It is finally May. In three days it will be Derby Day. In four days it will all be over. Until that day, when everything will look so simple and logical, we remain in our usual state of confusion.
The wave of workouts are over. This evening's post position draw will begin the waves of luck, nerves, and excitement that will come crashing down on Churchill Downs at 5:45 Saturday afternoon. But in between waves we are floating on calm seas, as there were no works to report on this morning.
However, to add to our confused state, at about 5:50 a.m., in the lights that illuminated the track, appeared a gray vision that sent our jaw dropping. Even in the dark, Buddha
was a sight to behold as he galloped by with such presence and authority, you knew you were looking at something special. Wearing a figure-8 and martingale, the son of Unbridled's Song had his neck arched, was down squarely into the bit, and covered the ground with smooth, machine-like strides. It was as if he had been training here for months. Simply put, he was a dominant figure out there. So, now we have another horse to throw into the mix. Don't be surprised to see this horse take a lot of money in the betting, especially with Pat Day aboard. On Friday, we have the task of sifting through all the works, gallops, and observations, as well as the past performances, and make some sense of this year's Derby.
On top of that, we hear the confidence Gary Stevens has in Johannesburg
, and we start wondering, is it possible that last year's champ will come back here and revolutionize the way we look at the Kentucky Derby? "In my opinion, Aidan O'Brien has revolutionized racing all over the world," Stevens said. "I've known Michael Tabor and Demi O'Byrne for years, and they're no fools. I know they're not going to put a horse on plane for entertainment sake. That seven-furlong race was designed to tire him out, and he came back really blowing. One race can be worth six workouts if it's the right kind of race. I have a lot of confidence in Aidan, and he's expecting big improvement from this colt. As for his pedigree, give me class over distance pedigree anytime."
Getting away from the physical aspect of the horses for a while, for those who follow the speed figures, we'll share some patterns compiled by Thoro-Graph, and mention some of the more interesting pedigree aspects of the race.
There is no doubt the Wood Memorial was the strongest of the final preps. Buddha, who ran a "0+3/4" in his allowance race, regressed to a "3 ½" in the Wood. If he should take even a small step forward off that, he'll be right there. Runner-up Medaglia d'Oro has progressed from a "7" to a "2 ½" to another "2 ½" in the Wood. All he needs is to run a similar number. Remember, however, both colts have raced only four times in their career, so we don't know how much the Wood battle is going to affect them. Saarland's two races this year have been a pair of "3 ¼'s." There are several reasons to suggest he can better that number, which also makes him a top contender.
The horse we feel is on the most interesting pattern is Perfect Drift. After running a "3" in the Battaglia, he won the Lane's End Spiral Stakes with a monster "0+1/2". If that had been in one of the April 13 preps, the speed gurus no doubt would toss him. He needed time to bounce back from that effort, and with six weeks off, he could be ready to throw in another super effort.
Another interesting horse is Essence of Dubai. Speed figures were able to be calculated on the Dubai World Cup card, and the son of Pulpit was given a "4 ½." There is no reason why he can't continue to move forward following a six-week layoff, which he likely would need coming off a mile and a quarter race.
Just a note, the two biggest back-to-back efforts were War Emblem's last two starts, in which he received a "1" both times. These are the supposedly "live" horses based on the speed figures.
So, which horses will really love the mile and a quarter? We all know of the question marks surrounding Came Home, Johannesburg, and several other leading contenders, but there are some who we know will run all day. The true distance horses in the Derby are Perfect Drift, Saarland, Easy Grades, and Windward Passage. Of course, two horses, Essence of Dubai and Castle Gandolfo have already run big races at a mile and a quarter overseas. Castle Gandolfo is by Gone West, not known as a distance sire (although he did sire Belmont winner Commendable), but his female family is awesome, with Northern Dancer as his broodmare sire and Buckpasser his great-grandsire.
Perfect Drift is by the stamina influence Dynaformer, who is by English Derby winner Roberto out of the His Majesty mare Andover Way. This is vintage Darby Dan Farm breeding, and you won't find better distance pedigrees than in Darby Dan-bred sires and dams. Perfect Drift's broodmare sire, Naskra, was a hard-knocking sire who produced hios share of distance horses. The maternal great-grandsire, Vigors, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, is another associated with stamina.
Easy Grades has stamina top and bottom, and is inbred to Buckpasser, which moves him way up. There is no stallion we'd rather inbreed to than Buckpasser. He's also inbred to Northern Dancer and Native Dancer. His sire, Honor Grades, is a half-brother to A.P. Indy and Summer Squall.
Saarland, as we all know by now, is vintage blueblood, being by Unbridled out of the classy Versailles Treaty. This is another horse inbred to Buckpasser top and bottom. Windward Passage is by Captain Bodgit out of a Miswaki mare, and is inbred to Northern Dancer and Native Dancer.
Due to a lengthy booksigning tomorrow, if there is anything to report on the day's activities, it will be later in the afternoon. Otherwise, we'll be back on Friday to analyze everything we've seen in the past two weeks, narrow down our picks and attempt to figure out how to bet them, and look for a couple of live longshots who have been training impressively to throw into the exotics.
Although most agree this Derby is agonizingly wide-open, D. Wayne Lukas, Neil Drysdale, Bobby Frankel, and Bob Baffert disagree. All said that there are only about a dozen horses who can win. Of course, they were very vague as to who those were.