Justify and others may thrive on wet Derby track

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

The fashion statement is decidedly skewed to raingear at Churchill Downs for the 144th Kentucky Derby. (Ron Flatter photo)

Louisville, Kentucky

Bettors who like Justify to win Saturday’s Kentucky Derby should not be worried about the weather or the sloppy track. In fact, they should be emboldened by it.

As for the believers in the polarizing figure that is UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn, that is a whole nuther matter.

Justify (3-1) is still the solid favorite in pari-mutuel betting here at Churchill Downs. He has been since the windows opened Friday morning. It mirrors the opinions of Las Vegas players who bet him down to as low as 2-1 in futures books after he made his first big splash. Literally. That was his 6½-length allowance victory March 11 on a muddy track at Santa Anita.

But once weather forecasters retreated from their week-long insistence that it would be a dry Derby day, bettors here reacted by making My Boy Jack (5-1) the second choice. This is the same My Boy Jack that was 22-1 late this week in the futures pool at the Wynn Las Vegas – and 30-1 on the morning line. (Mind you, not one dime is bet on the morning line, but I digress.)


Even though his deep-closing style might seem to be anathema to success on a sloppy track, My Boy Jack delivered in a muddy, 10-horse field on Feb. 19, going from ninth to first to win the Southwest Stakes by 4½ lengths. The runner-up that day was Combatant (77-1), a long shot today breaking from post 20.

Four others in the Kentucky Derby field – pace-chasing Flameaway (45-1), mid-pack runner Enticed (55-1) and closers Firenze Fire (59-1) and Lone Sailor (24-1) – also have wins on muddy or sloppy tracks. Flameaway is 2-for-2 on wet tracks – winning a $100,000 sprint stakes in the Saratoga mud last August and then the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes in the slop at Keeneland last October. Enticed broke his maiden last September in a muddy sprint at Saratoga. Firenze Fire won the Jerome four months ago at muddy Aqueduct. Lone Sailor was an 11-length winner in a maiden sprint last September on a sloppy day at Saratoga.

Conversely, Mendelssohn’s 18-length victory came on as dry a track as anyone can imagine, and that March 31 victory in Dubai came on a course that favored speed and loose leads. The only time Mendelssohn raced on something resembling what he will face Saturday in the Derby was Sept. 16 at Doncaster, where he faded from near the front to finish seventh in a $100,000 stakes race. He wound up 33 lengths behind in that seven-furlong sprint on a turf surface that was rated soft.

With the rain expected to remain steady through the Derby at 6:52 p.m. EDT, the likelihood is that the track will stay sloppy. Or perhaps “wet-fast” in someone else’s parlance.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every day this Kentucky Derby week at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. The latest edition includes NBC Sports host Mike Tirico and Flameaway’s trainer Mark Casse. Wednesday’s pop-up edition is still available with handicappers Dave Tuley of VSiN, Vinny Magliulo of Gaughan Gaming and Patrick McQuiggan of the South Point race book in Las Vegas analyzing every horse in the Derby. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher. VSiN handicapper Dave Tuley offers his betting tips for the Kentucky Derby in Tuley’s Takes, also at VSiN.com.

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