Longtime friends of The Weekly Meat know to check back here before the first Saturday in May each year — regardless of how infrequently I might post otherwise. And regardless of my equine handicapping abilities, each year, one thing is for certain: All is right in the world for those brief two minutes when I have a drink in my hand, watching the race with my kids and friends.
That said, this year's race field is arguably the most exciting in ages, with a slew of horses that have run Beyer speed figures over (or at least near) 100. Looking, especially, at MATERIALITY, DORTMUND, AMERICAN PHAROAH, and UPSTART. Loads of talent in those four alone — and there are others worth watching as well: CARPE DIEM, TENCENDUR, BOLO, FIRING LINE, FROSTED, and maybe even INTERNATIONAL STAR.
I'd happily throw out the other half of the field, and let these ten run. But the fact remains that with a 20-horse field, the Derby is not just a horse race, but a rodeo as well — in which crazy things can and do happen, and the cream does not always rise to the top.
So where does this all leave us?
Well, it's damn tough to bet on a short-money favorite, but it'll also be damn tough to beat trainer Bob Baffert this year — who is saddling the two most talented horses, in DORTMUND and AMERICAN PHAROAH. Both have pretty much led wire-to-wire in their combined 11 wins, though, and it's doubtful either might have a chance to do the same in such a crowded and talented field. Still, if they're not in your top five — as they are in mine — you're just being contrary.
Undefeated in six races, with three Beyers over a hundred. Any arguments against this horse — who has the better post position (8, as opposed to 18) than his stable-mate just feels like nitpicking. This is a fantastic horse.
Has won his last five starts, with four Beyers over a hundred, and has been working out like an absolute monster. Unless he's been over-trained (doubtful), he is highly tweaked and ready to rip up the track.
He has yo-yo'd back and forth a bit in his past several races, but has genuine speed, doesn't seem to mind crowds, and is always in the money. Those three things together put him in the mix for me.
If — and in this field, it's a big if — he can avoid an avalanche of traffic and get a clean trip from the number 2 post, this horse has the ability to indeed seize the day, save ground, and chew up some front-runners in the last half mile.
20-1 are the longest odds I'd take this year. But if that's attractive, this might just be your horse. His training runs are nothing to write home about, but he's won his last three races, with increasing Beyers each time, and has closing speed. If he has a clean trip, and the front-runners beat each other up, this nag could steal the race.
So which of these athletes is going to get after it, reap some luck, and stretch to the wire first? Hell if I know. If I'm putting down hard-earned money, I'll do it on UPSTART and INTERNATIONAL STAR. But I won't necessarily be pulling for them. Because neither is going to win the Triple Crown. But either DORTMUND or AMERICAN PHAROAH could, and so they're the one's I'll watch. And root for.
Pick your favorite name, silks, or throw a dart at the Racing Form. Because I can tell you this: This year's race — as well as the Preakness (in two weeks) and the Belmont (in five) — will be well worth your time.
Post time, this Saturday on NBC, is ~6:20 ED. And remember to make your simple syrup early enough to chill it before mixing those Mint Juleps!