A horseplayer friend carefully placed his drink on the bar while he watched the field that had just crossed the wire at the end of the Arkansas Derby, adding mightily to the spring’s prevailing confusion and, while discarding several worthless mutuel tickets, said. “That’s it; I’ve got my Derby horse.”
This statement drew no immediate response other than sideways glances of disbelief.
“Okay, wise guy,” someone finally said. “You might let us in on this vision.”
“Easy,” he answered, “the horse Calvin Borel rides.”
Borel has amassed a good deal of impressive past-performance data in recent runnings of the Derby having ridden three winners of the last four. The collective past performance of the 3-year-old class of 2011 in far less convincing.
The one constant is inconsistency. The great variables are degree of disappointment and depth of inscrutability. Looking forward to the Kentucky Derby? Why?
Which 3-year-old is the Derby favorite?
That will be determined by the bettors on the first weekend of May. Suspend the morning line. It will be meaningless, or certainly more so than usual.
Two weeks ago it was Uncle Mo. A week ago, after Uncle Mo dropped anchor in the stretch at Aqueduct, The Factor was promoted, more by default than on merit. He was no factor in the Arkansas Derby won by Archarcharch and even in a year like this one, the Derby is not won by a horse coming off a bad race in its final prep. Nor is the Derby won by a horse without a good effort in a 9-furlong prep, which makes tender-footed Jaycito’s presence, pending a tentative engagement in the Lexington, academic. If he runs well and goes on to Churchill Downs, his saddle cloth should read: Trap.
The attempt to make sense of this group is an exercise in grasping at straws.
Florida Derby winner Dialed In has at least been consistent and may actually be capable of staying 10 furlongs. Toby’s Corner, winner of the Wood Memorial, overcame a less than ideal trip with a furious rally in the last quarter-mile. Archarcharch is one-paced, which makes him to some degree a factor. This is at least something to work with, but hardly the basis of confidence.
There will be a good deal of staggering in the Churchill Downs stretch on May 7 as a field of 20 struggles toward the wire in hopes of finishing before they celebrate their next birthdays. This presents all manner of danger to closers and the horses which have won races in the spring’s parade of jaw-dropping longshots are all closers. Even the new shooter, converted turf runner Brilliant Speed, who appeared spent at the end of the Blue Grass Stakes run over a synthetic course at Keeneland on Saturday, rallied from last in the race that removed favored Santiva from consideration as a legitimate Derby threat.
This is the most uninspiring crop of 3-year-olds in memory, recent or otherwise. It is no longer possible for any of these to disappoint in the Derby. There are no positive expectations.
To borrow a line from the late Bill Leggett, then of Sports Illustrated, uttered in a year not unlike this one but probably more promising, “This Derby may be the most exciting four minutes in sports.”
There are, however, some important negative expectations, which is a logical approach in the search for a bettable horse in the second leg of the Oaks-Derby double.
Uncle Mo is not a candidate for a rebound. He is a light-bodied colt, not the type to stand hard training and racing. Having derived no benefit from either a paid public workout at Gulfstream or the Wood Memorial, he moves toward the Derby propelled by nothing other than juvenile reputation. It wasn’t the fact that he was beaten in the Wood, it was how he was beaten, which amounted to surrender at the end of a perfect frontrunning trip. The Met Mile would be a more reasonable short-term goal.
Original assessments of The Factor as a sprinter-miler type were not inaccurate.
The Derby winner will not emerge from the Blue Grass Stakes, Spiral or Illinois Derby.
None of these horses have been campaigned or trained in a manner to suggest that even those who emerge as the leaders in the Derby will hold up to three races in five weeks.
We are likely to see this spring play out like the last two, a longshot Derby winner followed by a Triple Crown Series that falls apart. At least, in 2009, the filly, Rachel Alexandra added spice to the Preakness. She was ridden by Calvin Borel, who was astride Mine That Bird in the Derby.
All things considered, there may be something to that angle.
Originally Posted on ESPN