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There’s More Than One Favorite (5/2/2008)

by Jim Wells

Racing fans, neophytes and veterans alike, and sports fans of many stripes and colors who otherwise might have limited interest in watching thoroughbreds run, will watch the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby this afternoon. This annual gathering of three-year-olds for their first test at a mile and 1/4 is a venerated piece of American sports lore and legend with a rich legacy. Casual fans might not know a single horse in the lineup but many of them grew up hearing about mint juleps, a blanket of roses, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.So, who you like today in the world’s most famous horse race?The likely favorite is the front-running son of Boundary, Big Brown, his post position notwithstanding, but there are many reasons not to bet this horse.Take the reasoning of Mark Stancato, superintendent of stalls at Canterbury.”I’m not a Big Brown fan,” Stancato said. “He’ll be too short a price and he doesn’t have a mile and 1/4 in his blood. If he were 10-1, it might be another matter.”Stancato figures he’ll get a considerably better price on Court Vision. He likes a number of things about this colt.”Something tells me this is the horse,” he said, “and it’s just my nature to try to beat the favorite. This horse is three-for-six. He has a top rider (Garrett Gomez), a top pedigree (Gulch, a son of Mr. Prospector from the Storm Bird dam, Weekend Storm) and a great trainer, Bill Mott, who hasn’t won this race and is due.”Peggy Davis, Canterbury’s placing judge/clerk of course, is holding out a bit of hope for Eight Belles, the filly in the race, backing that hope with this 3-year-old’s pedigree: she’s by Unbridled’s Song, a son of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, from the Dixieland Band mare Dam Away. At the same time, Davis thinks Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John has a great chance of winning today.The trouble with getting a fix on this race, Davis avers, is that some of these horses _ the favorite in particular _ have a limited history. Big Brown is 3-0 but hasn’t raced since winning the Florida Derby on Mar. 29. Secretariat, on the other hand, came into the 1973 Derby with 12 races under his belt. “It’s hard to get a handle on it,” Peggy added.Bryan Oliver likes the likely favorite but is very concerned with the post position. “I like Big Brown,” he said, “But he’s got that No. 20 spot.Racing secretary Doug Schoepf pointed out another facet to this particular race that makes it tough to get a handle on a solid choice. “When you’ve got 20 horses in a race it’s easy to get shuffled back or stuck inside. Besides having the best horse, you need some racing luck.”That said, Schoepf has a pick for the big race today. “Maybe Pryo’s a good choice,” he said. “He’s got a decent post in the No. 9 hole.Pyro was second to War Pass in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, won the Louisiana Derby and is by Pulpit, a son of A.P Indy. And he’s trained by Steve Asmussen.Jeff Maday, Canterbury’s director of media relations, wants nothing to do with Big Brown. “Big Brown can win, but I can bet a 5-2 horse anytime I want to, ” Maday said. Indeed he can.So who does he like?”I’ll take Visionarie. He’s ready to go,” Maday said.Canterbury’s paddock analyst, the inimitable Kevin Gorg, figures this is his year.”I’ve had one Derby winner, Winning Colors in 1988,” Gorg said. “I think I’m due.”Gorg talked himself out of a 25-1 Derby winner in 1995 “I had 100 dollars in multiple bets on Thunder Gulch,” he said, “and I switched off him in the last few minutes.”That won’t be the case this time, Gorg insists. He’s due. It’s his year, his Derby and his turn.”I like Z Fortune,” he said.Gorg likes the colt’s breeding, thinks the trainer, Steve Asmussen, like himself, is due. He likes the rider, Robby Albarado . Z Fortune is by Siphon ‘Brz from the Fortunate Prospect mare Fortunate Faith. “And I like the way Z Fortune’s coming up to this race,” Gorg said. “He ran a huge Arkansas Derby (second 3/4 length to Gayego.)” THE SAGE GOES OUT ON A LIMBA visitor to the track’s chilly, soggy backside, made a stop to see the Sage of Canterbury and check on his well-being.”So, how did you winter?” the visitor asked. It is sometimes tough to get the Sage’s attention. He is often stuck in a reverie, contemplating great mysteries of the universe and mankind.”I say,” the fellow repeated, “did you get through the winter OK.”The Sage resented the intrusion upon his meditation and, after several seconds pause and a stare that would have melted an iceberg, he replied.”That is a silly, stupid question,” he said. “If I didn’t survive the winter, I wouldn’t be here, now would I.””Well, it’s more of a rhetorical thing,” the visitor said. “I was simply trying to be cordial.””I am a busy man,” the Sage replied. “What precisely do you want?””Do you have a Derby favorite?” the visitor asked.The Sage’s gaze softened. In his estimation, a question about the Derby is every bit as significant as inquires on global warming, the health care mess or Brittany Spears’ latest flame.”There are troubling things about the Derby, as you well know,” the Sage responded.”There was a time in this country when Derby horses had deep resumes and plenty of informative references heading into this race. Nowadays, some of them show up, say, with a maiden race, an allowance go and a stakes run behind them. Not much to go on there, is there?”The visitor nodded in agreement, hoping to ease more information from his host.”I see it this way,” the Sage continued. “There are 20 horses in this race. When they break from the gate, there is a strong resemblance to the rush that Custer’s troops made up that Montana hill. That can create a lot of problems.The traffic is plenty thick. You need a horse and rider who can stay out of trouble.””But a favorite?” the visitor asked.”Well, the popular favorite is this Big Brown colt,” the Sage added. “But only Clyde has won from the No. 20 post.””Clyde?” the visitor said.”Yes, Clyde, Clyde Van Dusen,” said the Sage, and that was 1929. ””But who do you like,” the visitor persisted.””I will provide one clue and that is all,” the Sage responded.”Rocky, America’s most beloved boxer, would have loved this horse.”