With post positions drawn Wednesday for the 138th Kentucky Derby (and odds set by oddsmaker Mike Battaglia), we now know the 20-horse field that will enter the starting gate at Churchill Downs this Saturday. Barring a late scratch, the field is set.
The Derby on paper looks to be one of the deeper Derby fields in recent memory, which should excite the bettors as well as fans in general of the sport. How deep is it really, though? Let's compare the horses for the 2012 Kentucky Derby to those of the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
Like this year's Derby field, there was no clear-cut favorite last year. Dialed In was the odds-on choice when post positions were drawn at 4 to 1 odds. The Nick Zito-trained horse ridden by jockey Julien Leparoux went off as the favorite at 5 to 1 odds, only to finish a disappointing eighth.
Other favorites included Pants on Fire, ridden by female jockey Rosie Napravnik, who went off at 8 to 1. Napravnik led New Jersey-based trainer Kelly Breen's horse to a ninth place finish, the highest finish in Derby history for a woman.
Three other horses went off at odds better than 10 to 1: Nehro (who ran second), Mucho Macho Man (who ran third) and Midnight Interlude, who ran a disappointing 16th for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
On paper, the favorites this year are much better than last year's crop of three-year-olds. In fact, Bodemeister (4-1), Union Rags (9-2), Gemologist (6-1), Dullahan (8-1), Hansen (10-1) and Creative Cause (12-1)—the six likely favorites come post time Saturday—would all likely have been favored if they had ran in last year's Derby. The 2011 field of favorites did not have the quality that we find in 2012.
Here is the kicker: Uncle Mo, the undefeated two-year-old who won the Breeders Cup Juvenile in 2010 was a late scratch for last year's Derby. Uncle Mo would have been the favorite last year and would be the favorite if he was running in this year's Derby. He was the best three-year-old to draw a post position for the Derby in the last two seasons.
To conclude, the 2012 field has a much better crop of favorites, but 2011 had the best horse had he been able to run. Uncle Mo—like other recent favorites Toby's Corner in 2011, Eskendereya in 2010 and I Want Revenge in 2009—was unable to make the trip to Churchill Downs.
Middle of the Pack
The middle of the pack is where we find last year's Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. Ridden by John H. Velazquez and trained by H. Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom went off at 21 to 1 odds to win the Run for the Roses. In doing so, Animal Kingdom became the first Derby winner to have never previously raced on a conventional dirt track.
Middle of the pack is also where we find Shackleford, who at 23 to 1 odds finished fourth. Shackleford came back two weeks later to win The Preakness, trainer Dale Romans' first American Classic win.
Other middle of the pack horses from 2011 include Master of Hounds at 16 to 1 (finished 5th), Brilliant Speed at 27 to 1 (finished 7th) and Stay Thirsty at 17 to 1 (finished 7th).
This year's middle of the pack is also very capable of providing us with another Derby winner. Alpha (15-1), the runner up to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial, is more than capable of winning the Derby. Take Charge Indy (15-1) won the Florida Derby, beating one of this year's favorites Union Rags in the process. Other notable middle of the pack horses this year who are capable of a big effort this Saturday include Went the Day Well (20-1), I'll Have Another (12-1) Daddy Knows Best (15-1) and El Padrino (20-1).
The 2012 middle of the pack horses are fairly comparable to last year's, but we did get the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown from these crop of horses.
The Long Shots
It is hard to compare long shots from year to year—that is why they are long shots to win in the first place. Last year's long shots included Santiva at 34 to 1 (finished 6th), Derby Kitten at 36 to 1 (finished 13th), Decisive Moment at 39-1 (finished 14th), Twinspired at 32 to 1 (finished 17th), Watch Me Go at 33 to 1 (finished 18th) and Comma To The Top at 35 to 1 (finished 19th).
This year we have horses such as Daddy Long Legs (30-1), Done Talking (50-1), Optomizer (50-1), Trinniberg (50-1), Liason (50-1) , Prospective (30-1), Sabercat (30-1) and Rousing Sermon (50-1).
There is no real way to compare long shots from one year to the next, only to say that every long shot is capable of running that perfect race and making history on the first Saturday in May.
To conclude, this year's field certainly has some better quality horses. Other than Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford, none of the other horses from last year's field found any real success after the Triple Crown season.
The six early favorites this year would all have likely been favorites over Dialed In last year. With Toby's Corner scratching well before the Derby and Uncle Mo getting scratched the day before, the top two three-year-olds never ran in last year's Run for the Roses.
There were some quality mid-pack horses last season, like the winner Animal Kingdom and Shackleford. It remains to be seen if any of the horses from this year's mid-pack can duplicate that kind of success.
As for the long shots, well, you just never know.
By far though, this year's field is one of the deepest and most balanced in recent history. The most exciting two minutes in sports might be that much better this year.