May 6, 2006


Aspiring to glory at the Kentucky Derby (Andrew Beyer, 5/06/06, The Washington Post)

Will the 2006 Triple Crown series produce drama that excites the sporting public? The potential is there: The Kentucky Derby field contains four horses who are undefeated as 3-year-olds, two of them unbeaten in their careers. The best have earned excellent speed figures that suggest this is an above-average group.

• Brother Derek has won four straight stakes races in California with authority, but his trainer has attracted more media attention than the horse. Two summers ago, Dan Hendricks was paralyzed from the waist down in a motocross accident. He returned to his job in a wheelchair, and his determination has been rewarded by the opportunity to saddle the Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite.

• Barbaro won his first three starts on grass, and looked as if he could be one of the best turf runners in the world. But with the Kentucky Derby in mind, trainer Michael Matz shifted the colt to dirt. He won both starts on that surface, including the Florida Derby. With a 5-for-5 record, he has the potential to be a superstar.

• Lawyer Ron has won six straight races, most recently the Arkansas Derby. Sweetnorthernsaint emerged from a maiden-claiming race in Maryland to compile an impressive record that includes a runaway victory in the Illinois Derby. Either Lawyer Ron or Sweetnorthernsaint could be the rags-to-riches hero of this year's classics.

If so many horses of high quality were competing in an ordinary race, it would be reasonable to assume that a superior horse would emerge as the winner. But the Derby is no ordinary race. Because so many owners and trainers dream of winning it, they frequently enter horses with dubious qualifications, resulting in oversized fields. Churchill Downs allows as many as 20 horses to start the race. (By contrast, the Breeders' Cup limits its fields to a manageable 14.) The size of the Derby field invariably causes traffic and tactical problems that compromise the chances of some of the contenders.

When many speed horses are in the lineup, their jockeys have to hustle them from the gate to get into a decent early position. In the process, they might set an extraordinarily fast pace that takes a toll on every horse racing near the early leader. That is what happened last year. All of the front-runners collapsed. The best horse in the field, Afleet Alex, made a premature midrace move and weakened.

And in the final furlong, 50-1 shot Giacomo plodded past the field to score a fluky victory that drained much of the interest from the remainder of the Triple Crown. Giacomo hasn't won since.

Such a pace scenario could develop again, because almost every contender is a speed horse. Sinister Minister, front-running winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, is blazingly fast. Brother Derek has always raced on or near the early lead. So has Barbaro. So has Sweetnorthernsaint.

Their trainers rightly worry about an insane pace that will destroy the chances of the leaders and produce another winner with the running style of Giacomo.

Off and running for many happy returns (JIM O'DONNELL, 5/06/06, Chicago Sun-Times)
A full update on the field, in post-position order, with morning-line and early-bird odds and assorted Old Louisville minutiae:

1. Jazil (30-1, 18-1): Kiaran McLaughlin tallied a rough training exacta: His two starters drew the extreme posts with Jazil gunning from Post 1 and Flashy Bull commencing from Post 20. McLaughlin might not care; his long shot Closing Argument finished second last year from Post 18.

2. Steppenwolfer (30-1, 11-1): Dan Peitz said his interest in training was stoked when he had his picture taken with Secretariat at age 17 in 1974. Steppenwolfer, sir, is no Secretariat. Robby Albarado will be trying to hit the Derby board for the first time with his eighth Derby mount.

3. Keyed Entry (30-1, 45-1): Trainer Todd Pletcher had 14 other horses running at Churchill Downs this weekend including uncoupled stablemate Bluegrass Cat. Pletcher has started 12 colts in the Derby since 2000, finishing in the money with Impeachment (third, 2000) and Invisible Ink (second, 2001).

4. Sinister Minister (12-1, 7-1): Some backstretchers are saying Baffert has another winning speed ''freak'' cut from the same hooves as his 2002 victor War Emblem in this son of Old Trieste. The colt popped an abscess in his foot on Tuesday.

5. Point Determined (12-1, 9-1): His daddy (Point Given) finished a disappointing fifth behind Monarchos as the 9-5 favorite in 2001. Bobby Frankel, who is idle in the Derby this year, said Point Determined is his top pick, on top of Barbaro and Lawyer Ron ''in a tough race.''

6. Showing Up (20-1, 36-1): Trainer Barclay Tagg won the rose garland in 2004 with the unheralded Funny Cide. This time out, his colt was unraced as a 2-year-old and since has gone 3-for-3 on the maiden-allowance-Lexington stepladder.

7. Bob and John (12-1, 13-1): Baffert's third and final contestant, the biggest fear is John will beat Bob. Actually, the silver-maned trainer accomplished a major mission with the Seeking the Gold colt four weeks ago when he splashed to victory in the Wood Memorial.

8 Barbaro (4-1, 6-1): The other unbeaten horse in the field, the Michael Matz trainee will try to become the first colt to win the Derby directly from the Florida Derby since Needles (1956).

9. Sharp Humor (20-1, 24-1): Trainer Dale Romans has five other horses in today at his home base, Churchill Downs. Jockey Mark Guidry has been 10th (Deputy Warlock, 2000), 14th (Balto Star, 2001) and fifth (Buzzards Bay, 2005) from his three prior KD starters.

10. A.P. Warrior (15-1, 16-1): Some say the son of A.P. Indy has been the most ''visually impressive'' of Derby starters available for viewing this week. Shirreffs said: ''All systems are go now.''

11. Sweetnorthernsaint (10-1, 7-1): Since his smashing win in the Illinois Derby last month, the chocolate gelding has evolved into a certifiable ''wise guy'' pick in the Derby. Co-owner Ted Theos is the son of long-ago Greek-American Chicago attorney Theotokis Theotokatos.

12. Private Vow (50-1, 38-1): Steve Asmussen runner lost all chance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall when a rein broke. Lightly raced since then with thoroughly nondescript also-rans in Rebel (third) and Arkansas Derby (seventh).

13. Bluegrass Cat (30-1, 23-1): Other Pletcher runner had excellent fall-winter streak with four straight wins. Has come back to earth with tailspinning fizzles in Tampa Bay Derby (third) and Blue Grass (fourth).

14. Deputy Glitters (50-1, 75-1): Trainer Tom Albertrani described his dream pace scenario -- the same one all non-speedballs in this field hope for: ''I hope we're sitting about six lengths off of a real strong pace and go from there.'' A first quarter of 22.47 would be just about right.

15. Seaside Retreat (50-1, 49-1): Apparently hopeless Canadian veteran hasn't won since a minor stakes score at Woodbine last November. Beyer Speed Figure of 62 in Blue Grass wouldn't beat some of the more talent-challenged allowance types in Chicago.

16. Cause to Believe (50-1, 26-1): Co-owner Peter Abruzzo -- a Long Grove-based businessman -- is a savvied survivor of the Arlington-Cicero turf frays; he and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer ran the enigmatic gray USS Tinosa in the 2002 Preakness.

17. Lawyer Ron (4-1, 9-1): Cowboy Bob Holthus has long been remembered for his checkered training days on Chicago backstretches. O.J. Simpson -- attending his third consecutive Derby -- said this is his 2006 choice.

18 Brother Derek (3-1, 8-1): A California monster just waiting to roll to the Triple Crown? Or an overachieving turfer boy who has been set up to fail on thoroughbred racing's mainstage? Only one Derby champ -- Gate Del Sol (1982) -- has won from Post 18.

19 Storm Treasure (50-1, 47-1): Both Guidry and Mike Smith rode and scooted on this second-tier colt, and trainer Asmussen didn't finalize David Flores until Tuesday. Won a maiden special weights at Churchill in November, and that's been it.

20 Flashy Bull (50-1, 39-1): Other McLaughlin starter gets Smith, without question the most productive rider of recent Derbies. In his last four rose runs, steady jock has been third (1999, Cat Thief), second (2002, Proud Citizen), second (2004, Lion Heart) and first (2005, Giacomo).

Hopefully the Mets and Braves won't go 14 again....

Not all find new Derby yummy (Ryan O'Halloran, May 6, 2006, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

It looks bad and sounds worse.

The Kentucky Derby ...

(Now here's the bad/worse part)

... Presented by Yum! Brands.

For the first time in its 132-year history, the Kentucky Derby has gone fully corporate. Churchill Downs, site of the Derby, signed a five-year contract with Yum! on Jan. 31. Financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 6, 2006 7:55 AM

Already made a batch of mint syrup -- I know it's probably heresy to some to use that in juleps, but its easier -- my pewter julep cup is chilling, and a bottle of Early Times is looking at me with a hint of fear in its beady little eyes.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 6, 2006 11:52 AM

Wonder if Churchill Downs gets a better-tasting KFC as a concessionaire?

Posted by: Brad S at May 6, 2006 11:55 AM

Beautiful Dreamer, a disc of Stephen Foster songs, has a great version by John Prine of "My Old Kentucky Home" that I'll be cuing up this afternoon as well in preparation.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 6, 2006 11:58 AM

To make it really intersting, they should barbeque the horse that comes in last.

(Or send it to retirement in Enumclaw?)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 6, 2006 4:03 PM

Wow, that colt looks like a possible Triple Crown winner after that finish.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 6, 2006 6:31 PM