Over the last few weeks we have looked at the early favorites to win the Kentucky Derby, and discussed the major prep races and how they unfolded to try and get a clear understanding of this year’s field.
Next week will be consumed with who can win, how to bet the race, and whether the Kentucky Oaks might offer better value than Saturday’s main event. But with two weeks before the Run for the Roses, it is worthwhile to have a refresher course on the type of equine who win in Louisville.
Here are a few tips to put you on the right “track”.
The Kentucky Derby is run at a mile-and-a-quarter. That is longer than any of the participants have ever run before, and there are a lot of horses who prefer shorter distances. Eliminating participants who are not equipped to get the full ten furlongs is a good way to help shorten the field of contenders.
This year’s favorite is Classic Empire, and he appears to be in good shape distance wise. His pedigree includes Pioneer of the Nile, who was second in the Kentucky Derby, Empire Maker, who won the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, and Kentucky Derby champ Unbridled. Likewise, Santa Anita Derby champ McCraken should handle the trip well. His dad, Ghostzapper, won nine of 11 career races, for over $3 million in earnings, including the Breeders Cup Classic. Tapwrit has Seattle Slew in his family tree, a good indication he can manage classic distances.
On the flip side, Practical Joke’s blood lines shows this race could be too far, and Girvin may have hit his limit in the mile-and-an-eighth Louisiana Derby.
On Wednesday of Derby Week, May 3rd, the horses entered will find out where within the field they will break from. The horse closest to the rail is number one, and the entrant furthest out will be 20 unless there is are any scratches. Extremes tend to be bad; the far inside is the worst place to be. If you don’t get out of the gate alertly, you are behind a large group right away. Tactically, if you you are on the inside, you almost have to send your horse to the front, because if you do not, you’ll be left behind a wall of equine.
Those on the far outside have more choices: race forwardly, but recognize you will end up going wide on the first turn, or duck in towards rail and save ground. But again there are likely going to be 15 or more horses to pass the rest of the way.
It has been over 30 years since a Derby winner triumphed from gate number one. Real Quiet did it in 1998, and is the only one to win the race starting from number one, two or three in that span. Though the outside four gates, 17 – 20 have just four total winners in race history, three have taken place in ten years. For what it is worth, no number 17 has ever won.
In 2009 the never heard from before or after trainer, Chip Woolley, saddled Mine that Bird to victory at 50/1. Once in a blue moon a jockey, trainer or owner that is outside of the sports elite, has his day in the sun. Much more frequently, the blue bloods take the prize.
Last year owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez won their second Derby with Nyquist. They prospered in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. Two years ago American Pharoah won the Triple Crown. It was Derby victory number four for conditioner Bob Baffert, and a second straight win for rider Victor Espinoza. Baffert’s Mastery would be this year’s favorite, but he is injured and not racing. Espinoza will ride Gormley instead. Three time Derby winner Gary Stevens will captain Royal Mo’s bid. O’Neill has long shot Iliad.
Todd Pletcher, who routinely wins more races than any other trainer in the country and has been honored as the best in the nation seven times, is one for 45 in the Kentucky Derby. He has Always Dreaming, One Liner, and Malagacy all competing this year.
Photo credit: By Bill Brine (Flickr: Kentucky Derby 2014-0104) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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