The Close Of The Kentucky Derby Prep Season

It’s the final weekend of the Kentucky Derby Prep races, as two weeks from Saturday is The Run For The Roses itself. The Jerome Stakes at New York’s Aqueduct (5 PM ET) and the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in Kentucky (5:10 PM ET) aren’t the biggest races, at $200,000 apiece, but they bring us to the conclusion of the prep part of the Triple Crown season. TheSportsNotebook breaks down both races…

Jerome Stakes: This one’s a seven-horse field and the two clear favorites are Stirred Up (2-1) and The Lumber Guy (5-2). Stirred Up is trained by West Coast legend Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia, who teamed up with Baffert to win the 2010 Preakness Stakes aboard Lookin’ At Lucky. With Stirred Up, they came in third at the Sunland Stakes, a Derby Prep in March. Three previous races at Santa Anita produced a first, second and third. Now Baffert is sending Stirred Up east. The Lumber Guy has run at New York, finishing fifth in the Wood Memorial here in February after winning a stakes race here last fall. In both cases, there’s nothing wrong with the favorites, but neither looks overwhelming.

The top two challengers are Brigand (4-1) and Right To Vote (5-1). The former is also a Baffert horse and raised hopes with a second-place finish at a Juvenile Championship race last summer at Hollywood, but has done nothing significant since. Right To Vote finished third at a stakes race at New York’s Belmont Park and run first or second in his other races since. Saturday is a breakout opportunity for him. If you want an even bigger longshot, try Dan and Sheila. This horse, trained by Todd Pletcher, has been a disappointment in two previous Derby Prep races. Regular jockey John Velazquez will be passing on the mount and giving it over to Rosie Napravnik. The price is 12-1 and Dan and Sheila is the equivalent of that underachieving #11 seed in the NCAA Tournament that has the talent to go on a big run at a moment’s notice.

Lexington Stakes: The action from Keeneland will be more competitive, with thirteen horse s in the field. The three favorites would be Castaway (3-1), Summer Front (9-2) and News Pending (5-1). Baffert’s fingerprints are all over Saturday’s card, as he trains Castaway, a horse who won the Southwest Stakes at Arkansas already this prep season, but flamed out at the Sunland. Oddsmakers clearly believe that Southwest was the “real” Castaway in giving him the favorite’s role. Summer Front is running for the first time in 2012, after closing ’11 with stakes wins in New York and Florida. News Pending is traveling north, having run seventh in the Florida Derby, but a strong second in that Fountain of Youth stakes. It’s worth pointing out that the caliber of this field is more on a par with the Fountain of Youth than with the prestigious Florida Derby, perhaps the top race of the prep season.

Any of these three horses make credible choices, but for those who like to bet and go for a price, there’s three horses priced at 6-1 who all have the makings of one who can make a run at it. Golden Ticket ran second in the Tampa Derby and had finished first or second in his three races prior. Not to mention having a name taken straight from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. This fact alone makes me feel almost duty-bound to bet him.

Holiday Promise is a Pletcher-trained product and ran second at the Spiral Stakes here in Kentucky, and of the five races leading up, won two, finished second two more times along with a fourth. And Morgan’s Guerilla was the runner-up in the 17-horse Illinois Derby a couple weeks ago and has been first or second in his off-Broadway races.

When you put Golden Ticket, Holiday Promise and Morgan’s Guerilla into a package, the winner probably comes out of there. It’d be worth betting two of the horses and the odds give you enough room to make a profit so long as one of them wins.