It’s Derby Week! And, as usual, the Cooper Family is gearing up for another live draft.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Welp. Another favorite ended up wearing the roses again in 2017.
The favorite has won every year I’ve posted about it. Granted, I’ve only been documenting things here since 2014, so the streak isn’t long but it’s a streak nonetheless, and three out of the four years was with the 1st overall pick…
- 2014: California Chrome (Karlie – 1st)
- 2015: American Pharoah (APC – 3rd)
- 2016: Nyquist (Mom – 1st)
- 2017: Always Dreaming (Quinten – 1st)
One could argue that Always Dreaming wasn’t the obvious favorite last year – he didn’t even open with the best odds on race day (Classic Empire was 4-1, while McCraken and Always Dreaming were co-second favorite at 5-1), but by the time betting closed, Always Dreaming had dropped to 9/2, which was ultimately the best. Truth is, if I’d had the top pick last year, I would’ve looked elsewhere, just like both Karlie and Mom did in 2015 when they let American Pharoah fall to me with the 3rd pick.
So sure, the favorite keeps winning, but there’s no telling who the true favorite even is sometimes, and there’s no guarantee the person picking 1st will even take the horse with the best odds. To quote Ned Ryerson: It’s all one big crapshoot anyhoo.
Quinten did take Always Dreaming first overall, and the horse did break well beating everyone inside him to the rail and that’s all she wrote. Well done, Q.
I finished surprisingly well with long shot closer Lookin at Lee finishing 2nd. I added him with my final pick at #18 and got lucky. Dad made the mistake of selecting the #17 horse, Irish War Cry, who finished 10th, which earned Dad the top pick in this year’s draft.
We do this every year, and these annual posts are mostly for my own documentation at this point. Maybe some of you enjoy them. Who knows.
Ok let’s look at this year’s group.
Yes, the favorite keeps winning, but this year looks dicier. This year we get to talk about a CURSE!!
The Curse of Apollo.
Every horse in the Kentucky Derby is a 3-year old. It’s a requirement for the race. This means each racehorse has only run handful of competitive races up to this point. Most began racing as 2-year olds, but occasionally there’s a horse or two who arrived late to the track and never ran before turning 3.
In 1882, a horse named Apollo won the Kentucky Derby after only running as a 3-year old. Since then, 61 horses have tried to do the same not a single one of them has won. In 136 years…not a single one.
There have honestly been just a few who even came close. Of those 61 horses, just 3 finished 2nd (most recently – Bodemeister, 2012) and only 1 finished 3rd (Curlin, 2007), and the rest didn’t even make the podium.
So, the Curse of Apollo…is it real? Do you believe in curses? Because it’s about to be seriously tested as two of the top contenders never raced as a 2-year old: Justify (opened as the favorite at 3-1) and Magnum Moon (third favorite at 6-1).
Justify is 3 for 3 in prep races though, most notably a wire-to-wire win in the Santa Anita Derby. Likewise, Magnum Moon is 2 for 2 including a win at the Arkansas Derby.
Other top options include Mendelssohn (5-1) who dominated the UAE Derby by like 19 lengths (!!!), Bolt D’Oro (8-1) who was the closest to taking over Justify down the stretch in the Santa Anita, and Audible (8-1) winner of the Florida Derby, the race that has produced the most Kentucky Derby winners in recent years (last two, and 3 of the last 5). Going back even further, 11 of the last 14 Kentucky Derby winners won either the Arkansas, Florida, or Santa Anita.
And truth is, if that’s as far as you cared to research this thing, I totally get it. Lots of correlation there to bet on already.
But humor me. I’ve got more to say.
When I went back and watched all the major prep races, there was one only one moment that truly blew me away.
It happened in the Louisiana Derby, a race won by Noble Indy, but it wasn’t the winner who impressed me. It was My Boy Jack.
This horse is the ultimate closer, and I admit I’m a sucker for closers. It’s just so much more dramatic, and I think more impressive.
Ok look at this screenshot…
This is the first turn, fresh out of the gate. My Boy Jack is the one in the back just doinking around. He practically trots out of the gate.
Fast forward another half a mile around the far turn and let’s see what’s changed…
Nothing! See that horse head barely peeking into the frame? That’s our boy. This is entering the final turn. The race is over in another quarter mile and he’s barely in the picture!!
…like a ROCKET. Fwoooosh! Out of nowhere it’s like he’s in fast forward. In one turn he goes from entirely out of the picture to almost neck-and-neck with the leaders. How does he have that much gas in the tank?! I could easily be convinced that Jack is the most fit horse in this race.
Here’s the finishline:
That’s My Boy Jack in the middle of the picture farthest from the rail. A photo finish to show. Just missed it. The rest of the horses are a dozen lengths behind them.
If he had just closed that last little length, managed to find a hole to slip through instead of having to bounce way outside, then My Boy Jack likely comes into this weekend as one of the favorites. Instead he’s opening at a 30-1 underdog.
But do I think he’ll win? Maybe? A lot would have to break his way, but…maybe?
Let’s look at the full gate lineup and see how things look. I liked how I did it last year listing the running-style too, so you’ll see that along with the opening Vegas odds following the position draw Tuesday morning.
- Firenze Fire – Closer (50-1)
- Free Drop Fire – Closer (30-1)
- Promises Fulfilled – Pacesetter (30-1)
- Flameaway – Pace/Press (30-1)
- Audible – Stalk/Close (8-1)
- Good Magic – Stalker (12-1)
- Justify – Pacesetter (3-1)
- Lone Sailor – Closer (50-1)
- Hofburg – Stalk/Close (20-1)
- My Boy Jack – Closer (30-1)
- Bolt D’Oro – Stalker (8-1)
- Enticed – Stalker (30-1)
- Bravazo – Presser (50-1)
- Mendelssohn – Pace/Press (5-1)
- Instilled Regard – Stalk/Close (50-1)
- Magnum Moon – Pace/Press (6-1)
- Solomini – Stalker (30-1)
- Vino Rosso – Stalk/Close (12-1)
- Noble Indy – Press/Stalk (30-1)
- Combatant – Closer (50-1)
I could make a case for about half of these horses, and if I looked at most of them long enough I could convince myself they’re definitely going to win (see above re: My Boy Jack), but here’s what I see…
First, let’s talk about the early pace.
Promises Fulfilled and Justify will lead the pack early. Flameaway may be there too, but that name is so dumb it’s hard to think he’ll be relevant. Promises Fulfilled is the fastest sprinter in this race, and with two closers on the inside there’s no reason why he shouldn’t bolt out the gate and establish himself out front. Justify has a little more work to do as does Flameaway, but both should be right there. Promises Fulfilled doesn’t have the stamina to last beyond about the 3/4 mile mark, but Justify will hang around. If Justify is going to win, it’ll have to be wire to wire, and he’s going to have to use a lot of speed early to establish position.
All that to say, Justify is in a great spot at #7. The 5-10 range is the most desirable gate position: close enough to shorten the run, but far enough out that you don’t get pinched on the rail. The big question for me when it comes to Justify is whether having Promises Fulfilled to the inside causes him to overdo it early and then fade late if he wears down? He didn’t have much trouble holding off Bolt D’Oro to go the distance in the Santa Anita, but the horses are stronger, the race is longer and the pace is likely faster. We shall see.
Audible has a really nice position on the inside nestled in among pacesetters and closers. The #5 spot has produced a ton of winners over the years, including Always Dreaming a year ago. Good Magic is another good horse in the same bunch. The Bluegrass Stakes winner has finished top 3 in all of his races, but let’s not pretend Bluegrass is on par with Florida, Arkansas or Santa Anita.
As a stalker, Bolt D’Oro wants to find a comfortable spot in the pack early and slowly creep up as the pace slows down late. I think this setup, with closers on the inside, lets him do exactly that. But he didn’t have the stamina to catch Justify in the Santa Anita, so I don’t expect him to somehow catch him in Kentucky where the race is even longer.
Mendelssohn is in a fine spot at #14, I suppose. This horse is like Bowser in Mario Kart – takes some time to work up to speed, but once he does there’s no stopping him. His cruising speed is a huge advantage in a long race.
I mean, just look at this margin of victory:
And he was still pulling away. Crazy top speed.
The main issue with Mendelssohn is that the UAE Derby hasn’t really translated to success in Kentucky so he’s sort of a wildcard. Could go great, could totally bomb. Shoot, just last year Thunder Snow won the UAE, then went rogue out the gate and didn’t finish in KY. I like this horse a lot and could honestly see him making a joke out of it, but there’s also quite a bit of risk here.
Magnum Moon got stuck out in the appendage gate, which isn’t ideal for a horse that likes to be out front. Statistically speaking, if you’re going to be out wide, #16 is where you want to be as it’s resulted in the most wins out there, but with Mendelssohn trying to execute the same gameplan from the other side of the gap, it’s going to be a tough go to break the Curse. The biggest race Magnum Moon has won was a slow pace from start to finish, so he’ll have to run much faster and use a lot more energy to get it done here.
That said, if you want to listen to the best race call of the season, watch this starting at the 2:20 mark. Mercy.
Really tough draw for Vino Rosso, winner of the Wood Memorial, at #18. While the 17 gate (Solomini) has never had a winner, number 18 has only had 2. American Pharaoh just did it from there in 2015, but he turned out to be a freak. Vino’s just not a strong enough horse to make the longer trek from what I’ve seen.
Which brings me to the closers. A quarter of the horses in this race are closers and nearly half like to start slow and let the race develop. I’m a little concerned about that. When My Boy Jack finished so strong the Louisiana Derby, he only had to beat 9 other horses, and 7 of them were pacesetters or pressers. Basically the perfect formula for a closer.
Another closer, Lone Sailer was actually the 2nd place horse in that same race, but found a better line. Interesting to note: In the Louisiana Derby, Lone Sailer was #8 and My Boy Jack was #9 just outside him. On Saturday, they’ll be #8 and #10 respectively. We could be in for a similar result. It’s just so much harder to maneuver through 20 horses than it is 10. A long shot, but I won’t be disappointed if I end up with him as a late round pick.
Hofburg is worth mentioning here too. He finished second behind Audible and looked strong in the Florida Derby. His positioning on the inner half flanked by a couple closers bodes well for finding space to maneuver early.
Beyond that, the rest aren’t worth talking about.
I like…Justify, Mendelssohn, Audible, My Boy Jack, Hofburg, Lone Sailor.
I don’t like…Bolt D’Oro, Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso, Good Magic, Solomini
As always, there’s the chance I’m just making crap up to throw off my family. Reverse psychology.
Works like a charm.
The Family Draft Order
Picks are based on the previous year’s finish. After the first round is over, we snake backwards to the start. With the remaining picks we circle back to the end again. (Additional picks in parentheses.)
- Dad (16)
- Holly (15)
- Karlie (14)
- Mom (13)
- Anna (12, 20)
- APC (11, 19)
- Quinten (10, 18)
- Jeff (9, 17)
And welcome to the draft, Jeff! My sister’s boyfriend finds himself in the mix this year which we all agree is a very big deal. We’ll honor Jeff’s presence among us by letting him pick dead last. Good luck.
Since my son’s name is Jackson, I really doubt 5 different family members pass up the opportunity to pick My Boy Jack, but If they do, the top 5 horses picked will likely be Justify, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Audible and Bolt D’Oro. Maybe Good Magic. Anna will take Bolt because of her love for its endearing jockey, Victor Espinoza, and when someone inevitably takes Jack, that means I’ll have my pick of whomever is left between Justify, Magnum Moon, Audible or Mendelssohn. My get tells me Audible’s still there.
Hofburg would be a sweet add with #11, but I doubt he’ll make it back around – slim pickings with an 8 person draft! If he is gone, I’ll probably just spring for Lone Sailor and call it a day. If you can’t get the horse you want, at least pick a closer. That’s my new motto.
The Draft (May 5, 8:30AM CST)
Check back in at 8:30AM on Saturday to follow the draft. As always, I’ll be updating it live.
Pick 1: Dad – Audible
Dad picks the Florida Derby winner with the top pick. I think this is a great pick. Takes guts to pick against the favorite.
Pick 2: Holly – Justify
Who cares about the Curse? No brainer. Great horse. Great position.
Pick 3: Karlie – My Boy Jack
My wife gets her son’s namesake. I still think MBJ may win this race, and clearly everyone else does as his odds have moved from 30-1 to 5-1 in 48 hours.
Pick 4: Mom – Good Magic
A good horse in a nice gate position. He hasn’t really been tested like the other contenders, but not a bad option.
Pick 5: Anna – Bolt D’Oro
Anna gets Victor for the 39th straight year, but this year he’s on a good horse. We all saw this coming.
Pick 6: APC – Mendelssohn
Which means I get Mendelssohn. I was hoping either he or Audible would fall here and he did. After rewatching the UAE I’ve convinced myself Mendelssohn is going to dominate.
Pick 7: Quinten – Lone Sailor
Quinten’s rolling the dice! Wins once and thinks he can just pick any random horse and it’ll all work out. Kidding – we all know I like this horse.
Pick 8: Jeff – Magnum Moon
The Curse and gate position causes the top Road to the Derby point receiver to fall all the way to 8th. You’re welcome, Jeff.
Pick 9: Jeff – Hofburg
Okay, but you didn’t have to go and pick the target of my next pick here!
Pick 10: Quinten – Vino Rosso
The only good horse left.
Pick 11: APC – Free Drop Billy
And, as expected, there’s nobody else I really want available here so I’ll take a closer and hope for the best. Same position I was in last year with Looking at Lee last year, so expect some second place fireworks. I also took a Buzzfeed quiz earlier asking “Which Derby Horse Are You?” and I got FDB.
Pick 12: Anna – Promises Fulfilled
Anna’s going to have a really fun opening minute, but this horse could end up finishing dead last.
Pick 13: Mom – Noble Indy
The last 7 Kentucky Derby winners won their final prep race. Horses that fit that description here: Justify, My Boy Jack, Audible, Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Mendelssohn, Vino Rosso…and Noble Indy.
Pick 14: Karlie – Flameaway
Good luck keeping anything in the tank in the end. A bad horse surrounded by pacesetters.
Pick 15: Holly – Solomini
Gate 17. Good luck, kapeesh?
Pick 16: Dad – Enticed
Better win with Audible, cause…no.
Pick 17: Jeff – Firenze Fire
A closer on the rail? I could see it.
Pick 18: Quinten – Bravazo
I know nothing about this horse and won’t act like I do here.
Pick 19: APC – Combatant
Late pick closer out of Gate 20! Let’s have some fuuuuun!
Pick 20: Anna – Instilled Regard
Currently 99-1. This horse is just happy to be here.
The complete draft results courtesy of self-declared draft emcee, Holly:
Picks by family member…
- Dad: Audible, Enticed
- Holly: Justify, Solomini
- Karlie: My Boy Jack, Flameaway
- Mom: Good Magic, Noble Indy
- Anna: Bolt D’Oro, Promises Fulfilled, Instilled Regard
- APC: Mendelssohn, Free Drop Billy, Combatant
- Quinten: Lone Sailor, Vino Rosso, Bravazo
- Jeff: Magnum Moon, Hofburg, Firenze Fire
The Results (May 5, 5:50PM CST)
Holly wins with Justify! Dad really blew it.
Speaking of blew it Mendlessohn finished 73 1/4 lengths behind Justify, which was good enough for dead last. Followed that up with Free Drop Billy (16th) and Combatant (18th), so I’ll be picking first next year.
- Holly (Justify)
- Mom (Good Magic)
- Dad (Audible)
- Anna (Instilled Regard)
- Karlie (My Boy Jack)
- Quinten (Bravazo)
- Jeff (Hofburg)
- APC (Woof)
Way to go, Hol! Pressures already on for next year’s first pick.
Image source: @BreedersCup on Twitter, accessed at Racing.com.