By Gene Kershner
We're eight days from the Run for the Roses and it's time for the annual Degrees of Separation post where we separate the contenders from the pretenders some fun divisions. I've been putting this list together for the past five years and gave a preview last week during a telephone interview on a "Racing Across America" telecast on Capitol-OTB in Albany with Equidaily's Seth Merrow before today's full unveiling.
It's a light look at the current qualifiers based on the current leaderboard, a week out and before the post position draw to help segregate the horses I'm high on versus the throw-outs come Derby day. Before we jump into Derby 139, let's take a moment to review some of my better (and really bad) quotes from past Degrees of Separation posts.
Mine That Bird: "Slowest of the slow" (Not my best work)
Super Saver: "Really warming up to this one. Pletcher's best chance to wear the roses. Sports Monarchos' sire, his dam sire is A.P. Indy, so he has the pedigree AND the King of Churchill in the irons. Dangerous." (Don't say so myself)
Ice Box: "If there's a pace meltdown, he will be around to claim a prize." (Make that an ice cold exacta, baby)
Animal Kingdom: "Really loved his move in the Vinery Spiral Stakes, but he looks more like a dynamite turf horse than a Derby champ." (Oops)
Shackleford: "Really would have loved to see him in the Preakness versus the Derby, hope the race doesn't wreck him, looks like a monster." (Bingo)
I'll Have Another: "I dig this horse. His daddy, Flower Alley, had a troubled trip in the 2005 Derby and is a Travers winner and BC Classic runner-up. Could be my top pick - we'll see how he draws on Wednesday." (Drew 19, dropped him into second tier…ugh)
Bodemeister: "With Baffert, Big Beyers and a Bodacious pedigree, how can you keep him off your tickets. My only worry is he gave his best effort one race too soon. He could be the most dangerous Triple Crown threat of the group." (Close on this one)
So let's get down to business and reveal our 2013 Degrees of Separation for Kentucky Derby 139:
The AMC Gremlin Division: My father bought my mother an American Motors Corporation (AMC) Gremlin back in the 70s and it was a thing of beauty. Bright red, sleek gold stripes, the works. Problem was...it just wasn't fast. These are the horses that represent this division, and qualify as my throw-outs:
Frac Daddy: Slow speed figures won't get it done in Louisville. Plus can you really see the name Frac Daddy as a regal Derby champ?
Falling Sky: Don't mind me, just happy to be here.
Vyjack: Nice horse at 8 1/2-furlongs, hope the race doesn't wreck him.
Winning Cause: If he wins, it'll be a losing cause on my end.
The Pamela Anderson Divison: This is the spot where horses have made it to the Derby starting gate by winning on the faux dirt and will most likely not make due on the real stuff under the Twin Spires.
Java's War: Winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (polytrack) with a last to first effort. While I respect him, and will have him underneath (a la Paddy O'Prado and Dullahan) he's not going to win the Derby.
Black Onyx: If he wins, it will be Black Saturday for my wallet. The Spiral Stakes winner is facing a much tougher group on the First Saturday in May then he did at Turfway.
Charming Kitten: Turf horses love the poly at Keeneland and he qualified via a third place finish in the Blue Grass. (See TwinSpired and Derby Kitten for reference).
The George Costanza Human Fund Division: These are the horses that will be taking in a lot of money and have a little (or a lot of) hype, but will be unmasked in the Derby and I don't see them being a factor.
Mylute: Just like Pants on Fire two years ago, with Rosie in the irons, this horse will garner some action at the windows from the female set. She'll get more prime time than Mel Kiper during draft week as she tries again to become the first female jockey to win the Derby.
Overanalyze: Can you tell I'm not sold on the Arkansas Derby? Using as a negative key race, if there's such a thing.
Govenor Charlie: As potentially the lone Baffert horse in the field, he could seriously take some cash at the windows. What about Bob?
Normandy Invasion: I don't get what everyone loves about this one? He'll be the wise-guy horse who takes a lot of money at the windows and ends up being a huge underlay. I'm not getting sucked in this year.
The Afleet Alex Divison: Horses that won't win the Derby, but will have to be respected and could hit the board. Those qualifying here have the potential to become a Classic winner down the road in either the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes.
Palace Malice: Late charger who seems to be a Belmont horse to me. I like him very much, and will keep an eye on his draw, his daddy Curlin won the Preakness and was nosed out of the Belmont.
Oxbow: Still waiting for this one to show up. Thinking it may be in the Belmont where he may savor the Test of a Champion.
The Brett Favre Division: The horses that are bound for this division are those I just can't make up my mind on as we sit one week out from the Run for the Roses. Include them, exclude them, indecision has set in.
Goldencents: Like Creative Cause last year: I'm in. I'm out. I'm in. I'm out. Solid pedigree, strong west coast horses this year have me leaning towards including with my top horses. Derby rookie jockey Krigger makes me nervous.
Itsmyluckyday: Could be the fastest of the lot, and sat atop my Derby list for most of the winter. Good chance he ends up on top of my tickets, waiting to see what he looks like on the track next week.
Will Take Charge: There are lots of questions looming that include a long layoff from the Rebel, distance challenges, ran his top during the last race. I think I just talked myself off of him.
Lines of Battle: Qualified in Dubai on the Tapeta and has the best distance Tomlinson in the gate. He has pedigree on his side, just not sure how he'll handle the dirt for the first time. I will most likely hedge by playing underneath in the exotics.
The Charlie Sheen Division: The horses I think have the best chance at...wait for it...winning!
Orb: Likely favorite after his two big wins at Gulfstream with matching Beyer Speed Figures. He'll be on top of my tickets.
Revolutionary: One of the two Pletcher horses that have made the Sheen for me. Departing flattered him via his impressive win at Hawthorne last weekend, and he picks up the king of Churchill in Calvin Borel in the irons. What's not to like?
Verrazano: He's either a potential superstar or he's going to finish last and flop badly. I don't think we've seen his best yet and there is definitely another gear available. Best shot in the field for a Triple Crown.
That's a wrap on this year's degrees of separation. It always helps me to flesh out the field this way, as you can't bet 'em all, so this gives me a way to segregate the field prior to the big day.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.