A virtual thriller in Derby

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On Saturday, NBCSN’s horse racing coverage will have a computer generated virtual Kentucky Derby with a 13-horse field of past Triple Crown winners. 

This is like asking a baseball fan who was better, Sammy Sosa or Babe Ruth? Mark McGwire or Roger Maris? Barry Bonds or Mickey Mantle? 

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We have different racehorses from different eras as we look to handicap, using a computer, a virtual Kentucky Derby. I wonder how it would take in track conditions, medication, a troubled trip, a speed duel, etc. 

In this virtual 13 horse Kentucky Derby field we will start with post position 13 and work our way up. 

No. 13 Omaha (20-1): Broke from post 11 this field of 18 runners in the 1935 Kentucky Derby. Of the 18 runners, half of them were fillies with the Calumet Farm filly, Nellie Flag, going off as the 7-2 favorite and Omaha the 4-1 second choice. Omaha’ s jockey, Willie “Smokey” Saunders, was worried about the drizzling rain and wanted to be sure to keep him out of trouble. 

Omaha was a crazy horse. If bumped he would stop running and attack the horse that bumped him. Saunders took him back and steered him clear and closed fast turning for home to win by 1 1/2 lengths in a time of 2:05 on a track listed as good. Omaha’s sire, Gallant Fox, also won the triple crown in 1930. 

No. 12 Justify (15-1): Did not run as a 2-year-old and went a perfect 6-0 as a 3-year-old, breaking the 136-year curse of Apollo, winning the Kentucky Derby, giving his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his fifth Kentucky Derby winner, just one behind the legendary Ben Jones. Justify won on a track listed as sloppy in the time of 2:04.2. 

No. 11 Count Fleet (6-1): Won the 1943 Kentucky Derby in the midst of World War II, and the country needed this, especially with his going on to win the Triple Crown. Count Fleet was sent off at .40 cents on the dollar in this field of 10 which included two fillies. His dad, Reigh Count won the 1928 Kentucky Derby. 

Count Fleet won the Belmont Stakes by 25 lengths and was Horse of the Year. In his 21-race career he won 16 with four seconds and a third. His Kentucky Derby time was 2:04. His son Count Turf won the 1951 Kentucky Derby. 

No. 10 Whirlaway (6-1): It was scary times in 1941 but the Kentucky Derby went on for the 67th time. Ben Jones, the legendary Calumet Farms trainer, sent out Whirlaway with the great Eddie Arcaro riding. He was sent off at 5-2 and won by eight lengths in this field of 11, setting a new track record in going the 1 1/4 mile distance in 201.2. 

He went on to run 60 times in his amazing career, winning 32 of those 60 races. Jones, who never minced words, said he was the dumbest horse he ever trained but could run like the wind. 

No. 9 War Admiral (8-1): Son of the great Man o’ War was meeting 19 other runners in the 1937 Kentucky Derby and was sent off as the 8-5 favorite. He was running against the 2-year-old champ, Pompoon, who finished a close second. The final time was 2:03.1. At Pimlico the two of them hooked up in an epic battle from the bell, with Whirlaway winning by a nose. He ran 22 races in his career and was out of the money just one time. 

No. 8 Citation (4-1): Here we go again with trainer Ben Jones and jockey Eddie Arcaro. Just wondering: how can Eddie ride both Citation and Whirlaway in this virtual Kentucky Derby race? 

Citation was another horse from the super Calumet Farms and was running against his stablemate and part of the Calumet entry, Coaltown. There were only four other horses in this race as trainers looked elsewhere not looking to take on the great Citation. The entry was sent off at 1-2 and they circled together with Citation winning by 3 1/2 lengths in a time of 2:05.2 on a sloppy track. 

Arcaro said he was the best horse he ever rode. Citation went on to run 45 races in his illustrious career winning 32 with 10 seconds and 2 thirds. 

No. 7 Gallant Fox (20-1): Was sent off at 6-5 in the 1930 Kentucky Derby in this field of 15, including four fillies. This was the first Kentucky Derby that was announced over a PA system. The field was not very strong and the son of Man o’ War won in a time of 2:07.3 over a track listed as good. The great trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons said he was the best horse he ever trained. He won 9 of his 10 races as a 3-year-old but did not run as a 4-year-old. 

No. 6 American Pharoah (6-1): It was 2015 and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had two big guns in the 141st running — Dortmund and American Pharoah, who was sent off as the 5-2 choice. There was a record crowd if 170,513. Before the race, many said that this was one of the deepest fields ever. It didn’t turn out to be true. The race was run at the respectable time of 2:03.2. 

No. 5 Seattle Slew (5-1): Seattle Slew was sent off at .50 cents on the dollar and it didn’t look good after the break as he swerved at the start, was bumped and got stuck behind a wall of horses. Jockey Jean Cruguet was hanging on, got Slew under control while diverting a total disaster, blasting his way between runners to get into contention. He opened up three lengths down the lane and won by 1 3/4 lengths in the very good time if 2:02.1, One of the fastest Kentucky Derbys run. 

No. 4 Sir Barton (20-1): Not much we can gauge from the 1919 Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner. Eleven runners were in the gate and Sir Barton was part of a J.K.L. Ross entry along with his stablemate Billy Kelly. They finished 1-2 with Sir Barton winning by five lengths in the slow time of 2:09.4 on a track listed as heavy. We guess it was. He was suppose to be the rabbit of the race to set up Billy Kelly’s late run but he went wire to wire. 

No. 3 Secretariat (7-2): It was 1973 and my first trip to the Kentucky Derby, little did I know what I was about to witness. 

The mighty Big Red was an entry with Angel Light and was sent off at 3-2. I can still feel the emotion of the crowd when he stormed down the lane, running the last 1/4 in an amazing 23 seconds finishing in the record breaking time of 1:59.2. The second place finisher, Sham, still owns the second fastest time ever run as he was 2 1/2 lengths behind the great Secretariat. 

The 3-year-old who ran fouth in this race, just missing the show in a troubled trip was Forego, who ended up being one of the greatest handicap horses of all time, carrying huge weight. Forego had a magnificent career of 57 races with 34 wins. 

We all know what Secretariat did in the Belmont Stakes and if you have never seen the race, just go to YouTube and watch it. 

No. 2 Assault (20-1): It was 1946 and happy times as the war was over and 105,000 fans poured into Churchill Downs looking not only to wager and drink mint juleps, but to just let the good times roll. 

There was a field of 17 with four of the 17 being fillies. Assault went on to win with ease by eight lengths. His nickname was “the Clubfoot Comet” and considered one of the greatest horses of all time. His final time was 2:06.3 on a track which was listed as slow. 

No. 1 Affirmed (5-1): I witnessed the great Secretariat in 1973 and Seattle Slew in 1977, how could it get any better? In what I call the magnificent 70’s for horse racing, things may not have gotten better but they continued to be magnificent. Horse racing fans were about to witness one of, if not the greatest rivalry in Triple Crown history with Affirmed and Alydar battling in all three legs. 

In the Kentucky Derby, Alydar was sent off as the 6-5 favorite with Affirmed leaving the gate at 9-5. Affirmed got the jump on Alydar down the lane and held him off to win by 1 1/2 lengths as the crowd went totally nuts. You had to be there, as jockey Steve Cauthen gave Affirmed the perfect ride. The 1 1/4 was run in the fast time of 201.1. 

Alydar got even closer in the Preakness and Belmont but just could not beat him. Affirmed’s great trainer, Laz Berrera, said “They can go one mile, they can go five miles, and it makes no difference. Affirmed is just waiting for a horse that can make him run.” 

We almost had another triple crown winner to end the magnificent 70’s with Spectacular Bid in 1979, but it was not to be but he should have as he lost to long shot Coastal in the Belmont.

So who will win this virtual Kentucky Derby? It’s impossible to judge the war horses of past bygone years and the types of tracks they ran on. It was a totally different time. If the final time was the answer, Secretariat wins hands down. He was the total package in 1973. 

I personally like horses who can look another horse in the eye and just not let him get by, Affirmed meets all my standards. He will sit right off a hot pace, a pace that Seattle Slew will insure be fast. Affirmed will get first run and battle the great Secretariat to the wire, heads apart and get his nose in front at the wire. 

The fans will be on the edge of their seats waiting for the photo. Affirmed wins by a nose, paying $13.20. What a great race! 

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