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May 09, 2008

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


            On May 3rd Churchill Downs hosted the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby with a full field of hopeful three year olds entering the starting gate. The favorite in the race was the undefeated BIG BROWN who was coming off a huge win in the Florida Derby. COLONEL JOHN was sent off as the second choice and was making his first start on a conventional dirt surface after racing on a synthetic surface his entire career. PYRO, who was some experts’ favorite just a few months ago, was sent off as the 5-1 third choice off a disappointing performance in the Blue Grass at Keeneland over the Polytrack. BIG BROWN, COLONEL JOHN and PYRO were the only three horses that had single digit odds, with the rest of the field going off at double digit odds showing how wide open this race was.

            When the gates broke, BIG BROWN was well positioned despite breaking from post 20 and settled in the sixth spot early on behind a contested pace that saw the early splits of 23:1, 47, with the three quarter mark going in 1:11. COLONEL JOHN was steadied early on while in tight and made a big run on the turn while wide but couldn’t sustain that bid and checked in a well beaten sixth. PYRO was bumped hard at the start and had to race at the back of the pack but did close some ground through the lane to finish eighth well behind the easy winner BIG BROWN.

            BIG BROWN made a big move on the turn to get up to the leaders, went by as they entered the stretch and never looked back scoring by almost five lengths to remain undefeated in four starts and stamping himself as the heavy favorite to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 when AFFIRMED completed the sweep of all three races in a great battle with ALYDAR who finished second in all three.

            The excitement of the win by BIG BROWN was quickly diminished when the second place finisher, the filly EIGHT BELLES was down on the backstretch. The filly had suffered condylar fractures to both front ankles and had to be euthanized. She was almost in the backstretch after galloping out when the injury occurred. Dr. Larry Bramlage said the injury was too catastrophic for her to be saved. He also added that he had never seen an injury like that happen at the end of a race.            

            Moving on to the Preakness on May 17th it looks like BIG BROWN will be a very heavy favorite. As of this writing there are only six horses expected to go in the race with RECAPTURETHEGLORY the only other Derby horse that is expected to run in the race. As long as he stays healthy it would be hard pressed to see BIG BROWN losing this race; the Belmont which is run at the very testing distance of 1 and ½ miles will be his real test. They don’t call it the Test of Champions for nothing. In 2004 SMARTY JONES, undefeated through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness wasn’t able to hold on as the last 1/8th of a mile got to him when BIRDSTONE ran him down denying him the Triple Crown.

            In the aftermath of the Derby and with the tragedy to EIGHT BELLES there has been many articles written about what should be done in racing. It’s been called a brutal, barbaric sport; PETA has called for the jockey to be suspended. Well, it is very hard to deal with a horse breaking down, those that love the game know that there is nothing harder to watch than a horse go down on the track. For those that work with the horses, own them, train them and ride them the emotions run even higher. Larry Jones, the trainer has come out in defense of Jockey Gabriel Saez, not that he should have to but again there are people who know absolutely nothing about what they are talking about calling for this jockey to be suspended. If he felt something prior to the horse breaking down he would have obviously reacted to it, his life is on the line also. To call the sport brutal and barbaric again is ridiculous. The authors that pen this cover racing maybe once a year and are all of a sudden experts. These horses are well cared for, they are treated like family and when one goes down it affects these horseman like it was their family, to put ignorance out in the public only adds to the problem. The close-knit racing community will get through this like it has in other tragedies and we will pray for EIGHT BELLES and her connections. We will look forward to watching BIG BROWN the rest of the way and as always, hope that everyone, horse and rider come back safe.



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