This Saturday afternoon we all get to turn on our TVs and hear Stephen Foster's classic "My Old Kentucky Home" sung thousands of times worse than this outstanding Gordon Gano rendition.
Unfortunately, as is too often the case, this year's field is a weak one — with only three or four horses that would have a legit shot at winning this race if this race were not the bloated 20-horse Donnybrook that it is. Color me cynical, but there is good reason for cynicism. Earlier this week, The New York Times ran a feature on (most of) what is wrong with the horse racing industry. None of this information is new to me, or to anyone who follows racing even half-heartedly, but it should be required reading for all of those who tune in only when the Triple Crown races are on. Or, frankly, anyone who simply cares about the well-being of animals (and pro athletes in general).
Still, I'll tune in, because (part of the problem that I am) I will watch pretty much any horse race, anytime, anywhere. And The Derby, however haggard and caked with makeup, remains the belle of them all.
Official post positions have been announced, and only one thing is for sure — I will marinate myself in bourbon while watching.
Per usual, the field consists of at least a half dozen with absolutely no business being here (mind you, just such a nag actually won the damn thing three years back at 50-1), a half dozen genuine talents, and a few stretch runners hoping to get lucky.
Maybe more so than ever, the early speed in this race should open up a dizzying array of possibilities in terms of results. Here are the contenders:
BODEMEISTER is the odds-on favorite, and he deserves to be. Really the only horse with tactical speed (the best, by far, in the field), he can handle the distance, has worked out very sharply, and seems to be peaking at the right time. Only light knocks against him I can see are that he is lightly raced (only four starts), and he's never had to run from deep in the pack; he gets out front and runs from there. Typically, that's not how the Derby is won, so we'll see. If he can set/stay the pace and still manage a fast final furlong, it'd be his race to lose.
The other (albeit slower) rock star here is GEMOLOGIST. Undefeated in five starts, he has shown consistent and improving speed, has worked out sharply, should be able to stay out of trouble in terms of position, and is bred to eat up the mile-and-a-quarter distance. He's a real gamer; I love a horse that does not like to lose (I think of Secretariat or Cigar in his prime). But it's not clear that he'll be content to sit tight in a big pack before letting loose to fight for six wins in a row. If he does, he could be a true super-horse and will have to be seen as a Triple Crown threat. It would make me very happy if that were indeed the case.A small step below these two is second or third favorite UNION RAGS, who — along with HANSEN — has never finished out of the money, and may not Saturday either. If UNION RAGS can be had at odds of 5/1 or higher, I'd tap that.
Still, none of the three favorites stands to make you much money, so if you want a longer betting play, have a closer look at either the closer DADDY NOSE BEST or the typically–front-running HANSEN — who as the George Clooney of Derby horses deserves a closer look (he may even be too good looking to also have Derby-winning luck/talent).
If you want a true longshot to bet, take a chance on DADDY LONG LEGS, who has never run well on dirt, but is otherwise outstanding. If you want a longshot not to bet, TRINNIBERG will be sent to the front early on and set a blistering pace, but is the definition of an overmatched rabbit, has never raced further than a seven-furlong sprint, and has absolutely no business being asked to do so now, if ever.
I know, I know. Now is the point where you would expect an actual prediction. But I'd prefer not to make one. I'll tell you why: The Kentucky Derby has become an overbooked race of overbred Barbie dolls too overworked and overwrought for their own canon bones. The $2 million purse brings a too-large field that dilutes the talent pool (it would be one hell of a race for, say, the 12 top three-year-olds). And the size of the field — and the auxiliary starting gate it necessitates — creates a dangerous fire drill scenario as said gates spring open.
Add to that the fact that it could well rain in Lexington on Saturday, and this race is a bloody mess. Not to mention very difficult to handicap.
Of course, time has been spent, and like Sam the butcher, my job (in this forum at least) is to deliver the meat. So, grudgingly:
- DADDY NOSE BEST
- UNION RAGS
I'll expect an insane pace, and sadly, as a result of the insane pace, that one of the 20 athletes may well pull up lame. So know what you're going to say to the kids when the equine ambulance pulls up to the track and they draw the curtain around the horse.
There it is. Tune in this Saturday on NBC from 5:00 on (post time is 6:24 EDT).
Remember to make your simple syrup early enough to chill it before mixing those Mint Juleps. And come on back to The Weekly Meat. Tasty vittles and libations on tap in the coming weeks — and next year for Derby week, I promise a lengthy treatise on my handicapping system.
Note: The Daily Racing Form, America's Turf Authority since 1894, neither endorses nor is affiliated in any way with the views and ramblings of BK, America's Dirt Authority Since 1968.