derbyLOUISVILLE, Ky. — They had the rat race here last weekend, then followed that bit of silliness with the impressive “Thunder Over Louisville,” a gigantic nighttime fireworks show that lit up the Ohio River for miles in each direction. This can mean only one thing, the runup to the 135th Kentucky Derby has started.

On the first Saturday in May, this old river town will shake off the memory of last winter’s devastating ice storm, pull on its Spring finery and head out to Churchill Downs to honor the thoroughbred race horse in what newspaper writers call “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”

The field for the Derby is limited to the 20 three-year-olds with the most earnings in graded stakes.  Before the earnings rule was put in place several years ago, the Derby had become a dangerous stampede. Rich folks would pay the entry fees and run their outclassed animals just to be able to say they once had a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Now, with horses having to qualify by running against stiff competition, an entered horse may actually have a chance of winning.

Since we are blessed to live in the enlightened State of Georgia Power, one of only eight states that outlaws pari-mutuel wagering, the following information is For Amusement Purposes Only and is not to be used to gamble via computer with one of those wretched offshore betting concerns or with an equally detestable Atlanta-area bookie.

In the sketches below, we’ll name the horse and how much money he’s made. Then we’ll name its sire and provide a number called the Dosage Index. The DI is a figure based on the performances of the offspring of the entrant’s sire line going back four generations. I won’t bore you with the details because I’m not sure I understand them myself. I do know that only three horses with a DI over 4.00 have won the Derby. The higher the number, the more likely the horse is to be a sprinter and unable to stay the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

Before May 2, it’s possible a horse will twist an ankle during a morning workout or come down with a fever and will be withdrawn. He will be replaced in the Derby starting gate by the next ranked horse. As of now, here’s the field:

  • REGAL RANSOM $1,250,000. Sire: Distorted Humor DI: 2.00. Made all that qualifying money running in the United Arab Emirates, usually not a good starting point for the Derby, but he has been working in Kentucky for several weeks. Against him is the fact that he won’t really be three years old until weeks after the race.
  • PIONEEROF THE NILE $1,193,250. Sire: Empire Maker. DI: 3.89. The hope of the West Coast, this colt is trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Derby three times. That alone makes him dangerous, but all of his races have been on California’s synthetic surfaces. Will he adapt to Kentucky dirt?
  • •    SQUARE EDDIE $804,981. Sire: Smart Strike. DI: 3.40. Missed training time this spring when he cracked a shin bone. Ran in a stakes just two weeks before the Derby and finished third, two lengths behind the winner. He’s on a tight schedule and may not have enough preparation.
  • I WANT REVENGE $774,000. Sire: Stephen Got Even. DI: 3.00. He ran behind Pioneerof The Nile twice on synthetic tracks in California. After shipping east, he found his footing on the New York dirt. He won the Gotham Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths and the Wood Memorial by 1 1/2. A contender?
  • PAPA CLEM $760,000. Sire: Smart Strike. DI: 3.36. Another who abandoned West Coast synthetics for dirt. On his first trip east, he caught a sloppy track at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and still finished second in the Louisiana Derby. Then he moved north and ran down the heavy favorite to win the Arkansas Derby by a half length. A possibility.
  • QUALITY ROAD $600,000. Sire: Elusive Quality. DI: 2.38. He will be shipping in from Gulfstream Park in Florida, where he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby. He came out of that race with a quarter crack (a split in the wall of the hoof) on his right hind foot. Will he heal in time?
  • •    GENERAL QUARTERS $595,645. Sire: Sky Mesa. DI: 2.69. Won his first race as a two year old right here at Churchill Downs. A versatile, well-traveled colt, he earlier won a stakes race on the dirt at Tampa Bay Downs then shipped to Lexington and won the Bluegrass Stakes on Keeneland Race Course’s synthetic surface.
  • FRIESAN FIRE $570,465. Sire: A. P. Indy. DI: 3.00. Took down three straight stakes races this spring in New Orleans, ending the streak with a 7 1/2 length victory in the Louisiana Derby. However, he is facing a seven-week gap between races.  Did he need a prep race?
  • DESERT PARTY $491,667. Sire: Street Cry. DI: 3.80. A versatile runner, he won last year on a synthetic surface at Arlington Park in Chicago then shipped to Saratoga Springs to win the Sanford Stakes on dirt. However, he has been prepping this year in the UAR. History is not on his side.
  • MUSKET MAN $485,000. Sire: Yonaguska. DI: 4.00. Winner of the Tampa Bay and Illinois Derbies against suspect competition, he’ll have to step up his game against this field. Plus, distance is a question. His sire made a half million dollars sprinting, and this horse’s DI is right on the usually deadly 4.00 mark.
  • HOLD ME BACK $438,000. Sire: Giant’s Causeway. DI: 3.44. Made his money running on synthetic tracks, which he won’t be able to do in here. He tried dirt against a good field in last year’s Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in New York and finished a dismal 5th.
  • WEST SIDE BERNIE $385,160. Sire: Bernstein. DI: 1.80. He won last year’s Kentucky Cup Juvenile on a synthetic surface. Over the winter he switched between synthetics and dirt several times with little to show for it. He did run second in the Wood Memorial in his final prep.
  • CHOCOLATE CANDY $370,000. Sire: Candy Ride. DI: 2.08. The hope of the San Francisco Bay area, this colt made his three-year-old debut by winning the California Derby and followed up by winning the El Camino Real Derby. He finished second by a length to Pioneerof The Nile in the Santa Anita Derby. Jerry Hollendorfer is a crafty trainer.
  • WIN WILLY $230,000. Sire: Monarchos. DI: 5.00. His sire won this thing in 2001, and is now billed as “The Derby’s Fastest Living Winner,” a bit of ad copy designed to attract mares to his breeding shed. But mama’s side of the family counts, too. Look at that DI of 5.00 and save your money.
  • ADVICE $206,845. Sire: Chapel Royal. DI: 3.80. This is a horse that has run well at times on artificial surfaces and has also failed miserably on dirt. He made enough money to get into the Derby by winning the Lexington Stakes on a synthetic surface at Keeneland two weeks to the day before the Derby. He is trained by the talented Todd Pletcher, but he appears overmatched in here.
  • DUNKIRK $150,000. Sire: Unbridled’ Song. DI: 3.00. This colt cost his owners $3.7 million as a yearling, yet he could not make the races as a two-year-old. As a three-year-old, he won his first race at Gulfstream on January 24. He came back in a race on February 19 to win at 1 1/8 miles in good time and immediately became the “wise guy horse” despite his lack of seasoning.
  • MIND THAT BIRD $138,705. Sire: Birdstone. DI: 5.40. If this horse wins the Derby, anyone who bets $2 on him will be rich. He was named Canada’s champion two-year-old last year, but he has been running in New Mexico (?) this spring, where he has finished 2nd and 4th.  Look at that DI!
  • THEREGOESJOJO $133,063. Sire: Brahms. DI: 2.53. This horse is in the best of hands. He is trained by Ken McPeek and he will be ridden in the Derby by Kent Desormeaux. Both are veterans of big race days. The colt beat Quality Road in Florida earlier this year, then he lost to Quality Road. In his favor is a win last year over the Churchill Downs surface.
  • FLYING PRIVATE $124,000. Sire: Fusiachi Pegasus. DI: 3.67. In 1988, trainer D. Wayne Lukas caught a field of late running colts and entered his front running filly Winning Colors. She led the boys wire-to-wire and became the last filly to win the Derby. That won’t happen this time. Although this colt’s sire won it, your grandmother’s milk cow could outrun him.
  • MR. HOT STUFF $114,000. Sire: Tiznow. DI: 2.11. A full brother to Grade I stakes winner Colonel John, this colt didn’t win his first race until his fifth start. In two stakes races since, he has finished third. However, he is a late runner who passes horses in the stretch.

Now, if any of you Georgians illegally wager and lose when a horse with a DI of more than 4.00 gallops home in front, do not send e-mails complaining that a writer for Like the Dew said that a horse with a DI above 4.00 could not win this race. I said no such thing. What I said was that in 134 running of the Kentucky Derby, only three horses with a DI higher than 4.00 has ever won.

Here’s why I hedge. Those three winners came relatively recently: REAL QUIET in 1998, CHARISMATIC in 1999 and GIACOMO in 2005. Bob Baffert trained REAL QUIET; he is training PIONEEROF THE NILE. D. Wayne Lukas trained CHARISMATIC; he is training FLYING PRIVATE. (The trainer of GIACOMO does not have a horse entered this year.)

Here’s something else to remember: No horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing at age two since APOLLO in 1882. DUNKIRK, this year’s “wise guy horse,” did not race at two.

Wanna give up on numbers and records and pick one from the heart? Go with GENERAL QUARTERS, who is owned and trained by Tom McCarthy, a retired Louisville school teacher. This is truly a one-horse stable. McCarthy, 72, neither owns nor trains any other horses.

Cliff Green

Cliff Green

Cliff Green is a former writer for The Atlanta Journal. He worked there when it was a real newspaper. His accomplishments since include the fact that he has never watched a minute of reality TV, and he has never been inside a Starbuck's. He owns no device onto which he can download music, nor does he know how to record a television show. He is not sure what an iPhone is. He is proud of all the above.

  1. Terri Evans

    General Quarters it is. You sound like an expert.

  2. Jingle Davis

    Cliff Green does it again. This is far and away the best story I’ve ever read on the Kentucky Derby. Cliff obviously knows what he’s talking about.

    My number one picks, just for the record, Pioneer of the Nile because I love his name and General Quarters because I love his circumstances.

    Thanks for a great story, Cliff.

  3. Eleanor Ringel Cater

    let me tell you…It is such a thrill to have someone writing about horse racing again down South. Someone who knows whereof he speaks and speaks really, really well. I mean, how could a Major Metropolitan Monopoly Newspaper let the esteemed Furman Bisher go and not even try to replace him, Derby-wise??? (though there were really ugly and I’m sure UNFOUNDED rumors that, even after Furman had been grounded from covering the Derby he was still hit up by some power-that-be for Derby access and tickets…..)
    I am such a fan of Cliff Green (he knows this) and I want to read him on horses forever (for example, he’s the first writer to explain to me about the rule change that demanded a horse have won SOMETHING before earning a post position a the Derby)).
    As for his astute handicapping, well, I WANT REVENGE appeals to my overall mindset these days nd DUNKIRK is redolent with Lost Causes. But how can anyone resist a colt whose Daddy is named DISTORTED HUMOR???? So, I guess, REGAL RANSOM.
    Oh, and i like the one from Canada, MIND THAT BIRD. Sounds like he’s backed by SESAME STREET.
    Which brings up my question: when are we going to buy that magical yearling LIKE THE DEW and aim him toward the winner’s circle????

  4. Billy Howard

    I don’t know which I liked better, Cliff’s story or Eleanor’s reply, but between the two, and begging Melinda’s pardon, I think I’ll have me one of them mint juleps!

  5. Nothing but net, Cliff. Probably the most informative and entertaining sports story I’ve read since I moved out of Blackie Sherrod’s circulation area. (Never mind how many years ago that was.)

  6. But don’t their mothers count?

    Wonderful recap, will be sure to have it handy on Derby Day, unlike a certain paper which no longer delivers to the North Georgia Mountains.

  7. I find it fascinating that the top three DI horses in the Derby came in first, second and third. I heard that Mind That Bird owners have their eye on the Belmont rather than the Preakness. Out of curiosity, why would they put a horse with a high DI into a mile and a half race when the Preakness favors speed?

  8. Cliff Green

    Jen, we may have to stop using the DI to pick Derby horses. As an angle, it took a beating in 2009. BTW, Bird’s connections announced today (Monday) that they would go to the Preakness.

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