05/03/2008 10:39AM

Derby Day Live


Click here for full charts

11:40 am: Happy Derby Day. It's not raining at Churchill but the two inches of rain that pelted the track yesterday and early this morning have left the track officially "sloppy," though it looked more like "drying-out muddy" for the first race. Track crews worked on the track all night, squeezing water out of it, and it was closed for training this morning. The forecast calls for a cloudy day with perhaps some more rain rolling in between 4 and 6 p.m. today. Post time for the Derby is 6:07 p.m.

The clouds aren't the only shroud over this Derby. The disputes among tracks, horsemen and account-wagering companies that are shutting some customers out of betting the Derby card are simply disgraceful, perhaps the nadir of this industry's dysfunctionality. There are legitimate issues regarding simulcast and ADW pricing that need to be addressed, but Derby Week is not the time for a protracted game of chicken that shuts customers out of the year's most popular race.

The day's first race went to favored Biker Boy, scratched from a six-furlong N1x on the Oaks card in order to stretch out to a mile even though he had to jump a condition to run in this N2x. Biker Boy, a Came Home 3-year-old who won a maiden race with a Beyer of 95 at Gulfstream March 16, drew off impressively, getting the mile in 1:34.16 for Fox Hill/Zito/Bejarano. He was one of three I used in a little $216 caveman early pick-4 play designed primarily to keep me otherwise out of trouble until the stakes action starts in the 5th. There are four pick-4's on today's card -- 1-4, 3-6, 7-10 and 9-12 -- as well as a no-carryover all-stakes pick-six starting with the 5th and ending with the Derby.

Here's an unfirewalled version of my Derby "picks" column that ran in the Saturday paper and which I can't seem to locate on the site:

Download cris050308.doc

My plan is to play the Derby mostly through the multirace bets rather than getting too involved in intrarace Derby bets. I'm a Big Brown fan but can neither bet him at 5-2 nor play against him. I might make a token play on my third and fourth choices behind Big Brown and Pyro, Tale of Ekati and Monba, at big prices. I just can't get involved in the superfectas, especially at a dollar rather than dime minimum.

One bad wagering omen: It took me 10 minutes and six tries to get my early pick-four bets to go through online at NYRA One. I really shouldn't be getting "We are currently experiencing technical difficulty with this application" error messages at 10:45 a.m. on Derby Day.

11:58 am: Lenawee ($34.60) won the second in 1:10.19 for six furlongs in a 3F N1x where the first quarter was run in a blistering 20.90 seconds. She was one of my three and I expected 6-1 rather than 16-1, so I'll be in good shape if I can get either First Defence or Spin Master home in the third.

Tony Kornheiser on ESPN2 just said that Big Brown "is owned by UPS." Just for the record, he is owned by IEAH Stables, which bough a majority interest in him from Paul Pompa, a retired trucking executive whose company did a lot of business with UPS.

12:15 pm: First Defence ($4.20) outduels Spin Master early and holds off Forest Attack late to win the 3rd in 1:22.21 in his first start since finishing 7th at 5-2 in the Vosburgh last Septemeber. The 4-year-old Unbridled's Song-Honest Lady colt was second to Hard Spun in the G1 King's Bishop last fall. I'm alive to "all" in the final leg for a buck (3x3x2x12), so I'll be rooting for the longest shot on the board.

The sun appears to be shining bright on the old Kentucky home. The track was upgraded from "sloppy" to "good" after the second, and it's now been upgraded to "fast" for the fourth.

Completely forgot to bet the 3-6 pick-four. The early races seem to fly by on Derby Day before the pace slows down. The first four races on the card are run in a 1 hour and 40 minute window, which stretches out to over 3 hours by the time you get to 8 through 11.

No pick-4 probables on TV or NYRA One.

12:45 pm Some thoughts on the upcoming undercard stakes:

Churchill Downs H. (G2): This seven-furlong stakes failed to attract any of the nation's top sprinters; not one of the top 10 sprinters on the Watchmaker Watch is in the race, and Noonmark is the only graded-stakes winner in the field. I have no quarrel with Noonmark, but he hasn't won beyond six furlongs and his biggest race was on a much sloppier track than this. I'd have to go four-deep in this spot, with Noonmark; Elite Squadron, who will try to wire them from the rail and might get loose; Thousand Words, who's trying dirt for the first time but was excellent beating Niko Bay on the grass two back; and Spotsgone, a classic turnback who should be a fat price.

La Troienne (G3): This 3-year-old filly test came up very strong on talent if not accomplishment and features three fillies who have already run triple-digit Beyers: Secret Gypsy (100), unraced since setting a (short-lived) Saratoga track record in her debut last summer; Informed Decision (101), a huge winner at Keeneland last out [late scratch]; and Alina (100), turning back off a second to Eight Belles in the Fantasy. I'll focus on Alina and Game Face, who has "only" run a 97 but was visually impressive earning that fig in the Old Hat and now turns back off a decent second to Bsharpsonata.

1:04 pm: This is why I usually have contempt for hitting the "all" button: Alive to all in the pick-4, I of course managed to get a favorite home as 7-2 Cherokee Artist beat 22-1 Scibelli to win the fourth and complete a $2287.40 for $2 sequence that amounted to a 9-2 return on investment. A victory by the second choice was actually the worst possible result since I would have scratched into an extra buck of it with the favorite due to the late scratch of Premium Gold. Oh well. Cherokee Artist, a second-time starter for Graham Motion, ran the mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.19 in the day's first two-turn race.

Nice touch parading Curlin on the track between the 4th and 5th races. The reigning Horse of the World looks terrific. Where he races this fall is going to be a huge story once the Triple Crown is over. Trainer Steve Asmussen is not eager to run him on a synthetic track, if that's what Santa Anita stays with, and suggested in a radio interview with Mark Cusano last week that he was considering options other than the Breeders' Cup Classic, perhaps including the Arc de Triomphe.

1:39 pm: Elite Squadron ($10.80) indeed got loose in the Churchill Downs Handicap, leading all the way in 1:21.53. The 4-year-old Officer colt was beaten a head at 38-1 by Rebellion in the last jump of the Commonwealth at Keeneland last time out. Noonmark was along for second with Hewitts third and Thousand Words fifth after some trouble around the turn.

1:56 pm: Through the first three races, betting is up slightly over last year's totals to this point, at $6.89 million vs. $6.63 million. I'll update the comparison below (blue type means bigger pool this year, red type means a decline) as time permits throughout the day. The comparison is clouded by different account-wagering shutout issues in both years, with different sets of customers prevented from betting through their usual accounts in 2007 and 2008.

2:25 pm: I got Game Face home at 9-5 but barely deserved it, as she got a dream trip and ride under John Velazquez, who was winning his third straight. Game Face tucked in behind dueling Secret Gypsy and Keep the Peace, snuck through at the rail when Secret Gypsy bore out in upper stretch, and barely lasted over a very resolute Keep the Peace, who I hadn't liked but was the moral victress. Game Face, a 3-year-old Menifee filly, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:28.44 for Zabeel/Pletcher.

Alina's fourth-place finish, couple with Pure Clan's 5 1/4-length defeat in yesterday's Oaks, casts some doubt on the strength of Eight Belles's performance in the Fantasy, where she beat Alina and Pure Clan by only 1 1/4 lengths.

Alive in 5-6-7 pick-3's to Danzon, Ventura and Dreaming of Anna.

2:52 pm: Thoughts on three upcoming stakes before the Derby:

G3 Distaff Turf Mile (race 7): No telling how soft the turf really is until they run the day's first turf race here. Dreaming of Anna is a legit favorite off her 7-for-9 grass record, a sensational blowout victory at Tampa last time out and a proven fondness for soft turf, but she could face a compromising early challenge from Bayou's Lassie, New Edition or the hopeless VIP Princess, winner of the "I want a free table on Derby Day" contest among today's entries. So I used closers Ventura and Danzon along with the fave.

G1 Humana Distaff H. (race 8): You won't get the same fat 7-1 on Hystericalady that you did last year, but even at 2-1 I like her to beat co-favorite Sugar Swirl. Obviously the 2-3-4 finishers from last year's BC Filly Sprint (Miraculous Miss, Miss Macy Sue and Baroness Thatcher) can all compete here, and of those I slightly prefer Miss Macy Sue.

G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (race 9): Kind of a spotty turnout for a Grade 1 in a division with no clear leader beyond Kip DeVille up to a mile. Einstein, second to Kip in the Maker's Mark last time out, will appreciate the extra furlong and is the one to beat. Out of Control, Thorn Song and Artiste Royale are logical alternatives but just aren't supposed to beat Einstein if he runs his A race.

Through the first half of the card, betting is up 16 percent over last year, at $22.07 million vs. $19.01 million.

3:20 pm: The Distaff Turf Mile makes three straight grass stakes at Churchill where an improbable front-runner has lasted on the lead with no one making an impact from off the pace. Zee Zee and Tizdejavu did it yesterday and Bayou's Lassie($26.20) did it just now in the G3 Distaff Turf Mile, leading Dreaming of Anna from box to wire. Dreaming of Anna conceded the early lead, looked ready to go by the 12-1 shot at any time, and never did. Bayou's Lassie, a 5-year-old Jacksorbetter Farm homebred mare by Outflanker, was making her first start since being switched from Christophe Clement to Dale Romans. She ran her opening half in 48.12 and the second half in 49.58 for a final time of 1:37.70. So much for the 7-10 pick four; maybe it's time to handicap the 11th and 12th so I can jump back in on the one that begins in race 9.

4:12 pm: Intangaroo became the first racehorse to win two U.S. Grade 1 stakes this year, following her 26-1 victory in the Santa Monica with a 14-1 triumph in the Humana Distaff. Both victories came at the expense of Hystericalady, who was fourth at 3-10 in the Santa Monica and third at 2-1 just now in the Humana.

Hystericalady had no excuses in the Santa Monica but ran her eyeballs out today. Stuck on the inside of a four-way duel through a half in 44.31, she won the battle and pulled clear after cutting the corner into the stretch, but understandably weakened left. Baroness Thatcher and Intagaroo($30.00) came at her in the final yards, with Intangaroo moving last and widest to score by a neck in 1:22.03. The 4-year-old Orientate filly, owned by Tom Grether and trained by Gary Sherlock, has won 4 of 11 career starts.

We're into the one-race-per-hour portion of the program that makes the Derby The Longest Day, as well as the Fastest Two Minutes, in sports. This is about when I'd usually go looking for one of those barbecued-beef sandwiches and the lemonade stand on the third floor of the Churchill clubhouse, and start reading the local newspapers to pass the time. I haven't had a wish-I-were-there twinge yet, but I'm expecting one when the horses come through the tunnel and onto the track for the Derby.

5:12 pm: Einstein really does seem like one of those rare horses with a will to win. Two starts back, he looked sure to be caught by Dancing Forever in the G1 GP Turf, and today it appeared that Out of Control would reel him in as the wire neared in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Both times, Einstein dug in and gutted it out.

Einstein joined Intangaroo as the only dual G1 winners this year with his narrow victory. The 6-year-old Brazilian-bred horse by Spend a Buck, owned by Patricia Cunningham and Melissa Green and trained by Helen Pitts, became a millionaire with his 8th victory in 18 starts.

Derby time, and over to NBC from ESPN. I thought ESPN's coverage was generally strong, and did a nice job of serving both regular horseplayers and casual viewers. My only quibble is with their apparent theory that no stat nugget is too irrelevant to be repressed. Does anyone truly think it's germane that "No jockey has won the Derby after winning the Woodford Reserve, so history will have to be broken today for Robbie Albarado to win the Derby"?

I ended up using seven of them in the pick-4: Big Brown, Colonel John, Denis of Cork, Gayego, Monba. Pyro and Tale of Ekati. Think I'll make a seven-horse tri box for $210, just in case, plus a couple of small win bets on Tale of Ekati and Monba, and otherwise leave it alone. Einstein opened me up in the wide-open 11th and 12th so if I can make it through the Derby, I'll take my pick-4 chances.

Betting was up 16 percent year over year through the first six races today but the increase was down to 5 percent after nine races. There were sharp declines in most pools in races 7-9, perhaps due to a decrease in field sizes: Those three races had 10-horse fields last year and fields of just 7, 8 and 7 this year.

6:59 pm: The 134th Kentucky Derby will be remembered equally for Big Brown's glorious victory and the horror of Eight Belles's sudden death as she was pulling up after finishing second.

The two images are indelible: Big Brown pulling away through the stretch to win by nearly 5 in one of the most dominant Derby victories ever, vastly superior to even the best of his generation, toying with his more experienced rivals in just his fourth career start. Then moments later, after bravely continuing on to finish second, beating every other colt in the race, suddenly collapsing in a heap as she was slowing to a gallop around the far turn. According to Dr. Larry Bramlage, she shattered both front ankles, and had to be immediately euthanized.

It's hard to think beyond those two images and what else this Derby proved. The best horse won and he's something really special. The horses who had been posting slow speed figures all spring ran right to them. The ones trying to make a transition from synthetic surfaces to natural dirt fared poorly: Colonel John, the Santa Anita Derby winner, was a distant sixth, and Adriano and Monba, who came into the race off Polytrack victories in the Lane's End and Blue Grass, ran 19th and 20th.

The Big Brown-Eight Belles exacta paid $141.60, the trifecta with Denis of Cork was $3445.60 and the super adding Tale of Ekati in fourth returned $58,737.60 for $2. The winner's time was 2:01.82.

Time for a cocktail and two toasts -- to Big Brown, and to Eight Belles.