Steve Haskin: Derby Preview

[image url=""]Steve Haskin[/image]

With the Derby preps nearly complete, and the field for the Run for the Roses coming into focus, it's time for Blood-Horse senior correspondent Steve Haskin to do his annual Derby Preview on Talkin' Horses.

Haskin is an award-winning Turf writer renowned for his Kentucky Derby commentary, with weekly articles, Classic Spotlights, and the "Derby Dozen" all found on the website's special Triple Crown Mania section. Previously, during his nearly three decades at Daily Racing Form, Steve made a name with his "Derby Watch" columns.

Haskin--who has won five Red Smith Awards for his Kentucky Derby coverage--is the author of Horse Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derbyand biographies of Dr. FagerJohn Henry, and Kelso—all published by Eclipse Press.

Murfreesboro, TN:
How does this crop of 3-year-olds look so far? Do you think we have a shot for a Triple Crown winner?

I'm the first person to give every crop a chance to prove itself, but so far, this does not appear to be a stellar group, mainly because of its inconsistency and the number of poor efforts we've seen this year from some of the top horses. With that said, Big Brown would be the only horse I could envision winning the Triple Crown, only because he could be something out of the ordinary. But he does have question marks regarding stamina, and he's had quarter crack issues. If Colonel John takes to the dirt, and even improves over it, he has all the tools to win the Triple Crown. A Derby victory would have people enthused over his chances, and rightly so.

Louisville, KY:
Hi, Steve! What did you think of Pyro's performance in the Blue Grass Stakes and do you think he will be able to rebound and win the Derby?

Nothing shocks me on Polytrack, especially Keeneland's, which produces one bizarre throw-out race after another. The problem with Pyro picking this race in which to throw his clunker is that he now has to rebound big-time in the Kentucky Derby, unlike those who ran badly earlier on, like War Pass and Tale of Ekati and others, and had a chance to bounce back before the Derby. You don't want to put in a race like that right before the Derby. The last horse to finish worse than fourth in his final Derby prep was Iron Leige in 1957.

Garland, TX:
Hi Steve. I read everything that you write that I can find. I'm just a novice fan and I can't figure out what is meant by a horse changing leads in a race.

Thank you. A horse naturally will run on his right lead on a straightaway and on his left lead around the turns. A horse who never changes leads would be like you trying to hop on one leg and beat someone who switches to his other leg. The more you watch for it the easier it gets to spot. You want to see a horse change to his right lead as soon as he straightens into the stretch, and do it smoothly. There have been some great horses, like Forego and Ruffian, who rarely changed leads, and Alydar never changed leads. But they could get away with it. It's not something you want to see, which is why you'll often see a jockey yank his horse to the inside to try to get him or her to change leads.

Clayton, DE:
Wow what a road to the Derby it's been; who are your top 5 and who do you think has the best chance to pull an upset? I like Big Brown but after what happened to Curlin last year I'm not sure. I still love Pyro, do you think his loss was due to the new surface? I also lastly like Z Fortune and Colonel John; your thoughts?

As I mentioned earlier, I do think it was the Polytrack, unless something else surfaces. He never ran a step over it. I loved Z Fortune's race in the Arkansas Derby. Many horses have run that exact kind of race before winning the Derby. After what the California horses did at Oaklawn the past two weeks, Colonel John is looking better and better. Like them, he should handle the transition to dirt just fine. Of all the top Derby horses, he has the most plusses and fewest minuses. If Big Brown is really as good as he's looked, then he is the one horse capable of blowing the Derby wide open. Subject to change, my top 5 would be in always-changing order ' Colonel John, Monba, Big Brown, Smooth Air, and Adriano, followed by Z Fortune, Visionaire and Tale of Ekati. I'm really starting to like Adriano as a price horse. But I have to admit it's mostly a big guess.

Manahawkin, NJ:
Even though Big Brown only has the 3 lifetime starts...with his tactical speed, & Beyer speed figs wouldn't that make up for his lack of experience? Especially after Pyro's Blue Grass?

I agree, more so after the Blue Grass. To make up for his lack of experience, he does have to be much faster than the others, and as of now he appears to be, based on all his speed figures, which are consistent and tower over the rest of the 3-year-olds. Just remember that Curlin couldn't win off three starts last year, but he was facing much better horses and had a terrible trip.

Louisville, KY:
Wonderful to have you here as always. Do you think that some of the top horses in the final Derby preps ran their Derby just to make it into the big race? What are some signs players should look for to judge whether a horse may have peaked?

Happy to be here. I think it's more the other way around. I think many of the trainers of the top horses just used their final prep to get an easy race to assure making it to the Derby. The trainers of the leading Blue Grass horses were more interested in a safe spot, which they didn't need to win. And it turned out to be too safe a spot, and now they're in big trouble, having to rebound off a dismal performance. I haven't seen any horse who has run their Derby already. The only one close is Big Brown and he's got five weeks to bounce out of the Florida Derby.

Cedar Rapids, IA:
Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions. I was hoping by now I'd have my Derby horse picked out, but I still don't have any idea. So I'm just going to root for my favorite jockey, Edgar Prado. maybe on Tale of Ekati or Hey Byrn. What are your thoughts for these two in the Derby? Also, I heard El Gato Malo is sticking to synthetic surfaces in California and is off the Derby trail; have you heard anything? Thanks again Steve! P.S. I'm really looking forward to your new book!

Don't forget about Monba. He's the one I'd stick with. Of the other two, I'd go with Tale of Ekati, because he's more of a proven commodity and he's demonstrated his class against grade I company. Hey Byrn is a nice horse with a bright future, but he beat a very bad field in the Holy Bull and was ridden hard to do it. As of now, El Gato Malo will remain in California. He doesn't have the earnings anyway.

Glen Cove, NY:
Your Triple Crown coverage at has been awesome. Looking at the Derby participants this year none has really shown to close that fast. The Wood came home so slow and likewise the Fountain of Youth. Which preps came home quick besides Santa Anita Derby?

Thanks so much, I appreciate it. Actually, there have several fast closing times, especially on synthetic surfaces, which probably doesn't mean as much. Colonel John closed his final three-eighths in the Santa Anita Derby in :35 1/5. Monba came home in :36 2/5 in the Blue Grass. On dirt, Recapturetheglory came home in :36 1/5 in the Illinois Derby. But, yes, there have been some agonizingly slow final times. The Wood can be excused only because they went so fast early on a very dead track.

Massapequa, NY:
We really appreciate your Derby coverage every year at Do you see a lot of speed in the Derby this year? I don't see much sprinting speed and don't see the half and 6 panels going faster than 46-7/1:11? What and who do you think will be the speeds?

Thanks. :46 to :47 is pretty fast for the Derby, especially if the pace is hotly contested, and you're going to have War Pass, Gayego, Bob Black Jack (maybe), Recapturetheglory, Cowboy Cal, and Big Brown right there, so I can't see them setting a slow pace. I believe War Pass will be on the lead, only because he showed in the Tampa Derby that's the only way he can be effective.

Ozone Park, NY:
Don't you think Pyro should have had a much better finish, Street Sense did at least last year before winning Derby? What do you make of it?

Forget about a better finish. He didn't run a step the entire way. He didn't finish at all. You can blame it on Polytrack, but even if a good horse dislikes a surface he'll do something. Had Pyro run the way Visionaire did, you could say he didn't handle the track, but tried. I'm sure he hated the surface, but you want to see him at least put in some kind of a run. It's hard to rebound off a race like this three weeks before the Derby.

Elmont, NY:
Hi Steve, Thanks for stopping by again. I love your Derby coverage especially when you note "Sheet numbers" in your stories which I find very useful and give your report more color. After looking at all the preps so far this past month who are the few that are ready for a big effort through the Ragozin/Thoro-Graph numbers?

Thank you. If you watch for my column in a week or so I'll have most of the figures. I haven't seen the figs for the past two weeks, and am waiting to get them all at once. Big Brown's figs have been on a different planet and he only has to return to them or even close to them to win the Derby. I also like Smooth Air's pattern, and I think Adriano is moving in the right direction and could run a big number in the Derby if he handles the dirt and the crowd.

South Orange, NJ:
Why do horse racing commentators spend so much time discussing experience? Talent wins races, not experience. This is why Lamtarra won the Epsom Derby over 12 furlongs in his first start of the year.

They discuss experience because history tells them to. Horses have not won the Derby in modern times without experience. There is a reason why no horse has won the Derby with only four starts since 1918 and none have won with only three starts since 1915. The only two horses to win with only two starts as a 3-year-old ' Sunny's Halo and Street Sense ' both had a strong 2-year-old foundation. Sunny's Halo ran 11 times at 2, most of them in two-turn stakes. You can't compare European horses to American horses. Snow Knight won the English Derby with only one or two starts. The Europeans train out of private yards and their works are simulated races, often with two, three, or four other horses, and done in private for the most part. Most English Derby winners go into the race off only one or two starts at 3.

Clearlake Oaks, CA:
I see lots on info for stallions, is there a mare book, for information and photos of producing mares?

There is the Stud Book, and websites like where you can get a mare's record, but you won't see mares advertised, mainly because they are all privately owned and not syndicated as stallions are. You might find a photo of their foals in an ad for the stallion or a sales consignment or a farm. But there are simply too many mares to include in a book, such as the Stallion Register.

Glendale, AZ:
Hi Steve, I'm wondering where all the great horses have gone? Like Native Dancer, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid-who won race after race and hardly ever lost. Do you think overall the quality has decreased? These days it's rare to see a horse who has won more than a few big races-not 10 or 15 or more. (I'm hoping Curlin, maybe?)

You won't see complete horses staying around that long anymore, so root for the geldings. As soon as a 3-year-old creates any kind of a buzz, Darley is going offer $30 million for his breeding rights, which means retirement after his 3-year-old campaign. Drugs, unsoundness, and a mass infusion of speed have made our horses brittle and unable to stand up to the pressures the horses you mentioned did. I hope Curlin has remained in training because Jess Jackson wanted to see him to race, and not because of all the colt's legal entanglements. You'd hate to think he's only in training because his original owners are in jail.

Canterbury, CT:
Hi Mr. Haskin, War Pass seemed to run a really good race in the Wood. I think he can improve after finally having to fight for the lead in the stretch. What do you think?

I also think he will improve, but there is still a major concern about him going 1 1/4 miles on the front end, with a host of fast, classy horses chasing him the whole way. Every horse who has won the Derby wire-to-wire, like Spend a Buck, Winning Colors, and War Emblem, did so by opening a big lead and running their opponents into the ground. There will be a lot of other speed horses in the field this year. Also, all three of those horses had won a stakes at 1 1/8 miles and won big. He'll obviously have to improve big-time off that :40 4/5 final three-eighths. It would be great to see the champ bounce back and win the Derby, but it's going to be a tough task.

Portland, OR:
Steve, What can we individual fans do to bring horse racing coverage and background stories back to TV and newspapers? How can we bring more live audiences to the tracks? We get nothing from our news here in Oregon.

Fans who live around racetrack can tell their friends and bring them to the track. Have family outings; bring the kids. Write to ESPN and tell them you want to see more human interest stories and less analysis from people telling you what most people watching already know. These broadcasts are not supposed to be handicapping shows. They're supposed to be sporting events, telling stories about the horses and the people, and showing the color of the sport. Football combines both; I don't see why racing can't. We don't need a rundown of the field with odds every 10 minutes. Tracks need to have promotions, and not umbrella giveaways. They need to make a trip to the track a festive occasion and give the fans every opportunity to make money. The more times they make money the more they'll come back.

Hastings, NY:
Hi Steve! As always, your writing is the best! My two horses for the Derby right now are Visionaire (one of the few closing in the Blue Grass) and Eight Belles (could Rags have started a trend?) I was just wondering what you think about those two! Thanks again for the wonderful writing!

Thank you very much. I have Visionaire ranked very high off his Blue Grass. He had to overcome a lot from the outside post, losing ground on both turns, and running over a track he obviously detested. I'm not crazy about his pedigree at a mile and a quarter, but he at least has the running style to try and get that extra furlong. He's in the starting field right now, but just barely, so you have to hope nothing happens to get him knocked out. I would run Eight Belles in the Oaks, but I can understand if they want to take a shot. Unbridled's Song hasn't sired any 10-furlong horses, but she does have some decent stamina influences in her female family. I just don't know how she stakes up against the colts. Her last race was good, but not great, and she had to work pretty hard to win. It's tough asking a filly to go 1 1/4 miles when she hasn't even been 1 1/8 miles, but if they want to take a shot they certainly have every right to.

Pittsburgh PA:
On your latest Derby list, who are considered to have the best conformation/appearance? Thanks!

I haven't seen most of the horses in person yet, so it's hard for me to give an opinion on conformation. As for appearance, the horses who have made the most impression of the ones I've seen are Adriano, War Pass, and Tale of Ekati, who looked awesome in the paddock before the Wood Memorial. From what I've seen, Colonel John and Big Brown are both visually impressive, and Adriano has a beautiful, fluid stride.

Panama City, FL:
Steve is it just me or this just an ordinary bunch of 3-year-old colts that in no way will affect the outcome of the Breeders' Cup?

As of now, they do look ordinary as a whole, but I can't say what they'll look like in October. Big Brown, by then, could be a monster. Who knows? And Colonel John could be a powerhouse in his own right. He's done absolutely nothing wrong and should be a much better horse at the end of the year. And I still think Denis of Cork has star potential, but, unfortunately, got derailed on his way to Louisville. Let's wait to see how good Monba is. A lot of these 3-year-olds are so lightly raced we have no idea how good they really are or will be.

Nicholasville, KY:
What do you think about Tomcito, if he gets into the Derby?

It all depends on how he runs in the Lexington Saturday. He doesn't have to win, but if he can finish in the top two and be closing, I give him a legitimate shot in the Derby. He did things in Peru 2-year-olds are not supposed to do, and he ran well enough in the Florida Derby to prove he fits with our 3-year-olds. He has the pedigree, and if he stays sound, he could be very, very nice horse, maybe even better than that. He's got a big, long stride that covers a lot of ground.

Lexington, KY:
Does Pyro's disappointing Blue Grass cause any concern for you about distance issues, or did he simply not take to the track?

Distance had nothing to do with his performance. He just didn't run a step over that track. Had he run a decent race, but failed to fire as he did at Fair Grounds, then you could say he might have distance limitations. His pedigree is OK for getting 10 furlongs, but not great. So, he may turn out to be a 1 1/8-mile horse, tops. But the Blue Grass didn't tell us anything one way or the other.

Cody, WY:
When I saw Pyro for the first time last Saturday I was really disappointed. All the talk was how "great" he looked in the paddock. I have gaited horses, and am very conscious about gaits, reach and how a horse moves. I could tell at a glance that Pyro was short striding in front, and looked like he had a front end problem. Don't know if he looked like this in prior races, but I knew he wouldn't show anything on that day. Haven't heard anyone else say anything, but am interested in your opinion.

I thought his stride looked a bit short in the Louisiana Derby, and when I saw his Keeneland works on TVG I thought he looked OK, but nothing to get excited about. He didn't reach out with real long strides in those works. He's not a great big horse, but he seems well put together. I haven't seen him up close in person, so I haven't seen his action as well as I'd like. I will be looking at him carefully at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

Louisville, KY:
There might be a great deal of speed on the front end in the Derby, but do you think that any horse, even Big Brown, will be able to outrun War Pass to the clubhouse turn? If in fact someone does attempt to do so, isn't it at their own peril? Has anyone shown you the ability to press War Pass but stay on better at the end?

I don't think War Pass will be outrun early for the reason you stated. Why ruin your horse's chances by pressing him. However, the other speed horses are fast and classy in their own right and I don't see them letting him pull a War Emblem and cruise out on the lead for very long. Big Brown certainly can press him and stay on at the end, and I think Bob Black Jack, if he gets in, will stay a lot farther than people think. Remember, post positions will dictate of a lot of the strategy.

Louisville, KY:
Steve, big fan here of Denis of Cork. A legit Derby contender was badly managed because of the owner and his "advisors" obsession with "the sheets". David Carroll was put in a no-win situation. Will we see this horse in the Preakness or Belmont, or do you know what the plans are now?

You can count on seeing him in both races. He'll run in the Derby if he gets in, but that's kind of iffy right now with his earnings putting him around 21 or 22. It's really a shame what happened, because he could easily have been undefeated and going into the Derby as one of the top two choices. That may have been the worst decision ever made on the Derby trail, and you can bet the owner, William Warren, has learned his lesson about letting his trainer train the horses and call the shots. But he learned it the hard way. He listened to people who had no contact with the trainer or the horse. This is a once in a lifetime classic horse and for him not even to make the race is inexcusable.

East Hanover, NJ:
Hello Steve. Just for an fleeting moment you have relinquished your fourth estate mantra and have become the sole trainer for all 20 of the eligible Kentucky Derby entrants. The mix here is that a modicum of them have run on synthetic surfaces w/mixed results. The catch phrase today from trainers/owners is that "they didn't show up". Now the playing field for The Kentucky Derby will be level..there are no excuses. So with that in mind, how are you going to train these aspirants to run on a surface when not all have ever touched one and yet are anticipated to win? As a handicapper, how will you handicap this event as hopefully everyone will show up?

First off, I would have run them on dirt beforehand. With that said, If I was in the position of going to dirt for the first time, I would make no changes other than to give the horse at least one stiff work over the track, preferably in company if the horse is sensible enough not to get headstrong. I wouldn't do anything else. You don't want to start making changes right before the Derby. When you gamble you accept the hand you're dealt. And if it doesn't work out, I would look in the mirror and say, 'You blew it, dummy.' As a handicapper, you have to accept the fact that you're basically guessing. You can assume or hope a horse will make the transition, but you have nothing much else to go by other than how others have done going from synthetic to dirt for the first time. Horses might have an advantage going from Cushion Track to dirt if you go by the results the past two weeks at Oaklawn.

Cincinnati, OH:
Hi Steve, I am a bit confused about Jerry Bailey's comments in regard to Pyro's clunker shock in the Blue Grass. He said Pyro obviously did not like the track, so just draw a line thru the race. How can that be the cause when Pyro put in such fast works on the surface with his trainer commenting that he was pleased with his works?

Because Polytrack in the morning is often not the same track as it is in the afternoon. Look at Del Mar last year. The track is nice and packed down in the morning, and when it gets warmer it can loosen up and become similar to a cuppy dirt track. Have you seen the kickback on Polytrack in the afternoon? In the morning, there is hardly any kickback. In the afternoon the horses are getting hitting in the face with clods of who knows what? There's rubber and other kinds of debris. And it's like a shower that's getting kicked back 10 to 20 yards. Watch it close up and you'll feel sorry for the horses getting pelted.

Louisville, KY:
Thanks for stopping by again. What do you make of Smooth Air's run in the Florida Derby, as well as the long works he's been having down at Calder?

I loved his race in the Florida Derby, and he's a definitely major play for me. And I also love the long works, especially at Calder. This is old-fashioned training, and it builds up the horse's conditioning. I believe it was those long works that got him to run the way he did at Gulfstream, because he's not really bred for stamina. But you can put stamina in a horse if you know what you're doing and don't baby them. Bennie Stutts is old school from a long line of horsemen, and he knows what he's doing. So far, he's thrown away the new revised book on training, and had done everything the right way.

San Buenaventura, CA:
Garrett Gomez (with his agent Ron Anderson) have ridden in just about every Derby prep this year with surprisingly poor results. Any word on who he's leaning towards as a Derby mount?

I wouldn't call them poor results. He won on Colonel John in the Sham and was third in the Wood Memorial and Fountain of Youth on Court Vision. And he was second on Z Fortune in the Risen Star. He and Anderson had a choice between Colonel John and Court Vision and chose Court Vision, partly because Colonel John had never run on dirt, and Court vision looked to improve big-time off the Fountain of Youth. There have been rumors that he will switch back to Colonel John, replacing Nakatani, who's three-for-four on him, but Anderson has denied that, and so far nothing has come of it. Whether that changes, who knows? I don't think Court Vision is a bad mount at all for the Derby. Colonel John obviously looks stronger, but both are capable of running big.

Surrey, BC:
Some horses like Lawyer Ron run good on dirt but not on Poly. How do you think the synthetic surfaces will affect the breeding industry?

Lawyer Ron is not the best example. He ran twice on Polytrack early in his 2-year-old year and finished second in one of them, hardly an indication that he didn't handle Polytrack. As for the breeding industry, it's going to turn it upside down. All that Mr. Prospector and Storm Cat blood, with its brilliance, will no longer be attractive. It'll be the grass sires that buyers look for, because synthetic surfaces, as we know, especially Polytrack, are closer to grass racing than dirt racing. The more tracks that switch to synthetic ' let's hope there aren't any, for a long time at least ' the more the breeding industry will change to fit the needs of the horse.

Jonesboro, AR:
Should Eight Belles go after the Roses or stick with the girls in the Oaks?

I'll let you know after the Derby. Seriously, I would run her in the Oaks for reasons stated in an earlier answer. But if they're willing to sacrifice a very good chance to win the Oaks for an outside chance of winning the Derby, all the power to them. She definitely has the credentials, but I'm not sure about the 10 furlongs, coming off 1 1/16-mile races. And her last race was a tough one. She hasn't been as dominant as she was earlier in the year, but that comes with meeting better competition.

Richmond, VA:
Steve, do you think Z Fortune is a Derby Dozen horse yet? What do you think of his pedigree?

Yes, I do, and he is back on this week's Derby Dozen. If you're looking for a typical Derby prep defeat that will move a horse forward and ready to peak on Derby Day, his second in the Arkansas Derby was the race you want to see. Some people will say he hung and should have caught Gayego, but they said the same thing about Grindstone, Lil E. Tee, Real Quiet, Go For Gin, Funny Cide and others who came up short in their final prep. Grindstone hung against Zarb's Magic in the Arkansas Derby, but that didn't stop him from winning the Kentucky Derby. Z Fortune had a bad post, got hung wide on both turns, and I thought he ran a terrific race. I consider him a live Derby longshot. As for his pedigree, I like Siphon on top, but his female family is nothing to rave about when it comes to stamina.

Las Vegas, NV:
In your opinion, who is the best trainer at getting a horse ready for the Kentucky Derby?

I don't know if you mean now or all time. Bob Baffert has proven on several occasions he knows how to get a horse ready for the Derby, and he does it by not babying them, something most of our top trainers now feel compelled to do. Many trainers are just happy to get their horse in the Derby. Baffert trains to win it. Wayne Lukas also pushed his horses hard, as did many of the old-time greats, like Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Max Hirsch, and John Gaver. Ben Jones would run his horses, like Citation and Whirlaway and others, in the Derby Trial on Tuesday, four days before the Kentucky Derby, then work them a half-mile on Thursday and win the Derby on Saturday. Imagine a trainer doing that now. Times may be changing, and fresh may turn out to be better, but it hasn't happened yet. Barclay Tagg and John Servis certainly didn't train conservatively when they won. You need to give a horse a stiff work before the Derby, and so far, these easy half-mile and five-furlong breezes aren't getting it done. We'll see if that changes. It was Larry Jones giving Hard Spun a tough mile drill over Polytrack at Keeneland and then a :57 3/5 eye-opener at Churchill that got the colt to run as well as he did. I'm not talking about working 6 furlongs in 1:09 a week before the race, like Old Trieste did. I'm talking about a good solid work that they do on their own without any urging.

Willowbrook, IL:
Hello Steve, always enjoy and appreciate your insight. What running style do you feel is best for this year's Derby? Would you please name the best "pressers" and "closers" in this year's expected Derby field.

It's hard to tell without knowing what the pace will be like, but assuming it's fairly stiff one, with all the speed in there, I would look for a horse to be running anywhere from 10th to 15th. But we don't have too many knockout closers this year. Often a horse will be that far back who has never run like that before, because it's very easy to get sucked back in the field if you don't hit those holes right. Colonel John, Z Fortune, Visionaire, and Court Vision are the horses I can see coming late, and you have to include Pyro, assuming he's able to bounce back. With that long stretch, Colonel John is probably the most solid of those if gets a fairly clean run. There is one presser I like and that's Big Brown. Monba, Tale of Ekati, Smooth Air, and Adriano will probably be somewhere in midpack.

Richmond, VA:
Steve, what do you think of the runners from the Arkansas Derby? Apparently they ran big speed figures and Z Fortune needed the race off his Rebel flop.

I think that Beyer number might be a little too high, as are most Arkansas Derbys. That race and the Illinois Derby always get big numbers. I don't think it was a particularly strong field, and many of the closers you thought would run well didn't. The only horse I feel can win the Derby off that race is Z Fortune.

Omaha, NE:
Seems like anybody could win the Derby. Is there one horse that stands out for you?

Absolutely not. I'd like to say Big Brown, but having only three races still is a bit of a concern. Colonel John could be a standout if he handles the dirt. After those two, there are about 10 who are lumped together. Looking for a good price horse to bet, I am seriously considering Smooth Air, Monba, and Adriano. And I'd look at Court Vision in the trifectas. Visionaire could be an interesting proposition, but I'm not sure about the mile and a quarter.

Harwood, MD:
With the number of Derby preps on artificial turf producing surprising results the path to gaining a starting spot in the Derby will likely be changed forever. The current 'graded money earned' selection criteria may not produce the best possible field of horses for the Derby. This would not be good for racing or the Derby. Assuming the Derby will remain on dirt do you think it is time to re-evaluate how the top 20 horses are selected for the Derby?

The Derby will remain on dirt, but it's still time to re-evaluate the selection system. The first thing that has to be done is to de-value 2-year-old races. Winning $600,000 in the Delta Jackpot shouldn't qualify a horse to get in the Derby. One suggestion would be, a horse keeps all his graded earnings for a grade I and II race at a mile or longer. He keeps half his graded earnings for a grade I and grade II sprint, and a third of his all his graded earnings for a grade III race, whether it's a $1 million race or a $150,000 race. I wouldn't even mind it if they eliminated all graded earnings in sprints other than grade Is, and they only keep half of those. We have to do something to make the horses qualify for the Derby based mainly on what they do at 3 and what they do at a distance at 2 in grade I and II races. I don't want some hotshot sprinter who won the Sanford or the Hollywood Prevue keeping a horse like Denis of Cork out of the race.

Arlington Heights, IL:
Hi Steve, I am pretty much in 99% agreement on your recent Derby Dozen. My only question is, what would Big Brown have had to do thus far to grab the #1 spot over Monba? He's unbeaten and has pretty much demolished his competition.

I have to admit I was being a tad contrary by putting Monba on top, trying to separate myself from the herd and going back to my original Derby Dozen. But I still believe he belongs right up there. Big Brown would have had to have another start and a slightly better distance pedigree, and not have had two quarter cracks. That probably won't be a factor, but you never know with feet. And two of his three races have been against mediocre competition. Don't get me wrong, I think he's an incredibly gifted horse, and I can see him turning into a superstar, and maybe even sweeping the Triple Crown. But I'm trying to look for someone a little more offbeat that appears to be peaking at the right time. Colonel John actually looks more solid as a Derby horse, with fewer question marks. But for now I'll take a stab with Monba.

Lima, Peru:
Why don't you make a short analysis of a very interesting matter: the choices each top rider has before him among the different horses he has been riding on the Trail? For example, Edgar Prado has Monba, Take of Ekati and Adriano. Velasquez has Cowboy Cal but possibly Monba (a Pletcher colt) and others, etc.

I'm actually planning on doing that in next week's column, and have been waiting to hear what Prado decides. He has a tough choice, but I expect it will be made in the next couple of days. (editor's note: Prado has committed to Adriano for the Derby). I'm sure I know who you are rooting for. If Tomcito win the Lexington or runs second I give him a good shot to run a big race in the Derby. I was impressed with his Florida Derby in his first U.S. start.

Shawnee, KS:
Great to have you here. Which Arkansas Derby horse has the best chance in the Kentucky Derby?

Thanks. Based on what I saw I'd have to say Z Fortune, because the scenario of the Derby seems to fit his style much better than it does Gayego. I can see him stretching out to 1 1/4 miles better than Gayego under the circumstances. It's just hard picturing a son of Gilded Time winning the Derby. Gayego might be better suited for the Preakness. He's a very talented horse, but he's probably going to get caught up in a hotly contested pace, while Z Fortune should be able to sit back and make a big run.

Philadelphia, PA:
Can you compare the final times of races run at the same distance but different surfaces? i.e., Cowboy Cal runs and wins a race two seconds faster on grass than say Pyro did on dirt. Would that mean that CC is faster if he takes to the same surface?

Not at all. You can't compare times on the same surface, never mind different ones. Every track is different, and you can't compare the Wood, run on a dead track, to an inside speed-favoring track like Hawthorne was for the Illinois Derby. It's best not to pay much attention to final times. Look at the pace and how fast they close, and if they win driving or handily or under wraps. Final times are way too deceiving.

Macon, GA:
Mr. Haskin, My question is two-fold: 1 - Do you think Big Brown is as talented (naturally-gifted, innate ability) as Smarty Jones coming into this Triple Crown campaign. 2 - Can this Kentucky Derby be won by a horse sitting right off the pace, with all the projected speed, who gets first run on the deep closers like Pyro, Visionaire, Colonel John, etc..? Thanks, and keep up the great articles! You're the best!

Thank you very much. The first question is a real tough one, because we already know how super Smarty Jones was. As for being naturally gifted I would have to say, at this point in their careers, it's Big Brown, only because he's done things I've never seen any horse do. Smarty was a magnificent, brilliant horse, but this horse has the potential to be a real freak. He's not there yet, and a horse's mystique can dissipate very quickly, but his first three races are unlike anything I've seen before. I think a horse can win from just off the pace if it's not a blazing pace, and his name is Big Brown. Assuming you mean who gets first run 'of' the closers, I would say it'll be Smooth Air and Adriano, with Colonel John getting first run of the three you mentioned.

Louisville, KY:
Glad you could make it back before the Derby. In terms of moving forward after a Polytrack race, are you more concerned with the physical effects from running on the surface, or the psychological effect running up the track could have on those finishing far back in the Blue Grass?

A little of both. From a physical standpoint, I'd be concerned that they didn't get enough out of the race to sharpen them sufficiently for the Derby and give them the toughness they're going to need. From a psychological standpoint, you never know how a race that bad is going to affect a horse's confidence. It didn't hurt War Pass, but he's just a plain fast horse who has one thing on his mind. A closer has a lot more to do in a race. Of the two, I'd be more concerned with the physical aspect of it. I want a horse who's been battle tested, toughened, and sharp going into the Derby.

O'Fallon, IL:
I heard that Pyro's poor performance in the Blue Grass was due to his shoes. He wears Polyflex shoes and they don't mix with Polytrack. Any truth to that?

That's the first I'm hearing of it. You're more in the loop than I am. I can't imagine he'd be wearing different shoes than he did in his works, and I assume Asmussen was pleased with what he saw in the morning. You would think he'd know that certain shoes don't mix with Polytrack. But who knows? That's history. Whether it was the shoes or not, he got virtually nothing out of the race, and that's all that matters now.

Hallandale Beach, FL:
What happened to the "blowout"? So many trainers, including man Hall of Fame trainers, used to give their horse a 3/8's of a mile "blowout" the day before their races? Why don't they do that anymore? And, please don't just say that the reason is because horses are more fragile today than they were.

OK, how about the trainers are more fragile? War Pass' last work before the Wood Memorial was a half-mile breeze nine days before the race. Old-time trainers would be flabbergasted over that. It may be that trainers THINK the horses are more fragile than they really are. The more you baby someone the more fragile they become. It's the child who is pampered and babied that gets sick more often than the child who rolls in the mud and eats dirt. Remember, Canonero II worked three furlongs the morning of the Kentucky Derby, and he had lost 75 pounds traveling from Venezuela and getting stuck for 72 hours in quarantine, and was skin and bones during Derby week. We work our babies to death in the 2-year-old sales and do all sorts of nasty things to them, and then baby them after they get to the track. Doesn't make sense.

Knoxville, TN:
Steve, Thanks for spending time with us. Can Big Brown rate? Even in his most recent allowance race he seemed to be more of a front runner than a stalker.

I thought he rated fine in his allowance race. The only reason he was rushed to the lead in the Florida derby was because he needed to outrun everyone to get position coming out of the 12-post. I would be surprised if he didn't rate in the Derby.

Marshfield, MA:
Why would trainers not take the full effort to find out about a horse before throwing him in the Derby? We have Cowboy Cal purposely kept off of dirt, War Pass' questionable scheduling where the first two races, even if things went smoothly, wouldn't have answered any distance or rating issues, the rash of horses "trying" polytrack in their final Derby preps without any knowledge as to whether they will take to the surface, etc.

Because, as I mentioned earlier, trainers today are more interested in getting to the Derby. Many take the easiest route, and when that doesn't work they still run anyway. When a trainer or owner of a horse that had just won a Derby prep or finished second ' whether he's a Polytrack horse or sprinter -- says the horse is not being considered for the Derby DON'T BELIEVE THEM!

Kansas City, MO:
Adriano seems to have more dirt influences in his pedigree than turf. He does have Theatrical on the dam side but there is also Raise a Native, and Nashua on the bottom of the pedigree. I can't explain the poor Florida dirt race, but he seems to have the best pedigree in the race.

He does indeed have a terrific dirt pedigree, and Graham Motion says it wasn't the dirt at Gulfstream, it was the horse's behavior in the paddock. He's a hot-blooded colt (just look at his pedigree) and he's lost it on a couple of occasions. But he was fine at Turfway and Motion will be doing a lot of paddock schooling. If he tanks it in the Derby, it'll be because of that bad habit more than the surface. If you like the horse root for a nice cool day on May 3. If anyone can get him to settle and keep his composure, it's Motion, who is as skilled and patient a horseman as there is. Do you know which horse lost it before the Derby more than any I've seen? Funny Cide, who threw a major fit walking to the paddock, but then calmed right down after getting to the paddock. You never know with horses.

Bayside, CA:
Hi Steve, it's almost here again! I can't help but feel a bit let down this year after last year's wonderful crop of 3-year-olds. Do you think there are any among them who will even come close to matching strides with Curlin (providing he stays healthy) come Breeders Cup day?

Right now, the only two I see are Big Brown and Colonel John, unless someone gets really good fast. But Curlin could be invincible this year.

Lutherville, MD:
Steve, After watching and analyzing all of the Triple Crown preps to date I've concluded the only way to bet this Derby is off Churchill Downs works. More than ever, horses' affinity for the CD surface and how a horse comes into the race will be the most important determining factor. Is this a valid approach?

It's the approach I use. I'd say 80 to 90% of my Derby selections are based on what I see at Churchill Downs, because if you're being realistic you'll know that you can't really handicap this race as you would any other race. It has its own rules and laws, and the vast majority of normal handicapping methods do not apply. In this decade alone, Monarchos, Smarty Jones, Barbaro, and Street Sense all had had THE best Derby work at Churchill Downs or were standouts in the morning. And Fusaichi Pegasus, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem were right up there. Charismatic and Sea Hero got my highest marks for physical appearance. So, it does matter.

Canterbury, CT:
Hi Mr. Haskin. Do you know when Curlin's next workout is? And also do you know any of his possible next starts? Thanks so much for you time!

Asmussen hasn't even given his workout a second thought. It's still a long way off. All he said was that Curlin would be pointed for a summer return, so I would guess the Whitney would likely be his first start. As to what he'll do about going to a synthetic track I have no idea. After what happened to Pyro, you can bet he'll give it serious thought. If Pyro wins the Derby, Asmussen already said no more synthetic track for him.

Crown Point, IN:
Thank you for taking the time to read my question. Do you take much stock in jockeys choosing between horses to ride in the Kentucky Derby when handicapping the Derby?

It depends on the jockey, but even the best of them ' Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro ' made blunders in their decisions. This year, Edgar Prado had a tough choice with Adriano, Monba, and Tale of Ekati, all major winners. I couldn't argue with any decision, and he chose to stay loyal to his old friend Graham Motion. I really like Adriano at a price. The more I look at him the more I like him, and I like him even more now that Prado is on him. Any decision Jerry Bailey used to make would go a long way in my handicapping.

York, PA:
Steve thanks for taking the question, Edgar Prado has chosen to ride Adriano over Monba and Tale of Ekati how does that effect your thoughts on those horses chances.

I guess I just answered that in the previous question. It was actually between Adriano and Monba. Tale of Ekati wasn't even in the mix at the end. It's hard to believe the Wood Memorial winner is still shopping for a rider. As I said before, his decision doesn't affect my thinking regarding Monba and Tale of Ekati, but it does regarding Adriano, who I was starting to like anyway. This just solidifies it.

Old Bridge, NJ:
Hi Steve. You're friend from Twin C Stables checking in. Even though Colonel John has run solely on cushion track his sire (Tiznow) was a superstar on dirt and won the BC Classic at Churchill Downs. His dam is also by a solid dirt performer. Do you believe that in most cases a horse will run well on dirt because his sire ran well on dirt or do you believe that the sire's performance on the surface will not matter?

That's a good question. We don't have enough data yet to determine that. We do have a leading synthetic sires list, but that's not based on many races, and, more importantly, we don't have a list of sires whose offspring won't run over it. I think it depends on the horse, probably his foot to some degree, as in a turf horse, and to some degree on his pedigree. Obviously, grass sires do better on synthetic, so when you see a horse by Tiznow who loves it, it's safe to assume he'll like the dirt, unless he's so used to synthetic and the dirt feels foreign to him. I can't imagine Colonel John not liking the dirt. He may even be better on it. It's when they go the other way ' from dirt to synthetic ' that you're going have major problems and uneven playing surfaces.

Ocala, FL:
Can you name the last Kentucky Derby winner that went into the Derby without ever having been tested in his career? I like Big Brown but it seems every winner of this race was pushed somewhere.

There probably were some a long time ago, but I can't think of any in recent years. War Emblem had things to himself before the Derby, but wasn't that good a horse at 2. Winning Colors won off by herself in five of her six starts, but had a gut wrencher in the Las Virgenes against Goodbye Halo. So, I really can't think of any, and that is probably something to consider ' just remember Bellamy Road.

Mill Creek , WV:
Do you think Eight Belles has a chance to win the Derby?

This year, most everyone has a chance, but as I've stated before, this is a tough spot for her, having never run farther than 1 1/16 miles and being by Unbridled's Song. Does she deserve to run? Yes. Would I run her? No, but then I've never had the temptation before. I do, however, think she's talented and brilliant enough to make her presence felt and run a good race. It's just that the Kentucky Oaks is a tough race to give up when you're going to be favorite or second choice. If Porter is willing to sacrifice that race and take a chance that this race doesn't turn out to be a disaster, then he has every right to run her.

New York, NY:
Steve, thanks for your great work. Question on Tomcito, what do you know about whether or not he was 100% healthy for the Fla. Derby. There was some discussion that he had a cold, etc. If he runs well this weekend, do you think he could make some noise in the Derby given his running style/breeding and the expected pace in the race?

I've heard all kinds of things about him, from a tendon to chips. But he keeps going and working like a demon. If he runs well in the Lexington, first or second, I look for him to be a major force in the Derby. He has the pedigree, the running style, and what he did in Peru was amazing, even if it was Peru. There's something about this horse that makes me think he's the real goods.

Hudsonville, MI:
Hi again, Steve! It's always a pleasure to hear your opinions. Please convince my husband that it ISN'T just as effective to pick a Derby winner by pulling a number/name out of a hat than it is to study the PPs, watch replays, etc.!

Hudsonville hubby, all I can say to you is be a man. It's wimpy to pick out of a hat. Granted, in the Kentucky Derby it can turn out to be a crap shoot, especially this year. But if you want bragging rights to go along with your winnings, hit those past performances. A tip: if you pick a loser out of a hat and your wife wins, make sure you apologize and congratulate her for a job well done. If you win and she loses, DO NOT gloat whatever you do. Just take her out to dinner. You've been warned. And as far as replays, I guarantee you'll enjoy watching them more than Dancing with the Stars. It's the Kentucky Derby. Enjoy the experience.

Louisville, KY:
Steve, we have a little race here in about two weeks, how do I go about handicapping all the synthetic form going to dirt? Do I ignore it? Last year most horses seemed to move up after a synthetic start (Street Sense, Hard Spun, among others), is it reasonable to believe horses like Pyro may move up with the switch back to dirt?

Easy, you don't. Whatever you do it's going to be a guess. So far, the California synthetic horses have run lights out at Oaklawn Park, so there's no reason to think Colonel John will have any problem. Last year, Street Sense and Hard Spun ran well on Polytrack, compared to Pyro, Big Truck, and Cool Coal Man, who didn't run a lick over it. The big concern with them now is whether they got enough out of the Blue Grass to be ready for a top effort in the Derby.

Syracuse, NY:
I have 200 in the first future on the Colonel (John) at 19-1, any advice on how to approach wagering on the Derby?

You could pass and just root for Colonel John, but if you want to bet more you can certainly protect yourself by either picking several horses you're afraid of and betting them on top of the Colonel in exactas. Or you can bet an 'all ' Colonel' exacta and hope some monster price comes in with him second. The other possibility would be to bet a few trifecta boxes with the Colonel included. That way you're protecting yourself, but can still add to your Future Wager winnings if he wins and you the hit the trifecta. But it's not going to be easy to nail a Tri this year. The fourth and last possibility, and the most simple, would be to just take those horses you're afraid of and bet them to win, but you'd probably have to bet a lot unless they're longshots and you don't want to cut into your winnings too much if the Colonel does win. You have a great bet, so don't blow it by betting too much just to protect yourself. My suggestion would be to just box him in some trifectas.

Chicago, IL:
Steve, thank you for your time. I think Gayego will be a nice price shot in the Derby. Lobo has done a great job with him and I like the fact that he is already in Louisville. What are your thoughts on him?

I agree about Lobo. He's done something no one has been able to do, and that's get a Gilded Time to win a major stakes at nine furlongs. Getting him to win at 10 furlongs in a 20-horse field with five other classy speed horses in there is another story. I think he's a very talented horse, but I'm just not sure if the pace scenario will suit a horse like him. And, yes, getting him there early will help. If you really like him, and he's an enticing price, you can take a shot or put him in trifectas boxes. But the distance is a concern.

Lexington Park, MD:
Thanks for all your great articles Mr. Haskin. I have been a fan of Tale of Etaki and with all the hype of Pyro, Big Brown, Colonel John, War Pass and so on. I was wondering what you think of his chances?

To be honest, I'm not quite sure yet. I don't know what to make of the Wood, with that slow closing time. I was a huge fan of this horse going into the year, but I was hoping he'd have more than two starts, especially with him running so poorly in his first start. He's by Tale of the Cat, which is speed, but he does have a strong female family, so I think he could get the distance with a good foundation under him. I just don't know if he has one with only those two races. But I do agree with you about him getting lost in the crowd and being a good price. If he has a strong two weeks and looks as good in the flesh as he did before the Wood, then I could see taking a shot with him. I loved his race in the Futurity last year, and that proved to me he's a very talented horse.

Paris, KY:
Hey Steve; thanks for taking my question. How important do you think it is for a horse to come in with excellent Beyer/rag speed figures into the Derby? I see that Gayego ran a 103 with Monba running a 95. Does that tell you anything?

Speed figures don't mean that much to me in a race like the Derby. If I was a speed sheets player I'd be more interested in patterns than big numbers. And big numbers mean little on the Beyers. I want a horse who is going to run his big number in the Derby, not before. Just remember Bellamy Road running a 120 Beyer in the Wood. That didn't do him any good in the Derby. That same year, there were nine Derby starters who had triple-digit Beyers. Giacomo was not one of them.

Glendora, CA:
I really enjoy your Triple Crown coverage. With the flop of Pyro in the Blue Grass and all the other horses coming out of the Louisiana races running poorly, doesn't it make Colonel John look that much better?

Sure, the more good horses that run poorly the betters his chances, because he's one of the few contenders this year that hasn't thrown in a clunker. And the success of the California horse in the Arkansas Derby shows that the Cushion Track horses can handle dirt and even improve on it. Oaklawn isn't Churchill, but it's still a good gauge to use. He's also one of the few horses who has all the credentials to win the Derby ' pedigree, toughness, gameness, a big closing kick, and a long-reaching stride. And he does have natural speed.

Knoxville, TN:
Steve, If the track comes up muddy on Derby day I'm putting my economic stimulus check across the board on War Pass. Who do you like in the event of an off track?

I don't know how much that check is for, but just remember, he'll get bet down if the track is muddy. He has several things going against him in the Derby, but the mud could neutralize them, making him more attractive. I think Smooth Air, Adriano, Court Vision, Gayego, Visionaire, and Monba all will handle the mud well. Smooth Air and Visionaire have already won stakes over it.

Moosup, CT:
Steve, It seems over the last four years the horse that posts a bullet workout before the Derby has won. Even Giacomo had a bullet work. Your thoughts on this angle?

I think it's a good angle. Horses who work big often run big, especially if the work is at Churchill. But Giacomo and Funny Cide had their big works at other tracks, so it doesn't necessarily have to be at Churchill. I just prefer they have a work over the track. Smarty Jones, Barbaro, and Street Sense had perhaps the three best Derby works I've ever seen. Street Sense's big work came two works out, and then he had more of a maintenance move in his final drill, but it still was an excellent work.

Wilton, NY:
I think racing has made three huge mistakes recently: (1) the move to synthetic surfaces at many tracks,; (2) the crass dilution of the Breeders' Cup; and (3) the decision to make Santa Anita the Breeders' Cup host for the next two years. What do you think?

I couldn't agree more with all three comments. I'm still waiting for racing to make a good decision about something. They jumped the gun with synthetic surfaces after going into a panic mode, especially California, when they could have looked into a state-of-the-art dirt course that's just as safe. Polytrack is fine as a training surface. I'm all for changes if they're sensible, but not such a mass influx all at once. Having the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita for two years in a row is one of the oddest and most impulsive decisions I've seen in a long time. To commit to a track for two years when you don't even know what surface they'll be running on is questionable, especially considering the disastrous winter meet they had there. Wait until the Eastern trainers say, 'the heck with the BC; I'm not shipping 3,000 miles to run over a synthetic surface against California horses who have been running on it all year.' Steve Asmussen has already said Pyro will not go out there. And more will follow. And if you have a 3-year-old who doesn't like synthetic, you know already you can kiss the BC goodbye for the horse's entire career. It's no coincidence that the first three finishers of the Santa Anita Handicap this year were good to average turf horses, who like the synthetic surface.

Louisville, KY:
I think that this is one of the worst Derby fields we've seen in a long time. Some of these horses look like they don't want to get a mile and a quarter or even a mile and an eighth! What do you think about this crop of three year olds?

So far, they've been very inconsistent and not particularly fast, and other than Big Brown, no one has done anything that inspiring. But Colonel John has been consistent, and if he and Big Brown finish one-two, we could have a helluva Triple Crown rivalry going. I never brand a crop as mediocre this early, but this group of horses needs to start showing more.

Louisville, KY:
There is going to be A LOT of speed in this year's Derby. You got War Pass, Big Brown, Bob Black Jack, Cowboy Cal, etc. With this dangerous amount of speed, do you think it's possible that Secretariat's track record could get broken or tied?

Other than Big Brown I haven't seen a horse remotely fast enough to come anywhere near Secretariat's record. The pace won't be any faster than it was in 2001 over a rock-hard surface, and although Monarchos won off by himself and became only the second horse to break 2:00, he couldn't equal Secretariat's record.

Florence, SC:
Congratulations on the new book. Looking back at past years, this crop of Derby contenders reminds me of 1982, right down to a filly in the mix-Cupecoy's Joy then and Eight Belles now. As favorites like Pyro and War pass fall, can you see longshots like Gato del Sol, followed by Laser Light and Reinvested, in a Derby finish this year?

Thank you. Definitely, although the difference between 1982 and this year is that you didn't have a legitimate favorite then. How many people remember that El Baba was the favorite in 1982? Maybe Big Brown is going to turn out to be a phony favorite, but he and Colonel John look stronger than any two horses in '82. With said, I still think the way to go this year is to not bet any horse in single-digit odds. Big Brown could be a freak and win by six, but there still are too many uncertainties, so I would look for a price for sure.

Hermitage, PA:
Can you explain Asmussen's approach to the Kentucky Derby with Pyro'Churchill Downs has been open for training for a month, but he's working Pyro over Keeneland again. And he was at Oaklawn Saturday, not Keeneland. Z Fortune ran a decent 2nd to Pyro at Fair Grounds. You're a great trainer "reader"---what do you see?

There are no great trainer readers. Asmussen, like Pletcher, is a believer in training over Polytrack to assure his training is not interrupted by weather. Asmussen at least worked Curlin at Churchill Downs. I can't see giving them their final work at Keeneland. It sure didn't help Pletcher last year. It's not an accident that the first five finishers in last year's Derby all had their final work at Churchill Downs. As for Asmussen being at Oaklawn instead of Keeneland, you got me on that one. I can't figure that out, and if I owned Pyro I wouldn't be too happy about it, unless he had a very, very good reason to be there instead of Keeneland.

San Diego, CA:
Steve, I saw Gayego get the top of the turn " jump" on Z Fortune. I like the mid-packers in the Derby. They come up big time after time, Z fortune and Colonel John will be hugely outrun early and will have too much traffic to negotiate. How do you see this?

You said you like the mid-packers and then said two of them will have too much traffic to negotiate. I don't see either of them at the back of the pack. As for traffic, you never know which horses will encounter traffic problems and which ones will a dream trip through the field ' like Street Sense, Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Sea Hero. Some horses will have a great trip and others with the same running style will have a bad trip. It's all random and all luck. A top jockey helps. Jerry Bailey's flawless rides on Grindstone and Sea Hero certainly helped their chances greatly.

Newmarket, NH:
What do you think of Tomcito's performance in the Florida Derby?

I actually thought he ran a good race, all things considered. Making his U.S. debut in a grade I off a four-month layoff, he impressed me the way he closed from dead-last. If he handles Polytrack and runs first or second in the Lexington, he is a very live longshot in the Derby. I certainly am not going to throw him out.

Newport, KY:
With budget restraints, why don't states conduct random "super testing" say two per racing card?

Why don't they do a lot of things? Our drug testing procedures, or lack of, are an example of the malaise in this sport. California is at least discussing the matter, but their penalties are a joke. They make it worth taking a chance and cheating if the penalty is going to be having your horse spend time in a holding barn. If you're not going to do everything possible to test for as many drugs as you can, then the only deterrent is to make the penalties so severe that trainers will not want to risk their careers. This is the only sport where a suspension means business as usual.

Minnetonka, MN:
Hi Steve! I'm on the Big Brown bandwagon but am disappointed that he is not working at Churchill. After seeing Street Sense and Barbaro work at Churchill, how can some of these trainers not follow suit?

I think you'll find your answer in an earlier response. As for Big Brown, I would be disappointed, too. If you're looking for reasons to try to beat him, that's one of them. Dutrow likes to remain cloistered away and train in relative privacy.

Middletown, NJ:
Hi Steve, Was wondering your thoughts on Court Vision in the Derby. I know you had him high on your Derby list before this year started.

I actually had him ranked on top. He's slipped since then, but the more I look at the whole picture the more the more I believe he deserves to be moved back up. That :46 1/5 breeze he had today at Churchill was a real eye-opener. He's been working fairly slow all winter over that deep track at Payson Park and the change to Churchill and the addition of blinkers has no doubt woke him up. That's a very good sign. This is exactly what you want to see, and, to me, he has now become a major contender again off that work alone.

Seacaucus, NJ:
What are thoughts about Steve Asmussen saying he will not run Pyro in the Breeders Cup because it is run on a synthetic race track? Do you think there will be more trainers who will skip the BC the next couple years for the same reason?

As I answered earlier, yes I do believe that. What trainers say and what they do are two different things, and the BC is a long way off. But I hope he means it, and sends a message that the Breeders' Cup has to be played on a level field. Cushion Track, however, is much more like dirt and he might handle it better than Polytrack, so you never know.

Fort Knox, KY:
Steve, this is the most open Derby I can remember in quite some time. I may play a Pick 3 with the Derby being a leg. I'm looking at Adriano, Monba, Colonel John as my 3 for the Derby leg win; your thoughts.

All three are right up there in my book, and I'll definitely be playing those three myself. I'll add Smooth Air and Court Vision for a price and there ya go'for now.

Pawtucket, RI:
Your articles are always very informative. Your thoughts on Smooth Air who seems to be improving with each start and sitting on a big race.

I've been raving about the Bennie Stutts' training job for a while, and because of the way he's bringing him along, with those long stamina-building works, I definitely will be betting this horse to win and in the exotics.

Pittsburgh, PA:
I enjoy reading your articles in which you describe the Derby workouts. What are the three best Derby workouts you have ever witnessed?

They all came fairly recently ' Smarty Jones, Street Sense, and Barbaro. You can't work for the Derby any better than they did, and I gave them my 'Best Derby Work.' If I see anyone work even close to those, he'd be a major play for me. Perhaps Court Vision's work today ranked up there. But for a best work ever, I like it to be at least five furlongs.

Chicago, IL:
Hello Steve- as I enjoy following you along the trail to the Ky Derby via your Derby-Dozen, how about a little twist on that; give us your Deficient Dozen. Your list of those that will likely get in on earnings, but have little shot to crash the exotics.

You're always flirting with danger when you do that, especially picking 12 of them. I'd have use all the speed horses with questionable pedigrees -- War Pass, Recapturetheglory, Gayego, and Bob Black Jack, and maybe throw in Cowboy Cal as well, so you've got five right there. I'm going to eliminate the three horses who ran horribly in the Blue Grass and got nothing out of the race -- Pyro, Cool Coal Man, and Big Truck, although you just don't know for sure what's going to happen coming off such a bizarre race. I would conclude with Anak Nakal, Z Humor, Salute the Sarge, Halo Najib, and any newcomer who should win the Lexington and gets in. Of these, I might give Pyro one more shot, because I still think he's a very talented horse, so that gets the list down to 12.

New Berlin, WI:
Hi Steve! I very much like your bio's on Dr. Fager, John Henry, and Kelso! So, I would like to know who is your favorite overall horse of all time and why?

Thanks so much. I have so many favorites, but I would have to say ' of all the horses ' Damascus, because he was my first and it was him who got me interested in horse racing. Dr. Fager I came to admire later on. My other all-time favorites are Arts and Letters, Tiznow, Invasor, Gallant Bloom, and Little Current, and right behind them are Alysheba, Forego, The Bid, Skip Away, Holy Bull, and Cigar.

Encinitas, CA:
Steve, I would like your opinion on Rick Porter's statement of cross entering in both Derby and Oaks and scratching her from the Derby if she did not get a good post and knock another horse out of running in the Derby.

There are very few bad posts anymore in the Derby. If he enters he should run. If he scratches because of post position and knocks a good horse out of the race, let's just say he will not be the most popular guy in racing. That's been done before, to much criticism and attack.

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