05/07/2011 11:00AM

Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs


Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs dawned sunny and refreshingly cool, but looks might turn out to be deceiving. Every weather forecaster I’ve seen and talked to gave a resigned shake of the head when asked about the weather here this afternoon. It seems a front is approaching from the west, giving us a very good chance of showers, and those showers could turn into thunderstorms if it warms up enough, and the sun remains strong.

I really hope the rain holds off. The Kentucky Derby is America’s most popular race, and it deserves as legitimate result as a race with a 19 horse field can get. The last two Derbies were run on sloppy tracks, and the results were fluky. I know we are talking about small samples here, but the fact remains that the one-two finishers in the 2009 Derby – Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile – and the first two finishers in last year’s Derby – Super Saver and Ice Box – failed to win a single race of any sort after their Derby outings - combined.

5:33 - The annouced attendance today is a record 164,858. This eclipses the previous record of 163,628 in 1974, which was the centennial running of the Derby.

I'll have some updates later on. In the meantime, I'm crossing my fingers, hoping Mother Nature cuts us a break.

11:23 - Bind, who created such a stir when he won his debut at Fair Grounds in February with a big 105 Beyer fig, is a bit of a head case, as evidenced by how rank and headstrong he was early on in the second race. He also might not be as good as first advertised, as he lost for a second straight time at odds-on. Wonder if Maclean's Music, who won his only start with a giant 114 Beyer, and who is supposed to start in an allowance race here at Churchill in the near future, can avoid getting in a similar Bind?

2:32 - After watching Sassy Image blow up all my multi-race exotic wagers with her going away upset of the Humana Distaff - honestly, I couldn't have used her with counterfeit money - I saw that the Pants On Fire currently remains second choice in the Kentucky Derby win pool at 7-1 behind Dialed In, who is currently 5-1.

I don't think anyone envisioned the possibility of Pant On Fire being second choice in this Derby. And in reaching for an explanation, the best anyone sitting around me at the moment can come up with is women across America have united in solidarity in pari-mutuel support of Pants On Fire's jockey, Rosie Napravnik. Hey, I can't think of a better reason why this horse is being bet like this.

4:03 - I've had a nagging feeling all day that the rail was not the place to be on the main track, and after the Churchill Downs Stakes (which, by the way, was easily the strongest sprint race so far this year), I have come to believe that to be the case. Yes, I know that in the Churchill Downs Stakes, Aikenite broke from the rail and he got up to nip Apriority, who broke from post three. But both did their best running once they got to the outside.

I also know that the Bob Baffert-trained firster who won the third race, C J Russell, ran toward the inside, but maybe he was even much better than he looked and was a bias-buster. I just think horses running in the three to four path out on the main track are making better, more effective moves today. It's also worth noting that at the last big event here at Churchill, Breeders' Cup Friday and Saturday last fall, the rail was dead on both days.

Unfortunately, we won't get any more evidence on this before the Derby. We have one race to go before Derby time, and that is the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on - of course - turf.

6:43 - Even though he had never raced on dirt before, enough people were impressed with the way Animal Kingdom trained on the dirt here at Churchill Downs that this colt making his first start on a new surface in the Kentucky Derby wasn't quite the concern that it might normally be. But where you really have to hand it to trainer Graham Motion is how he had Animal Kingdom primed for such an explosive winning performance in his first start since winning the Spiral six weeks ago. And make no mistake about it, Animal Kingdom was explosive in the Derby. He was much the best.

As for my pick, runner up Nehro, yes, he was much closer to the early lead than expected, and maybe he moved too early when he moved early on the far turn. But Nehro took dead aim on Shackleford in upper stretch like he was going to cruise right by him. And while Shackleford got away with setting a pace through easier fractions than anyone anticipated, the fact that Nehro struggled so hard to get by him while also desperately saving the place over Mucho Macho Man was not especially encouraging.

In any case, we got the fast track Derby that we hoped for, and though only time will really tell, the sense is we got the legitimate Derby winner we lacked in the previous two sloppy track Derbies. Anyway, thanks for reading.