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May 06, 2011

Expect surprises in Kentucky Derby

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The field is set and the horses are stabled in their barns at historic Churchill Downs for Saturday's 137th running of the Kentucky Derby. Robert LaPenta's Dialed In is the 4-1 morning- line favorite with Uncle Mo second at 9-2 and Arkansas Derby runner-up Nehro the third choice at 6-1.

"Everybody says that it's a bad field, but they're good horses," trainer Bob Baffert said on Wednesday. "My horse (Midnight Interlude) is a good horse. They're good horses, but there is so much parity that they are saying is a bad field. Everybody wants bad horses and one standout horse. I came in here with Point Given (2001). He was supposed to romp and he ran fifth."

Baffert knows what he is talking about. The Hall of Fame member has won the Run for the Roses three times with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002).

"I think there is probably 10 horses that have a really good legitimate chance to win," Baffert said. "Pace is going to be a factor, but at the end of the day, who can get the mile and a quarter? That's what you've got to look for. When you go down there, pedigree-wise, it's a mile and quarter."

Pace and staying out of trouble are the two most important factors in winning the Kentucky Derby. We know there's going to be a legitimate pace, because there are enough speed horses entered.

The staying out of trouble ingredient is unpredictable. This is the only race in North America that has 20 horses entered and anything can happen when that many thoroughbreds compete.

Post position can make or break in this race more than any other time. The rail is the last place any trainer wants his horse to be in the Churchill Downs starting gate.

"I have always wanted to be No. 1 but not in the Kentucky Derby starting gate," stated trainer Jinks Fires, whose Archarcharch drew the one hole. "I'll just tell Jon (jockey Jon Court) to get good position, save ground and figure out a way to get out. I started to get concerned (when the one hole was left and Archarcharch had not been drawn). It is still the shortest way around and at least I am not out next to the track kitchen."

Archarcharch won the Arkansas Derby as a 25-1 longshot and is 10-1 in the program for Saturday. As a late closing runner, Archarcharch may not be adversely affected by the inside post.

Dialed In drew a prime post position for the race. The Florida Derby champ will start from post eight with Julien Leparoux riding for trainer Nick Zito.

"I was happy with it. I think, actually, most the major players got good post positions, too," Zito commented. "I think the draw went OK. Obviously, Archarcharch, they're going to talk about the '1,' but we were certainly happy with our draw."

Uncle Mo got stuck out in post 18 for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole.

"Uncle Mo will be OK from the 18," Pletcher said. "He wants to get a good stalking position and he can do that from there."

The two gentlemen also have Stay Thirsty, 20-1, entered and the colt will break from post four.

Nehro, who was second in both the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbies, will have to come from post 19 to win the race. He also usually comes from far back, so jockey Corey Nakatani will not have to rush his mount into contention.

"He needs to run the race of his life, but all is well," Nehro's trainer Steve Asmussen said. "I really like the horses that are immediately to his inside; they've got pace. There are a lot of scenarios in a 20 horse field that will change how you get to the backside, but I think this gives us a good chance."

The only surprise in the morning-line from Mike Battaglia was Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire being tabbed at 20-1. I thought he would be closer to 10-1 after his Fair Grounds victory. The colt is trained by Kelly Breen, one of the best trainers at Monmouth Park, and will break from post seven.

"I like the post position, I like what some of the other speed horses got," Breen noted. "I think we're in an ideal spot and we like our post position draw. The quarter's going to go, probably, sub-24, so no matter what. you have to have a little bit of gas coming out of the gate. We're hoping that we're going to be forwardly placed and we have the horse right inside of us, Comma to the Top, is a pretty good draw to be right outside of him. We were looking for positives and we see them right away so that's a pretty good sign we got a good draw."

Two 12-1 horses will start right next to each other, Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford, in posts 13 and 14.

"Most of the speed is inside us, especially Comma to the Top," said Shackleford's trainer Dale Romans, "who is probably quicker than we are. That's the horse you want to be outside of most of all. If we can get a clean break with the extra space (from the auxiliary gate), the hope is to sit second. Being outside of Comma to the Top gives us options."

From post 15 will come Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, trained by Baffert and owned by Arnold Zetcher. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the colt is the co-fourth choice at 10-1.

"I'm good with that. I wanted to be like 16, around there," Baffert said. "Sometimes if there's a scratch you can move down. I just didn't want to be down on the inside. I'm happy that I didn't get the one or the 20."

Echoing Baffert is trainer Kiaran McLauhglin, who sends out 12-1 pick Soldat.

"I'm pleased. The 17 is much better than being way down inside," McLaughlin stated. "We're out in the clear and just have one speed horse outside of us in Uncle Mo. The only change I would make, in a perfect world, would be to put Uncle Mo inside of us, too. When we were in the 18 (with Closing Argument in 2005), we finished second. Now that we're number 17, we hope to improve by one more placing."

Coming out of post 16 will be Spiral Stakes winner Animal Kingdom and jockey Robby Albarado. Trainer Graham Motion likes the post position for the 30-1 selection.

"I couldn't be happier with it. I would much rather be on the outside than stuck down on the rail. I'm very happy with it," Motion noted.

Albarado, however, was injured Wednesday when he was kicked in the face by a horse.

"I think he's going to be OK," Motion said. "I'm not 100 percent sure that he's going to be able to ride tomorrow (Thursday), he's got a broken nose and lacerations around his eye. But I talked with (Albarado's agent) Lenny (Pike) and he's pretty confident that he will be OK for Saturday."

Albarado is slated to ride Bouquet Booth in Friday's $1 million Kentucky Oaks.

Not getting any respect is Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed. Trained by Tom Albertrani, the colt is 30-1 and will start from post two. This will be the horse's third start on real dirt.

"I think he'll find a good stalking position, get behind some speed and hope for the best," said Albertrani. "We need a good trip. I'm looking to see him run kind of the same style that he did in the Blue Grass. Maybe not last, but maybe the same distance-wise off the front. That worked out last time. I hope it works out again."

Breaking from post three will be Sunland Derby winner Twice the Appeal and three-time Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel. Trained by Jeff Bonde, the colt is 20-1 in the program, but should be bet down due to the fact Borel is riding.

"It's beautiful. My jock likes the wood (rail). You know I like the spot," Bonde said.

With so much speed in the race, a late running horse who gets a good trip should win this year's Kentucky Derby. First on the list is Dialed In followed by Twice the Appeal, Stay Thirsty, Lexington Stakes winner Derby Kitten and Animal Kingdom.

Dialed In and Twice the Appeal look to be my top two choices for Saturday's Run for the Roses. Whether Uncle Mo can rebound from his disappointing Wood Memorial is the big question.

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