Two Kentucky Derby Favorites Set to Clash on Saturday

Chad Brown’s Good Magic, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November and considered by many to be the early Kentucky Derby favorite, threw up a clunker in last week’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. This weekend, two other colts who are vying for favoritism on the first Saturday in May will face off against each other in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Bolt D’Oro (post 1, 2-1), who was the heavy favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, makes his first start since November for trainer Mick Ruis. He’ll get a jockey upgrade with Javier Castellano taking over for Corey Nakatani, and he’s been training beautifully by all accounts. Whether Ruis will have Bolt D’Oro fully cranked for this race is the main question handicappers will have to answer, but based on talent alone this guy belongs toward the top of the three-year-old list. There is a chance that Ruis will scratch Bolt D’Oro, however, as the forecast shows that it may rain in Southern California on Saturday.

If he runs, he’ll have his hands full in trying to beat the morning line favorite, Bob Baffert’s McKinzie (post 4, 8-5), who won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on January 6 at Santa Anita as a heavy favorite. Mike Smith will have the mount, and with the likely early pacesetter, Lombo (post 2, 8-1) to his inside, McKinzie should be able to get a perfect trip. He’s my pick to take down the 50 Kentucky Derby points that will be awarded to the winner, essentially punching his ticket to Louisville. And if Bolt D’Oro scratches, this will be nothing more than a glorified workout for him.

There are two other Kentucky Derby prep races set to go on Saturday, at Aqueduct in New York and Tampa Bay Downs. The Grade 3 Gotham will feature Free Drop Billy (post 6, 9-5), who ran into a buzz saw in Audible last time out in the Grade 3 Holy Bull. He matches up better against this group, but questions remain about his true ability, with more second-place finishes in his career than wins.

Firenze Fire (post 5, 5-2) projects out to be a one-turn specialist and may just thrive in this spot on Saturday. He won the Jerome here in January under Manny Franco, and Franco will be back aboard for Jason Servis. Servis’ other runner, Dial Operator (post 1, 10-1) is intriguing, having won his last start at Laurel despite being forced 6-wide, as is Beautiful Shot (post 3, 8-1) for trainer Keith Desormeaux. This guy ships in from California after having finished third in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes behind two horses who both came back to win their next starts. Neither of these guys should be left out of exotics, nor should Nine Route (post 8, 30-1), a huge longshot on the morning line who just may be able to set the early pace from the outside under Kendrick Carmouche in a race that appears devoid of early speed.

In Tampa, we may have the opposite scenario shape up with an early speed duel between two of the morning line favorites, Flameaway (post 5, 3-1) and World of Trouble (post 8, 5-1). Flameaway is flat-out impressive and showed a ton of heart in his last race when he led from the start and held off the favorite, Catholic Boy, and a hard-charging Vino Rosso (post 3, 4-1). He has shown consistent improvement and is 2-2 as a three-year-old for trainer Mark Casse, and with Jose Lezcano aboard (a jockey who excels with early speed horses), Flameaway could continue his ascension as a serious Kentucky Derby contender.

World of Trouble only has three career starts under his belt for Jason Servis, but he has won two of them and gets a massive jockey upgrade in this race, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. climbing aboard. Though World of Trouble has won on the front end in his two previous victories, Irad is a jockey who likes to sit off the pace. If he wants to get on the muscle early, he’ll have to battle Flameaway for the early lead, which could set up well for Vino Rossi, or even one of the longshots, to come from behind to grab those 50 Kentucky Derby points. Ortiz and Servis know how to read a Racing Form just like the rest of us, though, and they’re both smarter than to let a potential Kentucky Derby horse get run into the ground. Irad should get a perfect stalking trip from the outside post and will likely be right there in the end.

Vino Rosso was impressive last time and was charging late, but trainer Todd Pletcher is opting to add blinkers to this guy for Saturday’s showdown. That gives me pause. The prediction here is that World of Trouble switches tactics, sits off the pace setter and we get a two-horse duel down the stretch. I’m boxing Flameaway and World of Trouble in my exacta. My heart is with Flameaway because I love the toughness he showed in his last race, but I think they each have an equal shot of winning, so my win bet will be on the horse with the higher odds at post time.

Good luck at the races!

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