Tomorrow is the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby. I big puffy heart the Derby. I big puffy heart thoroughbreds, all that muscle and power and speed. I love the hustle and bustle of the track on race day. I love the gorgeous jockey's silks. I love the big beautiful hats the silence that falls on the track right before the start, and the communal groans when something unexpected happens. Some people think horse racing is cruel, a lot is asked of the horses and they do get hurt. But overall these animals are guarded, sheltered, looked after, massaged, fed, and cared for far better than even your average household pup (and that's saying a lot because our pups are spoiled rotten). To truly understand horse racing, one must understand that there are different kinds of horses. To speak of it in terms we are most familiar with... there are different kinds of horses like there are different kinds of dogs. Some breeds of dog love to run and are so fast and agile its breathtaking, some breeds of dogs are very smart and they love to use their nose to track and find things to watch them work is humbling, some breeds of dogs are patient and loyal and loving they'll let your child ride them, poke them, pull their ears, take bones right out of their mouths and they'll just be happy to have the family around. In the same way there are different kinds of horses and thoroughbreds well, they love to run. They know they're fast and they love to open up that big powerful stride and get those mighty hearts pumping. Many of them get excited and happy to step on a race track, in the same way your dog gets excited to go for a run with you, even though the run is going to be hard and tire them out. Yes, there are terrifying injuries and it's heartbreaking when that happens. There are approximately 2 deaths for every 1,000 starts, an average of 0.2%. Truthfully, terrifying painful things (like cholic -where the intestines of the horse twist on themselves and the horse becomes septic and feels as though its stomach is ripping apart) can happen with a happy horse just grazing in a field. As long as the horse isn't being abused intentionally, or overtrained, or ran with an injury... then really thoroughbreds are in general a pretty lucky and happy group of horses.
So, now for the Derby! Just for the shear joy of looking at horses, I'm going to show you pictures of each horse, and if I know about the jockey I'll share what I know there too. I'm also sharing with you the post position. The post position is what starting gate the horse is assigned to. All of the trainers/owners draw for the order in which they'll get to pick post position. Post position is very important. You don't want to go first because you want to see where the competition is and you don't want to go last because then you don't really get a choice... some horses like to set the pace so putting them right next to another pace setting horse might tire them out too early, some horses don't like to have a blind side so putting them up against the rail or far on the outside might cause them to startle during the race, some horses love being smashed into the middle of the pack and finding a hole to push through, others hate being smashed into the middle of the pack and would prefer to take an outside track to the front... there's a whole lot of strategy and superstition that goes into picking a post position.
1st -which is the inside lane closest to the rail... we have the 3 to 1 favorite Lookin' At Lucky they're not happy with this post position, and that kind of stress can really rattle the confidence of a jockey. No horse has won from this post in 20 years. This horse is stunning... and look at that star on his forehead... I'm a sucker for a thoroughbred with a star!
Lookin' At Lucky will be ridden by Garret Gomez (one of the most winning Jockey's in America) Gomez is a little old for the jockey game at age 38, but he's experienced... he's had 6 Derby starts and has yet to win the coveted race.
2nd pole - 10 to 1- Ice Box Ridden by Jose Lezcano - Ice Box was a surprise 20 to 1 winner of the Florida Derby, he's only had 7 starts but, and he didn't even place in four of them. I could be wrong, but I think the biggest field he's run against would be the 11 horse field in the Florida Derby... a 20 horse field is a whole new race!
3rd pole - 12 to 1 Noble's Promise Ridden by Willie Martinez- He had a trip in the Arkansas Derby and after the race he had a lung infection, he's fully recovered now, but it's not a good way to go into the derby... he has also never won a race on a conventional dirt surface. He's raced against Lookin' At Lucky 3 times and never been able to beat him. I don't know that I would put money on him... but he sure is pretty!
4th - 15 to 1 - Super Saver ridden by Calvin Borel. I don't know much about this horse, but I do know he was the favorite for the Arkansas Derby and he ended up taking second, he was out paced from the start by Line of David.
5th - 30 to 1 - Line of David - If he can get in the lead from the beginning he might be okay, but he was slow on the last stretch at the Arkansas Derby, and in a 20 horse field someone will catch if you slow for the stretch. His trainer has another horse Sidney's Candy entered, both horses are speedy runners who like the lead early, but a trainer won't usually run two of his own horses against each other... so one horse will be forced to fall behind, in the case of Line of David, if he's left behind so Sidney's Candy can lead... he will most likely stay behind the leaders the entire race.
6th - 30 to 1 Stately Victor Ridden by Alan Garcia - He pulled forward from a slow start to win the Blue Grass Stakes in which he was at 40 to 1 odds. The Blue Grass was a 9 horse race, its a lot tougher to come back from behind in a 20 horse race where everyone is trying to squeeze in to the same hole and work there way towards the front. He's only had one win this year.
7th - 30 to 1 American Lion Ridden by David Flores - He's a front runner, but his fastest in the fastest field he's run in, is much slower than the average lead pace for the Derby field, if he tries to start in his normal fashion, he may tire himself out too quickly for a strong finish.
8th - 50 to 1 Dean's Kitten Ridden by Robby Albarado -He's a hometown boy which means less stress and travel and adjustments... he held steady in training even when the dirt was messy earlier this week, but he's definitely a much better horse on the turf. If he's not fully comfortable on the dirt, in this big field of horses, he may easily balk... he is a true long shot, but sometimes you just gotta cheer for the hometown fella!
9th - 50 to 1 Make Music for Me Ridden by - this horse is running because another horse was pulled due to injury... While many of the other trainers in the Derby have 100's of horses in their barn to choose from, Make Music for Me's trainer only has six horses, and two of them were named to be Derby contenders... says a lot for the trainer, but I'm not sure that makes a winner! He's consistently lost against all four of the top contenders and I think it's likely he'll do the same on Derby day.
10th - 20 to 1 Paddy O'Prado ridden by Kent Desormeaux - Kent is a three time Derby winner, most recently on Big Brown, he has the most Derby wins of any active jockey. I always like to see a nice gray in the field, and he sure is a pretty one... doesn't that coat look soft as velvet?
11th - 10 to 1 Devil May Care Ridden by John Velazquez - First of all this horse is a filly! I la, la, love to see the girls run against those big, rowdy boys! There's just nothing like seeing a little filly hold her own! She loves the distance and she's big for a filly, which should help her keep those boys from crowding in on her. If she wins she'll be only the fourth filly ever to win the Derby. After the heartbreaking second finish from Eight Bells a few years ago, it's about time we had a good strong filly hold her own!
12th - 12 to 1 Conveyance Ridden by Martin Garcia - He's another speed runner, and he's coming out of trainer Bob Baffert's barns. Baffert had a Derby win in 2002 on speed runner War Emblem. Expect Conveyance to come out fast at the beginning, but since he lacks the maximum speed of War Emblem, I wouldn't expect to see him finishing first.
13th - Jackson Bend 15 to 1 Ridden by Mike Smith - I love this horse. He's finished first or second in all his races, which says a lot about his determination to win. Add to that a jockey who's on fire like Mike Smith, and it's going to be a winning combination. Mike is 43, he won the Derby in 2005 on log shot Giacomo. He's repeatedly come in second in the derby, and he's been consistently riding Zenyatta who has gone undefeated in her last 16 starts. Mike's got to be close to retiring and I'm guessing he's just waiting for one more Derby win, Jackson Bend is looking good to get him there.
14th - 20 to 1 Mission Impazible Ridden by Rajiv Maragh - he's got five career starts, but nothing to ooh and ah about... and he's struggled against Conveyance and Dublin. But I love that dark coat of his!
15th - 30 to 1 Discreetly Mine Ridden by Javier Castellano - He's a speed horse, but not as quick as the other front runners, I'd imagine he'll go out too fast for himself, and struggle to get through the distance. To add to his challenge I think that his jockey Javier Castellano is new to the derby, and the combination of nerves and the stress of trying to hold a horse back in a 20 horse field will work against them.
16th - 10 to 1 Awesome Act Ridden by Julien Leparoux - He's the first horse trained in England to run the derby in 15 years. He's another speed runner, coming out fast and in his last race against Eskendereya he ran out of reserves to finish with a sprint. In this field and at this distance I think he'll struggle with the same thing. I'd expect to see him in the top five, but a win seems unlikely.
17th - 12 to 1 Dublin Ridden by Jerry Thompson - His trainer is one of the most experienced trainers still practicing he has 4 Derby wins under his belt. The horse hasn't won a race yet this year, and he's struggled against some of the speed runners that are running the derby. Dublin likes to come from behind and place 2nd or 3rd, which might serve him well in this race full of front runners. The question is will he wait to long to catch up?
18th - 50 to 1 Backtalk Ridden by Miguel Mena - He's proven he's a solid pack runner, he likes to stay in the middle of the field and then sprint to the finish. A good tactic to get through this years race. If the track is dry and clean, he's a long shot. If it's wet and messy he'll stand a better chance.
19th - 50 to 1 Homeboykris Ridden by even the trainers say they're a long shot (the trainer says they should be 100 to 1), looks as though the filly from this trainer in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday stands a much better chance than homeboykris could ever hope for.
20th - 5 to 1 Sidney's Candy Ridden by Joe Talamo - This will be Joe's first Derby start, he was slated to ride favorite I Want Revenge in last years Derby, but the horse was scratched the morning of the race for an ankle injury, smart but heartbreaking move for the trainer. I like Joe as a jockey, he's very young, but he's a fighter, and he takes risks. This horse however, as only run on synthetic... if the horse doesn't take to the dirt Joe's gonna have a hard time bringing him home. However, they caught a huge break with Lookin' at Lucky being stuck on the Pole. I hope things work out well for Joe this year, heck even getting to ride his mount in the race is an improvement from last year!
So... My picks for the Derby: 1)Jackson Bend 2)Sidney's Candy 3)Devil May Care