The Kentucky Derby
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/5/2015 (1149 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s annually among the 10 most-watched sporting events on TV in the United States — and the best attended outside of NASCAR, drawing over 165,000 spectators to Churchill Downs.
But for the first time in memory, the Kentucky Derby will not be the most anticipated sporting event on this first Saturday of May.
That honour, of course, goes to Saturday night’s long awaited fight in Las Vegas between boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The two pugilists will split a purse that could exceed $350-million once they count up all the cash, all of which makes the $2 million the 20 horses are running for Saturday afternoon in Louisville look like chump change.
And that’s too bad. Because Saturday’s 141st running of the Kentucky Derby might just feature the most talented field of horses since the glory days of the 1980s. As Washington Post horse racing guru Andrew Beyer has pointed out, fully eight of the 20 entrants have recorded triple digit speed figures.
Now, a speed figure of 100 or more is generally considered the gold standard in thoroughbred racing, a very rare number that sets apart the very good horses from the great horses that typically dominate Grade 1 races like the Derby.
But what happens when almost half the field has already raced the gold standard? No one’s exactly sure and that’s why it says here that the most exciting two minutes in sports will once again on Saturday be on the oval at Churchill Downs, not the squared circle at the MGM Grand.
The favourite Saturday will be American Pharoah, who was last year’s champion two-year-old, who has trailed just once in his last four races and has completely dominated his competition, posting four straight victories by a combined total of 22 lengths.
Then there’s the two undefeated horses in the race — Dortmund, who is a perfect 6 for 6, and the lightly raced Materiality, who is unbeaten in three races and comes into Louisville off an other-worldly win in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in which he posted a 110 Beyer speed figure, the highest such number in a Derby prep race since 2006.
Don’t like those options? Well then, how about Mubtaahij, an Irish bred that’s won four of his last five races in Dubai and comes into Saturday off an eye-popping eight-length victory in the $2-million Grade 2 UAE Derby.
In a normal year, any one of those four horses would be considered a heavy favourite to win this year’s Kentucky Derby. And yet such is the strength of this year’s field that it’s entirely conceivable that Saturday’s race could be run without any of those favourites so much as hitting the board.
Indeed, this year’s Derby field is so deep that there are horses running this afternoon that would be among the favorites in most years, but who will go off as prohibitive longshots on Saturday.
Consider: Frosted is listed at odds of 16-1 despite a two-length victory and a 103 speed rating in his last outing in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, a race that has produced 11 Derby winners over the years — and four Triple Crown winners.
And then there’s Upstart, who has thrown three-digit speed figures in two of his last three races and is one of the few horses in recent memory to run a 108 speed figure and lose, coming in second to Materiality in that ridiculously fast Florida Derby.
Put it altogether and what you’ve got is a study in contrasts on Saturday: a fight in Vegas where whoever wins will be an old man in the last throes of his career or a race in Louisville where the winner might just turn out to be a champion for the ages.
Steve Lyons, Winnipeg Free Press
Carpe Diem (8-1)
It’s been 24 years since a Blue Grass winner followed up with a Derby victory (1991 — Strike the Gold) but Carpe Diem drew off to win going away four weeks ago at Keeneland and looks to be maturing brilliantly.
Also, Summer Squall (one of my all-time faves) won the Blue Grass in 1990 and later sired Charismatic, who won the Derby in 1999 as a 31-1 longshot. Follow?
Hall of Fame jockey John Velasquez stuck with the son of Giant’s Causeway over Materiality.
I’m betting the Todd Pletcher-trained colt siezes this day.
Paul Wiecek, Winnipeg Free Press
International Star (20-1)
There’s a ridiculous amount of early speed in this race — I count no fewer than eight horses who need to be on the lead to be effective. Maybe some of them can rate, but if they do it will be for the first time and that’s not a scenario I like to invest money in. Put it altogether and I think this race screams for someone to come from the clouds late as all the speed backs up. I thought I found a deep closer at long odds in El Kabeir (30-1), who went from 9th to 1st two starts ago in the Grade 3 Gotham. But El Kabeir came up sore on Friday and skipped his morning workout, so I will look elsewhere to International Star, who won each of his last three races with an impressive late move, including the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.
Andrew Beyer, Washington Post
Although Upstart has won just three of his seven starts, he has run well in every one of them. Once he was disqualified from a victory. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he had a tough trip (wide, contesting a hot pace) before finishing a commendable third. Twice in Grade I stakes he has finished a close second behind a winner who delivered a monster performance. That is what happened in the Florida Derby, where Materiality beat him, fair and square, by 1 1 / 2 lengths. Upstart finished a dozen lengths ahead of the rest of the field, but the loss caused his Derby stock to drop. However, he is much more likely to fire his best shot at Churchill Downs than the lightly raced Materiality. Upstart’s speed figure of 108 in the Florida Derby and his 105 in the Holy Bull Stakes indicate he is as least as good as American Pharoah and Dortmund.
Darren Dunn, Assiniboia Downs
I am going way way across the pond with Mubtaahij. I watched his last race and it was jaw dropping — though he did not beat a ton of talent. His last two starts were at almost the Derby distance and this guy is bred to run from here to China. Honourable mentions to Materiality (12-1) — light on experience but heavy on talent and undefeated in three starts. Fresh and capable, he has major distance breeding and best last race Beyer speed figure... Carpe Diem (8-1) just smoked them in the Blue Grass and has won 4 of 5. He also has major distance breeding.
Jimmy Fallon, Tonight Show
American Pharoah (5-2)
Fallon lined up a bunch of puppies this week, opened their gates and had them run to a trough of kibble. American Pharoah got there first. Not to be picky, but Fallon had the American Pharoah puppy break from the 4-hole in the Tonight Show gate; American Pharoah will break from the 18-hole in Louisville today. Big difference. Not to mention one’s a dog and one’s a horse. And there’s no kibble at the finish line in Louisville.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
The Kentucky Derby
Churchill Downs — Louisville, Kentucky
1-1/4 miles, 3 year-olds. Purse: $2 million
Post time: 5:24 p.m. CT.
TV: NBC (Coverage begins at 3 p.m.)
Weather forecast: 25 C, partly cloudy
Field: 20 horses, plus two alternates
Weights: Colts, 126; fillies, 121
Race record: 1:59.40 (Secretariat, 1973)
The Favourite: (5-2) American Pharoah
The Longest Shot: (50-1) Ocho Ocho Ocho; Keen Ice; War Story; Mr. Z
Notes: If Materiality wins on Saturday, he would be the first horse ever to win the Derby without having raced as a two-year-old. Fifty-eight others have tried and failed heading into Saturday... Trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle four horses in Saturday’s race, is 1 for 40 at the Kentucky Derby... The pre-race favourite in North American thoroughbred races wins on average about 30 percent of the time, but the favourite has won the Derby in each of the last two years (California Chrome, Orb) and four of the last eight.
Weirdest Derby Stat You’ll Read Today: No ridgling — an intact male horse with an undescended testicle — has ever won the Derby. Upstart and Far Right are both ridglings in this year’s race.