The following random comments were made before the 127th Kentucky Derby. Only the names have been omitted to protect the innocent.
On favorite Point Given:
"I like Point Given. It doesn’t matter if he drew post 20."
"I’m intimidated by Point Given."
"This horse, you can stop and go."
"He’s got a lot of different weapons in his arsenal."
"If this horse doesn’t win the Triple Crown, something’s wrong."
(Point Given finished a weary fifth as the 9-5 choice, beaten 11Â½ lengths).
On speedster Balto Star, who had won his last three starts by 29Â½ lengths:
"He could be tough. He’s been winning his races by huge margins."
"I think he can go wire-to-wire."
"Looks fantastic and despite coming off two very fast races, doesn’t seem to have lost any of that sharpness."
"I like a Millennium Wind-Balto Star exacta. Balto Star will be on the lead, and Millennium Wind will lay up close."
"We’re not looking to change his style. He’s a free-running horse and we’re going to allow him to leave the gate running freely and let him take them as far as he can."
Headline in national horse racing paper: "If anyone can wire ’em, it’s Balto Star."
(Balto Star never got the lead at any point in the race and finished 14th).
On Monarchos, who won the Derby by 434 lengths in 1:594/5, second-fastest time in history, behind only Secretariat’s 1:592/5:
". . . Missed a couple of days of training and does appear a bit stiff when breaking off during his gallops and works . . . "
"This is a nice horse, but he was hard-ridden in the Wood and I don’t see him improving right now."
"Monarchos may have peaked."
My Derby pick was Congaree, who led past the eighth pole before tiring late to just lose second by a nose in the last jump behind 55-1 shot Invisible Ink. Of Monarchos last week, I wrote: "Florida Derby winner Monarchos did not benefit from the pace scenario when he finished second to Congaree in the Wood. There should be more competition on the front end in the Derby, making Monarchos the most dangerous of the starters that are not based in Southern California."
Of the 13 selections by handicappers in a national racing publication, none named Monarchos to win. I didn’t, either. But at least I didn’t pick losing favorite Point Given, Dollar Bill (beaten 34 lengths at 6-1), Balto Star (beaten 32 lengths at 8-1), Express Tour (another Godolphin bust, beaten 14 lengths) or A.P. Valentine (seventh, beaten 13 lengths). No, I didn’t cash, but Congaree gave me a huge run for my money, looked like a winner in deep stretch and was the only horse that pressed a torrid pace and was around at the finish, all at 7-1. No embarrassment there.
THE HOMESTRETCH: Beyers, schmeyers: Horses with the four highest Beyer figures in the Derby finished 11th (Millennium Wind, 114), 14th (Balto Star, 112), fifth (Point Given, 110) and 16th (Keats, 110) . . . Saying he misses his kids "a bit too much," Corey Nakatani returns to ride at Hollywood Park on a regular basis Wednesday. His sojourn to ride "permanently" on the East Coast lasted 30 days, producing a win for those who took the "unders." Nakatani didn’t have an agent at press time, but he has spoken with Nick Cosato, who recently amicably parted company with Iggy Puglisi. Cosato presently is "doing something else" and represents no rider, but says "Corey and I have spoken, but as of now, he has not named me as his agent." . . . Mike Smith, who sold his home in New York last week, makes his Southern California debut on a prolonged basis, beginning Wednesday at Hollywood. Brian Beach, who was agent for Kent Desormeaux two years ago before going back East, has Smith’s book . . . If ever there was a horse for the course, it’s Bold Capital. On May 2, the 10-year-old gelding won for 14th time in 29 career starts at Hollywood, as opposed to a lifetime two-for-22 mark at Santa Anita. But trainer Jack Carava says Hollywood’s track surface has changed during the many times the son of Bold Ruckus has won over it. "He liked it before they even changed the surface," Carava said. "This is a different race track than it was years ago when he first liked it. So, I don’t know why he runs so well over it. I thought maybe he liked being here or training here, but this time I shipped him from Santa Anita to run. I’ve been at Santa Anita all winter. Maybe he’s changed a little in his old age, because he did win at Santa Anita in his last start there, but he’s just a tough old horse that tries hard. As long as you’re running him where he can beat up on cheaper horses, he’s going to do it pretty much every time. He’s a tough old guy. Around the barn, once you get to know him, he’s O.K., but at first he’s a pretty mean horse, likes to kick and bite. You just have to kind of learn how to be around him. He protects his house."