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As Derby Day Nears the Sizzle Increases

Carpe Diem heads into Kentucky Derby 141 off an impressive win in Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Photo Courtesy of Coady Photography.

Carpe Diem heads into Kentucky Derby 141 off an impressive win in Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Photo Courtesy of Coady Photography.

The journey to the Kentucky Derby is, in many years, one shaped by attrition. Contenders frequently go to the wayside with injury, illness, poor luck with weather and other issues.

As we saw this past weekend, completing an unbeaten season with an NCAA college basketball championship is a difficult thing to accomplish.  That’s why that achievement is so rare.

I have no quantifiable data to back this up, but I believe winning a single Kentucky Derby – much less a Triple Crown – is tougher task by a margin of light years.

That’s one reason why the race on the firstThe journey to the Kentucky Derby is, in many years, one shaped by attrition. Contenders frequently go to the wayside with injury, illness, poor luck with weather and other issues.Saturday in May at Churchill Downs has become the Holy Grail that it is.  President John Kennedy launched America’s bid to put Americans on the moon with these words: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Winning a Kentucky Derby is not exactly a moon shot, but, man, it is hard.  Just getting to the race is hard.  Winning it is close to the impossible dream.

The degree of difficulty of the path to the Kentucky Derby has generated an ever-growing list of horses that might have won the roses had they only gotten to the starting gate.

General Duke was the pre-race favorite in 1957 in the field that is regarded as the best of all Derbys, but he was injured just before the race and was on the sidelines as Calumet Farm stabemate Iron Liege won the race.

Buckpasser and Graustark were potential superstars of the 3-year-old crop in 1966 and their anticipated showdown in the Kentucky Derby was viewed as a potential match for the ages. But both were stopped by injury before the big day at Churchill Downs..

Eventual Horse of the Year A.P. Indy was scratched on the morning of the 1992 Kentucky Derby because of a foot issue, and Pat Day and Lil E. Tee would run to victory that afternoon. A.P. Indy would return five weeks later to dominate in the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of the Triple Crown.

And let’s not forget 2009 when the Derby favorite I Want Revenge was scratched on the morning of the race.  Later that day, Calvin Borel would pilot 50-1 shot Mine That Bird to a stunning victory in the mud over his 18 remaining rivals.

But this year could be different.

With just over three weeks remaining in the journey to the 2015 Kentucky Derby, nearly all of the the horses that have for months been atop the list of possible winners are still there.  We have lost reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red to a foot issue and Turfway Park’s Spiral winner Dubai Sky dropped off the Derby Trial with an injury late last week.

But unbeaten Dortmund romped in last week’s Santa Anita Derby and Carpe Diem rolled in the returned-to-dirt Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and has yet to run a poor race in his career.  Frosted gained redemption for a frustrating winter with a return-to-form romp in the Wood Memorial and he heads to Louisville with momentum.

This Saturday we’ll see if reigning 2-year-old champion American Pharoah can build on his brilliant resume and continue his dominance in the Arkansas Derby.

Acknowledging that the pursuit of the Derby’s roses is very difficult and a misfortune lurks nearby with every rising sun, the anticipation of this year’s Derby and the sizzle in the Derby scene is growing with each day.  We must always be ready for potential heartbreak in the pursuit of the solid gold cup that goes to the Kentucky Derby winner, but difficult to restrain one’s enthusiasm over the way this year’s race is shaping up.

I’m keeping fingers crossed and holding my breath, but I believe this year’s Kentucky Derby truly  has the potential to be renewal that we’ll be recalling and discussing for a long time.

Let’s hope for some good weather and even better luck for all of the horses zeroing in on Saturday, May 2 at Churchill Downs.  If that occurs, we could all be luckier than we would ever imagine. VT