- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Asked to assess the Kentucky Derby field earlier this week, trainer Carl Nafzger turned the tables on the questioner.

“Tell me one horse who we’re going to throw out?” he asked. “Everybody threw Giacomo out two years ago. It’s a competitive and very wide open field. I think there are 10, 12 horses at least.”

Nafzger, who trains Street Sense, points to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a sign of how strong the Derby is. Six horses from that race are running in the Derby, but that doesn’t mean this is a great race.

As the Triple Crown Series starts today at 6:04 p.m., here are some burning questions:

Q: Nafzger said 10-12 horses can win. You agree?

A: Heck no. This race doesn’t have the “it” horse, one of the reasons why this race doesn’t have the kind of buzz that preceded the 2000, 2001 and 2006 Derbies that had major star power.

In my research for the race, I’ve thrown out Sedgefield, Zanjero, Storm The May, Imawildandcrazyguy, Cowtown Cat, Liquidity, Teuflesberg, Bwana Bull, Sam P and Dominican.

Q: You’ve thrown out half the field (10 of the 20 horses). Who are the big contenders?

A: Street Sense probably will end up as the post-time favorite. If you aren’t worried about value, he’s the best bet. Curlin is the morning-line favorite so he’ll get attention as will Hard Spun, Great Hunter and Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Q: Shouldn’t Street Sense be removed from consideration because of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile jinx?

A: If you are a jinx gambler, don’t bet him. The Juvenile winner has never won the Derby the following year. But as Barbaro showed last year — becoming the first horse with five weeks off to win in 50 years — streaks aren’t meant to be destroyed.

More concerning about Street Sense is that his speed figures have gone down his last three efforts.

Q: Of all the Derby “rules” that have been tossed around this week, which one carries the most legitimacy?

A: Easy — the one about being unraced as a 2-year old. If something hasn’t happened in 125 years, there is generally good reason behind it.

Although some trainers say Curlin is the exception and how he runs like a 5-year old and looks seasoned — and he very may well be — there’s no hiding history.

The chances of Curlin finishing 12th are just as good as the chances of him winning. He may not be ready for 10 furlongs, may freak out when mud gets thrown in his face, may stop running if he gets cut off.

Q: Of all the Derby “rules,” which one carries the least credence?

A: The layoff rule. Barbaro blew the five-week layoff rule out of the water last year so the standard three- or four-week break before the Derby has lost some steam.

Trainers in this race certainly feel confident by giving Circular Quay eight weeks off, Hard Spun six weeks off and several other horses five weeks off.

If one of those runners win today, that will toss the rule out with the manure and sooner rather than later, races like the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas and Santa Anita Derbies may be forced to schedule their races earlier in the spring.

Q: Prediction time. If memory serves right, you haven’t fared all that well in the Derby. In 2000, you picked The Deputy (he was 14th); in 2001, you picked Monarchos (who won as the sixth betting choice); in 2002, you tabbed Essence of Dubai (he finished ninth) and last year, you didn’t even bother to make a pick. What about this year?

A: Thanks for the history lesson. I still revel in the Monarchos prediction. It’s the only time I’ve put more than $10 on a Derby horse and it paid off.

I’m not picking Curlin because too much is working against him. I think the pace will be swift, which helps several horses.

1. Great Hunter: A closer who won’t be so far back that a slow pace will kill his chances.

2. Hard Spun: He’ll be in the first flight and with his good cruising speed, he’ll pounce once the speed stops.

3. Circular Quay: If this were 2000 and a wicked pace scenario unfolded, he’d be the winner.

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