Threat of storms adds to handicapping riddle
Thank the "Derby gods" and Mother Nature for making today's 136th Kentucky Derby, already a riddle, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
First, early favorite Eskendereya was withdrawn from the Grade 1, $2 million Run for the Roses with a leg injury. Then, by some weird twist of fate, the two top contenders in Eskendereya's absence — 3-1 favorite Lookin At Lucky and 5-1 second choice Sidney's Candy — drew post positions 1 and 20, respectively, regarded as the two worst.
Sandwiched between them are 18 longshots at 10-1 or higher on the morning line. In advance betting, Super Saver was the surprise 7-1 favorite. Lookin At Lucky was 9-1; Sidney's Candy's was 11-1.
The biggest fly in the ointment is the weather forecast that calls for heavy thunderstorms, so the field likely will parade to post over a soggy track when the band plays "My Old Kentucky Home." Given the heavy cloud cover and darkness descending at post time (6:28 p.m.), we could see the first Derby run under the lights, which Churchill installed this year to accommodate Friday night racing.
The National Weather Service expected showers and thunderstorms to develop late in the morning, with 1-to-2 inches of rain, followed by scattered showers, with possible winds of 15-20 miles per hour. But severe storms are not expected until after midnight.
If weather does turn nasty around post time, the Kentucky Racing Commission could delay the Derby, which would then be run under the lights Churchill installed this year.
In the event of lightning or a tornado warning, contingency plans are in place to move the crowd out of the infield.
Few Derby runners have much experience over wet tracks. None has ever had to negotiate the slop in a 20-horse field. It's hard to predict which horses will handle the Churchill mud, and even harder to figure out which ones will overcome the goo getting kicked in their face.
Here are three possible scenarios when they run for the roses:
Lookin At Lucky wins
Yesterday, trainer Bob Baffert still was moaning about drawing Post 1. Reminded that Ferdinand won from the rail in 1986, he said, "Nothing you say can make me feel better. That was (legendary trainer and jockey) Charlie Whittingham and Bill Shoemaker. This is Bob Baffert and Garrett Gomez."
But Baffert also noted that his 2009 2-year-old champion "didn't miss a beat" leading up to the Derby.
His winning trip might look like this: In the crucial run past the stands for the first time, Lookin At Lucky settles in behind a speed duel as Conveyance, Line of David, Sidney's Candy and maybe one or two others knock heads on the front end.
After saving ground around the clubhouse turn, Gomez eases him off the rail, so he doesn't get trapped in traffic like he did in his last two starts. As the speed fades, Lookin At Lucky strikes the lead turning for home, then holds off the closers down the stretch.
Sidney's Candy wins
The keys for Sidney's Candy — who's coming off gate-to-wire wins in the San Vicente, San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby over the synthetic Pro-Ride track — are No. 1, taking to a dirt surface for the first time; and No. 2, working out a dream trip like Big Brown, who two years ago became the first Derby winner to break from post 20 since 1929.
In the Derby, Big Brown settled in off the pace, didn't get caught wide on the first turn, and took command when ready. If jockey Joe Talamo can get Sidney's Candy to relax off a hot pace, they can get first jump on the closers, and the "Candy Man" showed in the Santa Anita Derby he can finish strong.
A long shot wins
If Lookin At Lucky has another rough trip, and if Sidney's Candy gets burned in a speed duel, then it's anyone's race.
If a long shot wins, he likely is to come from off the pace. The stalkers — those who figure to be in the second or third tier — include Noble's Promise, Super Saver, American Lion, Paddy O'Prado, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine and Jackson Bend. If the pace is hot enough, a stretch-runner, like 50-1 Mine That Bird last year in the slop, could mow them all down late. Ice Box, Stately Victor, Dean's Kitten, the filly Devil May Care, Awesome Act and Dublin are the candidates.