LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Good afternoon from historic Churchill Downs and Happy Derby Day! Through the first five races the main track was listed as fast and the turf course firm, but the track superintendent downgraded the track to sloppy before the sixth race. The turf course is currently listed as good. It's been raining for a solid two hours and if it continues the Derby looks like it we're going to get muddy.
So it's time to bone up on your wet track handicapping. In addition, the inside of the track seems to be the place to be through the first five races and speed has been holding. The track was rolled last night and those who have gone to the front have had good fortune so far in the card.
We had a big upset in yesterday’s Kentucky Oaks, as Princess of Sylmar patiently stayed off the pace and closed strongly to win for trainer Todd Pletcher. There were over 113,800 patrons on hand on Friday to see jockey Mike Smith win his first Kentucky Oaks. The crowd was the second largest in Oaks history.
My top three picks in today's paper all have decent wet track form and I love that Revolutionary has an inside post. Most likely Oxbow will gun it early and that should open up a nice slot for Revolutionary to settle into along the rail.
There are some interesting factoids on the jockeys in the big race. The three jockeys with the most Derby mounts that have never won include Robby Albarado (12-0-0-2, Golden Soul), Garrett Gomez (9-0-1-0, Vyjack) and Rafael Bejarano (8-0-0-0, Overanalyze). Will one of them get the monkey off their back this afternoon?
The most successful jockeys in the race are Gary Stevens (18-3-2-1, Oxbow)and Calvin Borel (10-3-0-1, Revolutionary), the only two with more than one victory riding this afternoon. There are 14 jockeys in the race that never won the Derby and six (Saez, Lebron, Krigger, Trujillo, Moore and Espinoza) that are riding in their first Run for the Roses.
We'll carry you along the graded stakes races leading up to the Derby, so stick around, check back and I'll keep you updated on what's going on at Churchill Downs.
2:05 p.m.: Race 7 is the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, a 7-furlong sprint in the mud. I'm laying off this race and focusing on the late Pick-4 today, but that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion. 2-Rumor looked excellent in the post parade and would be my pick. Mike Smith is hot and he's won this race twice, albeit in 1994 and 1996. Let's try and key her in an exacta box with 1-Jamaican Smoke and 6-Aubby K.
2:20 p.m.: Aubby K ($9.20) was the right answer winning the Humana Distaff, 7-Burban took the photo over 1-Jamaican Smoke for place. Rumor was held back by Mike Smith and a late run could only muster fifth, approximately 2-1/2 lengths behind. On a good note, lunch was delicious. A nice carved roast turkey and a half chicken hit the spot and have us ready for the late Pick-4. I'd go outside to get a mint julep, but some poor planning left my nice black Woodbine windbreaker with a hood back in Buffalo.
Next up is the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile for fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up. 8-Marketing Mix has scratched out of the race and that leaves 5-Hungry Island the likely favorite. She's run very well on both good turf and yielding surfaces. I'll also include 10-Stopshoppingmaria, a Repole Stable horse I've followed since her 2-year-old season. She's a speedster and has a trainer who's had a hot hand so far this weekend, name is Pletcher or something like that.
2:28 p.m.: Update on track conditions, the Matt Winn Turf Course was just downgraded from good to yielding. Let's hope they can keep the remaining turf races (including the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic) on the weeds. One likely occurrence will be the scratch of Point of Entry. Trainer "Shug" McGaughey hinted earlier this week he might scratch under the current scenario.
2:35 p.m.: My colleague, Tim Wilkin, who covers horse racing at the Albany Times-Union just tweeted that we've had a quarter-inch of rain so far and more is expected up until 6 p.m. according to the National Weather Service. I should have brought a bigger boat (and that windbreaker). You can also follow me on Twitter (@EquiSpace) if you so choose.
2:50 p.m.: A longer priced horse you may want to consider as just tweeted by the excellent racing history writer Kevin Martin of the Colin's Ghost website, is 2-Channel Lady, whose sire English Channel was pretty successful on wet turf (17%).
3:20 p.m.: 6-Stephanie's Kitten ($9.80) who won the Edgewood last year on Oaks Day continues her Churchill love winning the Turf Mile by a neck over 5-Hungry Island. The late Pick-4 is underway and she's a decent price to start it off.
Here's a look at my work station at Churchill, where I also have the NBC app going on my iPad to watch the national telecast of the Derby (the Caps-Rangers game is scoreless after two by the way).
Next up at rainy Churchill Downs is the...wait for it....Grade 2 Churchill Downs. A little self promotion, don't you think? A 7-furlong sprint on the slop with 9 horses entered. Johnny V is aboard 2-Hierro for Pletcher and 5-Unbridled's Note fancy my top picks and I'll throw 4-Handsome Mike and 8-Trinniberg into a $0.50 Pick-3 play into the Derby.
3:25 p.m.: As I speculated earlier, Shug scratched 9-Point of Entry in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, opening up things for 8-Wise Dan.
3:35 p.m.: Hearing a lot of grumbling amongst horseplayers, that Shug waited until after the Pick-4 started. His backers will end up with the post time favorite, wonder who that will be? Uh-oh, the Rangers-Caps game is in OT, meaning Derby coverage might get bumped when it's scheduled to come on NBC at 4 p.m. Oh well, you'll miss a fluff piece or two...
3:40 p.m.: Check that the Caps just scored. Nice shot...now on to the Derby telecast. Guess you're stuck with the fluff pieces now.
4:00 p.m.: Nice win by Delauney ($5.80) at 9-5 in the Churchill Downs with Rosie Napravnik aboard, a horse for the course, he is undefeated in four races under the Twin Spires and won his sixth straight. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield, today I'm the bug. 6-Pass the Dice and 3-Laurie's Rocket will complete a nice trifecta paying $402 for a $2 wager.
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is up next at 1 1/8-miles and most will land on last year's Horse of the Year 8-Wise Dan. If you're looking for a longshot, 3-Optimizer another English Channel with the wet turf angle is an option and 4-Silver Max won last year's Virginia Derby on yielding turf.
4:02 p.m.: NEWSFLASH - It's still raining hard.
4:10 p.m.: Some advance wagering odds on the Derby: 5-Revolutionary (5-1) is the top choice and 8-Goldencents and 16-Orb are the next choices at 7-1. Next on the tote board is 5-Normandy Invasion (8-1), 12-Itsmyluckyday (9-1) and 14-Verrazano (9-1). So six horses under 10-1 at the moment, reminding me of the 2006 Derby that Barbaro won and Sweetnorthernsaint went off as the 5-1 favorite.
4:20 p.m.: Time to venture out and buy a ball cap to watch the Derby. Be back in a few to report on how wet I am. Note to self: Don't leave you're Saratoga cap in the car when rain is in the forecast.
4:35 p.m.: Back from my lid seeking mission and it has eased up a little bit. It appears that most haven't eased up on their spirits intake as I ran into a few "happy" patrons on my way to the concession stand. I also must look like an usher as I was asked directions several times, "No ma'am I don't know where you can find the gentleman in the yellow suit."
4:45 p.m.: Here's a look at my new lid -- have to stay dry for the Derby. Good to hear Pletcher saying he thinks 3-Revolutionary moves up with the wet track. Don't discount 14-Verrazano though, could he go gate-to-wire? It hasn't been done since 2002 when War Emblem took them around for a ride.
4:55 p.m.: It's the 2012 Horse of the Year, 8-Wise Dan at 3-5! My upset choice 3-Optimizer was second and 1-Middie in third. I hit the trifecta (woot) using the all button in the third hole and Middie just caught 4-Silver Max. That's a good thing because he's at 26-1 and Silver Max was at 8-1. Better than a sharp stick in the eye. The $2 trifecta paid $139.60, thanks Middie!
5:15 p.m.: It's time for the big one and now we wait. The long delay for the Derby (post time - 6:34 p.m.) is due to the long wagering lines on-track. I'd suggest you make your wagers early if you are using an advance deposit wagering account. I've heard reports of crashes on some of those sites.
5:20 p.m.: My plan is to head over to the winner's circle around 40 minutes to post (MTP) to secure a spot on the rail. We're about a little over an hour to post. Last year I did the walkover with the horses but that's not happening this year.
I'm going to stay with my paper picks and I'll have a couple backup tickets with 6-Mylute and 10-Palace Malice on top of my top three in some exactas.
5:30 p.m.: Some fun stories of how some of the horses got their names:
Goldencents: Named after a website that sells rare coins of some his owners (Pitino's has a piece of this horse).
Frac Daddy: His owners from Montana are involved with fracking, which we all know what that is in Western New York.
Oxbow: Named after oxbow lake, something that is created when the main stem of a river is cut off to create a lake.
Giant Finish: Named after his parents, Frost Giant (sire) and Apocalyptic (dam).
5:40 p.m.: Time to start heading to the track. I hope you enjoyed the live blog and stopped by once or twice. Good luck to all in the Derby, let's go cash some tickets! Back after the race for a quick wrap up.
7:04 p.m.: 16-Orb ($12.80), my second selection, wins the Derby for Stuart Janney III and Phipps Racing Stable. It's the first Derby victory for Joel Rosario in his fourth Derby ride. My top pick, 3-Revolutionary ($5.40 to show) finished third after Calvin Borel took him way back to start the race. They were split by 34-1 long shot 4-Golden Soul who busted up a lot of exotic tickets (including yours truly). We may have a Triple Crown threat on our hands...it's on to the Preakness. Thanks for staying around and check tomorrow's paper for my commentary on the race.