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BlackJack Fletcher: The Kentucky Derby Contenders That Have My Attention

It’s not that far away, brothers. One of the greatest events in all of sports is right around the corner. The first Saturday in May, we get the “Run for The Roses,” the 144th Kentucky Derby. Let’s take a look at the 20-horse field and focus on the entrants that may have a chance to be a Kentucky Derby champion.

Justify (+365)

Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Justify is attempting to break the “Curse of Apollo.” Apollo is the last Kentucky Derby winner who did not race as a 2-year-old. He did it in 1882. Justify has run only three races as a 3-year-old, but he has been very impressive in each. In the race above he grabs the win over another Derby favorite, Bolt D’Oro. I love this horse’s raw talent; just watch the race he runs above. He starts so easily to the front of the pack and just breezes along. When Mike Smith asks him for something, he responds. And when they hit the home stretch and Bolt D’Oro makes his run, Justify hits that extra gear, which you absolutely need in the stretch at Churchill Downs. Between Justify’s talent and his Hall of Fame connections, I am very high on this horse.

Audible (+600)

Trained by Todd Fletcher, Audible is the winner of this year’s Florida Derby. He’s now ridden by Javier Castellano, who chose the New York-bred horse over fellow Derby favorite Bolt D’Oro. Audible is an interesting play because he’s won four of his five career starts. He had an impressive win in the Florida Derby on March 31 at Gulfstream Park, and Pletcher is as good a trainer as there is. My concern for Audible is his running style. He’s a closer. He likes to sit off the pace near the back and then make his charge. That is going to be very difficult for him to do in a 20-horse field on Derby Day. If he gets blocked in, hung out too wide or just gets a rough trip, he may have too much work to do before the wire. Nevertheless, I think Audible is a horse that is made for the long home stretch of Belmont Park, so keep him in mind come Belmont Stakes time.

Mendelssohn (+525)

Mendelssohn was the flavor of the week a few weeks ago, and don’t get me wrong, he’s a very nice-looking horse. But I struggle backing horses that run overseas in these races. Runners of the UAE Derby are 0-for-12 in the Kentucky Derby. It’s a lot of travel, it’s a different style of racing, and it’s different competition. In Mendelssohn’s short career, he has run in Ireland, Great Britain, the United States and Dubai. That’s a lot for such a young animal. His run in Dubai was impressive, but I still like the other two on this list better than the import, who is trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore.

Vino Rosso (+1350)

Trained by Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez — the connections of last year’s Derby Winner, Always Dreaming — Vino Rosso had a very impressive showing in the Wood Memorial. He was victorious after a tense stretch battle with Enticed. He also showed great poise in not chasing the runaway pace in the first half mile. He waited, and when he found his spot, he was able to drop the pedal to the floor and outduel the favorite at Aqueduct. The connections are great, and this horse likes to sit just off the pace and wait for his opportunity. I like a lot about Vino Rosso. I also like his price, which may drop some, but there’s definitely value here.


Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

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