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Blame it on da wabbit

Andrew Beyer called it "a dismal derby," "among the worst in recent decades." And he's right, if you go by the numbers. Adjusted for the speed of the track, the running time was sub-par, the slowest since Prairie Bayou's win in 1993.

The result was certainly dismal for the pocketbooks of horseplayers like Beyer, as the exacta of 50-1 Giacomo and 71-1 Closing Argument left only hunch players, lawyers, and fans of Sting (Giacomo is named after the singer's son) in possession of winning tickets. And friends of Mike Smith, the winning jockey, who was telling anyone who would listen that his colt was sitting on a big race and to get their money down.

How'd it happen? First, as I said in my Derby Day post, a case could be made for all but three of the contenders. Second, "blame it on da wabbit." The final time may have been slow, but the inner fractions of the race (22.28, 21.8 and 22.3, respectively, for the first three quarters) were the 2nd fastest in the Derby's 131 year history. The reason was da wabbit, Spanish Chesnut, who was entered to set a fast pace to set things up for the closing kick of his stablemate, Bandini.

Spanish Chesnut forced the issue, and those in close attendance to the pace wilted under pressure. Exactly as planned, except that Bandini failed to fire. As they say on the backstretch, the "race fell apart." Of the more fancied runners, only Afleet Alex showed up for the stretch drive, and despite a game effort, he weakened in the last yards. Giacomo and Closing Argument had good trips, stayed well back from the hot pace early, and had enough left to "pick up the pieces." I just wish my crystal ball was working this well when I made my selections.

It was indeed a stunning outcome, but unlike Beyer I'm not willing to label it dismal. Joe Drape in the New York Times, who picked Giacomo to finish last, is much more charitable in his look back at the race, and gives the connections their due.

But can they pull another rabbit out of the hat in the Preakness? With a more reasonable pace scenario, the two horses on the lead at the 1/4 pole - Bellamy Road and High Fly - will be much tougher to catch at Pimlico. I'm guessing that Giacomo will be no better than 3rd or 4th choice in the betting on Preakness Day.