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I hope Springsteen doesn't play Jazzfest on Derby Day!

by J.W. Miller on 02/24/14

Saturday was the first day of the spring that New Orleans sporting fans really begin looking forward to the first Saturday in May. No, the Jazzfest schedule was not announced, although I hope Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and the Avett Brothers perform on the first weekend. You see, on the first Saturday in May, the second weekend of Jazzfest, I will be on the rail at Churchill Downs in Louisville for the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. 

I am not a racing expert, but I can read the Daily Racing Form and I know what a speed rating is and I lamented the recent Washington Post buyout of its legendary racing writer Andy Beyer. Did I also mention I almost tanked my ninth semester at UK because of the Keeneland Fall Meet? Hey, what would you have done: Go the races or attended a Sociology class that I needed to get my degree? In any case, I got a C and the degree, but my current Derby anticipation began forming Saturday.

The Risen Star Stakes at the New Orleans Fairgrounds saw Intense Holiday nip Albano in the stretch. The victory vaulted the Todd Pletcher colt into first place in the Derby points standings, which determines which horses qualify for the most famous horse race in America. Leading the standings in February is like leading at the first turn since the major qualifying races are yet to come, but jockey Mike Smith said his winning mount is still young and has a lot of room to get better. Intense Holiday was coming off a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream in January, but was the only horse to make up ground on Cairo Prince, the early Derby favorite who ran away from the field. Saturday’s betting favorite, Vicar’s in Trouble, had a tough time starting from the No. 13 post position but battled throughout and made a respectable charge at the top of the stretch to finish third.

The road to the Derby is a long one. Nine weeks remain during which some unexpected turns or wash outs will completely change the minds of the betting public. That's the nature of this journey, with Triple Crown prep races run every weekend until April 19 and with the horses themselves changing dramatically. Keep in mind what Mike Smith said above, that these horses aimed at the Triple Crown are still youngsters, like teens in high school. Although they're officially 3, many of these horses are actually still 2, and at this stage in their development, they can change with shocking suddenness. 

We can still have our early favorites, and I usually side with somebody who knows more than I do about it. With Beyer taking a sabbatical, I turn to Jenny Rees, the Louisville Courier-Journal’s respected race writer, who likes Top Billing over Cairo Prince in her early standings. The Shug McGaughey trained son of Curlin came from near dead last to lose by a length at the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday. He was gaining on the other horses in the mile-and-sixteenth race and would have caught them at the Derby’s mile-and-a-quarter. Top Billing also has the added benefit of 2013 Derby winner Joel Rosario in the irons. 

McGaughey’s other horse generating some early interest is Honor Code, which beat Cairo Prince in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on November 30. Honor Code has the great Secretariat in both sire and dam bloodlines, which ain’t all bad when you are talking about winning the Derby. So between now and the first Saturday in May, I will be watching the Derby ranking unfold and updating you on the results. 

But I still hope that the Boss, Clapton and the Avett Brothers are not playing Jazzfest on Derby Day.

Clarification: An interested reader commented on my column on postgame press conferences. For the sake of fairness, and because he knows a little bit about the subject, I pass on his comments to you: “The Russian coach couldn't carry my jock when it comes to post game comments!!!!! The game I made the Playoff comments was against the 49ers and son Jim was the Defensive Coordinator for SF and I think Peyton threw 5 picks. So give me a break will you? LOL!” (signed) Jim Mora

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