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The Kentucky Derby: An Amateur’s Thoughts and Predictions

Mike Simons, Getty Images

It’s just about that time.  Post time (and party time?).  Time for (enchanted mornings?) the most exciting afternoon in horse racing.  Time for comically large floppy hats, mint juleps and some mile and a quarter racing.  That’s right, it’s Kentucky Derby time and I for one, am pretty excited.

I know horse racing has lost a lot of its fan base in the past few years and it’s hardly the “Sport of Kings” it once was.  But at its best, I still think it’s a terrific sport. I mean, I don’t spend as much time as I do at Saratoga because I enjoy losing money  – You’re killing me Jean-Luc Samyn, you’re killing me!  ‘Samyn on the Green’ my…yeah, anyway.

Andy Lyons, Getty Images

No matter how you feel about horse racing as a sport, I think it would be hard for a reasonable sports fan to not be at least intrigued by the Kentucky Derby.  I’ve said it before, I love sporting events that are great theater, a la the Masters. Watching the horses get saddled, the call for ‘Jockey’s Up,’ the roar of the crowd when that absurdly large throng of onlookers gets their first look at the field.  How bout that cavalry charge when the gates first open and twenty horses come screaming down the front stretch vying for position?   Then there’s the roar of the absurdly large throng of onlookers when the field turns for home.  There’s so much passion, so much tradition – the Derby is just such great theater, it’s a fantastic watch.

I mean, were you not excited when Calvin Borel made that unbelievable dead-last to first run along the rail to win with the uber long shot ‘Mine that Bird’ in ‘09?  That was one of the most stunning upsets of the decade.  Nobody knew how that happened. Tom Derkin, the famous and accomplished track announcer, couldn’t wrap his head around it until Borel was about half a furlong from the finish line and five lengths up on the field.  Seriously, check the tape.  Mine That Bird is well clear of second before Derkin realizes he’s even made a run.

Look, I’m not trying to get anyone into horse racing in a huge way.  I know it won’t happen and that’s fine.  I’m not saying you need to start handicapping weekday races at Aqueduct, or make a pilgrimage to the OTB.  But I am saying that you should tune into this Saturday’s Derby.  From the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” to when the winner is anointed with the roses, it will be a fun watch.

As for the race itself, it’s pretty wide open.  I would have had to play Uncle Mo if not for his recent development of a G.I. infection. Overall, I feel like there’s a bunch of horses who can win, a couple that will contend, then a final group who really have no shot (famous last words).  Speaking of famous last words, here are my predictions for this years Kentucky Derby:

My favorites for the race:

Jamie Squire, Getty Images

I love a healthy Uncle Mo, with four wins and a show in five career races, including a grade one stakes win at Churchill Downs.  Plus, as we know from Saratoga, J Velazquez and Todd Pletcher are a lethal combination.  But his health will really need to be monitored.  Dialed In is an impressive horse with four wins in four starts, including a win at Churchill – though he’s only run at least a mile in three races.  Midnight Interlude is a horse that intrigues me, with no finish worse than third and a win in a grade one stakes.  It did, however, take him three races to break his maiden.  Nehro is a horse getting a lot of play.  I like him, though not as much as everyone else. He has placed in each of his stakes races, though lost to Archarcharch by a neck in his last race.  But the experts have him poised for a great showing in the Derby.  I also look for Mucho Macho Man, Archarcharch and Soldat to figure.

So here’s how I see the race shaking out:

If Uncle Mo is healthy pre-race and runs:

I look for Comma to the Top to fight for and take the early lead from the seven Pants On Fire.  He’ll set a quick, yet manageable pace, trailed closely by Uncle Mo, Mucho Macho Man, Midnight Interlude and Soldat.  As they turn for home I look for Uncle Mo to take the lead from Comma to the Top, who will drop to the back of the pack as Uncle Mo and Midnight Interlude begin to pull away from the field.  At the top of the stretch however, I see Dialed In and Nehro making a strong run.  Those four will race it hard down the stretch to the wire, fighting off a very late challenge by Archarcharch.  As they come to the wire, I see Uncle Mo’s grade one experience fighting off Dialed In’s raw ability.  I see it:

  1. Uncle Mo
  2. Dialed In
  3. Midnight Interlude
  4. Nehro

If Uncle Mo doesn’t run or doesn’t look good pre-race:

I see the race largely the same.  However, Mucho Macho Man will take the lead from Comma to the Top on the turn.  He’ll succumb to the speed of Dialed In and sit in a dog fight with Santiva, Archarcharch and Soldat for the fourth spot.  I see it:

  1. Dialed In
  2. Midnight Interlude
  3. Nehro
  4. Archarcharch

If there are any gamblers out there looking for a good bet, I’d look at Mucho Macho Man , Soldat, Midnight Interlude and Archarcharch.  A long shot to at least figure into the money? Check out the 12, Santiva.  He’s run well in three of four graded stakes races and according to jockey’s comments caught a bad trip in his last race.  I look for this 30/1 morning line dog as a horse who has a shot at a good showing and a shot to be near the front at the end of race.

So we’ll see how this all shakes out.  It’s a wide-open field and a lot of these horses could win it.  However, that’s how this very much amateur sees it.  Which, for those of you out there who used my NCAA tournament bracket to fill out yours knows…It really doesn’t mean anything.

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