You see those fractions?
Catch that Beyer?
See that ride?
Notice the breeding?
Get a look at the finishing kick?
Who cares: And maybe you’re looking at the wrong things this spring as the Derby prep season takes root.
Perhaps here are the important numbers: 6, 7, 9, 6, 4, 5, 7, 20.
Notice anything that doesn’t fit?
Congratulations, you could be a decent handicapper, one of a few. The 20 is the size of the Derby field, the other numbers representing prep races with sparse crowds, some little more than match races, Uncle Mo versus Cousin Less and a few other hoofs in the crowd. Field size has become a key Derby handicapping component, and rightly so. A 100 Beyer in a seven-horse field, subtract seven of the bold-face points. There’s nothing like a 100-plus percent change in the regulations in any other sport. Going from a six or seven or eight-horse field to a 20-horse field is like changing the rules for a special attraction, a one-of-a-kind event. True, the new regulations — we’ll be using two gates for this one, and the load-in could take, oh, ten, fifteen minutes — don’t alter the levelness of the playing field. But it sure does shrink or lengthen it. Ask the horse getting ready to run directly toward the rail, the one. Ask the 19. Sometimes with the elbow room to his right, the 20 can get out, or over. But the 18, the 19, the rail, these animals need flak jackets. The poor one horse, it has to bust it to get out and quit after a mile, or count three before breaking and hope to swoop the other 19 at a later time. And a couple or three Derby runners are entered to get their owners nice parking spots and seats.
There’s no adequate way to describe a 20-horse field for three-year olds, there’s nothing appropriate with which to compare it.
It’s the chief reason there has been no Triple Crown winner since shortly after the beginning of time, relatively. Winning the Derby is so taxing, it takes almost two weeks for a horse to get back out of the hay.
A 20-horse field is like bowling at 20 pins.
It’s like 20 yards equaling a first down every time.
It’s why so many local runners wait in Maryland, nibbling oats and crab cakes, waiting for the walking winded.
There’s a reason the Derby winners trot directly to the honeymoon suite and don’t race past May, they’re tired.
Not to rouse the animal activists, but a 20-horse field is the equivalent of running two or three races: Some of the entries from the sticks could be a little on the dangerous side.
So what’s to look for in a prep race, what’s to be learned that can carry forward to the Derby?
One fast enough?
Horses priced unbefitting for the occasion, too short, will bring those characteristics from fields of six and seven and, who knows, maybe even eight.
How about this, how about somebody tough enough, and fortunate enough, a horse who got eligible by a nose and a half, a quick breaker and a future stalker, somebody who could be running lucky without most even knowing it.
Originally Posted on ESPN