Kentucky Derby countdown
on, but the speed is off

Apr 10, 2007 7:35 AM

With less than a month remaining until the running of the 133rd Kentucky Derby, an incipient trend is evident: a speed horse won’t win the race. Throw out Stormello, Adore the Gold, Curlin, Hard Spun and their ilk.

However, an assiduous nucleus of 3-year-olds remains for the world’s most famous race at Churchill Downs on May 5. It would include, in no particular sequence, Great Hunter, Street Sense, Nobiz Like Showbiz, Circular Quay, Cowtown Cat, Scat Daddy, Ketchikan, Notional and Chelokee, in addition to assorted stragglers.

The Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby on Saturday are the two remaining major Kentucky Derby preps. The Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial were decided last Saturday. Otherwise, all the ducks appear in order for the mile and a quarter classic.

Opinions on who will win the race are infinite, as usual. During the first Churchill Downs Future Book offering two months ago, I wrote that at 30/1, Great Hunter offered the best value. He proceeded to win the Robert Lewis Stakes, thereby cutting his odds in half. I still like him, but he must acquit himself well in the Blue Grass to hold service.

Nobiz Like Showbiz only won the Wood by a half-length, but the addition of blinkers gave him the courage to dig in. He was determined. Longshot Sightseeing was not about to pass him in the stretch.

Tiago became the third horse in the last three years to win the Santa Anita Derby at odds of about 30-1, coming from last under a steady tattoo of left-handed whipping by Mike Smith to overrun King of the Roxy.

Countless opinions will be rendered and be at everyone’s disposal between now and through the two minutes and change it takes to run the Derby. Be mindful of this: the race seldom goes to the best horse, but often goes to the one with the best trip. Ask any jockey who has won the race, or any who hasn’t, and into their evaluation comes one common factor: luck.

Smith still can’t fathom what happened to Holy Bull in the 1994 Derby. The 2-1 favorite finished 12th of 14, nearly 18 lengths behind Go for Gin, and never broke a sweat. The official chart says he was "in tight after failing to break alertly, raced within easy striking distance to the far turn, then tired badly."

Holy Bull’s trainer, Warren A. (Jimmy) Croll, suspected later that someone, "got to his horse," accounting for the dull performance.

Smith finally got his Kentucky Derby victory 11 years later, when he rode "One Hit Wonder" Giacomo to a half-length victory at 50-1 in 2005. Before Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, Smith, like other riders, was jockeying for position in an attempt to find a live Derby mount. He found it in Tiago, a half-brother to Giacomo.

Here’s News You Can Bet On: The 41-year-old Smith, a native of Roswell, New Mexico, will return to Southern California on a regular basis after abandoning the Golden State for a tour in New York that left much in abeyance.

"I’m certainly not satisfied with how things went," the Hall of Fame rider said prior to winning the Santa Anita Derby aboard Tiago. "I stayed around New York in the winter hoping to gather some everyday kind of business, but it wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I didn’t know a lot pf people there. If anything, I probably should have come back to California for the winter or gone to Florida.

"I’m not going to say I’m coming back for sure, but it’s a huge possibility. I want to ride (get more mounts) and I miss California a lot. I didn’t realize how much. Those winters in New York are cold and desolate and no one’s doing anything. I know it picks up there in the summer, but it’s not California. That’s why I’m probably coming back."

But first things first, and that’s the Kentucky Derby.

The homestretch

”¡ Todd Pletcher, who won four stakes races Saturday, has seven Derby candidates: Scat Daddy, Circular Quay, Cowtown, Any Given Saturday, Sam P., King of the Roxy and Deadly Dealer.

”¡ It was a typical Tuesday recently in the Los Angeles Times’ eight-page sports section. The Clippers, who make the NBA playoffs about as often as it rains in Southern California, and the Kings, who have never won a Stanley Cup, received gobs of space, while not one word was written on horse racing. Here’s why: slighting horse racing has become politically correct.

”¡ This headline appeared in the Times’ Front Page section: "Obese men less prone to suicide, study finds." Sure. They’re too fat to get off the couch to do it.

”¡ Move over Flyers and 76ers, the Phillies are back. The best prop bets if you can get them are these — the Phillies will lead the league in strikeouts and men left on base (they left 14 on in an 8-4 loss to Atlanta), and Ryan Howard will have more strikeouts than RBIs. This is a club with mediocre middle relief and an over-the-hill setup man as their closer. To make matters worse, they run the bases like the Bad News Bears, are one-dimensional, play with the passion of a sloth and worst of all, as individuals. Don’t look for many sacrifice bunts or squeeze plays. They will lead the league in two categories: swinging at bad pitches and under achieving. Bet against them while you can get the price. P.S. This was written after their first game. They were swept by Atlanta as home favorites and were 1-4 at press time.

”¡ And this just in: Anna Nicole Smith, Elvis Presley and Generalissimo Franco remained dead today.