05/08/2009 12:00AM

Derby Week proves more than a one-race affair


PHOENIX - We learned in the Kentucky Derby that horses are not machines, that the result doesn't always "make sense" to our handicapping eye. That's part of the charm of this game, and the buttress of the dream: that a good horse can come from anywhere.

But there were other lessons to be learned and items to be taken away from Derby Week aside from the obvious.

* Einstein, who won the Woodford Reserve for the second straight year on Derby Day, is truly a remarkable animal. With his versatility he reminds you of John Henry or Lava Man. In fact, if he can go on and win the Grade 1 Stephen Foster next month at Churchill, he'll join Lava Man as the only horse to have won Grade 1 stakes on turf, dirt and synthetic.

Einstein has managed to compete at the highest level on all three surfaces, and in his Woodford Reserve defense showed the grit we've come to associate with the aforementioned duo and other stalwarts.

* Lost in all the ruckus was a monstrous win by Informed Decision in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Derby Day. She looked hopelessly beaten turning for home, and when she got going she had to veer inward for room, then switch back out. She found another gear late to burst through and win going away. Sure, the filly and mare division's waters are awfully deep with Zenyatta, Seventh Street, Life Is Sweet, One Caroline, Music Note, and Rachel Alexandra when she starts facing elders. But Informed Decision now has two straight Grade 1 stakes going seven furlongs and is bred to go farther.

* Bobby Frankel was expected to hold a very strong hand in the turf division with two Euro transplants, the male Zambezi Sun and the female Visit. Things haven't quite worked out, however. They just can't seem to relax, acting as if they had eight cups of coffee before they get in the gate.

In the Churchill Downs Distaff Mile, Visit was tossing her head, forcing rider Garrett Gomez to take hold. When he did, she sucked back to last and was left with far too much to do. Zambezi Sun even had his bit changed for the Woodford Reserve after a couple races in Southern California where he was rank and unmanageable. It happened again as he was tough to settle and didn't have enough gas in the tank left for the stretch run of the Woodford.

* All the doubt regarding how the California 3-year-olds in the Derby would take to dirt was silly to begin with. The strong showings of California's three best entrants - Pioneerof the Nile (second), Papa Clem (fourth), and Chocolate Candy (fifth) - not only validates their quality but quashes the notion they wouldn't flourish on dirt.

What many don't seem to have realized is that these are three dirt-bred horses who handle synthetic. They're not turf-bred horses who handle synthetic and might then have trouble moving to dirt. Their sires (Empire Maker, Smart Strike, Candy Ride) were all Grade 1 dirt winners, so why wouldn't they handle dirt?

* There's an old line in gambling: Big money does not always equate to smart money. Well, Mine That Bird's win is another example of how hard it is to predict success from how much a horse cost. A mere $9,500 purchase (later purchased privately for $400,000) his name is now etched in immortality. Derby lore is strewn with others like him - Seattle Slew ($17,500), Spectacular Bid ($37,000), Genuine Risk ($32,000), Sunday Silence ($32,000), Unbridled ($70,000), Lil E. Tee ($25,000), Thunder Gulch ($40,000) Real Quiet ($17,000), War Emblem ($20,000, later sold privately for $900,000), and Funny Cide ($22,000).

* Warrior's Reward is a 3-year-old to watch. He was second to Dunkirk when that guy ran huge to win an allowance race at Gulfstream, but then had a dreadful time of it on a sandy surface when up the track in the Tampa Bay Derby. That may have been a blessing in disguise, however, as his connections took a pass on the Derby and instead went in an allowance sprint on Oaks Day. After being last early, he roared up the rail under Calvin Borel (should have known, huh?) to blast past the field and romp, earning a 104 Beyer. This son of Medaglia d'Oro (same sire as Rachel Alexandra) could be a big player in the division come Haskell/Travers time.