Derby days are here again

Jack K. Sparks

--hillbilly music aficionado, Kansas City Royals fan, and certain product of at least three generations of inbreeding--has been sending me hostile, deranged emails for months about the Kentucky Derby. On opening day of the baseball season, slurping Miller Lite like a hog at a trough, the drunken savage hollered at me incoherently until I agreed to go in with him on some ludicrous superfecta bet on the first Saturday in May. (Which by the way is the name of a


about the Kentucky Derby that opens on Friday at the Lagoon.) It was almost as pathetic as watching that sad drunk

Hank Goldberg

analyze races for ESPN.

But with all the significant prep races out of the way it's time to start seriously contemplating the field for the finest day on the racing calendar. There's still the Lexington Stakes this Saturday, but only a few half-assed contenders (Atoned, Salute the Sarge and Tomcito) are slated to run.

Andrew Beyer is whining (registration required) that the increasing prevalence of synthetic tracks makes it nearly impossible to predict what these three-year-old beasts will do once they hit the dirt at Churchill Downs. But the Derby's always been a fool's bet, with horses running in the largest field of their lives and at a distance that none of them have previously competed at. I'll not be dissuaded by one more wildcard.

The top three contenders, according to current odds, are Big Brown, Colonel John, and Pyro. The first two thoroughbreds won their final tests at the Florida Derby and the Santa Anita Derby respectively. But Pyro--the horse that Sparks has been frothing at the mouth about for two months--finished a dismal 10th at last Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes. Horse gambling fiends are now feverishly debating whether that wretched performance should be ignored because of Keeneland's polytrack surface. (Last year's winner, Street Sense, also faltered in the Blue Grass.)

War Pass was the favorite heading into the prep season, but he's failed to win in two straight races and doesn't look to have the stamina for the 1 1/4 mile test. To my bloodshot and misguided eyes, Gayego (winner of the Arkansas Derby), Z Fortune (2nd in Arkansas), and Recapturetheglory (winner of the Illinois Derby) look like longshots that could prove worthy of watching.

The last two years I've correctly picked the winning beast, but failed to put any money on either because the odds weren't sufficiently profitable. It's that kind of betting brilliance that repeatedly results in me leaving the track broke.

The fabulous Daily Racing Forum web site has video footage of almost every single prep race so there's no excuse for ignorance. For the third year running, the Derby will coincide with the commencement of the racing season at Canterbury Park.

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