Remember those old TV sets that had the picture adjustment controls. If you did not like the view, the antenna was adjusted and a turning of the tint and contrast knobs made things more clear. That may be coming quickly when it comes to the Kentucky Derby 143 picture…or maybe not…
With the major prep races looming in the next couple of weeks, folks far and wide are looking for a desirable Derby horse to ride. The Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby will be run on April 1, the Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby are slated for April 8, the Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes will be April 15. Winning one of these is not an absolute must to fit into the blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May, but running well and remaining injury free is important.
Like four-time Derby winning trainer (1988, 1995, 1996, 1999) D. Wayne Lukas once told me, “they are called prep races son because they are meant to prepare your horse for the Kentucky Derby”. As a veteran of the game, of course Lukas is absolutely correct. The last time a Derby winner did not win his final prep however was 2010 when Super Saver finished second in the Arkansas Derby. Winning is always the goal, but moving in the right direction is always most important. Thus far, the Derby prep season has been about as clear as the picture on my grandma’s Zenith console TV.
In recent years, the Kentucky Derby has had a little more clarity by now. Of course you never know who is going to win ahead of time, however, Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome, and Orb were all cruising on the lead by this time. This year, upsets and injury has guys like me reaching for the adjustment controls. Mastery was looking like the one, then a foot fracture meant where’s the horizontal hold. El Areeb had a four-race win streak going into the Gotham until a hot pace saw him fade in the stretch and made me look at the vertical control. American Anthem was primed to provide Bob Baffert with his seventh Rebel Stakes win then a weak stretch run sent me reaching for the rabbit ears. Irish War Cry was unbeaten and primed for the big time but then he was silenced with a seventh place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and my Magnavox went snowy.
As we said before, the coming preps could give us a 4K high definition picture. McCraken is a fantastic looking colt that is unbeaten and Churchill Downs is his home track. A minor foot issue caused him to miss the Tampa Derby but according to trainer Ian Wilkes he is now healthy and ready for a big run in the Bluegrass Stakes. J Boys Echo was very strong in the stretch during his Gotham win and is also looking at the Bluegrass. Gormley was not at his best in the San Felipe but has worked well according to plan for the Santa Anita Derby. Gunnevera romped in the Fountain of Youth and wants to prove he is legit in the Florida Derby. Unbeaten and unraced as a two-year old, Malagacy wants to use the Arkansas Derby as a springboard to immortality.
The May 6 Kentucky Derby is getting ever closer and one of two things will take place. These final preps will make the Derby picture look Sony-like…then again, I made need to get the tubes replaced in the RCA.