The Kentucky Derby brings me home for a while!by J.W. Miller on 05/02/18
I was hoping to write a column anointing the Pelicans as this year’s NBA Playoff surprise, but the Warriors have strongly suggested I write about something else. So while we are waiting and hoping for a Pelicans’ rally at the Smoothie King Center this weekend, let’s talk Kentucky Derby.
This is always a tough time of year for a sports-loving Kentucky native to be away from the Heartland, so I try to take advantage of it. I have already mixed a sufficient quantity of mint juleps which the Lovely Miss Jean and I will sip from our silver julep cups. We will wear our finest Derby Day headwear, and I will shed a tear when the strains of My Old Kentucky Home signals the parade of starters. Another julep, please, to put me in a racing mood!
This year’s 144th Run for the Roses has some New Orleans interest in Lone Sailor, owned by Tom Benson’s GMB Stable and trained by New Orleans based Tom Amoss. Despite the interest, I think Lone Sailor is strictly a loyalty bet at 50-1 odds. He did not show much foot in his first seven races, and his best outing was second to Noble Indy in the Louisiana Derby. A silver lining is that his Louisiana performance suggests Lone Sailor likes the distance he will run at Churchill Downs. He covered the mile-and-an-eighth with ease at the Fair Grounds, which should bode well for the mile-and-a-quarter Derby distance. Reports from Churchill Downs say he is training brilliantly, and his No. 8 post position is favorable. But a finish close to the money would take a perfect ride by jockey James Graham.
Other horses have caught my eye, including - no surprise here! - Justify, the early 3-1 favorite. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, Justify did not race as a 2-year-old, prompting the experts to weigh his raw talent with his lack of a strong foundation of experience. What has impressed me is that in each of his past three races his Beyer speed rating exceeded 100, which is like an NBA rookie scoring 50 points three games in a row. Justify showed me a combination of speed and stamina at the Santa Anita Derby when he sprinted to an early lead, held off a top-of-the-stretch challenge by fellow Derby horse Bolt D’Oro and blew him away in the stretch.
An intriguing challenger and No. 2 favorite at 5-1 is Mendelssohn, breaking from the No. 14 post position. Trained by famed Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, Mendelssohn is not as well known as some contenders, having raced mostly overseas. His most impressive outing was a Secretariat-like 18-length victory at the UAE Derby in Dubai. His reputation is high cruising speed, success on a dirt track and stamina. The No. 3 betting pick, Magnum Moon at 8-1, also is receiving some late attention and not only because he is one of trainer Todd Pletcher's four entries. Magnum Moon is undefeated in his last four races.
If you are looking for longer odds, you might take a peek at Good Magic, the champion 2-year-old, trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Jose Ortiz. A son of Curlin, Good Magic won the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile last fall and won the recent Blue Grass Stakes easily over a modest field. Other horses might catch your eye, but here is what I think will happen:
And they’re off! Justify breaks cleanly and uses his impressive speed to take and hold the lead around the far turn. A few lengths back is Mendelssohn, who has the speed to press the pace. Lone Sailor saves ground on the inside as the group hits the far turn, but Combatant and Instilled Regard start to lag behind the field. In the backstretch, Pletcher’s Audible, under jockey Javier Castellano, weaves through the pack and is firmly in third place until his stablemate, Vino Rosso, under John Velazquez, gains ground on the rail and slips past him.
In the final furlong, it becomes a two-horse race. Smith goes to the whip, and Justify responds as Mendelssohn can’t make up the three lost lengths. Crossing the finish line in 2:02 2/5 is Justify, the Kentucky-bred owned by WinStar Farm of Versailles, KY. Baffert’s fifth Kentucky Derby winner also breaks the “Curse of Apollo,” as he becomes the first Kentucky Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 who did not race as a 2-year-old.
And, puhleeze, pass me another julep!