Kentucky Derby 2007: Over-Hyped Horses
by Trevor Whenham - 03/30/2007
Horse racing, perhaps more than any sport, is all about hype. There is so much time between races, and it's very hard to handicap top quality horses that run all across the country. The elite runners often don't run against each other before the marquee races, so direct comparisons are difficult. That means that horses that look good get hyped, and often to a ridiculous extent. If you've spent any time handicapping the Kentucky Derby, you've probably been taken in by hype at some point and have probably lost some money on a horse that was nowhere to be seen at the finish line. Names like Bellamy Road, Indian Charlie, Empire Maker and Point Given still make me cringe.
As it is every year, the hype machine is working at full force as we head into the final prep races. Some horses that are being talked about like they are virtually unbeatable now will struggle in the Derby. If they even make it that far. We'll know more by the time the Santa Anita Derby is in the books, but here's my best guess of four horses that aren't going to be able to live up to their lofty reputations:
Street Sense - His win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was so dominating it almost wasn't fair. He had an easy trip along the rail, and he exploded at the top of the stretch to run away by 10 lengths. It took four months for us to see his three year old debut, but it was worth the wait. He beat Any Given Saturday in an epic stretch duel in the Tampa Bay Derby, and he set a track record while he was at it. The horse can unquestionably run, but you have to ask questions because of the trips he's had. The race in Tampa Bay was almost identical to the Breeders' Cup. He got to the rail early, saved ground all the way around, and was free to move when he was ready to strike. The chances of that kind of thing happening again in the Derby are very slim. Even if he can get to the rail he'll be bumped and jostled and challenged, and he'll potentially be subjected to a blistering pace that could get away from him. The horse hasn't done anything to make us doubt him yet, but given his style, and the challenges of all the past Juvenile champs, it seems like a safer bet to go against him than it does to back him at this point.
Nobiz Like Shobiz - This horse is incredibly seductive. His win in the Holy Bull was so dominating that it would be easy to imagine the roses around his neck. If only the Derby was in January. It's not often that a horse looks as good as this horse did in January and still have him be in the picture in May. His next time out was in the Fountain of Youth, and he was a disappointing third. The excuse from his connections was that he had a rough trip and was bumped multiple times. That concerns me. If he thought that the Fountain was rough, then he's in for a real shock in Louisville. He'll have a chance at redemption in the Wood Memorial, and he may prove that the last race was an exception, but I fear that we may have seen the best of this horse already.
Curlin - This is the kind of horse that burns money. He has been spectacular with the kind of performances that give you the chills. He won by more than 12 lengths when he broke his maiden. He ran away with the lead in the Rebel Stakes. He has explosive, thrilling power. The problem is that he's only run twice. He only broke his maiden on Feb. 3. He'll have one more start before the Kentucky Derby - probably the Arkansas Derby. If he manages to win that, and that's likely since the Rebel winner has won the race the last three years, then he will capture the imagination of many. Horses just don't run in the Derby with so little experience, though. He won't know how to overcome adversity and he won't know the things that a horse can only learn from running races. If his third race is as good as his first two were then he'll be very tempting, but history isn't kind to horses like him.
Hard Spun - Derby followers have already fallen in and out of love with this horse a few times. After winning his first four races he went into the Southwest as a very heavy favorite - 1/2. He was a dull fourth to Teuflesburg, a horse that nobody was paying attention to. That performance was enough to make people quit talking about the horse. His connections sent him to Turfway for the Lane's End, and he recaptured attention by winning the Lane's End handily. He's likely going to head to Keeneland for the Blue Grass next. A couple of things concern me about this horse. First, he tired badly at the end of the Southwest. Sure, he ran wide around the corners which added distance, but it was only a mile race. Though he has the breeding to get the Derby distance, I didn't like what I saw in that race. The other thing I don't like is that his last two races will be on Polytrack. If he runs well on it again then he would clearly favor that surface, and that could make the switch to dirt for the Derby difficult.