04/24/2013 12:24PM

Dick Jerardi: Still searching for a Kentucky Derby contender who jumps off the page

Barbara D. Livingston
Verrazano owns two of the six triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures turned in by this year's likely Kentucky Derby starters.

Last Sunday, I was in Queens, N.Y., at St. John’s University to see a friend’s son play Richard III. As the play was nearing its conclusion, Richard shrieked the words that have been rolling around in my head for weeks: “A horse, a horse – my kingdom for a horse!”

The king had issues of war and peace back in the day. History shows that it did not turn out well for him.

I have this issue today. I need a horse. Or perhaps two for an exacta, or three for a trifecta, or, most delightfully, four for a superfecta.

A week out, the Kentucky Derby field is just about set. And I find myself not at all set.

I have watched the prep-race replays too many times. I have gone over the past performances way too many times. I have tried to think like the trainers are thinking. I have contemplated what all this jockey musical chairs means. I await word, after the final weekend, from the high priest of workouts, Mike Welsch.

Then, decisions will have to be made.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

What I know is that this is not a particularly fast group at this stage. Only four likely Derby contenders have recorded a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, and they combine for just six in total. That is a sad state of affairs unless you train one of those horses or believe you train a horse who is going to peak on the first Saturday in May.

The 100-plus Beyer horses are Verrazano (105 in an optional claimer, 101 in the Tampa Bay Derby), Itsmyluckyday (102 in the Gulfstream Park Derby, 104 in the Holy Bull), Goldencents (105 in the Santa Anita Derby), and Revolutionary (102 in a maiden win).

It appears that this race will not have an overabundance of early speed, even though two of the top contenders (Verrazano and Goldencents) do possess real speed.

Much will be made of Todd Pletcher’s 1-for-31 Derby record. One could analyze that record with different criteria, but rather than look back, why not just consider the moment. Pletcher has never brought the winners of the Wood Memorial (Verrazano), Arkansas Derby (Overanalyze), and Louisiana Derby (Revolutionary) to the Derby. If you take those three races, along with the Santa Anita Derby and Florida Derby, I think we would agree they are typically the five most important preps.

That Pletcher won 60 percent of them should account for something as his horses fill up at least 25 percent of the starting gate. That they also appear to have complementary styles (the speed of Verrazano, the midpack runner in Overanalyze, and the late-running Revolutionary) might also matter.

That Pletcher’s 3-year-olds got 527 Derby prep points is a nice footnote, but they are all starting even in the two starting gates. What horses have done will be important to those of us risking money. It won’t change the good and bad luck that inevitably will take place when 20 horses are squeezed into an area not fit for more than 14.

I am going to Louisville with the idea that Verrazano and Goldencents are most likely to be helped by the anticipated pace scenario.

But if I were liking Verrazano, my biggest issue would be that his figures are heading south as the distances get longer – 105 at a mile, 101 at 1 1/16 miles, and 95 at 1 1/8 miles. That is not an eliminator, but it is at least a caution flag.

Goldencents, however, got his career-best Beyer at 1 1/8 miles. And I did not get the sense that the colt was tiring in the stretch. In fact, after prompting a solid pace, Goldencents moved casually to the lead, dug in when challenged by the favorite in the stretch, and then was getting away from that horse at the finish. I thought the Santa Anita Derby absolutely was the most impressive prep.

Other than wishing that the colt had hit 100 on the Beyer scale, I can say nothing bad about Orb. Each of his four consecutive wins was earned, and it surely does not look like the colt was getting tired as he stretched for the wire.

I love how Overanalyze won the Arkansas Derby, but I can’t pick horses who got an 88 Beyer in the final Derby prep.

I am nothing but impressed by the toughness of Revolutionary, but I have not been particularly impressed by the caliber of the horses he has been passing in the stretch.

Itsmyluckyday is certainly fast enough if he is back to his January form now.

Normandy Invasion and Vyjack showed well when just behind Verrazano in the Wood.

With a few exceptions, there are no free spaces in the Derby (where have you gone, Big Brown?), but there are potential avenues to serious cash. I will continue to explore all options, even if I have no kingdom to offer as I remain in search of a horse or horses who could get me that kingdom.