by Paul Hundley (@vapaul67 on Twitter)
Trainer Todd Pletcher is projected to send out 4 of the 20 horse field for Kentucky Derby 144 on May 5th, barring unforeseen circumstances. Despite winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and the 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points that came with it, Noble Indy seems to be the forgotten horse in the Pletcher barn as it regards to this year’s Kentucky Derby. With stablemates such as Derby favorites Audible and Magnum Moon, plus one of the “wiseguy” horses this year in Vino Rosso, it’s not very hard or even an insult to be considered 4th best behind the aforementioned three, it just shows how strong Pletcher’s hand is this year. Let’s examine Noble Indy on many different aspects to see if he is a legitimate contender or pretender.
Bred in Kentucky by current co-owners Winstar Farm LLC, Noble Indy is from the first crop of Take Charge Indy. Offered at the Keeneland Yearling Sale in 2016(a sale that often has many eventual Kentucky Derby Runners, this year’s projected field has 11 that sold at the 2016 Sale), failed to meet the reserve of $45,000 and was subsequently kept by Winstar. Repole Stable would eventually buy interest in the horse.
1) EIGHTH POLE FACTOR: In either of the horse’s final 2 preps before the Derby, should have been either 1st or 2nd at the 1/8th mile pole. As stated earlier, most eventual Derby winners are either 1st or 2nd at the eighth pole.
2) GAMENESS FACTOR: In both of the horse’s final 2 preps before Derby, should not have a worse finishing position than he or she was at the eighth pole. Horse’s that lose ground/position in shorter races leading up to the Derby are not usually ones wanting the 10 furlong distance.
3) RACED IN A GRADED STAKES BY MARCH 31: Late bloomers rarely win the Derby. This category seperates who has been pointed on the Derby Trail for a while from those who started late or ran into issues and are scrambling at the last minute to get in. The Derby isn’t won by dumb luck, it’s won by preperation and a little good fortune as well.
4) AT LEAST 3RD IN A 1 1/8TH MILE PREP RACE: Pretty self explanatory here, if a horse can’t finish at least 3rd gonig 9 furlongs, what would make you think they’re going to place better with another furlong added.
5) RACED AS A 2 YEAR OLD: Easily the most talked about of all the rules, everyone knows that no unraced 2 year old has won the Derby since Apollo in the late 1800’s. There have been several that have come close however. Bodemeister was probably 100 yards or so away from winning in 2012 before I’ll Have Another overcame him. Curlin finished a troubled trip 3rd in 2007 from the 2 hole in just his 4th career start. Two weeks later would win the Preakness. Big Brown had just 1 race as a 2 year old, and like Curlin, was making just his 4th career start in 2008 Derby, a race he won convincingly.
6) NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS IN LAST START BEFORE DERBY: The thinking here is, you really don’t want to be figuring things out with what might work with your horse a month or so before the probable biggest race of their career. If you’re adding or taking blinkers off, it means you’re still searching for answers.
7) NOT A GELDING: This one I don’t believe really matters this year because I don’t think there’s a gelding among the prospective Derby field. Funny Cide and Mine That Bird have won the Derby in the last 15 editions. The line of thinking here is that if a horse had the talent all along to be a Derby Contender, no one in their right mind would ever geld them.
8) HAS A GRADED STAKES WIN: If you want to win the main event, you gotta win the preliminary events first, right? While we’ve seen Mine That Bird and Giacomo win the Derby without winning a Graded Stakes beforehand(coincidentally both were 50-1 in the Derby), generally speaking horses that run in the Derby without having won a Stakes are considered filler more so than contender.
9) SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE: I saved this for last because recent years have shown that this category should be stricken from the Strikes System. The rule states that a horse should have a minimum of 6 races entering the Derby, but in the last 10 years or so over half the winners have fallen under that minimum.
Todd Pletcher’s training record would make almost anyone envious. He has won over 4,500 races and amassed over $358 million in earnings, setting records for Graded Stakes wins and Yearly earnings along the way. He has also been named Outstanding Trainer 7 times in Eclipse Awards voting. Pletcher won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming, as well as in 2010 with Super Saver. He has also won 3 Belmont Stakes, including last year with Tapwrit. Pletcher’s Derby record stands at 48 starters, 2 wins, 2 second place finishes, and 3 third place finishes. Unfortunately he has trained more horses that have finished last in the Kentucky Derby than have won.
Noble Indy is co-owned by Winstar Farm LLC. and Mike Repole’s Repole Stable. Winstar Farm has already tasted Derby success, teaming up with Pletcher in 2010 with Super Saver. They also had Drosselmeyer who didn’t make that year’s Derby because he didn’t have the Graded Stakes Earnings to get in, but did end up winning that year’s edition of the Belmont Stakes. Drosselmeyer also went on to upset the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic when it was last ran at Churchill Downs. Winstar was named Outstanding Owner in the 2010 Eclipse Awards and was named Outstanding Breeder in 2016, the same year that Creator won the Belmont Stakes for them. Aside from Noble Indy, Winstar also owns in partnership fellow Derby probables Audible and Justify. Winstar CEO Elliot Walden was a former trainer himself, ironically he trained the previously mentioned Ecton Park in the 1999 Kentucky Derby, as well as 2nd place finisher Menifee. Mike Repole and Repole Stable are best known as the owner of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 2 year old Eclipse Champion Uncle Mo, who unfortunately would miss the 2011 Derby because of illness. Also owned 2011 Jim Dandy and Travers winner Stay Thirsty. In 2016, won the Wood Memorial with Outwork, who was the first crop of horses from Uncle Mo, and would go on to run in that year’s Derby. Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty, and Outwork, as well as Noble Indy, were all trained by Uncle Mo.
On the surface Noble Indy has done very little wrong in his brief 4 race career, already winning a Grade 2 and Million Dollar race. However his Beyer numbers as well as his Thorgraph numbers are below several in here, and though his Beyers have improved every race, would need a nearly 10 point Beyer jump to put him in the conversation to win this year’s edition. Add to that the concerns with the distance limitations in his pedigree, and the fact that he’s has several strikes on my personal Derby checklist where having more than 1 strike qualifies a horse as unlikely to win(He has 4 strikes). On the positive side, does have good tactical speed and has been able to stalk and has showed grit in the lane, fighting back after being passed in the stretch. Also has a proven trainer and owner in this race as well as a jockey that has won several big races, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Despite this, and I know our founder Trackside Talk Mike is very high on Noble Indy, I cannot endorse him for the trifecta and see 4th place as his ceiling in this race. Sorry Mike. However, if you’re fond of him you will be well rewarded if you are proven correct, as Noble Indy should be between 20/1-30/1 come post time.
photos by Holly M. Smith (@kyholmarie on Twitter)