We're eight days from the Run for the Roses and it's time for the annual Degrees of Separation post where we separate the contenders from the pretenders within some fun divisions.
It's a light look at the current qualifiers based on the current leaderboard, a week out and before the post position draw to help segregate the horses I'm high on versus the throw-outs come Derby day. Using my annual Derby spreadsheet as a guide, we review the current top 22 horses likely to be entered next Wednesday.
Since I started covering the Triple Crown at The News my record for Derby top selection is 5: 0-0-3. The three third-place finishers were Mucho Macho Man, Revolutionary and Dortmund. All three had pretty decent careers but unfortunately never wore the roses.
Before we jump into Derby 141, let's take a moment to review some of my better (and really bad) quotes from past Degrees of Separation posts.
Mine That Bird: "Slowest of the slow" (50-1 winner)
Super Saver: "Really warming up to this one. Pletcher's best chance to wear the roses. Sports Monarchos' sire, his dam sire is A.P. Indy, so he has the pedigree AND the King of Churchill in the irons. Dangerous." (Chicken dinner)
Animal Kingdom: "Really loved his move in the Spiral Stakes, but he looks more like a dynamite turf horse than a Derby champ." (Oops)
Shackleford: "Really would have loved to see him in the Preakness versus the Derby, hope the race doesn't wreck him, looks like a monster." (Thank you very much)
I'll Have Another: "I dig this horse. His daddy, Flower Alley, had a troubled trip in the 2005 Derby and is a Travers winner and BC Classic runner-up. Could be my top pick - we'll see how he draws on Wednesday." (Drew Post No. 19, scared me off of him….jeepers)
Orb: Likely favorite after his two big wins at Gulfstream with matching Beyer Speed Figures. He'll be on top of my tickets. (Changed mind and made him my second choice)
California Chrome: I'm not picking him to win, but no other colt has been as impressive during the prep season as this son of Lucky Pulpit. But can a son of Lucky Pulpit win the Derby? (Why yes, yes he can)
American Pharoah: “The likely favorite doesn’t make the top division? Am I crazy? Being able to achieve the 10-furlongs with potential traffic issues he hasn’t yet encountered in the trials. Those questions are enough to have me on the fence.” (Triple Crown winner – the Derby was his toughest race though)
So let's get down to business and reveal our 2016 Degrees of Separation for Kentucky Derby 142:
The AMC Gremlin Division: My father bought my mother an American Motors Corporation (AMC) Gremlin back in the late 70s and it was a thing of beauty. Bright red, sleek gold stripes, the works. Problem was...it just wasn't fast. These are the horses that represent this division, and qualify as my throw-outs:
Oscar Nominated: Easily would have qualified for the now-defunct Pamela Anderson division (synthetic track winners), but grabs the top spot here in the race for the caboose in the Derby.
Lani: Made the mistake on Mubtaahij last year. Fool me once. Not sure who he beat in Dubai.
Fellowship: I love a Mark Casse quote as much as anyone, probably more. However, this one’s not winning the Derby.
My Man Sam: Nice horse, and my pal and former Buffalo Raceway handicapper Sam Pendolino will be all over him from a hunch bet standpoint, but it’s likely green eggs and ham for My Man Sam.
Whitmore: Another very nice horse and connections. He just can’t get over the hump. Good chance he’s Far Right 2.0. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Party Crasher Divison: This division made its debut last year and represents the spot where the horse won’t win, but he’ll cause havoc on your exotic betting by crashing the exacta, trifecta and superfecta at a price. Think Golden Soul and Commanding Curve.
Tom’s Ready: Two words. Dallas Stewart.
Trojan Nation: The maiden could be the longest shot on the board. Dig a little deeper into his pedigree and you’ll find stamina on top and speed on the bottom. Don’t discount too quickly.
Majesto: Warming up to this one underneath in the exotics to crash the party at big odds. You’re telling me I got a shot? Right on, boss.
The Indy 500 Division: Whoever draws the rail (pole) will be a toss and will be automatically transferred into this division. Other qualifiers represent the speed of the speed and likely will be out front burning rubber.
First spot: Vacant until Wednesday for the rail horse.
Danzing Candy: Like his sire, does his best running on the front end and could be the early speed. His dam sire (Songandaprayer) was owned by former UB coach Bobby Hurley and ran 13th in the 2001 Derby.
The George Costanza Human Fund Division: These will be the horses that will be taking in a lot of money and have a little (or lot of) hype, but will be unmasked in the Derby and will not be a factor.
Mor Spirit: Bob Baffert – Trainer. Check. Gary Stevens – Jockey. Check. Money sapped at windows. Check.
Outwork: Pletcher horse guaranteed to take some action at the windows.
Mo Tom: Has had lots of excuses for every race he’s been in, mainly due to traffic issues. The Derby is a 20-horse free-for-all.
The Afleet Alex Divison: Horses that won't win the Derby, but will have to be respected and could hit the board. Horses qualifying here have the potential to become a Classic winner down the road in either the Preakness Stakes or the Belmont Stakes.
Shagaf: Potential Belmont winner? His grandsire won it.
Gun Runner: Having trouble seeing Louisiana Derby winner win the Derby, but maybe in the shorter field Preakness he redeems himself?
The Brett Favre Division: The horses that are bound for this division are those I just can't make up my mind up on as we sit one week out from the Run for the Roses. Include them, exclude them....indecision has set in.
Mohaymen: The wet Gulfstream track on Florida Derby day excuse enough when judging the horses coming out of that race? Which Mohaymen will show up in the Derby? You tell me.
Destin: Eight week layoff is enough for me to toss, but he did handle that difficult Tampa surface and Outwork came back to flatter with a win in the Wood…
Nyquist: He’ll be in the mix for me, but I’m indecisive as to using him on top in such a wide-open race. He has to be respected based on his efforts to date, but everything won't be riding on him.
Creator: Of the horses on the fence for me, he’s most likely to join the top division unless he draws the rail. Like everything about him.
Charlie Sheen Division: The horses I think have the best chance at...wait for it...winning!
Brody’s Cause: Really have warmed up to this horse over the past few days. He’ll be coming in third off the layoff and draw a line through his Tampa Bay Derby. Has a win over the Churchill strip – do not overlook that fact. Romans seeking his first Derby win.
Exaggerator: Another somewhat sentimental favorite in this corner who loves any Curlin progeny. Jockey has won the race before, has the running style of a Derby winner. Not sure we’ve seen his best. If it comes up wet, back up the truck.
Suddenbreakingnews: Ok, I admit it. He’s my favorite horse in the field. Needs a pace collapse to win, but he’s hitting the board or completing the super. Think Steppenwolfer, Jazil, and the like.
That's a wrap on this year's 2016 degrees of separation. It always helps me to flesh out the field this way, as you can't bet 'em all, so this gives me a fun and light way to segregate the field prior to the big day. Of course, this is my preliminary look into the field and the post position draw can change all of that.
The News will be onsite in Louisville on Wednesday for the draw, look for coverage here on the Sports, Ink blog through Saturday’s race.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.