When you think about it, there really is no sporting event like the Kentucky Derby. I'm not talking about its history or the pageantry or the tear-jerking of “My Old Kentucky Home.”
I mean, literally, what other game changes its concept so dramatically for one singular event?
The Super Bowl is always played between two teams on a one-hundred yard field, just like every other regular season or playoff game. Last I checked, the bases in the World Series are still 90 feet apart. In the Masters, they don't suddenly play all par fives or group eight players together instead of two.
But the Derby, with its 20-horse field, dual starting gates, and chaos of young, unpredictable Thoroughbreds running farther than they've ever run before in front of a mass of humanity, almost seems an entirely different sport.
As handicappers, we wish we could examine the Derby like a mid-week eight-horse optional claimer. But we create our top ten lists months in advance. We endlessly debate this horse and that one. We grow fond of Derby runners as if they were beloved family members, not just acquaintances we kind of like based on their recent past performances. It can cloud our judgment.
So, we must use both sides of our brains in this endeavor. The left side urges us to think practically – looking for that common-sense winner that stalks, pounces and draws off. The right side, however, wants us to imagine the 50-1 longshot rocketing from last to first, flabbergasting the track announcer. Both sides are necessary when it comes to the Derby because it is the ultimate “box of chocolates” race:
Most Logical Winner: Union Rags. Despite a disappointing Florida Derby, the son of Dixie Union has lost very little support from people who know horses. It would just make sense – Street Sense you might say – for him to put in a sizzling Derby day performance after coming up short in his final prep.
The Complete Shocker: Trinniberg. There are colts in this group with less impressive resumes, lower speed figures, and fewer wins. But this guy hasn't been a mile yet, and he's stepping up to 10 furlongs. Even the mint juleps in the infield expect him to fly from the gate, get swallowed up in the torrid Derby pace, and say no can do, Parboo. And that, of course, is what makes him the Tom Durkin “there's no way in hell that can be Mine That Bird coming up the rail…” selection.
Most likely to finish third and then win the Breeders' Cup Classic: Bodemeister. Like Curlin before him in 2007, Bodemeister made his rivals in the Arkansas Derby look like they were playing water polo in the stretch. And like Curlin, Bodemeister didn't race as a juvenile. It's been since 1882 that a colt with no 2-year-old races won the Derby. Curlin, too, fell short at Churchill, but he also went on to earn the most purse money of any racehorse in North America.
Most likely to have the lead at the quarter pole: Hansen. His owner may do some goofy things, but this colt is a gamer. I don't care who runs with him or how fast they go, Hansen will let his smooth glide take him as far and as fast as it can. He was a thing of beauty in the Blue Grass, his freshly paint-stripped tail glistening in the late afternoon sun as he strode down the backstretch.
Most likely to not have the lead at the eighth pole: Hansen. Sorry, fans, but you still have your T-shirts.
Left-brain stretch duel: Gemologist-Union Rags-Creative Cause.
Right-brain stretch duel: Take Charge Indy-El Padrino-Mark Valeski.
The Wise Guy(s): The thing about wise guy horses is that sometimes, the wise guys are sort of right. Last year, Nehro was said to be a wise guy play, and he finished second. This time, Dullahan, Went The Day Well and Daddy Nose Best all seem logical choices for this unofficial honor. Just don't leave 'em out of your tris.
Most likely to War Emblem the field: Bodemeister.
Most likely to Animal Kingdom the field: Daddy Nose Best.
Most likely to Giacomo the field: Prospective.
West Coast Bias trifecta box: Bodemeister, Creative Cause, I'll Have Another.
East Coast Bias trifecta box: Alpha, Gemologist, Union Rags.
The Paternal trifecta box: El Padrino (The Godfather), Daddy Nose Best, Daddy Long Legs.
The Horses No One Will Be Talking About trifecta box: Done Talking, Liaison, Rousing Sermon.
The $2 Infield I Haven't Seen a Horse All Day trifecta box: I'll Have Another, Sabercat, Take Charge Indy (Boreeeellll!).
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