Kentucky Derby 2013: 10 Bold Predictions for the Run for the Roses
There is more to the Kentucky Derby than just fancy hats and mint juleps.
No, really, there is.
History will be made this Saturday in the most exciting two minutes in sports. A field of twenty top Thoroughbred athletes will compete for their place in the record books. Once they break from the gate, anything can happen. Favorites can lose, long shots can win and, one way or another, horse racing will have a new champion.
Here are ten predictions as to what surprises may lay ahead in the 139th Run for the Roses.
This Will Be One of the Slowest Editions of the Kentucky Derby
This is a slow group of horses. Each prep race has been more underwhelming than the last in terms of time. For example, last year, eventual Kentucky Derby champion I’ll Have Another won his final prep, the Santa Anita Derby, in a respectable 1:47.88. This year? Goldencents completed the 1 1/8 mile race in 1:48.76. In horse racing, one whole second is a significant difference.
The upside? Even though it is a slow crop, they are an equally pedestrian bunch and that should make for an evenly matched, competitive field.
Todd Pletcher Will Not Win, Even with Six Possible Entrants
Top trainer Todd Pletcher is one of the most dominant forces in the sport and will be flexing his muscles by sending a possible six entrants to the gate the first Saturday in May. While he is no stranger to success, the Kentucky Derby was a prize that eluded him until Super Saver and Calvin Borel brought home the roses in 2010.
It is worth noting that Pletcher and Borel will reunite this year with Revolutionary, who may have the best chance of the "Toddster’s" contingent. In addition, Revolutionary will carry the familiar silks of WinStar Farm—the same owners that teamed up with Pletcher and Borel in 2010.
Govenor Charlie Will Be the "Buzz Horse" on Derby Week
In a crop full of slow horses, Govenor Charlie is the one that comes into the Derby with a very fast final prep. However, that impressive, record-setting effort in the Sunland Park Derby must be taken with a grain of salt. He beat dubious competition over a track that was lightning fast.
Of all of the horses going into the Derby, he is the most intriguing and the biggest mystery. How good is he, really? With only three career starts, he is the most inexperienced horse of the group and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert opted not to give him a final prep since the Sunland Derby romp all the way back on March 24. This is the type of horse that can rapidly become a "wiseguy's horse" as Derby Week goes on and all of the unknowns with him make him fascinating.
He’s either a freak or a fraud: There's no middle ground.
Synthetic Prep Races Will Not Yield a Derby Winner
The advent of the synthetic racing surface has added a new twist into handicapping the Kentucky Derby. With a prominent prep race, the Blue Grass Stakes, being run over Keeneland’s synthetic surface, it can be tough to figure out how that performance translates over conventional dirt as the surfaces are extremely different, with synthetics tending to favor turf horses.
Though the Blue Grass Stakes to Derby angle has gone reasonably well in recent years with both Dullahan and Paddy O’Prado turning in strong efforts at Churchill Downs after competitive races in the Blue Grass, this year's winner Java's War will need to run the race of his life to follow their lead. Java's War has already proven he can be competitive on dirt, but looked like he may have peaked in the Blue Grass.
Veteran Jockey Gary Stevens Will Be a Major Factor
Gary Stevens, one of the most recognizable and acclaimed jockeys in the sport, returned to the saddle after an eight-year hiatus this January at the ripe old age of 50. A member of the Hall of Fame and a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, Stevens is no stranger to the Run for the Roses and is as competitive now as he was when he was in his prime.
After a successful stint as an actor (you may remember him as the embittered, washed-up jockey in HBO's short-lived series "Luck") and after building a name for himself as a television anchor, this is a man who does everything 110 percent. He will ride Oxbow in the Kentucky Derby and could be a very live long shot, competing against fellow jockeys literally half his age. With age comes experience and he knows how to win big races.
D. Wayne Lukas Has a Pair of Live Longshots
D. Wayne Lukas is a legend. At 77 years old, he has captured 13 separate Triple Crown races, with four of those victories coming in the Kentucky Derby. He is a master of the sport and while he has not been as dominant in recent years as he has been in the past, a simple rule of handicapping is to never throw out a Lukas horse on a big day.
He will saddle two horses in this year's Derby. Along with veteran Gary Stevens, he will try to recapture their glory years with Oxbow (the pair won the roses in 1995 with Thunder Gulch and 1988 with Winning Colors) and he will also send out the regally-bred Will Take Charge. Both colts figure to be generous odds with big chances.
Revolutionary Will Be This Year's Union Rags
Last year, one of the biggest stories after the Kentucky Derby was terrible trip that compromised the chances of seventh-place finisher Union Rags. That colt, though incredibly talented, seemed to have a predisposition to find trouble in a race and wound up racking up excuses along with his victories.
Revolutionary, one of Todd Pletcher's top contenders, seems like he may be a similar sort of horse. He has no shortage of talent, stamina or heart, but in what will likely be a 20 horse field, he may not be able to pull off the victory, like he has in his past three starts, if he gets himself in a poor position and is left with too much to do.
The European Invader Will Turn Heads
In a race where more than a few contenders may have some real distance limitations, the lone European colt could be a very interesting long shot. He has raced and won, going a longer distance at this point than all of his rivals after his game victory in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
There are plenty of knocks on this colt too. He did ship to the United States once before and the best he managed was a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. In addition, he has never raced over conventional dirt and switching to dirt can be tricky. He does, however, have enough dirt influence in his pedigree, and the one certainty with him is that when several contenders are backing up, he might just be getting started.
The Kentucky Oaks Will Be Just as Exciting as the Derby
The Kentucky Oaks will be contested the day before the Kentucky Derby on Friday, May 3. While the fillies run for a blanket of lilies instead of roses, the race is just as prestigious as the Derby and this year's field is shaping up to be very deep and exciting.
Headlining the field will likely be Beholder, the reigning juvenile champion filly and Breeders' Cup heroine. She has toyed with her rivals in her last two starts in California.
East Coast filly Dreaming of Julia will get a rematch with her West Coast rival after finishing third in Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November. Since that defeat, this filly has improved with every start for Todd Pletcher and most recently won the Gulfstream Park Oaks in a Secretariat-like performance, winning by 21 3/4 lengths.
Toss in Bob Baffert's extraordinarily talented and highly regarded Midnight Lucky and you have a real horse race on your hands.
Orb Will Win the Kentucky Derby...and Possibly the Triple Crown
While picking Orb as the Kentucky Derby winner is not exactly reinventing the wheel, as he will likely go off at a short price, this colt has all the goods to make a huge impact the first Saturday in May and maybe even make it into the history books with a Triple Crown bid.
While his winning effort in the Florida Derby was criticized for being extremely slow (1 1/8 miles in 1:50.87), he is getting sharper with each start and seems to be maturing at the right time. His trainer, Claude "Shug" McGaughey III, is one of the best trainers in the history of the sport to never have won the Kentucky Derby. This big, good-looking colt is a homebred for Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable, two of the most decorated breeding and racing operations in the sport's history. For a traditionalist or a history buff, Orb is your Derby horse.
In addition to his class, he is also bred to revel in the daunting distance of a mile and a quarter and to continue to excel even further. With so many rivals going into the starting gate next Saturday lacking stamina, Orb has it in spades. His best might be still to come, but he is good enough to get it done in the Derby.