JC / Railbird

Kentucky Derby

2016 Kentucky Derby

Prep schedule: Includes leaderboard, charts, replays, speed figures
Reference: 2016 prep and historical criteria spreadsheet
Churchill: Official Kentucky Derby website

Derby ’18 Links

It’s that time of the year again — it’s Kentucky Derby! Hello Race Fans is out with its cheat sheet for the 2018 field, and J.J. Hysell’s capsule ‘capping of each contender will get even the most casual Derby fan up to speed on this Saturday’s starters. (The cheat sheet’s perfect for Derby parties.)

For handicapping:

The historical criteria spreadsheet is back and updated with the 2018 draw.

Don’t forget the Derby prep results spreadsheet: Get the charts and watch the replays for each of this spring’s Derby points races. Beyer and TimeformUS sped figures are also included.

Need historical Derby charts? Download the 1991-2017 charts here (ZIP).

Get free Derby past performances from Brisnet (PDF).

2018 Derby Points Schedule

Last Saturday’s Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, won by McKinzie, was the first Kentucky Derby points race of 2018, and that means the big Derby prep schedule and results spreadsheet is back for another season.

More Thunder Snow

Or, as I like to call him now, Thunder Bronco.

Jon White really regrets picking him to win the Kentucky Derby:

I am very glad that Thunder Snow was found to have no injuries. However, considering he was reported to be okay physically after a vet examined him, I can’t help thinking that perhaps what he also needs is to be examined by a psychiatrist. I’m even willing to join him on an adjoining coach. Because I certainly feel like I was out of my mind for betting some of my hard-earned money on a colt at odds of 16-1 who acted like a complete goofball on the sport’s biggest stage.

I understand the feeling, although I’m more chagrined that I put down a little flyer on J Boys Echo a couple of minutes before the race, swayed by his post parade appearance, 46-1 odds, and trainer Dale Romans’ pocket square. (Romans was dressed to win, but sartorial optimism is not a solid indicator …)

Tom Durkin had a run-in with the rambunctious Snow in the tunnel:

“The race starts and I’m watching it on TV,” Durkin said. “The horses kind of thunder past and I can’t really see anything. Then there’s this great commotion and people are yelling, ‘Get out of the way. Get out of the way.’ They open up the pole on the gap that leads into the tunnel and in comes Thunder Snow with the outrider. He’s crazed, and he basically pinned me up against wall of the tunnel. I am afraid of horses. I make no bones about that. He’s wheeling his ass end around and then I had to push him out of the way so he doesn’t kick me in the head. It was scary.”

According to the Churchill Down notes from earlier this week, Thunder Snow slunk out of Louisville on Tuesday afternoon, “[headed] for Huntsville, Alabama, where he would catch a flight to England.”

Empire Maker, Bodemeister, and Always Dreaming

Bodemeister before the 2012 Kentucky Derby
Bodemeister awaiting the walkover for the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

Always Dreaming is now at Pimlico and trainer Todd Pletcher has sketched out a light training regimen for the Kentucky Derby winner, reports David Grening:

Pletcher said Always Dreaming would simply jog Wednesday morning at Pimlico before beginning to gallop on Thursday. He reiterated Tuesday what he said Sunday morning — that the horse would not have a workout before the Preakness.

“I’m not going to breeze him no matter what,” Pletcher said. “He’s fit, that’s not an issue. Two mile-and-an-eighth races and the Derby and now back in 14 days, I don’t see any reason to do anything.”

His win last Saturday sent me searching for things to read about both his sire, Bodemeister, and grandsire, Empire Maker, a son of Unbridled. Bodemeister finished second as the post-time favorite in the 2012 Kentucky Derby to I’ll Have Another after flying through the first six furlongs in 1:09.80, pressed by Trinniberg. Pat Forde recounts how he finished the race:

Yet instead of hitting the cardiovascular wall, Bodemeister actually opened up the lead in the stretch, threatening to shatter the barriers of equine endurance and defy more than a century of established Derby precedent.

“What kind of horse is this?” wondered Churchill Downs executive and resident Derby authority John Asher.

“The term that came to my mind was ‘Freak,’” said former trainer Elliott Walden, now president and CEO of WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky. “To run those fractions and then open up at the top of the lane, it was just incredible.”

(Bodemeister stands at WinStar.)

It was the way Bodemeister re-broke that flashed into my mind when Always Dreaming crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Lookin at Lee after chasing State of Honor through a swift first four furlongs in :46.53. It wasn’t that his final fraction was impressive (not at :26.32), but rather the stamina on display — it reminded me of American Pharoah, who’s by Pioneerof the Nile, another son of Empire Maker, and it was no surprise that in my searching, a relevant, prescient post by Sid Fernando popped up. Writing about owner Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert, and the Unbridled line, Fernando observed:

Perhaps all of this will coalesce in a Derby victory for the owner, trainer, and sire line.

Spoiler! It did — American Pharoah was just two months old and three years away from winning the Triple Crown when Fernando wrote this piece in 2012.

It was via Fernando that I read this 2008 Jack Werk column about Pioneerof the Nile that included this detail about the 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up:

“I’m really high on this colt,” he said. “The big thing with this colt is his tremendous lung capacity, and that’s really important for the Derby. In fact, I’m so high on the sire that we’re sending Indian Blessing and some other top mares to Empire Maker.”

Empire Maker is now the 15th stallion to sire two or more sons who would produce Kentucky Derby winners, according to Blacktype Pedigree. “I think we can now officially refer to Empire Maker/Unbridled (also sire of Unbridled’s Song)/Fappiano as a hot two-turn Classic dirt sire line,” writes Bill Oppenheim.

It’s all an interesting fulfillment of the promise that Lauren Stich saw in Empire Maker back in 2007, at the beginning of his stud career:

Like A.P. Indy, Empire Maker not only has an impeccable pedigree, he also should be an important source of stamina in this country, a rare commodity in this era. While runners by Empire Maker should only improve with age and distance, some will certainly have tactical speed. Unbridled may be revered as a strong source of stamina, but he did thrash champion Housebuster going seven furlongs in the Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream Park. And, thus far, the brilliant Unbridled’s Song has been Unbridled’s best son at stud, and is more of a speed than stamina influence.

Empire Maker’s offspring should not be as precocious as those of Unbridled’s Song, but they will be more effective at distances longer than one mile. Empire Maker’s runners should relish 1 1/4 miles and beyond, and I expect we will eventually see many of his 3-year-olds succeed in all of the Triple Crown races, possibly even in 2008, and every year thereafter.

It also seems like a good reason to trust Always Dreaming’s fitness for May 20, and that the qualities Kerry Thomas and Pete Denk discerned in the colt in their Brisnet Kentucky Derby analysis will likely hold up for the Preakness:

When rider John Velazquez let him go turning for home, Always Dreaming poured every ounce of emotional energy into his forward drive. He lengthened his stride and pulled away from the field to win by five lengths. This was a more determined, stronger version of Always Dreaming. This is a colt on a serious growth pattern.

His internal fractions of :47.34, :23.59, 24.02, :12.53 show an excellent mix of speed and stamina. His sensory system was still way out in front of his body at the wire (as a horse tires physically, that emotional extension shrinks). We think Always Dreaming is well equipped to get 10 furlongs.

Always Dreaming is a talented horse just coming into his own, getting stronger every race.

Related: Empire Maker’s profile on American Classic Pedigrees. See also, this story about Empire Maker returning to the US in 2015 after standing in Japan.

(Thanks to @superterrific and @jenmontfort for inspiring this post.)

A Jock’s World

Really nice photo essay by Bill Frakes on ESPN about Brian Hernandez, Jr., who rode McCraken to eighth in the Kentucky Derby.

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