The First Saturday in May. The Run for the Roses. Whatever you want to call it, the Kentucky Derby is one of the greatest traditions in sports.
Each year, the Derby signifies the beginning of horse racing’s Triple Crown. This elusive prize hasn’t been claimed since Affirmed did it in 1978. At the current rate the sport is going, it may never be done again.
The Triple Crown is the true test of a champion horse. It’s also the most grueling stretch of racing these young horses will face throughout their entire career. It’s three long races in a span of five weeks. Most elite horses on a regular schedule will race maybe once in a five week span.
The journey starts with the Derby at a mile and a quarter. Two weeks after that is the Preakness, run at Pimilco in Baltimore. That race is a tad bit shorter than the Derby at a mile and three-sixteenths. The final leg is the most grueling, as if the whole journey hasn’t been grueling enough. The Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York is set at a mile and a half, three weeks after the Preakness. All you have to do is win those three races, and you’ll go down in horse racing and sports history. Sounds easy, right?
Ha, well, it’s not. Not in the least bit.
Case in point: Big Brown, Barbaro, Silver Charm…just to name a few.
The winner of the Kentucky Derby becomes the focus of the national spotlight until the Preakness. Because of the fact that the sport isn’t what it used to be, the pressure to win the Triple Crown is enormous.
It takes a lot of things to win the Derby. I think luck might be the biggest factor. It’s unlike any other race in horse racing.
It’s a full field of 20, yes I said 20 horses. They even have to hook up an auxiliary starting gate to the main starting gate to fit all the horses in.
The mile and a quarter distance gives the horses plenty of room and time to maneuver, but still, if a horse hits the top of the stretch and the jockey hasn’t put it in a good position, they’re screwed.
I’ll actually be at Churchill Downs on Saturday for the big race, though I probably won’t see a damn thing. I’ll be in the infield, which I hear is a great time, but I’d still like to see part of the race.
Let’s take a look at some of the top contenders.
Lookin at Lucky, 3-1
Lookin at Lucky got really unlucky at Wednesday’s post position draw as he was assigned the #1 position. Starting on the rail usually isn’t a terrible thing for a long race with a field of 9 or 10. But in a field of 20, Garrett Gomez will have one and only one option: Go to the front and try to stay there.
Lucky’s running style does not lend itself well to his post position. He’s more of a stalker, a horse that likes to sit four or five lengths off the leader, then make his move in the last part of the race. If Gomez tries to take him back, he’ll be swallowed up by the rest of the field, and would likely be trapped on the rail for the whole race.
It’s not impossible to win from the 1-hole, as 18 horses have done it before, but not all of those came with full fields.
Sidney’s Candy, 5-1
Sidney’s Candy may have gotten just as unlucky as Lookin at Lucky drawing post #20, way on the outside. The good news for him and Joe Talamo is that Big Brown won from the very same post just two years ago. The question is, how good is Sidney’s Candy compared to Big Brown?
He comes off a three race win streak, two Grade 2’s and a Grade 1, the Grade 1 being the prestigious Santa Anita Derby.
To his credit, his running style may be perfect for this race. He’s a speed horse, and will be guaranteed to be clear at least to the outside. Plus, Talamo will have 2.5-to-3 furlongs to put his horse in a good position for the first turn. If he doesn’t fire out of the gate and gets caught wide, though, he’ll be eliminated almost immediately.
Awesome Act, 10-1
In a race that figures to have plenty of horses vying for the early lead, it sets up well for the stalkers and closers. Awesome Act is more a stalker than a closer, but Julien Leparoux is good enough in the irons to know just how far back he needs to keep this colt.
Don’t be discouraged by his most recent performance, a third place effort in the Wood Memorial. The winner that day, Eskendereya, drew away without even trying in that race, but will miss the Derby with a injury (which is a real shame).
From post 16, Leparoux will have to guide his horse to the rail ASAP, but he certainly can, and should be able to rather easily with the group of horses directly to his left all having the ability to try for the front.
This colt, trained by the legend D Wayne Lukas, comes off of a near-miss third place finish in the Arkansas Derby on April 10th. He sat third basically the whole race, but didn’t have enough to win. The pace was hot that day, as they went a half mile in 46 seconds and change. For a mile and an eighth race, that’s fairly quick.
Given a big field where some might duel for the lead, I can easily see a scenario in which the pace is fast up front, opening the door for Dublin to come charging late. That extra furlong at the end might give him enough room to break through.
The other think I like about Dublin is his last three races all increased in competition level, if that makes sense. Three races ago, it was a Grade 3. Two races ago it was a Grade 2, and last race was a Grade 1. He was competitive at each level, so there’s no reason to think he doesn’t at least stand a chance on Derby Day.
Jackson Bend, 15-1
Jackson Bend also comes out of the Wood Memorial, won easily by Eskendereya. He finished second that day, 9 and 3/4 lengths behind Eskendereya. In fact, in his last two races, Jackson Bend was beaten by Eskendereya, so if anyone was glad that Eskendereya scratched out, it’s the connections of Jackson Bend.
This colt likes to sit close to the lead, so Mike Smith will have to be careful not to get sucked into the speed duels up front. If the pace is fast, look for Jackson Bend to be one of the ones flying late.
He’s another colt that has increased not only his competition level as his career has progressed, but the distances of his races as well. His last two races have both been at a mile and an eighth, so he should be more than able to handle the mile and a quarter of the Derby.
The Kentucky Derby is always a special day, and I’m really looking forward to being a part of it. It is supposed to rain, but that won’t stop us from having a good time.
Speaking of rain….some horses to look out for if the track is wet….
Lookin at Lucky, Ice Box, Super Saver, Paddy O’Prado, Devil May Care (she’s the only filly in the race), and Backtalk.
Me? I’ll take Awesome Act. I think Lookin at Lucky will get boxed in, and Sidney’s Candy will get caught wide.
Enjoy the race, and good luck!