Kentucky Derby picks

Bill Finley gives you his picks for this Saturday's running of the Kentucky Derby.

Updated: May 5, 2005, 10:01 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

With so many front-runners set to lineup for this year's Kentucky Derby, the pace scenario figures to be the key to the race. We know Spanish Chestnut, the rabbit for Bandini, is going to go on a suicide mission from the gate. But horses like High Limit, Bellamy Road and Going Wild, Greeley's Galaxy have plenty of early speed. Their jockeys will probably be smart enough not too get tangled up in a crazy duel with Spanish Chestnut, but they are still likely to be sitting too close to what could be the type of pace that will finish them off by the top of the stretch.

The best horse in the field among those likely to benefit from a strong pace is Afleet Alex, my selection to win the Kentucky Derby. He should be in mid-pack early under the underrated rider Jeremy Rose and ready to fly by a bunch of tired horses near the quarter-pole. Everything else about this horse is as solid as can be. He was awesome in the Arkansas Derby, has been given the proper foundation coming into this race by trainer Tim Ritchey and, having won at a mile and an eighth in the Arkansas Derby, appears able to handle the distance. It's hard to come up with any knocks on this one.

Noble Causeway is a bit of a stretch, but he, too, will benefit from a fast pace and should be picking them up and laying them down in the lane. He is beautifully bred for the classic distances and is improving with every start. The only question is whether or not he is good enough to be competitive in the Kentucky Derby at this juncture in his career.

Sun King's last start was too bad to be true. Given an odd trip around the track by Edgar Prado, he was way too far back early and never able to make up any ground. Everything about this strangely run race and his performance makes it looks like it's the kind of race you can throw out. Sun King is a much better horse than that. It's worth noting that Prado stuck with him over Noble Causeway. The knock is that he has done nothing more this year than win an allowance race and the Tampa Bay Derby over a dreadful field.

It won't come as any surprise should Bellamy Road win. He might just be so freakishly talented that he can overcome any pace problems and win anyway. His Wood Memorial victory was simply one of the most impressive efforts by a 3-year-old in years and the 120 Beyer he got for the race jumps off the page. He's going to need a very smart ride from Javier Castellano to get the job done. It's certainly not impossible.

Bandini is not a throwout. He comes from the powerful Todd Pletcher barn and is coming off a six-length win in the Blue Grass. It's just that I'm having a hard time getting excited about a horse who ran his final three furlongs in :39 3/5 in the Blue Grass. He'll be fairly close to the pace, but probably not so close that he'll get hurt by very fast early fractions.

It's sort of strange how High Fly has no one excited. He's only lost once in his life and is coming off successive wins in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. He's not out of this.

The winner will almost certainly come from one of the six horses listed above. None of the other 12 horses in the field appear to have anywhere near the ability to win it. Expect this to be a formful race dominated by the shorter priced horses.

Picks: 1. Afleet Alex 2. Noble Causeway 3. Sun King

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com

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