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May 02, 2008

134th Kentucky Derby field has too many questions

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor


Louisville, KY (Sports Network) - This year marks the 30th anniversary of the last Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred history. Affirmed out fought Alydar in the three races to become the third Triple Crown winner in the 1970's.

There have been plenty of near misses since Affirmed ran off the three victories, but still no Triple crown winner. This year 20 three-year-olds are set to finally break the drought, but with no "Super Horse" in the Run for the Roses don't expect a sweep in 2008.

The morning-line only has three horses listed at less than 10-1, Big Brown is the favorite at 3-1, Colonel John is 4-1 and Pyro is the third choice at 6-1. Had Pyro put in a winning effort in the Blue Grass Stakes he would be the favorite by a sizable margin.

"He doesn't seem to get bothered or rattled by anything," said Eoin Harty, trainer of Colonel John. "He's certainly traveling very well and he seems to get stronger the further he gallops. These are all positive signs and you've got to hang your hat on every positive sign like that."

The trouble with Big Brown is he has only three career starts and the Florida Derby was his first stakes race. Of course, these days lack of experience is quickly becoming a non-factor.

"It's a horse race, and I have the best horse in the race. It's that simple," said Big Brown's trainer Rick Dutrow. "We're going to Kentucky to win, anything less than that is not going to be okay with us. There's such good karma going around the stable now that I don't see how he can get beat."

After Pyro, four are 15-1 in the program with another nine horses grouped at 20-1. Three have been slotted at 30-1 with Big Truck the outsider at 50-1.

We even have a filly, Eight Belles, in the field. However, at morning-line odds of 15-1 she is not considered a special horse.

"We came so close last year with Hard Spun," said Eight Belles owner Rick Porter. "We do think she belongs and we have a chance to make history. If you don't run, you can't win. Right now, you don't know how good Big Brown is, and no one is sure how good Eight Belles is either."

The difference in surfaces looks to have been a factor in determining the morning-line. Monba won the Blue Grass Stakes on an all-weather surface and is 15-1. Blue Grass runner-up Cowboy Cal is 20-1 as is Bob Black Jack who was second to Colonel John in the Santa Anita Derby.

Gayego won the Arkansas Derby on dirt, his only start not on an all-weather surface, and is 15-1 in the morning-line. Pyro hated the artifical track in the Blue Grass after success on dirt surfaces.

"He's as good as he can be for this and he's coming up to it as well as we could have wanted," noted Gayego's trainer Paulo Lobo. "On Saturday I won't give (jockey) Mike Smith any instructions. That's the nice part of having a rider like him. He knows the horse and he knows what to do."

We don't know if the rest of the field is a lot of junk or champions waiting to emerge.

Smooth Air has had success on sloppy tracks and since rain on Friday and Saturday is possible he gets a look see.

Z Fortune has just one bad race in six career starts. With Steve Asmussen training and Robby Albarado riding, Z Fortune gets strong consideration.

Adriano, 30-1, won the the Lane's End Stakes after a ninth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. However, two of his wins came on all-weather surfaces and the other victory was on the turf.

"I don't know how he's going to behave in front of 160,000 people, but I'm really impressed how well he's done," said Adriano's trainer Graham Motion about the colt's improved behavior since arriving at Churchill Downs.

There are simply too many questions marks in this year's Kentucky Derby.

Now that Big Brown will break from the 20th hole on the far outside, he cannot be considered the horse to beat anymore. Either he will be used up to get to the lead or he will run a completely different type of race than he has ever run before.

"Actually, we're kind of glad," trainer Rick Dutrow said about the outside post. "I'd rather have this post than a lot of other ones. It might be too far out there, but we were willing to accept that challenge."

With so much speed in this year's Kentucky Derby, Pyro of the Louisiana Derby should have things his way. Colonel John, if he likes the dirt, is in the mix and Smooth Air based on his prior success in the slop will be the longshot to boost the exotics.



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