Watching the Kentucky Derby (G1) on a continuous loop for a couple hours since it was run live, the biggest takeaway for me was how important it was to be in the inner three lanes.
Always Dreaming got to the rail early passing the stands, shifted out to the two path after letting State of Honor take the lead early in the backstretch, and went back inside once he retook the lead. Runner-up Lookin at Lee enjoyed a ground saving journey the whole way as virtually the only one from the back that made an effective move. Battle of Midway stayed in the three path much of the way, appeared to be coming under pressure from Irish War Cry to his outside approaching the final turn, but easily turned that foe away in upper stretch and kept plugging to hold third.
This is not to say we can chalk these performances completely up to a perceived track bias. The victory by Always Dreaming was obviously logical. After all, he’s the fifth consecutive favorite to win the Run for the Roses. On the other hand, the popularity he received throughout the betting period on Friday and Saturday was surely, in part, a reaction to the way the track often played on both days under the sloppy conditions. The cleanest horses at the finish, including Always Dreaming, won quite a few races this weekend.
The question handicappers will have to ask themselves going forward is whether, under the conditions present, was this Derby a truly run race? Would this result have been just as likely on a fast track? The trips of the top three were as ideal as could be hoped. I don’t think the same can be said of some of the other perceived major contenders.
Classic Empire ran a very good race. Knocked about by horses to his outside not too far after leaving the gate and shuffled back farther than his connections would have liked, he nonetheless made a solid outside rally on the far turn and bravely rallied for fourth. Irish War Cry was in prime position throughout, and jockey Rajiv Maragh looked back several times on the turn as if he had a lot of horse underneath, but he sputtered in the stretch. McCraken made a good move on the turn also, but was left wanting while obviously tired from a relatively wide journey.
Always Dreaming sits atop the three-year-old standings with this win, but given the circumstances of his success on Saturday, I’m sure to be taking a suspect view of his chances at repeating in the Preakness (G1) in two weeks, especially if fast and dryer conditions prevail. If he also moves on to Baltimore, I think Classic Empire will be a serious horse to watch under potentially more ideal conditions.
I’m sure to have more thoughts in the days ahead. For now, good night from Louisville.
Kentucky Derby 143 field photo courtesy of Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos