The Kentucky Derby is known in the United States as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” and the first leg of the American Triple Crown once again looks a fascinating renewal.
Here are our horse racing pundit’s views on Saturday evening’s big race.
Mendelssohn and Moore to continue good run?
The market is headed by the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mendelssohn who comes into this off the back of three consecutive victories, including a staggering 18-length victory in the Group 2 UAE Derby at Meydan last time.
The son of Scat Daddy is the 4/1 favourite with Grosvenorsport.com to give O’Brien not only his first win in the race, but the first ever European winner of the race at Churchill Downs.
It’s almost half a century since a Kentucky Derby winner had his previous race out of the US, with Canonero in 1971 the last.
In short, history is firmly against Mendelssohn, but the way he won on his dirt debut at Meydan and the fact that Ryan Moore is going over to Kentucky to ride him suggests he could very well be the one to buck the trend.
Baffert eyes fifth Kentucky Derby win
He tops the market ahead of another of the crop of Scat Daddy in the shape of the unbeaten Justify at 9/2. He is trained by Bob Baffert who is seeking his fifth win in the race, with his last victory coming in 2015 with American Pharaoh.
His win at Santa Anita, where he galloped the opposition into submission, suggested he could be hard to hold back if given an easy lead and the likes of Ryan Moore will need to pay close attention to keep him at arm’s length.
Audible best of the rest
The final contender who I feel needs a mention is the Todd Pletcher-trained Audible at 6/1. Like Justify he is unbeaten, having won both his races so far by over eight lengths and his performance in the Group 1 Florida Derby last time was particularly impressive.
Pletcher is hunting back-to-back wins in the race after Always Dreaming took the race last year and his son of Into Mischief looks another solid contender.
As the market suggests, this is a pretty open renewal of the Kentucky Derby and I think any of the three at the head of the market could take it.
Mendelssohn is the most solid and his performance in Meydan was incredibly impressive, and if anyone can produce a horse to win this sort of race it’s the Ballydoyle handler O’ Brien.
He does however have to overcome the fact that of the 13 previous horses who ran in the UAE Derby, their best finish in Kentucky has been fifth.
Both Justify and Audible are much less exposed than Mendelssohn and if you are backing them, you are backing potential rather than proven ability.
With this in mind I have to stick with Mendelssohn who took to dirt like a duck to water in Meydan and if he is anywhere near that form on Saturday, I simply don’t see how his rivals will be able to peg him back.
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