We're down to the final races in the Derby Dollars Contest, sponsored by 123bet.com and The Paulick Report. I hope you're in scoring position because this week scoring is based on a mythical $6 win, place and show wager.

 

Kentucky Derby contenders and analysis:

We'll start with Mendelssohn, a Kentucky bred who has raced seven times, just once in the U.S. and that was on turf. However, having won on turf, all-weather and dirt, Mendelssohn has shown all the elements of a champion. As a three year old he's started just twice, but that's a perfect pattern for a peak effort in the Derby. In his most recent race, the U.A.E. Derby in Dubai, Mendelssohn cruised to the lead and continued to extend his advantage, winning by 18 lengths. It may be hard to compare a foreign race with races the U.S. based runners have run, but not so hard with Mendelssohn because when he came over from England last October and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Stakes, he earned a 109 Equibase Figure which was identical to the figure Good Magic earned on dirt the same day winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Since then, Mendelssohn has only gotten bigger and stronger, and there's no doubt he can run as well in the Kentucky Derby as he did in the U.A.E. Derby, which is only 110 yards shorter, because of breeding. Not only is Mendelssohn a son of the late stallion Scat Daddy, he is out of the mare Leslie's Lady, the dam of Beholder, who twice ran 1 1/4 miles incredibly well, wining once and finishing second the other time, both in grade 1 stakes races. Another of Leslie's Lady's foals is Into Mischief, himself a top sire represented by Florida Derby winner Audible in this race. Jockey Ryan Moore has been aboard for all four of Mendelssohn's wins and chose to come to the states to ride while foregoing riding in a group 1 stakes at Newmarket in England this weekend. Although Mendelssohn led from start to finish in the U.A.E. Derby last month, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf he relaxed in fourth before rallying and with that kind of versatility to go along with his bloodlines and the talent he's shown to date, Mendelssohn is my top pick to win Kentucky Derby 144.

 

Vino Rosso really came into his own last month when winning the Wood Memorial in New York, his second race in blinkers and his third start of this three year old campaign. Showing the kind of quick move that has won the Kentucky Derby many times before, Vino Rosso went from fourth on the far turn, four lengths back, to be in front by a head then fought doggedly  before finding extra energy and drawing off for a career best 106 Equibase figure. Having put in a very impressive half-mile morning workout recently at Churchill Downs, it is obvious Vino Rosso has a liking for the track and may take another step forward and into the record books, also giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third Derby victory and second in a row after saddling Always Dreaming to win last year.

 

No we come to the dark horse of the group, Hofburg, a horse many people won't consider a contender to win because of a lack of experience compared to others. Hofburg has raced just three times, but he's gotten better with each start, particularly his two starts as a three year old. Trying two turns for the first time and returning from six months off in March, Hofburg won nicely in a field of 11. In his second start off the layoff it might have been conceived his Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott was throwing him to the wolves when entering him in the Florida Derby, but Hofburg was not disgraced one bit when second of nine at the finish. With a quarter mile to go in the Florida Derby, Hofburg was eighth, after having moved up from fifteen lengths back to three lengths behind the leader. Not having the experience of a horse like Audible, who had run four races previously, on the turn Audible went by Hofburg in an instant. However, when he figured out he was supposed to find another gear, Hofburg did just that and rallied past all but the winner to finish second, earning a 107 Equibase figure competitive with the top horses in this race. Since coming to Kentucky, Hofburg has also shown a liking for the surface and he too should have no problem with the mile and one-quarter distance of the Derby as his damsire (grandfather on the mother's side) is Touch Gold, who won both the Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational Handicap back in 1997. Comparing Hofburg to a young athlete, his progression to date suggests he could take a big step forward and perhaps post the upset in this year's Derby.

 

If I am going to take a liking to Hofburg, I would be remiss not to do the same with Audible. Undefeated in four races since a third place finish in his debut last summer, Audible has continued to progress as a three year old, first winning the Holy Bull Stakes with a 97 figure in February then improving markedly with a 111 figure effort in the Florida Derby. Considering the Florida Derby winner was victorious in the Kentucky Derby in three of the last five years, Audible must be on our radar. In the Florida Derby, Audible showed the right kind of quick acceleration I look for every year with my contenders, going from fifth, two lengths back on the turn, to be in front by two, before coasting home. Likely to improve once again in his third start as a three year old, Audible is absolutely a win contender in this race.

 

Justify is as lightly raced as Hofburg, having run just three times, but according to some he's the most talented horse coming into this year's race, hence he's likely to be the betting favorite. Undefeated in three races, Justify has run back-to-back races where he's earned 108 figures, one of them coming from off the pace and the other leading from start to finish. This will be his toughest test yet, not only because he will be asked to run a mile and one-quarter for the first time, but also because of the supposed "curse of Apollo," which relates to the fact not a single horse has won the Kentucky Derby without having raced at least once as a two year old since Apollo, in 1882. There is something to the theory that having raced at the age of two gives a horse a foundation on which to build, whether it be experience or something else. However, with only 100 or so renewals of the Derby having taken place since Apollo won without starting as a two year old, statistically speaking the curse is more hype than reality. As such, Justify has to be held in high regard when considering who can win the race.

 

My Boy Jack will round out my sextet of contenders and perhaps it's for sentimental reasons over other. He's just a fun horse to watch, coming from last nearly every race, as he did in February winning the Southwest Stakes before making a very wide (10 paths) move in the Louisiana Derby and settling for third. Those efforts earned 106 and 105 figures, respectively, which appear competitive in this group if repeated. Following the Louisiana Derby and being short of enough points to enter the starting gate at Churchill Downs, My Boy Jack ran in the Lexington Stakes just three weeks ago. In that race My Boy Jack rallied from last of 9 to get up by a head. That may seem he barely got there but the mile and one-sixteenth races at Keeneland like the Lexington end at the first finish line. With the length of the stretch at Churchill Downs to work with, and with a good number of tired horses in front of him in the last quarter mile, I expect My Boy Jack to be passing many of them on the far turn and in the stretch and it just might be he passes them all for an upset of the like not seen since Mine That Bird won the 2009 Derby and paid $103 for a $2 wager.

 

My Derby Dollars contest play in the Kentucky Derby will be Hofburg, who has a good shot to win and who opens at 20/1 odds. My Boy Jack is a good horse to play at higher odds, opening at 30/1, depending on where you are in the standings.

 

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