Horse Racing

Kentucky Derby ripe for an upset

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Kentucky Derby ripe for an upset

We have been very lucky, and spoiled as racing fans in recent years as we’ve gotten to see great stories play out right in front of us on Derby day and beyond. From the upset victory of 50-1 shot Mine That Bird in 2009, to California Chrome winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2014, to a Triple Crown winner last year in American Pharoah, we have seen a bit of everything.

This year’s edition of the Derby brings intrigue as well. The Derby favorite, Nyquist, rolls into Louisville riding a seven-race win streak. His connections have been here before, as owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez teamed up for the Derby win in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. Nyquist has done nothing wrong either, winning from on or near the lead when the pace is slow to closing from a bit further back when the early pace was swift.  Everything is lined up for Nyquist to continue his winning ways, but this year the Derby will provide one thing, a ton of value.

[NBC SPORTS: Kentucky Derby All Access 2016]

While Nyquist may be the only undefeated horse entering the starting gate in the Derby on Saturday afternoon, he may also be the only horse that goes off at odds of less than 10-1. With value galore, here are my top five selections for the 2016 Kentucky Derby:

1. #17 Mor Spirit (12-1 odds)

Trainer Bob Baffert has been here before also. He saddled American Pharoah to his Triple Crown last year. He has also sent out Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002). This year Mor Spirit flies under the radar. Never worse than second in seven lifetime races, Mor Spirit has the running style that may be most favorable this Saturday. While the early pace is unknown, the Derby does have its share of deep closers. Mor Spirit will likely sit in the second flight of horses early and avoid traffic late. He ran second in the slop at Churchill as a two-year-old, and has gone heavily favored in his three California starts this year, a win and pair of second-place efforts. With warmer conditions expected Saturday in Kentucky, and a chance of rain, each could benefit Mor Spirit.

2. #11 Exaggerator (8-1 odds)

Exaggerator is the one horse you will lose any type of value on should it rain Saturday. He has run three times on a wet track, winning twice, and finishing second in his other off track start. While he was extremely impressive in the Santa Anita Derby, he was also helped by suicidal early pace fractions ahead of him, which he likely won’t see in the Derby on Saturday. He benefits from a middle of the pack post draw and looks to get a similar trip to Mor Spirit. Not an overly quick workout horse in the morning, his final drill at Churchill on April 30 was a bit slower than some would have liked to have seen. That being said, he looks to be peaking at the right time and the 1-1/4 mile distance should be no issue for him.

3. #13 Nyquist (3-1 odds)

It’s tough in a 20-horse field to set a morning line, especially with so many talented runners, but I expect Nyquist to go off even lower than the 3-1 morning line he was set at. He hasn’t done anything wrong thus far on his career. He can win from on or off the pace and easily put away Mohaymen and the rest of the Florida Derby field in his last start. The concern for Nyquist could be if he is keen to go early and faces pace pressure. With possible speed horses like Mohaymen and Outwork breaking from the two gates just to his outside, and Danzing Candy with likely no choice but to send from post 20, jockey Mario Gutierrez will have to make his choice early on where he plans to place Nyquist. Nyquist also is one of the few that has neither raced, nor posted a workout over the Churchill surface entering the Derby.

4. #10 Whitmore (20-1 odds)

Some may question whether or not Whitmore is quick enough to compete in the Derby, but he has some things going for him entering Saturday’s race. First, he has won, and won impressively, at Churchill Downs. After a slow break in his debut, he crushed a field sprinting at Churchill last fall. He worked his way into the Derby by running second or third in the three Arkansas preps, and is likely to go off at odds of higher than his 20-1 morning line. Second, and possibly more important, is that Whitmore picks up the guy you want in the saddle on Derby Day in jockey Victor Espinoza. Espinoza looks to make it three Derby victories in a row and confidence in the saddle is no concern. Look for Whitmore to be weaving through traffic late.

5. #3 Creator (10-1 odds)

If Whitmore is going to be there in the end, odds are Creator will be as well. The horse that finished ahead of Whitmore in winning the Arkansas Derby, Creator is another that is peaking at the right time. The biggest concern for Creator may be his running style as he will likely be sitting somewhere between 17th-20th the first time the horses pass the finish line. He will need a clean trip, and a strong pace ahead of him to close into, but often times that occurs in the Derby. Sired by Tapit, Creator is one of the most well-bred horses in the field to handle the 1-1/4 mile distance.

How am I going to play the Derby?

I will play Mor Spirit, Exaggerator, and Whitmore all to win, as long as their odds are 10-1 or higher. I am going to put these five horses in an exacta and trifecta box as well. For a minimal amount of money, you can play a $1 exacta box, which will cost a total of $20, and a $1 trifecta box, which will cost $60.

A reminder, this weekend also kicks off summer harness racing action at Hawthorne. Live harness racing will take place this Friday and Saturday night with a 7:20 p.m. first post. Beginning next week, racing will take place every Thursday-Sunday at 7:20 p.m.

For those looking to wager on the Kentucky Derby, the doors at Hawthorne will open at 8:00 AM on Friday and Saturday morning as players can watch and wager races from Churchill and throughout the country all day long.

Eagle, Scuba Headline Field for Hawthorne Gold Cup

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Barbara Weidl

Eagle, Scuba Headline Field for Hawthorne Gold Cup

Saturday marks the 80th running of the most historic race on Hawthorne’s calendar as the $150,000, Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup returns. To be contested at 1 ¼ miles over the Hawthorne main track, a field of eight has assembled with a mix of locals and out of towners. A trio of graded stakes winners in Eagle, Scuba, and Hay Dakota lead the way in the Gold Cup.

The 8-5 morning line favorite in the Hawthorne Gold Cup is Eagle, from the barn of trainer Neil Howard.  The 2016 winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland and second-place finisher of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill last year, Eagle has raced with mixed results during his 2017 campaign. He opened the season with a pair of fourth-placed efforts in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap and Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.  He returned to Keeneland in April, finishing second in this year’s edition of the Grade 3 Ben Ali before a flat effort in the Pimlico Special in May.  He got back on track though, winning the Michael Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand before running a good second in the Grade 3 Iselin at Monmouth in August.  He enters the Gold Cup off a fifth-place performance in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill in his most recent start. Ty Kennedy gets the call aboard Eagle on Saturday.

The 9-5 second-choice in the Gold Cup is the Brendan Walsh trained Scuba. The multiple graded stakes winning gelding posted a big 2016 campaign, finding the board in all eight of his starts last year.  His season closed with a bang, as he rattled off victories in the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup at Parx, the Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont, and capped his season by winning the Grade 2 Marathon on Breeders’ Cup day. Receiving a break after his Marathon win, Scuba began his 2017 season with sixth and fifth-place efforts respectively in the Ben Ali and Flat Out Stakes. After running fourth in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine, he finished second in the Birdstone at Saratoga on Aug. 3. Scuba enters the Gold Cup off a pair of sixth-place efforts in the Greenwood Cup and Temperence Hill but figures to be the pace of the race on Saturday. Alonso Quinonez gets the call on Saturday to ride.

The field for the Hawthorne Gold Cup:

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey             M/L

1              Hay Dakota                         J. Berndt              C. Roman            12-1

2              Futile                                   C. Hartman        R. Prescott           6-1

3              Side Pocket                        J. Smith, Jr.          V. Santiago         15-1

4              Volgograd                           H. Rodriguez      E. Perez              20-1

5              Eagle                                     N. Howard         T. Kennedy         8-5

6              Van Damme                       R. Gorham          T.D. Houghton   8-1

7              Empirestrikesagain          A. Mitchell          S. Sanjur              15-1

8              Scuba                                    B. Walsh            A. Quinonez       9-5

Pair of State-bred Sprints on Saturday Undercard

The top sprinters in the state will also be on the track on Saturday as part of the Gold Cup day undercard. Race four on Saturday is the $100,000 Powerless Stakes for Illinois-bred fillies and mares to be contested at six furlongs. Race eight is the Lightning Jet Handicap as the state-bred boys sprint for $100,000.

Puntsville has been installed as the even-money favorite in the Powerless Handicap for trainer Michelle Boyce.  A winner of 10 of 20 career starts, Puntsville has won three of four races in 2017, including the Hoist Her Flag Stakes at Canterbury and the Richie Scherer Memorial at Arlington Park.  Regular rider Victor Santiago gets the call on Puntsville. 

The Lightning Jet Handicap is a rematch of the top two finishers from the state-bred Buck’s Boy Handicap earlier this month at Hawthorne. The winner of that race, Goneghost, is the 2-1 morning line favorite as one of a pair for trainer Scott Becker in the race that also includes the speedy D’Rapper (5-2). Trainer Michele Boyce with saddle talented three-year-old Devileye, who faced the first defeat of his career in the Buck’s Boy, finishing second to Goneghost.

The fields for the Powerless and Lightning Jet Handicaps:

Powerless Handicap

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey                  M/L

1              Kalispell                                J. Johns                O. Hernandez    10-1

2              Dr Winn Kyi                         S. Manley            R. Prescott          8-1

3              Puntsville                            M. Boyce             V. Santiago         1-1

4              Darlin Rosie                        R. Dobbs, Jr.       C. Roman             12-1

5              Jolee                                     A. Mitchell          S. Sanjur              9-2

6              Ima Little Kitten                 R. Lindsay            J. Molina, Jr.       12-1

7              Church Road                      S. Manley            C. Ulloa                 6-1

8              Shar Ran                             M. Tomlinson    E. Perez                10-1

Lightning Jet Handicap

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey                  M/L

1              Goneghost                         S. Becker             V. Santiago         2-1

2              Mexico Memories           L. Hellman           A. Quinonez       20-1

3              Reigning Catfish                 J. Smith, Jr.         C. Roman             8-1

4              Devileye                              M. Boyce             S. Sanjur              7-2

5              D’Rapper                             S. Becker             V. Bailon              5-2

6              Cashel Rock                        D. Matthews      J. Lopez                10-1

7              Armando’s Star                 M. Cristel             R. Prescott          5-1

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.