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Barring some illness or hiccup, Fierceness will be the post-time favorite for historic Kentucky Derby 150. Sierra Leone should be the second choice and I suspect Catching Freedom, Just a Touch, Forever Young (JPN), Stronghold,  Honor Marie, Dornoch, Track Phantom,  Resilience, Mystic Dan, and Just Steel will make up the second tier.

Fierceness has numbers and metrics that tower above the rest of this field. But he is a hot and cold horse. He has raced five times in his career. Every other race (his first, third and fifth), he threw up huge Beyer numbers and won for fun. In the other two races he looked like a horse who could not get out of his own way. A good gate break is critical for this horse to win. In his two less than stellar races, he either lunged at the start or got hammered coming out of the gate. 
The Kentucky Derby is the only race in America with twenty horses. Getting a clean gate break and trip is nearly impossible. Being on or near the lead is advantageous simply because the traffic issues are minimized. AND, fortunately he is a front runner/stalker. If Fierceness draws a decent post position and does not lunge, rear, or get pinballed coming out of the gate, he is your winner. There are a lot of “ifs” there. 
Fierceness is a homebred for Mike Repole. Repole has made a zillion dollars founding companies such as Vitamin Water and selling them to the likes of Coca-Cola.  Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. He has been wildly successful in the horse business as well, but the crowning jewel….the Kentucky Derby…has eluded him. 
Fierceness won his debut at Saratoga by more than eleven lengths. Let that sink in. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in only his third career start by six (freaking) lengths. Nothing short of amazing. There is no question about his talent. But, he needs the race to unfold his way. 
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is known for his attention to detail and, thus, his success. Fierceness could very well give Pletcher a third Derby victory come the first Saturday in May. 
Sierra Leone is thought to be the most formidable opponent for Fierceness. The 2.3 million dollar colt is regally bred and is owned by the true “blue bloods” of horse racing. Bred to run all day, Sierra Leone  seems to relish each stretch out in distance. He is a big, stout, imposing physical presence. But, he is a closer. He will be looking at the entire field in front of him when they hit the top of the stretch and turn for home. His only setback will be navigating traffic with nineteen horses spread out all over the track. The Chad Brown trainee has three wins and a second by a nose to Dornoch in four career starts. Brown is looking for his first Kentucky Derby victory. 
The aforementioned Dornuch is a full brother to Mage, the 2023 Kentucky Derby winner. He has six career starts on his resume with three consecutive wins prior to his fourth place finish in the Grade 1 Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland on April 6th. I would not sleep on this horse. He likes fast or wet tracks.  He broke a step slow and got boxed in behind the rail horse in the Bluegrass. With a better trip and a surface more to his liking, he could get a piece of the action. 
So much for the handicapping. Here are a few interesting tidbits for your Derby party conversations:
D. Wayne Lukas, 88-year-old Hall of Fame trainer of contender Just Steel, has won this race four times. He had a starter in the prestigious race every year from 1981 until 2000 with a record 50 career Kentucky Derby starts. 
Just Steel’s jockey will be 25-year-old Keith Asmussen, son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. This is his first Kentucky Derby mount. His father sends out Track Phantom in the historic race under Hall of Fame jockey Joel Rosario. 
Trainer Larry Demeritte sends out his first Kentucky Derby contender in West Saratoga. The Bahamian trainer has battled cancer since the mid-1990s and has been training in the U.S. since the 1970s. He is a fan favorite for those who root for the little guy. 
Stronghold, trained by Phil D’Amato is the lone west coast contender in historic Kentucky Derby 150. The absence of trainer Bob Baffert for the third consecutive year due to a ban by Churchill Downs has changed the canvas of the race to some extent. The last ditch effort to stay the ban order was rejected by the appellate court on Thursday. No Baffert. No Zedan (owner). No Muth (horse). Muth would certainly have been one of the top three favorites along with Fierceness and Sierra Leone. 
Finally, just a note about the renovations, changes, and price tag for historic Kentucky Derby 150. The new paddock area is simply out of this world. I cannot say enough good things about the grandiosity and splendor. However, with all that glitz, there is logically a hefty price tag. A ticket to sit in the new posh lounge adjacent to the SI Paddock is $7,500-12,000. And, it gets worse as you climb the staircase of grandeur. Even a ticket to the infield this year is $130. I have never been to the infield on Derby Day, but I do not think some of the people who attended in years gone by can or will pay that price. It is a shame. Corporations dominate Derby weekend. Louisvillians have been relegated to Thurby…or even Tuesday or Wednesday.
Wishing each of you a winning ticket and a tasty Mint Julep! Go Baby Go! 

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