Thoughts on the Kentucky Derby, 2011

May 11th 2011 07:45 am |

I am taking a week off from the history posts but thought — like everyone else — I would offer my two cents about this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Betting on the Derby

What I have found over the last few years is that the past performances matter little when handicapping the Derby. There were a number of experts who thought Animal Kingdom could win based on how he looked training over the Churchill track. This is the type of insight you can’t get when looking at past performances and only get with the Derby, which is the most over analyzed race in the country.

Those who made the bold move of picking Animal Kingdom to win — especially considering how wide open the race was — deserve all the credit in the world for landing on the right horse. I cashed a ticket but it had very little to do with handicapping prowess. I ended up including Animal Kingdom on an exacta ticket, along with second place finisher Nehro, based on what I read everywhere but the past performances (I picked Super Saver using this same formula last year).

My main pick ArchArchArch had some bad luck starting with the post position draw when he drew the one post. Things got worse during the actual race when his saddle slipped and he suffered an injury that will end his career. A sad result for trainer Jinks Fires — let’s hope he gets another good one in the near future.

The Derby at Delaware Park

I was happy to see trainer Graham Motion win the Derby. In the last few years, Delaware Park connected trainers have fared very well with colts on the Triple Crown trail including Tim Ritchey, Larry Jones, Mike Matz, and now Graham Motion.

I watched the race at Delaware Park and, as is the norm, they had a big crowd there for Derby day. One thing that I really enjoy about the Delaware Park crowd on the first Saturday in May is their enthusiasm for local connections. This year’s local fan favorite was Rosie Nepravnik who rode Pants on Fire. In the grandstand, among the crowd watching the race on the infield screen, there was an audible ovation every time they showed Rosie on screen. Nepravnik has raced at Delaware for the past few summers and got her start on the Maryland circuit. I love that racing has a hometown rooting fan base. It’s not in the traditional sense of a local team, of course, but it is definitely there.

Hello Race Fans: The Home of Winners

I was among a handful of contributors who made Oaks and Derby Day selections for Hello Race Fans. We picked all of the graded stakes, and I had one winner all weekend (I just missed with St. John’s River in the Oaks.) While I stunk it up, others fared better including Chris Rossi (@o_crunk) and Jen Jade (@trifectabox) who both had Animal Kingdom as there top selection in the Derby. Be sure to stay tuned to the HRF site as they will be making picks for the Preakness too.

The Race Call

As sorry as I was to see Tom Durkin step away as the race caller for the Triple Crown, Larry Colmus called a perfect race. I’ve always liked his work at Monmouth and Gulfstream so I wasn’t all that surprised by his excellent work for the Derby. I also loved the call from Churchill Downs track announcer Mark Johnson. Johnson has proven over the last few years that he is among the best race callers (and handicappers) in the business. Both of these guys are pros and step up their game to match the magnitude of the race.

Horse Racing and the “World Wide Leader”

Now that ESPN/ABC no longer has a contract for any of the Triple Crown races (they had been broadcasting the Belmont since 2006), their indifference towards horse racing has reached a new low. While watching Sportscenter on Sunday morning, their coverage of the Derby was virtually non-existent. How can a sports network practically ignore a sporting event that draws over 160,000 spectators and millions of viewers nationwide? It nearly doubled the rating of the NBA playoff game being shown at the same time, the same NBA playoff game that Sportscenter devoted a huge chunk of air time to on Sunday morning.

I expressed my opinion about the lack of Derby coverage from ESPN via Twitter on Sunday and one of my favorite race writers Jay Cronley (ironically on espn.com) shared a similar sentiment. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, I think ESPN/ABC is terrible for horse racing and the sooner all major racing (the Breeders Cup is the last holdout) is off that network the better. From what I saw, the Versus coverage of Derby/Oaks weekend was excellent and NBC did their typical thing, providing solid coverage of America’s greatest race. While I could do without Bob Costas, the bulk of the on-air talent is outstanding.

Versus is the home of second-tier sports. Let’s face it, this is where racing belongs. Having NBC as it’s major network affiliate is a plus. The NHL, another second tier sport in the U.S., has found success on Versus/NBC, and horse racing could do the same. ESPN/ABC does not cover horse racing in any meaningful way.

Next Week at Colin’s Ghost

I’ll be back next week for a piece of Preakness history and will also be doing a profile on Afleet Alex for Hello Race Fans. I will be in the house at Pimlico for Preakness day, and I am really looking forward to it. I will be rooting for Animal Kingdom to repeat his performance in the Derby and head to Belmont with a chance for a sweep.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Kentucky Derby,Kentucky Oaks



5 Responses to “Thoughts on the Kentucky Derby, 2011”

  1. gary d says:

    I enjoy your work and appreciate your spirit of generosity…..but i strongly disagree regarding Mark Johnson…..he is hard to understand,and of course speaks British….how would Mike Battaglia be received at Ascot ? It’s simply rediculous

  2. Wayne says:

    I just found this site. And I think it’s great. I love all the horse racing history you have here. I had Animal Kingdom $ 18.00 win bet paid $ 394 dollars and change

  3. Don Reed says:

    I didn’t have Animal Kingdom (except as a hedge, thank goodness).

    But that Graham Motion as the trainer won the race & JV was up as the jockey completely erased my disappointment – a development that was both completely unanticipated & refreshing, the latter so much so that I ended up enjoying the entire experience.

    Having bet on about 25 or 30 of these annual scrums (20 horse fields turn races into just that), I only wish that I had had more Derby Days like this last one.

    We found ourselves in Delaware Park 2-3 years ago, & in this deserted arena on a very rainy day on which Larry Jones was being feted for his (temporary!) retirement, found ourselves seated next to Mrs. Graham & their two children.

    As we left, I told her that Graham, as well, would be honored someday – but with an election to our Hall of Fame – if not for his victories alone, then for & primarily because of his character.

    This is one of my favorite racing memories, & I am looking forward to this prediction coming true.

  4. Don Reed says:

    Gary D.:

    It’s hard to not sound like an overeducated jerk about this, but no one “speaks British.”

    We – Mark & you & I – speak English.

    There have been convincing arguments that “I speak American, & Mark speaks English,” but overall, it is the same language (except for the slang, which in its riotous & indiscriminate profusion can be confusing/annoying as hell – because its idiosyncratic character leads to laughingly predictable confusion).

    I just wish Mark would get a professional grip on his excitement.

    I understand that he is dead set against staid (in his own words, “posh”) race callers.

    But truly, he has bounced in the other direction so far, & so irrationally, that he has so far illustrated the worst of the other side of the race-calling coin.

  5. Kevin says:

    Hey Don: Thanks for sharing that great memory here. It is great to see the good people end up on top! Thanks again, Kevin