Post Derby 138 Thoughts

Congratulations to Paul Reddam, Doug and Dennis O'Neill, Mario Gutierrez, and breeder Harvey Clarke on winning Derby 138. They were deserving winners, as Reddam puts a lot of money into the sport, Doug O'Neill has spent nearly two decades building a winning barn, Dennis not only has one of the sharpest eyes for horse flesh in the business but has recently overcome non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Gutierrez was flawless and unusually cool in his first Derby ride, and Clarke has been in the Thoroughbred racing business for more than 30 years.

Unlike some of the recent post-Derby press conferences, the winning connections seemed genuinely thrilled to be sitting on that podium. You could tell it was a life-changing moment for them and they were going to enjoy every bit of it. They talked about O'Neill's barn being a blue-collar operation, but also made sure to point out that they have fun doing what they do. That was refreshing.

O'Neill is by no means Mother Teresa; he has been fined, suspended, and investigated several times for milkshaking, and actually faces another possible suspension for a violation that allegedly occurred in the summer of 2010. For his part, he has admitted to his mistakes over the years and has taken responsibility for the medication violations. This is not to make an excuse for him, but if we focused on the rumors and violations of every trainer/owner who has won classic and Breeders' Cup races over recent the years, the negativity would be overwhelming. O'Neill is not and will never be an ambassador for racing, but he isn't the devil either. He outwardly supports a California children's hospital at UCLA and did wonderful things for a little girl who was at the Derby for the Make a Wish Foundation, even allowing her to come up to the podium at the post-race press conference. He also supports CARMA, a retired racehorse foundation in Southern California. I always say, take the good with the bad.

As for I'll Have Another, I considered him in the weeks leading up to the race, but have to admit that the shock wave therapy and post 19 scared me off of him. Congrats to anyone who had him. I wrote before the race that he ran the most impressive Derby prep all year in the Robert Lewis, and came back to run a huge race in the Santa Anita Derby. Like many, I questioned whether he was sound enough to run the biggest race of his life off a four-week layoff when he had always had much more time in between his best races. As it turned out, O'Neill had him sharp as could be and he had the perfect trip all the way around the track. We'll analyze his chances in Baltimore in the next few days.

Bodemeister, Dullahan, and Went the Day Well all ran huge races in defeat. Even with the speed-favoring Churchill Downs track, when Bodemeister set those fractions for six furlongs I thought he was toast. To run like he did, as inexperienced as he is, was truly remarkable. If Smith had slowed things down on the backstretch just a little bit more, he would have won. There is no doubt that he let him go just a little too quick.

Dullahan ran huge too. We all expected him to close well, and he made his run on the final turn. But Desormeaux took him seven-wide into the stretch and that was the difference between winning and losing. That's two of the last three Derbies where if things had gone just a little bit differently, Dale Romans would have collared his long-awaited Derby win.

Went the Day Well also ran big. He had a bad start after being bumped and was four-wide in the early going while racing in 17th. He also made his move on the turn, but like Dullahan, was seven-wide entering the stretch. He closed very well to get up for fourth under a less than ideal trip.

I hope all of the top four return for the Preakness, as each of them showed they have bright futures. Forget about what the Beyer numbers say, this is a good crop and the rest of the Triple Crown should be exciting.

I hope Union Rags comes back for the Preakness too, but it looks as though they are leaning toward the Belmont. Obviously, he never had a chance to show his talent after a terrible break. I hope they leave Leparoux on him too, as I can't blame him for this one.

Those without excuses included Hansen, who sat in perfect position before tiring, and Gemologist, who faded terribly when turning for home.

On to Baltimore!

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