JC / Railbird

It’s Derby Time

It's Derby time chalk drawing adorning Floyd's bar window

But first, a bit about the Oaks (“Just another pretty race“? I prefer not to think so). Post positions for the race, which grew to eight starters, were drawn this morning, with 3-5 morning line favorite Rachel Alexandra landing in stall six, just to the outside of likely second-favorite Justwhistledixie. The rest of field: Tweeter (1), Be Fair (2), Stone Legacy (3), Gabby’s Golden Gal (4), Nan (7), Flying Spur (8).

Rachel Alexandra worked a flying four furlongs in :46.40, the fastest of 26 works at the distance, then galloped out six furlongs in 1:10.60 at Churchill on Monday. “I thought she went too fast, but Calvin swears she does that every time,” said trainer Hal Wiggins, who’d been looking for something more like :48. On an earlier post, Bill, an equine exercise physiologist, remarked that he has a theory explaining the spectacular breeze — “She was properly warmed up for the first time in her life.” I am not an equine exercise physiologist, so really can’t comment, but it does seem plausible that the 30-minute walk she took before working — due, sadly, to a training delay caused by a catastrophic collision — may have had an effect.

Whatever the reason, the work had DRF’s Mike Welsch gushing:

Rachel Alexandra’s final Oaks prep was one of the most eye-catching Derby Week drills witnessed here in recent memory…. The move was reminiscent of, if not even better than, Street Sense’s final Derby prep, right down to the presence of Borel in the saddle…. Rachel Alexandra has been a joy to watch training here all week, and off this work would have been my pick had she taken on the boys in the Derby.

If only she had been nominated to the Triple Crown … instead, she should run away with the Oaks, a prospect that gives me less a case of “Oaks Blues” than “complacent chalk syndrome.” Rachel Alexandra is an exciting sophomore; she’s on the path to 3-year-old filly champion honors. Eventually this year, she’ll meet competition — such as Zenyatta, making her first start of the year on the Oaks undercard in the Lousiville Distaff — that gives her something to do other than cruise down the stretch. It just won’t be in the Oaks.

In Derby news: Two defections, one major, one minor, both sensible. Amid the Twitter discussion regarding trainer Jimmy Jerkens’ decision to pull likely favorite Quality Road from the trail after his second quarter crack trickled blood following a Sunday gallop (“It’s not terribly bad; it’s just not right,” said the disappointed conditioner) Nick Kling pointed me to a column he wrote last year about horses who either never ran again or never returned to their previous form after the Derby. Pulling together data on 78 starters over four years, Kling found a startling percentage essentially ruined by the experience:

A staggering total of 14 came out of the race either never racing again, or starting just a handful of times, unable to regain anything resembling decent form. That is 18 percent of ALL horses who started in the race.

Considering just the horses who had zero, one, or two starts after the Derby, the rate came down to 12.8% — still pretty shocking — strongly suggesting that a Derby start can have a negative effect on an unqualified, under-prepared, or delicate horse, as many observers believe. Not that that’s going to keep a few connections from entering their horses — who realistically have no shot — on Wednesday.

Square Eddie would have been among that group in my handicapping, but the colt developed heat in his previously injured left shin this morning and has been ruled out. “We are extremely disappointed but at the same time extremely grateful that he’s sound,” said trainer Doug O’Neill. It worried me, after reading about Square Eddie’s seemingly rushed convalescence and then the two-week Lexington turnaround, that he’d be pulled up during the race because of a problem. Consider me grateful that he won’t be starting on Saturday.

Odds and ends: So that you don’t miss any Derby coverage, Saratoga Spa has helpfully put together a TV guide for the week. And pay attention to the weather: Rains and thunderstorms are possible through the weekend in the Louisville area. (By the way, did you know that Derby winners on an off track historically pay an average shorter price than those on fast?) New Churchill Downs track announcer Mark Johnson calls Pioneerof the Nile ugly:

I may get told off for this, because I’ve had one or two discussions with people who totally disagree with me, but I think that Pioneerof the Nile has got to be the ugliest horse in the field. It looks like a gawky teenager. It’s got a really thin tail, it looks as though it’s only got half the hair in the tail that it should. It’s got a really long neck and a really small head, and it looks like if it were a human being, it would be a really spotty teenager.

I didn’t notice, watching his Monday work — all I saw was an easy stride and peak form. I did catch, though, General Quarters’ odd gait — his right foreleg appears to have an eggbeater action, which Kerry of Thoroughbred Brief suggested could be because he “looks base narrow and/or toed in.” If ‘Quarters does win the Derby, as Billy Reed says he needs to, that would be another quality he shares with Seabiscuit. Finally, if you’re a New Yorker subscriber, or near a newsstand, check out the profile of trainer Larry Jones in this week’s issue. Also, the notice for a Brooklyn Derby party.

1 Comment

I watched the 2006 Derby at Floyd, which bills itself as a Kentucky bar (on Atlantic Avenue?). Bloody madhouse, it was…though the bourbon was flowing and the pools were full…

Posted by Teresa on April 28, 2009 @ 7:42 pm