Published: Fri, May 04, 2018
Hi-Tech | By Wayne Curry

Using Running Styles To Identify Contenders And Pretenders In the Kentucky Derby

Using Running Styles To Identify Contenders And Pretenders In the Kentucky Derby

Yes, there are plenty of superstar 3-year-old-horses set to test the 1 1/4-mile race, namely race favorite Justify, who has won all three of his prep events including the prestigious Santa Anita Derby; Eclipse Award recipient Good Magic, who took the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall; and European invader Mendelssohn, who was last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf victor and this season's runaway UAE Derby champion.

Mike Battaglia, the Kentucky Derby oddsmaker who set up Justify as the morning-line favorite puts no stock in "the curse".

The Kentucky Derby is the world's most famous horse race and the most exciting two minutes in sports, but it's also one of the most hard events to predict, and this year's 144th running on Saturday evening at venerable Churchill Downs is no different. Justify and Magnum Moon are the only two in this field that could end the 135-year-old curse. Bolt d'Oro was a sharp second behind Justify in the Santa Anita Derby and could make Mick Ruis, his owner and trainer, a Derby victor in his first try.

Pletcher's four - Magnum Moon at 6-1, Audible at 8-1, Vino Rosso at 12-1 and Louisiana Derby victor Noble Indy at 30-1 - are as thick with oddsmakers' promise as any group he has had along his way to 52 Derby entries (provided all four run Saturday).

Mendelssohn won the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby by an astonishing 18 lengths - and that's just four of the 20 horses that will tackle the $2 million Kentucky Derby on Saturday. He debuted with a 91⁄2 length victory on February 18 and went on to capture an allowance race by 61⁄2 lengths March 11 and win the Santa Anita Derby by three lengths to not only qualify for the Derby but also stamp himself as the favorite.

Mendelssohn captured the UAE Derby in his dirt debut and will try to give O'Brien and British jockey Ryan Moore their first victory in one of the few global races that the duo has not paired to win. Going up against a field of 20 is a daunting task.

"There's probably a number of reasons for it, and inexperience could be part of it", Pletcher said of the unraced 2-year-olds' futility.

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No European horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby. "It always helps in these situations to have a little bit of seasoning, experience and (proven ability to) overcome some adversity". Only two, Bodeimeister in 2012 and Air Forbes One in 1982, entered the gate as favorites. Mendelssohn, trained by Aidan O'Brien, also drew a good post at No. 14, and neither horse will likely see their odds drop significantly with those posts, which are more towards the center. Bodemeister finished second to I'll Have Another. Beyond that, Posts 18-20 have yielded just one victor, and nine in the money finishes between them.

Then again, maybe there's no such thing as a curse, and the 2018 Kentucky Derby will be decided on merit alone.

Bolt d'Oro and the lightly raced Hofburg have to be considered as well, if not as highly as some of the others in the race. "If (Justify) had had a race at 2, it wouldn't have made any difference at all to me". The new emphasis is on how you race in March and April before the Derby. Eight of the 20 horses Saturday have raced fewer than five times. He only can get in if one of the 20 in the main body of the race is withdrawn by scratch time, which is 9 a.m. ET Friday.

Since the advent of the Kentucky Derby points system in 2013, races for 2-year-olds don't count for much toward Derby hopes. Said Elliott Walden, the trainer who won the 1998 Belmont Stakes with Victory Gallop and who runs WinStar Farms in Kentucky, "You call him at four-thirty in the morning; he's at the barn seven days a week".

"I'm really confident that this horse is going to run the best race of his life".

Even if the horses do not win, it will be a special moment for Houghton Hyatt who was born and raised in Louisville.

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