Mike's Derby Picks

My “way, way too early” 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite

September 22nd 2016

Judging from times and Beyer Speed Figures, get ready for a great Triple Crown season next year. The 2016 2 year-old class is a very deep and talented one and much better than last year’s class that included Nyquist, Exaggerator and Mohaymen and better than California Chrome and Shared Belief’s class thus far. And this talent extends itself even to turf. So don’t be surprised if North America produces a colt that will finally compete and beat the European turf horses.

This depth of talent has been the primary reason why I have been reluctant to anoint any 2 year-old thus far as my “way too early Kentucky Derby favorite” like I did one year ago this month with Nyquist. So I am going to scale it up one notch and reveal my “way, way too early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite.”

Before doing so, I am going to give you my way too early favorites for each of the final North American prep races right before the Kentucky Derby.

Louisiana DerbyStraight Fire

Although he finshed 2nd to Klimt in the Del Mar Furity, his average Beyer Speed Figure in 3 starts is 90. This is the highest average Beyer Speed Figure of any 2 year-old thus far. I am not completely sold on his pedigree. His sire Dominus had moderate success , winning only one Grade 1 race (Dwyer Stakes) before switching to turf.

Much like Firing Line had to get separate from Dortmund on the Derby Trail two years ago, I feel after the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and many losing battles against Klimt, that the Desormeaux brothers will convince Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing (based on the West Coast) to move their talented colt Straight Fire to the Fairgrounds. Although The Fairgrounds doesn’t have a sterling record of producing Kentucky Derby winners, it has a ton of great history and I feel that the track surface and humidity is a great training ground for the Derby. Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner won the Louisiana Derby this year and finished third in the Kentucky Derby (much better than I expected). And running in the Louisiana Derby, you get an extra week of prep for the Derby. His Next Race: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park on October 1st.

Florida DerbyThree Rules

I am not sure what the Florida-bred “Three Rules” is named for. My best guess is: 1) Enter races at Gulfstream Park, 2) Run fast, 3) Win! The ringer of 2 year-old races at Gulfstream Park, he is undefeated in 4 starts. The 94 Beyer Speed Figure achieved in the Dr Fagar Stakes was his best career Beyer but I believe his best race was the Florida Affirmed Stakes shown below. His Next Race: The Florida Sire In Reality Stakes at Gulfstream Park on October 1st.

Santa Anita DerbyKlimt

It’s hard to beat Bob Baffert at Santa Anita Park. From the same owner-trainer combination that brought you Bayern and Dortmund comes Klimt who is named after a famous, very controversial pseudo erotic Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Long pause as many Google his artwork. At any rate, Kaleem Shah has another great colt in Klimt whose time of 1:21.80 in the Del Mar Futurity (shown below) was faster than Nyquist’s time of 1:23.28 in the same race last year. And just 0.32 seconds off of American Pharoah’s time of 1:21.48 in the Del Mar Futurity on a faster synthetic surface.

Klimt is a seriously talented colt with a good pedigree. His sire Quality Road won the Florida Derby, Met Mile, Donn Handicap and Woodward Stakes. Concerning is two separate quarter cracks that kept Quality Road out of all three legs of the Triple Crown. Hopefully this won’t be a problem for Klimt. His Next Race: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park on October 1st.

Blue Grass StakesNot This Time

Trainer Dale Romans calls Not This Time “spooky good” and he has won his last 2 starts by a combined total of nearly 19 lengths. This Giant’s Causeway colt reminds Romans of his half-brother Brody’s Cause but he is a much faster colt at this stage than Brody’s Cause. Not This Time is also Liam’s Map half-brother, the two sharing the same dam (mother) in Miss Macy Sue. His winning time of 1:45.22 in the muddy Iroquois Stakes race (shown below) was a better time than American Pharoah’s time (1:45.78) in the muddy Rebel Stakes as a 3 year old. May I suggest a name change? How About “Not Even Close” because he has annihilated his competition.” His Next Race: The Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park on November 5th.

The Wood Memorial – Theory

When it comes to the pedigree, trainer and jockey combination, Theory is probably the most attractive 2 year-old colt. Trained by Todd Pletcher who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. Ridden by jockey John Velazquez who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom. Theory won in his debut at Saratoga and produced an 85 Beyer Speed Figure (see race HERE). His sire Gemologist went undefeated in five starts heading into the 2012 Kentucky Derby where he finished 16th. His Next Race: The Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park on October 15th.

Arkansas DerbyClassic Empire

Despite the fact that he made an about-face coming out of the gate in the Hopeful Stakes, I am still really high on this Mark Casse-trained colt who is American Pharoah’s half-brother. He didn’t want to run that day but when he decides to run, watch out. He’s very talented, just needs maturation. I wrote an article on Classic Empire back in July which you can read by clicking HERE.  The Arkansas Derby seems like an ideal final prep race for Classic Empire just like it was for his famous half-brother American Pharoah. His Next Race: The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on October 8th.

My way, way too early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite

At this stage of the 2 year-old campaign, two horses have emerged as the best on the West Coast (Klimt) and the best on the East Coast (Not This Time). Right now, I have to give the nod to Not This Time. Why?

Final Fractions – Not This Time vs. Klimt

To best illustrate the superiority of Not This Time’s fractions compared to Klimt’s, I will convert their times into miles per hour.

In the Del Mar Futurity, Klimt ran the final furlong (1/8th of a mile) of this 7 furlong race in 12.66 seconds as the battled Straight Fire down the stretch. This works out to be average speed of 35.5 mph.

In the 8 1/2 Furlong Iroquois Stakes, Not This Time was in 5th place (3 lengths) behind the leader at the 3/4 pole and the final 2 1/2 furlongs was run in 30.7 seconds. That is an average speed of 36.6 mph in the slop. Allowing 0.16 second per length, Not This Time ran the final 2 1/2 furlongs in 30.22 seconds. This works out to be a speed of 37.2 mph and please note that Not This Time wasn’t pressured at all for the lead.

In Not This Time’s maiden victory at Ellis Park on August 12th (to see the race, click HERE), he ran the final furlong in 11.82 seconds in this 1 mile race. This works out to be an average speed of 38.0 mph. In the final 2 furlongs, his time was 23.33 seconds. This equates to an even better average speed of 38.5 mph.

So when it is “Go-Time”, Not This Time has some seriously good afterburners. He is going to be difficult to catch down the stretch. This is why I have made him my way, way too early 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite. There is a ton of racing left between now and the Kentucky Derby and horses mature and improve by leaps and bounds during this stage. But any horse who beats Not This Time along the way is probably the new Kentucky Derby favorite.


Here are the “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Sentient Jet):

FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita – October 1st on NBC Sports Network
Champagne Stakes at Belmont – October 8th on TVG
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland – October 8th on NBC