10 (More) Things To Know About This Year's Kentucky Derby

Apr 29 2014, 4:42am CDT | by

By tomorrow, the 20 horses expected to start in the Kentucky Derby this Saturday will be on the grounds, as will the hopeful few on the also-eligible list, who will make it into the starting gate in the event of any defections later in the week. Late scratches are not uncommon: In 2009, 2010, and 2011, highly regarded horses—in some cases the favorite—were all scratched in the days leading up to the first Saturday in May—the very reason that entries for also-eligible horses were taken for the first time in 2012.

Later this week I’ll post handicapping and wagering tips from a panel of  public handicappers and turf writers; for now, here are 10 (more) things to know about this year’s Kentucky Derby.

1) The Derby starting gate lost some star power with neither Midnight Hawk nor Shared Belief making it to the gate. Midnight Hawk is owned by a partnership including Chicago Blackhawk’s Joel Quenneville, while Shared Belief, the 2013 two-year-old champion, is owned in part by Jim Rome.

Shared Belief was injured earlier this year and has only recently returned to serious training; the good news for a future racing career is that he’s a gelding, so he can’t be rushed off to stud.

Midnight Hawk finished second by a nose in the Illinois Derby earlier this month and will pass on the Derby, despite having the qualifying points to run. He may make his next appearance at Pimlico on May 17 in the Preakness.

2) If you took a gamble in the first Kentucky Derby futures wager, you likely lost, as only one horse, Ride On Curlin, as an individual wagering interest is still pointed to the race. A second individual wagering interest, Pablo Del Monte, currently sits as #21 in the Derby qualifying points standings; should another horse defect this week, he’ll get in the race.  Ride On Curlin closed at 57-1 in that pool, Pablo Del Monte at 59-1, and the field (all other horses) at 4-5.

3) This week saw the unusual sale of a Derby contender in the days before the race when Starlight Racing and Skychai Racing purchased General a Rod from J. Armando Rodriguez. General a Rod won the Gulfstream Park Derby, was the runner-up by a head in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, and finished third Grade 1 Florida Derby. Purchase price was not disclosed, and General a Rod sits at #14 in Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Starlight Racing will also saddle Intense Holiday on Saturday.

4)  On Sunday, West Point Thoroughbred’s Ring Weekend was declared a non-starter after spiking a favor, according to trainer Graham Motion, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. The scratch of Ring Weekend made room for Commanding Curve, also owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, to get into the race. Commanding Curve was #21 in qualifying points when the scratch was announced.

5) As part of the effort to emphasize that the Kentucky Derby is a glamorous, star-studded event, NBC announced last week that Olympic commentators Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski will join Saturday’s telecast as “fashion experts. Weir, a three-time U.S. figure skating champion, and Lipinski, an Olympic gold medalist, performed similar roles for the Academy Awards.

6)  If you like to pick your Derby horse by his name, check out Samraat, who comes to the race with one defeat in six career starts. At #5 in Derby points, Samraat was sired by Noble Causeway and foaled by Little Indian Girl. His name is an ancient Indian title meaning “emperor.”

7)  Prefer to pick your horses by the good causes they represent? Wicked Strong (#4 in points), whose name alludes to his owner’s hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, will run for The One Fund Boston, which supports those affected by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.  A portion of  Uncle Sigh’s earnings (he’s at #17 in points) go to two veterans’ charities:  Retrieving Freedom, which trains service dogs for placement with veterans, children with autism and adults and children with diabetes., and Task Force Dagger Foundation, which supports the families of those wounded, ill, or injured as a result of their military service.  Uncle Sigh is owned by Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony C. Robinson.

A third Derby starter, Vinceremos (#18 in points), runs for the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center in Florida.

8) The last filly to win the Kentucky Derby was Winning Colors in 1988, following in the footsteps of Genuine Risk (1980) and Regret (1915). The last filly to run in the Kentucky Derby was Devil May Care in 2010; she finished 10th, and she may be the last filly we see run in the race for a long time, or at least as long as the current qualifying system in place. Formerly, entry was determined by the amount of money horses earned in graded stakes races—any graded stakes races. Now, horses have to earn points in specifically designated races, and none of those races are restricted to fillies. For a filly to get into the Derby, she’d likely have to start racing against males early in her 3-year-old racing season, and that seems unlikely to happen.

9)  If you bet the Kentucky Derby this year, you’ll be paying more to do it: earlier this month, Churchill Downs raised its takeout rates to the maximum amount allowed by law. “Takeout” is the money taken from the wagering pools and used to fund operating expenses and purses; the money left in the pools after the takeout is what is paid out to bettors. Increased takeout rates took effect on April 26, when Churchill began its spring meet. For win, place, and show bets, takeout increased from 16% to 17.5%; for vertical and horizontal exotic wagers like exactas, trifectas, and Pick 4s, the takeout increased from 19% to 22%.

10)  Want to check out the horses in advance of Saturday? Churchill Downs streams the dedicated training time for Kentucky Derby and Oaks starters every morning from 8:30 to 8:45.  If you miss them, you can check out training videos at HRTV by searching for the horse’s name.


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