An interesting maiden among the Kentucky Derby 20

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I consider myself very lucky as a lover of horse racing to have attended many Kentucky Derby’s, including all of the Triple Crown winners in the 70’s starting with the great Secretariat, then the undefeated Seattle Slew and right back with Affirmed. It just didn’t get any better than that.

Now we are in the 21st century and to say things have changed would be an understatement. There are many things we will never see again.

In 1973 “Big Red” beat a field of 13 but it was really a two horse race with Sham, who was born in the wrong year. He finished second just 2-1/2 lengths behind the great Secretariat, running the second fastest Kentucky Derby of all time.

In 1977 the undefeated Seattle Slew beat a field of 15 paying $3 to win, a price we will never see again in a Kentucky Derby. 1978 marked probably one of the greatest battles between two super horses in Triple Crown history as Affirmed beat Alydar in a field of just 11.

With the new point system and a field size of 20 this year we have a maiden who will be entering the starting gate. Should there be some rule that would keep her out of the race and has a maiden ever won the Derby?

The first horse to win the so called Triple Crown was Sir Barton back in 1919. His trainer just put him in the race to create a fast early pace and set up his other horse named Billy Kelly who finished second as part of an entry. Sir Barton forgot to stop, winning the race by five lengths. His owner J.K. Ross loved Billy Kelly so much he made a $50,000 side bet with big time gambler Arnold Rothstein.

Rothstein took the bet as real gamblers did back then. Sir Barton, called by the great horse racing columnist Red Smith “a hophead that ran with coked eyes,” came back just three days after his Kentucky Derby win and won the Preakness. He then won the Belmont Stakes to be the first Triple Crown winner.

We know today that no horse will ever come back in three days after winning the Kentucky Derby or any stakes race for that matter but will there ever be another maiden win at the Kentucky Derby? This year Trojan Nation will give it a try with 40 Kentucky Derby points, which he got with his second place finish in the Grade I Wood Memorial, a race in which he lost by just a head in the mud.

The Derby’s 20 horse field will give us small players a shot at a big payday and that is good. What if a horse like the undefeated Nyquist draws the 1 post? You would think saving all that ground would be the place to be going 1-1/4 but it’s the opposite. The last horse to win from the 1 hole was Ferdinand back in 1986, trained by the legendary Charles “the Bald Eagle” Wittingham and ridden by Bill Shoemaker at age 54

The Shoe took back Ferdinand to last as Wittingham knew this horse would be like a runaway freight train turning for home and he was. Shoe had to make a crucial decision when he saw a tiny hole open between the two runners in front of him. He went through it and the rest is history. We got two Hall of Famers with a horse paying $37.40.

A horse can win from the 1 post in a 20 horse field, but no trainer wants that position. If you watch the draw next Wednesday you will see that it will be the last post selected.

Can the likely favorite, the undefeated Nyquist, win with just two prep races – a one turn 7 furlong test and the Florida Derby? The last one to pull that off was Big Brown back in 2008, so it can be done. If trainer Doug O’Neill can win, it would be a real Picasso.

To win the Derby, a horse must be first or second at the top of the stretch. The winner since 2000 was first or second at the top of the stretch in 13 of the last 15 Kentucky Derby’s with the 2011 winner Animal Kingdom third and in 2005 Giacomo was sixth. Also, 20 of the last 25 Derby winners were first or second at the top of the stretch so that is what we will be looking at again.

Next week I will be doing my Kentucky Derby column, hoping to come up with the winner and exacta. You just never know I could be walking around lucky.

Just mentioning the word Lucky will bring a cold look by Bob Baffert’s wife as a horse she loved, Lookin at Lucky, drew the 1 post and jockey Garrett Gomez got him pinned to the rail. He was very lucky not to get hurt, having nowhere to run but did make a late effort to finish sixth as the favorite. He did win the Preakness and went on to win the Eclipse award that year. But after the race Mrs. B was very irate to say the least.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GT’s horse racing and sports handicapper. Twitter: @SabesBet. Email: [email protected].

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