Kentucky Derby season is like college basketball. Nothing truly significant happens until March. The calendar has turned from February and Chad Brown has Good Magic set to make his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth against some talented rivals. Bolt d'Oro's coming out party is a week away in the San Felipe. By the end of next weekend, the Derby picture should be in much clearer focus. Meanwhile, in a laudable but probably fruitless exercise, 64 trainers have signed on to support the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance (WHOA), whose main goal is medication free racing. Alas the National HBPA has said this is not going to happen and it has the power to back up the tough talk.

The champ is back. The question is, is he ready to deliver a knockout blow?

Chad Brown has made it clear his game plan is not to have Eclipse winner Good Magic run his best race Saturday in the Fountain of Youth, his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Brown wants Good Magic to run well Saturday, better in his next start, most likely the April 7 Blue Grass, then explode on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

There might be some as good as Brown at pointing toward a specific race but there are none better. Although there is plenty of evidence of this, all that is needed is last season’s Preakness with Cloud Computing.

Derby qualifying points aren’t a major concern. Good Magic has 24. Forty should be enough to clinch a berth in the starting gate. A second (20 points) would do that and a third (10) would put him on the cusp with his final prep to come in a 100-40-20-10 race. He has not finished worse than second in three career starts, two in Grade 1 races.

While Brown might not have him at his peak, players got a tipoff to Good Magic’s fitness level in last Saturday’s Hal’s Hope. Good Magic’s workmate this winter has been 4-year-old Economic Model, who ran away from a solid field of older horses, including Wood Memorial winner and Belmont Stakes runnerup Irish War Cry.

If Good Magic is even close to what Economic Model showed, it will take an awfully talented horse to deny him the bulk of the $400,000 purse. On the other hand, there are some horses who have demonstrated exceptional talent.

Dale Romans has three of them—Breeders’ Futurity winner Free Drop Billy, who will have recency going for him after a solid second in the Holy Bull behind Audible; the optimistically named Promises Fulfilled, making his first start since a third in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November; and Storm Runner, who Romans has been raving about. The trainer said the colt, who ran his dirt record to 2-for-2 in winning a recent optional claimer, is improving as quickly as any horse he has ever trained.

The potential sleeper is Strike Power, who didn’t get started until December but has won both his starts like a monster. He graduated with an eight-length score in December (taking the curse of Apollo off the table) then toyed with his rivals in the Swale, winning by almost three in as visually impressive a win as you would want to see.

Both those races were sprints, which would be in the wheelhouse of a son of Speightstown. Now he gets tested around two turns but if he wants the lead, it’s hard to imagine anyone denying him. A mile and a quarter might be a bridge too far but all he has to do Saturday is negotiate a mile and a sixteenth on a generally speed favoring track with a short stretch run due to the use of the auxiliary finish line.

As we saw last Saturday, Brown doesn’t send out short horses. So Good Magic has to be the key in all types of wagers but Strike Power will definitely be included on my Pick 3’s and Pick 4’s.

Wasted effort

The headline was so heartening: “More Than 60 Trainers Sign Letter Supporting WHOA.”

Then the story ruined everything. Indeed more than 60 trainers (64) threw their support behind the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance, whose goal is to turn over the policing of testing nationwide to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Bless every single signee. Their vehicle is the latest Horseracing Integrity Act, which has been kicking around the House of Representative for years without noteworthy progress. There is not even a companion bill in the Senate.

When you peruse the roster of signees, the names listed aren’t as eye-catching as some of the ones missing: Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, D. Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott, Dale Romans, Shug McGaughey. I could go on. Put it this way: not one Eclipse-winning trainer since the award was instituted in 1971 is on the list.

This should not be interpreted as these giants of the profession being against medication-free racing. Given the superior stock they are blessed with, they probably wish more than anyone that racing become totally clean.

Maybe they weren’t asked to sign. Maybe they had better things to do, like almost anything.

Six hundred or 6,000 trainers could sign on to support of the Horse Racing Integrity Act and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference as long as the National HBPA and its regional acolytes are steadfast against any action that makes them race drug-free, as in without Lasix.

The last time Washington got seriously involved in the game, the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, a seemingly innocuous provision in the bill gave local horsemen a right that has become omnipotent in controlling the fate of tracks and racing in general.

In order to simulcast across state lines, permission had to be granted by the sending track, its state governing body; the state commission of the receiving track and the horsemen of the host track. Nothing about this seemed unreasonable at the time.

Simulcasting was such an insignificant part of racing’s big picture, few, if any, had the foresight to see where the latter provision could lead. Horsemen now have the power to stop any and all tracks from sending their signals to other tracks, which has become the backbone of the game. The national and regional HBPA’s have stated unequivocally they will exercise this power should any attempt be made to ban race day medications. Denied simulcasting, tracks would be shutting down faster than Toys R Us.

So the latest Horse Racing Integrity Act is a waste of time, effort and money unless and until Congress amends the IHRA of 1978 to strip horsemen of the unilateral power to control simulcasting. WHOA and its supporters would be better served to expend their efforts and treasure toward this end.