Watch Me Go? Decisive Moment? Are you kidding me? This is what the field for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby is comprised of? Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the Road for the Roses, then you will have noticed several would-be favorites have lost their luster on the way to Louisville. Even the brilliant Uncle Mo met a stumbling block in his last prep race. And so, we celebrate the return of America’s most famous race with a picture of uncertainty before us; will Uncle Mo reclaim his title as the division champion, or will the roses go to a “dark horse,” someone far off the radar until this moment?
Last we saw him, Uncle Mo’s* star was fading before our eyes as he was swallowed alive in the final stages of the Wood Memorial. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ not only suffered the first sting of defeat, he positively nose-dived off the top position of many a horseplayer’s Derby contenders list with his dismal third-place performance. After a GI infection was detected following the Wood, we can only hope Mo wasn’t performing at 100% and will be fit and ready for the race of his life this Saturday. But owner Mike Repole has said repeatedly over the past few weeks that Mo will not run if he isn’t completely recovered, going so far as to tell the Louisville Courier-Journal he would debate the decision until Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope the Kentucky Derby doesn’t lose its biggest headliner, and Mo returns in the same form he used to dominate the last time he ran at Churchill.
The role of Kentucky Derby favorite has landed on the Nick Zito trainee Dialed In. The son of Mineshaft captured the Florida Derby in the last possible instant, and in doing so, catapulted himself back to the forefront of the Derby picture. Prior to that, he won the Grade III Holy Bull, but faltered in an allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream in his first start against older horses. After suffering his first loss, Dialed In’s bandwagon became a little lighter, but he should feel no shame for finishing second under those conditions in only his third career start. The dark bay has been jogging beautifully over Churchill’s track; maybe he’s ready to run his best career performance at the site of his maiden win. His pedigree says he will run all day, and so Dialed In has one of the best chances in all the field to cover the classic distances of the Triple Crown.
Archarcharch holds the distinction of earning the highest Beyer in his final prep race before the Kentucky Derby—and that number is considerably low for what should be the best 3-year-olds in the country—a 98. Archarcharch won the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn and had no respect going into the Rebel, where he finished third; but the son of Arch didn’t let those long odds keep him from rebounding to win the Grade I Arkansas Derby. Now thought of fondly among handicappers, Archarcharch could win his sire back-to-back marquee races at Churchill Downs, as Blame captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic this past November.
Midnight Interlude may be a newer face to the races, but his trainer, Bob Baffert, certainly is not. After winning the Santa Anita Derby straight after breaking his maiden, the son of War Front suddenly found himself a big contender for the Kentucky Derby. And well, why not? After so many defections on this Road to the Roses, the upper tier of this crop is certainly on the lean side. His running style, like both Archarcharch and Dialed In, is to close late; but his lack of experience in this big field may be his undoing. But just maybe it’s the fact Midnight Interlude doesn’t know he’s inexperienced that makes him worth taking a shot with. After all, who wins the Grade I Santa Anita Derby in his stakes debut?
If you’re looking for the wiseguy horse, or are hoping to stay off of him, then you’ll want to circle Nehro on your program. Breaking from post position 19, the Steve Asmussen trainee has proven to be a favorite for those looking for a performer who is about to take that next big step. But the problem is, this horse just can’t seem to win when it counts. Nehro has only won his maiden, but finished second in both the Louisiana and Arkansas Derby. Is he worth gambling on in the Kentucky Derby? Well, as Mine That Bird has taught us, anybody is, so it wouldn’t be unheard of if a horse with only a maiden victory to his record should come home smelling like roses.
Look no further for your sentimental choice in this year’s Derby than Mucho Macho Man. His remarkable tale goes back so far as to the day when he was born. Three weeks overdue, the colt lay unmoving shortly after his birth, and the farm managers thought the colt was dead. But after they tried to revive him and thought all was lost, the foal came to life, stood up, and ran off as if he’d just been taking a nap. Now he’s one of the biggest contenders in the world’s most famous horse race. Macho Man found a human echo to his story in his trainer, Kathy Ritvo, who nearly died of cardiomyopathy before a heart transplant saved her life. Owned by a partnership called the Dream Team, the Risen Star winner will be cheered home by a raucous bunch of supporters, as well as the Village People, if he should find himself on the lead this Saturday coming for home.
The 2011 Kentucky Derby is a complete puzzle—will Uncle Mo actually run and decry all of the rumors? Will the favorite, Dialed In, step up and show he’s something really special? Or will one of the several horses who until recently, would’ve been a footnote in the Derby trail actually run the race of his life and bring home consummate glory in all of racing? This is why they run. Twenty horses will break in a cavalry charge over 1 ¼-miles, but only one will separate himself from the herd and stamp his name in the history books. The Derby, that beautiful tornado of mint juleps, high-strung horses, big hats, and blood-red flowers, is now. What will the story be for the class of 2011? Affirmation, fate, or redemption?
*UPDATE: Uncle Mo was scratched Friday morning from the Kentucky Derby after his connections said he has not recovered from his infection is is not 100%.
The field for the 2011 Kentucky Derby (Post positions, morning-line odds, and notes)
1. Archarcharch (10-1) Jon Court was taken off last year’s Arkansas Derby winner, Line of David, only for the horse to lose big in the Kentucky Derby. This year, Court stays on the Arkansas Derby winner. Good mojo is always nice to have in the Derby of all Derbies.
2. Brilliant Speed (30-1) The Blue Grass winner has traditionally found himself finishing near the back of the pack since the Poly was installed. Don’t see a trend change here.
3. Twice the Appeal (20-1) The appeal is his jockey, 3-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel. The horse has won three of his last four starts (including the Sunland Derby), and was second in the one loss. I could think of crazier winning scenarios.
4. Stay Thirsty (20-1) Pletcher’s other entry was way off the board in his last start, but if you throw out the Florida Derby, he’s got some decent form. Won the Gotham nicely.
5. Decisive Moment (30-1) The only reason this horse had enough graded earnings to make the Kentucky Derby was because he finished second in the Delta Jackpot. Moving on…
6. Comma to the Top (30-1) It’s hard to disrespect this tough colt, but he probably isn’t going to like going 1 ¼-miles. Connections initially said they would not run him because of his distance limitations, but caught the Derby fever at the last moment.
7. Pants on Fire (20-1) Winner of the Louisiana Derby thanks to red-hot Rosie Napravnik, who is trying to become the first woman jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Aside from her guidance, this horse doesn’t have much going for him, especially with a name like this.
8. Dialed In (4-1)* Perfect post position, Derby-winning trainer, and winner of two key Derby prep races, Dialed In looks like the real deal. With a win over this track, he has an edge in more ways than one. Hopefully he will avoid the clutter to the first turn and come running when it counts.
9. Derby Kitten (30-1) For some reason, a lot of people are obsessed with this horse. I don’t get it. He won the Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland two weeks ago. That kind of turnaround for the Derby is old-school, but a huge detractor for today’s delicate horses.
10. Twinspired (30-1) Cute horse with an equally cute name, but can he really win the Kentucky Derby? Not likely. Looks to be a better horse in softer company, and on the fake stuff.
11. Master of Hounds (30-1) Ran second in the UAE Derby after a long layoff following an off-the-board finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvy Turf. Has only one win under his belt, and it’s not on dirt. Would be a big surprise.
12. Santiva (30-1) Won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at this track, just like Super Saver. Flopped spectacularly in his last outing, which came over the Poly at Keeneland. Will run much better back on dirt. He’s a threat with Shaun Bridgmohan up.
13. Mucho Macho Man (12-1) You’ve got to love the story of MMM. His record is promising, and came in third in the Louisiana Derby after tossing a shoe. You couldn’t feel bad if this guy brought home the roses. Could be peaking at just the right time.
14. Shackleford (12-1) Almost won the Florida Derby at ridiculously long odds. With a win here at Churchill, you can’t count him out. He’s been training beautifully in the morning. He could nearly upset again.
15. Midnight Interlude (10-1)* Has a habit of looking around for competition once he’s found the lead, but Baffert is attempting to train that out of him before Saturday. He could be the freakish type of horse that accomplishes a lot in a little time, but the famously gushing trainer doesn’t exude a ton of confidence.
16. Animal Kingdom (30-1) Another horse garnering inexplicable attention. He’s never raced over dirt, and has won only on Poly. The winner of the Spiral Stakes taking the Kentucky Derby? I’ll believe that when I see it.
17. Soldat (12-1) I once was hopeful for this guy, but he finished off the board for the first time in his most recent start. Not the way you’d want to be coming into the race of your life. The winner of the Fountain of Youth skates over the slop, so seek this guy if it’s pouring.
18. Uncle Mo (9-2)* The rumors and whispers circling around the BC Juvy winner are not flattering. Is he well enough to run in the one race he was supposed to win without breaking a sweat? I’m expecting a scratch, to be honest. If he runs at 100%, he will be a force.
19. Nehro (6-1) He’s only won one race, and that was back in February, but this kid’s got guts. Two second-place performances in back-to-back Derbies may make him look good, but he’s got a lot of growing up to do if he’s going to win his second race here.
20. Watch Me Go (50-1) – Won the Tampa Bay Derby in a shocker. Watch him go to the back of the pack and never recover.
*My picks are Dialed In, Uncle Mo, and Midnight Interlude. If Mo doesn’t run, then substitute Archarcharch.
The 137th running of the Kentucky Derby will air live on NBC at 5pm ET. The undercard races will air live on HRTV, with Derby coverage on TVG airing all day (except the actual race).
Don’t forget that today, Friday, is the 137th running of the Kentucky Oaks, which will air live on Versus at 5:00-6:00pm ET.
For more information on where to watch Derby coverage, see this page.