After several months of highlighting Derby preps in this space, it’s time to take a deep breath and return to our weekly racing notes for a week. Next week we’ll unveil our Derby Degrees of Separation post, a yearly rite of Derby passage, ranking the 20 probable starters. Check out last year’s column to see how well I fared (self-rated at a B+ rating).
So what’s going on in the Space Station as we head full steam ahead into Triple Crown season?
My annual Derby spreadsheet went live last night. It features the current top 22 on the leader board, sorted by point total. This is the 11th year of ye olde spreadsheet, there are some good nuggets ready to be mined.
Some of the numbers are surprising, and some not so much. Highest Beyer: Justify 107 (Mendelssohn 106); Highest Wet Tomlinson: Justify 442 (Solomini 428); Highest Distance Tomlinson: Justify 343 (Good Magic 329); Highest BRIS Distance: Bolt d’Oro 119 (Hofburg 118); Highest Average Winning Distance – Sire: Bolt d’Oro/Enticed7 furlongs; Highest Average Winning Distance – Dam: Bolt d’Oro 8.2 (Free Drop Billy 8.1).
Also included within the spreadsheet is the information from the last 10 Derby fields.
If you missed my Gronk column yesterday, complete with quotes from Rob’s father and Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ founder and Dubai businessman Amer Abdulaziz, check it out here.
A field of seven will attack the Charles Town bullring on Saturday in the $1.2 million Classic. The top two horses on the morning line are Diversify (8-5) and War Story (5-2). The race will be shown live on Fox Sports 2 on Saturday from 4-6 p.m. EDT.
In conjunction with the expanded version of FOX Sports Saturday at the Races, Charles Town and NYRA will also partner to offer horseplayers a Cross County Pick 4 with races from Aqueduct and Charles Town.
A couple prep races won this season by trainer Todd Pletcher will be looking for their winners to capture the Derby winner for the first time in quite some time. The Louisiana Derby (1996 – Grindstone) and the Wood Memorial (2000 – Fusiachi Pegasus) are the races with winners sufferting the longest drought. Both Noble Indy and Vino Rosso come off impressive wins, respectively in the two races. There have been Derby winners that have participated in those races, notably Funny Cide (2003) ran in both races, finishing second in both and Monarchos (2001) who also finished second in the Wood.
In the last six years we’ve had three Florida, two Santa Anita and a lone Arkansas Derby winner wear the roses. You have to go back to 2010 (Super Saver) for the last Derby winner not to win his prep race coming into the Derby.
Yours truly made three Derby future bets at that Wynn Las Vegas this year. Two tickets (McKinzie, Storm Runner) are fire starters, but one lone future ticket survives. And it’s a good one. Mendelssohn at 40-1. He’s been in my NTRA Top Five since we started voting in early February and ever since he gave me the side eye on the Thursday morning of Breeders’ Cup, I’ve been a supporter.
Legendary turf writer and columnist Bill Nack passed away earlier in the week and there have been numerous remembrances and tributes to one of the great writers of our time, sport or otherwise. One of his Sports Illustrated columns that had a Buffalo flavor was on Bob Kalsu, the former Buffalo Bill who is on the Bills' Wall of Fame. Kalsu was the only professional athlete to die in Vietnam. Nack captured the story like only he could, it's worth the time to give it a read.
Next week’s print column will look at who I think could be potential longshots to use on Derby day. Stay tuned as Derby fever is turned up over the next two weeks.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.