Tag Archives: Kentucky Derby 2012

On The Cusp Of A Crown

I’ll Have Another defeats Bodemeister in a thrilling Preakness! Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

We are on the cusp of a Triple Crown, ya’ll.

I never would have picked I’ll Have Another in February for this Herculean task, but as the races have progressed on this well-trod road, he has developed into a true, classic racehorse. One that has the tactical speed, athletic stamina and heart to prevail in the three toughest tests in all of horse racing.

The ease with which he has won the Derby and Preakness is astonishing and is a testament to the wisdom of his young jockey, Mario Gutierrez. When others would have moved prematurely, or hung too far back, “Super Mario” put his charge right where he would be at his best when the real running started. Again, going into the Triple Crown, Gutierrez was a liability, an unknown going up against the top jocks in the land. Never would have picked him in February.

The Belmont is called the Test of the Champion because it is a 1.5 mile marathon in an age of glorified sprints, at a track that laughs at the naive and rewards the clever and savvy, no matter how many fans are there to cheer for them.

Why do I think I’ll Have Another will prevail where so many other greats have failed?

Simply, he has proven to be the best of his generation. His only serious rival, Bodemeister, is skipping the Belmont after three grueling efforts. With Bode out, who in this class of 2012 is good enough to challenge?

In the Derby, none of the projected closers were able to gain on the leaders, despite a sizzling early pace, the 5th fastest in Derby history. Dullahan? Only proven on polytrack and is ineffective against even a moderate pace. Union Rags? Could be a threat, but he finds too much trouble and hasn’t yet passed a horse in deep stretch.

As lone speed in the Preakness, Bodemeister had the race his own way at every call, but he still couldn’t hold off I’ll Have Another. The next-best colt, Creative Cause, could do nothing but give chase, finishing 8 lengths behind the top two.

There is no Touch Gold, who in 1997, ran a deceptively good Preakness after a bad stumble at the start – he ran down Silver Charm in the final furlong at Belmont.

There is no Victory Gallop, who in 1998, denied Real Quiet the Triple Crown after running second to him in the Derby and Preakness, thanks to a well-timed ride by his masterful jockey.

There is no Lemon Drop Kid, who in 1999, defeated Charismatic after the Derby and Preakness winner was thoroughly softened up by the speedy Silverbulletday – he had lost the race long before he suffered his career-ending injury.

I’ll Have Another is no War Emblem, who in 2002, was an aggressive pacesetter who sulked when he didn’t have the early lead and was rendered impotent after a stumbling start.

I’ll Have Another is no Funny Cide, who in 2003, was outclassed in the Belmont by the regally-bred Empire Maker.

I’ll Have Another is no Smarty Jones, who in 2004, broke America’s heart when he ran second to Birdstone, a classy but underrated closer.

I’ll Have Another is no Big Brown, who in 2008 outran his generation in the Derby and Preakness, but didn’t have the stamina to run big at the Belmont.

There is no Curlin or Rachel Alexandra this year, no Lookin At Lucky and no Shackleford to throw wrenches in a Triple Crown bid.

All the rest of this promising three-year-old crop have shown their best, and they all have fallen short against I’ll Have Another. Is he the best of a weak crop? Only time and experience will reveal that, when these youngsters take on their elders in the summer stakes and the Breeders’ Cup.

Until then, I’ll Have Another stands alone, a mere lap around Belmont Park between him and immortality.

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Kentucky Derby 2012 – Random Pre-Race Thoughts

I feel like I know these Derby horses better than any year since probably 2007. As the posts were drawn today, I shivered with excitement. I like this feeling!

I think the draw was pretty fair. Horses who most likely wouldn’t factor got non-factor posts, ie, Daddy Long Legs – I love it when international horses come over here, but the Derby is really a different animal from any of the big stakes overseas. As Godolphin painfully learned over a decade of trying to win it, the Derby is a stubbornly American race. Horses must be prepped in the states to be competitive, to experience the unique pace, surface and riding style that is commonplace in the Derby. I hope Daddy Long Legs runs well, but I don’t see him winning.

Liaison, the “other Baffert”, drew post 20. I like Liaison, but his 2-year-old form hasn’t progressed to 3, and I am not really sure why he’s here. Of course, he could win the whole thing, as “other” horses are wont to do (Thunder Gulch, Real Quiet, Super Saver, Charismatic…). It doesn’t help that he’ll be breaking from the parking lot, though.

Bodemeister has gotten some flack for being “inexperienced” since he didn’t race at 2. He has run 4 times in 2012, more than Union Rags and Take Charge Indy, and he has run at Oaklawn Park on its biggest day, which draws huge crowds. Curlin only ran 3 times before making the Derby, and I don’t think he had to face a horse like Creative Cause in a stretch duel. Breaking from post 6, Bodemeister has a great chance of busting a 130-year old jinx.

 

Hansen has been the most entertaining horse on the Derby trail. He is a Type-A standout in color and attitude, and with a brassy, frontrunning style to match. It was a delight watching his owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, react to the post position draw when he knew Hansen wouldn’t draw the #1 (he got post 14). Sure, the blue tail idea turned into a fiasco, but the “Hansen Girls” with their own blue tails & matching peep-toe heels were a fantastic diversion. Dr. Hansen has truly enjoyed every minute of owning the horse Hansen, and I hope someday to do the same with my own race horse. It won’t be hair dye, but I can totally see a winners’ circle ritual involving Elvis-style shades & curled lips!

I am having a hard time settling on a top horse. That’s why I am so glad I can make multiple 50-cent Tris with different combinations! I have liked Union Rags since the Champagne. He is a magnificent specimen, with chiseled physique and always an alert look of intelligence. Also, his owner, Phyllis Wyeth, is a cool lady. Union Rags has been unable to show his talent in clutch situations, however – his BC Juvenile run wasn’t enough to pass the tiring Hansen, and in the Florida Derby, he lacked the kick that impressed everyone so much in the Fountain of Youth. Union Rags has started a pattern this year of grand runs followed by flops – the Derby is on his “up” slope. He will start from post 4.

Gemologist and Alpha are the two I can’t separate. Their Wood Memorial was a clash of titans, with Gemologist fighting out the win. Alpha has been plagued with minor setbacks and a sort of indecisiveness from his connections – two strikes against the son of Bernardini. Gemologist is a brilliant athlete (plus I like his name!) but he had a long layoff after his KY Jockey Club win in November. I see these two as winners, but with an edge to Gemologist.

Daddy Nose Best has been my top closer all year long. He has a grit and grind that will be valuable in the stretch at Churchill, and I definitely see him hitting the board. He has inhaled the track in the mornings, always a good sign. My other closer candidate is Daddy Nose Best’s stablemate, Sabercat. Sabercat was impressive in the Delta Jackpot last year, navigating traffic on the backstretch and closing sharply to win. He is return races haven’t been stellar, but he looks to be rounding into form for a huge effort Saturday.

 

How great would it be for longtime trainer Mike Harrington to score a Derby with Creative Cause? The big grey colt has run like so many other “almost there” closers – he runs brilliantly sometimes, but gets into trouble in others. In a 20-horse field, I don’t trust luck to keep him out of a mess.

 

Don’t let anyone fool you – with Trinniberg, Hansen, Bodemeister and Take Charge Indy all in this race, the pace will be fast.

Finally, I really hope it doesn’t rain this year!!!

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Kentucky Derby 2012: May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

The 2012 Kentucky Derby is less than a week away, and in the next few days the drama will reach a fever pitch that won’t subside until the roses are draped over the withers of the lucky (talented and deserving?) winner.

The Derby is so unlike the rest of the racing season, as discussed in this week’s Forbes, but what makes it an anomaly is the source of its magic. 99% of the students at the UA became racing fans by watching the Derby, their ultimate goal is to have a Derby horse, or somehow be involved with that race. It’s the 137 years of history and tradition, the long list of champions, both equine and human, to have their names etched on the plinth of Derby lore, that make it so alluring. It’s also about the heartbreak, as when the Grey Ghost, Native Dancer, went down to defeat in the Derby at the hooves of unknown Dark Star, or when 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird stunned everyone, including racecaller Tom Durkin, to win by 6 in the slop. There is never a dull Derby.

If anything, the Derby is like the Hunger Games of horse racing. Each year, the Horse Capital, Louisville, KY, sends for tributes from each district: Dist. 1, New York; Dist. 2, FLorida; Dist. 3, The South; Dist 4, The Midwest; Dist. 5, the Borderlands; Dist. 6, California.

There are horses who have been pointed to the Derby from birth, like those Hunger Games participants who train and volunteer to play in the Games. Union Rags, El Padrino, Creative Cause and Hansen have all been on this fast-track to Derby, and spent the last year preparing for this day.

Then there are those who find themselves on the Derby trail by sheer luck – Trinniberg, Done Talking and Prospective all are good race horses, but do they truly belong with this group?

The Gamemakers have already begun their work, throwing up obstacles to take out the tributes: Creative Cause arrived in the Capital with a thrown shoe and a cracked hoof; I’ll Have Another had electroshock therapy and hit the vet’s list; Alpha suffered cuts on his legs in the Wood Memorial that turned into an infection, and he missed the first plane to Kentucky; Went The Day Well didn’t have a workout after the Spiral until last week; Hansen got a bit of a blue tail that almost took him out of the Blue Grass.

And they’re not done yet: the coming week we’ll see more drama, possible defections, and there’s nothing more unpredictable than the weather in May in Kentucky. The race itself is a test that requires every bit of physical prowess and intelligence, from both horse and rider, to complete. There are 20 tributes gunning for each other – will the pacesetters crumble, allowing a dark horse to close to victory? Or will there be more jostling and bumping than a demolition Derby? No matter what happens, we will watch, and root for, our favorites. Even if they never race again, we will be forever fans of these Derby horses.

Which horse will survive the Horse Racing Hunger Games? I have my picks, but as it goes every year, it’s more about luck than anything else. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

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The Excitement Never Dies

Today I sit in my tiny apartment in Shreveport, Louisiana, listening to the anguished cries of my neighbors through the paper-thin walls. You see, they are all LSU fans, and as of this moment, their golden and purple team is scoreless against Alabama in the championship game. All week long, the neighbors have worn team t-shirts, a few sport new stickers or license plates on their cars, and there’s a banner hanging from the balcony above me featuring a growling LSU tiger. Local news stations have made this football game their top story for days, and online, my friends who are Louisiana natives (and a few Memphis folks, too) are abuzz with football cheers. Even though it looks like LSU is going to lose, the excitement around the team won’t wane.

In the coming weeks, horse racing will crank up its own hype machine for the biggest race in America – the Kentucky Derby. I will get out my Derby shirts, invest in a new one for this year, keep an eye out for Derby glasses at thrift shops and devour every scrap of news surrounding the first Saturday in May. It will be easy to keep track of this year, since my time is consumed with Derby news. I feel like I’m returning to the battlefield after a 2-year leave – while I was in school learning about horse racing, it was more scholarly articles, financial reports and equine anatomy than breaking news or workout reports.

But even though I was out of the loop, I was never lacking in enthusiasm. The excitement never dies for the Kentucky Derby, no matter how corporate CDN gets ($50 non-refundable ticket application fee? WTF?), or how inconsistent the 3-year-old crop is (different winners of every prep? YIKES!).

I have a feeling we will see some very good horses this year, not unlike 2007 – there is already a budding rivalry between Hansen and Union Rags, which I saw play out dramatically at the Breeders’ Cup. Sabercat is an intriguing contender, whom I also saw in-person at the Delta Jackpot. Then there’s Out Of Bounds, winner of the Sham stakes, a big, long-striding chestnut who could give the Darley powerhouse its first Derby win.

I am so excited! And it’s only January!

You can keep up with the Kentucky Derby 2012 contenders at Horse Racing Nation, and also take a look at the replays, interactive Derby trail and workout reports (all of which I help to collect and post!). And I will also comment here along the Derby trail, with stuff that won’t fit on HRN. As always, this is my own personal page, and I put on it what I want – I get no instructions from the Worldwide Headquarters.

Oaklawn opens Friday. I’m heading to Hot Springs on Saturday (weather permitting). Let’s get this Derby started 🙂

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