Well, it is that time again here in the Bluegrass State. No, I am not talking about March Madness, that is all over. I am talking about what the state of Kentucky is REALLY KNOWN FOR, the crown jewel of American Thoroughbred racing, the Kentucky Derby.
Also known as “the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” or “the Run for The Roses,” every First Saturday in May, a field of 20 three-year-old’s contest the grueling 1 1/4 mile distance for the first time in their young careers at the famed Churchill Downs. This has been tradition since 1875, and this year will be the 138th running of the famous race. The race itself is so exciting, but it is the week, much like Super Bowl week, and WrestleMania Week, that really makes the race.
At the 2001 Derby, I saw Pamela Anderson heavily guarded go by, and at the 2000 Derby, I was standing by the paddock, and a bunch of police officers went by me, and I stepped aside, and the person who walked into the paddock and gave me a wave was then candidate, and eventual President George W. Bush. That was as close for me “meeting” a President as I have gotten. Of course, I waved back to President Bush.
Leading up to the Derby, there are various ways to get to Louisville for horses and their connections once the horse reaches its three year old season. There are plenty of prep races to run the horse in, and depending on the horse’s experience, and his two year old season, etc, the horse’s connections may pick a path that they think may suit the horse best. I have been a fan of the sport for so long, and I have seen a lot of changes over the years.
I remember if three year olds wanted to take the “Florida route,” they would go to Hialeah and run in the Flamingo Stakes, and then go to Gulfstream and run in the Florida Derby, and then go up to Kentucky and run in the Bluegrass ala Alydar in 1978. Another route was the “New York Route” where the Wood Memorial was the final prep. The West Route ends with the Santa Anita Derby. Now, there are so many other races. The Arkansas Derby is a popular route (Smarty Jones), as is the Illinois Derby, etc.
Well, most of the prep races have been run with the exception of the Lexington Stakes, which runs this Saturday at Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, KY. I am not sure if anyone is going to come out of that with enough graded stakes earnings to get into the gate at Churchill Downs, so I will concentrate on some of the main contenders for this year’s Derby, so here we go.
He is owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Dale Romans. He is the winner of the Blue Grass Stakes which I attended, running down favorite, and 2 year old champion Hansen on a poly track surface. He has zero wins on Churchill Downs. Trainer Romans is trying to down play the horse’s losses, but I am not so convinced. He looks like a nice horse out of the stallion, Even the Score, but he had no excuse in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile which was run at Churchill where he finished fourth to Hansen who nosed out Union Rags, the heavy favorite in that race. The last horse to win both the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby was Strike the Gold (RIP) in 1991. From what I see, I think “Strikey’s” accomplishment is safe for another year.
He is owned by Zayat Stables and trained by Bob Baffert. He destroyed the field in the Arkansas Derby on poly track by 9 1/2 lengths. In his stakes debut, he finished second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe. Bodemeister is named for Baffert’s son. What may hurt this horse is his inexperience, and the “Apollo” curse. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two year old. However, if Bodemeister gets a pretty decent post, and a good trip, and can rate, he MAY be wearing the roses, so don’t count him out. He is also well bred with being sired by Empire Maker, and being out of a Storm Cat mare.
Union Rags is trained by Mike Matz who trained the wonderful Barbaro (RIP), and is owned by Chadds Ford Stable. He finished a troubling third to Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream due to traffic issues. Of course, I wonder what is going to happen with 19 other horses. However, he is a very athletic horse, and he won the Fountain of Youth. Matz will have this horse ready, and the horse ran a close second to Hansen on Churchill Downs, so I know he can handle the track.
Owned by Kendall Hansen M.D. and Sky Chai Racing, and trained by Michael Maker, Hansen finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes. He previously won the Gotham, and was second in the Holy Bull. I know the owner likes to attempt to pain the horse’s tail, but at this point, I hope he got the message that painting the tail is a no no. Anyway, Hansen is the Eclipse Award winner for Best Two Year old. With his being sired by Tapit, and from what I saw at the Blue Grass, albeit the race was on poly track, I am not sure Hansen can get the 1 1/4 mile distance.
Owned by Heinz Steinmann, and trained by Mike Harrington, Creative Cause, when he nailed Bodemeister at the wire in the San Felipe, looked like the best of the West. However, he somehow got in a stretch duel with I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby, and just got nosed out for the win. Regardless, from looking at the bunch (Bode, Cause, Another), it looks like the Western contingency is a good bunch this year. Creative Cause did not have his blinkers on in the Santa Anita Derby, and I am sure he will have them on for the first Saturday in May. Definitely a horse to look out for. I really like this horse a ton.
I’ll Have Another
This is the horse who beat out Creative Cause in said Santa Anita Derby. He is owned by J. Paul Reddam and trained by Doug O’Neill. I really liked the way this horse ran in the Santa Anita. He also won the Bob and Beverly Lewis Stakes as well. He is light on experience, and that is a bit of a concern for me. Hopefully, he can get a good trip at least. Nonetheless, I liked what I saw of him.
Take Charge Indy
Well, this horse is the winner of the Florida Derby, but he will be bet heavily because of his jockey, Calvin Borel. Just in case people don’t know, Calvin Borel won 3 of the last 5 Derbies. He won in 2007 on Street Sense, and 2009 on Mine that Bird, 2010 on Super Saver. Borel is known as Calvin Bo RAIL as he loves to get his horse right on that rail, and just ride it all the way to victory. Amazing. Borel is the top jockey at Churchill Downs, and is known as “Mr. Churchill Downs,” so this horse will be bet heavily. He is owned by Chuck and Maribeth Sandford, and Patrick Byrne is his trainer. Anyway, he did not do much this year as a three year old even though he has experience as a 2 year old. He is a pure speed horse, it appears, as he wired the Florida Derby field, including Union Rags (third). His dam, is one of my favorite racing mares, Take Charge Lady. However, I am not sure, even though I like him for obvious reasons, I would take him seriously as a Derby contender at this point.
The undefeated Gemologist, who is sired by two time Breeder’s Cup Classic winner, Tiznow is the winner of the Woo Memorial last time out. Gemologist is trained by Todd Pletcher, and is owned by Winstar Farm. Besides the Wood Memorial, he won an allowance race this year. As a two year old, he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He has run five times, and won all five. From looking at his races, I am not all that sold on him.
I hope you enjoyed this.
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/missedgehead