In Retrospect

May 8, 2012

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I guess we can’t be too surprised when one of those horses which raced at Oaklawn during the live meet doesn’t get to the winner’s circle for the Kentucky Derby.  It has happened only twice in the past decade (Smarty Jones & Super Saver). We also can’t be surprised when Oaklawn-raced horses finish in the top three in the Kentucky race, since it’s happened seven out of the last nine years.

But I’m still reminded of the term “kissing your sister," when all the dust settles. Of course, we have an enviable record in providing successful stock for the Preakness.  Oaklawn horses have won five of those since Smarty Jones started the modern era in 2004.  Our Oaklawn-raced stock has also finished first or second in four Belmont Stakes since 2004, with winning efforts in 2005 with Afleet Alex and in 2009 with Summer Bird.

Still the American racing public gets excited about the Kentucky Derby and it is the Run For The Roses which sticks in the mind of the public.  No disrespect to the Preakness or Belmont, but they are dragged along by the Kentucky Derby. There is little scramble to get into the Preakness or Belmont fields. Those races simply don’t have the magic. Unless, of course, there is a possibility of a Triple Crown hinging on the Belmont Stakes. Then New Yorkers will show in good numbers to crown a king.  They haven’t had that opportunity too many times in recent years with Smarty Jones’ run in 2004  and Big Brown's run in 2008 being the latest. It remains, however, that to many racetrackers the 2004 Belmont Stakes was the most depressing race they have ever seen.  At the eighth pole there was Smarty Jones staring history in the face, only to have it snatched away by Birdstone several jumps later.

So it is that there will be nice words spoken about Bodemeister, winner of this year’s Arkansas Derby. He may go on and race big in the Preakness.  No one knows what to think about the Belmont, although it doesn’t feel like a race set up for a horse of Bodemeister’s talents.

What was remarkable was the performance by the winner, I’ll Have Another.  From post 19, which had never before provided a Kentucky Derby winner, he had the clean trip necessary for a horse to win in such a jammed-up field.  His jockey, Mario Guttierez, in his first Kentucky Derby ever (and probably first time ever in a field anywhere near that large) managed to guide his mount around and through all the traffic and be in position to win.  Although nothing has been said, I thought I saw him ease up just a bit when he passed Bodemeister and the sixteenth pole.  He quickly got back to his work and earned a great win.

I also remembered that I’ll Have Another’s sire, Flower Alley, also had a “kiss your sister” moment in the 2005 Arkansas Derby.  He finished second that year, albeit far behind the brilliant Afleet Alex.  Flower Alley did win the Travers Stakes that year and finished second to Saint Liam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but so much of that was lost because he failed to make anything happen in the Kentucky Derby.

I’ll Have Another’s memory will have its place, since Kentucky Derby winners always do, but I hope he can continue on his way through the next two legs of the Triple Crown.  Of course I want to see Bodemeister and others from Oaklawn enjoy big performances in those races, but I want to see an honest Triple Crown winner again.  I’ve been alive for the memories of horses like Affirmed, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.  We failed to realize how difficult the Triple Crown achievement stood in the sporting world.  Now we know and now we can back another, even if he has no connection to Oaklawn.

A couple of horses with Oaklawn connections did race well on Kentucky Derby Day.  Atigun, thought to be among the best at Oaklawn early in the season, prior to developing foot problems, wore down the field in the day’s first race and put the famed silks of Shortleaf Stable (formerly Loblolly Stable) into the Churchill winner’s circle.  One race after the Kentucky Derby trainer Kenny Smith saddled Bet the Power, a runner which developed into a star during the Oaklawn meet, to a narrow win.  All too many had left the grounds by that time and missed Kenny’s biggest moment since the days he trained Silver Goblin, one of the most popular horses to race at Oaklawn in the 90s.

All the while the excitement in America was surrounding the Kentucky Derby, the British were watching one with an almost perfect name win the 2,000 Guineas, the first major three-year-old race in England.  His name Camelot.

I imagine the connections of I’ll Have Another were enjoying their own version of “Camelot” following Saturday’s race. 

We won’t have another crowd the size and enthusiasm of Saturday’s at Simulcast in quite a while.  But the group on May 19 for the Preakness will be a good one and we’ll certainly enjoy the second chapter of what might be a great story in the making.

As for me, I’ll have another.            

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