Dick Jerardi: 2 horses to like in Kentucky Derby

Union Rags could be looking back and sticking out his tongue on Saturday, too.
Union Rags could be looking back and sticking out his tongue on Saturday, too. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: May 04, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - I do not think this Kentucky Derby is all that complicated. With a few exceptions, there are far more knowns than unknowns with these 20 horses.

It is not difficult to envision how this race will be run and which horses might be hindered or helped by the pace scenario.

The running styles are self-evident. The race has all types with talent from the front to the back.

The Breeders' Cup Juvenile form has held for 6 months. Three horses who did not run on Nov. 5 have forced themselves into the conversation.

What can't be accounted for, of course, is luck, good or bad.

A day out from Saturday's race, I know one fact and feel confident of one opinion.

Bodemeister is the fastest horse in the race. And it's not close. The runaway winner of the Arkansas Derby has three triple-digit Beyer figures. The other 19 horses have combined for three triple-digit numbers.

The anti-Bodemeister crowd cites one historical trend and another modern phenomenon.

It is a fact that no horse without 2-year-old experience has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882. Since 1944, 56 have tried and only six have finished in the money.

The sport, however, has undergone a dramatic sea change in recent decades. Horses enter the Derby with less experience than ever. Each of the Derby disqualifying "rules" has fallen one by one since in recent years. This one is next.

Bodemeister is Kentucky basketball entering the 2012 NCAA Tournament - the most talent, the least experience. John Calipari said then he would take talent over experience. Good call.

Comparing horses and college basketball players is a bit dangerous, but the point is the point. Times have changed.

Others are convinced Bodemeister is going to "bounce," meaning he ran too fast just 3 weeks ago and will go way off form because he used too much energy and has not had enough time to recover.

That is how the sport is played these days. Trainers of stakes horses give them more time between races than ever. Todd Pletcher is the foremost proponent of this method. America's most successful trainer, however, is 1-for-29 in the Derby.

Bob Baffert is training Bodemeister like the old-school guys used to do it - hard and fast. And he has won the Derby three times.

Trinniberg is going to the front. Hansen, who was practically running off with his exercise rider Thursday morning, won't be far behind. There is a chance these two are going to go very fast for the first half-mile. I can't imagine either is going to last.

Bodemeister easily could be third coming out of the first turn in a perfect stalking position. If that is his spot, he will be very difficult to beat.

That said, I think Union Rags is going to beat him. When I watched Union Rags win the Champagne last October, I really could not believe what I was seeing. The horse had every reason to get discouraged. Not only did he not get discouraged, he exploded in the final 100 yards like the race had just started.

Since that moment, Union Rags has a win, a second and a third. His Beyer figures have not improved. I admit to not being as certain as I was that day about this horse's talent. But I can't get that picture out of my mind.

I have always wondered what would happen if Union Rags ever got in a race with a potentially fast, contested pace. Well, this is that race.

Assuming jockey Julien Leparoux learned his lesson in the Florida Derby when he rode too cautiously and lets Union Rags run a bit to get a reasonably forward position (make this into, say an eight-horse race, not a 20-horse race), I can't see how this physically imposing animal won't have a big run in him.

I watched Thursday morning's gallops from the press box. Union Rags looked strong, controlled and very eager to be in a race. They won't be able to hold him back much longer.

"He needs to run," trainer Michael Matz.

I think he is going to run great.

"He'll be in the second wave," assistant trainer Peter Brette said. "He's going to break good. Pick who he wants to follow and ride it like a normal race, which is easier said than done in the Kentucky Derby. You can win from anywhere, but you just can't afford to get in trouble."

Union Rags had trouble in his two losses. It really looks like he is in the right quadrant of the starting gate to fall into a good spot in the first few hundred yards.

Then, we will all see if that promise that has been so evident for so long will be realized on the sport's biggest stage.

I have believed in this horse all along. I also have great respect for Bodemeister's talent.

And I love the fact that the Derby superfecta has averaged $102,000 over the last 15 years.

Therefore, I will be punching out some super tickets with 4-6 and 6-4 in the first two spots, with many, if not all of the other numbers third and fourth. I may even get some tickets that have one of my horses on top and the other in the third and fourth spots.

If I am going to win, either Union Rags or Bodemeister will have to win. For the record and purposes of this exercise, Union Rags will be my official Derby selection. But if I have the super, how I get it won't be a major concern.


Contact Dick Jerardi at jerardd@phillynews.com

 

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