First Impressions of Kentucky Derby Contenders

by TCI 4 years ago

After several mornings on the Churchill Downs backside, Jon and Joel give their first impressions of the Derby contenders that are currently on the grounds in Louisville, including the ones who have physically looked the best, trained the best, and given off the most positive signs to date. Who looks to be sitting on a big performance? You may be surprised.

Watch it. Comment.

TCI Top 10

Rank Name Bris Comments
1 California Chrome 106 Deserving Derby favorite after back-to-back fast and dominant victories, but has he peaked a month too early?
2 Samraat 99 Wood performance was typical of his runs in the Withers & Gotham; Needs more on May 3rd, but he’s capable.
3 Social Inclusion 106 Stays on list for now but likely to come off without enough Derby points; If so, he’s a huge threat in Preakness.
4 Dance With Fate 99 Always been a good colt and quietly has a nice form cycle going into the Derby; Dirt is the question.
5 Wicked Strong 103 Relished a return to AQU and rewarded those who stuck with him since the Remsen; Will need his AQU form, not GP form.
6 Hoppertunity 99 Consistent and solid, just not sure he’s destined to be top class; Will be a wise-guy horse in Louisville.
7 Danza 104 Looked awesome physically and in performance at Oaklawn; Half-bro just won at 1 ½ miles so there’s some stamina.
8 Intense Holiday 99 The track & race didn’t favor his style in La. Derby, but the KY Derby will favor his style; Still needs a big forward step.
9 Medal Count 97 One of the few that is screaming for 1 ¼ miles, but the Derby will be his third race in 4 weeks.
10 We Miss Artie 94 If this classy colt is going to handle dirt it’ll be at Churchill, and connections have always been confident he will.

OFF: Cairo Prince
through 4/25/2014


  • 1JoeP

    Hi Joel – Can’t wait to hear your in person view of California Chrome. I really hope he gets a solid PP draw and the weather is good on Derby Day. He looks like the speed of the speed in the KY Derby. and he has proven that he can rate.He ran a 45 and change for the 1/2 in the San Felipe and still was able to crush Midnight Hawk. I know that Midnight Hawk is a miler, however this race was at 1 1/16, well within Midnight Hawks reach and he still crushed him.Heres my current top 7. #1 Cal Chrome #2 Wicked Strong – He could be this years Orb. #3 Danza – He keeps moving up the list. Very talented and dangerous. #4 Hoppertunity – talented Grinder with a good pedigree. #5 General A Rod – He comes in rested, with a solid pedigree, has been competitive, and gets Joel Rosario. #6 ring Weekend – I still have faith in this horse. He has a great pedigree. Graham motion is no stranger to the Derby. #7 Dance With Fate – Beautiful Horse. Intriguing longshot. I will add Commanding Curve to #7 if he gets in.

    • Joel Cunningham

      Hey Joe!

      I can’t wait to see him, along with DWF and the New York contingent, which should be here in the morning but probably won’t get our first eyes on Samraat, Wicked Strong et al until Monday morning if I had to guess.

  • JR

    Hi Joel,

    Will be looking forward to hearing what you have to say derby week always a exciting time. Joel, I have one nagging thought about CC, as we know the weather at Churchill this time of year is always a question. Do you know if CC has ever run in the mud? He could have everything going for him like MMM did except he hated mud in his face. I would certainly feel better if he liked mud.
    Kind Regards,

    • Joel Cunningham

      Hey JR!

      CC hasn’t run over it and I’m not sure he’s ever even breezed over it while training in Southern California..looks like he breezed over a wet fast track back in March. His Tomlinson of 390 for a wet track is solid, and being from the A.P. Indy line, specifically the Pulpit line, definitely doesn’t hurt. I honestly don’t see it as a concern with this horse in terms of footing, HOWEVER, the kickback could very well be among 20 horse if he were to get behind several of them. But that’s just impossible to know beforehand. Hopefully, we’ll never have to worry about this on May 3rd 🙂

  • TripleCrownGoal

    ;o) Hi Joel. I have
    never thanked you for my two huge wins last year: Preakness & Bellmont.
    People generally sleeping on your under-dog predictions, but I certainly do
    not. What is your take on Vicar’s in Trouble…? I am looking at an
    upset, and history making for the owner, Rose and Horse. Your thoughts…?

    • Joel Cunningham

      Thanks for the kind words! I am a La-bred myself so a part of my heart lies with Vicar’s In Trouble, however I just find it very hard to get behind him at this distance. I think he’s very talented and as accomplished as most in the field, but I just don’t feel like this is where he wants to excel as a racehorse. I think his future will be similar to Goldencents as a very nice middle distance horse.

      A caveat: Many people don’t realize that he was coming off of a fever in the Louisiana Derby when he won. They considered running him in the Sunland Derby after the Risen Star, but after he came down with a fever they apparently wanted the extra week of preparation and not having to ship. He must be one tough horse to bounce back like he did, and I really believe he’s all runner. But he just doesn’t have the Derby profile I look for, and I cannot support his chances this Saturday.

      I look forward to discussing Derby this week, there have been some observations that I felt were important to see. The final pieces to the puzzle are the shippers, and other than Uncle Sigh, I haven’t seen a handful of the ones coming from NY, California and possibly Florida.

  • Clint

    Joel- Thanks for all you great input and responses. I will be attending my first derby this year and I am crazy excited. Im looking to play the oaks/derby double. I was lucky and hit it last year so I am trying to make it 2 in a row. looking forward to your derby pick video but what are your thoughts for the Oaks? certainly Untapable looks to be the one to beat but I really like the way My Miss Sophia has looked in the past 2 races. Thanks for your input. P.S would love it if you could give me your Oaks top 5!

    • Joel Cunningham

      Way to go Clint! Man I’m thrilled for you that you’ll get to strike the Derby off of your bucket list, you will love it! I just hope the weather cooperates to give you the best experience possible.

      Untapable trains early so I’ve only seen her breeze, but I thought she looked terrific in it, and when you have a filly like her that you know handles the track and looks much the best, I think you just want to make sure she’s showing all the signs that she’s still in top form. I think physically from a looks, weight, coat, and energy level she’s shown that. The 13-hole is brutal and Rosie will have some big decisions to make early on, but I think she can overcome it. The pace should be legitimate.

      It’s funny you mention My Miss Sophia, she has been the one filly I have loved training at Churchill since she’s been in Louisville. I think she can rate outside just off of the speed and be very hard to catch if she fires the way I think she can. Rosalind has looked great physically too and should get the trip, and Thank You Marylou has trained well and has tremendous stamina influence top and bottom in her pedigree. I just wonder if Rosalind and TYM are good enough…I think the only one who can run with Untapable right now is MMS, but if the speed melts down then it definitely brings Ros. and TYM into the equation. I will use those 4 most likely. My 5th horse would be Aurelia’s Belle at a price, she’s looked good physically and should love the distance.

      1) My Miss Sophia
      2) Untapable
      3) Rosalind
      4) Thank You Marylou
      5) Aurelia’s Belle

      Best of luck and hope you enjoy your first Derby, Clint!

      • Joel Cunningham

        Another note for handicapping:

        The CD surface has been very deep so far this season. There will be more rain, and you never know how it’ll be this weekend…but warning…speed is going to struggle in my opinion if it stays the way it is. Horses are just not getting over the top of it in the mornings from what I see, and I saw the same Saturday night. The deeper it stays, the more it will favor the closers IMO. Pay close attention to how it’s playing Thursday, and even early on the card Friday…that should go a long ways into your handicapping equations.

  • JR

    Hi Joel,
    Just was watching HRTV POTC Mig said he was concerned how CC was handling the track since it’s wet i.e. not picking his feet up I hope you also saw this and would like to know what you think.

    • Joel Cunningham

      JR, he trained better yesterday over the deeper track IMO. May have just been a level of uncertainty since he doesn’t have much experience over a wet track as mentioned. It’s hard for me to knock the horse with regard to that because I don’t think it’s a true indication of how we would handle an off track.

      On a side note, I thought several horses trained well over the track this morning with the wet conditions. To me, it needed that rain and horses were getting over the top of the track much better today. The inside was much tighter than the middle of the track…many horses dropped down onto the rail likely because of that. Some horses like Medal Count and Danza trained terrific over the middle part of the track, likely because they ran a few weeks ago and their respective trainers didn’t want to drop them to the rail in fear that they’d get aggressive and do too much.

      But the biggest take away from me is that we finally saw a fairly tight CD surface for all the horses to train over, and I think it was encouraging to see more consistency among most of the horses training over it. I have my theories on horses I would like more if the track were deeper like it has been the last 10 days, and the horses I think benefit from a fast track this Saturday (which are most of them IMO). I will talk about that in our show tomorrow. Can’t wait!

      • JR

        Thanks Joel for getting back to me, you’re so good. Heard weather will be good for Sat. I too heard Medal Count and Danza did good. Can hardly wait for your show.

  • JR

    Hi Joel,
    will you be discussing the post position draws and the possible effect it will have on some horses.

    • Joel Cunningham

      Hey JR!

      Yes…so now Hoppertunity is out and Pablo del Monte is in. More outside speed to go along with the inside speed. It’s really hard for me to see anything other than a legit pace to set up the closers, but there have been plenty of times I’ve told myself that and then you look up and somebody breaks poorly and the pace becomes moderate. However with 20 horses and speed on both the rail and 20-hole, it appears they have to carve out a healthy pace.

      Show will be shot and posted this evening!

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