Big Brown, Big Brown, Big Brown: It’s all you hear in the pre-Derby coverage, the barn buzz, the betting windows. Racing fans are so hot with fervor about this colt, they’re injecting his color into their Derby fashions. How many big brown hats will we see come this Saturday in the mass of color?
There’s no surprise he’s going off as the 3–1 favorite in the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby this Saturday. And he is as remarkable-looking as they say, with his towering conformation, his easy-breezy gallops, his commanding presence, and his perfect record of 3-for-3 with Curlin-esque winning margins. But Big Brown isn’t the only horse in the race, and after drawing the absolute worst post position on Wednesday evening, some handicappers are beginning to sway their bets toward the better-placed horses.
Like my personal Derby favorite, Pyro, whose morning line odds are 6-1. The Louisiana Derby winner drew post position number nine, pretty much a perfect spot for this little bay colt. One of the things I like about Pyro is his versatility: he can run from way back or off the pace, weave through traffic, and has a late kick to paralyze the rest of the field. Before the Blue Grass Stakes, he’d never finished worse than 3rd in his life, and Pyro has run in more races than most of the horses going to the Derby. In post nine, Pryo has the ability to stay out of the immediate bunch against the rail and will likely settle into around seventh position once the horses take for the first turn. He has a better chance of staying out of a tough spot and will be able to snake his way around horses on the outside. Look for his rocket launch in the final stretch, with dead aim set on Big Brown.
Colonel John is my third favorite after Big Brown (yes, even I have succumbed to the bandwagon). The Colonel, too, has a startling late kick and will likely be seen in the top finishers of the race, having never finished worse than second in his six career starts. He’s two for two this year, but has never run on dirt before, being a California horse. I doubt this will be an issue for him, as transferring from polytrack to dirt has been proven an easier transition than the other way around. And his trainer, Eoin Harty, fully believes the Colonel will improve with the added distance in the Derby. He is 4-1 on the morning line.
Another horse to look out for is Denis of Cork, and his workouts have been creating some of the biggest buzz this week before the Derby. His last start dashed his perfect record of 3-for-3, coming in a curious fifth place in the Illinois Derby. He’s a late-runner, who will make his move in the last quarter of the race, liking to let the others set the pace for him. At 20–1, Denis of Cork will be coming out of post position number 16, which shouldn’t be a major problem for him, liking to hang back anyway. His jockey will be Calvin Borel, the winning rider of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Street Sense.
And then there’s the filly, Eight Belles (15–1). She’s unbeaten this year in four starts (with a combined winning margin of 30 lengths), bears an imposing size, and would be the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks had she not drawn a dismal post position for the Friday race. Her connections opted to run her in the Derby, and it’s a lucky thing, as she was able to draw post number five. She will not only be racing the boys for the first time, but be trying to etch her name in history as only the fourth filly ever to win the roses.
And even with his awful post position, don’t leave Gayego out of the equation. Out of five starts, he’s won three and placed second in two. He won the Arkansas Derby with energy to spare, keeping another Kentucky Derby entrant, Z Fortune, at an arm’s length to the wire. This boy will be forced to run early, having to come wide from his 19th post position. An ugly jinx against him is the fact no other horse in the 134 years of the Derby has won from this post. With that in mind, he should come with a nice price with morning line odds at 15-1.
The bottom line is, it’s actually a pretty wide-open field for this year’s Kentucky Derby. While Big Brown is the big favorite, several horses stand the chance to be major contenders due to more experience and better post positions. While his connections are overly confident in Big Brown’s ability to make up the distance he will have to make up from the outside post, skeptics are murmuring about how the colt will handle the roar of noise with nobody on his right to buffer him. From what I’ve been able to gather, Big Brown is exceptionally mature for his age and is a generally collected horse who might not be bothered by the screaming masses.
He does, however, face the toughest competition he’s ever come up against, as is the case for most of these horses. The final stretch will prove to be a competition of the late kickers: who can pour it on when it matters most, who can untangle themselves from the pack turning for home. If Big Brown crosses the finish line first, he will prove himself to be as great as everyone wants him to be. And since I’d like to see a Triple Crown more than anyone, if Big Brown wins the Derby, I’ll be all for him in the Preakness.
Post Postions and Notes
1. Cool Coal Man (20–1)—Has won half his races, didn’t like Keeneland. Could be a
2. Take of Ekati (15–1)—Stole the Wood Memorial after War Pass wore out on the lead.
3. Anak Nakal (30–1)—His best this year was 5th in the Wood. He’s won at Churchill
before but looks to be past his peak.
4. Court Vision (20–1)—He’s never been worse than third, but hasn’t won since
5. Eight Belles (15–1)—Could get trapped in this post. Will have to run early to avoid
being pinned in; she could put in a good late run.
6. Z Fortune (30–1)—Came in 2nd to Gayego in the Arkansas Derby, an improvement
from his 5th place finish in the Rebel.
7. Big Truck (50–1)—Unpredictable colt seemed to be on the upswing until the Blue
Grass, where he also didn’t like the polytrack.
8.Visionaire (20–1)—A solid closer; throw out the Blue Grass performance and he’s a
9. Pyro (6–1)—Handled the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby like a pro. Didn’t like the
polytrack in his last start, but should feel at home at Churchill.
10. Colonel John (4–1)—The 1 ¼ Derby should be to his liking. Will give Pyro and Big
Brown a strong adversary in the stretch.
11. Z Humor (30–1)—Hasn’t won since early December, quality is second-rate.
12. Smooth Air (20–1)—Came in second to Big Brown’s 13-length win in the Florida
Derby, probably will be outrun in the stretch.
13.Bob Black Jack (20–1)—Will set the pace, but won’t have enough staying power once
14.Monba (15–1)—Turf horse may get swallowed up in his field of dirt pros.
15.Adriano (30–1)—Could be this year’s Giacamo? Edgar Prado seems to have
confidence in him.
16. Denis of Cork (20–1)—Will have to be in top form to beat the late runners.
17. Cowboy Cal (20–1)—Will be close to the lead in the first half of the race.
18. Recapturetheglory (20–1)—Will go for the early lead. Clearly outclassed in this race.
He got lucky on Denis’s bad day.
19. Gayego (15–1)—Couldn’t beat Georgie Boy, but did well against second-rate fields.
20. Big Brown (3-1)—If he doesn’t get blocked in or break down, this is the colt to beat.