05/05/2012 7:46AM

Derby Day at the Downs


Happy Derby Day from Churchill Downs.

Thunderstorms – lots of them, and loud ones – hit the Louisville area overnight, but local weather forecasters say we are in the clear for the rest of the day. The main track is, of course, sealed right now, and it is encouraging that there isn’t a lot of standing water on the surface. The conditions are favorable for drying out, and while some early races will be run on an off track, it seems highly likely the track will be fast come Derby time. As for the turf, the rain probably did it some good, because it was very quick on Friday, although the fourth race was taken off the turf. Current track conditions are sloppy for the main track and good for the turf.

I’ll check in again later. Good luck today.

11:09 - While I still marvel at the incredible hang job by Vasten in the second race, it should be noted that the track has already been upgraded to fast. It will be interesting to see, since the track was sealed overnight, is speed holds a little better than usual. Turf is still listed as good.

12:09 - The theory going around is this: Yesterday, the main track was sealed in anticipation of the approaching storm. When it was cut back open for the Oaks, it became speed favoriing, as evidenced by the Oaks one-two result. After the track was sealed overnight, it was cut back open for the second race, and it does appear that since then, speed is holding, and the inside isn't a bad place to be. In the fourth race, Night Party did set some easy early fractions, but he looked out of gas at the eighth pole, and yet was still never seriously threatened. Just something to think about.

2:15 - What a terrific race between Shackleford and Amazombie in the Churchill Downs Stakes. I don't want to take anything away from Shackleford, who overcame getting shuffled back a bit on the rail nearing the far turn, but I wonder, what was the hurry with Amazombie? At this high level of competition, seven furlongs is stretching it a bit with Amazombie. So I don't understand why Amazombie was sent to the lead early on the far turn. With distance being an issue, wouldn't a more patient a ride been better for Amazombie, and wouldn't that have kept Shackleford boxed in a bit longer?

The current Derby win odds remain largely unchanged. Union Rags remains the 9-2 favorite and Bodemeister is still 7-1. Gemologist is still third choice, down from 9-1 to 8-1.

3:16 - Hungry Island showed flashes of real ability last year at 3 and improved in her second start at 4 to win the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. And while Hungry Island probably benefitted from what the overnight rains did to the turf course, I sense we still haven't seen her "A" race yet this year. She might prove to be an important player in a female turf division currently lacking quality depth.

4:02 - Groupie Doll isa very serious race horse, but then again, I've been trumpeting her for nine months now. But she has really become a force recently, since getting blinkers, and she devastated the Humana Distaff field, not only running faster than Shackleford did winning the Churchill Downs Stakes, but also breaking the track record. The older female division has been loaded all year. It took a hit with the retirement of Havre de Grace, but it is still an extremely strong division. And Groupie Doll is an important player in it at least in races up to a mile.

4:55 - For the second time in two days, a turf stakes here that looked like it was loaded with speed was won in front-running fashion. Yesterday it was the American Turf. Today it was the Woodford Reserve Turf Classsic.

Even if you thought Little Mike was faster early than Turbo Compressor and Get Stormy and would outrun them for the lead, which was no cinch, the latter two still figured to apply enough pressure to set the Woodford Reserve up to be won from off the pace. Well, that certainly didn't happen. Incredibly (to me, anyway), the riders of both Turbo Compressor and Get Stormy declined to put any pressure at all on Little Mike, allowing him to slip off to an unmolested early lead. That's how Little Mike engineered his implausible upset.

Can't  turn the page to the Derby quickly enough.

5:30 - The announced Derby Day attendance is a record 165,307.

6:37 - I'll Have Another will go down as the winner of Kentucky Derby 138, and he deserves plenty of credit for winning from a 19 post that seemed a tough draw for him, and for winning from farther off the pace than he had ever been in his past representative performances.

But man, let me say what is sure to be said by so many after this Derby: What a monster race Bodemeister ran in defeat. For Bodemeister to finish second after setting that insanely fast early pace suggests that he is indeed a very special colt - quite likely, with all due respect to I'll Have Another, the best of his generation. But I wouldn't expect Bodemeister to prove that in the Preakness, or any time soon. He had a busy schedule to make the Derby, and with his gut wrenching performance Saturday, I would guess he is going to need more time to recover than a mere two weeks.

As for my pick, Dullahan ran well to just miss getting second from Bodemeister. And while he isn't in the same class as Bodemeister, I think Dullahan proved that he can indeed handle dirt.

Anyway, there will be a lot to digest from this Derby later on. But for now, thanks for reading.