May 12th 2017
After the dust has settled on the 143rd Kentucky Derby (or should it be after the dirt has dried?), there is plenty to discuss and look forward to in the sport of horse racing. I purposely waited to publish this blog to soak everything in and analyze what was another great Run for the Roses.
First, this year’s Kentucky Derby posted the best overnight television ratings since 1992. The viewership of this year’s Kentucky Derby is roughly what the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 get combined. I felt the sport of thoroughbred horse racing was making a comeback in popularity prior to the Derby. So this information only confirms my belief.
Secondly, this year’s Derby had three awesome performances but unfortunately, history will only remember Always Dreaming’s performance.
Derby Day’s Three Star Performers
I felt that the Kentucky Derby’s three star performers were Always Dreaming, Lookin At Lee and Classic Empire.
Always Dreaming took the lead at the 3/4th mile mark and held on to the finish. You have to have a lot of horse to be able to do that over the final 4 furlongs of a 10 furlong race. He received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for this performance. He is a popular horse too. The Derby profile I wrote on Always Dreaming for US Racing was the 2nd most viewed article on the site from April 1st to Derby Day. Always Dreaming is the real deal and will deservingly be the Preakness Stakes favorite.
I had previously thought that there was no way that we would have a Triple Crown contender this year entering the Belmont Stakes because this class was deep in talent but inconsistent. But after Always Dreaming’s performance in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby on a muddy track, I have changed my mind.
Looking At Lee
I liked Lookin At Lee as a longshot and wrote about it for US Racing “Is there a Mine That Bird in the 2017 Kentucky Derby field?”
With 20-1 morning line odds, I knew with him drawing the rail (#1 post) that this would scare off bettors and his live odds would lengthen. But I liked his chances in a 10 furlong race with Corey Lanerie on board. Lookin At Lee displayed great late speed and a fighting spirit in the Arkansas Derby. He didn’t get the best trip in that race. But he ran a great race in the Kentucky Derby and Corey Lanerie did an outstanding job as his jockey. He was going to pull off another Calvin Borel Rail-Run and he was probably about length behind Always Dreaming at one point entering the stretch. He was coming like a freight-train. But jockey John Velazquez moved Always Dreaming over to the rail which broke Lookin At Lee’s momentum and forced Corey Lanerie to move to the outside to have a shot at the win.
If you are Steve Asmussen, you’ve got to be grinning like a Cheshire Cat with 33-1 odds Lookin At Lee’s performance and the $400,000 that he picked up for 2nd place.
Although he finished what would appear to be a disappointing fourth in the Derby, he ran a great race. He got knocked around jockeying for position coming out of the gate. Then he suffered lacerations on his eye that resulted in the eye nearly swelling shut the next day. He is doing fine now and the eye is quickly improving. But just like the Holy Bull Stakes, I knew something was ailing him by his final fractions times. This was not the Classic Empire–the champion–that we know. He ran better in the slop at Churchill Downs in the very first start of his career as a 2-year-old. But despite all of this, he still managed to salvage fourth place. Classic Empire will strike back at some point this season.
Finally, Preakness Stakes Day is going to be a can’t miss event if you are within driving distance.
Preakness Stakes Weekend
The Preakness Stakes field is expected to include Always Dreaming, Lookin At Lee, Classic Empire, Gunnevera, Hence, the Illinois Derby winner Multiplier and the rested runner-up in the Arkansas Derby–Conquest Mo Money. A smaller field will eliminate the possibility of the bad trips that a few of the Derby horses had. So I am expecting that the Preakness Stakes will be a closer race than the Kentucky Derby.
But an equally great race will be the Pimlico Special Stakes that will be run at the same 9 1/2 furlong distance as the Preakness Stakes. Shaman Ghost is expected to be an entry and he is probably the 2nd or 3rd best horse in the Older Division behind Arrogate. But he will be facing a new hotshot contender in the Todd Pletcher-trained Send It In. The son of Big Brown posted a 119 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) in the 1 1/4th mile Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct on April 8th. This is tied for the best Beyer Speed Figure this year with Arrogate’s 119 BSF in the Pegasus World Cup.
It will be interesting to see how Send It In fares in the Pimlico Special as we could be looking at a major contender for Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall. And it will be interesting to compare the times of the Preakness Stakes winner vs the Pimlico Stakes winner.
And the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes is always a good race for 3-year-old Fillies. It is expected to include undefeated Jenda’s Agenda. I can’t wait!