The Jury: Bets and fades for Kentucky Derby Day

May 7th, 2022

After months of preps and weeks of workouts, the best three-year-olds in the country are ready to duke it out in Saturday's Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs. The TwinSpires Jury members James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson are also ready to put their opinions to the test on the biggest wagering day of the year.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: #6 Prevalence (6-1) will enter the Churchill Downs (G1) on an upswing, registering a career-best 104 Brisnet Speed rating for his 2 1/4-length score in the Commonwealth (G3) at Keeneland, and the four-year-old should receive another favorable stalk-and-pounce trip from post 6. A smashing winner in his first two starts, Prevalence did not handle adversity when trying stakes foes last spring, earning some time off after two poor showings, but he has shown mental fortitude at age four and gained valuable confidence recording convincing wins in the last two starts. Prevalence still has more to offer.

Kellie Reilly: Chad Brown has so many win candidates on Derby Day that I'll probably go overboard on a wrong one. Yet #4 Tribhuvan (5-1) is a pretty good price as the controlling speed in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1). Considering that the French import has soft ground form from home, and stays farther than 1 1/8 miles, he has to be a threat to wire this race. He was uncatchable in last year's Fort Marcy (G2) and United Nations (G1), and it took an explosive rally from stablemate Domestic Spending to run him down in the Manhattan (G1). Forgive his last couple over 1 1/2 miles, and a fresh Tribhuvan looks dangerous. He won the Fort Marcy off an even longer layoff.

Vance Hanson: The crucial scratch of Lady Rocket from the Derby City Distaff (G1) leaves Edgeway as the potential lone speed in the seven-furlong test, but the California invader has yet to win over the distance. Despite the potential pace disadvantage, I think #5 Obligatory (7-2) must still be respected, given her record over the track, her strong late turn-of-foot, and the likelihood she'll thrive no matter what the condition of the track. Hopefully the price will creep a little higher than the morning line odds, which I thought were a touch low to begin with.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: Listed at 5-2 in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (G2), #6 Lady Speightspeare enters with a four-race losing streak on turf, her lone stakes win last year occurring over a synthetic track. She was never a factor finishing third in the Jenny Wiley (G1) last out, and I'll fade Lady Speightspeare from win contention.

KR: As a course-and-distance winner who's 2-for-2 on off tracks and coming off a signature win in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), #1 Aloha West (7-2) makes a lot of sense in the Churchill Downs. On the other hand, he was relentlessly progressive in the second half of 2021, and now he comes off the bench versus some serious rivals with a recency edge. Jackie's Warrior was hurt when uncharacteristically dropping back in the Breeders' Cup, but the divisional champion has already returned a winner. Prevalence enters in the form of his life, Reinvestment Risk is bound to get his big win sooner or later, and Cezanne should appreciate the cutback.

VH: There was a je ne sais quoi aspect to #3 Jackie's Warrior's (5-2) return run in the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) that gives me cause for pause in the Churchill Downs. Granted, it was his first race back since the removal of a bone chip following a sub-par run in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), and he surely wasn't cranked up to run his best. However, I was a touch underwhelmed, given the competition Jackie's Warrior was facing. He's 2-for-2 over the Churchill strip, handles wet ground, and his speed is explosive—by any measure, he should do great on Saturday. But my gut senses enough vulnerability to take a pass for the win and in the multi-race wagers. Rivals like Aloha West, Reinvestment Risk, Prevalence, and Cezanne are no slouches as Jackie's Warrior returns on relatively short rest of three weeks.

What else is worth noting?

Zozos wins at Oaklawn Park (Photo by Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park)

JS: #19 Zozos (20-1) will break running from the starting gate, and with no speed to his outside in the starting gate, the lightly-raced colt drew perfectly for the Kentucky Derby. A spectacular 10-length winner in a two-turn Oaklawn allowance in mid-February, Zozos turned in an outstanding effort finishing second to seasoned Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby (G2) six weeks later, fighting back determinedly after being passed by the winner. That race provided valuable seasoning, and Zozos has trained brilliantly since for Brad Cox. He's poised to keep moving forward with a strong showing on the front end.

KS: In Saturday's Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2), #8 Speak of the Devil (2-1) brings more cachet than Brown's typical stateside debutante, and not just as a $2.2 million purchase at Arqana last December. Her former connections had considered the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) for the past two years before staying in France. A tad unlucky to miss by a nose in the 2020 French 1000 Guineas (G1), Speak of the Devil was third (to Mother Earth) in a three-way photo in last summer's Prix Rothschild (G1). She was last seen edging odds-on Godolphin colt Midtown while giving him weight in a listed race at Saint-Cloud on heavy going. I think a lot of her streaking stablemate #7 In Italian (3-1), but am looking forward to seeing how Speak of the Devil fares.

VH: Although I'm not a fan of either to actually pull off the Kentucky Derby upset, a couple longshots that intrigue for the lower rungs of the exotics are #8 Charge It (20-1) and #11 Pioneer of Medina (30-1). I went into detail about Charge It earlier this week, and noted Pioneer of Medina as a horse to watch in this space recently. If the track is retaining moisture, Pioneer of Medina especially has the potential to thrive over it being a son of Pioneerof the Nile, a Derby runner-up in the mud and a grandson of the slop-loving Empire Maker.