Kentucky Derby 138 is once again shaping up as a battle of training a Derby winner with the hope of becoming a Triple Crown winner or preparing a legitimate Triple Crown contender to win the Kentucky Derby as the first jewel to rarified air.
Wood Memorial winner Gemologist and Santa Anita Derby victor I’ll Have Another join Florida Derby hero Take Charge Indy, Sunland Derby winner Daddy Nose Best, and Fountain of Youth conqueror Union Rags as contenders for Kentucky Derby 138 with just two 2012 preps. The question for them to answer is whether the three race foundation of San Felipe winner Creative Cause, Blue Grass favorite Hansen, the 2011 Champion Juvenile, Withers conqueror Alpha, and Spiral hero Went The Day Well, or the four race preparation of likely Arkansas Derby favorite Secret Circle, will prove the difference down the stretch on the First Saturday in May and through the Triple Crown season?
The last three Triple Crown winners had more than two preps before sweeping the American Classics. Undefeated Seattle Slew had the fewest number of races in his brilliant 1977 achievement, three. ‘Slew, Secretariat, and Affirmed each began their campaigns with sprints and progressed to two turns and longer distance as the winter turned into spring.
Those three legends of the turf were also Champion 2y.o.’s.
While industry insiders, horseplayers, and fans pontificate over the merits of this year’s Derby prep winners, I’m left to wonder whether we’re all merely waiting for Hansen to separate himself from what’s shaping up as a pretty tightly grouped field of 20? Or, should we begin the lament that this year’s Derby winner will continue the Triple Crown drought?
After a Saturday of prep races that was supposed to clarify the Kentucky Derby picture, the finish of the race looks alternately hazier and clearer through my viewfinder.
Among the interesting sidebars will be the fight Wood Memorial winner Gemologist showed, reminiscent of his sire, back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. The WinStar Farm color-bearer is heading into the Kentucky Derby undefeated. Three of those starts have come at Churchill Downs, site of his sire’s first narrow BC Classic win over Giant’s Causeway, whose son, Creative Cause, was a nose loser of the Santa Anita Derby. Could the blood be hinting at a replay of their sires’ thrilling confrontation in 2000?
The questions that surround the other contenders are:
Union Rags was victimized by the trip, Julien Leparoux and El Padrino/Javier Castellano in the Florida Derby but what's different from that run and the pitfalls in the Derby?
Take Charge Indy was the beneficiary of a great Florida Derby trip, but how will he run in a 20 horse rodeo with other fast horses on/near the pace?
Does Creative Cause need the blinkers back on?
How does I'll Have Another react to having only four weeks between races when he had seven weeks between the Robert B. Lewis and Santa Anita Derby wins?
Does Liaison deserve to start in the Derby off three off-the-board preps, one in which he lost the rider?
What would have been for Bob Baffert and Kaleem Shah had Fed Biz, the over 12 length conqueror of SA Derby third finisher Blueskiesnrainbows, stayed healthy?
Ditto that for Eoin Harty and Darley's Out of Bounds.
Will the connections of Trinniberg be tempted to try the Derby now that two 7 furlongs graded stakes wins have given him the earnings to qualify?
Can Secret Circle continue his Oaklawn Park streak, or will suspected distance limitations find him out in the Arkansas Derby?
Can Bodemeister better his brave San Felipe run to earn his place in the field with a Arkansas Derby win?
Will Baffert’s Drill solidify his Derby status with at least an in-the-money result in the Blue Grass next weekend?
Will the coach, D. Wayne Lukas, relive Derby glory with Optimizer running at least second at Oaklawn Park next Saturday?
How well will foreigners Daddy Long Legs and Wrote do if they both compete, as expected after UAE Derby 1st and 3rd place finishes, respectively?
I know I’ve missed some off the top of my head, and there will unfortunately be some contenders that fall out of the picture due to injury, but I’d love to know what you all are thinking?
Enjoy pondering what will be next week and beyond!