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LOUISVILLE — It’s Kentucky Derby week. Time to resume the hunt for the next Secretariat — or the next Mine That Bird. Time to impress your friends with your considerable Derby knowledge.
Time for me to help. Let’s get to the starting gate ahead of the crowd.
1. Remember this name: California Chrome.
He’ll be the favorite Saturday even if he draws post position 71 and starts from Charlie Strong’s old parking spot at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
This colt is not UConn, getting hot at the right time. California Chrome is unbeaten in his last four races with an average winning margin of more than six lengths.
None of the other top Derby contenders has currently won more than one in a row.
2. Remember this name: Art Sherman.
He trains California Chrome. He’s 77, a race-track lifer who has never trained a Kentucky Derby horse.
But in 1955 he rode in the same boxcar with Swaps from California to Kentucky. He was the exercise rider for the colt that Bill Shoemaker rode to his first Derby victory. With a memory like that, no wonder Sherman spits at the thought of retiring.
This trainer and horse are not a story. They’re a movie – if California Chrome and Derby mojo cooperates.
3. News Keeneland wants to bury: The stud fee to breed to Lucky Pulpit, the colt who sired California Chrome.
Parking lot attendants make more in tip money during the Keeneland September yearling sales.
4. Take a stand — on the new Churchill Downs video board.
That’s the first new thing you’ll notice at the track. It cost $12 million. It measures 171 feet by 90 feet. Unfortunately, they don’t have plans to show NBA playoff games between races. So sad.
If you like it, you can argue that it’s merely a sign of the times, something you’ll find at every sports venue these days.
If you don’t like it, just roll your eyes and call it clutter, the surest sign that old-fashioned, less-is-more Derby décor ain’t walkin’ through that door.
5. Where’s Calvin?
Calvin Borel’s mount is Ride On Curlin. That’s all many of you need to know. In the last seven Derbies, Borel has three wins, two seconds, a 10th and a 19th.
There are worse ways to pick a Derby winner than simply putting $10 across the board on Calvin.
6. Anniversaries to remember.
10 Years — Smarty Jones, who stands for a $7,500 stud fee in Pennsylvania, according to the Blood-Horse Stallion Register. He winters in Uruguay. Such a life.
20 Years — Go For Gin. You can visit him at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he retired after a modest career at stud.
25 Years — Sunday Silence. Euthanized in 2002 after a long stallion career in Japan, the colt was named the 31st best horse of the 20th Century by the Blood-Horse.
7. They don’t make ’em like this any more.
This is also the 50th anniversary for Determine. I gave the colt his own item. He earned it
Not only was Determine the first gray horse to win the Derby, he also won the race four days after losing the Derby Trial to Hasty Road.
8. Don’t worry about a Triple Crown winner — until at least Sunday morning.
We’ve been waiting more than 35 years since Affirmed delivered in 1978. After burning so much adrenaline following Sunday Silence, Real Quiet, Smarty Jones, I’ll Have Another, and other near misses, I’ve convinced myself not to worry about ever seeing another Triple Crown winner.
Until at least Sunday morning.
9. Who’s missing?
Two of the most notable trainers in Derby history — D. Wayne Lukas (47 starters, four winners) and Nick Zito (25 starts, two winners).
Hurry back, guys. We miss you.
10. Who’s my pick?
Sorry. Come back Friday. I’ll have it then.
I had Orb last year. And Street Sense in 2007. Sunday Silence in 1989. Please don’t ask to see the rest of my Derby record. Please.