The 132nd edition of the great American horse race is upon us, with an incredible collection of talented horses set to go. As folks in the industry say, this years' is an exceptional crop.
The corollary is that this is a tough race to handicap.... there are too many good horses, most with the tendency to be near the lead:
Barbaro, undefeated front-running winner of the Florida Derby.
Brother Derek, impressive winner against all comers since a good performance in last fall's Breeders Cup Juvenile, including a sharp win in the Santa Anita Derby.
Lawyer Ron, a horse jumping out of his skin the last two months, winner of 6 straight. His last race at Oaklawn Park, suggested the reign of Arkansas Derby winners in the Triple Crown (Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex) may not be over.
Sinister Minister, runaway winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, and heir in waiting, perhaps, to front-running, Bob Baffert-trained War Emblem, the runaway winner of the 2002 Derby.
Sweetnorthernsaint, a heels-in-the-air sort who has a penchant for leaving the opposition in the dust, as he did in his quicksilver fast, 9 length Illinois Derby triumph.
All of these boys like to be on or near the lead, along with a group of less accomplished, but still very talented speedsters. As in Keyed Entry, who is my candidate to pop and stop (i.e. finish last), and Sharp Humor, who figures to last a while longer.
What does this mean? Rodeo!! Specifically, the race for position in the 1/4 mile run to the first turn could be as wild as ever.
All of this is obvious to anyone who follows the sport. The result is a real crap shoot: the winner is likely to be among the quickest horses, listed above, all who have some degree of the required stamina. But noone knows which horses will stand up to the unprecedented pressure they will face, and which ones will have a bad trip. Several will have their chances compromised by racing luck - that is the only certainty in the race.
The "wise guy" horse is Point Determined, 2nd behind Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby. He's finished strong in his last two races and figures to avoid some of the early traffic. I hate the wise guy tag, but I love the horse. I'll take him, along with his California compadre, to complete the Derby exacta. But both will need good trips in the race, and Brother Derek drew an awful post position. Brother D looks to be three or four wide in the first turn and may come under pressure early, which compromises his chances. Barbaro is the prime beneficiary of the post-position draw. He'll leave from post 8, and he's been an awesome sight in this week's workouts. Jazil should be running late, so there's a quartet to play with in the exotics.
And did I leave out Lawyer Ron? Ugh. More than any Derby in memory, this seems an impossible race to handicap.
But it should be a great spectacle. Happy Derby Day!