Can you imagine competing in a destination event with nineteen of your closest rivals in front of more people than you’ve ever seen in one place and having the announcer come across the loud speaker saying “Attention competitors: today, we are going to restrict the winner of this competition to entrants named (inserts your name here).” Woo-freaking-hoo!!! You still have to compete and get the job done but, barring acts of god, a herd of wildebeests in your dressage ring, or missing a fence (just ask Sarah and Jenn how that can screw up a whole weekend!), you are virtually assured a win. That is basically what winning the Derby in the mud is like.
Historically (and most recently, Mine That Bird), a sloppy track produces a Derby winner that has difficulty replicating such success. This fact does not diminish the monumental accomplishment that Orb achieved Saturday. He is still what we would call a ‘world beater’ in the racing industry. Any classic winner qualifies as such. Even getting to the Derby requires so many things to go right. Winning it is an almost unachievable dream for most horses, trainers, and owners. But when reduced to ink and paper, the 2013 Kentucky Derby will not likely be one for the record books.
Clearly, Palace Malice read the program wrong and thought he was in a sprint race. Setting opening fractions of 22.57 and 45.33 in a mile and a quarter race is suicide (remember that the average racing furlong (1/8th of a mile) is 12 seconds and anything faster than that is considered to be exceptionally swift). While he didn’t have any serious pressure, undefeated Verrazano and solid contender Vyjack were not far off that pace. All three were consequently done early, finishing 12th, 18th, and 14th respectively. A half mile into the race, with Palace Malice turning on the afterburners up on the lead, four of the top five finishers were literally bringing up the rear of the pack with Orb 16th by 18 lengths, Golden Soul 15th, Revolutionary 18th, and Mylute 17th. Normandy Invasion, eventually 4th place finisher, raced along in 7th ready to launch a big bid for victory at the 3/8th pole, shaking clear of the field by the ¼ pole. With only a quarter mile left to run, Orb was still 5th, Golden Soul 7th, Revolutionary an astounding 12th, and Mylute 9th. Watching from the dry warmth of JP Malherbe’s beautiful new home, my gaze was riveted to Revolutionary who was flying past rivals. While he made the biggest stretch move, slow and steady was destined to win this Derby and, almost in tandem, Orb and Golden Soul reeled in Normandy Invasion stride by stride, with Orb charging home with renewed vigor once his nose passed the leader. Golden Soul ran an incredible gusty and game race, running well above his odds and thrilling the owners of the house in which I live, Darby Dan Farm, as they stand his sire, Perfect Soul. Mylute continued his steady advance, nearly passing Normandy Invasion in a three way photo for show, and the rest of the field ambled home behind the stars of the day. Orb won in a time of 2:02.89, more than THREE SECONDS slower than Secretariat’s race record. A muddy track will certainly slow a race down but not by three seconds. It will be interesting to see what happens in two weeks in Maryland but I’m calling it now that a dry track and such a quick turnaround will not favor our Derby Champion.
Congratulations to Orb and all of his connections! Give ‘em hell in Maryland!