It’s now becoming the norm, rather than the exception, when 20 horses crowd into the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday each May.
Is the best horse winning the Derby each year, or is it now a case of the luckiest 3-year-old winning America’s most famous horse race?
Go back and examine the past four Triple Crown winners and see how many horses they had to beat in the Derby:
1978, Affirmed — 10
1977, Seattle Slew — 14
1973, Secretariat — 12
1948, Citation — 5
Two of the best 3-year-olds of the past 25 years who didn’t win Triple Crowns, Point Given in 2001 and Risen Star in 1988, both had to square off against 16 challengers in their Derbies. Of course, Point Given’s main obstacle might have had to do with how he handled the track that day and not the fact he was bumped right out of the gate.
I agree with European-based trainer Jeremy Noseda that the best horse doesn’t always win the Kentucky Derby, but is that a bad thing? I’m not saying Super Saver is not the best 3-year-old this year. He may very well go on to win the Triple Crown and prove his greatness, but there’s also no doubt that he got one of the smoothest, trouble-free Derby trips on Saturday thanks to Calvin Borel.
While we’re on the subject, has there ever been a jockey who rode a race track like Borel navigates the oval at Churchill? I mean, it’s amazing. You go back and look at his ride aboard Mine That Bird in 2009 and this year with Super Saver and they are almost identical.
You’d think someone would try to take the rail away from him in a race that is as America as baseball and apple pie, but I haven’t seen it yet. He breaks, heads straight to that rail and saves as much ground as he can before unleashing his winning kick.
Of course, it helps that he’s had live horses three of the past four years, but still, you have to hand it to the man they call Calvin “Bo-rail.” He’s gone in with a game plan and executed it to perfection.
I’m of the opinion we should keep the Derby as it is, though I also believe the graded earnings that are used to determine the starters if there are more than 20 horses needs to be tweaked. Perhaps more emphasis should be given to Grade 1 earnings.
Tell us what you think: