A very contentious field for this one, much stronger than last year's running. Since I tend to be best at identifying horses who have a chance to win than predicting an order, I split the group into 4 groups with an eye towards writing a Pick 4 ticket: A horses, B horses, C horses and X horses. A horses are all legitimate win contenders, and I would not be surprised by any of them winning You expect your A horses to win at least 2/3 of the time. B horses are good horses who on their best day also have a possibility of winning, maybe another 25% of the time. C horses are hard to like, but if everything goes their way (like Giacomo in the 2005 Derby) can hit the front at the wire. X horses are ones you couldn't see winning on a motorcycle with a head start. *** My A horses, in order of preference: 1. Regal Ransom. This son of Distorted Humor is training terrific and has put on weight since arriving from Dubai. He's likely to be on the lead, if not at the outset, at least at the quarter pole when they turn for home. Some have questioned his distance pedigree, but he has one of the best Tomlinson distance ratings in the field and is a gutsy performer. In his UAE Derby win, he wouldn't let stablemate Desert Party pass even on the gallop out. His Thorograph number for that race matched his best two year old number, a sign of a potential explosive improvement in his next race. (Neither he or Desert Party have official Beyers for this years races, but ESPN analyst Randy Moss did them by hand for the UAE Derby and figured them as 105 for RR, 104 for DP, which would be competitive with this group.) In addition, he gets Lasix back. I think he gets the first crack at the lead and gets the distance at a huge price. 2. I Want Revenge: Since switching from California synthetic tracks to dirt in New York, this Stephen Got Even colt has really woken up. Some think this makes Pioneerof the Nile, who beat him in California, more attractive, but what replays show is that I Want Revenge's stride has noticeably lengthened on real dirt courses, and his leg action is not as choppy. More importantly, he is the only member of this field to record a Beyer speed figure (113 in the Gotham) over the 109 par for the Derby. I can't fault anyone who likes this guy and I'll be backing him as well. 3. Desert Party. The other, more heralded of the Dubai contingent, Desert Party has also looked phenomenal in the mornings, until he had an awkward gallop earlier this morning (Thursday) where he switched leads at the wrong time and looked distracted. He's a very professional son of Street Cry, however, and I think he'll get a more aggressive ride from Ramon Dominguez than Frankie Dettori gave in his last. But for this morning, he'd be my number 2 horse. Also regains the use of Lasix. 4. Friesan Fire. This A.P. Indy colt is coming off a 7 week layoff and has never been past a mile and a 16th, but retiring trainer Larry Jones has hit the exacta the last two years with his unusual training methods, and I'm not going to question him. This horse moves up on a wet track. 5. Dunkirk. The most expensive colt in the field at $3.7 million, he's royally bred, but at the same time, Unbridled Song colts are better at the middle distances. Has only 3 starts, all as a three year old, but his middle move in the Florida Derby in the teeth of speed and inside biases show there's tons of talent here. Reportedly came to Churchill Downs looking a little worn out and on the small side, but can't side against. 6. Hold Me Back. This one's a late addition to my A grouping. This Giant's Causeway colt wants to run all day. He's had his success on synthetics, but his Remsen effort on dirt looks better on Thorograph numbers, where he apparently ran as good a number as his best polytrack try that year. B horses: 1. Pioneerof the Nile. Has been training like he likes Churchill, and loves to win, but I have concerns over this two time Grade 1 winner. First off, he was rank early in the Santa Anita Derby, and how's he going to deal with this mayhem if he can't be professional at SA? Second, his preferred style is coming off the pace, and he's going to be experiencing kickback, possibly mud even, for the first time Saturday. He may like Churchill's sandy track in the morning, but that doesn't mean he'll like it under racing conditions. Finally, his Beyers are far too low for this group. Too much to like him on top, but not enough to toss. 2. Chocolate Candy. Everything about kickback applies to this guy as well, but he's more professional, so it evens out. Also training very well at CD, also very light on the Beyers. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has a positive ROI at Churchill. I would use him underneath in vertical wagers. 3. General Quarters. Toughest horse in the field to figure out. Some days he looks great, others he looks like a bounce candidate. Has won on both synthetic and dirt, and his dirt win was one of the better Beyers in the field. Did not have a good work at CD last week, but came out of it like an improving horse the last few days, regressed again this morning. I'm gonna say "bounce" this time. 4. Papa Clem. Another who's being trained unconventionally, looked miserable in a 7 panel drill last time, looked better in a blowout this morning. Arkansas Derby winner showed a new dimension coming off the pace, but that's believed to be his true running style and only sets the pace when he has to. This Smart Strike colt has stamina, not sure if he regresses off an all out drive to beat a horse who suffered a career ending injury in last. C Horses: 1. Mr. Hot Stuff. Gains John Velazquez and is training well, but still green, will like better in Saratoga in August. Could get a slice of the verticals. 2. West Side Bernie. Has not trained well at CD, got inhaled by Desert Party on their gallop out on Saturday. His Beyers suggest a bounce this time, and even pairing them wouldn't help his cause in this group. 3. Musket Man. Sprint pedigree, not training well, think he's not going to improve significantly enough here. 4. Summer Bird. Will be coming late, but with his entire body of work coming in the last 8 weeks or so, I suspect it's too much in too little time for this guy. Still might use at the tail end of a super ticket. X horses. 1. Advice. Might have had a good workout this week, but still don't see this guy improving 15 points on the Beyer scale, which is going to be what it will take for him to win this one. Too slow and here so that WinStar can sell more horses. 2. Atomic Rain. With less traffic, this one might have beaten entrymate West Side Bernie in the Wood, but still nowhere compared to I Want Revenge. More likely to regress than hit the board. 3. Flying Private. His first win was his last one, and it occurred during the Bush administration. Let's just say Post 20 doesn't win 2 years in a row. 4. Nowhere to Hide. ... from the fact that this guy doesn't belong. The last horse into the field, and you have to wonder what Zito could possibly do in 72 hours to get this one ready for a classic. 5. Join In The Dance. This one's actually a useful horse in another spot, but I suspect his job under Chris DeCarlo will be to set a hot pace, keep Regal Ransom honest, and let Dunkirk do his thing. When he inevitably fades, he may end up being the 20th horse to cross the line. 6. Mine That Bird. The canary in the coalmine, his job is basically to be dead in this field. The lowest best Beyer of the North American based horses in this field, he hasn't even attempted a graded stakes this year, so why not throw him in the deep end of the toughest dirt race in the world? Mark my words... this horse will never win another race after this one's over.