THE FIRST MAJOR HOLIDAY OF THE THOROUGHBRED SEASON
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, so much so that over the years I’ve gone from a casual horseracing fan who just checks in during the five weeks of the big three to an observer who starts keeping track of next year’s potential field during the Breeders Cup in November. As it is with the majors in golf the Triple Crown races carry a special prestige, and, like the majors in golf, there is one Triple Crown race that holds a mystique all it’s own.
The Kentucky Derby is to the Triple Crown what the Masters is to golf’s majors, the one steeped in the most tradition and history, the one that plays out on the grandest stage and sets the expectations for the others to come. Tomorrow marks the 140th Run for the Roses and for me it’s become an annual holiday, complete with it’s special atmosphere and special menu. All that said, this commentary comes with a caveat. Anyone who’d put down a single sheckel on anything I say about any horse race is flat out nuts. Having shed myself of any potential guilt for anything stupid you might do, I can’t let the Kentucky Derby go by without taking note of the unique wrinkles that give each running it’s own identity.
It wasn’t long before the field of favorites for this one thinned. The two year olds that came out of November strong began falling by the wayside in mid winter as the prep races produced new names. Long gone are such highly regarded propects as Honor Code and Cairo Prince. Of those early favorites only California Chrome, probably at the top of everyone’s list since his going away win in the Santa Anita Derby, and Candy Boy, the Gary Stevens ridden colt that has been a steady comer since the first of the year, are in the field. Chrome is the favorite at 5-2, Candy Boy can earn you some money with a win, at 15-1.
The latest to fall from the field was second favorite Hopportunity, at 6-1, scratched yesterday with a sore left front foot, replaced by 50-1 shot Pablo Del Monte, who moves into the outside gate in the 20 horse field. I wouldn’t go looking beyond a 20-1 shot if you’re trying to make money on this one, and if you go that high the best bet appears to be Bob Baffert’s Chitu, who has a great winning percentage, but in a very short body of work, four starts, three firsts.
Still the field does come with a couple of interesting entries. With Hopportunity gone, Wicked Strong, now at 6-1, becomes the second favorite, and, at a mile and a quarter, he has a better distance pedigree than California Chrome, but Chrome’s body of work is hard to argue with. 17 starts, in the money each time, 10 wins, six seconds, the only horse in the field with over a million dollars in earnings. Hunch players might like Intense Holiday, out of the 16th gate at 8-1, hunch players and New York Giants fans. He’s co owned by Giants co owner Chris Mara.
California Chrome drew a great gate, number five, allowing him to run straight out and go for early speed because he only has a short track to the rail. Wicked Strong is in the 19th gate and the traffic between him and the rail may end up being just too much. California Chrome, without the distance pedigree, has shown a lot of staying power over the long haul of the season, and that’s how I’m tempted to go, with Wicked Strong and Candy Boy filling my trifecta. But I don’t have enough faith in my judgment to enjoy this great event beyond recreationally. Neither should you.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.