The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2nd is a little over three weeks away. Many of the major Derby prep races have been run as of this writing. As most racing fans know, each race had a certain amount of Derby-qualifying points attached to it. The more important the prep race, the larger amount of points. The last major prep race, this Saturday’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR, gives 100 points to the victor, 40 to the place horse, 20 to the show finisher, and 10 to the fourth place horse.
In speaking of the Arkansas Derby, I will be discussing the race, and my thoughts on my top choices for the Kentucky Derby at this point. By the time the race gets here, my mind will likely have changed several times. I also will be discussing my views on things that are going on in the sport of Thoroughbred Racing. I hope my readers will enjoy the blog.
THE ARKANSAS DERBY:
The huge favorite for the Arkansas Derby, as well as as huge favorite for the Run for the Roses, is 2014 2YO Male Eclipse Award winner American Pharao. American Pharoah made his 3YO debut in the Grade II Rebel Stakes back in February of 2015. He was coming off a foot injury which caused him to scratch from the 2014 Breeders Cup Juvenile back in November. In the Rebel Stakes, on a muddy track, American Pharoah just destroyed the field, leading gate to wire. Some of the criticism that American Pharoah received was that he didn’t face a tough field, and it was “too easy.” I don’t know what the keyboard warriors expected.
Now, we will see what will happen in the Arkansas Derby. American Pharoah faces seven others ( http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/91157/arkansas-derby-next-step-for-american-pharoah). He is in post six. It will be interesting to see if someone goes out with American Pharoah to try to test him. After all, American Pharoah gets on that lead uncontested, and he is as good as gone. He really hasn’t been tested like he will be in the Kentucky Derby.
From looking at the field, I’m suspecting that Mr.Z is going to be on the lead, as he has early speed. It will be interesting to see if American Pharoah can try to rate (ration out or reserve his speed) off the pace. Both horses are owned by Zayat Stables, but as Mr. Z is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, I’m sure that Lukas will want to have a horse in the Derby. The rest of the field doesn’t impress me all that much, with the exception of Far Right. Far Right won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. He is definitely a threat to pull the upset. TheTruthOrElse added blinkers, and is a closer, so he might be a possibility for an exact or a trifecta. Other than that, I am going with American Pharoah for the win.
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP FIVE:
Now, I will move on to the top five horses who I like for the Kentucky Derby. As the race gets closer, I will do a weekly blog, expanding it to the Top Ten. For space purposes, I will be giving you a Top Five. My mind will change, so don’t hold me to this.
5. International Star.
Winner of the Louisiana Derby has the most points. I loved his gutsy performances. It will be interesting to see what will happen in a 20 horse field. Can he repeat it?
This horse’s performance in the USE Derby in Dubai knocked me out. He had an amazing turn of foot. He got out of a little bit of trouble, and blew by that field. He also ran 1 3/16th miles in that race. He should not have a problem with the Derby distance.
3. Carpe Diem
I attended the Bluegrass Stakes, and was very impressed with Carpe Diem. Trainer Todd Pletcher has done a great job with this 3YO. I think he’s one to watch in the Derby. He is unbeaten as well.
2. American Pharoah
So far, American Pharaoh has not done anything wrong. He’s undefeated. We will see after the Arkansas Derby if he remains so. I do wonder, with Dortmund and Carpe Diem also wanting the lead, if American Pharoah can withstand that kind of pressure in the Derby.
Dortmund is undefeated in six starts. I have seen this horse win in all kinds of ways. He won races with Firing Line breathing down his neck. Dortmund has won when challenged in the stretch, and had to pull away. In the Santa Anita Derby, people wondered whether Dortmund could win from that #1 hole. That was no problem for Dortmund, as he just obliterated the field. That’s what I like to see in a Derby horse. For the keyboard warriors saying Dortmund is “too big” to win the Kentucky Derby, I really don’t think so.
OTHER RACING ISSUES:
BEHOLDER RETURNS TO RACING
Two time Eclipse Award winning Mare Beholder finally returns to the races this Friday, April 10, 2015. Right before the Breeders’ Cup races, Beholder was scratched due to an illness that caused a fever, and a very severe lung infection. She returned to training earlier this year , and after a few audibles, her trainer Richard Mandella supplemented her into the Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita Racetrack on Friday.
As a huge fan of Beholder’s, I am very excited. I can’t wait to see her on TV. I hope she wins, of course, but I do realize that she’s coming off a huge layoff. I hope she and jockey Gary Stevens have a great, but safe trip. I will be waiting to see her, as well as many other of my current favorite horses, in person at the Breeders’ Cup, when Keeneland hosts the event on Halloween weekend. That will be awesome.
LEAVE THE TRIPLE CROWN FORMAT ALONE
Now that we are heading for another Triple Crown season, the worn out ideas of trying to change the current format of the Crown keep popping up. To refresh your memories, the current format is the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby runs on the first Saturday in May, then two weeks later, the 1 3/16 mile Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, MD is run. Three weeks later, the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes is run at Belmont Park in Ozone Park, NY. This format has been in place since 1948 when Citation won it. There was a 25 year drought before Secretariat won it. Now, that there’s a 37 year drought, people want to change the format.
I feel that winning Thoroughbred Racing’s Triple Crown for 3YOs is one of the hardest accomplishments in all of sports. It requires a 3YO horse, within a five week span, to win three different races on three different surfaces, and travel three different distances. The same horse is also asked to take on all comers as well, including horses that have skipped the Derby and/or Preakness. The horse has to overcome so much, and everything has to go right. However, I do not think that the current Triple Crown format should be changed.
I realize that the Triple Crown has not always been this format. When Gallant Fox won the 1930 Triple Crown, the Preakness was run before the Derby. The Kentucky Derby was not always 1 1/4 miles. I recognize all of that. I also understand from some of those who are calling for change, that with today’s horse, the Triple Crown might be “too hard.” Well, it’s supposed to be hard. I realize that the breed is weaker, but that’s not a reason to change the format. Today’s horse is bred for speed, not stamina.
In his post-2014 Belmont Stakes rant after California Chrome failed to make history as the 12th Triple Crown winner , besides calling the winner Tonalist’s connections “cowards,” minority owner Steve Coburn made a ridiculous suggestion. He felt that the only horses who should be running in the Triple Crown races should be just the horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby. First of all, where’s the competition in that? What does the Kentucky Derby have to overcome?
Also, there will be short fields, which will turn away serious handicappers. Handicappers don’t generally like short fields. Besides, if you look through racing history, plenty of horses who skipped the first two legs of the Crown have upset the Crown bid. A horse named Coastal upset Spectacular Bid’s attempt in 1979. Pass Catcher upset Canonero II in his bid for Triple Crown glory in the Belmont Stakes in 1971. So, Tonalist is not the first horse to skip the first two legs in the Triple Crown and upset the Crown bid, and he won’t be the last.
I just think the accomplishment is so rare because it is so hard. It should not be changed to make it easier. What I mean is, there shouldn’t be a Crown winner just to have one. The Triple Crown winner should be that one great horse who has earned it, and deserved it, not because rules were changed just so racing is so desperate to have a Triple Crown winner.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. All feedback is welcome.