Questions, yes, but Kentucky Derby has favorite

Apr 8, 2014 3:10 AM

Well, we now know who the favorite will be in the Kentucky Derby.

California Chrome coasted, and I mean coasted, home in the mile and an eighth Santa Anita Derby. The colt might have modest connections but his performance on the track has been more ostentatious than any other Derby candidate.

I’ve said before, the longest furlong in racing is going from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter. I still have my questions on California Chrome’s stamina, but he looked like he wasn’t even breathing hard after his win.

Like every year, there figures to be a ton of cheap speed in the Derby. California Chrome has always been on or near the lead. For a horse like that, the first turn at Churchill could make or break the race. No matter how impressive the colt has been so far, if he gets too much public money I’m going to have to try to beat him.

A horse to watch this weekend in the Arkansas Derby is Bob Baffert’s Bayern, who has had a lot of coverage for a horse that has made only two starts. Part of it is Baffert, and why not? The guy has had as much Triple Crown success as anyone for years.

Bayern also went through the auction ring for $500,000. Kaleem Shah spends a lot of money on horses, and like a lot of owners with that profile, sends them to Baffert. Again, why not?

Buying yearlings is like drafting NFL or NBA players. You do your homework, run the numbers, and in the end you still have to be lucky.

It looks like they got plenty lucky with Bayern.

I’ve watched his races a few times. In Bayern’s last race, he went from six furlongs to a mile in 24 seconds flat. In the Santa Anita Derby, California Chrome went from the same distance in 24.22 seconds.

Now admittedly, California Chrome still had another eighth of a mile to run while Bayern was only going a mile, but it is still an impressive tidbit.

For all these untested, young horses, getting the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter (10 furlongs) is the big question mark. Pedigree is one of the biggest tipoffs as to who can make it and who can’t.

Shah grew up in the horse racing business and is a student of breeding. Bayern’s sire, Offlee Wild won the Grade I Suburban Handicap at a mile and a quarter. His grand-sire, Wild Again won the initial Breeders Cup Classic and Meadowland Cup, both at the Derby distance.

On the female side of Bayern’s pedigree, his second dam, Aquilegia, won the Grade II New York Handicap (10 furlongs) once and ran third once. She also ran second in the 11 furlong Grade II Sheepshead Bay. Aquilegia is also the dam of three stakes winners.

Bayern’s dam-sire is Thunder Gulch, who won the Kentucky Derby, was third in the Preakness, then won the Belmont at a mile and a half. He also won the Grade I Travers (10 furlongs), the Grade I Swaps (9 furlongs) and the Grade I Florida Derby (9 furlongs).

For real students of breeding, Bayern’s third dam is Courtly Dee, one of the all-time great broodmares. Among her progeny are Althea, (a filly who beat the boys in the Arkansas Derby), Twining, (winner of the Peter Pan and Withers Stakes) and Native Courier (who won and placed in multiple stakes races from 10 to 13 furlongs).

I’ll be interested to see Bayern’s performance this weekend at Oaklawn. A big win will make him one of the choices just behind California Chrome on the first Saturday in May. He still might be a little too green to negotiate the 20-horse field he’ll be facing in the Derby. Nonetheless, Bayern has the makings of horse that can be a real star for the rest of the horseracing season.

Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.comYou can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].

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