Bears

Ultimate guide to the Kentucky Derby

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Ultimate guide to the Kentucky Derby

The greatest two minutes in sports takes place this Saturday afternoon as a field of twenty three-year-old runners will contest the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.  To be contested at 1 ¼ miles on the main track, the Derby will be run at about 5:30 p.m. with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. on NBC.

Below I’ll take a look at the field of 20 for the Derby, how they got here and what their chances are to win the Kentucky Derby.  As we’ve seen recently with California Chrome, Orb and Big Brown, the favorites handle themselves very well on the first Saturday in May.  There’s always those like War Emblem, Giacomo and Mine That Bird that can turn the race upside down.

Taking a look at the Derby in Post Position order:

1. Ocho Ocho Ocho – Trainer: James Cassidy, Jockey: Elvis Trujillo (M/L Odds 50-1)

CredentialsWon all three races as a two-year-old, including the Grade 2 Delta Jackpot.  He finished eighth in the Grade 2 San Felipe before finishing third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass.

Chances of Winning – Poor. At two, Ocho Ocho Ocho was highly regarded, winning while close to the pace, but also settling and closing late.  He had all sorts of early trouble in the San Felipe before setting the fractions and giving way in the Blue Grass.  Unfortunately he gets buried on the rail, often a death-wish in the Derby.  If he can settle early, he may be able to split the field in the Derby.

2. Carpe Diem – Trainer: Todd Pletcher, Jockey: John Velazquez (M/L Odds 8-1)

CredentialsSecond in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as the favorite, Carpe Diem has won both starts this year, winning the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade 1 Blue Grass.

Chances of WinningModerate. Carpe Diem has run well in each start, but faced a rather soft field in the Tampa Bay Derby, followed by a field that appeared more Grade 3 caliber than Grade 1 caliber in the Blue Grass.  He has had some issues loading into the gate, battling starters and loading into the gate.  With the long walk over to the paddock prior to the Derby, and the extended time in what becomes a very tight paddock at Churchill Downs, nerves could get to Carpe Diem.  Post number two almost forces him to rush early which can also compromise his chances.  A bonus though is an excellent trainer in Pletcher.

3. Materiality – Trainer: Todd Pletcher, Jockey: Javier Castellano (M/L Odds 12-1)

CredentialsLightly raced with only three lifetime starts, Materiality has done nothing wrong, winning all three of those races.  After breaking his maiden while sprinting as a two-year-old, he defeated fellow Derby entrant Stanford in the Islamorada Handicap before winning the Grade 1 Florida Derby in his most recent start.

Chances of WinningModerate.  I actually like this Pletcher starter better than Carpe Diem.  Even though his only graded start was in the Florida Derby, he beat a quality bunch there.  I expect him to be sitting right with American Pharoah much of the way around and he may rate a bit closer due to the inside draw.  I liked his effort in the Islamorada but felt the entire field was tiring late in the Florida Derby, including him in his winning effort.

4. Tencendur – Trainer: George Weaver, Jockey: Manny Franco (M/L Odds 30-1)

Credentials – Has one career win from five lifetime starts.  He finished fourth in the Grade 3 Withers and third in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct before running second most recently in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

Chances of Winning – Poor.  With only a maiden victory on his resume, Tencendur hasn’t shown he’s fast enough to win the Derby.  That being said, he did run a career best race in his most recent start and may be peaking at the right time.  While he likely isn’t quick enough to win, he may be able to finish in the top half of the field in the Derby.

5. Danzig Moon – Trainer: Mark Casse, Jockey: Julien Leparoux (M/L Odds 30-1)

Credentials – Has only one career win. He finished fourth in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass.

Chances of Winning – Poor.  With only a maiden win on his resume, Danzig Moon doesn’t appear to be the caliber of many others in here.  He was a well-beaten fourth in what wasn’t a great Tampa Bay Derby and chased Carpe Diem in a soft version of the Blue Grass.  He’s likely to rate near the back of the back early in the Kentucky Derby but I expect him to make little impact.

6. Mubtaahij – Trainer: Michael dekock, Jockey: Christophe Soumillon (M/L Odds 20-1)

CredentialsA winner of four of seven races lifetime, Mubtaahij has those four wins in his last five starts since moving to conventional dirt.  In his most recent start, Mubtaahij easily handled the field in the Group 2 UAE Derby at Meydan.

Chances of WinningModerate. This may be the wise-guy horse in the Derby as many have been abuzz about Mubtaahij since his win overseas.  He has gotten better with the stretch in distance on dirt.  For him it has been a lot of travel since that race, with a flight overseas, a stop at Arlington Park and then moving onto Churchill.  I don’t expect him to win as horses making the UAE Derby to Kentucky Derby move have not fared well.

7. El Kabeir – Trainer: John Terranova, Jockey: Calvin Borel (M/L Odds 30-1)

CredentialsA four time winner on his career, El Kabeir has made nine starts with seven of those coming against graded stakes-company.  He has hit the board in six of those seven graded races, including wins in the Grade 3 Jerome and Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct this year.  Most recently, El Kabeir ran third in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

Chances of Winning – Good.  I like El Kabeir’s running style better than many others in here.  He already has a win over the Churchill surface with Borel aboard.  I think he was hurt by a tepid pace in the Wood and is insured a pace that is much more swift in the Derby.  Because he will settle early, post isn’t as much of a concern for him as it is others.

8. Dortmund – Trainer: Bob Baffert, Jockey: Martin Garcia (M/L Odds 3-1)

CredentialsUndefeated runner in six lifetime starts, Dortmund stands out physically as the most imposing thoroughbred in this race.  He took the Southern California route to the Derby with wins in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis, Grade 2 San Felipe, and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

Chances of WinningExcellent.  This will be my top choice in this year’s Derby.  He seemed to toy with horses early in his career only to beat them in the end.  In his last two races, he was in complete control, showing excellent stretch acceleration.  Because of his physical size, if things get tight during the running of the race, horses will bounce off him instead on him being the one that gets bothered. On Saturday, I expect he rates back, possibly seventh or eighth early and comes running in the stretch.

9. Bolo – Trainer: Carla Gaines, Jockey: Rafael Bejarano (M/L Odds 30-1)

CredentialsA winner twice from five lifetime starts.  Bolo has made two starts in 2015, finishing third in the Grade 2 San Felipe and third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, both races won by Dortmund.

Chances of WinningModerate. Bolo has been pretty solid in his two races over the dirt this year.  He ran into some traffic trouble in the San Felipe before running wide throughout in the Santa Anita Derby.  He’s likely to sit mid-pack early and may move forward in the lane.

10. Firing Line – Trainer: Simon Callaghan, Jockey: Gary Stevens (M/L Odds 12-1)

Credentials Has never run worse than second from five career starts.  Has run close-up seconds to Dortmund twice, in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity as a two-year-old and Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis at three.  Most recently he won the Grade 3 Sunland Derby by over 14 lengths.

Chances of WinningGood.  Firing Line could be the sleeper in the Kentucky Derby.  Two of his three second-place finishes put him within a head of one of the likely Derby favorites in Dortmund.  The Sunland Derby may have had a better bunch than the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby (excluding the winners of those races) and he crushed that bunch.  He drew nicely in the middle of the field.  He may sit fifth or sixth early and could be in a perfect spot turning for home in the Derby.

11. Stanford – Trainer: Todd Pletcher, Jockey: Florent Geroux (M/L Odds 30-1)

CredentialsA winner of two of five starts on his career.  Stanford finished second behind Materiality in the Islamorada before finishing second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby behind International Star.

Chances of WinningModerate.  Stanford intrigues me a little bit in the Derby.  He set quick fractions in the Islamorada before tiring late to run second.  Under Geroux, he settled better in the Louisiana Derby and nearly held off International Star at the wire. If he is sent, you could be hearing his name first when the field hits the top of the stretch in the Derby.  The concern is with Carpe Diem also having pace from the Pletcher barn, what will the riding instructions be?

12. International Star – Trainer: Mike Maker, Jockey:  Miguel Mena (M/L Odds 20-1)

CredentialsThe leading point getter in the Kentucky Derby Points System, International Star rides a three race win streak into the Kentucky Derby.  All three wins came as a three-year-old and all three came in New Orleans, winning the Grade 3 LeComte, Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

Chances of WinningGood. The fields he faced in New Orleans weren’t overwhelming, but they were stronger than some of the other prep races leading up to this year’s Derby.  He won those races with late rail moves so tight quarters don’t bother him.  He has also improved with added distance in each start.  I expect he saves ground much of the way and hopes the rail opens up in the stretch, much like it did for Mine That Bird.

13. Itsaknockout – Trainer: Todd Pletcher, Jockey: Luis Saez (M/L Odds 20-1)

Credentials – A winner of three of four career starts, Itsaknockout was placed first via disqualification behind Upstart in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.  Most recently he finished fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Chances of WinningPoor.  Itsaknockout’s running style likely places him mid-pack early but I expect that mid-pack trip will become a fading trip in the stretch.  He was the beneficiary of a terrible DQ call in the Fountain of Youth as he was no match for Upstart in the stretch that day.  Although he finished fourth in the Florida Derby, that fourth was while beaten 21 lengths.

14. Keen Ice – Trainer: Dale Romans, Jockey: Kent Desormeaux (M/L Odds 50-1)

Credentials – A winner once from seven lifetime starts.  Keen Ice finished fifth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull, third in the Grade 2 Risen Star and fourth in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

Chances of Winning – Poor.  Keen Ice got into the Derby late due to a defection by another runner with more points.  You won’t see much of him early as he will be well back.  He may pass some tiring runners in the lane.

15. Frosted – Trainer: Kiaran Mclaughlin, Jockey: Joel Rosario (M/L Odds 15-1)

CredentialsA winner twice on his career, Frosted finished second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream, fourth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, and won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in his most recent start.

Chances of WinningModerate.  I think Frosted has a shot to be a part of the gimmicks in the Derby.  He has shown improvement in starts as he was part of a roughly run Fountain of Youth but bounced back to win the Wood Memorial in fine fashion.  Rosario is aboard and he has been one of the best jockeys in the world in the last two years.

16. War Story – Trainer: Tom Amoss, Jockey: Joe Talamo (M/L Odds 50-1)

Credentials – Never worse than third in five career starts, War Story ran second in the Grade 3 LeComte and Grade 2 Risen Start. Most recently he ran third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, with all three of those races being won by International Star.

Chances of WinningPoor.  While I do not expect that War Story can win, He may be able to run in as a piece of the gimmicks underneath in the Derby.  War Story’s biggest issue is the break as he often gets away poorly, spotting the field 2-3 lengths.  His maiden win did come at Churchill and a clean break may place him mid-pack early with a chance to move forward in the stretch.

17. Mr. Z – Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas, Jockey: Ramon Vazquez (M/L Odds 50-1)

CredentialsEasily the most experienced of this Derby field, having made 12 lifetime starts. Of those twelve races, he only has a maiden win in his debut last June at Churchill.  He finished third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn before running ninth in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.  He came back two weeks after that race to finish third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

Chances of Winning – Poor.  With just the one lifetime victory, coming ten months ago, Mr. Z has faced many runners in this race, finishing behind most in those starts.  His running style won’t have him too far off the early pace, but he is likely to back up through the field in the stretch.

18. American Pharoah – Trainer: Bob Baffert, Jockey: Victor Espinoza (M/L Odds 5-2)

CredentialsA winner of four of five lifetime starts (all victories in stakes races), American Pharoah won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and Grade 1 Front Runner as a two-year-old.  At three, he has won the Grade 2 Rebel and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.

Chances of WinningGood. I don’t give him as an excellent for a few reasons. First, the post.  He will have to work a bit to clear off of some horses but runs the risk of being hung 4-5 wide entering the first turn.  He has made only two starts this year after missing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall due to injury.  He hasn’t done anything wrong either.  His running style will put him close to the pace, but post is important as he will need to be a part of the top three-four runners heading into the first turn.

19. Upstart – Trainer: Rick Violette, Jr., Jockey: Jose Ortiz (M/L Odds 15-1)

Credentials – A three-time winner in seven career starts, Upstart has never run worse than third.  This year he won the Grade 2 Holy Bull and crossed the line first in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth before being disqualified and placed second.  Most recently he finished second in the Grade 1 Florida Derby behind Materiality.

Chances of WinningGood. Even though Materiality defeated Upsart in the Florida Derby, I like Upstart’s upside better.  His win in the Holy Bull was solid, despite being wide in the turn.  He was victim to a terrible DQ call in the Fountain of Youth as he was clearly the best.  Much like Materiality I didn’t like how he finished in the Florida Derby.  In the Kentucky Derby, I feel he will settle mid-pack early and be picking off horses late.

20. Far Right – Trainer: Ron Moquett, Jockey: Mike Smith (M/L Odds 30-1)

Credentials – A winner three times from nine career starts, Far Right won the Smarty Jones and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.  Most recently he finished second to American Pharoah in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

Chances of Winning – Poor.  Far Right would need a dream trip to win the Derby.  His running style will have him near the back of the pace early and he will require a heated pace ahead that falls apart completely to win.  From post 20 he has almost no choice but to drop to the rail from the break and hope for racing luck.  He was able to get up for second in the Arkansas Derby, but all in there were in a different class to American Pharoah on that day.

My Order of Finish for the Kentucky Derby:

Winner –#8 - Dortmund

2nd – #12 - International Star

3rd – #7 - El Kabeir

4th – #10 - Firing Line

5th – #19 - Upstart

Wagering Stretegies

The Kentucky holds so many unknowns with 20 starters and likely traffic issues early.  I am selecting Dortmund to win the Derby but will give consideration to International Star, El Kabeir, Upstart, and Firing Line at longer odds. With $200, my wagers would be:

$20 Win & Place - Dortmund ($40)

$5 Exacta Box – Dortmund, International Star, El Kabeir, Upstart, Firing Line ($100)

$2 Trifecta Box – Dortmund, International Star, El Kabeir, Upstart, Firing Line, American Pharoah ($60)

Good luck with whomever you choose to wager on in the Kentucky Derby.  For details on where to wager, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com as Hawthorne and all Club Hawthorne OTB locations will be open early.  Can’t make it to the track, visit www.Xpressbet.com to place your Derby Wagers.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?