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Apollo still reigns 132 years later in Kentucky Derby history

Apr 1, 2014 3:01 AM

It was the year prize fighters last fought with bare knuckles. The invention of Christmas lights would have to wait until the following December. That year, on May 16, a lightly regarded chestnut gelding, unraced as a 2 year old, would score a dramatic upset over odds-on favorite Runnymeade in the Kentucky Derby.

Bookies were all smiles at this result while cries of foul play would persist for decades. The year was 1882. This year’s 140th edition of the Kentucky Derby on May 3 offers a golden opportunity to no less than four 3-year-old colts to achieve what more than 50 of their predecessors have tried and failed to do – win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2 year old. Apollo, 132 years ago, is the last to do this.

Can anyone forget the 2012 Derby when betting favorite Bodemeister, unraced at 2, was loose on the lead turning for home. In 2007, Curlin, with just three months racing experience, went off second choice to Street Sense and finished a menacing third.

Last year, Verrazano, debuted with an impressive New Year’s Day win and then scored easily in the Wood Memorial to rekindle the excitement that the Apollo rule could finally be broken. He would falter and finish far back behind Derby winner Orb, just as every other unraced-at-2 colt or filly has done since 1882.

The leaders on this year’s list of Apollo candidates are Hoppertunity, Constitution, Social Inclusion and Bayern. They all share no starts as a 2 year old. Last Saturday, Constitution, with his big win in the Florida Derby, earned passage to the Kentucky Derby, joining Rebel Stakes winner, Hoppertunity, already in the Derby gate. Waiting in the wings to join this pair are Social Inclusion and Bayern, both highly regarded colts but lacking in points.

Saturday’s Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct will validate what kind of Derby prospect Social Inclusion is. He may go favored against the undefeated Samraat in a large and competitive field. His connections, Rontos Racing Stable Corp., appear to want to roll the dice one more time with this speedy Pioneer of the Nile colt before a possible sale after turning down offers reported in the $7 million range.

Social Inclusion has the top speed figure (111) for any 3 year old, earned March 12 in a track record-setting 10 length romp over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park. He will try to mirror Constitution’s victorious performance when facing stakes competition the first time after two impressive wins. Even though he has no points, Social Inclusion closed at just 11-1 in the final Derby future pool offered by Churchill Downs. Las Vegas future books have him as low as 14-1.

Along with Hoppertunity, Bayern is California based and trained by Bob Baffert. The colt is being considered for this Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby or the following week’s Arkansas Derby. His jockey, Gary Stevens, is already committed to ride the closing day card at Oaklawn, April 12. The thinking here is Baffert will keep them together for the Arkansas Derby in his quest to earn a another spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Brilliant performances by either Social Inclusion or Bayern would not only join them with Hopportunity and Constitution in the “Run for the Roses,” but also present the best chance in decades to put the ghost of Apollo to rest.

Next week: The pros and cons of the Point System.

Charlie Ludlow has over 30 years of experience in the casino industry, including management of the Kentucky Derby futures in sports books at Club Cal Neva, Imperial Palace and Las Vegas Hilton. Contact Charlie at [email protected].

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