Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo. Apollo.
The 1882 Kentucky Derby winner was mentioned above 10 times. You can bet he is going to be mentioned many more times than that from now through May 6, the date of this year’s Kentucky Derby. That’s because Malagacy, who did not race as a 2-year-old, became a prominent Kentucky Derby candidate following his victory in last Saturday’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. And if Malagacy runs in the Kentucky Derby, he will try to do something only Apollo has done.
Do you think the 37-year Triple Crown drought between Affirmed and American Pharoah was long? Well, that was nothing compared to the ridiculously long drought since a horse has won the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old.
It has been 135 years since Apollo won the Kentucky Derby without having started as a 2-year-old. In fact, Apollo in 1882 is the only horse who didn’t race at 2 to have won the Kentucky Derby.
The truth is Runnymede, the heavy favorite, probably should have won the 1882 Kentucky Derby instead of Apollo. Most people at the time were of that opinion.
Runnymede likely would have won if the track had not been wet (officially rated good). He had a reputation for not liking a wet track. Not only that, Runnymede was making his 3-year-old debut in the Kentucky Derby. And in 1882, the Kentucky Derby was a 1 1/2-mile race, not a 1 1/4-mile race as it is today. It obviously was not an easy assignment for Runnymede to make his first start of the year going 1 1/2 miles. Apollo had a distinct advantage against Runnymede inasmuch as Apollo had started three times in New Orleans in 1882 prior to the Kentucky Derby.
If Runnymede had won the 1882 renewal -- as many thought should have happened -- all 142 Kentucky Derby winners would have raced as a 2-year-old.
When it comes to trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner, I automatically throw out anyone who did not start as a 2-year-old. Is it possible that one of these years someone who did not race at 2 will win the roses to finally end the 135-year drought? Yes, it is possible, mainly because Thoroughbreds generally make far fewer starts these days. But 100+ years of history says to me that a person has a much smaller chance of picking the Kentucky Derby winner when opting for a horse who did not race at 2.
In 2012, even though Bodemeister had not started as a 2-year-old, many selected him to win the Kentucky Derby following his smashing 9 1/2-length victory in the Grade I Arkansas Derby. Going into the 2012 Run for the Roses, it seemed many people were rooting for Bodemeister because if he won, it would mean he had broken what many considered to be the final so-called Derby “rule” left standing, i.e., a horse needs to have raced as a 2-year-old.
“Over the last decade we have seen one Derby ‘rule’ after another broken by winners who did not seem to have the requisite foundation or recent experience,” Steve Crist wrote in the Daily Racing Form. “It seems silly to cling to old maxims in a rapidly changing game.”
What seems silly to me is whenever a person downplays the fact -- and it is a fact -- that it’s been 135 years since a horse won the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old. Is this happenstance? I don’t think so. It is my view that it’s important for a horse to have some foundation in the form of having raced as a 2-year-old prior to being asked to compete at 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May while carrying 126 pounds. I also believe the proper foundation to win the Kentucky Derby does not stem solely from a horse having made at least one start at 2. A key element is for the horse to have experienced all of the training necessary in order to be ready to race as a 2-year-old. In other words, to a large extent, it’s the training in conjunction with any racing as a 2-year-old that builds a good foundation.
Did Bodemeister win the Kentucky Derby even though he had not started at 2? No, he finished second to I’ll Have Another.
In the years since Bodemeister started in the Run for Roses, two more horses have been unsuccessful in an attempt to win the Kentucky Derby without having made any starts at 2. Todd Pletcher trained those two horses, Verrazano and Materiality. Interestingly, Pletcher also conditions Malagacy. Verrazano ended up 14th in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Materiality finished sixth in the 2015 renewal.
Going all the way back to 1937, a total of 59 horses have tried to win the Kentucky Derby without making any starts as a 2-year-old. While none of the 59 horses won the Kentucky Derby, just seven of them even managed to place or show. The seven were Hampden (third in the 1946 Kentucky Derby), Coaltown (second in 1948), Agitate (third in 1974), Reinvested (third in 1982), Strodes Creek (second in 1994), Curlin (third in 2007) and the aforementioned Bodemeister (second in 2012).
Going back to 1937, these are the 59 horses to try and win the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2:
Comenow (finished 12th in 1944)
Bert G. (14th in 1945)
Hampden (3rd in 1946)
Perfect Bahram (9th in 1946)
Rippey (10th in 1946)
Coaltown (2nd in 1948)
Fanfare (5th in 1951)
Golden Birch (19th in 1951)
No Regrets (7th in 1956)
Gone Fishin’ (8th in 1958)
Our Dad (15th in 1959)
Gleaming Sword (13th in 1968)
Fourulla (19th in 1971)
Big Spruce (7th in 1972)
Kentuckian (10th in 1972)
Dr. Neale (15th in 1972)
Forego (4th in 1973)
Twice a Prince (12th in 1973)
Agitate (3rd in 1974)
Confederate Yankee (12th in 1974)
Media (5th in 1975)
Bold Chapeau (8th in 1975)
Amano (4th in 1976)
On the Sly (5th in 1976)
Affiliate (9th in 1977)
Best Person (15th in 1977)
Chief of Dixieland (9th in 1978)
Great Redeemer (10th in 1979)
Flying Nashua (8th in 1981)
Reinvested (3rd in 1982)
Air Forbes One (7th in 1982)
Wavering Monarch (12th in 1982)
Majestic Shore (eased in 1984)
Irish Fighter (11th in 1985)
Wheatley Hall (6th in 1986)
Zabaleta (12th in 1986)
Pendleton Ridge (13th in 1990)
Corporate Report (9th in 1991)
Alydavid (14th in 1991)
Devil His Due (12th in 1992)
Disposal (18th in 1992)
Strodes Creek (2nd in 1994)
Pulpit (4th in 1997)
Desert Hero (13th in 1999)
Valhol (15th in 1999)
Wheelaway (5th in 2000)
Curule (7th in 2000)
Trippi (11th in 2000)
Atswhatimtalknabout (4th in 2003)
Song of the Sword (11th in 2004)
Greeley’s Galaxy (11th in 2005)
Showing Up (6th in 2006)
Curlin (3rd in 2007)
Summer Bird (6th in 2009)
Dunkirk (11th in 2009)
Midnight Interlude (16th in 2011)
Bodemeister (2nd in 2012)
Verrazano (14th in 2013)
Materiality (6th in 2015)
MALAGACY’S REBEL BEYER NOT A BIGGIE
While I believe Malagacy faces a daunting task to try and win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old, his victory in the $900,000 Rebel does demonstrate he certainly is a talented colt. The Kentucky-bred son of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford now is undefeated in three lifetime starts.
InMalagacy’s career debut, he splashed his way to a 15-length victory in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race on a sloppy track Jan. 4 at Gulfstream Park. Some will argue that because he started on Jan. 4, it’s absurd to make a big deal that Malagacy did not race as a 2-year-old. They will note that if he had started just five days earlier, he then would have raced at 2. But keep in mind Verrazano came even closer to racing at 2, winning his career debut at Gulfstream in 2013 on Jan. 1. After his maiden triumph, Verrazano won his next three races (including the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and Grade I Wood Memorial), but finished 14th in a field of 19 in the Kentucky Derby.
Malagacy recorded an 89 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden triumph. He then ran a 97 Beyer when he won a 6 1/2-furlong allowance/optional claiming affair by seven lengths at Gulfstream on Feb. 12.
The 1 1/16-mile Rebel was Malagacy’s first start around two turns. Second behind pacesetter Uncontested through the early stages, Malagacy took the lead entering the stretch and went on to prevail by two lengths as the 3-1 second favorite. Ridden by Javier Castellano, Malagacy posted a final time of 1:43.00. Sonneteer, a maiden invading from Southern California, finished second at a whopping 112-1. Untrapped, who loomed boldly in upper stretch, finished third, a nose behind Sonneteer.
Unlike Sonneteer, the other two SoCal shippers were trounced. Royal Mo, 6-1, ended up ninth in the field of 11. American Anthem, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, finished 10th as the 8-5 favorite. Baffert had won six of the last seven Rebels going into last Saturday’s edition.
Malagacy’s Beyer Speed Figure for his Rebel victory was nothing to rave about. He was assigned a 91.
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Rebel going back to 1992:
2017 Malagacy (91)
2016 Cupid (95)
2015 American Pharoah (100)
2014 Hoppertunity (100)
2013 Will Take Charge (96)
2012 Secret Circle (92)
2011 The Factor (103)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (98)
2009 Win Willy (102)
2008 Sierra Sunset (99)
2007 Curlin (99)
2006 Lawyer Ron (94)
2005 Greater Good (95)
2004 Smarty Jones (112)
2003 Crowned King (90)
2002 Windward Passage (94)
2001 Crafty Shaw (102)
2000 Snuck In (101)
1999 Etbauer (102)
1998 Victory Gallop (105)
1997 Phantom On Tour (102)
1996 Ide (93)
1995 Mystery Storm (92)
1994 Judge TC (95)
1993 Dalhart (105)
1992 Pine Bluff (106)
MCCRAKEN STILL NO. 1 ON MY DERBY TOP 10
McCraken worked five furlongs Monday in 1:00.00 at Keeneland for trainer Ian Wilkes. Keeneland clockers timed the Kentucky-bred Ghostzapper colt galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.80.
“It was a maintenance work, just what we were looking for,” Wilkes told Keeneland publicity. “Everything’s good.”
It was McCraken’s second workout since he had missed some training and a start in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 due to an ankle strain that Wilkes termed as “minor.” Undefeated in four career starts, McCraken won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11 in his 2017 debut prior to the ankle issue that occurred following a Feb. 11 workout in :48.90 at Palm Meadows in Florida.
McCraken continues to hold the top spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Here is this week’s list:
- One Liner
- Irish War Cry
- J Boys Echo
- Practical Joke
- Term of Art
McCraken is scheduled to make his next appearance under silks in Keeneland’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on April 8, which would be his final start before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. He is three for three at Churchill. In his final 2016 start, he won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at the historic Louisville track.
The Blue Grass also might attract Classic Empire, who was voted a 2016 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male after he won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park.
Last Sunday, for the second time this year, Classic Empire refused to break off in a scheduled workout at Palm Meadows. He also had refused to break off in a workout there March 3, which would have been his first workout since he had come out of the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream with an abscess in his right front foot. He finished third as a 1-2 favorite in the Holy Bull.
Classic Empire’s situation looked much better when he did work five furlongs in a crisp :48.95 at Palm Meadows on March 12. But then he had another hiccup last Sunday (March 19) when again refusing to work. That same day, after his refusal to work in the morning, he was sent to Ocala, Fla. Classic Empire did have a workout this morning (March 22), five furlongs in 1:01.80 at Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, as reported by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman. “Classic Empire,” Privman added, “worked in company and put away his workmate, according to Norman Casse, the son and assistant to trainer Mark Casse.”
Privman went on to quote Norman Casse as saying: “I’m very encouraged by the events this morning. Obviously, he refused to work on Sunday morning, but we had come up with a game plan that if he did, that we would go to Ocala. You’ve got to keep him thinking. He had two good days of galloping here on Monday and Tuesday and then worked today.
“Our thought was that maybe he wasn’t happy at Palm Meadows. We wanted to give him a shot somewhere else. We’ll keep him here in Ocala, work again next week, then decide what to do [regarding his next race].”
While the Blue Grass remains the most likely next start for Classic Empire, Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 8 also is under consideration.