Ask anyone, novice or seasoned expert, and he'll be hard pressed to find a year in which so many top Derby prospects have been sidelined. Unbeaten champion Vindication and Toccet, the two best juveniles from 2002, gone. Sky Mesa, an unbeaten grade I winner at two. Gone. Plus, there's a host of others who were ranked comfortably within topweight Vindication on last year's Experimental Free Handicap for 2-year-olds that won't start. Kafwain, third on last year's Experimental, was all set to give it a try in the Run for the Roses, but was scratched Tuesday.
The type of disappointment experienced by fans is similar to the type of dissatisfaction experienced by fans going into the 1966 Derby. The two big horses, Experimental leader Buckpasser and runner-up Graustark, were out, as well as the four other males who were weighted at 120 pounds or more on the Experimental -- Coursing, Fathers Image, Our Michael, and Prince Saim. Add them up and it's the top six males from the previous year.
Buckpasser's exit from the Derby picture was especially disappointing. The son of Tom Fool was 2-year-old champion male and had won Florida's key Derby prep, the Flamingo Stakes, at Hialeah in early March. He suffered a quarter crack and didn't run again until the day of the Belmont Stakes in an allowance race. He won. In fact, he won the remainder of his starts that year and was voted champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year.
Graustark's exit from the Derby picture not only was disappointing, but painful. To him. The son of Ribot suffered a career-ending injury while in the lead in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland nine days before the Derby. He held on to finish second and was off to stud.
Coursing, right behind Graustark in the Experimental, was California's unbeaten golden boy at two and was so good that Robert Hebert of The Blood-Horse
called him "possibly the finest California-bred of all time as a 2-year-old." Three of his five wins at that age came in stakes, including the Del Mar Futurity. The son of Fleet Nasrullah missed all of 1966 because of an injury and made only four later starts.
Fathers Image, a half-brother to co-champion Tosmah and a son of 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, was second to Buckpasser in the 1965 Arlington-Washington Futurity as a 2-year-old and was second in two other major stakes at that age. He didn't make his 3-year-old start until April and didn't try the Derby. He won a stakes the end of the year.
Our Michael, who won five stakes as a 2-year-old, also didn't make his 3-year-old debut until April. The son of speedball Bolero raced on Derby Day, but not at Churchill Downs, instead finishing third in a stakes at Garden State Park. He was a stakes winner later that year and in 1967.
Prince Saim, who won the second richest stakes of 1965, the Garden State Stakes, was put on the Derby trail, but not much happened. In fact, the son of Saim failed to win in 17 starts as a 3-year-old.
Kauai King, a son of Native Dancer who won only once at two, captured that year's Kentucky Derby and followed up with a Preakness score in what started out as the year of Buckpasser, Graustark, and the rest.