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Kentucky Derby 2014 picks - California Chrome backed to shine at Churchill Downs

Tony Kelshaw 1 May 2014
California Chrome has been working well ahead of the Kentucky Derby

The 2014 Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 3 and we've picked out our best and worst bets for the annual Run for the Roses.

With over £750,000 in prize money going to the winner, plus future stallion fees to be considered, the stakes are certainly high in the first leg of America's Triple Crown, with 20 top-class colts set to go to post.

However, we've picked out a win selection, the entry with the best each-way value and a leading contender to avoid, with latest odds, as the runners seek to join an illustrious list of past winners, which includes the likes of Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Affirmed, War Admiral and Alysheba.

Selection: CALIFORNIA CHROME 5/2 bet365

We're making no apologies for playing it safe and siding with the favourite as this progressive colt is hard to fault on the form he has produced this year.

After bursting the bubble of leading winter fancy Tamarando in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita, California Chrome took another notable scalp when routing the consistent Midnight Hawk by seven and a half lengths in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at that venue.

Stepping up to Grade 1 level proved no problem for the son of Lucky Pulpit when he romped to another wide-margin victory in the Santa Anita Derby, when he travelled well throughout, eased ahead at the two-furlong pole and then pulled majestically clear.

Jockey Victor Espinoza knows what it takes to win the Run for the Roses after striking on War Emblem back in 2002 and he won't hear a bad word said about his latest protege, so lump on and look forward to watching him come with another smooth run from stall five.



Each-way value: HOPPERTUNITY 10/1 bet365

Bob Baffert's charge was put in his place by California Chrome when second in the Santa Anita Derby but it has to be noted that was only his third outing and the vibes are that there is plenty more left in the tank.

The trainer can boast three past Kentucky Derby winners in Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem and is a past master at bringing his horses along at just the right speed.

Hoppertunity is bred for the job, as a half-brother to dual Grade 1 scorer Executiveprivilege, and there was a lot to like about the way he previously accounted for the hat-trick seeking Tapiture in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Although finishing over five lengths adrift of California Chrome last time, he was travelling powerfully on the turn for home when denied clear room to progress and, after being taken wide entering the straight, he galloped nicely clear of the rest despite not being given a hard race as the winner had flown.

Lay of the day: WICKED STRONG 8/1 bet365

Showed improved form when staying on strongly to land the prestigious Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, where he responded readily to pressure and powered home well ahead of the chasing pack.

However, those in behind looked very leg-weary up the home straight on the inside, suggesting they had put in too much effort too soon, and the feeling is Wicked Strong won't have the pace to match some of the other top prospects here.

William Hill report plenty of confidence from punters in both of our selections, as well as hot favourite Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks.

“Both Kentucky favourites look solid and will be tough to beat. Early signs indicate very few people want to take on Untapable in the Oaks and while there has been some money for Hoppertunity in the Derby, it’s California Chrome who most punters want to side with,” said Hills spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke.

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Kentucky Derby 2014 picks - California Chrome backed to shine at Churchill Downs

The 2014 Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 3 and we've picked out our best and worst bets for the annual Run for the Roses.

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