OFF TO THE RACES

Fred Faour: First look at the 20-horse field for Saturday's Kentucky Derby

Justify is your 3-1 favorite for the Derby. Santaanita.com

Saturday is Derby Day, and if you get a chance go to Sam Houston Race Park to watch the races and come by and say hello. I will be in the ESPN VIP section. There will be a lot of content here over the next couple days. I will have a Derby trends story for SportsMap on Thursday, actual picks and plays (including my trfiecta) for Friday and hopefully a video as well for Thursday. For pregame.com, I will be doing a podcast with RJ Bell on Thursday and premium plays there on Friday as well.

For now, here is a breakdown of every horse in the race (betting number/post position is next to each horse's name):

1. FIRENZE FIRE

Trainer: Jason Servis

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Record: 9 starts, 4 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds.

Odds: 50-1

He will win if...He runs the race of his life. Showed some promise as a 2-year-old but is probably better as a sprinter/miler and it would take a career-best effort to even sniff the board.

2. FREE DROP BILLY

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Robby Albarado

Record: 8-2-3-2

Odds: 30-1

He will win if...He shows massive improvement. His first start of the year was solid, but has tailed off. Like the 1 horse, he showed promise as a 2-year-old. Might be primed for a big effort but likely a midpack finisher.

3. PROMISES FULFILLED

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Corey Lanerie

Record: 5-3-0-1

Odds: 30-1

He will win if...He can wire this group. He is the speed of the race, and if you can toss his last effort he could hang around a long time. More likely he gets pressed by the likes of Justify and perhaps Flameaway and can’t handle the pressure for the full distance. But if the other speed fails to break he could last a while.

4. FLAMEAWAY

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Record: 9-5-2-0

Odds: 30-1

He will win if...He can get an easy lead and run the race of his life, no easy feat considering the horse to his inside. He is a nice runner and usually gives his all but seems a little below the top tier and likely up against it from a pace standpoint.

5. AUDIBLE

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Record: 5-4-0-1

Odds: 8-1

He will win if...He can improve just a little, and he certainly can. Dominated the Florida preps for this and is going in the right direction. One of four Pletcher horses with a real shot, although jockey John Velazquez opted for another of Pletcher’s contenders. He has a real chance here.

6. GOOD MAGIC

Trainer: Chad Brown

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Record: 5-2-2-1

Odds: 12-1

He will win if...Brown, a terrific trainer, has him ready, and he very well could. The horse won the BC Juvenile to cap off a solid 2-year-old campaign. He flopped in his 3-year-old debut, but needed that race, and bounced back with a grind-it-out win in a slow Blue Grass Stakes. Will need to be better, but Brown has been pointing to this and should have him on go. Serious contender at a nice price.

7. JUSTIFY

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Mike Smith

Record: 3-3-0-0

Odds: 3-1

He will win if...He really is as good as he has looked in his three starts. He is incredibly fast, Baffert knows how to win Derbys (four) and the horse will be able to make his own luck. Still, he did not race at 2, and by now you have heard that horses that did not race as 2-year-olds have not won the Derby since 1882. He was also beating small fields in California, and will be tested here like never before. Short price is unappealing, but he will have to be dealt with.

8. LONE SAILOR

Trainer: Tom Amoss

Jockey: James Graham

Record: 8-1-3-1

Odds: 50-1

He will win if...He improves significantly and some of the big dogs fail to fire. He is a really nice, solid horse, but has yet to run anything good enough to win this. More likely he is in the mix for a minor award.

9. HOFBURG

Trainer: Bill Mott

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Record: 3-1-1-0

Odds: 20-1

He will win if...He takes a big step forward off his solid second in the Florida Derby. That was just his third race, and he ran very well. Mott is one of the most respected trainers in the business, and would not be here if he did not think the horse had a shot. Well bred to handle the distance. A live, sneaky long shot.

10. MY BOY JACK

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux

Jockey: Kent Desormeaux

Record: 10-3-3-2

Odds: 30-1

He will win if...The race collapses and he gets the jump on the other closers. An interesting sort, he does not seem fast enough to win this, but could easily mess up the back end of the tris and superfectas. Another solid runner who might be in too deep, but would not be a shock for a minor award.

11. BOLT d’ORO

Trainer: Mick Ruis

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Record: 6-4-1-1

Odds: 8-1

He will win if...He improves off a strong second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby. He was not cranked all the way up for that one, and Justify was able to coast to an easy lead, so he was up against it from a pace standpoint, too. Has yet to run a bad race, should be in the second flight early and should be sitting on a big one. Another serious contender.

12. ENTICED

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Record: 6-3-1-1

Odds: 30-1

He will win if...He gets a clean trip, improves a little and has things fall his way. Was a troubled second in the Wood, but has a stakes win at Churchill as a 2-year-old, a nice late kick and is battle tested. A live long shot.

13. BRAVAZO

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Jockey: Luis Contreras

Record: 8-3-1-1

Odds: 50-1

He will win if...Lukas can find some old magic. This guy is a gutsy sort who won the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Lukas horses have a tendency to improve out of nowhere. He will need to do that, because he just does not seem fast enough to compete with these.

14. MENDELSSOHN

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Jockey: Ryan Moore

Record: 7-4-1-0

Odds: 5-1

He will win if...He can overcome the Dubai curse. No horse has prepped there and made much of an impact on the Derby. But this guy destroyed the UAE Derby field by almost 19 lengths, and also shipped over here to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at 2, so this is not new griound for him. He will be up close, and if he takes to Churchill and the travel was not too much, this should be the horse to end the Dubai drought.

15. INSTILLED REGARD

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke

Record: 7-2-2-1

Odds: 50-1

He will win if...He won’t. He really has not shown anything even remotely close to winning this. He should improve, but it would be a monumental upset if he had any impact at all.

16. MAGNUM MOON

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Luis Saez

Record: 4-4-0-0

Odds: 6-1

He will win if...He can overcome that 1882 bit that we mentioned with Justify. All four starts -- all wins -- have come at 3. He has looked sharp in his last two, but was able to set a slow pace in Arkansas and he won’t be able to do that here. Still, he can stalk a little as well. He drifted in the stretch of the Arkansas Derby and that kind of erratic behaviour can get you beat in Kentucky. Still, a contender.

17. SOLOMINI

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Record: 6-1-3-2

Odds: 30-1

He will win if...He can run his best race yet. Looked like one of the best 2-year-olds out there last year but has not had much luck chasing Magnum Moon at 3 and has not really improved. Will need a big move forward to turn the tables.

18. VINO ROSSO

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

Record: 5-3-0-1

Odds: 12-1

He will win if...That win in the Wood Memorial was not a fluke. He had been close in stakes company at Tampa, but exploded when he went to New York. Was it a one-off? Jockey Velazquez had his choice between this one, Noble Indy and Audible, and he chose this guy. Still like the horse that finished second behind him in the Wood a little better but hard to ignore this guy.

19. NOBLE INDY

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Record: 4-3-0-1

Odds: 30-1

He will win if.... He improves significantly. He certainly could. The fourth Pletcher horse probably beat the weakest group to get here and has been the least impressive of all of them. But it’s also possible we have not seen his best race yet.

20. COMBATANT

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Record: 7-1-3-1

Odds: 50-1

He will win if...Well, let’s face it; he probably won’t. But this is the kind of horse I love as an exacta/trifecta back end kicker. His last race was better than it looks on paper, he has a habit of clunking up for second or third and the added distance should help with that. He reminds me a lot of Lookin’ at Lee, another Asmussen runner who did the same thing by running second last year. Love the 50-1 price and will be using him in my plays.

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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