The buzz is that it's going to be another "Giacomo Year" in the 134th Kentucky Derby. I'm inclined to agree, since there doesn't seem to be a single standout horse. The undefeated Big Brown has his fans and may very well wind up the favorite due to his wire-to-wire killing of the field in the Florida Derby.
Still, remember Bellamy Road in 2005, the year Giacomo won? He looked like a superstar after winning the Wood Memorial with a 120 Beyer, but, as we all know now, he didn't even hit the board in the Kentucky Derby. And bear this in mind: actually of the three Derby preps last week, the fastest final time posted was that of the Illinois Derby, won by Recapturetheglory. (Whom, you say?) That's right, a horse whose present morning line odds for the Derby are 40-1. Some have compared him to War Emblem.
Still, Big Brown had only a 106 Beyer, and the total Derby field is weak, weak, weak in this regard.
War Pass is out, hurt; Sierra Sunset is out, hurt; and the fabulous Pyro tanked in the Blue Grass, so if he's not injured, he may have already peaked (or ...who knows? Maybe not. Maybe he didn't like the synthetic track). Then there are the horses who've done well on synthetic track (such as Colonel John, winner of the Santa Anita Derby), but who knows how they'll do on dirt? Yesterday at Keeneland, Behindatthebar won, but I've seen that horse run here at Bay Meadows, on dirt, in the El Camino Real Derby. He came in 5th, and the winner of that race shouldn't have won at all. In fact, none of the Southern California shippers that day did well in that race. One of the jockeys posited, looking baffled, that maybe it was because it was the first time dirt had been kicked into their faces.
Then there are the sentimental horses I can't help but want to bet: here, if they get in, the two fillies, Proud Spell (who beat the undefeated Indian Blessing) and Eight Belles. Let's not forget that a filly, Rags to Riches, won the Belmont Stakes last year. And one of the few horses to win the Derby gate-to-wire was the great filly Winning Colors.
Then there are the "I Wish" horses merely because I just happen to have a futures bet on their noses: for me, that'd be Pyro (d'oh!) and then Monba, who did win the Bluegrass Stakes. But he's a Todd Pletcher horse, and Pletcher seems to carry a Derby Curse, who, despite his other successes and his huge stable, can't seem to win the Run for the Roses.
Two other horses deserving of mention are Gayego, winner of the Arkansas Derby, and Adriano, winner of the Lane's End. Interestingly, jockey Edgar Prado (who rode Barbaro to victory) had his choice of three horses to pilot, and he picked Adriano over Tale of Ekati and (too bad for me) Monba. He made his decision after taking Adriano on a "test drive" on the dirt at Churchill, so what does that tell you? Still, jockeys make mistakes, too.
So you see the hair-pulling I'm doing. Honestly, in a 20-horse field, you just can't know what kind of trip your horse is likely to get and how he'll respond to being bumped all over the place and so on. Anymore, the Kentucky Derby has turned into a crapshoot. There are probably some horses you can safely eliminate as the winner, but I'm thinking this year I may very well bet most of the field to win and then easily get that money back if one of the longer shots comes in.
The year Giacomo won? My partner and I had bet the field as a party ploy. Seriously. We bet all the horses, dropped the horses' names into a hat, and everyone at the party drew. Assuming we'd take a loss, we still wanted at least someone at the party to win. As it was, Giacomo paid $100 on our $40 bet. Turns out it was my partner's mom who won, and she promptly told us to keep the money since she hadn't even put up the $2.
Hmmm. Maybe it was that mint julep I made for her.
In any case, my partner and I intend to listen carefully to the track gossip about who's training well at Churchill Downs before the race (had I done that two years ago, I'd have known better than to bet Sweetnorthernsaint). And then I'll probably flip a few coins.