Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Kentucky Derby picks

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of being devoted to horse racing, it’s this: anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is analyzed endless ways but when that long starting gate opens, all we can do is hold our collective breaths and watch. In the end, it's anybody's race, and that is part of the Derby's appeal.

Despite the build-up in the many months before—beginning with the fall two-year-old races—the Kentucky Derby is both a means to an end and a new beginning. It marks the conclusion of that gray area in between the juvenile races of the fall and the Triple Crown trail. Over those months, we watch to see whose form changes, who matures, and whose precocious talent can carry on. Then upon the running of the Derby, we wait for the curtains to part, revealing a new three-year-old star, a Good Horse that can carry us through the rest of the year and possibly into the next.

All this said, rather than being the thousandth person to do a race analysis, I will instead write my personal reasons for liking particular horses. For those that like statistics, I will include the horse's pedigree, race record, earnings, and last posted work.

Verrazano (More Than Ready - Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway) 4 starts, 4-0-0; earner of $861,300. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/27, 5f in :59.40, ranked 6 of 52.

Verrazano caught my eye for two reasons when he broke his maiden at first asking on New Year's Day: the ease of his 7-plus length win and his name, which was already familiar to me, for my husband and I were welcomed to New York by becoming ensnarled in traffic on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge when we visited Belmont Park and Saratoga last August. A big, rangy colt with a beautiful stride, he won his next race--an allowance--by even more daylight, then impressed me deeply with his win in the Tampa Bay Derby. I was hoping he would settle in the Wood Memorial and he did--perhaps too much, as he seemed almost bored in the homestretch.

I love the photos I see of Verrazano being bathed by the Pletcher barn at Churchill Downs. He stands tall and stately, gazing at the photographer with confident curiosity. He is one of the more striking three-year-olds I've seen in recent years, but it's going to take more than talent and good looks to win the Kentucky Derby--he needs that competitive drive, too.

Lastly, I talked a little bit about Verrazano with the husband of a friend on Facebook. He happened to be one of the colt's early exercise riders, and he told me the colt is very intelligent, with a good, quiet mind. This is vital in the hubbub of the Kentucky Derby.

Oxbow at Saratoga

Oxbow (Awesome Again - Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy) 9 starts, 2-1-1; earner of $383,500. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/29, 5f in :59.80, ranked 1 of 35.

At Saratoga Race Course, a maiden race for two-year-olds always brims with promise. When my husband and I visited Saratoga last August, I made it a requirement that we visit the paddock for the fifth race, which was one of those hopeful maiden races. I distinctively remember thinking to myself, One of these horses may end up in the Kentucky Derby next year. Of course, the odds of that happening--prestigious racetrack or not--are low.

Of all the horses in that race, a colt with an unusual bay roan coat caught my eye. Bay roan is not a color one sees very often (okay, hardly ever) in Thoroughbreds so I took a quick look at the horse's name and listed color in the program. Oxbow, bay. Interesting. I snapped photos of him and made a mental note to follow him.

As luck would have it, I followed him right to the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Oxbow traveled along the Derby trail without the pizazz of Verrazano. Nevertheless, he is very promising and, save that fateful maiden race, he gives 100% even when the going gets tough. To my pleasant surprise, I found out in recent weeks that Gary Stevens will be riding Oxbow in the Derby. This takes me right back to 1995, when Stevens rode the Lukas-trained Thunder Gulch to one of my favorite Kentucky Derby wins. In this year's Derby, nostalgia rides a bay roan colt!

Oxbow at Saratoga

Orb (Malibu Moon - Lady Liberty, by Unbridled) 7 starts, 4-0-1, earner of $921,050. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/29, 4f in :47.80, ranked 5 of 43.

Trainer Claude McGaughey doesn't point his horses towards the Kentucky Derby unless they check all the "promising Derby horse" boxes, so when the Phipps or Janney families send a set of cherry-capped or sleeved silks to the Kentucky Derby starting gate, one pays attention.

Orb certainly fits the "promising Derby horse" bill. His performance on the track aside, you'd be hard pressed to find a horse in the field with a better pedigree than Orb. Hailing from the female family of the great Ruffian, Orb's fourth dam is Laughter, a 3/4 sister to Ruffian herself. Laughter is by Bold Ruler (sire of Reviewer, who in turn sired Ruffian) and out of Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian. Shenanigans only foaled two fillies in her lifetime, and with Ruffian gone, the torch of Shenanigan's blue hen bloodlines was passed to Laughter. She did not disappoint.

In the meantime, Orb's Kentucky Derby jockey, Joel Rosario, was on fire at the recent Keeneland spring meet, which ended last Friday. He broke Randy Romero's long-standing record for most wins in a spring meet and was quick to carry the hot streak over to the opening of Churchill Downs' meet the following day. With the very talented Orb beneath him in the Kentucky Derby, Orb and Rosario's chances at the roses are looking very good.

Revolutionary (War Pass - Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy) 6 starts, 3-1-2, earner of $788,500. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/27, 4f in :48.20, ranked 6 of 70.

Revolutionary is another talented colt with a strong pedigree. His close female line was bred by William Farish. His second dam is Lane's End foundation mare Up The Flagpole, who in turn is a direct female descendant of La Troienne.

Mylute (Midnight Lute - Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) 9 starts, 2-3-2, earner of $417,695. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/27, 4f in :50.60, ranked 59 of 70.

I admit I like Mylute mainly because of his Kentucky Derby jockey, Rosie Napravnik. She became the first female jockey in history to win the Kentucky Oaks (2012) and later won the 2012 Breeder's Cup Juvenile on then-Derby hopeful, Shanghai Bobby. As professional as they come, whether she becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby isn't an "if" but a "when".

Goldencents (Into Mischief - Golden Works, by Banker's Gold) 6 starts, 4-1-0, earner of $1,250,000. Last work: Santa Anita, 4/25, 6f in 1:16.20, ranked 8 of 8.

Goldencents has kind of grown on me over the past few weeks. I liked him before his loss in the San Felipe Stakes on February 9. In that race, he locked horns early with Flashback and both horses tired, finishing out of the money. Goldencents rebounded by winning the Santa Anita Derby handily. It wasn't long ago when jockey Kevin Krigger was riding the bull ring track at Charles Town. Krigger is living proof that dedication and hard work will carry you far.


Lauren said...

Interesting! Knowing me I'll just pick the chromiest chrome horse there and hope for the best :) I love More Than Ready though, so maybe his offspring is the one to pick!

Heidi E. Carpenter said...

Lauren--you would like Will Take Charge then, he has a TON of chrome! Black Onyx is a looker, too.