Reflections on the Kentucky Derby

Here we are in the week after the Kentucky Derby and as I lick my wounds from not handicapping it right (again), it is pretty easy to make very good sense of the result given the track bias toward speed that day.

A couple of horses that figured to be in the mix had trouble (CLASSIC EMPIRE and MCCRAKEN), more than a couple didn’t belong, and the winner made more sense than ever when you think that Johnny V. and Todd Pletcher had gone 0 for 10 when trying to get it done together. That is a stat that could not continue with the knowledge that the two of them are probably the best in the world at their respective jobs.

I even had the great advantage of sitting at home watching the NBC coverage for the first time in many Derbys that revealed that the winner walked over as cool as a cucumber and was the opposite of what I thought would be his undoing based on his over-energetic gallops all week. He was “pointing at the fence” and I should have seen that and used ALWAYS DREAMING as the fairly priced favorite that he was.

Here are a few things that are evident to me after digesting what happened over the weekend as it relates to the industry:

  • The Kentucky Derby is an amazing spectacle that sells itself well on television and Churchill Downs is very good at keeping the event relevant and special to the sporting and entertainment world. It is one of our sport’s greatest assets and needs to continue to be revered and treated as special as it can be. Enjoying it from the comfort of my home helps desensitize the inevitable frustrations of being there in person – long lines for traffic in and out, food/drink/wagering, etc. and the proximity of 150,000 of your closest friends!
  • Empire Maker is a tremendous American stamina influence and supports the notion that Mr. Prospector through Unbridled is an amazing influence as well. Getting EMPIRE MAKER back to the USA is quite a coup for Gainesway Farm, and while he is a bit long in the tooth, he will be a commercial success for many who have supported him in the breeding shed since he returned. He has also had quite a run recently as a broodmare sire at what could be considered an early point in his career.
  • Calumet’s return to relevance continues with a win by Rusty Arnold’s WILD SHOT in the Pat Day Mile (formerly The Derby Trial), a fourth in the KY Oaks (with a filly I helped pick out as a yearling named VEXATIOUS), and a three- horse entry in the KY Derby. Brad Kelley is driven, his pockets are deep and he supports the industry with both hands. His enthusiasm, devoted staff and tremendous resources can carry them a long way. The Kentucky Oaks is great evidence of what a track bias and a hot pace can do to a race. You have to applaud both Bob Baffert on being the consummate horseman he is and Mike Smith on another great ride on one he’s never ridden before – these two are dangerous whenever they put their talents together in a big race.
  • Clearsky Farm’s Eamonn and Bernard Cleary are making their late father proud with their continued success as breeders and horse traders with ABEL TASMAN and ARROGATE waving their flag. Let’s hope PARADISE WOODS can find a way to back up her brilliant races at home and make us forget her frenzied run to the quarter pole in the 3-year-old filly classic with some significant performances down the road for her and her ultra hot sire UNION RAGS. If she and UNIQUE BELLA can find their way back to their previous form this division may turn out to be one for the ages.
  • VIOLENCE turns over another card from what I think is a loaded hand with BUY SELL HOLD’s neck win in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes last Thursday (Thurby Day). His performance as one of the hottest freshman sires at this year’s 2-year-old in training sales makes him an absolute standout. They train and look like stone cold runners. I can’t go without mentioning ORB in the same vein – his first crop going through the same venues have distinguished themselves as a very special group – he could be a really good one too.
  • Still looking for the picture of Steve Young signing the ticket on ALWAYS DREAMING but having trouble finding it…………

It is on to Timonium on Monday to see what we can find there. This is one of the last 2-year-olds in training sales and means that the yearling sales are just around the corner. Anyone looking for some help in realizing their dreams with the purchase of a few yearlings needs to keep me in mind.