That was Giacomo. This is Barbaro

Tell you one horse that won’t win the Derby — Giacomo.

Well, Giacomo did win the 2005 Kentucky Derby, but even if he could be in it again this year, he wouldn’t win. Last year’s Derby was a great place for 50-1 shots. This year’s isn’t.

That’s not to knock what Giacomo accomplished. He ate all his oats, trained all his miles and put up with all those pesky little men on his back — just like any other thoroughbred racehorse. And then he won the Kentucky Derby.

The Gray Stray found his place in Derby lore as the igniter of the biggest one-race pari-mutuel payday in horse-racing history: $102 to win; $9,814 exacta; $133,134 trifecta; and a dollar superfecta that came in at $864,253.
But we won’t see payoffs like that again this year.

With the array of top horses lined up for the 132nd Kentucky Derby, I expect one of the favorites will win it. A possible new star.

Brother Derek, the breezing winner of the Santa Anita Derby, will likely be favored in the betting, maybe at 3-1. Lawyer Ron, winner of the Arkansas Derby, could be 5-1. Florida Derby winner Barbaro might be 6-1, with Sweetnorthernsaint at, perhaps, 9-1.

Those are the top four.

Three horses trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert — Sinister Minister, Bob and John and Point Determined — are going to split the “Baffert Money” and come in at 10-1 to 15-1. Sharp Humor, who is locally trained by Dale Romans, will be in there someplace. Romans has said his horse is going to the front, and there is appeal in that to many bettors.

That’s the next four.

After that, horses such as A.P. Warrior, Sunriver and Jazil merit mention. But that’s about it. A guy wearing plaid pants asked about Bluegrass Cat. But I had to tell him that when they go a mile-and-a-quarter, the last thing you want is a horse with “Cat” in its name. He seemed surprised.

Horse handicapper George Hobbs, who is still counting his Monarchos money from 2001, says he doesn’t have a Monarchos to key on this time.

“I can’t get the list any lower than 10 horses,” said George. “Those are the ones who could conceivably win the Derby. Then beyond that, when you get into the ‘gimmicks,’ you’ve got to include all the impossibles — the horses who don’t have a chance, but somehow one of them stumbles home to hit the board at 90-1. In a 20-horse field, it’s a lot of horses to cover.”

Sounds expensive.

“Well,” said George. “If you want to end up in the Big Smiling Line, someplace along the way you’ve got to hit the ‘All’ button.”

Which, in a 20-horse field, can cost. As the extreme example, a $1 superfecta using every horse in the race would figure out at 20 X 19 X 18 X 17 = $116,280.

Of course, a bet like that last year would have netted $800,000.

But that was last year. The peculiar thing about Churchill Downs is they won’t let you bet on races that have already been run.

Says here you can point the finger at just that handful of top eight betting choices and hit the winner. And, unless it pours, you can toss whatsitsname Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice from that list. Unlikely, as well, are Sinister Minister, Sharp Humor and Lawyer Ron. I don’t think they’re going to like the Derby distance.
That gets it down to Barbaro, Sweetnorthernsaint, Point Determined and Brother Derek. All obviously good horses. But I think undefeated Barbaro might be a really good horse. He’ll be my strong pick in the 132nd Run for the Roses.

Not a straw in his path
After Barbaro won three turf races to begin his career, trainer Michael Matz, a former U.S. Olympic equestrian, switched Barbaro to the dirt this winter at Gulfstream Park, in Florida.

Barbaro splashed nicely through the mud in the Holy Bull Stakes, then looked like a genuine star in the 11/8-mile Florida Derby. Breaking from the outside post under outstanding rider Edgar Prado, Barbaro stalked pace-setting Sharp Humor to the top of the Gulfstream Park stretch, then took the victory — with power in reserve at the finish.

Barbaro means “outstanding” in Spanish. Or “barbaric” in Portuguese. But friends of the owners confided that Barbaro is actually named for the family dog, and is pronounced as plain old barber-o.

The owners are Roy and Gretchen Jackson, of West Grove, Pa. He’s in baseball and is the former owner of the Tucson Toros (AAA) and York (Pa.) Pirates (Eastern League). She’s affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s famed New Bolton veterinary center. The Jacksons race their horses as the Lael Stable (Gaelic for “loyal”), and also may enter undefeated Showing Up in the Kentucky Derby.

Interestingly, Barbaro has not raced since the April 1 Florida Derby. But that is exactly by Matz’s design. The trainer laid out a course for his horse, and, as they say on the backside, hasn’t found a straw in his path.
Historians will tell you no Kentucky Derby winner has won off as long as a five-week layoff since Needles did it in 1956 — 50 years ago this week.

So what? In 131 previous runnings, just about every timing possibility has worked. Regret won the 1915 Derby in her FIRST start of the year. Black Gold, Citation, Hill Gail, Dark Star and Tim Tam all prepped for Kentucky Derby victories by winning the Derby Trial, when the race was run FOUR DAYS before the Derby.

Needles was a terrific horse, and an excellent Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, and Barbaro could be, too.

And Barbaro hails from hardy Hail to Reason line. He should get the 11/4 miles Derby distance, just as did Sunny’s Halo and Sunday Silence.

WARNING TO READERS: The next two paragraphs contain “Dosage” talk, which many of the Blue Grass breeders would prefer you not know about.

In an age where more and more top-bred horses show up with zeros in the stamina numbers of their Dosage Profiles, Barbaro carries chef-de-race points through all five aptitudinal categories and is highest in the middle “Classic” category. “A certain sign of stamina,” as Daily Racing Form Bloodlines writer Leon Rasmussen always noted. Barbaro’s dosage profile reads: 10-4-21-2-1 = 1.81 DI.

Also appealing by Dosage is Sunriver, at 9-1-14-2-2 = 1.55. He is by St. Ballado, also from the Hail to Reason Line. Longshot Private Vow, by Broken Vow, has this Derby’s lowest (that’s good) Dosage Index of 1.11, from numbers of 9-2-9-2-3 = 1.11. Sweetnorthernsaint has a nice 4-1-6-3-0 = 1.33. Likely favorite Brother Derek is 10-3-16-1-0 = 2.33. Conspicuously “over” in dosage is Lawyer Ron, at 4-7-7-0-0 = 4.14.

Non-Dosage believers resume here:
The big knock on Barbaro is probably the “turfiness” in his pedigree and running style. They say he runs like a turf horse, with high leg action that helps him bound over the blades, rather than skipping low across the dirt. They say, he “hits the ground too hard.”

Yet even after Barbaro “pounded out” a :46 half-mile bullet work Saturday morning at Churchill Downs, racing officials were still able to run the races that afternoon at the track.

The way we picture the Derby is, Barbaro settles in behind the speed early, moves on the leaders around the turn, and draws away in the stretch.

Make the time 2:02 4/5 (exactly the same as Giacomo last year), and be sure to use Sweetnorthernsaint, Sunriver, Brother Derek and Point Determined in your exactas.
Good luck!

Contact the writer at [email protected]