It's time to begin thinking seriously about who to bet on in this year's Kentucky Derby. You have to start early because there will be 20 horses breaking from the gate at Churchill Downs on May 4.
Now, we could go over all the past performances for the eligible horses for the past four months. But, if you watched all the important preps races since New Year's Day, like I did, that won't be necessary.
It's hard to believe I actually watched all the prep races, but that's what you have to do in this business. Every single race as it happened.
But I digress.
Through the preliminary events, those leading to the final four weekends of races, only two horses made any impression, Itsmyluckyday and Verrazano.
Itsmyluckyday won his first two starts, the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull Stakes, then got second to Orb in the Florida Derby.
Verrazano is perfect is four career starts, all this year, posting impressive wins in his first three, including the Tampa Bay Derby. His final prep race was the Wood Memorial when he barely held off a late charging Normandy Invasion.
That brings us to the two horses I like for the 139th Kentucky Derby.
Normandy Invasion came within less than a length of running down Verrazano in the Wood Memorial. The fact that Verrazano is a speed horse will work against him, especially in the longer Run for the Roses. Normandy Invasion, trained by Chad Brown, had some bad racing luck early this year but made a great move at Aqueduct.
"He couldn't be doing better. This is always a tough race to win," owner Rick Porter wrote on his farm's website. "We need a good post and a great trip and the best effort of Normandy Invasion's life along with some good old-fashioned racing luck."
The second 3-year-old is Blue Grass Stakes winner Java's War. Trained by Ken McPeek, Java's War made a last-to-first move to win the Blue Grass after he made his customarily poor start.
"I wasn't worried. That's his running style," McPeek noted following the neck victory. "He's not a horse that's quick out of there. He's a big, long- striding colt. If you try to force him away from there, you're just going to make it worse. Julien (Leparoux) did the right thing, and he got him there. It was thrilling."
Because of his tendency to break slowly, Java's War is easily dismissed from consideration. But I see the slow start as being beneficial in a long race with 19 other horses.
Julien Leparoux is an experienced jockey who demonstrated patience with the colt. Coming out of the gate behind most of the field will allow Leparoux to settle Java's War into a good position away from traffic problems.
"I think he'll be fine. The way he relaxes the first part, I think he'll be fine for the mile and a quarter," Leparoux said on how he thinks Java's War will handle the Kentucky Derby distance.
Leparoux should be able to put his mount anywhere he wants in the early going. The McPeek-trained colt will be able to stay out of congestion in the large field going 1 1/4 miles.
So, as of now, those are my two horses for this year's Kentucky Derby. No decision has been made on how they're going to be bet, but that will probably happen the day of the race.