Following a blogging hiatus to get married and represent some jockeys at Presque Isle Downs, Doug Salvatore is returning to the TwinSpires.com ranks to dish on this year’s Kentucky Derby. Below is part one of a three-part series examining each of the likely Kentucky Derby entrants. For more race replays and videos of workouts, visit the TwinSpires.com Youtube channel.

For FREE Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances of Kentucky Derby contenders, CLICK HERE.

Gun Runner

BRIS (100, 97, 92)  TimeformUS (111, 108, 106) Beyer (91, 90, 82)  Thoro-Graph (5, 5.5, 6.5)

This son of Candy Ride has progressing speed figures and is out of a Grade 2 Stakes-winning dam who is a half sibling to the late-maturing Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Saint Liam.

Gun Runner was a little green in the Louisiana Derby last time out, but a perfect trip winner in a race where the post time favorite Mo Tom had a trip from hell. Two starts back, Gun Runner dealt with a little early jostling while in-range of a fast pace in the Risen Star Stakes. He left me with the impression that he was a deserving winner that day. Mo Tom did have major traffic trouble in defeat, but he also benefited from an ideal pace setup and would’ve been a dream trip winner had he found his way through cleanly.

This will be Gun Runner’s 3rd start off the layoff. He finished his 2-year-old season with a deceptively good fourth place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club, in a race run over a sloppy track. He and 2nd place finisher Mor Spirit were the only two pace survivors that day, the rest of the front-end collapsed. Mor Spirit returned to win his next two starts, including the Grade 1 Los Al Futurity.

Nyquist

BRIS (97, 103, 97) TimeformUS (114, 113, 102)  Beyer (94, 101, 89)  Thoro-Graph (3, 2.75, 2.75)

Nyquist is an undefeated champion having won all seven career starts. His Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win was a tremendous performance. He overcame multiple bumps in the run into the first turn. He was caught 6-wide through the first turn and 4-wide through the second turn and still managed to gut out a win in our nations most important Juvenile event. I was tremendously impressed with that performance, but I haven’t exactly been wowed by his two starts this year, even though he got the job done both times.

Nyquist had a perfect trip while winning the Florida Derby, last time out. The only horse who put even moderate early pressure on him was an 0-for-9 Ohio Bred Maiden named Sawyers Mickey. His only serious rival last time out was Mohaymen, and that one raced multiple paths wider around both turns while having the daunting task of making first-run at the more naturally talented horse. Nyquist defeated eventual Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator in the 7-furlong San Vincente two starts back, but he once again controlled a cozy pace on the front end.

This is a son of the brilliant 2-year-old champ Uncle Mo. Nyquist’s 2nd Dam Seeking Regina was also an early developing type, winning a Grade 2 stake race in August of her 2-year-old season, before her racing career fizzled out. Ideally, in a Kentucky Derby prospect, we prefer a pedigree that suggests stamina and late-maturity. With Nyquist, you have one that suggests speed and early-development. Nyquist also has a bad habit of drifting through the lane in the stretch. He bore out through the lane in both starts this season. This is the most talented and accomplished horse in the race, but he’s a very poor projection for a 10-furlong distance under a 126lbs impost in a race where he’s almost certain to face more early pressure than he’s ever faced before.

Exaggerator

BRIS (102, 101, 101) TimeformUS (118, 110, 111) Beyer (103, 96, 98) Thoro-Graph (0.75, 2.5, 2.5)

Benefited from a sensationally fast pace in the Santa Anita Derby last time out, and came splashing home an emphatic winner by more than six lengths. Two starts back, Exaggerator lost contact with the field early-on in the San Felipe Stakes. He made a gigantic middle-move inside of horses and was put in tight quarters and bumped at the quarter pole, before completely flattening out in the stretch run. That race was won in wire-to-wire fashion by Danzing Candy on a card where four of the eight winners on dirt scored wire-to-wire. Notably, the Santa Anita Handicap was run three races later and won wire-to-wire by 16/1 shot Melatonin, who scored by more than four lengths.

This son of Curlin is proven on a wet track, where he has 3-starts, 2-wins, and a second with $1.3 million banked. He’s an honest type who would benefit if a hot pace scenario develops in the Derby, but also doesn’t require such a pace scenario to be a contender.

Outwork

BRIS (96, 96, 89) TimeformUS (114, 114, 96) Beyer (93, 98, 77) Thoro-Graph (1.5, 2.75, 6.75)

In the Wood Memorial, Outwork was hooked in an early speed-duel with 5/2 shot Matt King Coal through very swift fractions for the Muddy conditions. He eventually put his pace rival away and had just enough left in the tank to hold off the late run of 81/1 longshot maiden Trojan Nation, who came trucking up the fence from last after saving ground through the far turn. Outwork clearly ran the best race in what was a very weak edition of the Wood. Two starts back, Outwork enjoyed an uncontested early lead in the Tampa Bay Derby and was unable to fend off stablemate Destin through a hard-fought stretch battle. That was the race where next-out Blue Grass Stakes winner Brody’s Cause completely failed to fire at all.

Outwork is a very talented and lightly raced horse, but it’s hard to envision this son of Uncle Mo seeing out the 10-furlong distance, 126-lbs weight impost, and expected quality pace pressure up-front. He could prove a very nice Miler type later on in the season, but I look for him to be a pace casualty in the Derby.

Brody’s Cause

BRIS (94, 83, 94) TimeformUS (112, 95, 98) Beyer (91, 80, 84) Thoro-Graph (3, 8, 7.5)

Brody’s Cause benefited from an insanely fast pace that melted down in the Blue Grass Stakes. Horses who raced 11th, 14th, and 12th after the opening quarter-mile, rallied to make up the Blue Grass trifecta. This was also on a day where mid-pack and closing types dominated the dirt races on the Keeneland card. Notably, Weep No More scored a shocking 30/1 upset win in the Ashland in last-to-first fashion earlier on in the day. Two starts back, Brody’s Cause never fired a jump in his seasonal debut in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Trainer Dale Romans is based at Churchill Downs and Brody’s Cause was an impressive maiden winner there last season, he actually broke his maiden in final time 0.19 seconds faster than Gun Runner did in a split MSW heat at the same distance, on that same September 11th 2015 card at Churchill Downs. Brody’s Cause has the home-field advantage and could obviously be a big factor if the pace is hot and contested up front, but I’d be inclined to look for a deep-closing type who is flying more under the radar.

Creator

BRIS (100, 95, 93) TimeformUS (111, 103, 98) Beyer (96, 90, 80) Thoro-Graph (2.25, 4.5, 5.5)

Creator is yet another closer who benefited from a fast pace that melted down in a major Derby prep. After losing contact with the field in the early stages of the Arkansas Derby, Creator rallied from 15 lengths out of it to score. In that twelve horse field, the horses racing 12th, 9th, and 11th after the opening half mile, all rallied to make up the trifecta. Meanwhile, the 4/5 favorite Cupid faded to finish 10th. Even if Creator’s Arkansas Derby win was pace aided, it was another nice performance from a colt with progressing speed figures who is clearly getting better all the time. I am a fan of Creator’s effort two starts back in the Rebel Stakes, where he sustained a long run that found him stacked 5-wide the entire way through the far turn, and finished a solid third with the kind of a trip that would flatten out most good 3-year-old closers.

Creator has a very interesting pedigree. His sire is the outstanding Tapit. His Dam Morena is a Peruvian champion, she won at 12 furlongs in Peru and was Grade 1 placed at 10 furlongs in the USA. Morena is by Privately Held out of a Summing Mare. Privately Held was 2nd in the Meadowlands Endurance Stakes. Summing upset Pleasant Colony in the 1981 Belmont Stakes. There’s literally nothing but stamina in the bottom of Creator’s pedigree. It kind of reminds me of Tonalist’s pedigree. Tapit on top and heavily slanted to stamina on the bottom. Although Tonalist’s up-close female family certainly had more class to it.

Lani

BRIS (?, ?, ?) TimeformUS (104, 91, ?) Beyer ( ?, ?, ?) TG (5, 9.5, ?)

The mystery horse in this years field. Lani overcame a stumbling start, very slow early pace and wide trip while winning the UAE Derby over Polar River, who was actually every bit as unlucky as Lani was. It was a rare race where the two worst trips in the field belonged to the top two finishers. One thing about Lani appears clear, he doesn’t have a whole lot of gate speed. In his November 28th win in Tokyo, he quickly dropped back to last in the field of 16 and made a very long, sustained, wide move to contention. He eventually swept to the lead inside the quarter pole and held sway late. 

Lani is by Tapit out of a Sunday Silence mare who won at 10-furlongs. There’s plenty to like about his pedigree, especially for a foreign raider. Perhaps the most appealing thing that Lani has going for him is that this years Derby field appears to be a very moderate group by Kentucky Derby standards. I’m not saying this group looks as bad as the 1993 group, but it’s among the least impressive I’ve ever seen. Especially if you’re as skeptical about Nyquist’s chances as I am.