SARATOGA SPRINGS, MAY 9, 2011--In the end, the splintered run-up to this year’s Kentucky Derby turned out to be a perfect harbinger of future events. In the racing paper of record, 30 prep races were listed in its Derby section this winter and spring.
Of those 30 preps, only two managed to produce repeat winners. But Dialed In could beat only half the field while the other, Archarcharch, to his credit, beat four rivals despite a slipped saddle and condylar fracture that sadly ended a promising racing career.
There would have been a third had Daily Racing Form included Aqueduct’s Whirlaway Stakes in its stakes prep lineup, however, subsequent Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner never made it into the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
Indeed, only seven of the 20 starters on Saturday won two races of any kind in 2011, several of those, plus a few others, ran more than three times this season. Five colts went into the Derby having only two preps.
After watching the replay several times, it might not have mattered. Animal Kingdom was that much the best, aided by pluperfect handling from Johnny Velazquez, who might experience a second score should the Hall of Fame committee announce later this week that he will be among this year’s inductees.
Animal Kingdom showed extreme class despite his inexperience, the Derby being only his fifth lifetime start. He has now won on Polytrack at two different venues, would have beaten 10 turf rivals if not for a poor start in his season’s debut at Gulfstream and, of course, beat his 18 foes on Saturday with authority.
As it turned out, Derby 137 was remarkably trouble free from a trips perspective and a number of horses ran very well, including the next four runners-up; Nehro, Mucho Mach Man, Shackleford and Master of Hounds.
And this doesn’t include the beaten favorite, Dialed In, who sped passed all but seven rivals and racing last of 19 for much of the way behind the slowest Derby fractions in two decades, finishing his last half-mile faster than the winner; :47.02 compared to 47.52.
Perhaps it was appropriate that a “turf-synthetic specialist” should win a Derby with a race shape more closely resembling a synthetic surface or turf course more than a conventional dirt track, with the first half-mile clocked in :48.63 and a final four furlongs in :48.64.
Either way, the fresh winner’s turn of foot was electric, the kind of style that often wins a Preakness, Pimlico’s mythical tight turns and all.
The first, third, fourth and eighth place finishers will run back in Baltimore where they will meet at least nine new shooters, possibly 10 if Bob Baffert elects to enter The Factor. Given the Derby pace scenario, that would seem prudent.
Bullet Bob could decide to race Midnight Interlude back also. This lightly raced colt finished 16th on Saturday while racing a little rank early but appeared to empty out when the real running began.
Steve Asmussen could start runnerup Nehro but that colt’s had a lot of racing this spring and Asmussen has an excellent option in Astrology, whose style neatly fits the pace dynamic at Pimlico.
Other worthy newcomers expected to hop on the Triple Crown trail are the Arkansas Derby’s third and fourth finishers; Dance City and Sway Away.
Time to move on to HRI’s Post Derby-Pre Preakness Rankings:
1. Animal Kingdom - Proved 72 hours ago that he will be a force to be reckoned with the rest of this season. Graham Motion said he’s excited to run in his home state in a fortnight and, as we know, Graham Motion never lies.
2. Toby’s Corner - No idea where this guy will show up next having come out of the Wood a little worse for the wear. But show up he will, in more ways than one. Suddenly it’s Graham Motion who’s on top of the racing world.
3. Nehro - As honest as they come but he’s done a lot of developing in a short period of time. Asmussen handled him masterfully during Derby week, backing off him for several days while the colt recharged his batteries.
4. Mucho Macho Man - As honest as they come, Part 2, this guy just keeps coming and coming. He could have been discouraged when Animal Kingdom ran by but instead dug in and just missed second.
5. Dialed In - His Derby was better than the eighth-place finish looked at first blush. And Nick Zito has 5-½ million reasons to have him benefit off the light Derby training schedule.
6. Archarcharch - This will likely be the last week his name will appear here given that he’s been retired. But he deserves recognition for two stakes triumphs including the always tough Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
7. Shackleford - Just because he was helped by the unusually soft Derby pace doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned recognition. He’s run well twice in a row, including a game second to the subsequent Kentucky Derby favorite at Gulfstream.
8. Uncle Mo - He’ll be back, apparently, but the question is when. Will be receiving hyperbaric chamber treatment at Winstar Farm in the hopes of resurrecting his juvenile championship form.
9. Midnight Interlude - His inexperience showed in Louisville but his Santa Anita Derby has earned him recognition and respect among his peers. Came a long way in a short time and could be an excellent second-season prospect. I see a Haskell in his future.
10. Brilliant Speed - I see the Secretariat Stakes in his future, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Belongs here thanks to his Blue Grass. Finished well too late with a very wide rally on Saturday, beaten less than 6 lengths for it all.