Saturday, March 21, 2009

Five Phases of Derbydom

We have entered the fourth of five phases of the Kentucky Derby. As opposed to the movement of the moon, the Derby phases are all about waxing toward the big day in May. Here are the phases as I see them:

Phase I - Big Baby Races: Here's where the racing rubber meets the road for two-year-olds that may end up on the Derby trail. These are the races of late summer that end in the late fall. On the New York circuit this will go from the Sandford to Remsen out West it could be considered from Best Pal to Cash Call Futurity and the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill.

Phase II - The Breeders Cup Juvenile to Winter Dreaming: The almost three-year-olds usually get a champion out of the race and the conversation turns to the possible Derby favorite based upon  their BC effort. Winter book odds come out, experimental handicap weights are released and trainers begin to set out plans for success in May while bettors begin to look for "their Derby horse." The Juvenile to Gulfstream's opening.

Phase III - Hopes High, Dreams Dashed: Three year olds get to taste their first action at the major Derby prep venues - Gulfstream, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn and Santa Anita. Here promise begins to meet reality or the road to the roses becomes just too tough for those lacking the talent. Also the injuries and adversities - major and otherwise - are realized. Coughs, bowed tendons and breathing issues force trainers to put off training and rethink strategy. Sprinters race away at distances a mile and under and are pointed towards Churchill's opening weekend. A horse from nowhere grabs Derby Dream headlines. Gulfstream's opening weekend to the Big Saturday of LA Derby/Rebel/San Felipe/Tampa Bay Derby.

Phase IV - The Pretenders and Contenders: The real cream starts to rise while those below the top tier show their true colors in Florida, Santa Anita and Arkansas Derbies, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes. The synthetic vs. dirt argument hits a fever pitch, final training plans are made and Churchill's graded stakes debate shows that at least one, two or three really good horses won't make the gate. The Florida Derby to last chance to stamp a ticket at Keenland's Lexington Stakes.

Phase V - Derby Week is Here: Last minute adjustments to handicapping, the draw and My Old Kentucky home.

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