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Derby Favorites

The first Derby horse I have a clear picture of rooting for was Genuine Risk; when she won, I figured this whole picking winners thing was pretty easy. The next horse I recall backing was Slew O’Gold, who finished 4th in 1983. I was back in form with Swale in 1984 (and was devastated when he died after the Belmont; many hours were spent discussing conspiracy theories on midwestern playgrounds). I had Skywalker in 1985 (6th place) and was torn between Broad Brush (3rd) and Snow Chief (11th) in 1986. I liked Alysheba and Cryptoclearance (4th) in 1987, so that was another good result, and was on fire with Winning Colors in 1988.

1989, the first year I attended the Derby in person, is where it all went wrong for me — as a rather overenthusiastic consumer of the Easy Goer Kool-Aid, I was rather miffed when he finshed behind Sunday Silence; I didn’t really appreciate the history-making rivalry I’d been lucky enough to witness until some years later (the appalling weather on the day didn’t help either). I was still close in 1990, backing Summer Squall to a 2nd-place finish, but clearly my magic touch was wearing off – my 1991 pick, Hansel, was 10th. In 1992, I actively disliked Arazi and was not at all surprised to see him finish up the track, but I certainly didn’t pick Lil E. Tee either. I had no favorite in 1993 — a poor showing.

In 1994 I was back in ‘favorite’ mode, only to see Holy Bull throw in one of his few poor performances. My ‘back-the-filly’ fallback didn’t help much with Serena’s Song (16th) in 1995, and even the return of my one-time crush, Chris Antley, didn’t help Louis Quatorze (26th) in 1996. I had nothing for 1997, liked Artax (13th) the following year, but was pretty fairly about Charismatic going into the 1999 Derby. I was happy to see Chris Antley back again, finally with a win on a horse I’ve always felt was underrated (especially since he was by my 1990 pick, Summer Squall), but he wasn’t my firm favorite at post time as I was having an indecisive year.

2000 was the year of Fu Peg hype and I wanted no part of him. My pick, The Deputy, finished well up the track in 14th. I recall being wary of Point Given due to the excessive puffery surrounding him, but I can’t claim to have had the foresight to have picked Monarchos (although I very much enjoyed Jim Squiresbook about him). Perfect Drift rewarded my belief in him by finishing 3rd behind War Emblem (although I clearly picked the horse with more long-term racing value). I was swept up in the Empire Maker tumult in 2003, but I also chose Peace Rules – at least I was in the money with both.

I finally hit my stride again with Smarty Jones in 2004 – I picked him in January that year and never wavered. I’m still not entirely convinced that Giacomo won the 2005 Derby (I much prefer his brother, Tiago) since clearly Afleet Alex (3rd) should have, and of course I picked Barbaro. I had nothing much last year since the Street Sense build-up put me off – I backed Hard Spun and Nobiz Like Shobiz, but did have a few bets that featured the eventual Derby victor (as well as Curlin). Clearly, I’ve neither gained nor lost much by either jumping on or avoiding prohibitive-favorite bandwagons, which suggests that I have no need to do it this time around either. Given this year’s field (and my difficulties in cheering for Rick Dutrow — I’d love Big Brown if he were trained by just about anyone else), I’ll be looking for a little value – specifics to come after the post position draw.

Beyond the Derby trail, Chelokee makes a welcome return on Friday in the Alysheba on the Oaks undercard (and I’ll have more Oaks thoughts after the Derby draw as well) and it’s nice to see that Big Truck and Cowboy Cal are running for charity. Also of note is the news that Terlingua, dam of Storm Cat, was put down on Tuesday at the age of 32.

Did we mention that Eight Belles and Proud Spell have a parrot?

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