodemiester

B. Baffert

M. Smith

9-2

4-1

1

Rousing Sermon

J. Hollendorfer

J. Lezcano

50-1

50-1

1

Creative Cause

M. Harrington

J. Rosario

6-1

12-1

1

Trinniberg

B. Parboo

W. Martinez

50-1

50-1

1

Daddy Nose Best

S. Asmussen

G. Gomez

20-1

15-1

1

Alpha

K. McLaughlin

R. Maragh

15-1

15-1

1

Prospective

M. Casse

L. Contreras

50-1

30-1

1

Went The Day Well

H.G. Motion

J. Velazquez

30-1

20-1

1

Hansen

M. Maker

R. Dominguez

10-1

10-1

1

Gemologist

T. Pletcher

J. Castellano

8-1

6-1

1

El Padrino

T. Pletcher

R. Bejarano

20-1

20-1

1

Done Talking

H. Smith

S. Russell

50-1

50-1

1

Sabercat

S. Asmussen

C. Nakatani

30-1

30-1

1

I'll Have Another

D. O'Neill

M. Gutierrez

15-1

12-1

1

Liaison

B. Baffert

M. Garcia

50-1

50-1

1

My Adonis (AE)

K. Breen

E. Trujillo

50-1

50-1

 

Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
MY $1 TRIFECTA WHEEL ( UNION RAGS ) ( 4 / ALL / ALL ) ( ALL / 4 / ALL ) ( ALL / ALL / 4 ) ....................I am HOPING Union Rags runs 3rd , and nothing but LONGSHOTS come into play with the TRIFECTA . This is WHY I play my Derby wager this way EVERY - YEAR !
Union Rags TC Lock More than 1 year ago
Hansen - no chance. This horse absolutely wants no part of 1 1/4. He'll be gobbled up by many before they reach the 1/8th pole.
SkinnySheet More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately for Trinniberg even if he stretches a quartee mile he will still have a furlong to go. He will be looking for the finish line while he is still on the backstretch.
LadyZen More than 1 year ago
I smell an upset brewing........my sentimental favorite to win would be Jon Court on Optimizer. I've always liked Court and would be SO happy if he won a Derby. Longshots are not a stranger to the Derby, i.e. Giacomo and Mine That Bird come to mind recently. So, you never know. But, I'm also spreading other money around on the field.
Brian Stirling More than 1 year ago
I remember Gem's daddy holding off my horse Giant's Causeway and then the next year Aptitude in the Classic. Both of em came up on Tiz and he looked em in the eye and they never got by him. I think Gem has some of his daddy in him, hopefully a lot. I can see him getting the jump on the rabbits on the turn as he should be placed well. Daddy Nose Best and El Padrino will then take their shot at him but he'll look em in the eye just like pops and kick in that extra gear and take it to the wire. Those are the four I'm using. Well still not sure on Bodemieister. Could see him have a Congaree type race where the fast fractions songandaprayer threw up cooked him too much and still hold on to get a piece. Of course the same thing could happen to Gemologist and that's why El Padrino and Daddy Nose Best could pick up the pieces and finish one/two.
denali1 More than 1 year ago
hey Mark couldn't agree more with you more Hansen sets up nice at this point based on what information we have a day b4 the derby. i see him right there but i think union rags runs him down this time. your right about this race coming full circle most definitely...way to early to predict how i'm betting but bet your ass i'm betting on the super right back to the juvenile.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
That trifecta from the Juvenile is VERY likely to repeat. A lot of folks are hung up on all of these meaningless preps where a horse came from nowhere and ran the race of their life. It is very easy to think that because last years classics provided us with bombs in every race, that the same will happen. This is a much classier group and class will shine through.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
It all comes full circle in my eyes. Breeders Cup Juve. 1.Hansen I grabbed Hansen at $200 to Win and Place in the first futures pool at 26-1 when all the naysayers cut the line on him making the distance. Say what you will about distance but the distance isnt his issue. He is a Tapit, with AP Indy, Pulpit, Unbridled and all the way back to Secretariat in his blood. His issue has been figuring out where he should be settled in. To this point, he has been in races where he was the pace by default. He will NOT be the pace by default on Saturday. He MUST rate. He breaks clean with Gemologist spaced a little bit in the auxiliary gate. He sits off the pace and you find out distance wasn't his problem, it was finding his sweet spot. You've been warned.
Rick Berend More than 1 year ago
Yea... Um... I'm calling b/s on the bet. I've lived in Vegas for 10 years and no major Strip race books offer futures Place betting. But good luck with your selection.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
I got three threes'
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Hey Rick. I know you live in fantasy land but go ahead and check out what REAL DERBY FUTURES offer at RACETRACKS. Win/Place bets and exactas. Get out of Las Vegas. Theres more to life than sand.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Rick, disregard. I was always thinking about the exacta. There is no Place. You ARE correct. I have the 200 to win @ 26-1. I was going to play Hansen with Alpha but DID not have the nerve. Do get away from Vegas though.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
I got four fours'
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Im going to touch on two things. Gemologist and Lukas. First off, Gemologist. He HASNT faced formidable foes other than Alpha who was running with a grabbed quarter and stuck behind horses the whole way around. I dare you to compare Gemologists FINAL times with others and tell me where you think he gets this trip from? His first lengthy win, his maiden, was a sprint running a Beyer of only 75 and a Rag of 10. His two CD races are 2 of the SLOWEST times of the entire field here! All of the 30-1 and 50-1 shots have come in SECONDS ahead of his best 1 1/16 victories! His second romp by 7 lengths was coasting on the rail on a wet track at Gulfstream. I know you spend a lot of time hanging out trackside friend, but a little tip about GP, it HEAVILY favors speed on the front end (reference Take Charge Indy, another TOSS OUT by the way). My friend, his Wood Memorial (first time on a DEEP surface) was an absolute DEATH MARCH. 1:50!! Are you kidding me? Ill tell you all what and I dont claim to be a professional, but if you want to make some serious money out there folks, keep GEMOLOGIST OUT OF YOUR EXOTICS. Let the world bet on his record. It only makes other odds go higher. This guy is too slow for this PROVEN bunch. D. Wayne. You want to see how much of a BOZO this guy is, look no further than his Oaks entry, Colonial Empress. Shes a MAIDEN! Her last 3 Ragozin's are getting worse as she goes along. 17, 14, 12. For those of you unaware of what Ragozins are, those numbers are more telling than Beyers and they should be MUCH lower and a horse rounding into form has numbers getting lower coming into races like this. He is an idiot. I hope the fillie survives the race.
Kingsley Rose More than 1 year ago
if u check HANSEN and GEMOLOGIST at turfway who was the better horse ????
Anna More than 1 year ago
Trinniberg will be a FREAK!!!
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
Well, the female version of Trinniberg is running in the Oaks Friday, so make it a double from Broadway's Alibi to Trinniberg
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Anna, I dont know if you actually watch horse racing regularly but the 50-1 should kind of give you some inclination as to what Trinniberg is up against. Make this bet instead. The final two across the line EXACTA BOX, Trinniberg and Done Talking. Trinniberg is a sprinter and even when he sprinted against Union Rags, he was bird watching 26 lengths behind. His last two races were GRADE 3's and he went up against stable ponies. I just hope the horse survives the race.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
I got five fives
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
He already IS!
robert More than 1 year ago
Both Gemologist and I'll Have Another and, perhaps, Union Rags, possess a valuable trait that I don't see on display among the rest of the field: more than one gear. This tractability will suit I'll Have Another well from that outside post. He may even be better suited to the tactical scenario of the Preakness, or better, the Belmont Stakes. Must trust in trainer Doug O'Neill that the horse is not currently dealing with bad back issues. If this steed can stay healthy, he may develop into a running fool - if he isn't already. These are my three. Gemologist has the grit and guts of his daddy, Tiznow. Union Rags is just so smooth. Fit, fresh and ready off the non-effort in the Fla. Derby. Daddy Long Legs is my bomb; if the Euro jock can hurry him out of the one-hole, might find himself on a lone lead, or at least secure good position. Second biggest earner in the field, but must atone for BCJ. Might not like the Churchill surface and might have also been brought over for a campaign of stateside turf stakes. I wouldn't know, but willing to risk his inclusion to fatten exotics. Bodemeister impresses me - on this occasion - as ALL or NOTHING. Either he wins or he's a bust on Saturday and finishes out of the money. Might use on top for cover. I know records are meant to be broken, but he's really going up against history. Good luck to all!!
robert More than 1 year ago
P.S. - might want to crisscross Castellano and Leparoux in the Oaks/Derby double. Seems like a natural thing to do.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I agree. I like that tactical speed.
James Mcrae More than 1 year ago
another knock against long legs is the grueling trip after running in dubai it takes alot out of horses and the recovery time i think is too short for him along with the post if he pulls it off wow good luck