Now that this past weekend's preps have had time to sink in, is the Derby picture more or less clear than it was last week?
Although only five strong horses emerged – Congaree, Monarchos, Millennium Wind, Balto Star, and Jamaican Rum – the opinion here is that the Derby picture still is very confusing, based on the number of horses trying to buck history.
Among the points to ponder are:
--Although Point Given and Congaree look to be the strongest Derby stablemates in many years, Point Given will be trying to become the first horse since Sunny's Halo in 1983 to win the Derby with only two starts at 3, while Congaree will be attempting to become the first horse since Exterminator in 1918 to win the Derby with as a few as four lifetime starts.
--Millennium Wind was brilliant in the Blue Grass Stakes, but no wire-to-wire winner of the Blue Grass has come back to win the Derby since Riva Ridge beat a weak field at Keeneland in 1972. There have been many brilliant Blue Grass winners, such as Skip Away, Pulpit, Holy Bull, Summer Squall, Chief's Crown, and Proud Appeal, but none were able to duplicate that effort on the first Saturday in May.
--Balto Star is a horse Bob Baffert is afraid of. "That horse worries me," Baffert said. "He just keeps going." Balto Star, who was able to bounce back off a spectacular victory in the Spiral and run another monster race in the Arkansas Derby, is the real enigma in this year's Derby. He's a front-runner; he's by Glitterman, who was a sprinter; and he's trying to become the first gelding since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929 to win the Derby. Although he has all that going against him, the things he's been doing lately have been freakish, and as Baffert said, he just keeps going.
--Jamaican Rum, who prevented Balto Star from winning his fourth race recently by a double-digit margin, has the pedigree and is getting better with each race, but he too is a gelding, bred in California.
The other major contender, Monarchos, did regress a bit off his Florida Derby victory, in which he, like Balto Star, received an incredible "zero" on the Thoro-Graph sheets. The question with Monarchos, who was not supposed to have a hard race in the Wood but was under heavy punishment at the five-sixteenths pole, is which direction he's going to go now. Can he bounce back to his Florida Derby form or was the Wood a sign he is going backwards, as it was for Easy Goer, who ran a "zero" in the 1989 Gotham Stakes, then regressed in the wood and Kentucky Derby?
After this group, you have horses who will be either stepping up in class or top-class horses who ran below par in their last races. Can A P Valentine, Dollar Bill, and Invisible Ink rebound off less than inspiring efforts in the Blue Grass? Dollar Bill did close well to be third, but was never in the race until he passed tired horses late. It was obvious from the way the race was run that the Keeneland track was not very kind to come-from-behind horses. Looking for horses who are getting good at the right time, and who will be a big price in the Derby, our two dark horses would have to be Thunder Blitz and Jamaican Rum.
Many still feel that either Point Given or Congaree are destined for great things, but we'll only know that after the Derby. In a year with so many questions and variables, it makes sense to us that this could be the year of Godolphin. And while everyone is watching all the big names, Street Cry could very well sneak in there and take home the whole prize. This is a horse who has been vilified for his penchant for losing close races, or hanging, or whatever one wants to call it. But he does have excellent 2-year-old form, against the best horses in the country, and his two races this year have him sitting on a big race. His stablemate Express Tour is no slouch, but he too fits in the category of defying history, having had only one start this year. These are two horses we will be watching closely at Churchill. If they are thriving physically, as most Godolphin horses are, then we feel both horses will make their presence felt, with Street Cry having a big shot to win it all.
With the addition of two Kenny McPeek-trained possibles, Saint Damien and Gift of the Eagle, and several possibilities from the Lexington Stakes -- Turnberry Isle, Distilled, Griffinite, and Global Gait -- it's looking more and more like we'll reach or be near the 20-horse limit.
From what we've seen so far, unlike other large Derby fields, only seven or eight horses seem to have a legitimate shot at winning, with one or two more with an outside shot. After that, it's just the usual scenario of putting a horse in the Derby for the sake of running in the race.
Point Given was scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs this afternoon, and there is no doubt the crowds around the Bob Baffert barn will be as massive as ever during Derby Week. Baffert said the big chestnut likely will have his first work at Churchill next Tuesday.
Remember, there still is over two weeks to the Derby, and there is a lot of training still to do, which could help narrow down the choices. Sometimes a horse will run to his looks more than his form, such as Sea Hero in 1993. No horse has won the Derby who didn't look and train exceptionally well at Churchill the weeks leading up to the race. So, past performances aside, there's still a lot to learn.
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