'Big Three' like Big Brown to take Kentucky Derby

April 15, 2008 7:00 PM
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Golden Edge by Ed Golden | Ask three Hall of Fame riders what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby and they’ll respond in kind: good luck and the best horse.

Just who will benefit from serendipity and superiority in the 134th Run for the Roses on May 3 remains to be seen, of course, but for now, some three weeks out, three retired Hall of Fame riders who won the Derby a combined six times don’t deviate when they describe the modus operandi for winning the world’s most famous horse race at Churchill Downs.

Take it from Eddie Delahoussaye, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Gary Stevens–call them the Three Rosequeteers–it will boil down to which jockey is on the best horse and which horse gets the best trip.

Emotion runs high before and during the grueling mile and a quarter race, which usually has a full field of 20 horses.

"Jockeys can get nervous before the Derby because it carries more historical significance than any other race, and every jock wants to win it," said Delahoussaye, one of only four riders to win the race back-to-back, on Gato del Sol in 1982 and aboard Sunny’s Halo in 1983. "The roar from more than 100,000 people and the playing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ creates pressure riders never experienced, and they just lose it.

"Afer I rode my first Derby (1975, on Honey Mark, who finished 13th of 15), I made up my mind that the next time it was going to be like an ordinary race. That’s the thought a rider should put in his head before the Derby. Relax and hope your horse runs his race. That way you ride better. You can’t make the moves in the Derby you do in ordinary races if you put pressure on yourself. You think you can, but you can’t. You’ve got to ride it cool, let the horse do the running and stay out of trouble."

This year, Delahoussaye has it narrowed down to the Big Three–Big Brown, Pyro and Colonel John. "Colonel John has never run on dirt," Delahoussaye said. "He might love it, and if he does, he belongs in the top three. But Big Brown has been the most impressive, coming from the 12 post to win the Florida Derby. But I know he has foot problems–everybody does. But if he runs like he did in the Florida Derby, he’s the most impressive horse I’ve seen in a long time."

Pincay, now 61 and enjoying the good life but still riding fit thanks to an undeviating regimen of diet and exercise, pares the Derby down to three horses: Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John, Florida Derby winner Big Brown, and Louisiana Derby winner Pyro.

"The Santa Anita Derby was a very good race for Colonel John," said Pincay, who won his only Derby in 1984 aboard Swale. "I was very impressed with Bob Black Jack (who finished second by a half-length), although I didn’t think he really wanted to win through the last part. He wasn’t running decisively through the stretch. I didn’t think he was really running straight, but it was a really good race for him. If he improves, he’s going to run a big race in the Derby. Whether he can get a mile and a quarter is questionable, but you never know.

"To me, there’s no question about it that Big Brown is the best horse right now. I like the way he won the Florida Derby, I like how he’s improving and I like his pedigree. He’s the horse to beat. He’s the best horse in the race right now.

"But Pyro is the type of horse that can wins the Derby, too. He comes from way back, like Giacomo did with Mike Smith in 2005. Pyro might do the same thing. But I think the best horse is Big Brown."

But the best horse doesn’t always win. Smith is still puzzled by Holy Bull’s dull performance as the 2-1 favorite in 1994, when he finished 12th. And Stevens still scratches his increasingly hairless head over Point Given’s fifth-place effort as the 9-5 favorite in 2001.

"You need a good trip to win, especially if you’re coming from behind," Pincay said. "It takes a lot of luck, going between horses and not getting bumped by other horses, like happened to me in a couple of Derbies. You’ve got to get lucky and it’s got to be your day. A good ride helps, too, and the best horse usually wins."

 So who would you ride? "Big Brown, definitely."

 Stevens concurs, and was not concerned about a possible speed duel between Big Brown and War Pass. "Big Brown can rate," Stevens said. "He’s done it in the mornings … it’s just not an issue. His biggest concern, like everyone else’s, is getting a good start."

THE HOMESTRETCH:

 Word is there’s a bench warrant out for Patrick Valenzuela because he failed to appear for his DUI violation issued last Dec. 20 in Upland, California . . . Bob Baffert’s home near Santa Anita is up for sale. Is he moving his base of operations from the Arcadia track, which has been his headquarters for two decades? … And detractors of California-based 3-year-olds, take note: they ran first (Gayego), third (Tres Borrachos at 37-1) and fourth (Indian Sun at 24-1) in the Arkansas Derby, taking $750,000 from the $1 million purse.

ALSO: I mentioned in Sunday’s Top Story on GT’s Internet page that Eoin Harty, trainer of Colonel John, and Ron Anderson, agent for Garrett Gomez, denied any knowledge that Gomez would replace Corey Nakatani on the Santa Anita Derby winner in the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

Harty said Colonel John is scheduled to have his first workout since the April 5 Santa Anita Derby "probably sometime early this week."

For the entire story check www.gamingtoday.com and click on to Sunday’s Top Story.