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5 Questions to Take Away from This Weekend’s Kentucky Derby Preps

There’s no other way to say it— This has been THE most unpredictable, unreliable Kentucky Derby trail I have seen in… well, years, really. Just when it seems we may see a horse assert himself as the one to beat, he either becomes injured, or throws in a complete clunker, sending every one of us, trying to make top ten lists, for a loop.

A year in which we have been left with more questions than answers, 2017 has kept even the best of handicappers and fortune-tellers on their toes— never knowing whether Irish War Cry will finish first by open lengths, or eighth— never knowing whether Classic Empire will decide to work on his scheduled day— never knowing what Dale Romans might say in an interview prior to a race… wait, the latter, while entirely accurate, was also entirely off-topic.

Anyway, to not go against the grain of this year’s theme, here, my friends, are 5 questions we are left with, following the weekend’s Kentucky Derby preps.

Will we really see a Kentucky Derby without Bob Baffert?

Is there even such a thing? Many might say that the stark white-haired trainer is due for a Derby-less year, after finding once-in-a-lifetime success, twice in a lifetime. American Pharoah and Arrogate have brought the Hall-of-Fame trainer more glory than most will see in the span of a career. But, let’s face it— the Kentucky Derby would not be the same without Bob Baffert, which is why I can’t count him out, just yet. Sure, Mastery is on the sidelines indefinitely, American Anthem clearly doesn’t belong in Kentucky Derby competition at this point, and Reach the World, while immensely talented, seems to find the worst trip possible, each time he sets foot on the racetrack. Still, I can’t help but wonder if there is some other, other, other, OTHER Baffert, who will be thrown into the Arkansas Derby, as one last attempt to make the gate on the first Saturday in May.

Come on, Bob, who else are you hiding?

Will Gormley continue his bounce pattern?

He’s hot, then he’s cold. He’s yes, then he’s no… I am definitely reciting Katy Perry lyrics, right now. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

Seriously though, Gormley needs to choose whether he is a winner, or a…. non-winner. I can’t say loser, he’s too cute to be a loser. The only thing consistent about Gormley, thus far, is his bounce pattern. He runs a winning race, then doesn’t hit the board. He has done this numerous times. Yesterday’s Santa Anita Derby did feature a different running style for the son of Malibu Moon, in which he sat several lengths off the leaders, and pounced in the stretch. If he can continue this tactic, he has a much better shot of winning the Derby. However, his tendency to run terribly after running well, will be, and should be, in the back of our minds.

Who will Brian Hernandez Jr. choose to ride?

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 25: Girvin #1, ridden by Brian Hernandez, Jr, wins the Risen Star. on Risen Star Stakes Day at Fair Grounds Race Course on February 25, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jarrod Monaret/Eclipse Sportswire)

He’s in the prettiest pickle any jock could possibly be in, at this time. See, Hernandez Jr. is the rider of both Louisiana Derby- winning Girvin, and fan-favorite, never-run-a-bad-race McCraken. Up until yesterday, McCraken was an undefeated colt, ahead of the Kentucky Derby, and the star rider’s choice seemed an easy one. However, after a hard-fought 3rd place finish in yesterday’s Bluegrass Stakes, it’s safe to say he is likely more on the fence, than on a specific horse at this point in time. I do not believe he will toss McCraken after one loss, but Girvin has to look a bit more appealing today, than he did yesterday.

And this leads me to…

Who will Mike Smith ride?

Just how I cannot imagine a Kentucky Derby without Bob Baffert, I REALLY can’t imagine one without Mike Smith. The veteran rider has been on-fire, it seems, since he climbed upon Arrogate’s back for the first time, last summer. Since that day, he has picked up the mount on nearly every one of Baffert’s top horses, but without a Baffert runner, who will $$$ Mike ride? I have a sneaking suspicion he may hop aboard whomever Brian Hernandez Jr. discards, after making a decision. One thing’s for sure— he’ll either pick up a mount without a current jockey, or someone’s regular rider will be getting dumped for Mike Smith.

Will Classic Empire reclaim his division?

LEXINGTON, KY – OCTOBER 08: #11 Classic Empire wins the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on October 8, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Jessica Morgan/Eclipse Sportswire)

Who knows. I am afraid that only Classic Empire knows that. But, his rebellious tendencies will certainly keep us guessing until Arkansas Derby day, and likely beyond that. In any other year, I would have tossed him long ago, partially because of his antics, and partially because he still doesn’t look like a 10 furlong horse, to me. However, in a year when the only thing certain is uncertainty, it seems that Classic Empire may reclaim his division, still.

After a minor injury, and several refusals to work, the son of Pioneerof the Nile is training lights out, better than he ever has before. Trainer Mark Casse, a man who doesn’t sing the praises of his horses freely, admits that his spunky 3yo “Gave him chills” after his last timed work. Because of this, I have to feel like we will see a sparkly performance in Arkansas next weekend, and I really love sparkly things. My prediction? He’s back, he’s back again.

Perhaps, by some miracle, we will have some solid answers, leading into the first Saturday in May. However, I’m thinking we may have a few more questions arise before the 3yo’s hit Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. Just a hunch.



 

Article written by Nicole Schiveley

Managing Editor & Lead Contributor

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