The Derby is just five days away and HN has your official “cheat sheat” of who looks good, who looks slow and what kind of Derby hat goes best with your muddy boots from the barn. Part One looks at the Derby story lines to watch this week.
The “Hot Horse” — California Chrome
Each year, the Kentucky Derby inevitable features the “hot horse,” the one whose last performance has made them the one that everyone is watching and will be the favorite when they go in the gate. Usually, it is a Kentucky blueblood with million-dollar connections, but not this year.
This year’s likely Kentucky Derby winner is California Chrome, the product of a mare purchased for $8,000 and a stallion who stood for only $2,500, bred and owned by blue-collar folks on the ride of a lifetime. To make the story even better, he is trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman. California Chrome is the first horse Art has ever saddled in America’s most prestigious race although he has been to the Derby before… in 1955 at age 18, as the great Swaps’ exercise rider.
There is nothing not to like about California Chrome’s story — he has won all three of his starts in 2014 by an average of 5 lengths or more. He is drop-dead gorgeous and it is stories like his that make every backyard breeder’s hopes soar. And, most importantly, he appears to be the real deal… fast, with plenty of stamina and the kind of calm, trainable mind that makes handling 160,000 people and 20 other horses on Derby day much easier to deal with.
The “Dark Horse” — Dance With Fate
Each Derby also comes with its horse that is waiting in the wings to make a big splash on the national stage. This year, that horse may be Dance With Fate. A big, good-looking dark bay colt, he took an unconventional route to the Derby — running first in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, where he took 2nd, and then putting in a strong run Keeneland two weeks ago to win the Blue Grass Stakes in style:
He has the running style that suits the Derby and has been training well at Churchill Downs but is an unknown quantity on “real dirt.” Both his 2nd place at Golden Gate and first place finish at Keeneland were on “synthetic” surfaces, which tend to favor horses that prefer turf races rather than dirt races. But then again, everyone said a “turfy synthetic” horse like Animal Kingdom couldn’t win either… and he paid a nice $43.80 for everyone smart enough to ignore the naysayers and bet $2 on him.
The “Horse With Something to Prove” — Uncle Sigh
This poor horse can’t catch a break this year. After winning his maiden race last December by over 14 lengths and catching everyone’s attention in the process, he hooked up with a horse, Samraat, that soon proved to be his arch nemesis. Like Affirmed and Alydar, they battled it out head to head in both the Withers and Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, with Samraat getting there first by just enough each time. In their last outting, the Wood Memorial, Uncle Sigh started slow and got caught wide and couldn’t make it up, finishing 5th behind Samraat in 2nd (Wicked Strong finished first). He is a horse that has something to prove… maybe he can prove his point on racing’s biggest day.
The “Horse With the Funny Name”: Danza
Yes, he really is named after Tony Danza. His sire is “Street Boss”… so you get it, you know… “The Boss.” But he has a legit shot. He took the Arkansas Derby with ease and seems to be rounding into form at just the right time. And just think of all the horrible pun-laden headlines the media will come up with in the meantime….
We will back later this week with some more tips, tricks and ideas on how not to lose your shirt in this year’s Run for the Roses!