The most exciting two minutes in sports is back: The Kentucky Derby!!
The Cooper Family has been doing this for years. Each year we study up on the 20 horses running for the roses and make our selections on who we think will win. It’s purely for pride. (Although, I’ve been considering getting some sort of trophy created to pass around to whoever the current champion is…maybe next year.)
I remember making picks with my Dad when I was a kid – but The Draft has really become something larger since around 2002, and every year it seems to gain some momentum. Perhaps it’s due to marriages and our expanding family size. Perhaps it’s because I started doing these annual Live Draft posts in 2014. Perhaps it’s because, for the most part, we’re all living back in the same city again. Hard to say, but there’s good energy here so why not really make a big deal out of it?
But before we get to this year, let’s talk briefly about last year, since, you know, I won.
You know, that whole thing about hindsight being 20/20 is particularly apropos when one of the horses you’re considering drafting becomes the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Last year’s Derby winner, American Pharoah, had the best odds on draft day at 3-1. Sure, there were comparable horses running last year at Churchill Downs – Dortmund (4-1) and Firing Line (7-1) were right there at the finish too – but after AP absolutely obliterated the competition in the sloppy Preakness a few weeks later, it was clear the gap at the top was wider than originally believed. I even wrote, “there’s no true favorite like there has been the past few years,” in this section of last year’s draft post. I was wrong. American Pharoah was clearly a notch above the rest.
And he graciously fell to me at pick #3. Thanks, fam.
Yes, I’m coming off my first ever Cooper Family Kentucky Derby win. It feels good, sure, but it was a gift more than something I earned. My wife scored pick #1 and took Dortmund. My mom took a flier on Carpe Diem with pick #2 which didn’t hit. And the horse of destiny just kinda landed in my lap.
Repeating will be a tall order though, since we decided to draft in reverse order from our previous year’s finish. I have the 7th pick. But more on that in a bit. First, let’s talk about the horses.
Links to the last two Derby drafts…
There is a clear favorite this year.
Nyquist has never lost a race – a perfect 7-0 in races leading up Derby. When betting lines were first posted earlier this week, he was 3-1. He’s named after a hockey player, Detroit Red Wings’ right winger Gustav Nyquit. Amazingly, I know more about the horse than I do the man. The next closest line is, Exaggerator, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, opening at 8-1.
But weirder things have happened than a clear cut favorite finishing in the middle of the pack. Look no further than 1994 when Holy Bull – the Horse of the Year that year – entered the Derby as the clear favorite, but sloppy track conditions and a poor break cost him. He ended 12th out of 14 horses. See? Anything is possible.
Like listen to this argument: Nyquist ran the San Vicente Stakes in California on February 15, then the Florida Derby on April 2, and now is headed to Kentucky a month later. Traveling can certainly wear down a horse. Plus, only one of the entrants has ever run a 1 1/4 mile race before, so who knows which of these horses has the stamina to go that extra 1/8 of a mile. And all it takes is a hesitation out the gate, or getting pinched around a turn.
See? Wide open. (Yeah right.)
If that happens, the number of challengers appears deep with a whopping 13 horses in the 10- to 20-1 range: Creator, Gun Runner and Mohaymen opened at 10-1; Brody’s Cause and Mor Spirit at 12-1; Destin opened at 15-1, as did the two speedy pace horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy.
Oh! And you can’t ever count out Victor Espinoza these days. Jockey of the past two Derby winners. He’s riding Whitmore (20-1) this year – expect that line to drop as we approach post time.
So if you’ve got, say, the 7th pick in the draft, and you’re certainly not going to end up with Nyquist, there are guaranteed to be horses out there that have a shot. The full list by position as of this post:
- Trojan Nation 50-1
- Suddenbreakingnews 20-1
- Creator 10-1
- Mo Tom 20-1
- Gun Runner 10-1
- My Man Sam 20-1
- Oscar Nominated 50-1
- Lani 30-1
- Destin 15-1
- Whitmore 20-1
- Exaggerator 8-1
- Tom’s Ready 30-1
- Nyquist 3-1
- Mohaymen 10-1
- Outwork 15-1
- Shagaf 20-1
- Mor Spirit 12-1
- Majesto 30-1
- Brody’s Cause 12-1
- Danzing Candy 15-1
- Laoban (Alternate) 50-1
- Cherry Wine (Alternate) 30-1
Here’s what jumps out initially…
Both of those speedsters are interesting options. Outwork is coming out of post position 15 and Danzing Candy out of position 20. The way the gate is constructed, those are terrific spots for speedy horses. There are 14 slots in the main gate, and an appendage is attached housing positions 15-20.
Here’s a photo…
See what I’m saying? You can see what can happen out of the gate – the 14, 15 and 20 horses have the most room to work with and establish position.
If you’re a pace horse, this is helpful to quickly get out ahead of the pack. And the two fastest horses in this race are on both ends of the attachment. Outwork and Danzing Candy have every opportunity to get a good jump and pace the pack. If that happens, this has the makings of a very very fast race.
Now, some people don’t believe post numbers matter in the slightest. The best horses get the best jumps get the best race posturing get the better finishes. And I agree with that for the most part, but at the same time, certain positions can certainly help. And when a race has been happening for 141 years, certain trends begin to develop.
The inside numbers (posts 1-5) have the shortest distance to run because they have the inside track, sure. But they’re also the most likely to get pinched against the rail. Generally, if a horse is on the inside, they want to be in spots 1, 2 or 5. Spots 3 & 4 are the most likely to get pinched and effectively eliminated in the first quarter mile.
Good news for Gun Runner. Bad news for Creator.
The outside numbers (posts 13-20) have a longer distance so a slight disadvantage. However, if they can get a good break, they typically have more room to work with and are rarely eliminated over the first quarter mile. Nyquist got a bit of a disadvantage being in #13, but not much. If you’re in the outside third, 13 and 16 (Shagaf) have produced the most winners.
The only gate to never produce a winner? 17.
Sorry, Mor Spirit.
The ideal positions are somewhere in the middle, in the 5-12 range. Posts 8 (Lani) and 10 (Whitmore) have the best winning percentages among the middle numbers.
Whoops. Really got into post positioning for a moment there. In the end, we don’t really know anything at all. It’s all one big crapshoot. Pick the best horses and hope for the best – that’s always the better shot. If Mor Spirit is still available late in the draft, am I still picking him over Trojan Nation or Oscar Nominated? Absolutely.
Most of what I just wrote was an attempt to make my family members gain some level of interest in horses I don’t want in hopes they pick them before it gets to me…OR WAS IT?! What if this entire post is a ploy to sucker my family into picking the chumps again this year?! Hmmm. Just doing my own jockeying for position here.
The Family Draft Order
In past years, we’ve picked numbers out of a hat and made it completely random. That’s just no fun for those who end up with the last pick and have no shot at picking California Chrome, American Pharoah or Nyquist. My dad definitely has the most wins in our family, but most (all?) have come due to lucking into a high pick and selecting the favorite: Orb in 2013. Big Brown in 2008. War Emblem in 2002. Pretty sure he won all of those and had a top 2 pick every time. I’m sure it was very rewarding to defeat his offspring on the regular.
So this year, we’ve adjusted the rules. From now on, we’ll be selecting in the order we finished the previous year! That way the loser from the year before has first dibs at the favorite next year. From there, it snakes back to the first pick. Any leftover picks then jump to the final picker and go in reverse order. This year there are 20 horses, so the picking order looks like this:
- Mom – 1 & 14
- Holly – 2, 13 & 20
- Quinten – 3, 12 & 19
- Anna – 4, 11 & 18
- Karlie – 5, 10 & 17
- Dad – 6, 9 & 16
- Adam – 7, 8 & 15
I have picks 7, 8 and 15. Woof. The price of success, I suppose.
So who am I targeting with pick 7? Who knows. I’ll end up with whoever is left off the top of my board, and – as any good NFL general manager will say – I’ll take the best player available. I’m hoping someone in the Creator-Gun Runner-Mohaymen tier falls to me, but that feels like a stretch. Exaggerator and Nyqvist will be long gone. My sister, Anna, is a sucker for Victor Espinoza so Whitmore probably won’t be there either.
So that leaves…who? Destin? Brody’s Cause? Blegh. No thank you. The reality is I’ll end up with two also-rans who may or may not have lead hooves. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.
I’m most likely to pick two horses whose names are the most fun to root for, so HERE WE GO, SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS! What a name.
**The Draft is happening Saturday morning. Check back then for updates as the picks come in.**
Pick 1: Nyquist (Mom)
Mom picks the favorite right out the gate. No messing around here.
Pick 2: Exaggerator (Holly)
And Hol follows up with the obvious followup. Who saw this coming? (Everyone.)
Pick 3: Creator (Quinten)
For some reason Creator isn’t getting any love for coming into the derby with such solid odds. Quinten has a good horse here, but it’s not the route I would’ve gone.
Pick 4: Whitmore (Anna)
In a completely unsurprising move, Anna takes her boy, Victor Espinoza.
Pick 5: Gun Runner (Karlie)
Amazing that Mohaymen and Gun Runner are still on the board at this point. They were #’s 2 and 3 on my draft board. Karlie gets a terrific horse at number 5.
Pick 6: Mohaymen (Dad)
And Dad somehow gets an unbelievable pick at #6 overall.
Pick 7: SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (APC)
This just in: all the good horses are gone. If I could trade back and acquire more picks, I would, but I’m not sure that’s allowed. So I’ll go with the best name in the race here, just like I said I would.
Pick 8: Outwork (APC)
If you read everything up to this point, you know I liked the pace horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy, so I’ll take the one closer on the inside. Hoping DC falls to me at #15. Doubtful.
Pick 9: Mor Spirit (Dad)
No horse has ever won from the 17 gate, but Dad appears hopeful. “Maybe this is the year!” That’s the Spirit. Although, he did win Jimmy Fallon’s Puppy Predictor this year.
Pick 10: Destin (Karlie)
Solid gate positioning. Best available. Good pick here.
Pick 11: Brody’s Cause (Anna)
Terrible name. Best odds out there. Does anyone know what his Cause is?
Pick 12: My Man Sam (Quinten)
Has “dark horse” written all over it. Solid positioning and underrated. Dad makes the following joke: “Used to be Sam I Am before he was sold into slavery.” Wonderful. Everyone loves a good slavery joke…
Pick 13: Mo Tom (Holly)
The first of the two Toms is finally off the board. Won’t be missed. Should finish last.
Pick 14: Danzing Candy (Mom)
Love this pick. Danzing was one of the favorites a month or so ago, but slid in April and then got shoved to the #20 gate. But he’s got the speed to pull it off.
Pick 15: Shagaf (APC)
So I’ll take Shagaf, because, I have no idea.
Pick 16: Lani (Dad)
Dad takes the other grey horse in the mix. Lani is a guy’s name, supposedly. And he’s from Japan, so who knows what we’ve got here. “Could be the steal of the draft” in a prime post position.
Pick 17: Oscar Nominated (Karlie)
Terrible horse. But whatever, all the remaining horses stink, so might as well grab the one with the best starting position. Karlie finishes with Gun Runner, Destin and Oscar Nominated. That’s a good group.
Pick 18: Majesto (Anna)
Majesto is the horse I know the least about because he’s really not worth my time.
Pick 19: Trojan Nation (Quinten)
Q takes the inside rail. Too bad the Nation is going to get bumped early by…SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS.
Pick 20: Tom’s Ready (Holly)
And Holly picks up the pieces and adds the other Tom. She ends up with Exaggerator and the Toms. Sounds like an up and coming garage band. Dibs band name.
So here’s where the draft left us…
- Mom: Nyquist, Danzing Candy
- Holly: Exaggerator and the Toms
- Quinten: Creator, My Man Sam, Trojan Nation
- Anna: Whitmore, Brody’s Cause, Majesto
- Karlie: Gun Runner, Destin, Oscar Nominated
- Dad: Mohaymen, Mor Spirit, Lani
- APC: Suddenbreakingnews, Outwork, Shagaf
Well…the good news is I’ll get an early pick in 2017.
Immediate takeaways – Mom’s draft was obviously strong with Nyquist, but adding Danzing Candy is a strong pick at #14 overall. Dad and Karlie had fantastic drafts for the picks they had. Anna’s way too sentimental to ever actually win this thing.
I think Danzing Candy and Outwork get out to the front from the outside, but fade late from giving too much to claim the pace. I really like Suddenbreakingnews and My Man Sam emerging from the rail horses as contenders, but getting worn out trying to keep up with Gun Runner and Nyquist, who should fall in behind the pace, boxing out Exaggerator. Mohaymen ought to just pace behind Nyquist and hope to have more left in the tank down the stretch. I anticipate a fast race where only the strongest survive.
If I’m picking a superfecta, I’m going with Nyquist, Gun Runner, Mohaymen, Outwork.
And Nyquist takes it.
The race played out almost exactly like everyone expected – Dancing Candy paced the group but faded late, Nyquist and Gun Runner hanging just off the pace kicked it into gear around the far turn. Exaggerator held back and got caught up in the middle until a hole opened up late and he scampered to a strong second place finish. Gun Runner barely hung on for third in a photo alongside Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews.
It’s fitting that Mom would win on Mother’s Day weekend. She picked the obvious favorite and he pulled through with ease.
So that means our family standings for this year’s Kentucky Derby look like this…
- Mom (Nyquist)
- Holly (Exaggerator)
- Karlie (Gun Runner)
- Dad (Mohaymen)
- APC (Suddenbreakingnews)
- Anna (Brody’s Cause, 7th)
- Quinten (My Man Sam, 11th)
Dad finished with 3 horses in the top 10 – Mohaymen, Lani (9th) and Mor Spirit (10th). Along with Gun Runner, Karlie also did well with Destin (6th). Anna’s horses struggled – Whitmore was the last to finish, and Majesto was second to last. Holly did well with Exaggerator, but the Toms were respectable too finishing 8th (Mo) and 12th (‘s Ready).
Quinten will get the first overall pick next year. His horses were not great on paper, nor in the Derby. He finished 11th (My Man Sam), 13th (Creator) and 16th (Trojan Nation).
I did as well as I could. Suddenbreakingnews (5th) was the best finishing horse remaining when it got to me. That at least counts for something. Outwork was a long shot if he could keep up with the heavy hitters, and was sitting pretty going into the last quarter mile but faded significantly down the stretch, as many predicted he would. He finished 14th.
Shagaf…did not finish.