Nyquist leads field of 20 for Kentucky Derby

After months of discussion, the field has finally been set for the biggest race of the year; the Kentucky Derby! The mile and a quarter event takes place this Saturday at Churchill Downs, and goes as Race 12 on the program with an approximate post time of 6:34 p.m. EST. As usual there are quite a few horses that have a realistic chance of coming out on top, but I’ve narrowed it down to just a few.

#13 NYQUIST is the 3-1 morning-line favorite, and his credentials are quite strong. He has not lost a race in seven tries, and has compiled four Grade I wins (the Del Mar Futurity, the Frontrunner Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the Florida Derby). He also has 2012 Kentucky Derby winner Mario Gutierrez aboard. However, this will be his biggest challenge to date in terms of quality of competition and distance. His sire Uncle Mo has electrified the bloodstock world since debuting his offspring last year, but it remains to be seen if he can be a classic-distance influence. His sire was Indian Charlie, who was not known for producing distance runners. NYQUIST’s damside pedigree doesn’t scream 10 furlongs either (he’s out of a Forestry mare), but neither did American Pharoah’s or California Chrome’s, so pedigree purists could have egg on their faces again. In short, NYQUIST has a good chance to win but I prefer others as I think NYQUIST isn’t worth the risk at a small-ish price.

#11 EXAGGERATOR (8-1) is my top pick. He comes into this race off a romping score in the Santa Anita Derby and had two good in-the-money finishes in the San Vicente and San Felipe Stakes earlier this year. EXAGGERATOR is bred to run better as the distances increase (he’s by Curlin, who hit the board in all three Triple Crown races in 2007 and retired as the richest racehorse of all time), so the added furlong should be no problem. Kent Desormeaux, who’s ridden three Kentucky Derby winners (most recently Big Brown in 2008), has the assignment.

#6 MY MAN SAM (20-1) is a longshot with a strong case. He has just a maiden win to his credit in four starts but his speed figures are competitive. MY MAN SAM drew poorly (post 14) in the Blue Grass Stakes last time out but managed to rally in and around horses to grab second and secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby. He’ll need to employ those traffic-navigating abilities again to weave through the congested field and have a shot to win. Irad Ortiz Jr., a top rider in New York for a few years now, will be re-united with this colt.

#17 MOR SPIRIT (12-1), ridden by three-time Derby winning veteran Gary Stevens and trained by Bob Baffert (American Pharoah’s trainer last year), is also worth considering. He’s never been worse than second in seven starts, and unlike most entrants in the field, MOR SPIRIT has a race at Churchill Downs (second in an off-going in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes) under his belt. EXAGGERATOR beat him handily in the mud last time out but the track should be fast on Saturday. If MOR SPIRIT can replicate his effortless Robert B. Lewis Stakes, he last race in which he got a clean trip, he’ll be very dangerous.

The play: $5 exacta box 6/11/17 ($30)

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