03/11/2015 10:50AM

Jerardi: Dortmund is your Kentucky Derby winner

Benoit & Associates
The undefeated Dortmund has posted back-to-back Beyer Speed Figures of 104.

It was at precisely this time last year that I pronounced California Chrome the winner of the Kentucky Derby. You are all very welcome.

I had been running all about last winter watching basketball games before sitting down to watch the 2014 San Felipe Stakes. I was so dazzled by what I saw that I went back and watched every race of California Chrome’s career, searching for a reason to contain my enthusiasm. Seeing none, I made my pronouncement.

I remember thinking that California Chrome has everything I like in a Derby horse: a strong foundation, tactical speed to get position in the huge field, a burst on command, a will to win, and a set of Beyer Speed Figures that could win that race on the first Saturday in May. I searched for horses who could beat him. I did not see any.

I did not care that California Chrome was a California-bred by a cheap stallion out of a cheaper mare. I cared that he was fast and consistent.

I had seen Dortmund before last Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes. His comeback win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes when even Trevor Denman thought he was beaten was quite remarkable. He got a 104 Beyer that day, his first start as a 3-year-old. So, the Beyers were in order.

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

Still, I wanted to see more. I saw more on Saturday. Dortmund, a gigantic horse, had already shown several dimensions in his four-race career. He showed another one in the San Felipe.

Dortmund won his maiden with a smooth but powerful move from a few lengths off the pace. He won that allowance out of the mile chute at Churchill Downs by coming from farther off the pace and finishing even more powerfully. He showed great fight in the Los Alamitos Futurity when he looked beaten for most of the stretch run but started stretching out for the wire in the final few yards to get there in time. In the Lewis, he showed even more fight when he came back on the inside to run down a horse who had clearly passed him in the stretch.

With not much pace in the San Felipe, Dortmund found himself on the lead. The colt looked quite comfortable. When Bolo made a strong run at him in the stretch, he re-broke and ran away from him. And when Prospect Park made a strong late move, Dortmund already had complete control of the race.

Just in case I missed the point, I kept watching the gallop-out. Dortmund kept extending his lead. This colt was not getting tired. In fact, it looked like he wanted more.

So, we have a colt owned by Kaleem Shah, trained by Bob Baffert, and ridden by Martin Garcia. That sounds a lot like Derby.

We have a colt by 2008 Derby winner Big Brown, a horse who has already been exiled from Kentucky to New York. This pedigree means as much to me as California Chrome’s did. Zero.

Dortmund was bought last May at Timonium, Md., for $140,000. Ten years before, Afleet Alex, also unfashionably bred, was bought at the same sale for $75,000.

Here is what can be quantified about Dortmund: He got another 104 Beyer in the San Felipe. That puts him right in the Derby margin of error, with the Santa Anita Derby on deck. He has run five times and won them all – two blowouts, two photos, one comfortably. He has made big moves on the turn. He has been with the pace. He has been the pace. The common denominator is the result.

I “knew” California Chrome was going to win. I thought he was that good and did not think much of the competition.

I like Dortmund about as much as California Chrome, but I am less sure about the quality of the potential competition. It felt late this time last March. This still feels early, with too many good horses just getting started or about to get started.

But today, in the second week of March, Dortmund is absolutely my Kentucky Derby horse.