05/04/2007 12:00AM

Derby analysis and selections

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From Brad Free, Byron King, Steve Klein, Dave Litfin, Mike Watchmaker, Mike Welsch, and DRF handicappers

Analysis: More to this field than Curlin or Street Sense

An apparently predictable Derby boils down to two main contenders. Nobiz Like Shobiz showed quality early with a smashing autumn debut, followed by three wins in graded stakes; his two losses were bad trips. Four-for-six overall, Nobiz has defeated 41 of 44 horses that faced him. His close-to-the-pace style gives him a good chance to avoid trouble. Top class, proven ability, and proper seasoning make him a traditional selection at higher odds than his main rival.

Brad Free

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Street Sense

Tiago

Stormello

Street Sense would be the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner to also win the Derby; his glowing workout reports suggest he can. His race pattern mirrors the form that led to his 10-length BC romp. That is, a modest race on Keeneland Polytrack followed by an explosion at Churchill Downs. His two-start campaign was by design; he was ready to run long before his March 17 return. He has no flaw; it's a two-horse race.

Tiago is short in experience, long on potential. Winner of a modest Santa Anita Derby in his fourth start, this half-brother to 2005 Derby winner Giacomo continues to improve, and enters on an upward pattern. He will finish.

Stormello is a fast horse likely to start at overlay odds. Compromised by shipping delays in both his spring starts in Florida, the Grade 1 winner has had five weeks between starts and should run his best race. Closer Zanjero ran better than it looks in the Blue Grass. He was taken out of his game by pressing the pace. He led late but got nailed in a quality field. He runs best rallying from behind. He has experience (eight starts), handles traffic, and will fly late. Any Given Saturday was dull last out, but previously lost by a nose to Street Sense. Scat Daddy has beaten the top choice twice. Storm in May is a grinder who can hit the board at a price. Front-runner Teuflesberg will keep the pace honest.

Dominican might prefer Polytrack. Undefeated Curlin is fast, but did not race at 2 and has a soft foundation. Great Hunter ran poorly last out. Cowtown Cat will not get another easy lead. Imawildandcrazyguy can pick up the pieces. Sam P. was under a drive early in his last pair, and may not be good enough. Hard Spun has been off six weeks with erratic works. Circular Quay has been off two months, and never raced beyond a 1 1/16 miles. Liquidity has never coped with a legitimate pace. Sedgefield has not raced on dirt. Bwana Bull appears outclassed. - BRAD FREE


Much has been made in the media this week about the fact that Curlin is attempting to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without making a start at age 2.

It is much ado about nothing. Experience is overblown. Talent typically wins horse races, whether it is the Derby, or the third race at Churchill on a weekday afternoon. And Curlin is the most talented horse in the field.

Byron King

Curlin

Street Sense

Hard Spun

Circular Quay

Although it's been a long time since a horse who didn't run at 2 won the Derby, some in that category have recently run very well in defeat. One horse, Strodes Creek, finished second in 1994, and another, Pulpit, ran fourth in the 1997 Derby despite incurring an injury in the race that ended his career.

Remember the 2000 Derby, the race Fusaichi Pegasus won in a romp? He raced only once as a 2-year-old, finishing second in a race in December. Having that one start as a juvenile did not win him the Derby. His ability did.

Arkansas Derby winner Curlin simply has more ability than his opponents. He has won all three of his starts in a gallop, he owns some of the strongest speed figures in the race, and he has a versatile running style that should allow his jockey, Robby Albarado, to secure a favorable running position.

Street Sense, last year's juvenile champion, looms as a formidable foe. A 10-length winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last fall – albeit with the benefit of a perfect, rail-skimming trip – he is a horse with an affinity for the track surface. He has trained flawlessly in preparation for the Derby, and his trainer, Carl Nafzger, is among the best at having a horse peak for a specific race.

Hard Spun, beaten just once in his six-race career when finishing a wide fourth in the Southwest Stakes, is the best of the front-runners. He could prove dangerous at a price in a Derby that may unfold with him setting or pressing a moderate pace.

Louisiana Derby winner Circular Quay also figures to perform well, but being a deep closer he will need racing luck to knife his way through such a deep field. - BYRON KING


Due to the absurdly slow pace in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, with the first six furlongs run in 1:16.65, the race became a three-furlong sprint to the finish. Those last three furlongs were run in a remarkably swift 34.68 seconds. Things didn't look good for Dominican at that point. He was dead last of the five contenders (the 26-1 and 54-1 longshots behind him were never a factor), four lengths behind the leader. How can a horse make up four lengths in three furlongs vs. fresh horses who flew through a 34.68 closing fraction? Dominican would not be denied. He rallied wide into the stretch, angled farther out, then lost momentum when Street Sense swerved out in front of him in midstretch. He regained his momentum, then kicked into yet another gear during the last few yards and somehow stuck his nose in front right at the wire.

Steve Klein

Dominican

Street Sense

Tiago

Curlin

Do you think a closing punch like that might come in handy with a much faster pace to chase going 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby? I do. And I love the overlaid price we'll get on this longshot. Dominican improved by 12 Beyer Speed Figure points on the move from Keeneland's Polytrack to Churchill's main track in October, so the surface switch should not be a factor. Bet on Dominican to win and in the exotics.

Tiago ran a much-improved race when his blinkers were removed for the Santa AnitaDerby. He is an interesting longshot who deserves a saver win bet, and liberal use in the exotics.

Curlin is unbeaten and untested. But he is also inexperienced, and has never faced this type. Use Curlin on top in the exotics on a saver ticket over the longshots you like so you can profit if he runs his race. But keep in mind the possibility that he might regress at low odds.

Street Sense was a dynamic winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But he did not move forward or equal that form in either of his two races this year. Dominican had the tougher trip in the Blue Grass, and still beat him. Street Sense is a serious threat, but low odds based on his reputation rather than his current form will make him an underlaid contender.

Great Hunter was probably going to participate in the blanket finish in the Blue Grass, but he lost all chance when he was forced to take up sharply in the stretch. However, he had an easy trip prior to the trouble when he stayed close to the slow pace. - STEVE KLEIN


Hard Spun's blazing workout Monday was the fastest pre-Derby work at five furlongs since Forego in 1973, but a fast work alone may not be grounds for dismissal of a naturally fast horse who is fresh and eager to run off a six-week break. With the exception of the Southwest, when very wide on a track he struggled with, he has won as much the best every time – and even in the Southwest he matched what was then his Beyer top. He rebounded with an authoritative score on Polytrack in the Lane's End, showing multiple gears to get early position from an outside post, and separating quickly from the pack into the stretch. That race continued a pattern of improvement on the numbers as the distances have lengthened. The super-fast work and six weeks off are concerns, but he'll be a square price in a field full of tough-to-gauge contenders.

Dave Litfin

Hard Spun

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Curlin

Street Sense has trained superbly back at Churchill Downs, and repeats the surface switch that triggered his bias-aided run along a golden rail on Breeders' Cup Day. He has only had two preps, but that was the plan all along and there hasn't been a straw in his path back to Louisville. Among those involved in the cavalry charge to the wire in the Blue Grass, he is the one most entitled to improve, and a must-use in any meaningful multi-race exotic play.

If he were readied by anyone but Todd Pletcher, the light-bodied Circular Quay might get the heave-ho due to the eight-week layoff. But with Pletcher it's often a case of “the more time they have, the better they run,” and he was an explosive winner of the Hopeful off similar spacing. Another legitimate concern is whether the deep closer gets a clean trip, because he has been prone to trouble, and comes off a dream setup overtaking the inexperienced and headstrong Ketchikan's too-fast pace in the Louisiana Derby.

Curlin might be a freak, and could not have been more impressive winning the Arkansas Derby in just his third start. Though there hasn't been a Derby winner in 125 years that was unraced at 2, how many who tried were actually coming off the fastest and most eye-catching prep race?

Any Given Saturday is on a bounce-rebound pattern, and rates a look at a big price. He has a chance to hit the board if he can get to the first turn in good order – a difficult task from post 18. - DAVE LITFIN


Whether it's the Kentucky Derby, which it is in this instance, or a cheap claiming race, if you're torn between two horses, you should always go with the one who will be the better price. I'm torn between Street Sense and Any Given Saturday in Saturday's Derby, so I will go with Any Given Saturday, whose odds figure to be decidedly bigger than Street Sense's.

On the basis of the Tampa Bay Derby, there doesn't seem to be much difference between Any Given Saturday and Street Sense in terms of ability. While it is true Any Given Saturday had the edge of a recent race on Street Sense in Tampa, Street Sense scraped paint that day, and Any Given Saturday was caught three to four wide on the far turn. Since Street Sense prevailed by just a nose in Tampa, Any Given Saturday's ground loss had to play a role in the outcome.

Mike Watchmaker

Any Given Saturday

Street Sense

Hard Spun

Curlin

The Tampa Bay Derby was a draining outing for both Any Given Saturday and Street Sense, and both showed a regression of form in their most recent start. Any Given Saturday finished third in the Wood Memorial after a wide trip, and Street Sense just missed in the paceless Blue Grass. But Any Given Saturday is just as likely a rebound candidate as Street Sense, because like Street Sense, Any Given Saturday ran fast as a 2-year-old on the main track at Churchill Downs when a sharp second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Street Sense almost won the Blue Grass last time out despite regressing and having no pace to rally into, which will not be an issue Saturday. He has trained famously since, and is repeating the Keeneland Polytrack to Churchill main track pattern that led to his runaway score in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. The only problem with him is his odds. I believe he will be the favorite.

Hard Spun has won all of his races in blowout fashion with the exception of the Southwest Stakes two starts back over an Oaklawn track he legitimately may not have liked. I'm not crazy about the six-week layoff he brings into this, but he has real talent, and will be forwardly placed early.

It would be no surprise whatsoever should Curlin win this, despite his extreme inexperience. The only knock on him is his three runaway wins were at the expense of soft opposition.- MIKE WATCHMAKER


Street Sense crushed many of the leading contenders in this field over the Churchill Downs strip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and while the margin of victory was certainly embellished by the trip, he dominated what has proven to be an extremely classy lineup.

After watching him train in Florida earlier this winter and again this past week over his home course, I have no reason to believe the reigning 2-year-old champ is not coming into the Kentucky Derby in even better form.

Mike Welsch

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Scat Daddy

Cowtown Cat

It's hard to separate trainer Todd Pletcher's bevy of top contenders, although of the group Circular Quay has the best running style to fit the profile of this race. In other hands, the eight-week layoff might be a concern, but not from this barn, and you must respect the fact jockey John Velazquez has stuck with this guy since the pair teamed up for the first time during his trouble-filled run in the Risen Star. Training superbly, he loves the course and is the one to beat with repeat of his performance in the Louisiana Derby.

Scat Daddy is coming into the race in peak form. He has been training in bar shoes, although he has done so for so long now it's probably a moot point. Has enough tactical speed to keep in close contact to the pace, but also displayed the ability to win from mid-pack when he overcame a wide trip to capture the Fountain of Youth.

Cowtown Cat is arguably the most improved member of the Pletcher quintet, and the manner in which he has been training indicates another forward move can be expected. He should be prominent throughout.

Any Given Saturday could be the Bluegrass Cat of this year's Derby, and is more than capable of bettering his rating if he is able to run back to the huge effort he put forth extending Street Sense to a nose decision at Tampa. He looks like a million dollars in the morning, although he must overcome a tough post.

Great Hunter has had a good week at Churchill Downs, although his chances are compromised by the post position draw.

The improving Tiago is the type who can come running late for a piece of the gimmick at a square price. - MIKE WELSCH


Selections

Brad Free

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Street Sense

Tiago

Stormello

Byron King

Curlin

Street Sense

Hard Spun

Circular Quay

Steve Klein

Dominican

Street Sense

Tiago

Curlin

Dave Litfin

Hard Spun

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Curlin

Mike Watchmaker

Any Given Saturday

Street Sense

Hard Spun

Curlin

Mike Welsch

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Scat Daddy

Cowtown Cat

Steve Andersen

Tiago

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Street Sense

Great Hunter

Andrew Beyer

Street Sense

Dominican

Any Given Saturday

Scat Daddy

Steven Crist

Street Sense

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Circular Quay

Curlin

Chuck Dybdal

Street Sense

Curlin

Scat Daddy

Stormello

Ron Gierkink

Great Hunter

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Any Given Saturday

David Grening

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Cowtown Cat

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Mike Hammersly

Street Sense

Any Given Saturday

Circular Quay

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Marcus Hersh

Street Sense

Any Given Saturday

Circular Quay

Zanjero

Jay Hovdey

Street Sense

Tiago

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Circular Quay

Marty McGee

Great Hunter

Scat Daddy

Circular Quay

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Jay Privman

Street Sense

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Scat Daddy

Sedgefield

Mary Rampellini

Curlin

Great Hunter

Street Sense

Hard Spun

Lauren Stich

Hard Spun

Street Sense

Cowtown Cat

Nobiz Like Shobiz

Consensus

Street Sense

Curlin

Great Hunter,

     Hard Spun

Nobiz Like Shobiz