Smile Politely

Dreaming of roses

Twin SpiresWhat more can be said about the Kentucky Derby? It is the greatest two minutes in sports, the oldest continually-held sporting event in America, the biggest party this side of Mardi Gras; it holds the hopes and dreams of countless individuals, and is the Holy Grail for anyone in the horse racing industry-you win a Kentucky Derby, and you have arrived. Twenty horses will make a run for immortality this Saturday, carrying these dreams abreast a mile and a quarter of dirt flanked by roses and 150,000 screaming fans. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears for the trainers, jockeys, breeders, and owners who have put all their efforts into getting a single 3-year-old horse to this point and time. Now, with a little luck, and a little blessing from the Derby gods, they are only two minutes away from realizing the crowning achievement of their lives.

It’s hard to believe, but here we are, on the precipice of the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby. Much has happened in the past week that has impacted the complexion of the race. Two weeks ago, the favorite was the runaway victor of the Wood Memorial and Fountain of Youth Stakes, Eskendereya; but after his first work at Churchill Downs, Eskendereya came back to the barn with filling in his right foreleg and was withdrawn from consideration. This will be the second year in a row the favorite for the Kentucky Derby was scratched the week of the race; last year, I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the big show when he turned up lame. Suddenly, a two-horse race has become a one-horse race, and that one horse isn’t known for being particularly lucky. As fate would have it, irony is cruel: the colt’s name is Lookin at Lucky.

Lookin at LuckyThe post position draw revealed Lucky would continue his streak of ill fortune when the colt drew post position #1. Every other year, the Derby draw would’ve allowed trainer Bob Baffert to select his post position, but as this year’s rules for the draw reverted to the same lottery-style draw as any other race, Lucky was stuck with one of the two most hated post positions in the field. Personally, I think it’s a better post than the second-choice horse, Sidney’s Candy, who drew #20. Looking at the statistics, there may still be a silver lining on the horizon: 12 horses have won after breaking from the 1 hole, tied with post 5 as the most often-used position to bring home the roses. I’d much rather have my horse break from that position, as opposed to #20, which only two horses in the 135-year history of the race have won from thus far. Let’s face it, Big Brown was special.

Aside from Lookin at Lucky, I see the Kentucky Derby as a wide-open affair. With the injuries of both Eskendereya and Odyssues, and the paltry earnings of Caracortado and Schoolyard Dreams, there isn’t a lot in this race that makes me terribly excited. Basically, every horse outside of Lucky and Sidney are considered sort of longshots. The morning line odds has the third choice tied between Awesome Act, Devil May Care, and Ice Box, three horses which couldn’t be further alike from each other. While Awesome Act is the winner of the Gotham Stakes, and can attribute a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial to a lost shoe, his odds will likely drop come Derby day and word gets out of his effortless works over the muddy Churchill surface Tuesday morning (The chance of rain in Louisville on Saturday is up to 90% as of this writing). As for Devil May Care, the lone filly in the field won her last start in the Bonnie Miss Stakes over Amen Hallelujah and Joanie’s Catch, who are both contending in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, but doesn’t have a lot to show in her two starts prior to that. Personally, I think Devil May Care is overmatched in this Derby field, but as her conditioner is Todd Pletcher, and Steve Haskin thinks the Derby gods are winking at the filly, you never can tell. Ice Box is entering the Kentucky Derby on a seven-week layoff, training up to the big race after his last start came in an upset victory in the Grade I Florida Derby. Before this first stakes victory, Ice Box broke his maiden and then won an allowance over Pleasant Prince before finishing fifth to Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth. It’s true he may not have beaten much in the Florida Derby, but he won’t be exactly facing monsters in the Kentucky Derby, either. Ice Box’s late-closing style has got many a horseplayer’s attention, and I’d much rather back a dirt horse like this than the winner of the Blue Grass, Stately Victor. Though Stately Victor has had one start on dirt, and finished second to Winslow Homer over the slop in his maiden at Saratoga, his record hasn’t been one of consistency, and do I have to bring up the recent record of Blue Grass winners to take the Kentucky Derby?

For once, I’m rooting for a couple of longshots, but I doubt they will see these kind of prices once it gets closer to post time on Saturday. American Lion has been galloping under the radar thanks to his tepid performances in California; but the first time this son of Tiznow stepped on dirt in the Illinois Derby, the colt exploded and showed that this surface is where he belongs. As an added benefit, American Lion doesn’t have to be on the lead like he was in the Illinois Derby; as a 2-year-old, the colt showed he could rate when he won the Hollywood Prevue lying just off the pace in a stalking position. Much like I Want Revenge, who excelled once taken off synthetics and placed on dirt, American Lion has every reason to improve once kept on the natural surface. Also, don’t count out Jackson Bend just yet. The mighty little colt has won 5 of 9 races, with his last two losses coming from none other than the defected champ, Eskendereya. With the big horse out of the picture, Jackson Bend has a chance to step up and use his salty record to steal the race; though he was certainly no match for Eskendereya, Jackson Bend is a fighter and has been tested in sticky situations enough that he will not duck out of a pickle like some more unseasoned horses.

It’s been a long and bumpy road, but we’ve finally reached the threshold of dreamland. Twenty horses will enter the gates, and only one will emerge an immortal. Come favorite or come upset, the outcome is in the hands of the Derby gods now. Some people dream of walking on the moon; others of having a horse win at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Tomorrow, an equivocal dream will be realized in the run for the roses.

Post Positions, Morning-line Odds, and Notes

1. Lookin at Lucky (3-1) Has every reason to perform at the top of his game as long as he breaks well and is not boxed in early. Gomez should be on best behavior.
2. Ice Box (10-1) Late closer can kick on dirt and has been training up a storm.
3. Noble’s Promise (12-1) Seems to find trouble, and has been repeatedly beaten by Lucky. With a clean trip, could run big.
4. Super Saver (15-1) Jockey is Calvin Bo-Rail. Need I say more?
5. Line of David (30-1) Front-running Arkansas Derby winner may not be able to sustain 1 ¼-miles; colt absolutely hated the slop in workouts.
6. Stately Victor (30-1) Finished second in the slop at Saratoga in his maiden; turf form is weak, Polytrack win isn’t sign of great dirt performance to come.
7. American Lion (30-1) Excelled when placed on dirt, has finished in the money in 5 of 6 starts despite running on synthetics in all but 1 of his races.
8. Dean’s Kitten (50-1) Battle-tested contender has won 3 times in 11 starts, and has never hit the board on the dirt. Sailing in on synthetic stakes wins.
9. Make Music for Me (50-1) Has won 1 of 8 lifetime, with the victory coming over the turf. Why is this horse here? Mine That Bird had better credentials.
10. Paddy O’Prado (20-1) Wise-guy horse has never run over dirt, and won only once in six starts, and that was on the turf. I don’t get the love here.
11. Devil May Care (10-1) Filly may have excuses for two poor performances. Her three victories over dirt are honest, but not eye-catching.
12. Conveyance (12-1) Has only met defeat once, and that was runner-up in the Sunland Derby. Lone loss was his only start over 1 mile, too.
13. Jackson Bend (15-1) Hard-knocking horse is trained by Nick Zito and has the seasoned advantage. May struggle to make the distance, but will fight to the end.
14. Mission Impazible (20-1) Has never run out of the money; but he has only won his maiden and the Louisiana Derby. May show up in the money.
15. Discreetly Mine (30-1) Has run in the money 5 of 8 lifetime. Won the Risen Star, and had a bad trip in the Louisiana Derby, finishing 4th and beaten only 1 ¼ lengths. Could be a factor.
16. Awesome Act (10-1) With the defection of Eskendereya, this colt looks better and better, though he hasn’t beaten anyone outside of Yawanna Twist.
17. Dublin (12-1) Can’t seem to break out of the role as a bridesmaid. Has run 3rd or 2nd in last 3 races. Late-runner needs to make his final bid sooner than later.
18. Backtalk (50-1) Son of Smarty Jones was a great 2-year-old, but has yet to be as impressive as a 3-year-old. Ran 3rd in Illinois Derby behind two decent horses.
19. Homeboykris (50-1) I’m surprised there isn’t a Facebook fan page campaigning to have this horse taken out of consideration from the Derby. Is sitting on the laurels of a 2-year-old stakes race and hasn’t run since February.
20. Sidney’s Candy (5-1) Has won 4 of 6 lifetime, but has never run on dirt. The outside trip might inhibit a breakthrough performance here.

*My top picks: 1, 7, 13


The 136th running of the Kentucky Derby will air live on NBC at 4pm ET. The undercard races will air live on HRTV, with Derby coverage on TVG airing all day (except the actual race).

Don’t forget that today, Friday, is the 136th running of the Kentucky Oaks, which will air live on Bravo at 5:00-6:00pm ET.

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