Monday, April 16, 2012

Eighteen Is The Answer

by Bill Finley
   The Bodemeister and Dullahan camps had plenty to smile about over the weekend as their horses won major Kentucky Derby prep races and looked good doing so. Both are good horses and either one could easily win May 5 at Churchill Downs. That is, of course, unless they draw the one post. If that happens they might as well not even show up.
   Churchill Downs needs to fix the problem that is the one hole, and it is a serious problem. It’s bad enough that when you draw inside of 19 other horses you are all but guaranteed of getting into traffic problems. But the real issue is that the horse unlucky enough to break from post one is asked to start the race on the turn. Watch the head-on of any Derby over the last several years. With the way the gate is positioned, the one horse actually breaks to the inside of the inner rail. That means they can either run straight into the rail or the jockey can try to veer out a few paths immediately after the break. The latter means certain traffic problems, probably severe traffic problems.
   It’s well known that the one post hasn’t produced a Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986. But here’s a much more startling statistic: Since 1988, when Risen Star finished third, no Derby starter breaking from the one post has even finished in the money. That’s 22 years and 66 straight No. 1s who couldn’t even make it in to the Top 3.

No shot from the one hole? The field breaks from
the Derby gates.
    The one post is a disadvantage that horses simply can’t overcome.
   Many want the Derby field reduced to 14. That would eliminate the problems associated with the one post and greatly cut down on the traffic problems. A 14-horse Kentucky Derby would be a much truer race and, therefore, a better race.
   It’s never going to happen. More money is going to be bet on a 20-horse race than a 14-horse race and Churchill is never going to let those dollars get away.
   The answer is to make the Derby an 18-horse race. By doing so, the horses that break from posts one and two can break from the same slots where the three and four now leave from. That would take away the problem of a horse breaking inside the rail. And cutting just two horses out wouldn’t affect the wagering that much.
   Racing luck will always be part of the equation, but a race as important as the Kentucky Derby needs to have a level a playing field as possible. It’s wrong to have a post position draw essentially eliminate a starter. Eighteen is the answer.

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