LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Good afternoon and hello from Churchill Downs and Happy Derby Day! We have a beautiful day here in Kentucky with the temperatures expected to hit the mid 80’s. An overflow crowd of over 160,000 is anticipated for The First Saturday in May. It couldn’t be a better day for the 20 contenders to run for the roses.
Folks are in a good mood and Derby outfits and hats run supreme on Derby Day.
— Gene Kershner (@EquiSpace) May 7, 2016
Yesterday was a splendid day under the Twin Spires with mild temperatures in the 70’s. The Oaks day attendance was 124,589, besting the previous mark of 123,763 established last year.
There’s been little drama here at Churchill Downs with no scratches of any of the horses prior to yesterday’s 9 a.m. start to advance wagering. The last two years have been marred by late scratches. Interestingly, six years ago morning line favorite Uncle Mo scratched on the Friday before the Derby. Uncle Mo is the sire of three Derby starters this afternoon. Tapit will also have three runners in this afternoon’s Run for the Roses.
The main track is listed as fast and the turf course firm and it is expected to remain that way for the remainder of the afternoon. There also have been a large number of mint juleps that have been served.
My story on Cathryn Sophia’s big win in the Kentucky Oaks also includes the $1 will-pays for the Oaks-Derby double. Here she is opening up in the stretch as she passed the G.H. Mum winner’s circle.
My Derby pick is 13-Nyquist in this morning’s print column, I’ll be using him with 19-Brody’s Cause, 3-Creator and 2-Suddenbreakingnews in the exotics.
You can also wager today at Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg and receive on-track odds as well as any of the many Western New York OTB locations. Be sure to get there early as lines will start getting longer as the afternoon moves along.
The most successful jockey in the race is Gary Stevens (21-3-3-1, Firing Line), will be seeking his fourth Derby win at the age of 53 aboard 17-Mor Spirit. Bob Baffert will be seeking his fifth Derby title from a post that has never produced a Derby winner.
If you’re interested in how each of the Derby horses got their names, Rochester native Nicole Russo has a story at the Daily Racing Form describing how each of the 20 horses were named.
The undercard races are being shown on NBC Sports Network until 4 p.m. when the coverage moves to the flagship station, NBC (Ch. 2), for a three-hour telecast. Here are some of my thoughts and wagers on the five graded stakes races leading up to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic starting with Race 6:
Race 6 (1:13 p.m.): The first stakes race on the card is the G2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes on the lawn for fillies and mares 4-year-olds and upward. The race features Breeders’ Cup Mile champion 1-Tepin who will be looking for her sixth straight victory dating back to a loss in the summer of 2015 at Saratoga in the G2 Ballston Spa.
1-Tepin at 1-2 is the one to beat in here and the class of the race. I’ll bet a straight $10 exacta with 4-Isabella Sings in an attempt to make something out of the short price.
Race 7 (1:55 p.m.): The G2 7-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes looks to be a wide open race for sprinters 4-years- old and up. I’m looking at 5-Limousine Liberal to spring a semi-upset in here at 9-2. I like her back class losing to last year’s BC Sprint winner Runhappy at the Spa and a solid win in an optional claimer at Keeneland as her debut race of 2016. We’ll go $5 across the board on the 5 and hope the son of Successful Appeal drifts up in price against a talented group of sprinters. Other top contenders include 1-Kobe’s Back, 3-Calculater, 6-Speightster and 8-Salutos Amigos.
Race 8 (2:45 p.m.): Next up will be the 30th running of the G1 Humana Distaff , a 7-furlong sprint with a purse of $300k, run on the turf course for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up. I found picking a winner difficult in this one so decided to start a little $0.50 Pick-3 play using my top three selections: 10-Wavell Avenue (the 2015 BC F&M Sprint winner), 8-Taris and 2-Stonetastic. The play: 2,8,10/1,3,8,10,11/1,7,9,12 (cost: $30).
Race 9 (3:35 p.m.): The G2 American Turf kicks off the late Pick-4 into the Derby and is a wide open affair, as one can see, I used five horses in the Pick-3 starting in Race 8. My top selection is the Queen’s Plate winterbook favorite 8-Shakhimat (5-1), who comes in off two straight stake wins with Emma Jane Wilson up for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield. Hoping we will get a preview of a colt who we could see later this summer going after Canada’s most famous race at Woodbine.
I mixed both short and long-priced horses with Shakhimat in the Pick-3 and could see a colt like 3-Converge (5-1) emerging from this race for Chad Brown and Javier Castellano. It’s a great betting race that I just might box my five horses listed in the Race 8 middle leg in an exacta.
Race 10 (4:25 p.m.): The G3 Pat Day Mile for 3-year-olds is the second leg of the late Pick-4 with a purse of $250K. My top pick in here is 1-Discreetness (12-1) at a price with regular Churchill rider Jon Court aboard. He shortens up after a disappointing effort in the Arkansas Derby and he should relish the cutback in distance.
The other three horses I will use in here are all familiar colts from the recent Derby trail. 9-Fellowship finished just outside of the Derby qualifying point cutoff and 12-Unbridled Outlaw and 7-Forevamo made appearances at Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds, respectively.
Race 11 (5:25 p.m.): The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is the race before the Derby and will be run for the 30th time on the Churchill turf. I’ll play a four horse $1 trifecta box using 10-Tourist, 6-Slumber, 8-Divisidero and 2-Chocolate Ride (cost $24).
Post time for Race 12, the Kentucky Derby is at 6:34 p.m. I’m sticking with my top four selections (13-19-3-2), keying 13-Nyquist in a variety of exactas and trifectas. If he wins, I win! I’ll mix in 5-Gun Runner and 6-My Man Sam underneath also. Check tomorrow morning’s print edition for my commentary on Kentucky Derby 142 and check out my twitter account (@EquiSpace) for updates through the day.
Good luck, everyone.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.