By Ed McNamara and Richard Rosenblatt
Is gray the way to the winner’s circle in the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) on Saturday?
Gray, that is, as in a gray/roan 3-year-old dusting off so many bay and chestnuts in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
The 147th edition of the Derby features two gray colts in the field of 20 – 2-1 morning-line favorite Essential Quality and 30-1 shot Soup and Sandwich.
Horse color may or may not matter, but with Essential Quality the strong favorite, it’s hard to overlook a little gray history.
A total of 114 gray/roan horses have run in the Derby – two more on Saturday would make it 116. Eight have won: Giacomo (2005, $102.60 on a $2 win bet); Monarchos (2001, $23); Silver Charm (1997, $10); Winning Colors (1988, $8.80); Gato Del Sol (1982, $44.40); Spectacular Bid (1979, $3.20); Decidedly (1962, $19.40); and Determine (1954, $10.60).
The gray stands out in a crowd, and they usually catch the eye of new bettors because they just look different. Some of racing’s greatest horses are grays that ran but didn’t win the Derby. Among them are Skip Away (12th in 1996); Holy Bull (12th in 1994); Dancer’s Image (14th in 1968 after being DQ’d from first months later); and Native Dancer (second in 1953).
Since Giacomo pulled off a 50-1 stunner in 2005, 31 grays have run in the Derby. The top finish was by Eight Belles in 2008, before she tragically broke down in the gallop out after the race.
In the 2020 Derby, run in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic, three grays were in the field. Enforceable was seventh, Ny Traffic eighth, and Winning Impression 12th.
Essential Quality, trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez, comes into the race with a 5-0 record, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in 2020 and the Blue Grass (G2) on April 3. Soup and Sandwich, trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, ran second to Known Agenda in the Florida Derby (G1) on March 27.
Bays – 55
Chestnuts – 48
Brown – 17
Dark bay/brown – 11
Gray – 8
Black – 4
Dark Bay – 3
Brooklyn Strong, who’s 50-1 on the morning line, slipped into the Derby as the 20th entry thanks to a slew of late defections. He breezed 5 furlongs in 1:00.92 Monday morning at Parx before shipping to Louisville.
“It was perfect,” Danny Velazquez said before qualifying the workout comment all trainers make before big races. “I’d like to say it went as planned, but none of this has been planned. We’re excited.”
The New York-bred gelding finished fifth April 3 in the Wood Memorial in his only start this season. Derby first-timers Velazquez, owner Mark Schwartz and jockey Umberto Rispoli are just happy to be there. Their chances to win are a lot worse than 50-1.
Even when a horse is perfect, people can find something wrong.
Essential Quality, the 2-1 Derby favorite, is 5-for-5, including two wins at Churchill Downs, and has won on the lead, tracking the pace and coming from behind. Randy Moss, one of America’s sharpest public handicappers, isn’t on his bandwagon.
“He’s very solid, but not spectacular,” Moss said Tuesday on a conference call. “For a Kentucky Derby favorite, he hasn’t run that fast. He’s slightly below average for a Derby favorite, but this year that might be good enough to win.”
Moss is waiting for Saturday’s telecast to announce his pick. He did let on that he and fellow NBC analysts Jerry Bailey and Eddie Olczyk are high on 8-1 shot Hot Rod Charlie, trainer Doug O’Neill’s Louisiana Derby (G2) winner.
After lots of rain Wednesday and Thursday, weather.com predicts a pleasant Derby weekend, with high temperatures around 70. There was a 10% chance of rain for Friday, Oaks Day, and a 2% percent chance Saturday.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.