05/08/2017 12:40PM

Hovdey: Reading between the Derby footnotes


Unless you win the race or your horse gets hurt, it is hard to take a 20-horse Kentucky Derby seriously, especially when it is run on a track that looks like a peanut butter slurry.

However, that does not stop the chart-callers at Equibase from parsing the melee down to the smallest dips and dives. Leave it to them to turn the Charge of the Light Brigade into a dry and tidy eyewitness report straight out of “Dragnet.”

This observer needed a score or more of stop-and-start viewings to cobble together a very unofficial set of comments on the 143rd Kentucky Derby. The task was rendered even more daunting when at least half the field had become unrecognizable by the time they were wobbling through the stretch. How do those Equibase guys do it?

Of course, by then, the winner was long gone after a picture-perfect trip. Johnny Velazquez had to drop only one of the six pairs of goggles he wore in defense of the conditions, and his pants were still white, as if he were in a whole different race. Which he kind of was.

So, here goes. Off at 6:52 p.m., the latest start in Derby history:

ALWAYS DREAMING, unaware of his trainer’s record in the race, broke like Town Policy and put himself on the flank of STATE OF HONOR through an opening quarter during which they reminisced about their last encounter in the Florida Derby, what a nice day it was, and why it couldn’t be like that in Kentucky in May. They went back and forth like that for the first five-eighths, at which point Always Dreaming asserted his dominant personality and went on to win in a waltz, thereby making Todd and Terry cry. LOOKIN AT LEE, who dozed off in post No. 1 during the minute and a half he spent in the gate waiting for the rest of the field to load, woke up just in time to scream, “Let’s go, Limey!” at THUNDER SNOW in the adjacent stall, then became confused and dropped far back when that one suddenly disappeared. Once settled, Lookin At Lee skimmed an inner rail decorated at intervals with graffiti reading “Calvin Was Here” on his way to a solid runner-up finish. BATTLE OF MIDWAY, third into the first turn, was third at the finish in case no one noticed. CLASSIC EMPIRE broke alertly, almost too alertly, and was rewarded with a body check from MCCRAKEN of which Gordie Howe would have been proud, staggered to his left, colliding with J BOYS ECHO, and righted the ship only to find himself in company with GIRVIN and GUNNEVERA, which was hardly the plan. Once the cobwebs cleared, Classic Empire put in a steady run outside of horses, made the final turn out by Central Avenue, and then flinched as McCraken tried to get him from the other side before gamely running on for fourth. PRACTICAL JOKE got the trip Classic Empire wanted. TAPWRIT had his bell rung at the start by IRISH WAR CRY, sucked back to get a face full of mud, bravely persevered until finally in the clear on the rail, and then just missed collecting fifth money of $60,000, which does not sound like a lot, but after all, he did cost $1.2 million as a yearling, and every little bit helps. Gunnevera, saddled with the hopes of the Venezuelan nation, was in a good position early, if by “good position” you mean racing behind 13 other horses into a wall of mud hitting you in the kisser like it was sprayed from a firehose, angled even wider than Classic Empire to make his run, and finished on even terms with most of those around him. McCraken was not really to blame for the roughhouse at the start, but that’s what happens with that dumb gap where the starting gates are joined, and far be it for Churchill Downs Inc. to invest in a 20-stall gate even though 20 horses are practically required to run each year. Anyway, McCraken put in a game run around the turn and into the stretch before remembering he was a dead-short horse in the Blue Grass and was still playing catch-up. GORMLEY, who either wins or runs nowhere, ran nowhere. IRISH WAR CRY did a Bayern out of the gate, eliminating Tapwrit, McCraken, and Classic Empire, then got a better trip than he probably deserved before coming up as empty as a banker’s heart. It would have been cool if HENCE could have been fourth at some point – just to be able to say it – but he dropped out early, ahead of only the shadow of THUNDER SNOW, and improved his position to no avail. UNTRAPPED saved ground, ran evenly, and just missed catching Hence, which is not much consolation. Girvin would like a do-over. PATCH gawked at the crowd away from the gate, then gave it his best shot from midpack and beat all the horses he could hear. J Boys Echo never really recovered from his early troubles and pouted his way around. SONNETEER raced indifferently but made the course to complete the first 11-14-16 finish for an owner in Derby history. FAST AND ACCURATE gave his people a $200,000 supplementary thrill to the half but was not seen again after the field reached the far turn. IRAP ran as if shod with dinner plates. State of Honor provided the winner with a target for five-eighths of a mile, then gracefully retreated. Thunder Snow, reputedly a racehorse, went to bucking like Midnight barely 50 yards out of the gate and tried to shed his rider. He was pulled up and thankfully got out of the way.