Ky. Derby Trail: Tickets Going Fast

No, not seats; tickets to the starting gate. Spaces are filling at a rapid rate and there aren’t many left for all the horses scheduled to run over the next two weekends.

In case no one has noticed, half of the 20-horse starting field already have the graded earnings and have stamped their tickets to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Those horses are Dialed In, Shackleford, Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty, Pants on Fire, Mucho Macho Man, Twice the Appeal, Animal Kingdom, and Decisive Moment. All are heading for the Derby, leaving only 10 spots still open. Throw in Uncle Mo and that leaves nine.

Of course, it doesn’t matter that six of those 10 horses lost their final Derby prep, with three of them finishing out of the money. It is tough to get within one race of the Derby and give up the dream, and it appears not many are willing to do that. Can you blame them? With the majority of 3-year-olds now having only two or three starts prior to the Derby, it seems it really doesn’t matter anymore what they do in their final start. A regression in form, no matter how drastic, is now considered merely a throw-out race. Although To Honor and Serve was beaten 6 3/4 lengths in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Soldat 10 3/4 lengths, and Stay Thirsty 16 3/4 lengths, their trainers have all said the Kentucky Derby is still in their plans.

As Stay Thirsty’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said, they have decided to go by his body of work, rather than the one race.

All three are graded stakes winners and all have good races in their resume. It is those races that are taking precedence over the not-so-good races, even when the not-so-good races are the all-important final prep. So, are the connections of these horses heading to Louisville pretty much on a hope and a prayer? Do they feel their horses have a realistic chance to win the Derby off those final preps? Only they can answer that.

The Derby trail used to be a pretty straight path. Venture too far off that path and lose your way and you’re gone. But now, there are so many side streets that lead back to Churchill Downs from all directions, it doesn’t really matter what the old road map says. If you can somehow find your way there, that’s good enough. When a horse like Mine That Bird can blaze a new trail from New Mexico to Kentucky, it gives hope to anyone who has a horse with sufficient graded earnings

You can ask yourself: Was Soldat exposed in any way? Can To Honor and Serve get a mile and quarter after faltering early in both his races? Is there a reason why Stay Thirsty never was in the race at any point? The answers are all the same – “I don’t know.” And these days, “I don’t know” apparently is good enough.

We'll leave you with this question: Of the 10 horses mentioned above who have earned their way into the starting gate and are planning to run, how many do you really really feel can win the Derby?

As for the Florida Derby itself, some are knocking the slow closing fractions, but in defense of the only two horses who did anything in the race, Dialed In overcame a speed biased track, on which none of the other winners came from farther back than 1 1/2 lengths. He had to run a :47 flat half within the body of the race just to maintain his position, which was at least a dozen lengths off the pace. He then unleashed a powerful run on the far turn, but had to swing six-wide turning for home. Shackleford was well into the stretch while Dialed In was still on the turn. He shaded :13 for the final eighth, with jockey Julien Leparoux giving him only three left-handed whacks and hand-riding him most of the way. In short, Dialed In won this race on his own talent and determination.

Some say Soldat’s main excuse was that he was down on the inside on the worst part of the track. Yet he was three paths off the rail down the backside, while Dialed In was right on the rail, well inside him. Soldat apparently didn’t care for the dirt being kicked in his face, but he will have to learn to deal with it when he encounters a 20-horse field, unless he goes back to running on the lead or can stalk from the outside.

Shackleford had to go five-wide into the first turn and proceeded to set stiff fractions of :46 1/5 and 1:10 3/5, which was two full seconds faster than the fractions of the Skip Away Stakes (gr. III) for older horses the race before. He is still very green and like he did in his allowance victory he failed to maintain a straight course, this time ducking out badly from a left-handed whip. But you had to like the way he dug in when challenged by Dialed In and how he galloped out. He will need to keep improving mentally and race more professionally. And we have no idea if he can be effective sitting off the pace. But he does have a lot of ability.

His sire, Forestry, is out of a Pleasant Colony mare and his dam is by Unbridled, so he has two Kentucky Derby winners and stamina influences in his second and third generations. He also is inbred to Dr. Fager and In Reality, both major class influences.

So, the Florida Derby did nothing to alter the Derby field, other than to add Shackleford.

Compiling this week’s Derby Dozen was a study in confusion. We dropped the three Florida Derby also-rans, because of the old-school logic that is still embedded in our brain. Would it be a shock to see a horse like Soldat bounce back in the Derby? Not anymore it wouldn’t.

Although they didn’t make this week’s list, Santiva, Archarcharch, Nehro, Toby’s Corner, and Crimson China are still very much in our Derby picture. We dropped Santiva for the first time just to get a handle on him running in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack and what that race might do or not do for him. It could prove to be a bad move or it could prove to be a stroke of genius. Darned if we know at this point, but he likely will be back on the list.

We didn’t put Nehro on, because we still want to see if he will run back in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) or go six weeks into the Kentucky Derby off only four career starts, something Animal Kingdom will have to do as well. Nehro is a vastly improved horse with tremendous upside.

Archarcharch is a horse we wrote extensively about recently and he has a lot of angles going for him. After this weekend’s races, there is a good chance he will be on next week’s list as the Arkansas Derby approaches.

Crimson China is a horse that caught our eye in his allowance victory on grass, and we thought he ran an exceptional race to be second in the Rushaway Stakes. Like his stablemate, Animal Kingdom, he still has to prove himself on dirt, and if he runs big in the Blue Grass, that proof won’t come until the Derby. But we just think he’s a very good horse. Also in the Blue Grass, watch out for Data Link, another grass horse, who has run well on dirt. He has enormous potential and should keep improving. But he needs to handle the Polytrack.

Finally, Toby’s Corner is still a work in progress, but if he runs in the Wood Memorial, he only needs to finish second to get in the Derby, and with showers in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, that would move him up after his victory in the Whirlaway Stakes in the slop.

That’s just a few of the intriguing horses who are trying to make it into the Derby. Expect a few others to pop up in the next couple of weeks.


Leave a Comment:


I'd be interested in knowing how many Derby winners only achieved enough graded earnings in their last start before the Derby.

In other words

In other words, has it paid off for many horse to get those last few dollars in the Bluegrass or AK Derby or even the Lexington?

05 Apr 2011 4:50 PM

If PLETCHER looks at a horses total body of work when looking at the Derby then NO WAY would he enter Stay Thirsty this horse is way to slow to win the roses simple as that. Brethren may be as well but at least he has some speed. I am willing to give him another shot in Arkansas before I say the same about him. I am just hoping Borel gets the mount on ST so he takes more money then he should come Derby Day.

05 Apr 2011 6:15 PM

Happy Birthday, Steve!  One of your biggest fans wished you well from her Diary post #220 today!

05 Apr 2011 6:37 PM
Junie Wise, Rocky Road Farm,Rineyville,Ky


"Happy Birthday"...have many more!!!!

I cannot figure on why Todd is going to send Stay Thirsty to Louisville???

Right now Romans Horse is looking a lot better..agree?

I guess he want to cover all the bases

Lets get "Lucky"

05 Apr 2011 7:22 PM

Poormansracehorse: In recent years, Big Brown and Smarty Jones both got into the Derby with the earnings from their final preps (Big Brown in the FL Derby, Smarty Jones in the AR Derby). Neither horse had run in a graded race before his final prep. I wouldn't say it happens OFTEN, but it does happen.

05 Apr 2011 7:54 PM


You went as far as you could in this piece and I realize, as this is your profession, better to error on the side of discretion. But, this isn't my profession, and I'm employing a pseudonym to boot. For quite some time now, many owners are making a mockery of the KY Derby. The kicker is, that as more horses are entered that don't belong the field size has grown ever larger-generally approaching the 20 max. limit of late-increasing the "luck" angle, which circularly emboldens more owners to enter. I should also add that due to the present nature of the breed, latent stamina considerations are also today less of a factor, which further emboldens many to enter. Unfortunately, such practices are dulling the lustre of this epic race, perhaps so much so that one day the pendulum will swing as many will then find it less desirable to participate in the KY Derby.    

05 Apr 2011 8:14 PM
Steve Haskin

Sceptre, very well put. You said it bluntly than I did. I should have asked how many of the 10 horses do people really like to win the derby? In fact I may add that.

05 Apr 2011 8:26 PM

As long as Santiva runs well in the Blue Grass and hits the board( I think he has to for graded earnings), he is a Derby contender. He is already proven on the dirt, also a Churchill. I'm interested to see whether Jaycito is going to step up and do what people hope of him. I guess we'll see soon enough. Earlier in your article you said half the field is already filled with horses with enough earnings and Shackleford was on it. I don't think the low 200,000 mark is going to get him in. I think upwards of 270,000 is going to be what it takes unless the connections of THAS or Soldat or someone else with the earnings, but questionable recent starts will drop out. It should be interesting in the next few weeks

05 Apr 2011 8:42 PM

I 100% agree with everything sceptre said. Very average horses are getting into the Derby off 1 race they ran well in that may not of even been on dirt. There are things that could be done to change the way graded earnings are received. Fields with more accomplished horses, races on dirt, 3 yr old earnings vs. 2 yr old earnings all should be considered higher or more valuable. Maybe some kind of point system should be utilized. Keeping the field size to 14 like all other North American races should also be considered, but change in the thoroughbred racing world is hard to come by so here we are.

05 Apr 2011 8:52 PM
Hawaii Nick

Years ago as most remember - dosage was a critical factor in determining a list of Derby hopefuls.

Now (Mr. Haskin has also alluded this) that you want to find the horse that can have the lead at the eighth pole.

Mr. Haskin, can you tell your readers why you choose to use the word "WE" when giving your particular insight?  Is someone else helping you compile these Derby Dozen lists?

05 Apr 2011 9:13 PM

Mine That Bird finished a distant 4th in the Sunland Derby in his last prep. Thunder Gulch finished a distant 4th in his last prep on a SPEED favoring track! You ask yourself why these trainers are still considering the derby? Those are 2 reason's. Giacomo didn't even finish 2nd in a race prior to the derby and he still ran and won. No one thought he was fast enough. Anything can happen. Why not take a chance if you have the earning's to get in. You never know!!

05 Apr 2011 10:11 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Derby Fever-No known cure. The overmatched horses are the only ones hoping for a cure, but how are they going to force the owners to take it? The owners don't want to be cured. If they can get in, they will go in for the most part even at the risk of ruining a good prospect that could have made them money down the road. It would be extraordinary to see a field less than 18 again. 20 is the norm now, but it is always possible for a few to come up with an illness or injury after the draw. Normally you'd want to see some kind of improvement or decent showing in their final prep to think the horse has a chance. At least they are racing in the last few months prior to The Derby however. Tough to beat the futility and poor judgement of running Homeboykris in last year's Derby off of an over two month layoff. We don't have any of those this year do we? Lesson learned with the long layoff for To Honor And Serve? Very few can get away with that. Maybe Mo can, and Street Sense did but they are special talents. I don't see the point in the late starts for healthy horses.

05 Apr 2011 10:15 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

You may as well put Archarcharch on your list next week since he's going to be fairly high on the list after The Arkansas Derby anyway. He's growing up fast !!!!

05 Apr 2011 10:19 PM

Pletcer is running Stay Thirsty because....he can. It gives him another spot in the starting gate, takes one away from the competition, and the owner wants to....why must things be so compicated with some of you? it is really that elementary...remember he is runing a business, this isn't your pet in the back yard

05 Apr 2011 11:06 PM

I can't help but think that the people who run Churchill Downs are just plain greedy. They want the biggest possible handle, so they allow the biggest possible field.

If the Breeder's Cup limits  field size to 14 horses, why can't Churchill?

05 Apr 2011 11:47 PM

Pletchr should put every 3 year old with sufficient earings on van to Louisville...are you kidding me? You must no have watched him dominate a weekend of racing last weekend. It was like the Todd Squad are the only people that can train a horse.

With that being said I'll try to beat him with Dailed In :~)

06 Apr 2011 12:38 AM

I'm not surprised at all any more to hear the extent of Derby fever.

There's a reason why half of just about every Kentucky Derby field is beaten about 20 lengths, and then never runs again;  half the horses don't belong in the race.  I would shudder to think how many horses have been run in the Derby when there was evidence that the horse was either out of form or worse, a little "off".  

Now, I believe most owners and trainers do the correct thing when faced with a definite injury.  What I'm discussing is when horses have soured or are in poor form, or possibly starting to nurse some ailment or illness.  The probability is that at least a few horses that have started in the Derby have been sick or slightly off.  There's a reason why at the finish of every Derby it looks like a bomb went off in the back of the field(with horses straggling across the wire).  Whatever small illness or injury a horse can nurse will likely be pushed to the surface by the madness that is the Derby.

Again, I'm not saying owners, trainers, or jockeys are deliberately running horses they know to be hurt or sick.  However, I do believe Derby fever to be so strong that perhaps small signs are overlooked, and with thick rose-colored glasses on, evidence is either ignored or explained away that would otherwise suggest that the horse not run.

It's like Steve is pointing out.  Is it a coincidence that the connections of to Honor and Serve, Soldat, and Stay Thirsty are all choosing to either dismiss the Florida Derby or minimize its importance?  

As people who want to have a horse in the Derby, the connections are going to see what they want to see, even if maybe the evidence is contrary.  There's a reason why just about every trainer, owner, and jockey before the Derby comments about how their horse "couldn't be doing any better".  I have come to believe that most of them truly believe this, such is the strength of Derby fever.

And, as Steve writes, who can really blame them for perhaps being a little overoptimistic given how close they are to the Derby?

06 Apr 2011 12:53 AM

Happy Birthday Steve.....well written article. I still love Uncle Mo, he has done nothing wrong and is one of the most professional 3 year olds to come along in quite a while. I agree with some of the bloggers, I really dislike the 20 horse field. It's nothing but a calvary charge and horses get beat up and shuffled around. As evident in the last 2 Kentucky Derby's the best horse doesn't win. This is an eerie trend and it should concern the horsemen............

06 Apr 2011 2:12 AM

Phew, I'm sure glad Penny Chenery went on a body of work and not the final prep race before the Derby..;-)

I think what bugs me is something you have often pointed out about the modern trend of very few prep races before the Derby...obviously one of these horses will win the Derby at some point and be heralded as a "superhorse"....but, if everyone's doing it, does that make a super horse? Or just the best of the lightly raced?

06 Apr 2011 6:14 AM
Billy's Empire

Sceptre, A $2 million dollar race will always be desireable. When that race is named the KY Derby, it is the one that everyone dreams of winning. It is "The Greatest 2 minutes in sports"

06 Apr 2011 8:31 AM

Steve:  Are you off the Astrology bandwagon now?

06 Apr 2011 8:50 AM
The Fish

I get that Derby fever is hard break but some of these horse could go on to sterling careers if they skipped the derby.  How many horses have we seen try the Triple Crown when they weren't ready and then never be the same after wards.  Soldat looks like he could be a solid miler on dirt and turf.  Similarly Animal Kingdom has turf and synthetics written all over him.  If you ask me, the horses who legitimately should try the Derby are Uncle Mo, Dailed In, Pants on Fire, The Factor, Mucho Macho Man, Premier Pegasus, Jaycito, and we'll see who else comes out of the Wood, Illinois, Arkansas, and Santa Anita. I no longer trust the Blue Grass.  

06 Apr 2011 10:48 AM

I don't think Shackleford has "stamped his ticket" at all.  He is hanging onto the tail end of the earnings list and with all the preps still to go I think he is unlikely to get in, unless a LOT of contenders drop out.

06 Apr 2011 11:16 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

@Erythrura, just want to mention that Smarty Jones entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated, after running in the excellent series of Derby preps Oaklawn offers.

06 Apr 2011 11:26 AM

Pletcher is only considering Stay Thirsty to add one more horse to the Derby who he knows CAN'T beat Uncle Mo.  One less horse to worry about.

06 Apr 2011 12:16 PM
Zenyatta John

I'm currently doing a rain dance for Toby's Corner - would love to see him steamroll Uncle Mo.

06 Apr 2011 12:17 PM

Looks like rain for Santa Anita Derby this weekend.  Do any of the contenders have a proven record in the slop?  Who has an off-track pedigree?

06 Apr 2011 2:00 PM
just me

I whole-heartedly agree with the comments here on too many horses being run in the Derby whether they realistically have a chance to win or not.  The 20 horse cavalry charge needs to end.  It serves no one.  Legitimate contenders like Lookin at Lucky get trashed and often horses who are flukes win.  The field should be limited to 14.  I believe that would eliminate that extra outside gate.  And some scheme that favors three year old and route races would improve things.

06 Apr 2011 2:31 PM
Bill Daly

There will always be dreamers when it comes to the Derby. Unfortunately, some of those dreams have compromised the careers of some promising horses [and some not so promising].  I think the worst example I can remember is the guy who entered a maiden who had already been beaten multiple times.  This was obviously before you needed so much graded earnings to qualify.  It probably helped inspire that rule. What really bothers me are the people that enter quality sprinters like Bombay Duck or Shecky Greene in the Derby.  As great as those horses were in their given forte they had absolutely no chance at all to hit the board - although Shecky Greene came close.  Asking horses like these to extend themselves over a distance way past their optimum is cruel in my opinion and just plain stupid. A waste of their talent, if you will.  To add injury to insult, poor Bombay Duck was conked in the head by a beer can during the run down the stretch the first time around.  Talk about no respect!

06 Apr 2011 2:32 PM

GunBow eloquently hit the nail on the head.  I read an article recently that said the Kentucky Derby is likely the most traumatic event a racehorse would endure.  I'd never thought of it that way, but after much rolling over in my mind, I can honestly say that statement has merit.  The past two years I've tried to pay more attention to where runners from the Derby end up.  To me, there seems to be a large number who are never the same again. Are these young three year olds being asked for too much by throwing them into a 20 horse calvary charge just because the owner has Derby fever?  I think GunBow is right, the 20 horse field in the Derby won't go away anytime soon.  But I sure would like to see some of these potential stars hang around long enough to actually become stars.

06 Apr 2011 2:38 PM

Why wish for Uncle Mo to be steamrolled in the Wood? He's a good horse, why wish for his defeat? It's one thing to like another horse better but it's another (smelly) kettle of fish all together to root for the favorite to go down just for the heck of it.

I'm far from being UM's biggest fan. What I would like to see in the Wood is his being tested and come up on top at the end. I hope someone in there makes him earn a victory. Maybe then, I'll be convinced that he deserves the title of "KD Favorite". His one race so far this year did not do it for me. However I'm more than willing to get "wowed" by a challenged but winning performance this coming Saturday. If the Wood turns out to be another Timely Writer, I'll continue to have serious doubts.  

06 Apr 2011 3:12 PM
Matthew W

Steve the other side of that equation is if everybody knows the means to "get in", then maybe they'll start showing up for the graded races, and that includes two year old races--it's always been a chess game, this is (usually) true: the best horse uaually wins the Kentucky Derby--Mine That Bird was best that day, and Giocomo was (at least) a consistent Gr I horse--sometimes you get an Afleet Alex, who hangs--as did Point Given--but usually the best horse wins the Kentucky Derby.....

06 Apr 2011 3:47 PM
Matthew W

Mine That Bird woult NOT have qualified by standards pointed out on this blog--he won the Kentucky Derby by EIGHT!!!

06 Apr 2011 3:48 PM

Shelby's Best Pal: yes, but only the Arkansas Derby was a graded race at the time. The AR Derby (then a Grade 2) was Smarty Jones' first graded stakes race.

06 Apr 2011 4:09 PM
Sunday Silence

An honorable move by Peter Miller, no Steve?

Comma to the Top has $471,000 in graded stakes earnings, but Miller reiterated on Monday that the gelding is unlikely for the Kentucky Derby regardless of the Santa Anita Derby outcome, thoughts he expressed last week.

“I don’t think he wants a mile and a quarter,” he said. “I don’t want to ruin the horse to satisfy my ego.”

06 Apr 2011 4:26 PM

Would like to see the field cut to 14 based on some common criteria. Anyone know what is the most common thread that the last 20 KDs show for the horses that ran 15th or worse? Only throw out criteria if it sprouted a winner. Forget 15 yrs of poor showings by grass sprinters if 5 hit the top ten. It's still unlikely etc...there will always be a freak one or two did this or that argument but cut it by earnings or change it to earnings in Grade Is only or wins at X distance or longer etc...

06 Apr 2011 4:44 PM
Zenyatta John

Zookeeper -

I guess you didn't read the first part of my comment mentioning Toby's Corner - my rooting interest. Why wouldn't I root for the horse I like and against the horse to beat, it's called taking a side. Isn't that what we do every time we make a bet?

So it wasn't for nothing or smelly as you put it.

06 Apr 2011 5:01 PM

The 20 horse cavalry charge needs to end.  It serves no one.  Legitimate contenders like Lookin at Lucky get trashed and often horses who are flukes win.  The field should be limited to 14.  I believe that would eliminate that extra outside gate. ( just me 06 Apr 2011 2:31 PM ).

Can you figure out a way of limiting it to 14 horses? The way is at the present time uses graded race earnings from 2 Y.O. and 3 Y.O. graded races. Some of the horses sometimes sufficient earnings as a 2 Y.O. therefore almost securing a Derby starting gate entry, not all in the top (14), deserve to be in the Derby, a lot of the horses (below the top 14) might be more deserving, but wouldn't get in the Derby gate because insufficient graded earnings. The top 14 graded earners does not always mean the winner is in this group. Because of the 2 Y.O. earnings of some horses, they make fewer starts (races) as a 3 Y.O.

06 Apr 2011 5:28 PM

The best horse uaually wins the Kentucky Derby, the  best that day.

Matthew W 06 Apr 2011 3:47 PM

You are right on about this. I heard a trainer saying not who is the horse, but who is the best horse that day? If you can figure this out (which horse) it is, you have a good chance of picking the winner

06 Apr 2011 6:18 PM
Old Timer

Matthew, you may have a point. I hate the way present day thoroughbreds race so sparingly. Mo gets in three races as a 2 year old and now two more before the triple crown. However, the current system for making it into the Derby based on graded earnings may eventally change that. How long before a few wise guys decide that they can get a lot more graded earnings by running their horses 6 to 8 or even 10 times at two and then getting another 4 starts or more at three? It will give them a competitve advantage. Then others will have to follow suit or they may get shut out of the Kentucky Derby due to coming up short on graded earnings.

I for one would welcome an end to these prima donna horses running three times a year. Plus it can only be a good thing for the fans.

06 Apr 2011 7:43 PM
Horse Lover

Didn't Charismatic get into and win the Derby after winning the Lexington at Keeneland which is a late date prep?

06 Apr 2011 7:44 PM

What a thought-provoking article, Steve, which leaves me still unable to be absolutely sure who I think can win the Derby. So many comments are well thought out and well stated that I'm sitting here reading and enjoying all the different points of view, but a few really stand out.  Rachel says ".obviously one of these horses will win the Derby at some point and be heralded as a "superhorse"....but, if everyone's doing it, does that make a super horse? Or just the best of the lightly raced?" and that sums up a lot of what I've been thinking.  As fond as I have grown of Uncle Mo, is it that he really is that good or just that the rest are mediocre?  It is my opinion also that the field size for the Derby makes it more a cavalry charge than a real test of the best horses, but I have not yet heard of a cure for this Derby Fever so as long as Churchill allows it, the owners and trainers are going to fill those gates.    

06 Apr 2011 8:08 PM

Z John,

Keep dancing! It may work.

06 Apr 2011 9:46 PM
Matthew W

Steve and everyone on this blog: Lucky for us to have Haskin--He see and knows things about this game, this race--that others do not---he's not gonna be like "Uncle Mo's tons best and they won't be close to that monster"--not that kinda blog--cuz Haskin sees the whole picture--winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the hardest things to do in sports, if not the hardest--there are so many veriables, you have to know what it is you're looking at--every day is another piece of the puzzle, and preps are just that--the Kentucky Derby Trail is a one of a kind thing in sports, in life, for that matter--for myself, the Trail itself is the highlight of The Sport Of Kings--this weekend at Santa Anita, I will be witness to one of the best fields in years, I want to see it up close and take it all in--I know what I'm looking at and when I think about being at Clockers Corner, to watch them into their 2nd turn leans--I'll be watching for the horses who are still balanced in their leans--they are the stamina laden ones, maybe only one or two, but I'll catch 'em....I always root for the Cal-breds, and there's a nice one in there--also they're gonna showcase two other Cal-breds that day: Unzip Me, whom I liked from the very start and is becoming a great well as my favorite horse, the small tough guy Caracortado, who is maybe even the best miler not named Goldikova, and, thanks to his trainer for realizing who he is, he is becoming a great horse....too good, and thats only over here--New York has the champ in the Wood--I root for Cali horses/mostly Cali breds--but have found myself fond of the N Y breds, as well--out here, there's some major sorting out to do, and Saturday they are gonna do just that...right now I like the faves in both races (Sat), MoMo and PrePeg...on first Sat in May it's Jaycito time.....thanks Haskin!

06 Apr 2011 11:14 PM
Matthew W

Comma To The Top is horse to beat on Sat--not saying he's gonna win, think he's likely gonna be caught by PrePeg--think Comma can/will be tough to pass on Sat....

06 Apr 2011 11:18 PM
Matthew W

Best Pal was second/the best horse...Easy Goer was second/the best horse (my opinion)....mostly the best horse wins the Derby, and if they're longshots--they usually prove their mettle--Unbridled....Ferdinand...Alysheba....Real Quiet....Silver Charm....Little E Tee...all paid well--but they proved also to be very good horses--my statement stands--best horse usually wins the derby!

07 Apr 2011 12:14 AM

Mathew W

Mine That Bird ranked 13th in earnings going into the derby as per Dan Illman at (see his current blog)

Also, Super Saver was 11th in earnings.

Neither ever won another race!

They both had the benefit of great rides by Calvin Borel. I also think they benefited from wet tracks.


The current system needs to be modified. Perhaps earnings from a grade 1 should count more than a grade 2 and even more than a grade 3. What's the point of grading races if it doesn't make a difference?

And of course the standard established by Breeders' Cup of 14 entrants should be followed.

Maybe then a future 3 yo champion like Lookin at Lucky wouldn't get wiped out just after the start.

Suppose Uncle Mo or The Factor [assuming they run well in their final preps and are favored] get stuck with the 1 and 20 post. It could ruin their chances too and that would be a shame.

07 Apr 2011 12:56 AM
Matthew W

"....and you know somethings happening but ya don't know what it is--do you, Mr--CHO!!??"...Mr Cho about to know what it's like to be D Wayne Lukas/Bob Baffert/Nick Zito--all rolled into one!

07 Apr 2011 4:42 AM

Sometimes a horse who wins the KD doesn't fully get the credit it deserves (Superhorse) at the time; that doesn't come until a bit later.  Seattle Slew WAS a superhorse all the time, of course, but it was said...yes, well, but he hasn't been tested enough(--never mind how he was tested in the Derby after a disastrous start and then had to push his way through a wall of horses to gain a position and run very fast fractions with For The Moment, and then again in the Preakness by the very speedy and classy Cormorant--)and was just beating a rather mediocre group/crop that year.  HE WAS MAKING THEM LOOK MEDIOCRE BECAUSE HE WAS THAT GOOD; was from the very start of his career.  Nobody was going to touch him.  Thank God he had a four-year old season that enabled him to crush Affirmed and finally put all that crap to rest once and for all.  Uncle Mo may or may not be a great horse, but the "not being tested" part doesn't really hold water.  If he's that good he will make the competition look mediocre the way Slew did.  

07 Apr 2011 9:02 AM

It'd sure be nice to see the favored win the Derby and run the table for the Triple Crown but it certainly makes for an exciting season if the unexpected comes to Louisville peaking and turns out to be the Superhorse "all along".

Steve, I just reread "Rachel and the Woodward".  It brought tears to my eyes, true brilliance!

07 Apr 2011 9:09 AM

I'd like to see R Heat Lightning run in the Derby, since she would be a real threat against Mo, who needs some sort of competition in that race.

I really don't understand why there is such urgency to fill 20 spots for the Derby with colts who don't really belong in the race and who pose a risk to more qualified entrants. There is no logic in sending these colts the owners and trainers know won't win the race, and from an economic perspective, is a stupid investment.

I am frustrated at this stage because I have to wait until June for what is already destined-Mo's Triple Crown. I really hope that the colts who chase him end up retired since the sheer bravado of the trainers needs to be tempered a bit. Sham's connections sent him after Secretariat in the Belmont and he never raced again. Golden Broom and John P. Grier were both broken racing with Man o' War.

Premier Pegasus is a hack who tired while beating a bunch of speed horses in the San Felipe. The illusion of crusing home would be accomplished by stopping one's car and letting the car ahead keep going.  The Factor has speed, but so what? Mo is destined to win and no one has yet to challenge him. I think the other colts chasing him will be sorely beaten, some will retire, or will never race again.

So, we know that Mo will win the Triple Crown. Who will be second and third among these claimers? Any thoughts? Mo has the ability to rate, run each quarter faster than the one preceding, and accelerates in a way that these colts can't match.

07 Apr 2011 10:18 AM
Nick Kling


Three years ago I did a survey of every Kentucky Derby starter from the previous 4 years.  It revealed a staggering number never recovered good form after the race.

Here is an excerpt, "(From 2004-2007), 78 horses started in the Kentucky Derby. A staggering total of 14 came out of the race either never racing again, or starting just a handful of times, unable to regain anything resembling decent form. That is 18 percent of ALL horses who started in the (Derby)."

I haven't updated it, but doubt little has changed.  I wonder if these pie-in-the-sky owners and trainers would continue to enter the hapless if they realized the carnage?

07 Apr 2011 12:05 PM

Good observations Steve. Back in the day the Kentucky Derby was the defining race in the career of a thoroughbred, trainer and owner but now it seems to be just a piece of an overall business plan augmented by several other lucrative stakes.

07 Apr 2011 12:48 PM

And we still have Santa Anita and Wood Memorial to thing we DO know over the years, you can't count anybody out! Although from a gambler's viewpoint we can probably knock a few horse off the betting list, I can't imagine being an owner of a horse who HAS proved enough somewhere this spring to be eligible, and then not run if he's 100% healthy. Dang straight, I would go if my horse had earned enough bucks to finance the trip and afford me a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience, even if deep down I knew he really didn't have a shot. Oh you betcha I would.


07 Apr 2011 1:01 PM

This is why the Kentucky Derby is losing much of its luster.  20 horses in the gate is far too many, more often than not the best horse does not win due to "racing luck".  Does anybody really believe that Super Saver or Mine That Bird will go down as great Derby winners?  Too many of these super wealthy owners just want to be part of the party that is the Kentuck Derby.  Why run Stay Thirsty?  Repole already has Uncle Mo in the race and based on ST's last race he is destined to be an also ran. Uncle Mo looks to tower over this years field, let's hope he doesn't have some bad racing luck and lose due to some owner wanting to have his horse in the race just to say he had a sarter in the Derby!!!  Dialed In could have a big say in the race but he may have to come 13 wide into the stretch.....

07 Apr 2011 1:18 PM

Here is a radical idea. What if the field was reduced to 14 and only graded earnings earned in the horse's 3 year old year counted towards the Kentucky Derby? You would then get the horses who were coming up to the race the best and there would be more emphasis on a horse's 3 year old campaign. Horse's like Uncle Mo wouldn't be able to just have 2 preps before the Derby if they wanted to be insured a spot in the starting gate.....

07 Apr 2011 2:00 PM
Matthew W

easy goer--yes Mine That Bird was 13th on graded earnings list--but those earnings were from Canadian races over synthetics--I have heard talk of tweaking the "get it" qualification method, and on future First Saturdays a horse like Mine That Bird my not draw in....

07 Apr 2011 3:25 PM
Matthew W

Well I heard about about a stunner, that horse was looking so fine....

07 Apr 2011 5:41 PM
Matthew W

Steve, unbelievable blow to Mr Cho, who has six horses in his stable, made up mostly of homebreds...unbelievable highs and lows of this game....

07 Apr 2011 6:03 PM

Well, it was a nice little ride for Premier Pegasus but the AP and are reporting he has a hairline fracture and is out of the SA Derby and out of the Ky. Derby...

Who is going to step up now?

And are those rumors about Uncle Mo NEEDING to time off and easy Derby prep schedule due to soundness issues true? There are a couple of posters on other blogs who claim they work at PM and UM had issues this winter.

Probably just rumors, but if it WERE true we would never here about it either. If the horse is healthy, he does appear to tower over this field.

07 Apr 2011 6:07 PM

dont  count  elite  alex  out   this  colt  just  needs  to put together one  race       he is  the diamond in the  rough   and  with  blinkers  now     we  may  see a  new  star to add to the mix

07 Apr 2011 6:21 PM
Sunny Farm

RichieD ; Hello ~

You have implied that MINE THAT BIRD merely had "Racing luck" ?

That colt came from far back & he swept by everyone,racing up the rail & squeaking through as only Borel would do. THAT is CLASS, not JUST "Racing Luck".

MINE THAT BIRD does deserve to go down in racing history.That was one of the most exciting races I have ever seen & that little horse showed a lot of heart.

07 Apr 2011 8:05 PM

PrePeg was the one horse in the SA Derby I really thought could compete with a horse like Uncle Mo.  To be sure, PrePeg had alot still to prove, but the talent, speed, acceleration, ratability, versatility, physique, and breeding were all there.  Unfortunately, durablity wasn't.

Without PrePeg, I wouldn't be surprised if we get a moderate and unspectacular winner.  The only horse I see that might be able to really step up and run a huge race is Silver Medallion.  But, it's possible Silver Medallion won't like the dirt and/or the dirt in his face, and he runs up the track.

Anthony's Cross and Jaycito are solid horses, but they just don't appear to have elite talent.

Comma to the Top has an excellent chance, but the presence of Midnight Interlude makes his task much more difficult.  I can easily see Comma leading to the 16th pole, but then being caught near the wire.

07 Apr 2011 9:34 PM
Bob Fritz

Not only were Mine That Bird's graded earnings won on a synthetic track, but he earned them at two. Surely, if the standards were tightened in 2009 he would have been one of the horses left out. Sometimes a case of Derby Fever pays off.

I don't have a problem with 20 horses. It gives the Derby that whole "chance of a lifetime" aura, but limits the field to a size where it's not dangerous.

07 Apr 2011 9:46 PM

Matthew W:  Like you said your opinion. My opinion, Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer 3 of 4, lost to him in the Belmont, but beat him in the BC Classic. Proofs in the pudding. To each his own I suppose.

Sad news about Premier Pegasus, this could even be worse then 4 or 5 months. Hairline fractures can escalate. This is usually about the time of year when our top 3 year olds start getting hurt and some unknown goes on and wins the Derby. Eskendereya last year, The Pamplemousse and I Want Revenge in 2009 to name a few. Very, very unfortunate.

08 Apr 2011 2:39 AM

Open up a spot thanks to Premier Peg's injury. Another reason why run Stay Thirsty...what if something like this happened to Mo in a workout? I still think this is why the conservative approach for Mo (that and his dominance though just a few races). I still think the field should be cut to 14 but to have a healthy horse and qualify and NOT go...that would probably be too hard for me to resist as well...I had a hard enough time giving up chocolate for Lent...

08 Apr 2011 8:44 AM
Matthew W

Deacon I won a ton of $$ on Sunday Silence! In the BC Classic, Easy had prepped at 1 1/2, and caught a gruelling battle with the older Cryptoclearence that day--my thinking is it cost him the Classic, it took away his edge, and he lost the race by a diminishing 1/2 length/neck to Sunday Silence--it cost him a much higher placing on the all-time lists--at 1 1/4 Easy Goer, despite going 0 for 2 vs Sunday Silence, was the better horse....(my opinion) any rate I hit big on Sunday in the Classic/as well as the derby....

08 Apr 2011 3:44 PM
Paula Higggins

ITA that a 20 horse field is too many. As for the ones remaining,I like Uncle Mo the best. A really good horse who may be a great horse. Then The Factor, Mucho Macho Man and Dialed In. Because of the cache (accent over the e) of the Derby, we will always see large fields. That is, unless the people who run it limit the field. I think they should decrease the field to 15 at least. But I don't think we should be horse snobs about this either. Sometimes a sleeper wakes up and does something magical, even if for only one race i.e. MTB.

09 Apr 2011 2:23 PM

Happy Birthday Steve, I really enjoy reading your articles. I emailed Churchill several years ago and asked why they would not reduce the field in the derby to 12-15 and make it a much better race, they basically said with a 20 horse field it was giving more horses/owners/trainers a chance of a lifetime. The only thing I ever see changing it, and I hope it doesn't happen, is a major accident involving numerous horses that have to be put down and serious jockey injuries on national tv. Anyway, I'm kinda liking the Factor, Mucho, pants on fire, dialed in. and, watching nehro, astrology, shackleford.

10 Apr 2011 10:06 PM

I think they need to get rid of counting the earnings from the 2 yr old season.  Most of these horses don't run well in their 2 yr old season and get better the following year.  I still think the graded earnings should be the qualifier and anyone that wins a graded prep race whether it'd be a fluke win or not deserves to be in the Derby.

Is there a way they can move the gates a little further out ??? That one hole path is headed to a shrub and the 1 horse always have to either pull back or gun it and push his way to get the rail...very dangerous post I think.

10 Apr 2011 10:36 PM

I personally think that any horse that wins a graded prep race deserves to be in the Derby regardless of how they won the race.  If they were good enough to beat who we thought were top contenders then they should be good enough for the derby.  One thing I wish for a change when qualifying a horse for the derby is that they include what level of graded race they won from.  There are races which are grade 2 or 3 that has a big purse (i.e. Sunland Derby).   We all want to see the best of the best to get in the Derby.  Basing it on graded earnings alone has too many holes.  Also, I don't understand the prep races 1 week before the derby.  For the sake of horses and to prevent greedy owners, can we have the last prep races run 3 weeks away from the Derby ?  One can get lucky running back a week but then that's it.  You can't ask the horse to run in the Preakness or the Belmont as it would gut the horse.

I know there's some of you that would say it's business, and it shows the type of person you are.  Horse racing should be about the jockey and horse's safety first, the business part comes after that.

I understand we need more investors to buy and race horses to keep the industry going but what good are they if all they do is gut a horse just to make a quick buck.

11 Apr 2011 3:33 AM

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