Thursday, January 21, 2010

Derby Trail

When exactly does the Kentucky Derby trail begin?

Some may say the day after the current year's Derby. Others would say the auction houses where millions are thrown at Derby Dreams months (two-year-olds in training) or years (yearlings) away. Finally, some would point to the hopes of breeders bringing together stud and mare based upon a computer program, obvious bloodlines or just a pipe dream.

At Coast to Coast it starts here and now. Let's take a look at a very, very presumptuous and premature (small) field of hopefuls, and then finish with a few predictions.

Top Four Breeders Cup Juvenile finishers:
  • Vale of York
  • Lookin At Lucky
  • Noble's Promise
  • Piscitelli
If their connections want in, there in. Why? Because they have enough graded stakes earnings to make the gate of twenty. If you're new to thoroughbred horse racing or the inner workings of the Derby, beyond the fact it's run on first Saturday in May, you probably don't know that Churchill Downs bases its Derby entrants on graded stakes earnings from their two- and three-year-old seasons. Graded stakes are usually the highest in purses and prestiege and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is a Grade 1 with a $1 million purse. Among the four, Lookin At Lucky shows the most promise and is heading toward early book favortism

Another win and your in race is the Grade III Delta Jackpot won by Rule.
  • Delta Jackpot winners have yet to make a splash in the years since its Grade III status and winner's share of $750,000 (used to be $1 million). Maybe it's due to the small bull-ring type track - only six furlongs - when most US tracks are at least a mile oval or maybe it's just a forgotten race after the Breeders' Cup and before the holidays or maybe the Derby winner just doesn't go through Vinton, LA. Regardless Rule's daddy, Fusaichi Pegasus, won the Derby and is owned by WinStar, a powerhouse partnership that perennially sends colts to the Derby.
The ol' "Win at Churchill at Two Will Lead to a Derby Win Factor" goes to Super Saver.
  • During its less popular, much quieter and shorter fall season many connections race what they consider their Derby contenders over the Churchill surface - which thankfully is still organic, i.e. dirt. Super Saver took the biggest of these races the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
That's pretty much it for locks - if they don't get hurt or fail to perform up to their early racing form - for the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Don't worry the list will grow, shorten and even explode with a few quick turns of the hoof during the winter/spring of 2010. Here's some of what you'll see if you're apt to follow races from frigid Aqueduct to the muggy bayou based Fair Grounds to the sunny (real) and racing surfaces (fake) Californian coast:
  • A maiden or first level allowance win in big way and a fast time. This will most likely happen at Gulfstream Park in South Florida - where the hard track usually favors front-runners. Some recent colts to show up in a big way have been Quality Road, Dunkirk and Curlin.
  • An overemphasis on numbers - Dosage (breeding), Beyers (speed), training times (either fast or slow) and Ragozin's Sheets (if you're not betting or don't train a horse, don't ask).
  • Injuries and/or lost of training time. Last year's list was big including early favorites Quality Road and I Want Revenge.
  • Bob Baffert will have multiple horses racing all over the place. He already has Lookin At Lucky going the right way winning for the sixth time in seven starts. He could get anywhere from three to five in Churhill's starting gate.
  • The Sunland Derby gets graded status, so trainers like Baffert and Steve Asmussen, who in the past have usually sent second and third tier trainees to the New Mexico track, will now be sending the real deal to the race. Remember it's where last year's Derby winner, Mine That Bird, ran a dismissal fourth in his final prep race.
  • Sprinters stretching out beyond bloodlines due simply to the timing of their improvement - the weeks and months before May 1. Most will fail and either fall back to sprinting or disappear all together. Colts who've already successfully stretched their pedigrees are Conveyance and Dryfry. Can they keep it up? Who knows...stay tuned.
  • The Little Track That Could - Oaklawn - will produce a Derby contender worth watching. The likes of Curlin, Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex have won big races at the Arkansas track before heading onto much Derby and Triple Crown success.
  • Synthetic surfaces (fake dirt) - used at all California tracks and a few lesser know tracks - will continue to confuse handicappers and trainers alike when horses make the transition to the stuff you can dig up in your back yard. Pioneerof the Nile came close to becoming the first synthetic to dirt Derby winner, but fell short.


  1. Tony,

    Who's your early Derby favorite?

  2. Hard enough to pick them by the time they get to the gate...but what the heck. Why not Homeboykris? Dutrow and grade one winner on dirt - Champagne. The Holy Bull will tell us if he's back to his Belmont form.

    By the way, how do I go about getting into TBA???