01/02/2013 3:21PM

Dick Jerardi: Kentucky Derby prognosticating requires more guesswork

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Tom Keyser
Shanghai Bobby is the exemplar of 2-year-old form for the 2013 Derby, with a clean slate in five starts.

I feel far differently about the 3-year-old possibilities than I did this time last year. It was clear to me that the division was strong in 2012, that the racing would be competitive, that the 3-year-olds would improve all year and be major factors in the fall.

I want to get enthusiastic about this 2013 group, but when you were so wrong about everything, it is difficult to be confident about anything.

Even as the racing got serious in 2012, I was still certain it was going to be a wonderful group. The stars of 2011 were winning many of the Kentucky Derby prep races, confirming their 2-year-old form.

Then, Hansen and Union Rags got beat. That was the first sign that the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was not really the race I thought it was. Then, the good 2-year-olds did not get faster as the Derby approached. That was the second sign that the 2-year-old form was not going to hold up. By late summer, the entire crop had disappeared into the witness protection program.

So I am not ready to make any pronouncements about the Class of 2013. Given that the 2012 Derby and Preakness were dominated by I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister, two horses whose names I did not know a year ago, even basic assumptions are perilous.

The Derby is becoming a bit like the NFL playoffs, with far more than 12 possibilities. The hot team, not necessarily the best team, has won the Super Bowl in recent years.

Who liked Mine That Bird when 2009 began or Super Saver in 2010? Same with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and I’ll Have Another in 2012.

Mine That Bird and Super Saver were mostly forgettable after the Derby. Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another turned out to be legit.

Horse racing, like just about everything else, is cyclical.

It was not that long ago when a 2-year-old champion (Street Sense) could win the Derby (2007). Or a horse with great early 2-year-old form (Afleet Alex) could dominate the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (2005).

Recently, it has been about the late developers. That could change as quickly as it began. But that is where it is as we begin 2013.

Does that mean Shanghai Bobby could not turn out to be a superstar, sweep the Triple Crown, and get on the cover of Time, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek? Well, no Newsweek. Hard to get on a cover that no longer exists, in print, anyway. The Shanghai Bobby scenario is possible, just not very likely.

What’s not to like about Shanghai Bobby, the unbeaten winner of the Juvenile, a colt who held his form from April to November, won at five different distances and four different tracks? Other than the slow time of the Juvenile, there really is nothing not to like, except for the way the sport has evolved.

It is not about a specific horse any longer. It is about the sport and how it has changed so dramatically. Form lasts weeks not years. The way horses are trained (or not trained) has been altered completely. It is really hard to depend on anything over the long term, much less the short term.

I have certainly been impressed with Violence (can they please change the name?), another talented and unbeaten Todd Pletcher 2-year-old. He’s fast, versatile, and certainly looks to have the right bloodlines.

But what happens to all those Pletcher 2-year-olds between November/December and May? America’s dominant trainer seems to be able to do anything but win those May races they run in Louisville and Maryland. How do you explain that? I really can’t.

Visually, I really liked the one-two finishers in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Uncaptured and Frac Daddy. I am especially hoping Frac Daddy becomes a contender as his trainer Ken McPeek can then give national testimony to that Northeast Philly delicacy that is the Chink’s Cheesesteak. (When he was in town for Pennsylvania Derby last September, McPeek got a first taste. He will be making special trips just to get back there). Before I got too excited about that November race at Churchill, however, I noted the dreadful time that equated to a bizarre 76 Beyer and led to even more confusion.

So, as we begin the prep race season, my advice is to keep an open mind, a very open mind.

I always used to laugh at those people who bet the field in craps or Derby futures. Well, I know somebody who just spent hours betting the field at a hot craps table in Atlantic City and went from nearly broke to getting out of town with hundreds falling out of his pockets. At this stage, the only bet I like is the unknown. Sadly, I will take the Field.