The overwhelming favorite for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday is California Chrome, but professional handicapper Ted Whitley is not sold on the colt running away with the race. Much of his opinion is based on what he is hearing from sources at Churchill Downs this week.
“The pros are stepping up and making it a two-horse race between California Chrome and Wicked Strong and it’s just is so wrong to do that” said Whitley. “There are 17 other very talented horses out there.” Whitley, who handicaps professionally for The Whitley Group, says “clocker” reports on the entrants’ workouts have come out all week from Churchill Downs, and many of them are not positive in regard to the favorite. According to Whitley the insiders are saying, “He [California Chrome] just does not look comfortable; didn’t work very well,” and Whitley has his theories on why that is: “This horse has never been out of Southern California. He has never seen it rain four days in a row. He doesn’t know what 40 to 50 degree temperatures are for three or four days. I think he wants to go home.”
The Kentucky Derby field has been cut down from 20 to 19 horses after the Thursday scratch of Hoppertunity and the late scratch on Friday of Pablo Del Monte, who had taken Hoppertunity’s spot. This means a shift in post position for all of the horses toward the outside, with the inside gate being left empty. Whitley says these changes will make no difference in the race. “I don’t recall a race where post-position kept a good horse from winning.”
As far as horses who will have a chance at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, Whitley has several prospects, and here are his opinions on those horses:
No. 20 Wicked Strong: “…a tremendous New York-bred horse who believes he’s on vacation in Louisville and he’s having a great time. Expertly handled, expertly bred.
No. 6 Samraat: “…extremely game. Splitting horses, he was an extremely game second [in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct]. Samraat has every right to be there.”
No. 12 Dance With Fate: “…is handling Churchill like a professional. He’s another California boy but he seems to be taking it all in stride.
No. 18 Candy Boy: “…don’t disregard [jockey] Gary Stevens. He’s going to try to be there.”
No. 14 Medal Count: “…is the star of Churchill Downs this week. He’s very impressive in his workouts.”
“Medal Count is a part of my ticket; Samraat is a part of my ticket; Dance With Fate is a part of my ticket; certainly Wicked Strong is a part of my ticket. California Chrome is not a part of my ticket.”
If, as he predicts, California Chrome fails to be there at the finish line, Whitley says he will be sad for the sport: “The sad part of that is, there’s so much money that is going to be bet on him [Saturday]—two-dollar win bettors to very large bettors—that if he doesn’t win, it just confirms what a lot of people believe–that they can’t win at horse racing.”
The weather forecast for Louisville on Saturday looks good, despite wet conditions throughout the week. After earlier predictions that there was a good possibility of rain for the Kentucky Derby, forecasters are now calling for a mostly sunny sky and 71 degrees at post time. There is a 10 percent chance of precipitation.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky