We're just over a week away from the Run for the Roses and it's time for the annual Degrees of Separation post where we separate the contenders from the pretenders.
It's a light look at the horses that have qualified for a gate on the first Saturday in May, a week out and before the post position draw to help segregate the horses I'm high on versus the throw-outs come Derby day. Using my annual Derby spreadsheet as a guide, we review the current top 20 horses likely to be entered in Kentucky Derby 144.
Since I started covering the Triple Crown at The News in 2011 my record for Derby top selections is 7: 1-0-3. The three third-place finishers were Mucho Macho Man, Revolutionary and Dortmund and the winner came in 2016 with Nyquist. I missed the board with Irish War Cry last year (10th), Daddy Nose Best (10th) and Intense Holiday (12th) in previous efforts.
Before we jump into this year’s field, let's take a moment to review some of my better (and really bad) quotes from past Degrees of Separation posts.
2009 - Mine That Bird: "Slowest of the slow" (50-1 winner)
2010 - Super Saver: "Really warming up to this one. Pletcher's best chance to wear the roses. Sports Monarchos' sire, his dam sire is A.P. Indy, so he has the pedigree AND the King of Churchill in the irons. Dangerous." (Chicken dinner)
2011 - Shackleford: "Really would have loved to see him in the Preakness versus the Derby, hope the race doesn't wreck him, looks like a monster." (Thank you very much)
2012 - I'll Have Another: "I dig this horse. His daddy, Flower Alley, had a troubled trip in the 2005 Derby and is a Travers winner and BC Classic runner-up. Could be my top pick - we'll see how he draws on Wednesday." (Drew Post No. 19, scared me off of him…second guessed myself)
2013 - Orb: Likely favorite after his two big wins at Gulfstream with matching Beyer Speed Figures. He'll be on top of my tickets. (Ultimately made him my second choice)
2014 - California Chrome: I'm not picking him to win, but no other colt has been as impressive during the prep season as this son of Lucky Pulpit. But can a son of Lucky Pulpit win the Derby? (Why yes, yes he can)
2015 - American Pharoah: “The likely favorite doesn’t make the top division? Am I crazy? Being able to achieve the 10-furlongs with potential traffic issues he hasn’t yet encountered in the trials. Those questions are enough to have me on the fence.” (Triple Crown winner – the Derby was his toughest race though)
2016 - Exaggerator: “Another somewhat sentimental favorite in this corner who loves any Curlin progeny. Jockey has won the race before, has the running style of a Derby winner. Not sure we’ve seen his best.”
2017 - Always Dreaming: “Pletcher’s best shot in years, but is he this year’s version of Materiality? Florida Derby has produced winners in this race twice in the last five years.” (Was in my top three)
So let's get down to business and reveal our 2018 Degrees of Separation:
The AMC Gremlin Division: My father bought my mother an American Motors Corporation (AMC) Gremlin back in the late 70s and it was a thing of beauty. Bright red, sleek gold stripes, the works. So what was the issue? It just wasn't fast. Pretty sure it was one of the worst cars ever built. Again: Worst. Car. Ever. Built. These are the horses that represent this division, and qualify as my throw-outs:
Bravazo: Hell, who doesn’t love D. Wayne? Yeah, it’s Calumet Farm, but this is no Whirlaway.
Flameaway: I just hope he makes it through the race unscathed, so we can see him up north in the Queen’s Plate in July. It’s not often that an Ontario-bred qualifies to run for the roses. He will have an entire country rooting for him. Likely that he flames out on the front end.
Lone Sailor: Fastest workout time since Hard Spun? Sorry, but this ship’s not coming in.
Free Drop Billy: Dale’s not conning me this year (see: Brody’s Cause).
Instilled Regard: Your Ohio Derby winner. Or Indiana. Not Kentucky.
Firenze Fire: Pair with Flameaway for an En Fuego exacta and then watch your tickets burn.
The Party Crasher Divison: This division made its debut in 2016 and represents the spot where the horse won’t win, but he’ll cause havoc on your exotic betting by crashing the exacta, trifecta and superfecta at a price. Think Golden Soul, Lookin at Lee and Commanding Curve.
Solomini: How many bad or wide trips can this horse run? Talented enough to cause chaos though if he rights the ship and stays out of trouble. Won’t win but could crash the superfecta.
Enticed: Mostly under the radar and couldn’t win the Wood for the Sheikh. Has to be respected though with a pedigree that could prove him a stayer.
Hofburg: Will absolutely be using underneath based on his stamina. He’s the ultimate party crasher. Think Vince Vaughan as the entrepreneurial investor in Wedding Crashers. “Let's be from Vermont. And let's have an emerging maple syrup conglomerate.”
My Boy Jack: You have to take a good look at this deep closer who came late to the dance. He'll also be coming late on Derby day trying to pick up the scraps. Who doesn't want another couple more weeks of the Desormeaux brothers in the media?
Combatant: With the Gronk defection he’s in and his numbers say he could clunk up for a piece.
The Indy 500 Division: Whoever draws the rail (pole) will be a toss and will be automatically transferred into this division. Other qualifiers represent the speed of the speed and likely will be out front burning rubber.
First spot: Vacant until Wednesday for the rail horse.
Promises Fulfilled: I’ll eat my mint julep tie if he wins. At least it will be tasty.
The George Costanza Human Fund Division: These will be the horses that will be taking in a lot of money and have a little (or lot of) hype, but will be unmasked in the Derby and will not be a factor.
Gronkowski: Man, this was a layup if he was in the race. Even though 80 percent of America hates the Patriots, he would have taken mad money at the windows. Patch won this category hands down last year, but the Gronk will be the one who takes the dumb money this year.
Also receiving votes: My Boy Jack (for obvious reasons).
The Afleet Alex Divison: Horses that won't win the Derby, but will have to be respected and could hit the board. Horses qualifying here have the potential to become a Classic winner down the road in either the Preakness Stakes or the Belmont Stakes.
Noble Indy: Potential Belmont winner? TAP loves to reload in the Belmont with the horses who don’t fire on Derby day.
Bolt d’Oro: Don’t get me wrong, he’ll be on top of some tickets, but the Preakness could be his coming out party. Could easily put him in the Sheen division, but think he’ll still be running on the third Saturday in May.
The Larry Holmes Division: Formerly known as the Brett Favre division, but renamed for the former heavyweight champ who just loved another comeback. The horses that are bound for this division are those I just can't make up my mind up on as we sit one week out from the Run for the Roses. Include them, exclude them....indecision is in the house.
Good Magic: BC Juvenile winner came back to win the Blue Grass, in meh fashion. Classy colt that is giving me headaches trying to decide whether he’s in the top flight or not.
Audible: Hasn’t done anything wrong in his last two efforts and Florida Derby winners have won three of the last six. Just can’t pull the trigger at the moment.
Magnum Moon: Same sire as 2013 winner Orb and comes off an impressive Arkansas performance. Dream trips in both preps at Oaklawn, will likely see a little more traffic in Louisville. Leaning towards second flight. Would a horse with a name that references an orb in space be able to reverse the Apollo curse? See what I did there?
Charlie Sheen Division: The horses I think have the best chance at...wait for it...winning!
Justify: The numbers scream that he’s the winner. History begs to differ. You can’t ignore the talent. Could be something special.
Mendelssohn: Ever since the son of Lonhro gave me the side eye at Del Mar during the Breeders’ Cup, he’s had my attention. His 18 1/2-length win at Meydan shook thoughts of the auto toss for Dubai horses. He’s versatile and has the pedigree.
Vino Rosso: You knew a Pletcher would be in the top division. Wide trip all the way around the Big A in the Wood and still had plenty in the tank. Johnny V picked this one over Audible for a reason.
That's a wrap on this year's 2018 degrees of separation. It’s my favorite way to flesh out the field, as you can't bet them all. Granted, this is my preliminary look into the field and the post position draw can change all of that.
The News will be onsite in Louisville on Wednesday, look for coverage here on through Saturday’s race.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.