The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow, and I am of the firm and unwavering opinion that it is the greatest sporting event in the world. There is no event that is any harder to win, and no sport that involves more challenge, heartbreak, or excitement than the sport of kings. Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of truly spectacular sporting events. I’d just trade them all for what will go down in Louisville tomorrow if I had to (thankfully, I don’t).
All that being said, I have a big problem this year – I don’t have a horse. Most years, by this point I have been firmly and avidly entrenched on a horse for weeks or months. Last year I was on Curlin since March. In 2006 I was on the Barbaro bandwagon before he entered the starting gate in the Florida Derby. 2005 was a bit of a disaster when Noble Causeway was 14th, but there was no way I was staying away from what was likely to be (and ultimately was) Gary Stevens’ last Derby mount. This year all I have is confusion and questions.
At heart I am a romantic. That’s why I prefer college sports to the pros, and that’s why I love horse racing so much. It is a sport that is tailor-made for dreamers. For that reason I am drawn to Big Brown. The horse is clearly a freak, and he has never been even remotely challenged. There is the potential that this horse is truly special and that we are about to see something amazing. Unfortunately, there is just so much going against him that I can’t buy into him at 3/1. He’s only had three career starts, and no horse has won in the modern era with less than five career races. He’s only won twice this year. He has just one stakes start. He missed several months of training with some pretty serious foot issues. He’s coming from way out in the far outside gate – number 20. That’s a lot to overcome. I sincerely hope he does, but I can’t bet that he will at that price.
With him off the board, the problem is that no horse jumps up to fill the top spot. I have liked Pyro a lot since his huge performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he had a disastrous outing last time out in the Bluegrass Stakes and ended up 10th. I can discount that somewhat because it was on a synthetic track, but I still feel uneasy when a horse looks that bad the last time we saw him. Again, he doesn’t present any value at this price. Colonel John is getting all sorts of support, and his Santa Anita Derby win was very visually impressive. Lots of problems again, though – he has never run on dirt, I am not entirely convinced that he beat a very impressive group in the Santa Anita, and it has been a decade since a California horse has come out ahead. To sound like a broken record – no value here.
That rules out the favorites, so I guess I should look for a longer shot. Easier said than done. I have a soft spot for fillies that take the step up, but Eight Belles has never faced the boys before. Tale of Ekati and everyone else coming from the Wood Memorial gets ruled out because the last furlong of that race was so slow that I could have won it on foot. Court Vision seems content to be not quite good enough. I’d like Z Fortune for a lot of reasons, but trainer Steve Asmussen has lowered expectations at every opportunity this week. Visionaire looks best when he isn’t facing top horses. Smooth Air has to bounce back from a fever last week. Monba has better synthetic form, and he comes off a win in the Bluegrass – a race that was such a mess that several Derby entrants are throwing it out completely. The same goes for Cowboy Cal, except he got beat by Monba. Denis of Cork is coming off a truly bizarre prep schedule, and he didn’t fire at all in the Illinois Derby. Gayego has a habit of getting into duels with lesser horses down the stretch, and he doesn’t always win them. I like something about almost all of those horses, but apparently not enough.
So, what am I going to do? The only logical thing to do in this situation, I guess – head to the track tomorrow, drink some beer, and buy tickets on a bunch of horses so that I can at least say I had a piece of the winner (though if I am being honest, a win by Big Brown would make me happier than anything). It doesn’t really matter because whichever horse wins the Derby will instantly become my favorite horse as he pursues the Triple Crown – I can jump on a bandwagon as fast as anyone.