Happy Derby Day to all fans of the Sport of Kings! Today is the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in the now elusive Triple Crown (Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner in 1978; a few horses since then have won both the Derby and the Preakness, but came up short in the Belmont). Had to dig out my “Talk Derby to Me” coffee mug this morning (a souvenir I picked up a few years ago at Churchill Downs), sit down with the Daily Racing Form, and look at this year’s contenders (even though I’d much rather be wandering through the paddock at Churchill with a Mint Julep in hand). And while the floods in that area of the country seem to be keeping away, there is still a threat of rain at the track today, which can be a game changer.
So the big question isn’t who will win the Derby, but will track conditions deteriorate and which horse can make the transition best from a fast racecourse to slopping through the mud. I’ve been at the Derby for blistering sunny days, reveling in the festivities in the infield (a combination of Spring Break and Mardi Gras), but also in the stands and even back in the Paddock area. It’s quite a show, to be sure. From celebrities gazing down from the balconies overlooking the Paddock, to all the face fans wearing colorful, elegant, or even gaudy hats, it’s an experience that all should behold at some time in your life, much like the Daytona 500 or the Superbowl. So enough of me reliving my five trips to Louisville, on to the favorites for today’s Derby:
(2) Brilliant Speed: This Dynaformer (sire of Barbaro) colt, although going out with relatively long odds, might be a good transition horse to bet. He won the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland last month, and although he’s run on the turf and on Polytrack, he might have the legs to not only put up a good fight on a faster track, but also might be a good mudder. Brilliant Speed lines up in the 2-hole; not the greatest post position, but at least he’s not on the rail. His top Beyer speed rating is 93.
(15) Midnight Interlude: This is Bob Baffert’s Derby offering. Baffert has saddled three Derby winners in the past (Silver Charm in ’97, Real Quiet in ’98, and War Emblem in ’02), as well as trained 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plus Pretty. Baffert looks to have put another serious contender into the starting gate today. This colt nosed out #6 horse Comma to the Top in the Santa Anita Derby by a nose, and is son of Midnight Interlude (’00 Derby contender and later turf star). His jockey today is Victor Espinoza, who rode Baffert’s mount War Emblem to victory in ’02. Beyer rating of 95.
Lots of other possibilities in the 20-horse field (now only 19 due to Uncle Mo’s scratch yesterday):
- (7) Pants on Fire- beat (19) Nehro and (13) Mucho Macho Man out in the Louisiana Derby (GII), Beyer rating of 94.
- (6) Comma to the Top- Beyer rating of 95, second in the Santa Anita Derby to (15) Midnight Interlude.
- (3) Twice the Appeal- rode by Calvin Borel, winning jockey in three of the last four Kentucky Derbies. He’s never been off the board on a “normal” dirt track surface like Churchill. Best Beyer rating of 89.
- (17) Soldat-Won the Fountain of Youth (GII), and posted a Beyer speed rating of 103 on a sloppy track. Might be a solid pick if the track goes south due to rain.
- (19) Nehro-second place in both the Arkansas Derby (GI) and Louisiana Derby (GII). Rode by Corey Nakatani, horse racing’s equivalent to NASCAR’s Kyle Busch.
It’s always tough to “dope out” the horses in the Run for the Roses. This year is no exception. With a field as open as this, there is sure to be lots of different bets placed on this race. NBC covers the Derby itself starting at 6pm, with Post Time at 6:24pm. So saddle up your best hat, grab a mint julep (recipe) and get out your words to “My Old Kentucky Home,” sung as the horses are brought from the back side to the Paddock. The Twin Spires of Churchill Downs awaits!