Sunday, April 10, 2011
Quick, Run the Race
Flies are dropping like horses at Santa Anita. It's a good thing they ran the Santa Anita Derby on the day they did. If they had run it any later, the way horses were defecting they might have wound up with a two-horse match race. Those covering the race couldn't write their advance stories fast enough, to account for all the contingencies. They had one finger on "send" and another finger on "delete."
Jon White, the morning-linemaker at Santa Anita, used up the eraser on his pencil. With Premier Pegasus scratched one day, and the new favorite, Jaycito, declared out the next, White settled on Silver Medallion as the surviving favorite, and the public agreed with him. Silver Medallion shook off the favorites' jinx and completed the course, but a fourth-place finish cooked his chances to run in the Kentucky Derby. I would think that Anthony's Cross, who finished just behind Silver Medallion, will also have May 7 open on his dance card. Instead, the Santa Anita Derby will be sending Midnight Interlude to Kentucky, a colt who will give the fastidious among us another chance to revisit the many historical reasons why a horse can't win at Churchill Downs.
It was Jaycito who was supposed to give Baffert his latest Santa Anita Derby winner, but he was kept in the barn with a bruised foot. Baffert still has back-door hopes for Jaycito in Kentucky; he will run him in a Keeneland race a couple of weeks out from the Derby. After Uncle Mo's third-place dethronement in New York, the sky's the limit for trainers and their Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Baffert's lead Derby prospect is The Factor, who has some unfinished business in the Arkansas Derby.
At entry time, three days before the race, Midnight Interlude drew the No. 6 post and Baffert said: "Six, huh? No. 6, my sixth Santa Anita Derby winner?"
So this win had a touch of the poet to it. Twenty-two days ago, Midnight Interlude was a maiden. Then on March 20, against four other maidens, he blew their doors off going a mile. But Joel Rosario, who rode him that day, didn't see enough, and stayed with Anthony's Cross, an established stakes winner, for the the Santa Anita Derby. The mount on Midnight Interlude fell to Victor Espinoza, who won a Kentucky Derby for Baffert, with War Emblem, but who a year ago was the protagonist in some post-race bickering that involved Baffert and his wife Jill. Espinoza drew the wrath of the Bafferts after riding another horse in a roughly run Santa Anita Derby in which Baffert's Lookin At Lucky and his rider, Garrett Gomez, got none the best of it. Not long afterward, Baffert saw Espinoza in the paddock and said: "Are you trying to kill my jockey?" After this Santa Anita Derby, the snideness had turned to smiles. Feuds in racing are as long as a monkey's nose.
But more about Kentucky. Midnight Interlude is not going to win in Louisville because:
* He didn't run as a 2-year-old. No horse has won the Derby without running at two since Apollo in 1882.
* Horses with only four career starts seldom win the Derby. Big Brown, who had run only three times, shattered this maxim in 2008, but before him you would have to go back to Exterminator, in 1918.
Of course, there are reasons why every horse in the field can't win the Derby. I can't think of a better reason to run the damn thing.