They should have run this Derby on April 1--April Fool's Day--instead of May 7. Mike Battaglia, who makes the morning line at Churchill Downs, would make all 20 horses 50-1 if he could get away with it. Only four favorites--Fusaichi Pegasus, Smarty Jones, Street Sense and Big Brown--have won the race in the last 31 years, and it will be four out of 32 after this year. Because there will be no favorite.
Bob Lewis Stakes. . . Anthony's Cross (Tapizar favored)
San Felipe Stakes. . .Premier Pegasus (Jaycito)
Tampa Bay Derby. . .Watch Me Go (Brethren)
Louisiana Derby. . . . Pants On Fire (Mucho Macho Man)
Spiral Stakes. . . . . . Animal Kingdom (Positive Response)
Florida Derby. . . . . . Dialed In (Soldat)
Illinois Derby. . . . . . .Joe Vann (Watch Me Go)
Santa Anita Derby. .Midnight Interlude (Silver Medallion)
Wood Memorial. . . .Toby's Corner (Uncle Mo)
Blue Grass Stakes. Brilliant Speed (Santiva)
Arkansas Derby. . . Archarcharch (The Factor)
The Chinese could tell you, this is the Year of the Rabbit, not the Year of the Favorite. Several of those beaten favorites won't even make it to the Derby. Another colt on the sidelines might be The Factor, who had run holes in the wind before he was tested at a mile and an eighth for the first time. Bet down to 4-5, he not only lost in Arkansas, he finished seventh. There was a post-race announcement about a condition known as a displaced palate, but The Factor's real issue is that the Kentucky Derby is even longer than the one in Arkansas. All horses can run a mile and a quarter, of course; it just takes some of them a little longer than others.
The winnerwinnerwinner of the Arkansas Derby, the 25-1 Archarcharch, was life and death to hold off Nehro, another longshot, at the wire. The margin was a short neck. Because of the ground Nehro made up--he was 4 1/2 lengths from the front with an eighth of a mile to run--there will be bettors at Churchill Downs who will reason that the added distance in the Derby will give him a chance to win. Yes, from such theories fortunes are made, but I'm not buying. Nehro is perfectly happy being far back early, but in Louisville he'll be surrounded by 19 horses, seven more than in Arkansas, and whether he'll get another unfettered inside-outside trip is problematical. Let's face it, Nehro's profile is one win over maidens in five races, and even in a soft year for 3-year-olds, I question whether he's the real goods.
Prior to the start of the Arkansas Derby, Dance City looked at the starting gate and acted as though it was a trash compactor. He refused to go in for several minutes, and even dumped his jockey, Javier Castellano. In the stands, Jinks Fires, the trainertrainertrainer of Archarcharch, must have been saying to himself, "Not again." In his previous race, Archarcharch, at peace with himself in his stall, was kicked badly by Alternation, another balky loader. Alternation was scratched. The track veterinarian told Fires afterwards that his colt was "trembling" before he could be re-loaded for the break. Archarcharch still finished third, but missed a few days of training because of the cuts on his legs.
At least Dance City, who ran a creditable third, left Archarcharch alone. The 70-year-old Fires, the oldest of 11 children, most of whom went into racing, including Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires, has never taken a horse to the Derby. He'll go there with his son-in-law, Jon Court, who has ridden Archarcharch in all six of his races. Court, 50, has ridden in about 30,000 races, and won more than 3,500 of them, but like his father-in-law he's never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Court came as close as a rider can come to a Derby last year. He won the Arkansas Derby with Line of David, but three weeks later the mount went to Rafael Bejarano, who had ridden the colt in all his other races. In the game's pecking order, Bejarano is a star, Court a big fish in a smaller pond. Line of David and the star finished 18th, beating two horses.