Saturday, May 7, 2011

Some Pre-Derby Thoughts

The Kentucky Derby inspired the late Dan Fogelberg
to compose "Run For The Roses" 30 years ago.

In about six hours, the 137th Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs.

The Derby has been called "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports" and "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports."

But some years — especially, it seems, this year — deciding which one to support — or, more to the point for many, which one is worthy of a wager — is much more time consuming.

I've been scouring the internet this morning, and I haven't found a consensus yet.

Earlier in the week, there seemed to be a modest consensus building that Uncle Mo was a potential winner. But he was scratched yesterday.

But even when Uncle Mo was scratched, that did not eliminate the early favorite. That was Dialed In — and Alex Brown of the New York Times says he looks good to go today.

"[I]f he is your pick," writes Brown, "then he certainly looks ready to run a great race."

Jennie Rees writes, in the Louisville (Ky.) Courier–Journal that it is more difficult to predict the outcome of this year's race than ever.

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Johnny Love writes that he prefers "multiple bets" when you have a field as large as the one that is typical of the Derby — and this year's Derby (assuming there are no more scratches) has 19 entrants.

Love likes deep closer Nehro — but, if the track is sloppy, he prefers pacesetter Soldat. (Incidentally, the latest weather forecast I have seen calls for a 50% chance of rain and temperatures in the upper 60s.)

He says he likes Dialed In. "Just don't like him as [the] favorite."

Pia Catton writes in the Wall Street Journal that "[s]ince there's no easy, clear favorite, this is the sort of year that those of us who consider ourselves once–a–year railbirds need to do some actual research. If you're not careful, this can become a life–warping vortex of hours vaporized on the Internet."

It's an "impossibly tough decision," says the headline in the Journal, but, confides Catton, "I love the gutsiness of Mucho Macho Man."

Catton openly concedes a preference to see Archarcharch win. Archarcharch showed a "burst of speed" in the Arkansas Derby, but "[m]aybe he can't sustain it for the 10 furlongs," Catton frets. "Maybe he'll get boxed in."

Gene Menez of Sports Illustrated doesn't hesitate to say that Archarcharch is one of the best bets in today's Derby field.

But Menez also advises would–be gamblers to "Pick a name out of a hat. Close your eyes and point. Or better yet, go by colors, numbers and names. Any method of handicapping ... is just about as good as any other."

They've all got their drawbacks.

Brad Telias of The Sporting News says today's race became "an even more wide–open affair" with Uncle Mo's withdrawal.

Uncle Mo's departure, in other words, did not muddy up this field, regardless of whether it rains today or not. It was already muddy.

And that, says Tim Layden in Sports Illustrated, is bad news for everyone.

"What's good is greatness," Layden writes. "When there is greatness, that opens the door to both historic achievement and earth–shaking upsets. Wide open means mediocre and everybody here knows it, even if nobody contesting the race is saying it."

I suppose that makes it clear what the real challenge is.

It isn't winning today's Derby — although doing so will be an important achievement.

The challenge will be whether the winner of today's race can rise above expectations, above the level of mediocre to the rarified air of contender for the first Triple Crown in 33 years.

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