Sometimes these Derby horses talk to you.
They really do.
But you have to be willing to listen for that to do any good.
In the days leading up to the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, most of the 20 horses that ended up in the field for the Run for the Roses were head-turners in one way or another.
But a handful, in my eyes, truly dazzled in the works and gallops. That group included (in alphabetical order):
- Bodemeister (workouts only)
- Daddy Nose Best
- I’ll Have Another
- Union Rags
- Went the Day Well
If I had simply stuck with that group of six in analyzing Derby 138, I would have been in pretty good shape. Most ran pretty well, with the most notable being I’ll Have Another, who rallied from just off the leaders to run down favored Bodemeister in the stretch.
The 1,342 ½ feet of soon-to-retire Track Superintendent Butch Lehr’s sandy loam homestretch has been called “Heartbreak Lane” through the years, and the nickname was validated on Derby Day when Bodemeister, after grabbing the early lead and a withering pace, did too much too soon and had nothing to offer when I’ll Have Another and rookie Derby jockey Mario Gutierrez came rolling past in the final sixteenth of a mile.
Trainer Doug O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another had touted himself as a horse to respect all week with his strong gallops and one sharp work. And Gutierrez, who watched last year’s Derby on television at British Columbia’s Hastings Park, was so deft and delicate in his handling of the winner his last name might have well have been Shoemaker.
O’Neill, Gutierrez and owner J. Paul Reddam all collected their first Derby victories in Saturday’s race, with Gutierrez being the 42nd rider to take the roses in his first attempt.
Bodemeister, who looks as ordinary on a racetrack as any horse in memory on any day except when he works out or runs, turned in an extraordinary race and validated his sparkling win in the Arkansas Derby.
As for the others who trained well, they either showed up or had excuses:
- Union Rags had one of the most rugged Derby journeys in memory in a race that will almost certainly cost Julien Leparoux the mount aboard Michael Matz’s colt. He missed the break and was in trouble almost every step of the way, but finished in the final eighth faster than any other horse. That was about has far as he got to run.
- Went the Day Well rallied for a fast-finishing fourth, just behind Dullahan, trainer Dale Romans’ half-brother to 2009 longshot Derby winner Mine That Bird who was compromised by a wide trip. Went the Day Well should improve off this race and should be a threat to the Derby winner in the Preakness.
- Daddy Nose Best split the field with a 10th-place run. He was bumped early, but got into the game at the head of the stretch before tiring.
- Prospective lost all chance when he clipped heels at the start.
It’s entirely possible that the chances of some Derby horses were affected adversely by Derby Day heat that made the day feel more like a July afternoon than the first Saturday in May.
But the good news is that the Derby 138 field came out of the race with only one apparent injury. Take Charge Indy, the hope of trainer Patrick Byrne and jockey Calvin Borel who finished 19th, came out of the race with a bone chip. But he is expected to be back in action by fall.
The obvious question after the Derby is whether I’ll Have Another can leap from Derby winner to Triple Crown candidate. He’s the only member of this class with that opportunity, but he has a versatile running style and should be a major player in the Preakness if the big run on the unusually hot Derby Day was harder on him than it appeared when he wore the roses after the race.
It’s been 34 years since the last Triple Crown winner. The next step in the Triple Crown saga comes up on May 16 at Pimlico. A Preakness run similar to his Derby win makes I’ll Have Another tough to handle, but he didn’t exactly separate himself from the strong 3-year-old crop with his Derby run. Another step forward in Baltimore might accomplish that.