Magic Man’s Preview and Picks for the 2018 Kentucky Derby

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Second verse hopefully same as the first this time around as I managed to once again pick the winning horse in the Kentucky Oaks.

Monomoy survived the 14 post and a fierce challenge from Wonder Gadot to win. I missed the exacta though as I did not have Wonder Gadot on my box but I will gladly take consecutive winning picks in the Kentucky Oaks (I nailed 9-1 shot Abel Tasman last year).

Hopefully, this Kentucky Derby is kinder than last year but I know it is always a tough race to handicap. But I hope to give you the winning selections including the exacta box that I will reveal here.

It is the annual rite of spring on the first Saturday in May for me to preview this grand weekend of racing and this time I am going to channel the classic song by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie titled Under Pressure.  I demand excellence and though I have hit other legs of the Triple Crown, it has been since 2011 since I got the winning four-horse exacta box in the Derby. It has been since 1994 since I actually picked the winning horse, Go For Gin that year. So I think it is safe to say I am well overdue to strike big.

I now give you my horse-by-horse preview along with my picks for the 144th Kentucky Derby, which is the 12th race on the Churchill Downs card Saturday with post time at 5:50 p.m. CDT.


P# PP Horse A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 Firenze Fire (FL) 3/C L P Lopez 126 J Servis 50/1
2 Free Drop Billy (KY) 3/C L R Albarado 126 D L Romans 30/1
3 Promises Fulfilled (KY) 3/C L C J Lanerie 126 D L Romans 30/1
4 Flameaway (ON) 3/C L J Lezcano 126 M E Casse 30/1
5 Audible (NY) 3/C L J Castellano 126 T A Pletcher 8/1
6 Good Magic (KY) 3/C L J L Ortiz 126 C C Brown 12/1
7 Justify (KY) 3/C L M E Smith 126 B Baffert 3/1
8 Lone Sailor (KY) 3/C L J Graham 126 T M Amoss 50/1
9 Hofburg (KY) 3/C L I Ortiz, Jr. 126 W I Mott 20/1
10 My Boy Jack (KY) 3/C L K J Desormeaux 126 J K Desormeaux 30/1
11 Bolt d’Oro (KY) 3/C L V Espinoza 126 M Ruis 8/1
12 Enticed (KY) 3/C L J Alvarado 126 K P McLaughlin 30/1
13 Bravazo (KY) 3/C L L Contreras 126 D W Lukas 50/1
14 Mendelssohn (KY) 3/C L R L Moore 126 A P O’Brien 5/1
15 Instilled Regard (KY) 3/C L D Van Dyke 126 J Hollendorfer 50/1
16 Magnum Moon (KY) 3/C L L Saez 126 T A Pletcher 6/1
17 Solomini (KY) 3/C L F Prat 126 B Baffert 30/1
18 Vino Rosso (KY) 3/C L J R Velazquez 126 T A Pletcher 12/1
19 Noble Indy (KY) 3/C L F Geroux 126 T A Pletcher 30/1
20 Combatant (KY) 3/C L R Santana, Jr. 126 S M Asmussen 50/1
1-Firenze Fire

On paper he has not a chance to contend and now especially with the rail draw so I will confidently dismiss him. He has only marginal finishes and he is distance challenged.

2- Free Drop Billy
You look at this guy’s trainer Dale Romans who is a Louisville native and you want to see him take home a Kentucky Derby. One day he will get one but this horse is not the one to make it happen. He will close but he is not fast enough to contend with the more logical horses here so with that he is another I will eliminate.

3-Promises Fulfilled
I will make one guarantee for the Kentucky Derby. This guy will cross the finish line first…well, until they hit the first turn. After that he will enjoy a brief stay near the front until around the mile marker if not sooner when he will fade out  Another who I will throw out with confidence.

It would be easy to dismiss this one because he is 30-1 on the morning line but out of the big priced longshots I actually think he merits a second look. This guy is just so tough and game he to me will not disgrace himself. Now what does that mean as it relates to where he finishes? I think if you are playing the superfecta, he is one I would put in either the 3rd or 4th slots. I think leaving him out of my exacta box might be risky but stay tuned to see if he is included.

There of the last five winners of the Florida Derby have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, and this guy has a real good chance to make it 4-of-6. I loved his win in the Florida Derby and Javier Castellano who rode Bolt d’Oro has chosen to ride this guy. That tells me he believes more in this guy than the horse aforementioned.  He can lay close or sit back as it all depends on the pace flow. Definitely a must use on the exacta box but is he my pick to win?

6-Good Magic
The reigning two-year old champion is going to make his third start off the layoff. In horse racing terms, he is set for a peak effort. His win in the Blue Grass was a solid but not spectacular effort. I expected him to move forward off his dull comeback at Gulfstream. Now how does he stack up here? I think he a tough one to read because he to me has to work out a trip considering he will be running late.

He is the lukewarm favorite coming into this Kentucky Derby but I am not even remotely considering him for my exacta box. It has been since 1882 that someone won the Kentucky Derby without starting as a 2-year-old and this guy has beaten a grand total of 14 horses in his three wins. He faces 19 in this Derby and he by all accounts should break close but if he hesitates he has NO CHANCE! I have seen this guy and most have anointed him a sure winner here but I will be brazen and leave him out of exotics.

8-Lone Sailor
For Fair Grounds and Saints fans, a Derby win for this horse would make such a great story considering the recent passing of Saints owner Tom Benson whose estate owns him. However, this race is not won on sentiment but it is instead won on the race track. Lone Sailor is really is up against it here. He had the Louisiana Derby won but got nailed on a rally by Noble Indy who is also a rank outsider as well. So I will also eliminate him as well.

In a race like this, it is taught to not overthink a horse and its situation. This guy only has three starts to his credit but before you eliminate him think about this. He has William Mott as his trainer who normally does not throw horses where they do not belong. He showed himself in a strong way by running second in the Florida Derby. He also since that race has been working exceptionally well and that tells me he has another big race in his arsenal. Can he win it? It’s not that he can’t because he sure can. He is one that I am considering for my exotics but if I don’t use him, it’ll be because he is a tough throw-out.

10-My Boy Jack
Another one who has Louisiana roots with trainer Keith Desormeaux along with his brother Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux would make for a nice story. But when you watch his races, you see that he will close into what is expected to be a stout pace but his turn of foot as it compares to the others to me does not match up. I will also throw him out as well.

11-Bolt d’Oro
He will be making his third start off the form cycle and, when you look at his prior two races, you can make excuses for him. His comeback race was against McKinzie who he could not get by and then he was pace dependent when he ran second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby. Though he gets a rider change, I would venture to say that Victor Espinoza is not exactly a bad substitute. He merits a real chance despite the rider switch so I would be not one bit surprised to see him win this.

He ran a weak race in the Wood Memorial, and I see him as one of a handful who does not belong here. He has massive distance limitations and is another one I will confidently eliminate.

If he is to make any type of impact, it will be brief and early because he to me does not belong. I have the utmost respect for his connections but deep down I would bet anything they know they cannot win. He is another to thrown out.

Another Dubai hopeful, he has major credentials since he absolutely dominated the UAE Derby. He is one of the more logical contenders coming from Dubai and may be their best hope to win the Kentucky Derby. His draw is not bad as he has the last spot prior to the auxilliary gate. He can sit a good trip but the one cause for pause is whether he can overcome a tardy break. I say he is a contender but is he going to be on my exacta box?

15-Instilled Regard
I will quit picking races if this guy wins the Kentucky Derby. Yes, he won the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds but as the races got tougher, he showed not near enough to think he can fire here. He is too slow and not nearly good enough to contend so yet another goes by the wayside for me.

16-Magnum Moon
Another of the Todd Pletcher contingent, he like Justify will have to overcome the Apollo syndrome. He is unbeaten in his four starts but some cause for concern comes from his latest out in which he won the Arkansas Derby. He drifted out pretty bad in the stretch that day and has a disadvantageous post to deal with here. Yet he does figure but I will try to beat him and not use him in my exacta box.

He ran two decent races in Arkansas in advance of this Kentucky Derby. He showed a good second in last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile in which he out finished Bolt d’Oro but I do not see that big progression at three-years old that I want to see. Can he run well? Sure he can but as for exotics I don’t see him anywhere in that respect.

18-Vino Rosso
Boy, did he put it all together in his last out as he rolled to a stout win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. His prior out in Tampa left a lot to be desired and the talk prior to the Wood was whether he was just a disappointment. Hence the overlay price he got in the Wood. Of the four Pletcher horses entered, his top rider John Velasquez took this mount. That in it of itself tells me he really gives this one a chance. He will be flying from the back and unless the pace is scorching hot he can get there. He has been working well for this and perhaps he has figured this out. I am considering him for my exacta as well.

19-Noble Indy
You have to admire this horse’s tenacity as he only has one loss in his four starts. For those who bet the Oaks Derby double in the hopes that Florent Geroux can sweep, again I admire his courageous win in the Louisiana Derby but the post did him no favors here. He will not disgrace himself but I cannot use him on my exotics.

One of these days, Steve Asmussen will find a Kentucky Derby with his name on it like I mentioned with Dale Romans earlier. I just cannot fathom it being this one. He biting off much more than he can chew with these. This is not one I am considering, that’s for sure.

My Selections

1st: 5-Audible
After breaking this down, I went back and forth trying to find a real reason to change my original gut selection but I cannot. This guy’s Florida Derby was very well run and I think Javier Castellano is well overdue to win a Kentucky Derby. I think this is the one but it sure was not easy to nail down.

2nd: 11-Bolt d’Oro
How do you ignore this guy? Yes, he loses Castellano but I like Victor Espinoza, who knows how to win these types of races. This horse gets everything that he didn’t get in his prior two starts this year and would be absolutely no surprise.It was razor thin but I lean ever so slightly to my top choice over him for the victory.

3rd: 6-Good Magic
As much as I have hyped trainers in this preview, how about Chad Brown’s time to win a Derby? He has a really good shot with this guy as he also makes that third start off the layoff. Jose Ortiz when last he rode a Triple Crown race crossed the line first the Belmont last year with Tapwrit. He has a real chance with this guy at Churchill.

4th: 14-Mendelssohn
There are about four or five horses that I could put here but I have to pick one. His UAE Derby was visually impressive and what is a slight drawback to me is that the second place finisher Rayya did not run well in the Kentucky Oaks. That said, he should get a good trip. I think this is the best chance for a Euro to finally break through at the Run for the Roses.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. If the track is playing the same way it did Friday, expect fast times and competitive racing.

I cannot wait to hear the sentimental song, My Old Kentucky Home, as the horses hit the track. That song just does it for me emotionally. It’s part of the spectacle that shows how big this race is to America, especially Kentuckians. It should be a great day. I wish all the riders and horses a safe and clean trip for the Derby.

I will be back to review this weekend so until then as always may your winners be plentiful and your wallets be fat.

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George Pepis

George Pepis

Horse Racing Analyst

George Pepis provides racing analysis during each Fair Grounds racing season. He also shares commentary and selections for major stakes events and prep races around the country. In the past, George has hosted sports talk programming on WGSO 990am in New Orleans. He has served as both play-by-play and color analyst on Louisiana high school football radio and internet broadcasts.

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