April 27, 2015

Derby Week 141 has arrived!

Happy Monday Derby fanatics -- are you all ready to Talk Derby to me?  I'm finally recovering from the grief of losing the incomparable Cigar last fall. Oaklawn Park was also a downer meet for our stable this winter, from all the bad weather and lost racing days to training setbacks and poor performances from our fillies. But hope springs eternal and with Derby 141 at hand, all things turn to the positives of perhaps the deepest crop of sophomore race horses we have seen in many years (ultimately only proven with time).

How about Zayat homebred American Pharoah making his Oaklawn competition look like miniature donkeys in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby?  Or that beast of a horse Dortmund kicking clear race after race at Santer Aniter (actually, Santa Anita) giving Baffert a two headed monster?  Speaking of kicking clear, Firing Line stormed home at Sunland Park by fourteen widening lengths after knocking heads with Dortmund previously. Carpe Diem only has a 2nd place blemish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on his record and has two stalk and pounce wins during his Derby prep season for Todd Pletcher. Frosted tries to become ubersire Tapit's first Derby winning offspring after annexing the Wood Memorial. Materiality (by Afleet Alex) is the fresh shooter of the bunch after out-dueling Upstart in Florida and finally, all International Star keeps doing in Louisiana is just win baby! Yes, we've got some heavyweights lining up to face the starter on Saturday that could even steal the show from the welterweight "Fight of the Century" between Mayweather and Pacquiao later that night.

One of the reasons I love thoroughbred racing is the history and tradition that it represents. There have been small tweaks to the eligibility requirements for Derby starters as of late (points instead of earnings), and I'm still struggling with "... presented by Yum! Brands" associated with the official sponsorship.  But they still load up to 20 horses with 126 pounds on their backs the first Saturday every May at approximately 5:30 CST to run 10 furlongs around the same track that Aristides trod back on May 17, 1875. Two thousand and fifteen represents the 25th anniversary of one of the most memorable Kentucky Derby days in my lifetime.

The human and emotional drama of the greatest two minutes in sports was on full display in 1990 when Unbridled's owner, 92 year young Frances Genter, received the race recap from trainer Carl Nafzger.  "We're taking the lead...He's gonna win... he's gonna win. He's a winner, he's a winner. There he goes, right there. We won it, we won it. He's a winner, Mrs. Genter. You won the Kentucky Derby! Oh, Mrs. Genter I love you!" What a special moment for the widow of the pop-up toaster founder who was known as an astute handicapper and breeder and had spent countless "leggo my eggo" dollars chasing her Derby dream.

The legend of Unbridled grew with time, as he went on to prove his $26 Derby payday was no fluke by winning that year's Breeders' Cup Classic and siring several branches of Kentucky Derby and triple crown race winners. Unbridled captured a cumulative breeding Triple Crown with Kentucky Derby winning son Grindstone in 1996, 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet and 2003 Derby runner-up and Belmont Stakes captor Empire Maker. Further, his sire line includes Classic winners Birdstone (Belmont), Mine That Bird (Derby), Summer Bird (Belmont) and near misses (Bodemeister, Pioneerof the Nile, Empire Maker). Surprisingly, no son of a Derby winner has claimed the roses since Grindstone in 1996. Unbridled is also the damsire of 2013 Derby winner Orb and 2011 Preakness winner "the big white face of" Shackleford, etching his bloodlines in triple crown lore.

Empire Maker is the grandsire to the buzz horse in this year's Derby edition, American Pharoah. After witnessing this epitome of a racehorse twice demolish his opponents at Oaklawn Park, I am anxious to see if Pharoah can even the score for his dad Pioneerof the Nile (Mine That Bird) and grandsire Empire Maker's (Funny Cide) Kentucky Derby defeats. As the saying goes, revenge is a dish that is best served cold.

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