Only one horse in this race (Soldat) has earned a triple-digit Beyer figure in 2011. A friend of mine said this looks like the Derby with Big Brown only there is no Big Brown.
Uncle Mo was a really fast 2-year-old and, so far, a not-so-fast 3-year-old. Florida Derby winner Dialed In is consistent but not terribly fast. Mucho Macho Man never runs a bad race but never runs a fast race, either. Archarcharch is tough but not fast. Do you detect a pattern?
So, what gives?
Well, the whole sport has changed through the years and not for the better. Horses simply don't run as often or as consistently well as they used to. Derby horses are handled like fine china, their trainers worried that if they push too hard their horses will fall apart. And, given the attrition rate, it is hard to blame them.
Believe it or not, the great trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones ran in the Derby six times with horses who had been in the Derby Trial, then run 5 days before the big race.
In the 1960s, Derby starters raced an average of 17 times before the Derby. In the 1970s, it was 13 times. In the 1980s, it was down to 10. In the 1990s, it was eight. In the 2000s, it was just seven.
Secretariat raced 12 times before the 1973 Derby. Affirmed raced 13 times before the 1978 Derby. Spectacular Bid raced 14 times before the 1979 Derby.
Derby morning-line favorite Dialed In has raced just four times. Uncle Mo has raced five times, just twice this year.
With so little form and these 20-horse fields, it is no wonder that the average Derby winner has been 15-1 in the last decade, including a pair of 50-1 shots since 2005.
This Derby really is like 2008 without the star power of Big Brown, a horse with just three starts who went on to dominate the race. The rest of that field was nothing special, just like this one.
I have opinions, but not strong ones. I will be playing superfectas, but not with much confidence. There are simply too many possibilities and not enough consistent form.
I came down here liking Archarcharch. I was not thrilled when he drew the No. 1 post. But I will look at it as an opportunity. The players will overreact to that because of what went down with Lookin At Lucky last year when he drew the 1-post and had a brutal trip. So the Arkansas Derby winner's odds will be higher than they should be.
Once the stall doors open, the potential is always there for chaos. The path might end up being perfectly clear on the rail for Archarcharch with anarchy in the middle of the track, where many of the speed horses will start.
"I have always wanted to be No. 1, but not in the Kentucky Derby starting gate," Archarcharch's trainer Jinks Fires said. "It is still the shortest way around and at least I am not out next to the track kitchen."
Fires, 70, has seen every Derby since 1961. He just never had a horse for the Derby. He has one now. And the colt will be ridden by his son-in law, Jon Court, 50, another Derby first-timer with 3,500 wins in his distinguished career.
I like this colt. He is a son of Arch, the sire on 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame.
In the races where he did not win, he had legitimate excuses. The 1-post could be a problem, but people are using that as an excuse before the race. I might use it as an excuse after the race.
I doubt many, if any, of the speed horses, will be around at the finish. So, I am tossing Comma to the Top, Decisive Moment, Pants On Fire and Shackleford.
Dialed In has the right style to get a piece of the Super. Don't know what is up with Uncle Mo, but I don't like what I am seeing and hearing. His best race obviously wins, but that BC Juvenile win was 6 months ago and that is forever in this era of the dainty race horse.
Soldat got a favorable post switch from his Florida Derby debacle. Nehro was flying at the finish of his last two races, but has just one career win. Mucho Macho Man has never run a poor race and might sit a nice trip if he does not get involved in the pace battle.
And there is the Calvin Borel factor. Have no idea why every trainer wasn't calling him in January to ride their horses. All Calvin has done in the last four Derbies is win three and finish third in the other.
At the last minute, Borel got the mount on Sunland Derby winner Twice the Appeal, a colt with no speed figure in the 90s. Sounds a little like Mine That Bird. Does this horse look like he can win? No. But I do know Calvin will be riding the rail and, if his horse has anything, the rider will give him every chance.
In his three Derby wins, Borel's mounts passed 54 horses. They went inside 50 of them. That is race riding.
But this is called horse racing for a reason. You've got to be on the horse. I was confident in Barbaro and Big Brown. Hard not to like Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex. There is nothing like those horses in this race. I am just hoping I have found the right one for 2011.
If you want to root (and perhaps a bet), try Plum Pretty in today's Kentucky Oaks. She won her last race by 25 lengths and might win today at a reasonable price. Plum Pretty is a Pennsylvania bred. Her mother, Lizzie, resides at Mark Reid's Walnut Green Farm in Chester County. One of Lizzie's owners is former Penn hoopster Vince Curran, now the Quakers' radio analyst and a real estate magnate. If Plum Pretty wins today, Lizzie's value, already high, goes up exponentially. And the Vinman gets a nice score. *
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