Final Derby Preps Hold Key to Handicapping Strategy
by Greg Melikov - 04/25/2007
Only five horses going back 51 years captured the Kentucky Derby after failing to hit the board in their final prep. And four ran in just two of the six current major preps.
Five horses that took the San Anita Derby since Swaps in '55 scored at Churchill Downs, but the last colt to turn the trick was Sunday Silence in '89.
The last two unplaced horses at Santa Anita to triumph at Churchill Downs were Gato Del Sol in '82 and Giacomo two years ago.
The same interests that guided Giacomo won Santa Anita's premier event this year with Tiago, who roared down the stretch from fifth to a half-length victory. In a less than stellar 10-horse field, King of the Roxy was second and opted for the Preakness. Sam P., third, and Liquidity, fifth, are yet to take a stakes race.
Ten winners of the Blue Grass Stakes since '55 repeated at Louisville. Two that ran fourth at Keeneland also won: Sea Hero in '93 and Thunder Gulch in '95.
Domincan nosed out Smart Sense this year, skyrocketing his earnings to qualify among the 20 likely starters in the 133rd Derby. But it was the 57th slowest of 83 Blue Grass races. The five top runners will make the trip from Lexington, including fifth place finisher Great Hunter. The son of Aptitude, beaten less than two lengths, had a horrible trip:
He brushed the gate at the break, inched ahead of pacesetting Teuflesberg leaving the far turn, was floated out by that horse entering the stretch and then was forced to take up when the fading fourth place finisher drifted out at the sixteenth pole.
One of the most surprising upsets in Derby history featured what many consider the most talented field of 3-year-olds a half-century ago. It was preceded by the Derby Trial, an important final tune-up in those days, which was staged from five days to two weeks earlier.
During the heyday of Calumet Farm, three of its horses captured both The Trial and The Derby: Citation, '48 Triple Crown champ; Hill Gail, '52; and Tim Tam, '58, the last to win both races. In addition, runners-up Whirlaway and Ponder, scored in '41 and '49, respectively.
In the '57 Derby Trial, Federal Hill finished first, followed by Calumet's Gen. Duke. The runner-up's stablemate Iron Liege, who ran third behind him in Gulfstream Park's Florida Derby, ran an uninspiring fifth.
They were headed to the 83rd Derby with Bold Ruler, winner of the Wood after finishing second in the Florida Derby, and Round Table, victorious in the Blue Grass, plus Gallant Man, who captured the Hibiscus at defunct Hialeah Park.
On the morning of the May 4, likely Derby favorite Gen. Duke was scratched because of a foot injury suffered 11 days earlier in the Derby Trial.
Federal Hill set the pace like he did in the Florida Derby, with favored Bold Ruler and Iron Liege pressing him. Iron Liege grabbed the lead in the stretch while Gallant Man made a big move that put him in front between calls.
Then Bill Shoemaker started to stand up in the irons misjudging the finish line and Gallant Man was knocked off stride briefly. Before both could recover, Iron Liege hit the wire a nose ahead. Round Table finished third, followed by Bold Ruler and the fading Federal Hill.
Iron Liege, the only winner in 51 years to smell the roses after running fifth in the final prep, paid 18.80 as the fifth choice.