As always it seems to do, the Kentucky Derby will sneak up on us this year, but nearly 40 days out, the keys to the first Saturday in May primarily remain hidden. The best we can do is fill our Kentucky Derby time capsule with ideas and information and hope it yields results when May 5 arrives.
So each week leading up to the Run for the Roses, we'll pull together facts that could be helpful in deciding this year's winner, or at least help you land on a horse to root for with all your conviction. That means news and notes, thoughts and predictions, and other odds and ends that may turn out to be fortuitous or could leave only lint in our pockets.
Let's open the Derby Capsule and see what's inside.
The Name Game
Gotta to give credit to the owner/breeders who name eventual Kentucky Derby winners. They have rarely failed us. There are some truly atrocious (or at least cheesy) racehorse names out there but they don't seem to win the Derby. Full of Skittles, Sotally Tober, Did He Biteyou or Volleyball Bag might win races but they don't get draped in roses. That being said, let's check out this year's list of contenders so you can decide for yourself.
Snapper Sinclair takes his name from a Mickey Rooney character in the 1936 film, Down the Stretch. Snapper's pop was a former jockey with a reputation for throwing races, a fact that kept Snapper from making it big, although he does anyway using a pseudonym, Fred St. Clair. In fact, Snapper wins the Kentucky Derby aboard a horse named Faithful. Hmmm. Despite his Hall of Fame success, trainer Steve Asmussen still hasn't won the Kentucky Derby. Maybe he should try using a fake name this year?
As far as I can tell, fellow Asmussen trainee, Zing Zang, is named after a bloody mary mix that's supposed to be quite tasty and can also be used to make chili. Sort of makes sense, as the Tapit colt's owner, Terry Green, opened one of the first casinos in Mississippi. Zing Zang the colt has a zesty late-running kick that reminds some people of the 2016 Belmont winner Creator. We should see him next in the Arkansas Derby. Could be a sneaky play.
Gronkowski: This one requires no explanation if you remotely follow the NFL, although it's possible you've never seen the clip of namesake Rob carrying a wide receiver on his back like a racehorse after a touchdown. More on Gronk the Horse below. There's also a horse in the Derby top 40 named All Out Blitz. Wouldn't that be an interesting matchup?
The joke's on us? Last year, we had Practical Joke by Into Mischief out of a Distorted Humor mare named Halo Humor. This year, there's a colt named Quip — could extract a lot of levels on this one. He's a Distorted Humor colt out of an Indian Charlie mare. Think about it, if you've ever read a backstretch newsletter.
I have no clue what a Blended Citizen is, but I can Dream Baby Dream. I'm certainly Enticed about the origin of Bravazo and Solomini and hey, you can never have too much Good Magic heading into the Kentucky Derby. I thought My Boy Jack should've probably gotten up against Noble Indy in the Louisiana Derby but if you watched the Sunland Derby, how could you have a more appropriate moniker than the previously unknown Runaway Ghost?
The Florida Derby features a colt named Mississippi but there's also a Coltandmississippi, not to mention a Sporting Chance, Title Ready, and Hollywood Star all on the Derby trail. I'm no Catholic Boy but I take a dim view of Dark Vader's motives and Shivermetimbers, I cast a weary eye at a Lone Sailor or a Combatant. Still, I have Instilled Regard for the performances of Bolt d'Oro and McKinzie so far.
Based on the history of the Apollo Curse, it's hard to Justify picking a horse like Magnum Moon. Then again we could have an Old Time Revival on our hands this year, couldn't we?
Okay, this is giving me a headache. I could use a Vino Rosso.
What is a Burradon and how does the Road to the Derby go through it?
In your best English accent say this: Burradon is a village in Tyne and Wear, England. It's north of Newcastle, home to a well-known racecourse and (you can drop the accent), a Kentucky Derby prep tomorrow!
This year we welcomed the addition of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, which like the Japanese Road, guarantees a starting spot in Louisville to one horse whose owners have an adventurous spirit and a willful blindness to Derby history. While Gronk the tight end may well be partying on a cruise ship in the Caribbean or picking a pretend fight with Ronda Rousey, Gronkowski the horse is favored to win the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle and grab a spot in the starting gates. Handicappers, this is good news! You know Gronk the Horse will take a ton of unwarranted money at Churchill Downs, especially from his namesake's QB and former teammate Wes Welker.
By the way, trainer Jeremy Noseda was going to ship Gronkowski to the Blue Grass Stakes until he learned his European points wouldn't be added to his Blue Grass result, so a bad run at Keeneland would knock him out of contention for the Derby. So instead of shipping to a track 75 miles from Churchill Downs to run on dirt over 1 1/8 miles, he's going to run a straight mile over a Tapeta surface 3,896 miles from Churchill. I'm not saying the connections made a bad decision, since the points system incentivized this, but it doesn't make a whole lotta sense either way.
Despite awarding 100 points to the winner, the UAE Derby has never produced a Kentucky Derby victor, although the race has turned out some pretty interesting horses and several top 10 finishers. 2015 winner Mubtaahij is still doing battle around the world and will try again Saturday in the Dubai World Cup. Crazy ole Lani was the talk of Louisville in 2016 (hitting the Belmont board, too) and Toast Of New York landed in the Breeders' Cup Classic exacta four years ago.
That being said, last year Thunder Snow made it about seventy yards before deciding it was time for a nap instead of running 1 1/4 miles in front of 160,000 people. In 2012, Daddy Long Legs gave up on the whole Run for the Roses notion, too. Point being, the UAE Derby winners are a box of chocolates.
This year, however, we have an intriguing scenario. One of the UAE favorites is Mendelssohn, who has already proven his mettle by shipping to the U.S. last year and winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. If the well-bred son of Scat Daddy (Beholder is a half-sister) proves himself over dirt Saturday, I'd say he could at least vie for the top Kentucky Derby finish out of Dubai ever.
Speaking of world travelers, the connections of Reride have shipped him from Louisiana to New Mexico to Dubai to compete for Derby points. Say what? Maybe the Candy Ride colt likes re-riding in airplanes, I don't know.
“We just thought that there was an undiscovered road to the Derby that runs Delta-Sunland-Meydan,” joked David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds.
At least it's creative and logs frequent flier miles. By the way, Reride handled Sunland Derby winner Runaway Ghost with ease in the Mine That Bird Derby last out. Reride's trainer is also Steve Asmussen, no stranger to success in Dubai with Gun Runner's second last year and Curlin's win in 2008. Maybe he'll be your Derby horse?
The actual morning line favorite in Dubai is Gold Town, a Godolphin colt by Street Cry trained by Charles Appleby and ridden by William Buick. Gold Town has won his last three races by a combined 18 1/2 lengths so perhaps we'll get to know him a little better after this weekend.
History shows Saturday's Florida Derby to be a consistently positive prep for the first Saturday in May so we should pay close attention to the results.
It's probably wise to look beyond favored Audible because as handicappers, that's what we should do.
Take Storm Runner, guaranteed to offer betting value in this race. He gets a jockey switch to Tyler Gaffalione after Joel Rosario admittedly gave the Get Stormy colt a poor ride in the Fountain of Youth.
As Storm Runner's trainer Dale Romans pointed out this week, his former trainee Shackleford was nowhere in the Fountain of Youth in 2011 before losing a head to Dialed In in the Florida Derby, finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Preakness. Perhaps something to keep in mind.
Catholic Boy, runner-up in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa, clearly looms a serious threat since he comes from off the pace in a race with some umph up front. He also picks up Irad Ortiz, Jr., never a bad thing. Six horses of the nine in this race have different jockeys than they had last out. Could be opportunities for certain riders to step up and land Kentucky Derby mounts.
Of course, it's Gulfstream Park so Promises Fulfilled will look to steal away again over the frontrunner-friendly surface as he did in the Fountain of Youth and the son of Shackleford must be given respect because that was likely no fluke given his resume so far.
There should be enough speed on to set up Catholic Boy, who looks like he's sitting on a big race. But at 20-1, I'd rather take a shot with Storm Runner.
Alright, Peace or Flameaway!
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