Kentucky Derby Trail: Lessons to be Learned From SA Derby

Before the entries are drawn for this weekend's big Kentucky Derby (gr. I) preps, and the races can be fully analyzed, this is a good time to briefly take one more look back at last weekend's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and offer a few odds and ends about the upcoming races.

On the soapbox
Castledale on the far outside, gets up to win the Santa Anita Derby with Jose Valdivia losing his whip at the eighth pole and having to push with his left hand and pull on the reins with his right hand. Imperialism on the rail, is tattooed with a rapid barrage of left-handed whips by Victor Espinoza (13 whips in less than eight seconds to be exact) and is unable to outclose the first two finishers. Does that say something about whether horses can win on their own competitive instincts as opposed to being whipped in excess? Not only can excessive whipping prove futile, but the whip can also cause more harm than good at times. Rock Hard Ten, who had never been hit with the whip, was running a straight course in the stretch until David Flores drew his whip with his right hand and hit him several times, causing the colt to shy from the whip and drift all the way to the rail. By the time Flores shifted to a left-handed whip, it was too late. Rock Hard Ten was disqualified for shutting off Imperialism, costing him a second and precious earnings needed to get into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

Last year, Espinoza, in a sickening display, hit Kafwain more than 30 times in the Louisiana Derby. Like with Imperialism, it had little or no effect on the horse's performance in the final furlong. Granted, Espinoza didn't come near hitting Imperialism that many times, but it would seem that hitting a horse six times in eight seconds would have the same effect as hitting him 13 times.

The British have restrictions curtailing the number of times a jockey can hit a horse and the manner in which he hits him. Among the examples of whip abuse are hitting a horse "rapidly without regard to their stride...with excessive frequency...with the whip arm above shoulder height...with excessive force...and not giving the horse time to respond." They also must stop whipping if the horse is not responding to it. Horses are subject to veterinary inspection after the race to determine whether they were phyically abused by the whip, and the vet's report could lead to the rider's suspension. According to the British Jockey Club, "The Stewards will not tolerate abuse of the horse, and consider its welfare and the safety of the rider to be paramount. The whip should be used for safety, correction, and encouragement only." Maybe it's about time we adopt a similar rule and show the same kind of respect for the horse that the British do.

* Other examples of whip abuse in England are hitting a horse who is "clearly winning" or "out of contention." Athough Javier Santiago did not give Wimbledon a very good ride, he at least stopped persevering on the horse once he saw he was beaten off, and just let him coast to the wire on his own, something many jockeys fail to do in similar circumstances. And how many of our jockeys would be suspended or reprimanded under the British Jockey Club rules for hitting a horse who is "clearly winning?"

Back down from the soapbox
* If you bet the mutuel field in the Derby Future Wager pool 3, you already have the Santa Anita Derby and Illinois Derby (gr. II) winners, which pretty much says what kind of crazy year this has been. Despite the 6.70-1 odds, the lowest ever for pool 3, you could wind up with a really great bet if either Swingforthefences, Consecrate or Little Matth Man win the Wood Memorial (gr. I), or Mustanfar or Breakaway win the Blue Grass (gr. I), or Purge, Shadowland, Harvard Avenue, Mr. Jester, or Tricky Taboo win the Arkansas Derby (gr. II).

* This was briefly mentioned in the last column, but if you love tough, little horses, how can you not love a horse like Castledale, who wins the Santa Anita Derby without a whip, beating a battleship of a horse by a head, then has enough spit and vinegar left in him to try to savage the outrider's pony coming back. You could see his ears up one second, then he pins them and reaches over and tries to take a chunk out of the pony's neck. The startled pony throws his head up, then looks back as if to say, "What the hell was that for?"

* Talk about an enigma of a pedigree, Illinois Derby winner Pollard's Vision is by a sprinter and predominantly sprinting sire, Carson City, but his dam is out of a Pleasant Colony mare; he's inbred 4x4 to Nijinsky II; and his third dam is by Nijinsky II, out of Filly Triple Crown winner Chris Evert. He's also inbred three times to Northern Dancer.

Speaking of Pleasant Colony, is there a more dominant class and stamina influence on an international scale in the sport today? The son of His Majesty won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (gr. I), and is responsible for the winners of the group or grade I Belmont Stakes, Breeders' Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, Japan Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, Irish Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, to name just a few.

* Here are some of the horses running this weekend who need to finish first or second to assure of getting into the Derby by earnings: Eddington, Master David, Tapit, Swingforthefences, and Little Matth Man (Wood Memorial); Mustanfar and Breakaway (Blue Grass); and Smarty Jones, Borrego, Purge, Shadowland, and Harvard Avenue (Arkansas Derby). A third-place finish could get them in under the right circumstances, but their connections would have to watch closely to see how many horses ahead of them defect.

* Richard Migliore, who already has the choice of Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Friends Lake or Illinois Derby runner-up Song of the Sword for the Derby, will be aboard the improving Mustanfar in the Blue Grass.

* With Preachinatthebar running in the Blue Grass and Consecrate in the Wood Memorial, this is Bob Baffert's big opportunity to saddle a son of Silver Charm in the Kentucky Derby, something he has been hoping to do since the horse was retired.

* In addition to Silver Charm, other stallions who may be represented by two or more Derby starters are: Kris S. (Action This Day, Rock Hard Ten, Royal Assault), Unbridled (Eddington, Mustanfar), Unbridled's Song (Value Plus, Song of the Sword), A.P. Indy (Friends Lake, Suave), Grand Slam (Master David, Limehouse, Fire Slam), Pulpit (Purge, Tapit), Matty G. (Sinister G, Little Matth Man), Wild Rush (Wimbledon, Quintons Gold Rush), Silver Deputy (Breakaway, Mr. Jester), and El Prado (Borrego, Pro Prado).

* Having already won the Illinois Derby with Pollard's Vision, and with Value Plus, Limehouse, and Purge, all with a good chance this weekend, Todd Pletcher has a chance to become the first trainer ever to saddle as many as four horses in the Derby on two occasions. He previously did it in 2000, in his first Derby appearance. D. Wayne Lukas sent out five starters in 1996 and saddled three starters five times, and James Rowe had four starters in 1923.

* Dosage does not have the same following it did in the '80s and '90s, partly due to the number of young unraced and lightly raced sires, and the absence of new chef-de-race sires to adjust to the changing times. As a result, many horses with sprint breeding have low dosage indexes, and several with strong distance influences have high DI's. We're now seeing less and less horses who fail to qualify. But, for those who still use dosage as a handicapping tool, here are the possible Derby starters who do not qualify, having a dosage index of over 4.00: Minister Eric (4.14), Mr. Jester (4.78), Purge (4.14), and Wimbledon (5.00). The Cliff's Edge is right on the edge with a DI of 4.00.