Here we go. The Kentucky Derby is just a few days away. I’ve ranked all 20 horses in the field from 20 to 1 with notes on each pony. The “Run for the Roses” takes place on Saturday, May 5. Coverage of the event starts at 11:30 a.m. ET, but the main event begins right after 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Let’s dive in.
20. Firenze Fire
Firenze Fire’s career got started in promising fashion. He won a maiden sprint at Monmouth Park first out with relative ease. Then trainer Jason Servis shipped the bay colt up to Saratoga to run in the Sanford Stakes. He won again, this time a 12-1 upset.
After a 2-for-2 start to his career followed by a 4th in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, Firenze Fire had his crowning moment in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont. He raced wide off a fast pace and got up by a half-length late over eventual 2-year-old champion Good Magic. Firenze Fire had a big seasoning edge that day on Good Magic who was making just his second start.
Firenze Fire is a hard-trying horse who you could already call an overachiever. However, his form this year has gone backward. He comes into the Derby off two distant 4ths. Speed figures show that Firenze Fire is the slowest horse in this year’s running.
19. Instilled Regard
There will be only one Hall-of-Fame entrant in the 2018 horse racing class later this summer at Saratoga. Out of 10 finalists this year, the millionaire filly Heavenly Prize was the only one who met the percentage requirements of voters to be elected. The great Heavenly Prize happens to be the granddam (grandmother) of Instilled Regard.
That pedigree brought enough attention to this dark bay colt by Arch at the sales that $1 million didn’t take him down. $1,050,000 ended up being the number where the gavel finally hammered down.
After competing in a late scrum with a pair of Bob Baffert stablemates in the Los Alamitos Futurity, Instilled Regard finally won his first stakes race with a trip to Louisiana for the early season Lecomte Stakes. His gaudy price tag and racing class made him an early contender on the trail.
In his next two starts however, development just wasn’t there. If anything, regression was. This million-dollar baby has been very underwhelming in his last two starts to manage only a pair of flat 4ths. For Instilled Regard, bragging about his grandmother should be the highlight of his Derby week.
One horse this year that showed marked improvement from his 2-year-old form into his sophomore season was Bravazo. He learned a new element to his game in his first start back when he had to close into a very fast pace with a tear-away leader. For what used to look like a headstrong horse early, Bravazo this time saved his best for last and rallied by in the stretch to start his year in the winner’s circle.
He then went on the road where Derby points were at stake in the Risen Star at Fairgrounds. He confidently stalked a very slow pace and was able to force himself by in the last stride in a race where nobody passed anybody. That victory at upset odds of 21-1 was worth 50 points to the Kentucky Derby. Just like that, D. Wayne Lukas had punched his next ticket to his most important Saturday of the year.
However, all of that development seemed lost in just his very next start. The Louisiana Derby was a disaster. He stalked the pace, then tried to lug out on his rider around the turn, and then readily pulled himself out of the battle to finish 8th over 20 lengths.
He enters the Derby off easily the worst race of any contender. Plus that worst effort was in the prep season’s slowest race.
17. Promises Fulfilled
Every year in the Kentucky Derby there’s always one horse that gives bettors the fleeting thrill of knowing their horse is in front and leading the way. This year that horse looks to be the headstrong frontrunner, Promises Fulfilled. The chestnut colt by Shackleford showed speed from Day 1 when he won his first two races while leading the whole way.
In his first race as a 3-year-old, he won the G2 Fountain of Youth in upset, front-running fashion. He also beat the 2-year-old champion Good Magic on his return to the races that day. Credit that win to jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. for aggressively pushing right to the lead. Promises Fulfilled enjoyed his easy lead that day and strode out a nice winner.
However speed can backlash on those who possess it, and for Promises Fulfilled that other reality came to light in his very next start. In the Florida Derby, his need for the lead was attacked in a vulgar way by another talented sprinter. Both Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power faded badly through the field after their stubborn duel had commenced.
Now Promises Fulfilled comes in with the same mission that he started with — to get the lead. Look for him to merely be the target in this year’s Kentucky Derby. If he is still leading at the top of the stretch, he will have run a courageous race.
Combatant’s name does match his style. He’s a bruiser and likes being in the battle. But he’s not quick into stride and he wants to survey the field early. He was a bubble horse on points late this spring and one of the last horses to gain entrance into the Kentucky Derby after two defections the week before.
He owns only one victory, a simple maiden special weight win at Churchill last fall. Yet in his next five starts in stakes races he was in the Top 4 every time while never threatening to actually win the race.
Combatant has been unlucky to have a far outside post in each of his last three starts. He already was going to have a tough enough time catching up to the favorites, and then add that to the fact that he had to take the overland route.
Combatant only adds to the absolute banner year for the late stallion Scat Daddy, who also sired Justify, Mendelssohn and Flameaway in the race. Yet bringing his form under close inspection shows that he has never run a race close to being fast enough to compete against this stellar class.
15. Lone Sailor
After a mid-pack 5th-place finish in his debut, Lone Sailor woke up in a big way at Saratoga in start No. 2. It was raining hard that day, and Lone Sailor couldn’t have cared one bit. As a matter of fact, he was relishing the wet track as he skipped home an 11-length winner.
Lone Sailor hasn’t won since. His first start of the year was an experiment gone wrong. Trainer Tom Amoss saw fit to put blinkers on his late-running colt. After showing more speed than usual early, he faded to 9th. The blinkers immediately came off for his next start, a troubled closing second in allowance competition.
Most recently Lone Sailor came through with a surprisingly close 2nd in the Louisiana Derby. His trainer is a Cajun himself. Consider them the home team that ran big right out of their backyard. The Louisiana Derby was Lone Sailor’s Kentucky Derby.
As for the Kentucky Derby itself, Lone Sailor is strictly an outsider.