The current system of earning points to make it into the Kentucky Derby field is a relatively new one. It's a solid system but not a perfect one. No horse this year will more expose the issues with the system than Oscar Nominated. No matter how he does in the Derby - and I don't expect him to do well - you will never convince me that he really belongs here. He has found a back door into the field, and it could be at the expense of a horse that is more deserving.
Now, let's be clear - the fault isn't with his owners. Ken and Sarah Ramsey are world-class owners and breeders with four Breeders' Cup wins and six Eclipse awards to their credit. They are sending this horse because they love Churchill Downs - they have won 22 leading owner titles at the track, which is a record - and they want a Triple Crown win. They also want to make up for falling painfully short last year - International Star, who was a strong contender, was scratched on Derby day. Oscar Nominated wasn't Derby nominated, but the Ramsey's can afford to pay the $200,000 to supplement him without thought, and they will. The problem is with the race the horse won last time out.
Last race: Oscar Nominated won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. He didn't exactly dominate it - he won by a nose in a group finish. The lack of dominance is part of the problem but not the biggest issue. Of far more concern is that the race provides the winner with enough points to get into the race. It is run on a synthetic track - the last of the major preps still to be. Top horses wouldn't choose to run in the race, and there is no reason to expect form at Turfway to transfer at all to Churchill. Yet the winner is awarded 50 points - more than enough to guarantee a spot in the Derby. It just attaches too much significance to a race that doesn't matter. Beating an undistinguished field of never-beens and washed-up runners desperate for a last shot at Derby points on a track that has nothing to do with what they will race on in the Derby proves absolutely nothing. It would be like taking the winning pitcher from the Double-A all-star game and awarding him the start in the opening game of the World Series. So, based on this last race is the horse any good? Is he up to the Derby challenge? We have absolutely no way of knowing and shouldn't be forced to guess.
Prior experience: The horse broke his maiden in his third try at Belmont last October. From there it was two meaningless stakes at Fair Grounds - a second followed by a first - leading up to the Spiral. So, three tries at a maiden, two ungraded stakes, and a win on synthetic against no one. I will bet anything that the 21st horse on the Derby points list will be excluded with a more accomplished past than this one.
Trainer: Mike Maker does not have a Triple Crown race win to his credit, but he certainly has lots of experience winning the races nonetheless. From 1993 until 2003 he was an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas. In that time the stable won the Derby and the Preakness three times each and the Belmont four times. Maker has had Derby horses himself - most notably Hansen and Stately Victor. He knows his stuff. It will not be his fault if and when the horse is irrelevant in the Derby.
Jockey: Robby Albarado has been aboard for the last two and presumably will be again here. At this point Albarado, who is 42, is far from the top of his game. He has one Triple Crown race win - the 2007 Preakness aboard Curlin. He was second in the Derby in 2013 on Golden Soul, though, and third the next year in the Belmont. He's capable, though not the most inspiring rider in the field.
Breeding: Like virtually all Ramsey horses this is a homebred. Sire Kitten's Joy has bred 36 stakes winners for the Ramsey's, including the winners of three Breeders' Cup races. He has sired sprinters and distance horses on dirt and turf. Damsire Theatrical has produced all sorts of horses that could run forever, but mostly on turf. Stamina isn't a concern with this pedigree, but the dirt is more of one.
Odds: I am writing this five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. BetOnline has individual odds listed for 45 horses that could potentially win the Derby. Oscar Nominated is not one of them. That says a lot. He's going to be a major long shot - and not one that offers value.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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