- Here's the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses, people, and, this week, dogs who I think will be in the news on and around Kentucky Derby day.
1) Any Given Saturday - Yeah, I can just picture John at Not to the Swift rolling his eyes, along with any number of other rational readers, but Pletcher's colt remains in the top spot, albeit partially because I don't yet want to admit to being wrong. But I certainly don't think that any of the other horses that ran on Saturday are more likely Derby winners than he, and that includes Nobiz Like Shobiz.
Any doubt that I may now have is not at all because of his third place finish in the Wood, which I think was perfect, and exactly the kind of performance he was being prepared for by Todd Pletcher. Rather, it seems as if he's developed into more of a pace stalker/grinder than the midpack closer he was in his first couple of races, and I don't know if that will serve him well in the Derby. It seems really hard to believe that John Velazquez had no option other than to send him four wide up into the turn in a six horse field - perhaps it was part of the training regimen and the grand plan that some don't believe Pletcher really has for big race days - and I certainly hope the horse shows more versatility than that come Derby day. In the Derby, depending on the circumstances, Velazquez may have no choice but to stay further behind and make his move at the quarter pole, and that would be a good thing.
Steve Haskin ponders Any Given Saturday's inability thus far to win a stretch duel:
He is a beautifully made colt with a powerful shoulder, but he runs with his head up, and who knows if that contributes to his failure in stretch duels, where you like to see a horse lower his head and shoulder, dig down, and look his opponent in the eye, while pushing off from his hind end. It's not as easy getting that push when your head and neck are up in the air. [Bloodhorse]2) and 3) Street Sense and Great Hunter, Great Hunter and Street Sense; in whichever order you prefer, either or both have an opportunity to become the clear favorite(s) in the Derby with big performances in the Blue Grass on Saturday, Polytrack or not, and despite the fact that both will have only two preps.
If I had to guess at this point, I'd say that Street Sense is the more likely of the two to step up. He had a quick workout of 58 2/5 over at Churchill last week.
“He was awesome,” [jockey Calvin] Borel said. “The horse is just getting better and better. Carl’s got him on the right road, and you just couldn’t ask for any better. He did it happy. He galloped out strong, and I really didn’t squeeze no buttons or nothing — he was just there for me.” [NY Times]As for Great Hunter, the Doug O'Neill bandwagon is showing signs of skidding right off the Trail at this point. The note in Jay Privman's article in the Form that Cobalt Blue and Liquidity remain under consideration for the Derby has me reaching for the phone to make my first call of the year to 1-800-NODERBY and vote them the hell out. Really, you gotta be kidding me. And in that context, I'm finding the notion of Great Hunter winning the Derby off his unorthodox preparation harder to buy than I previously did. He needs to really get something out of the Blue Grass, having raced only once since the Breeders Cup, and that a facile win against a weak field. Then he must be ready to do it again three weeks later. We haven't seen one of O'Neill's Derby contenders (or his Oaks contender for that matter) run big in some time now. Notional's Florida Derby was decent, but perhaps his hopefuls are tailing off at this point.
4) A group of activist greyhounds based at the Mardi Gras greyhound track in Hollywood, Florida finally come to the realization that the bunny they've been chasing all these years is fake, and that they're never actually going to catch it. At a press conference, the leader of the group calls for the abolition of the sport, urging his fellow greyhounds to walk off the job. "We've been taken advantage of long enough," he says. "What do these humans think we are, stupid?" He subsequently spends five minutes running in circles chasing his shadow cast by the TV lights, humps several reporters, and takes off in pursuit of a train rolling down the train tracks on US1, never to be seen again.
5) Nobiz Like Shobiz is being touted as a possible Derby favorite by some, and I say bring that on, man. I loved him in the Wood, but I don't believe that a race against five opponents in familiar and rather calm surroundings signals that he's all of a sudden ready to handle the mayhem he'll encounter both on and off the track at Churchill. I think it's quite possible that at the end of the day, he'll be recognized as one of the best of his generation. But he isn't yet, and I don't believe he's likely to be so at Churchill Downs on May 5.
6) Claiming that he was intruding in their waters, Iranian gunboats surround and seize Todd Pletcher from his bathtub in Garden City, NY. After tense negotiations, he manages to win his release by convincing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Ravel, who the diminutive Holocaust denier had in the futures pool, is truly hurt and unable to make the race. Back in NY, a shaken Pletcher announces that Circular Quay will skip the Derby and instead train up to the 2008 Whitney Handicap.
7) Scat Daddy is looking a little better these days, don't you think? No, it's not just the facial he received at the Ettia Holistic Day Spa. His 98 Beyer in the Florida Derby still holds up fairly well, and who else, I ask you, has thrown in a sub-13 second final eighth in a nine furlong race (as he did in the Fountain of Youth, at least according to Formulator....as well as a 13.08 last furlong in the Florida Derby.)?
8) After months of agonizing over making the proper arrangements for Barbaro's ashes, Roy and Gretchen Jackson announce that they have sold the late Derby winner's remains for an undisclosed sum (to be donated, of course, to equine veterinary research). The identity of the buyer is not announced, but eyebrows are raised several weeks later when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is seen cantering around the course at Royal Ascot. Shortly thereafter, Richards develops laminits in his guitar picking hand, and is humanely destroyed at the age of 137.
9) Rick Porter announces that Hard Spun has spurned the surface at Churchill Downs, and that he will be sent on a tour of U.S. tracks to test them out and see which ones he finds agreeable. If none of them are suitable, the colt will be sent to a stud farm to see how he likes mounting mares.
10) New York Governor Eliot Spitzer announces that any horse that wishes to compete in the Belmont Stakes will have to undergo a thorough integrity review. Each prospective runner will have their background and parentage checked, submit their most recent tax return and latest pair of shoes, and, in what becomes an unintentional innovation for the sport, be subjected to random and thorough drug testing.