Remember Kentucky Derby winners Mine That Bird, Giacomo or even War Emblem? No?
Well, be prepared to forget the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby by this time next year.
Those horses were all recent long-shot winners, and they are remembered not for their talent but for defying the odds. Some horseplayers say after a race that they couldn’t even bet these types of horses with counterfeit money. Those long shots were improbable and indecipherable to most horseplayers — including this one.
Sports fans and racing fans have been spoiled the past few years at the Kentucky Derby. Brilliant horses like California Chrome and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah raised our expectations at the Run for the Roses.
Truth be told, great champions show up far less frequently than the long shots. And unless I’m as wrong I’ve ever been in predicting the Derby, fans won't see a horse of comparable talent and brilliance to Pharoah or Chrome this year.
But, hey, it’s still the doggone Kentucky Derby. Fans will still sing "My Old Kentucky Home" and consume thousands of mint juleps. One owner will be overjoyed, and a jubilant jockey and horse will wear a garland of roses late Saturday afternoon. So let’s get to the handicapping, shall we?
The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby feels like a puzzle that can't be finished. Some of the pieces normally in a Derby winner’s box are missing.
Louisiana Derby hero Girvin swept to victory in two races at the Fair Grounds this year, but he’s had a foot problem the past few weeks. Instead of a training regimen of running on dirt, Girvin has been "swimming" in a pool to train for the Derby — not the best way to get fit for a 1¼-mile distance. To me, he’s not a contender.
This year’s collection of 3-year-old horses is not high as the group that has a lot of big buts.
Horses like the favorite, Classic Empire, won the Eclipse award last year as best 2-year-old, but he had a bad back and missed a key prep race.
Another favorite on the morning line, Always Dreaming, won the Florida Derby, but he had to be fitted with new reins and a new exercise rider this week because he couldn’t be controlled on track.
McCraken has won three races at Churchill Downs, but he missed a critical prep race and ran third in his final prep losing to a horse that had never won a race.
Irish War Cry looked like the now horse winning the Holy Bull, but he flopped in his next race, losing by nearly 20 lengths before winning the Wood Memorial.
And those are the four favorites in Saturday's race.
My early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby isn’t even in the field, but the horse that beat him will be in the gate. His name is Thunder Snow, and he is from Dubai. Yes, Dubai. He is owned by one of the most successful stables in the world, Godolphin, and this is a race they have been trying to win for over two decades. Thunder Snow fits with this group well.
Some will think this is a Practical Joke, but that is my second choice, and he, too, will be a long shot.
Let’s be clear here: I don't think you should the house (or the doghouse) on a horse from a foreign land. But (there is that word again), in a year with no clear-cut dominant horse, I’m willing to take a long shot — or two long shots — and try to shock the world in the 143rd Kentucky Derby.
Michael Beychok won the 2012 National Handicapping Championship and 2012 Eclipse Award winner for best handicapper. Beychok is a partner in ttegames.net, an online horse racing contest site. Follow him on Twitter: @BeychokRacing.
1. Thunder Snow
2. Practical Joke
3. Irish War Cry
5. Classic Empire