The Highlights

  • Paul Lo Duca’s trusted source at Churchill Downs relayed that Audible (+800) is looking great.
  • Hofburg (+2000) is getting a ton of buzz, but Paul isn’t buying it.
  • Magnum Moon (+600) is “quirky,” but he remains at the top of Paul’s Derby power rankings.

Those whispers you hear around Churchill Downs can be heard from miles away when it comes to the first Saturday in May. For instance, I just had my annual call with my favorite clocker, Mike Welsch from the Daily Racing Form. Mike and I go back to my days with the Florida Marlins, and he’s given me more winners than anyone.

I respect Mike’s work so much that I’ve adjusted my rankings after talking to him.

The first horse I asked him about was Justify (+300). He said it’s always hard to judge a horse on tape, but he thought his work was good in California and he’s looked great since arriving at Churchill Downs. Mike did say that Bob Baffert (Justify’s trainer) is going around saying this horse could be the next American Pharoah, who raced five times before the Derby and lost in his debut. Even though Pharoah faced adversity before the Derby and Justify hasn’t, I’ve learned never to question Bob.

This Isn’t A Beauty Contest

After Justify, I moved on to Audible (+800) and Vino Rosso (+1200). Mike said they couldn’t be doing any better. He is actually picking Audible because he said he won the Florida Derby despite training poorly down in Florida. Audible is looking way better since he got to Kentucky.

Vino Rosso has generated serious buzz around the racetrack. By all accounts, he’s looked best in the mornings but is he fast enough? This isn’t a beauty contest. Still, Mike suggested not being stubborn and to use the horse in some way — and I trust his opinion.

 

I also moved Good Magic (+1200) up a tad in my rankings after hearing he looked great under the Twin Spires. Mike spoke with Magic’s trainer, Chad Brown, who glowed about the horse. I don’t glow about him, however, and neither does Mike. Good Magic will still give a good showing but he is just not fast enough.

Bolt d’Oro (+800) moved down on my rankings after today’s discussion. Mike says he’s been taking a while to warm up, and that could be a sign of a few different things. This horse has immense talent and was probably the best 2-year-old in the field, but he’s missed training and he came out of the Santa Anita Derby with a foot issue. His talent could take over, but I’ve got big concerns. Stay tuned in on him.

The more I look at Mendelssohn (+500), the more I think he’s going to be more forwardly placed, and he’s going to have to look Justify and Magnum Moon in the eye at some point. My gut is telling me to fade him, but I’m waiting for Mike to take a look at him when he comes out of quarantine tomorrow.

Flameaway (+3000), Hofburg (+2000) and My Boy Jack (+3000) round out my new top 10. Flameaway has the most wins in the field and he will enjoy moisture on the track as the forecast could call for rain. He always finds a way to stick around in races, and Mike said he had the best work over a wet surface. So if there’s rain on Saturday, use Flameaway.

Fade the Buzz

Hofburg is a buzz horse this week. Everyone, including Mike, has said that he’s doing unreal, but can a horse really hit the board off only a maiden win and only three starts? I can’t see it, and these long-shot buzz horses rarely pan out.

My Boy Jack is my “pick up the pieces” horse. He’ll be laying way back, hoping there’s a speed duel. I don’t think he can win the race, but both Mike and I think he’s got a ceiling of third or fourth place.

 

Shoot for the Moon

And finally, I’m keeping Magnum Moon (+600) at numero uno. First of all, nobody is picking him yet, and his current odds are right on line. Mike reported that Moon’s work was good, but he started to lean out on the gallop out. This has been the issue with him; he likes to drift. Most of the time that’s a sign of a horse tiring late in a race, but if you look at his numbers, he’s actually widened his margins even when he is drifting. Mike thinks he’s immature and is still learning, which could be scary considering he hasn’t lost yet in four starts.

After speaking with Magnum Moon’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, Mike was told this horse is just quirky. He’s very aware of everything. Hopefully he stays focused because I still think he’s the most talented horse in the field and he has a great draw in the auxiliary gate — meaning he’ll be one of the last five horses to go in. When you have the 16-post there’s no horse inside of you. It’s an advantage with all the bumping going into the first turn, and with his early tactical style, he should get a perfect trip around the course.

For my updated Power Rankings click here.


Top Photo: Bolt d’Oro is bathed at Churchill Downs. Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports