When taking a look at the points leaderboard heading into this year’s Derby, the top 5 horses clearly are the most accomplished and well-rounded. The next five in the group provide a lot of intrigue, uncertainty and possible upset ability to win this race. A look at horses 6-10 on the Derby points leaderboard:
Cyberknife – Checking in at number six on the leaderboard with 100 points, Cyberknife is one of three possible runners for trainer Brad Cox (Tawny Port & Zozos) in this year’s Derby. Each of Cox’s three have different running styles as well. Zozos is the speedy type and Tawny Port will close from off the pace. Cyberknife is the stalker, rate and look to pounce. After being DQ’d from a debut victory while sprinting at Churchill last fall, his first official victory came around two turns at Fair Grounds in start number three. Many dismissed Cyberknife after he tossed a clunker while racing wide in the Lecomte. He come a confidence boost while defeating allowance-company before heading to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby. Florent Geroux gave the son of Gun Runner a perfect trip as he took over late for the win. The concern with Cyberknife may be his level of maturity. He drifted out when clear in the lane. Was that just consequence or a sign that he was able to hear the roar of 60,000 fans at Oaklawn and reacted to it? Let’s see how he handles 100,000 at Churchill in the Derby.
Crown Pride (JPN) – The UAE Derby has probably been assigned too many points in the Derby points leaderboard, but regardless, for a race being run in March, two horses come out of it with 100 and 40 points respectively. The 100 went to Crown Pride (JPN) as the Japanese invader ran well to win in upset fashion. His entire trip in the UAE Derby was wide and he was left to chase a lone speed horse but he did the job. With that said, Japanese horses dominated the Dubai Festival this year, winning five of the nine races on the $30 million card. It may be a reach for Crown Pride (JPN) to take this year’s Derby but at likely odds of 40-1 to 50-1 he may be worth a look in the gimmicks.
Taiba – The great unknown in this year’s Derby may be the horse with the most chatter surrounding it which is Taiba, who sits in eighth with 100 points. First off is the news surrounding Taiba. He was one of the many horses in this year’s three-year-old crop trained by Bob Baffert. Following the disqualification of last year’s Derby first place finisher Medina Spirit, Baffert was suspended and his horses were not allowed to earn Derby points. How to get into the race? Transfer the horse to another trainer. That’s what happened with Taiba as he shifted from Baffert’s barn to the stable of former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen after his maiden victory. Further complicating the story surrounding Taiba is that he has the same owner as Medina Spirit, Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. So the off track news may deflect from what this horse can accomplish on Derby day. Before 2018 it was unheard of to see a Derby contender go unraced as a two-year-old and then Justify came along. He made three starts prior to the Derby, all in California, all as a three-year-old, and then won the Triple Crown. Taiba is much like Justify. He is lightly raced but was impressive in winning the Santa Anita Derby. Mike Smith gave him a perfect trip, settling behind a pair of legitimate racehorses in Forbidden Kingdom and Messier. Forbidden Kingdom dropped out in the lane, Messier ran on, but it was Taiba who ran on by, still looking a bit green late as he figures things out. This horse looks to have a massive upside but so many questions surround him as well. Post position draw could dictate his Derby chances.
Simplification – He may be overlooked a bit but Simplification hasn’t done much wrong as he heads into the Derby. Sitting in ninth with 74 points, Simplification has hit the board in four stakes starts this year, all at one mile or longer. He’s versatile, winning the Mucho Macho Man from gate to wire. He rallied from seventh to finish second in the Holy Bull and then circled the field to win the Fountain of Youth. He chased White Abarrio in the Florida Derby and battled through the lane, only to finish third. He’s clearly faced good horses but has also never raced anywhere aside from Gulfstream Park. He is one of those horses who could win the Derby or he could finish 17th.
Smile Happy – At 10th in the standings with 70 points, Smile Happy has shown that he could be a major player in the Derby. Trainer Kenny McPeek was very confident about his horse heading into the Blue Grass stakes and I think somewhat surprised the horse lost that race. The 10 hole in the field of 11 may have been the reason though as he raced wide the entire trip. Looking back, Smile Happy has made four lifetime starts and has never finished worse than second. He is one of the few in here with a race, and a victory, over the Churchill Downs surface. The two horses he has run second to this season are Epicenter and Zandon, the number one and two horses respectively in the points standings. He’s likely going to need pace to chase as he looks to close late but post position won’t be as much of a factor for him as it will be for others in this race.
A reminder for horseplayers, Hawthorne Race Course and the Club Hawthorne OTB locations are going to fill up quickly for Derby day. Make sure to make your reservation early or download the ClubHawthorne app so you aren’t shut out on Derby day.