BOZICH | The most dazzling Kentucky Derby field since ...
The early theme percolating on the backstretch at Churchill Downs is this is the finest Kentucky Derby field in years. Ask Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Monday, April 27th 2015, 11:49 AM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – We are five days from Kentucky Derby 141, and I don't need a stopwatch to report one record has already been broken:
Most superlatives about a Kentucky Derby field.
American Pharoah. Dortmund. Carpe Diem. Mubtaahij. Materiality. El Kabeir. International Star.
That's only a starter set of the runners that has the most skeptical horsemen raving.
I visited the Churchill Downs barn area Sunday and Monday. I scribbled the words "fantastic," "remarkable," and "terrific," so many times that I did not trust my notebook. It was time for an audio review.
Follow along, starting with D. Wayne Lukas, a Hall of Fame trainer, who has won the Derby four times and will compete in the race for a record 28
"I can't remember a better field," Lukas said.
Since 1981, when Lukas saddled the first of his 47 Derby horses?
"Yes," Lukas said. "This field is so outstanding that you could have a really nice horse and still not be good enough."
Some will toss Lukas' comments because he trains a colt – Mr. Z – expected to race in the 20-horse field. Fine. Neil Howard is a superb horseman who nearly won the 1990 Derby with Summer Squall. Howard does not train a Derby starter, but he's equally enthused about this group of 3-year-olds.
"I think it's going to be one heck of a Derby," Howard said. "Obviously both of (trainer Bob) Baffert's horses are outstanding but there are four or five other ones that are really, really, really good colts."
The best since …
"Many years," Howard said. "Many years."
Might as well start calling the roll. I'll start with Baffert's dynamic duo and not simply because Baffert's name sits near the front of the alphabet.
Baffert's barn crackles with so much talent that his unbeaten colt (Dortmund) was the best horse in the Santa Anita Derby but is not considered the best horse in Barn 33.
That would be American Pharoah. On Monday morning, opposing trainers were still fussing about the way American Pharoah covered five furlongs in 58 2/5 seconds, a day after the work.
"Fantastic," said trainer David Carroll. "He just moves different than other horses."
"It's going to take an awfully good horse to beat him," Lukas said. "Boy, his work Sunday, a 58 work you would say in most cases is too fast. Not with him. Some of them breathe different air than the rest of them."
As I said, Lukas has seen tremendous runners in his day. Trained some. Raced against others. The man has won 14 Triple Crown races. He will turn 80 in September. One reason that Lukas remains in the game is that he intends to win his 15
Triple Crown race one day.
But Lukas understands that's unlikely to happen this spring, not with American Pharoah on the grounds.
"Watch him," Lukas said. "I've run against most of them (in the field). I have a good feel for them. We loomed up to (American Pharoah) in Arkansas Derby. We were clocking him.
"The fractions were realistic, not great, but realistic. He was getting some pressure from other horses. We thought we were in great shape. We loomed up.
"And (Pharoah's jockey) Victory Espinosa just kind of shook the reins at him and in 50 yards he was five lengths in front of us. He just went, ‘Wham,' and he was gone. He lengthened his stride four to six feet and he was gone.
"They better have their track shoes on when he kicks it in. He breaks their hearts is what he does."
This is the perfect time for the mandatory disclaimer. Racing fans were saying similar things about Arazi (1992), Holy Bull (1994), Point Given (2001) and one or two others. Those favorites did not get there. They didn't really get close.
There is a reason skepticism reigns on the racetrack. The Derby favorite has won four times in the last 25 years, although the favorite has scored the last two years – Orb in 2013, followed by California Chrome a year ago.
It won't be easy. The winners of the Santa Anita Derby (Dortmund), Blue Grass Stakes (Carpe Diem), Louisiana Derby (International Star) and other top prep races are here.
"I've got a hunch we're looking at a helluva bunch of horses," Lukas said.
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