By Kevin Stafford, the Aspiring Horseplayer
Surprise, surprise - another Derby week dawns and
another round of shocking news and updates is not far behind. The updates
themselves are surprising - Eskendereya out of the Kentucky Derby - but the
notion that such events will unfold this time of year should not be so.
Yet, we seem to do this with alarming regularity - running around in a
collective Chinese fire drill as highly touted horses scratch from the list of Derby starters.
In 2009, this came in the form of
scratches to favorites Quality
Road and I Want Revenge (with the latter occurring
morning and thus being excusable for having caused sudden onset fits of panic).
Now we're back in familiar territory in 2010 with the announcement
on Sunday that Eskendereya
is out of the Derby.
Note: no worries - it doesn't
appear that Der
Fuhrer has yet received word of Eskendereya's injury.
The change makes the race more
interesting - no doubt about that - but does it make the race any more "wide
open" than it already was (or wasn't, depending upon your perspective)?
It's not like Eskendereya was
going to wire the field, and that his scratch drastically alters the pace
setup. We know we've still got speed horses in this race ranging from
Conveyance to Line of David to American Lion. Even the highly regarded Sidney's Candy has shown
proficiency for being on the lead - even if the supposition is that he will
attempt to stalk on Saturday.
The way I see things, all we've
done is removed one layer of uncertainty from the tangled web of Derby week drama.
Regardless of the pace setup, you're either going to accept one of the
lower priced, impressive horses form the West Coast in Sidney's Candy or Lookin
at Lucky - or you aren't.
There's ample reason to go in
either direction for each horse. Lucky obviously could use a little luck.
He's the 2-year-old champion and there's no question he's a talented
horse, but he seems to get himself into trouble every-so-often, which may not
be a good sign on the eve of a field the size of the Derby.
Sidney's Candy has blown away fields in California running wire
to wire over the Pro Ride and turning in impressive late fractions along the
way. How often do we hear that the Pro Ride is really turf by another
name? Doesn't that make it more impressive that a horse like Sid could
wire fields the way he does? He's also a fabulous looking colt (and to
let the cat out of the bag, I'll confide here that he's my wife's top betting
interest for the Derby).
He will, however, also have to do something he's never had to do at this
level or against this caliber of competition - pass horses in the stretch.
Make no mistake about it though -
I think Lucky and Sidney are the two horses
you're going to have to beat if you want a Derby payday to remember. They could
well be standouts from a talent perspective when all is said and done.
That doesn't mean they should be considered "locks" to finish 1, 2 in the
Looking over the rest of the
field, I find myself intrigued by Awesome Act. I don't think he belongs
anywhere near 7/2, but I was already looking at him to have an improved trip
when I thought the monster we casually refer to as Eskendereya was still going
to be in this race. If Awesome gets a better trip, AND if he gets more
fashionable footwear (dude had all kinds of shoe problems in the Wood), this
could be a good ole fashioned British invasion (though technically Awesome Act
is an American by birth, having been born in Kentucky
and then shipped to England
As Americans, we do enjoy a good
British invasion every few years, don't we? Most folks think the one and
only British invasion involved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but this is
simply not the case. It's a topic I know all too well having grown up in
rural Cecil County, MD - a target of not one, but TWO British invasions in our
first half-century of existence (the first American casualties to
have ever fallen under the "stars and stripes" having happened at nearbye Cooch's Bridge in Delaware
during the Brandywine campaign of 1777 - another American defeat hardly
anyone has ever heard of).
In late August, 1814,
British forces under Sir Robert Ross assaulted American positions on the
outskirts of Washington, D.C. at the lopsided Battle of Bladensburg.
The Americans were so routed by the redcoats that the ensuing retreat
became forever known as "the Bladensburg races."
Many reading this have no doubt
never heard of Bladensburg or the action fought there - quite simply, with the
exception of Custer's Last Stand, we aren't a people who like to celebrate our
lopsided defeats. We're a much more victory oriented society. We
remember Gettysburg, Normandy, and Midway because "we" prevailed
in those places. At Bladensburg, it was our asses that got a royal
kicking (quite literally).
The British, flushed with their
recent success, advanced into the capital unopposed and set it aflame - driving
president James Madison (and his wife Dolly) into the countryside seeking
safety. With the paths to Washington and
open, defeat for the tiny American republic seemed a foregone conclusion, but
it was not to be.
Just outside of Baltimore, Major Ross was felled by the
bullet of a sniper at the onset of the Battle of North Point. With his
death, the English were thrown into confusion and eventually driven from the
field. During the accompanying naval bombardment of Ft.
McHenry at the mouth of Baltimore's harbor, a
young lawyer named Francis Scott Key would observe the cannonade and famously
note with pride that on the following morning "our flag was still there."
If Awesome Act were to somehow
stage the upset this weekend - in effect he'd scatter the American resistance
and send them fleeing for the safety of Pimlico (Baltimore/Washington) and
beyond - rather like the running of the "Bladensburg races" nearly 200 years
earlier. Obviously I'm just having some fun with the possibilities here
- as technically the colt is no more "English" than anyone who has
vacationed in London
or had their picture taken with Big Ben in the background. I must confess
though, ever since that Gotham victory, there
is something about Awesome Act that I'm extremely fond of. I wonder
what his accent is like if he neighs something about aluminum?
At the end of the day I've got
the wife jumping on Sidney's
Candy and the rest of the world seems to be on Lookin' at Lucky. I'm
zigging when they zag and taking Awesome Act, and of course my good friend and fellow blogger Tencentcielo
has been firmly aboard the Endorsement bandwagon since, well, since Radio Flyer
came out with an Endorsement themed version of their popular red wagon
following the Sunland Derby.
The million dollar question is -
who are you taking? I know Post Positions aren't assigned yet and there's
still ample time for a million things to go wrong - but at this point you have
to have some notion of which direction you're leaning, and we'd love to hear