Horse racing seems to captivate the American public once a year for about a month. It will be interesting to see if there is as much buzz this year as there was for last year’s Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby is the opening race of the Triple Crown and this year’s running will be held on May 7, 2016 at world-famous Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
It will be hard to top last year’s Triple Crown. American Pharoah became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in the same year since 1978. The 37-year drought was the longest in history. For good measure, American Pharoah went and dominated the Breeders’ Cup Classic, cementing his legacy as one of the best horses of all time.
However, the focus shifts now to 2016. The Road to the Kentucky Derby has been underway since October and there are some interesting competitors in this year’s field.
We have edited the lines from our original March 21 post to include the post positions and the new odds:
|6||My Man Sam||Ortiz||Brown||20/1|
|12||Tom’s Ready||Hernandez Jr.||Stewart||30/1|
|20||Danzing Candy||Smith||Sise Jr.||15/1|
Before diving into the contenders for this year’s race, it’s important to look at some historical trends at Churchill Downs. Victor Espinoza won atop American Pharoah last year and was also the champion while riding California Chrome in 2014. In this race, dating back to 1875, there has never been a three-time reigning champion. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack share the record with five wins each. Espinoza also won on War Emblem in 2002.
In terms of other successful jockeys here, Calvin Borel won three out of four races from 2007-10, riding atop Street Sense, Mine That Bird, and Super Saver. Kent Desormeaux is also a three-time winner here, with wins atop Real Quiet, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Big Brown. Surprisingly, Borel is not part of this year's group of riders.
As far as trainers go, Bob Baffert got a lot of publicity last year, but it was actually his first Derby win since 2002. He had back-to-back wins in 1997 and 1998 with Silver Charm and Real Quiet. That’s the last time a trainer has picked up consecutive wins in this race.
At 15/1, Danzing Candy could be worth a few shekels. Danzing Candy was victorious at the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, which is one of the more prestigious races to date in the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Only six horses were in the starting gate, so there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic to navigate, but Danzing Candy outlasted Exaggerator and Mor Spirit, who are both expected to make the cut for the Derby on May 7. He’ll get another crack on April 9 at Santa Anita and will face another stiff test.
Speaking of Exaggerator, it’s easy to see why people are interested in this horse. The odds were pretty long a few weeks ago at +2500, but the horse is now at 8/1. The bloodline is there. This horse is an offspring of Curlin, who also sired Palace Malice, the 2013 winner of the Belmont Stakes. Curlin was the 2007 Preakness Stakes winner and also the Breeders’ Cup Classic champion. Kent Desormeaux is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and a two-time Preakness champion. Could his experience be the deciding factor for Exaggerator?
The heavy favorite back in March was Mohaymen, one of Kiaran McLaughlin’s trainees. McLaughlin hasn’t had a lot of success lately and has only one Triple Crown race to his name, the 2006 Belmont Stakes, but he is a well-known name in the world of horse racing. He is from the D. Wayne Lukas trainer tree. Lukas was a four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby from 1988-99. Mohaymen won the Remsen at Aqueduct back in late November and has added two more wins since, including a triumph at Gulfstream in late February. Mohaymen also has the requisite bloodline, a descendent of Seattle Slew and Secretariat, and a sibling of Tonalist.
Bob Baffert's only horse in the mix is Mor Spirit. The #17 post position has never won the Kentucky Derby, but it's impossible to count any horse trained by Baffert out, regardless of history. Mor Spirit was eighth in the points chase in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which was a pretty disappointing showing overall. People will back Baffert, but this may be a losing horse here this weekend.
All eyes are on Nyquist, who got a favorable post position and is currently the race favorite by a pretty wide margin. Nyquist was the winner in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and he also grabbed a win in the Florida Derby. Amazingly, Nyquist is named after NHL player Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings and comes from the same ownership group that helped I'll Have Another to the 2012 Kentucky Derby victory. Nyquist may close an even bigger favorite drawing the 14 spot, which is a very good place to be at Churchill Downs.
Another horse that could get some love from the bettors this weekend is Shagaf. It's a long way to the inside from that 16 position, but Joel Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby atop Orb and was the winner of the 2014 Belmont atop Tonalist. He's a well-known name in the industry and had a huge win in 2013 in the Dubai World Cup while riding Animal Kingdom. People flock to names that they know and Rosario is certainly up there.
Speaking of jockeys that influence money, Whitmore is sure to get some attention in the lead-up to the race. Victor Espinoza did some great things with American Pharoah last year, though it's up for discussion whether or not that was just a world-class horse or the jockey had something to do with it. Espinoza also won the 2014 Preakness and the 2014 Belmont on California Chrome. He's been an excellent bet lately in the Triple Crown races.
The horses are expected to be off at 6:34 p.m. ET on Saturday night.