Calling All Closers; Where Are You?

We’re taking a poll. Here is a list of 14 leading Kentucky Derby hopefuls – Wildcat Red, Vicar’s in Trouble, General a Rod, Uncle Sigh, Samraat, Tapiture, Strong Mandate, California Chrome, Chitu, Social Inclusion, Constitution, Ring Weekend, Bayern, and Bobby’s Kitten.

Now, check off the horses who have shown they want to come from a half-dozen lengths back or farther. Actually, you can make that four lengths or farther. How about three?

The truth is, there have been 19 major stakes on dirt for 3-year-olds so far this year, and only one winner – Intense Holiday in the Risen Star Stakes – has come from farther back than two lengths.

Four have won wire-to-wire, six have come from second, five have come from third, and three have come from fourth. In a number of these races, including the Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth Stakes, Withers, and Gotham, horses ran either one-two the whole way around or one-two-three the whole way around.

So, where the heck are the Orbs, Golden Souls, Revolutionarys, Normandy Invasions, and Mylutes, who came from 17th, 15th, 18th, 12th, and 18th, respectively, to fill the first five spots in last year’s Kentucky Derby? Yes, the track was sloppy, but these were all established closers anyway.

With three major preps still to be run, the Blue Grass Stakes on Polytrack excluded, the favorites in all of them are horses who want to be on or near the lead. Come to think of it, Bobby’s Kitten, who could be the favorite in the Blue Grass, also wants to be on the lead. Or maybe Gala Award will be favored, who wants to be right up on the pace.

So, as of now, the only horses who have shown they can come from relatively far back are Intense Holiday (who actually was no farther back than 2 1/2 lengths in the Louisiana Derby), Candy Boy (who was no farther back than two lengths in the Robert Lewis Stakes), and longshots Conquest Titan, Commissioner, Kid Cruz, Commanding Curve, and Wicked Strong, none of whom have enough points to get in the Derby as of now. I have no idea how Hoppertunity wants to run. He was 10th early in the Risen Star after going wide on the first turn, eventually finishing fourth, but came from third, one length back, to win the Rebel Stakes. Ride On Curlin came from eighth, 10 lengths back, to finish third in the Champagne Stakes, but pressed the pace the whole way in the Rebel Stakes.

Perhaps Vinceremos can pull a Palace Malice and pick up enough points in the Blue Grass Stakes to get in the Derby. Although he won the Sam F. Davis from close up, he, he has at least shown the ability to come from off the pace. And then there is We Miss Artie, who we know can close…on Polytrack. He’s never been close in his three starts on dirt.

So, even the horses who have come from out of it have not established themselves as pure closers. In other words, we have absolutely no idea how the Kentucky Derby is going to be run at this point.

Are we going to have a blistering pace where one of the more versatile pace horses gets pushed back in the pack and is forced to come from off the pace, like Barbaro, who had never been worse than second at any call in his entire career? Or are we going to see a War Emblem performance, where one speed horse simply outruns the other speed horses, leaving virtually no one to come get him. In War Emblem’s year, the first three finishers ran one-two-three the whole way around. And War Emblem came home his final quarter in :24 3/5, and most pacesetters who can come home that fast will be virtually uncatchable.

So, if either California Chrome or Social Inclusion or Samraat or Uncle Sigh win their respective races Saturday, where is that going to leave us as far as figuring out this year’s bizarre Kentucky Derby picture?

Needless to say, we sure could use Top Billing or last year’s Honor Code or Mexikoma right about now. Or even New Year’s Day or Bond Holder from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Or Tamarando, who got swallowed by Turfway’s Polytrack instead of sticking to the dirt.

In short, we’ve got the proverbial crap shoot going here. So, make your call, roll the dice, and close your eyes and hope for the best.

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