Recap and thoughts on Kentucky Derby 139: Orb gets the trip, prevails in the slop

Chart: Equibase
Recaps: Bloodhorse  / DRF /
Beyer Speed Figure: 104
Post-Race Comments: Winners / Losing Trainers / Losing Jockeys

The Churchill Downs strip on the first Saturday in May of 2013 was dotted with puddles, deep, and officially listed “Sloppy- Sealed”. Eight of the nineteen entrants had previously raced on dirt labeled “good” or “sloppy” to varying degrees of success, but handicappers know that one off-track can be completely different from another.

With that and recent history in mind, it was conceivable to believe the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby could be won by an inconceivable entrant who would simply relish the conditions. Instead, it was the favorite Orb who delivered his trademark wide come-from-behind burst starting on the backstretch, going into the second turn and finally down the stretch passing fifteen foes when it was all said and done past the wire.

The victory gave Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey his first sniff of the roses while the industry applauded an old-school trainer known for never pushing undeserving colts along the Derby trail. His patience, clean record, and belief in his horse finally give thoroughbred fans a story they won’t be ashamed to read now and through the rest of the Triple Crown season.

It’s no secret that jockey Joel Rosario can ride. Indisputably the hottest jockey of 2013 will now be elevated to late night television appearances and national news features pushing his young legacy even closer to the all-time greats.

The second place finish of Golden Soul surprised most everyone except his trainer Dallas Stewart, who always preached the son of Perfect Soul wanted to go farther and could also excel in the slop. He will go next to the Belmont, perhaps representing Orb’s biggest threat to the Triple Crown.

Calvin Borel got what he wanted with an off-track and close to the rail post for Revolutionary, but the Louisiana Derby winner didn’t have a strong enough kick to catch the winner. Revolutionary will also sit out the Preakness and wait for the Belmont.  

As always, the Kentucky Derby was not without its disappointments. The biggest “what-ifs” will undoubtedly come from those trainers and jockeys who would love a do over on a fast track. The result most likely would have been the same, but several prominent horses like Verrazano, Itsmyluckyday, and Goldencents were clearly spinning their wheels in the slop. Verrazano also suffered a gash on his hind leg, but the track and pace contributed more to his undoing than any superficial cut.

Will we handicappers ever learn that the Kentucky Derby will most likely always have an early fast pace? Since 2000, 11 of 14 Derbies have had an opening quarter below 23 flat and 12 of 14 a second quarter at or below 47 flat. Those times are blazing for a mile and a quarter race and of course favor mid to back-of-the-pack horses.

Some thought this trend would end in 2013 due to the new point system hopefully eliminating sprinters from entering, but when you have 19 horses in a race, the game plan for several will always be to try and steal the race up front. You can blame Mike Smith or the blinkers for Palace Malice’s surprising aggressiveness, but he was closely flanked by Verrazano, Goldencents, Oxbow, Vyjack, and Falling Sky at various moments of the race, all creating upfront pressure.

Congratulations to all those who cashed tickets Saturday and thanks for following the Derby trail on this site. It was a bumpy and unpredictable ride as usual, but we came out with a deserving winner who will hopefully end this awful Triple Crown drought.