The best 3-year-old, Eskendereya, got hurt. The two behind him, Lookin At Lucky and Sidney's Candy, have bad post positions - 1 and 20, respectively. Heavy rain, 1 1/2 inches or more, is forecast for tonight into Saturday morning, and 11 horses in the field never have raced on an off track. If you like uncertainty mixed with chaos, welcome to the 136th Kentucky Derby.
Even for a Derby, it's a bizarre mix, overflowing with need-to-lead types, turf horses and synthetic specialists. On paper, many have no chance. The only winner around two turns on a wet track is 50-1 shot Backtalk, and he gets an asterisk because it was at Delta Downs, a 6-furlong bull ring in the Louisiana boondocks.
But if you're walking around here wearing a media credential, you're supposed to know something. So, Mr. Alleged Expert, analyze this. I'll try.
First, don't forget that the Derby is pathologically discussed and dissected. Derby Fever makes people get excited about long shots they wouldn't touch except on the first Saturday in May. Mine That Bird's bizarre score at 50-1 last year will inspire many wagers on no-hopers. Handicappers will invent reasons to dismiss leading contenders and plunge on 35-1 shots. It happens every spring.
The draw always gets undue attention, but where you start doesn't determine where you finish. The trip, not the post, is the key, and no one knows what will happen when the gates open. Who will stumble, get bumped or be five-wide into the crucial first turn? Who will get the dream run, with holes opening on cue? Who will be full of run but be blocked and stopped cold?
Tom Amoss, Backtalk's trainer, was asked how post 18 might affect him. "I'd like to answer that after they've gone a quarter-mile,'' he said. "You don't know. Any post can be trouble in a 20-horse field.''
Including the dreaded rail, which has not produced a Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986. That's where 3-1 favorite Lookin At Lucky will start, and expect post 1 to inflate his odds to 4-1 or 9-2. People will say, "He can't win from there,'' and that's fine with me.
I've liked last year's 2-year-old champion since March, although I got rail fear for a few hours Wednesday. With Eskendereya out, Lookin At Lucky is the most talented 3-year-old, with his only two losses in eight starts attributable to bad trips. He's trained brilliantly at Churchill, including once in slop. I went over the past performance charts for hours, looking for someone to beat him. I tried hard, but I just couldn't make a strong case for anybody else.
Trainer Bob Baffert ripped jockey Garrett Gomez for letting Lookin At Lucky be trapped and impeded on the rail in the Santa Anita Derby. He even threatened to take the mount away. That was a rare boggle by one of the country's best money riders, and I don't expect a rerun. Neither does Lookin At Lucky's co-owner Mike Pegram, whose Real Quiet won the 1998 Derby for Baffert.
"Real Quiet [post 3] was buried down on the rail and he came through,'' Pegram said. "It's all about position and I've got the best jockey. I feel very comfortable with Garrett. He's been around and knows how to do it, and we'll get there.''
Mike, I'm betting that you're right.