Happy Derby week everyone! How sweet it is to turn the calendar page to May once again. This is one of the few - if not the only – Mondays of the year that I have a skip in my step and actually eager to get into the office to “Talk Derby” to people.
As I scanned some of my old postings/emails during previous Derby weeks looking for fresh topics and ideas, I came across a rather revealing stat. In 2007 the focus was on veteran trainer Carl Nafzger trying to win another Derby after a 17 year hiatus with likely favorite, Street Sense. Will we ever forget that touching video of a thankful trainer giving his elder owner (in a stylish Derby hat, by the way) a play by play description of the race as Unbridled thundered down that Churchill Downs stretch? “It’s a winner Mrs. Genter, you won it! You won it! You won the Kentucky Derby -- oh Mrs. Genter, I love you.” That image still gives me goose bumps every time I see it.
Guess what? It’s now been 17 years since New “Yawker” Nick Zito last claimed the roses with Go For Gin in 1994. And of course, Zito has the likely favorite that is a closer in Dialed In and long-time owner, Robert LaPenta, trying to put him back in that hallowed Churchill Downs winners circle for a third time, which would tie the “silver fox” Bob Baffert. And to finish my thought on the post-race reaction, I can absolutely see Nick Zito hugging and kissing the owner (even though it’s another grown man) with tears streaming down his face. Those of you who have seen the emotion-filled Zito in action on Derby day can likely picture this scene as well. If you believe in fate as I do – especially in horse racing – this will be all the handicapping you need.
But for those Dialed In skeptics (and there are plenty of you out there on various blog posts), let me offer some anecdotal evidence. Dialed In is one of two sons out of Mineshaft who have supplanted brother Bernardini (both out of A.P. Indy) as the feature sire in this year’s KY Derby. The other colt would be the rapidly improving Nehro. Both have the same running tendency coming well off the pace, especially if the pace is hot. Dialed In has been #1 on my Top 10 list since its inception the day after the Holy Bull Stakes from Gulfstream Park. Although that race was only one mile, DI made a swooshing move circling the field and earned a salty 97 Beyer rating (by this year’s crop, anyway). He next faced older allowance horses at 9 furlongs and received much needed experience of running closer to a slower pace, where he couldn’t quite reach the winner. Those of you astute handicappers know the huge advantage older horses have over a three year-old. The Breeders’ Cup Classic result affirms this fact the vast majority of the time.
Finally, in the Floriday Derby DI made another furious stretch drive to pass Shackleford on an obvious speed favoring track. While the many critics point out his slow last furlong closing time, not one that I have read acknowledged that he was the ONLY horse (including previously heralded Soldat and Stay Thirsty) that passed another horse from the 6 furlong marker to the wire in spite of quick early fractions (46.1, 1:10.3), and he passed all seven opponents! This is such an anomaly stat that it tells me something wasn’t quite right about the Gulfstream track on that day, yet the gutsy colt found a way to win. Zito and Robert LaPenta were denied Derby glory last year when Ice Box ran out of stretch at the wire to Super Saver, but I believe that the Derby Gods will settle their tab this year.