This year’s Kentucky Derby was rich with wonderful personal stories of triumph and disappointment: Trainer Kathy Ritvo, a heart transplant recipient; Rosie Napravnik, who was the best placing female jockey in Derby history; John Velazquez, who lost top Derby mounts, two years in a row, Eskendereya, then Uncle Mo; John Velazquez, then received the phone call of his life from trainer, Graham Motion to ride aboard Animal Kingdom; Robby Albarado, who lost his Derby winning mount due to facial injuries; trainer,Graham Motion scratched top contender Toby’s Corner from the field, only going on to win with Animal Kingdom.
Of course, the biggest story happens once all the three year olds burst from the gates and will be recorded in horseracing history books for the ages. There is only one winner to be heralded with the blanket of roses, but there were worthy competitors following behind.
A strong second place finishing time of approximately 2:02.49, 2 ¼ lengths behind Animal Kingdom, placed the dark bay brown colt, Nehro. Normally, this colt has a come-from-behind racing strategy, but a brilliant last minute game change by jockey, Corey Nakitani, to keep him closer to the pace, offered Nehro a great chance at winning the Kentucky Derby. With a surge coming out of the final turn, he was in a position to challenge the pace. Tiring in the final furlong, Nakitani began to strongly urge the colt to the finish as Animal Kingdom moved past him for the lead. Nehro was able to hold off the oncoming Mucho Macho Man. As impressed as I was by Nehro’s finishing time and expert ride by Corey Nakitani, I have doubts about his ability to handle the distance of the Belmont Stakes.
Third placing Mucho Macho Man came on strong in the final furlong to finish behind Nehro by a neck. Jockey, Rajiv Maragh, had positioned the colt well from the break, maintaining a spot in the lead pack near the pace. Coming out of the final turn, Animal Kingdom began to pass Mucho Macho Man on the outside, seeming to “game-up” the tall colt. Gaining on Nehro, Maragh made the decision to pull to the outside for a clear path past Nehro. He ran out of track before he had the opportunity to finish in second place.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Mucho Macho Man finish so strongly. Even though I believe this colt is talented, I have reservations regarding his size, which is my reasoning for not including him in my ‘Derby Darlings’. You can argue that his over 17 H stature is a positive in his favor, but I am always cautious about such young horses, (this one not being even three years old) that are exceptionally tall, being prone to injury or worse. Lest we forget the most recent memory of the equally tall Eight Belles’ Kentucky Derby disaster. A fine example of “young-tall-horse” management would be Zenyatta. Imagine erasing Zenyatta’s historical career for a few average racing moments as a youngster.
Shackelford, with his movie star quality good looks, ran an exceptional race in the Kentucky Derby. Not ever pulling on his rider, he made the pace with a powerful, relaxed stride throughout the entire running. His jockey, Jesus Castanon did not harness that energy, and burned gas which could have been used to place higher. If Shackelford’s rider is able to conserve this powerful drive in future races, this horse should not go unnoticed. This fourth place finisher was commendable against this field.
The betting favorite, Dialed In ran two different races. Hard to explain why he ran so far behind the pace, that by the ½ mile, trainer Nick Zito, was already shaking his head at the loss. When jockey, Julien Leparoux finally realized this was the Kentucky Derby (hello?), he began to engage the colt in the race. He managed to pass 12 horses and finish a disappointing 8th place. The quality of his run from the middle of the final turn to the wire was impressive. Dialed In ran the EXACT same speed (according to my mom’s oven timer) as the Derby winner Animal Kingdom, 33 seconds. I have yet to hear why the first half of this race went the way it did. There is no question this horse is capable of performing well. Maybe we will see a more memorable finish by Dialed In in the Preakness.
Now is the time for all to lick their wounds, pick up their heads and go to Maryland for the Preakness. A new day, another battle to be fought.