“The Sport of Kings” is descending upon America once again.
At the head of the class for this year’s Kentucky Derby is Tapit. A Maryland-bred colt, Tapit went undefeated when he was two years old (only three-year-olds are allowed to run in the Derby), but injuries slowed him down earlier this year. At the Florida Derby in March he finished a distant sixth, but he rebounded with a big effort to win the Wood Memorial three weeks ago in New York City. Whatever the odds on him are set at, Tapit looks to be the Derby favorite.
Two other horses that will contend for the Derby are The Cliff’s Edge and Smarty Jones. The Cliff’s Edge, trained by hall-of-famer Nick Zito, has ridden roller coaster ride this year on its way to the Derby. After finishing third (ahead of Tapit) to Friend’s Lake at the Florida Derby, The Cliff’s Edge won the Blue Grass Stakes three weeks ago in Lexington, Kentucky. After starting the race second-to-last, The Cliff’s Edge surged and defeated favored Lion Heart.
Smarty Jones is another horse that will receive significant Derby day betting action. The horse has come out of nowhere to win all six of his races including an impressive victory in the Arkansas Derby three weeks ago. Thirty-eight-year-old trainer Stewart Elliott will saddle his first Derby horse thanks to Smarty Jones.
Two of racing’s big names, Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, have not fared well on the road to the Derby. After a failed attempt to win the Lexington Stakes two weeks ago, Lukas, an Antigo native, will not saddle a horse in the Derby for the second time in three years. Baffert will saddle Wimbledon, but after a disappointing fifth place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, the horse does not appear to be a serious contender. In addition, Baffert’s other horse, Preachinatthebar, will not race in the Derby after an ugly seventh place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes.
A controversy has erupted this week at the Derby. Just as some boxers tattoo advertisements onto their bodies, jockeys want to do the same thing on their pants. Kentucky racing “tradition of the turf” rules prevent jockeys from doing this.
As a result, five jockeys, including Shane Sellers who rides The Cliff’s Edge and Jose Santo who rode Funny Cide to victory last year, are suing the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Some have even threatened to boycott the Derby if they do not win their case.
A ruling is expected before the Derby.
Whatever the outcome of the jockey situation, this year’s Kentucky Derby looks to be one of the most entertaining in years. For anybody not drinking at Mifflin or for those who had to turn in early from the festivities, the race typically starts around 5:30 p.m.