A Derby Only A Mudder Could Love


If the weathermen are right, the sun won’t shine bright on my old Kentucky home when they run for the roses tomorrow. With a forecast calling for thunderstorms all day, the 136th Kentucky Derby figures to be run in the slop.

"The wet track throws a monkey wrench into everything," said Ron Anderson, the agent for jockey Garrett Gomez, who rides 3-1 favorite Lookin At Lucky. "That’s going to eliminate a bunch of horses that haven’t trained very well here in the mud."

Anderson, an astute handicapper, has narrowed the 20-horse field down to four possible winners.

"I like my horse the best," he said, noting Lookin At Lucky’s bullet five-furlong breeze in 1:00 4/5 over a muddy strip on Monday. Based on their morning drills in the goo this past week, he tabs Mission Impazible, Paddy O’Prado and the filly Devil May Care as the other contenders.

An off-track is just one piece in the handicapping puzzle. Here are some others:

* Lookin At Lucky from post 1: The way trainer Bob Baffert reacted to drawing inside, you’d think they were making Lookin At Lucky break from behind the starting gate.

Maybe you can’t blame him. In both starts this year, Lucky got stuck in traffic and was tripped up by other horses. Most horses wouldn’t hit the board after the trouble he had, but he recovered both times, winning the Rebel and finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby. That experience should serve him well in tomorrow’s crowded field.

Gomez, asked about the post, said simply, "The shortest way around." The fact is, since Ferdinand (1986) was the last horse to win from post 1 in a 16-horse field, no favorite has broken from the rail, only six went off lower than 10-1, and most were 30-1 or higher. War Admiral (1937), Hill Gail (1952) and Needles (1956) all won from post 1 in fields of 16 or more; and in the 23-horse stampede in 1974, Cannonade won from post 2.

* Will there be a pace meltdown? A speed duel appears likely: 5-1 second choice Sidney’s Candy, who breaks from post 20, won his last three starts gate-to-wire. So did his stablemate, Line of David. Looking At Lucky’s stablemate, Conveyance, set the pace in all five of his starts. Super Saver, Discreetly Mine and American Lion each won stakes leading all the way.

"On paper, everyone can see there’s four or five speed horses in a race, and then there’s no speed," Gomez said. "We’ll just play it by ear."

But except for those rare times when a Spend a Buck, a Go for Gin or a War Emblem shakes loose on the lead, chances are that a few horses will knock each other out on the front end, setting things up for a horse like Mine That Bird, who rallied from dead last over a sloppy track last year.

* Can the filly do it? Devil May Care does not fit the profile of the last two fillies to win the roses, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors, both of which dominated other fillies and already had run well against colts.

But trainer Todd Pletcher’s Rags to Riches in 2007 was the first female to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years, and as he pointed out, running a filly against males worked last year when Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta beat the boys at the highest levels.

"Devil May Care is really competitive," jockey John Velazquez said. "No matter what horse you put next to her, she wants to be better, and she would gallop out better than the colts when she worked."

by Ed Fountaine
from nypost.com


Gary Stevens sounded like he was ready to return after six year’s retirement, so he could find a ride for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

The excitement was churning through the former jockey’s voice as he described how wide open the first leg of the Triple Crown will be now that clear favorite Eskendereya was forced out with a leg injury.

“If I was still riding, there would not be one horse in this Kentucky Derby field that I would turn down,” said Stevens, who won the last of his three Derbys aboard Silver Charm in 1997 and is now an analyst for NBC.

“Usually there are horses you can draw a line through and say, ‘This horse has no chance’ There are 20 horses, and all 20 have a chance to win, including the longshots. It should be one of the best Derbys we’ve seen in the past 10 years or so.”

Lookin At Lucky is the new favorite, but he is coming off a poor run and a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby and drew the difficult inside post. Sidney’s Candy, who won that race, Super Saver, filly Devil May Care are all among the horses that Stevens is considering for his pick. But last year showed that when the favorite does not run anything is possible.

A year ago two Derby favorites went down in the days before the race. Quality Road developed foot trouble a week previous and after I Want Revenge stepped in as the new top choice, he was scratched the morning of the race. That set the stage for Mine That Bird to come from dead last to win at 50-1 and become the second-longest shot in history to win the Derby.

Whichever jockey prevails at Churchill Downs on Saturday will have to adjust on the fly in this wildly unpredictable field, Stevens said.

“You have plan A, B, and C, but with these 20 horses those will likely all go out the window,” Stevens said of the 11/4-mile race.

“You have to improvise and start calling audibles like a quarterback. That race changes every sixteenth of a mile. You are trying to stay ahead of everyone else and at the same time you have to be ready for anything to happen.”

Though this race is now more likely to live up to its moniker as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” Stevens was sad to see Eskendereya scratched.

“I was asked what’s the best horse I’ve seen live recently and I said Barbaro, but I wanted to put that on hold until I saw Eskendereya in the Derby,” Stevens said. “I thought this horse could sweep the Triple Crown. Now, anybody could win this thing.”

by Justin Terravoa
from nypost.com


Today’s Hot Plays