05/07/2011 11:00AM

Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs

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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.

mailman More than 1 year ago
I totally disagree with you on Nehro's assesment. You mentioned that he may have moved too early and that he was closer to the pace than usual but you failed to mention that he ran wide the entire way around the track. You factor all three of these variables and he was the best horse in this race not Animal Kingdom. You said Animal Kingdom was much the best. (MW - For your information, Animal Kingdom was wide, too. Maybe he wasn't quite as wide as Nehro, but the winner was also well off the rail)
Mooch More than 1 year ago
Three things in the Derby were very noticeable; 1). It is being said that the pace was too slow in the Derby. For those who say it please explain why (with the exception of Shackleford) All of the other horses that were close to the pace finished down the track and of the top 6 finishers only Shackleford was on or close to the pace. If the slow pace of the Derby helped the front runners then how come anything close to the pace (except for Shackleford) ran down the track? And how come all the top finishers (except for Shackleford) were closing? Never mind the fractions because any track bias can change from day to day. I did notice in the 7th race on Derby day, a 7 furlong that Hilda's Passion looked like a walk in the park being the only speed in the race. That horse walked all around the track and set slower fractions then she did in her last two runaway victories, but offered no resistance when passed in the stretch at 3/5 finishing up 6 tics slower than her previous race in which she won with speed to spare. You can forget fractions when there is a track bias 2). Cory Nakatani was praised for knowing the pace was too slow and correctly moved early. The fact is he did move too soon. It probably didn't matter as the way Animal Kingdom ran he probably would of won no matter when Nero moved, but that early move almost cost Nero 2nd and at some point I wasn't sure he was even going to get past Shackleford. 3). Some say that Animal Kingdom's win was a fluke. Actually if there was to be a Triple Crown winner this year it would of had to come from one of the Turf/Synthetic horses that were able to transfer their form to dirt, and if none of them were able to then all you would have left would be a lot of common dirt horses that keep taking turns beating each other, and each leg of the Triple Crown would of probably had three different winners. I decided that a live Double ticket going to Nero was enough action for me but hindsight afterwords was telling me that a few Exacta tickets with Nero on the bottom of all of the Turf/Synthetic horses would not only be a good saver but if Nero was to get beat it would be one of the Turf/Synthetic horses that would do it. While looking ahead to the Preakness (and although it's a little too soon to start making wagers) two things I will keep in mind;. 1). Shackleford is the only horse in the Derby that ran against the grain. 2.) Animal Kingdom's Derby win was no fluke. You will know when it's close to the Preakness when you hear about the "short" race. That is a fallacy that has been around for a long time. People think the Preakness is a short race. It might be the shortest race in the Triple Crown but it is far from short. Being 1 3/16 miles it is only 1/16 mile shorter than the Derby but is 1/16 mile farther than any of the 1 1/8 mile Derby prep races.
vicstu More than 1 year ago
Just read that Animal Kingdom flew home in 47 1/5 for the final half - second fastest time ever in the Derby ( to Secretariat, of course). --ShadowJazz That was Dialed In, finishing 8th, NOT Animal Kingdom. AK came home fast, but not as fast as Dialed In. DI just had way too much to do with that dead pace.
GC More than 1 year ago
Team Valor, for taking off Robby, what a low class act. I hope Robby beats Team Valor in the Preakness or Belmont and spoils this horses chances for a Triple Crown. Watch out for Santiva in the Preakness as this was a great tightener as he didn't get anything out of the Bluegrass.
edb More than 1 year ago
Where did all the "speed" horses go in that race? News flash to Soldat team, put him out front and don't look back, Hats off to the Animal and good try to Shackleford for his First Dude imitation. Nehro and Mucho made sense, but first time on dirt in the derby? Can't knock success, but I hope he does not become Mine That Bird. This just continues the upsets all this spring and I am wondering why I read the form. I hope The Factor goes in the Preakness, I'm forgeting what a 1:10 6 furlongs looks like.
Matt More than 1 year ago
I thought Nehro was better than you give credit for Mike. He was 6 wide the whole way around the track. He took the lead for a brief second in the stretch while doing so, not to mention he raced much closer to the pace than he usually does. Thought he was all heart.
Shadowjazz More than 1 year ago
Just read that Animal Kingdom flew home in 47 1/5 for the final half - second fastest time ever in the Derby ( to Secretariat, of course). The ridiculously slow pace set by Shackleford made the race seem slow and obscured the amazing finish of Animal Kingdom. He may be even better than he looked in the Derby.
Rich Podolsky More than 1 year ago
Mike--On TV they made a big deal that Sassy's Image had just recovered from throat surgery. I've seen horses win first out like that before. But there's nothing in the fom to indicate that. Shouldn't the bettors be allowed ot get this info, too? --Rich, New York
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
Castanon was not abusing anything. These horses can't even feel these limp PETA whips. Enough with the PETA crowd. I didn't have Shack and wouldn't have bet him with sombody else's money but his rider rode him for his highest placing . Thats what jockeys are suppossed to do. I suppose you thought Desormeuex did the right thing stiffing BB that had no injury. Shack was nowhere near falling down and never took a bad step. 4th in the derby will be the horses claim to fame and well may give him a chance to stay off of some Frenchmans or Indonesians plate. Robby Albarado's wife is the one who got the beating not Shack. Albarado is the one that should be censured. I'm appalled and upset that people that rarely if ever make a bet or visit a track have so much to say about the brutality of racing. People that bet that horse in the Super were glad that the jockey perservered for his top placing. Its not just about who wins. In case you didn't notice without betting there is no racing and no use for thoroughbred horses in this world. The sissifying & PETAfication of racing will be its end. Pageantry yadayada ain't what makes the game go. I'm hungry . I think Ill go out and find a PETA member to Bar-B- Q and have myself a sandwhich. Would you like me to bring you back some tofu.
meathead01 More than 1 year ago
BSB in total agreement I couldnt have said it better mh01
LAZMANNICK More than 1 year ago
You can't make an assumption of how good or mediocre Animal Kingdom is until he has a couple more races. So far he has done pretty well everything asked of him and he is still developing. He lost his maiden race (1st start), but it was at 8.5F not the traditional 5 F or 6F most break their maidens in. He was an authoritative winner of two 9F races, both run in different styles, up close and from well back. His Beyers might not be all that high, but they have been on turf and synthetic tracks which notoriously get smaller Beyer numbers. I would think that for his first race on dirt, a race in which he didn’t dictate the slow pace but which he overcame anyway, he ran well and a 103 Beyer for his first race on dirt is more than acceptable in my mind. The next two will t