Early KY Derby forecast: Toss The Pamplemousse and favor Pioneerof the Nile, Quality Road and Imperial Council

homeOf the 23 colts listed in this year’s second pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby future book pool, the two most likely to win at Churchill Downs on May 2 are Quality Road and Pioneerof the Nile.

Quality Road’s 4-1/4 length win in Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth on Feb. 28 earned him a 113 Beyer Speed Figure, which ties for the highest Beyer with I Want Revenge’s Gotham Stakes performance. Both of these horses sat within a length of the leader then drew off in the stretch, leading some handicappers to believe they ran the same type of race.

But I don’t agree.  

Quality Road stalked the pace in the one mile Fountain of Youth Stakes that was run in a quick 45-2/5 seconds for the half mile and 1:09-2/5 seconds for 6 furlongs. In the March 7 Gotham Stakes, I Want Revenge crawled in comparison.

The 1-1/16th mile Gotham fractions were 48-2/5 seconds for the half and 1:12-3/5 seconds for 6 furlongs. According to my pace numbers, which take track variant into consideration, Quality Road ran 10 lengths faster early than I Want Revenge.

Yes, the Fountain of Youth was run at one turn, while the Gotham Stakes was two turns, but that shouldn’t account for a 10-length pace difference.  

Of course, I Want Revenge finished faster than Quality Road, but he had an almost ideal scenario of an extremely slow early pace with no traffic to fight through. So, since I Want Revenge didn’t exert himself early, he had plenty of punch left for the stretch.

I Want Revenge, who is trained by Jeff Mullins, is obviously talented, but I can virtually guarantee you that this horse won’t experience such a soft pace again until The Belmont Stakes in June. Quality Road was much more impressive, but trainer James Jerkens needs to continue working to harness this contender’s brilliant speed or else he’ll die in the Churchill Downs stretch.

Pioneerof the Nile, trained by Bob Baffert, has never cracked 100 on the Beyer scale, but his stretch kick in the Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7 stamped him as a strong Derby contender. He’s scheduled to run against a small field in the 1-1/16th mile San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday. 

The only knock on Pioneerof the Nile is that he also went slow early in the Lewis Stakes, but he is not a front runner. Rather, this colt sat far off the pace and overcame a troubled trip.

Kentucky Derby pari-mutuel betting is open through Sunday afternoon when the pools close and odds are locked in. This is the second of three Derby pools and Churchill Downs is also offering both Derby exacta betting and Kentucky Oaks wagering this weekend.  

One of this year’s overly-hyped colts who does not look like a strong Derby horse to me is The Pamplemousse. This Julio Canani trainee won 1-1/8 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 28, but was loose on the lead and went six lengths slower than Quality Road through the first six furlongs. The Pamplemousse, who earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure, set an OK pace considering the Sham is two turns, but his finishing time showed that he is not yet Derby material. This horse will need to run much better next time to get my money on Derby Day.

Lastly, Imperial Council moved from eighth place to second in the Gotham Stakes, but didn’t gain any ground on I Want Revenge. However, trainer Shug McGaughey has this colt going in the right direction and his Gotham effort shows that Imperial Council has the ability to run well at the Triple Crown distances.

It is true that any of these colts could get injured at any time and be pulled from the Derby. So getting decent odds to cover the risk is essential.

Anything over 10-to-1 on #17 Pioneerof the Nile seems fair. While I would need 15/1 on both #13 Imperial Council and #18 Quality Road for a bet.

As for The Pamplemousse, throw him out until he shows that he can win while leading on a fast pace that is combined with a strong finishing kick.

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