The year was 1882 when a chestnut gelding named Apollo won the Kentucky Derby. Chester A. Arthur was sitting US President, inheriting the Oval Office the year before due to the assassination of James Garfield. Although Apollo is well remembered today, President Arthur was named by Life Magazine as one of the “Ten Most Forgettable US Presidents.” His 10am-4pm typical work day probably didn’t help perceptions, although White House staff was happy that champagne, whisky and wine returned to the Executive Mansion.
Also, during this time, my great-great uncle Joseph White (Americanized from the Italian surname of Loretto) was probably delivering mail via horseback to Wyoming and gambling in a Saloon in Leadville, Colorado — a town made famous by gunslinger Doc Holliday.
Chronicled in a September 1979 article in The New Yorker, Uncle Joe was an honest, but way-too-successful gambler in a three-dice game called Chuck-a-Luck. He once had a six-shooter pointed at his head in a Leadville saloon by a drunk and mad gold prospector because he kept winning even when he tried to lose, out of fear for his safety. Fortunately, a big Irish bartender came to his aid.
What does this all have to do with the 2018 Kentucky Derby?
Quite a bit, actually. First, 1882 was the last year a horse — the aforementioned Apollo — won the Kentucky Derby after not having raced as a 2-year old. Hence, the “Curse of Apollo” was created over time. I feel that this 136-year-old curse is in huge danger of coming to an end by the Bob Baffert-trained colt Justify or the Todd Pletcher trainee Magnum Moon. Both are undefeated and among the favorites to win the 2018 Run for the Roses.
Second, this year’s Kentucky Derby is going to be an absolute Wild West shootout. A duel involves two; a shootout involves many. The 2018 Kentucky Derby is going to be like a shootout at OK Corral.
Most Derby years, if you are looking for the Kentucky Derby winner, in Doc Holliday Tombstone movie fashion, I’d reply, “I’m your Huckleberry.”
That is 1880s Wild West slang for “I’m the man you’re looking for” or “I’m the man for the job.” I can usually narrow down the Kentucky Derby to two horses and load up on big win bets on each and double or triple my money. I am not so sure I can do that this year, as the 2018 Derby crop is much more talented than in year’s past.
I feel that 5 or 6 colts could win this race: Justify, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Bolt d’Oro and Audible. And, since there will be plenty of early speed in the race, this Derby could set up nicely for the Desormeaux brothers’ colt My Boy Jack, who is a closer.
Generally, when I look for potential Derby winners, I desire a time under 38 seconds over the last 3 furlongs in their last 9-furlong Derby prep race to ensure that the horse has the necessary closing speed. I look at the time difference between the final time and the 3/4-mile (six-furlong) mark and estimate that a length is generally around 0.16 seconds. It is not exact science but a pretty good estimate if you don’t have times from Trackus.
To illustrate why I think this is important, below are the final 3-furlong times in the last Derby prep race for the last six Kentucky Derby winners:
2017-Always Dreaming (36.56 in Florida Derby)
2016-Nyquist (37.64 in Florida Derby)
2015-American Pharoah (37.82 in Arkansas Derby)
2014-California Chrome (36.69 in Santa Anita Derby)
2013-Orb (37.74 in Florida Derby)
2012-I’ll Have Another (36.42 in Santa Anita Derby)
The 2018 Kentucky Derby class is loaded with talent and speed. Below are the top ten estimated final 3-furlong times I came up with in this class from their last major Derby preps. Note that I used My Boy Jack’s Louisiana Derby time since it was 9-furlong race instead of his last race which was the 8 ½-furlong Lexington Stakes.
* Mendelssohn’s final 3-furlong time was estimated based on his time for the last 700 meters of the UAE Derby. He won by such a large margin (18 1/2 lengths) that he was able to coast home. So, I think had he been put to a drive, his time would be real close to Justify’s time and perhaps even better.
You’ll notice that the top two times are from colts that didn’t race as 2-year-olds — Magnum Moon and Justify. Therefore, I feel that this 136-year-old Curse of Apollo is in extreme danger of coming to an end. Trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have both proven that they can work wonders with 3-year-olds.
“Daisy” is another late 1800s slang term used in the movie Tombstone by Doc Holliday. In a scene where Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo meet in a wooded area, Holliday shoots and kills the outlaw Ringo. As Ringo falls to the ground, Holliday quips: “You’re no daisy. You’re no daisy at all.”
Daisies were symbolic of purity and innocence. More importantly, they were admired for their ability to outlast all other flowers in the vase. So, in the context above, a “daisy” meant the best in class or the last man standing.
Who will be the last horse standing on 2018 Derby Day? Is Oaklawn Park track announcer Vic Stauffer onto something that there’s a bad moon on the rise with Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon?
Trainer Bob Baffert turned a Kentucky Derby non-starter, West Coast, into the best 3-year-old colt in the country last year. Can he work wonders again with Justify and put an end to the Derby curse?
The Aidan O’Brien trained Mendelssohn won by the length of a tractor-trailer in the UAE Derby. You can scrutinize his competition all you want, but, remember, he won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf — and several runners from that race have done well on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Florida Derby has produced the last two Kentucky Derby winners and three out of the last five. So, you have to consider Todd Pletcher’s 2018 Florida Derby winner Audible.
Bolt d’Oro has an excellent pedigree and I feel he hasn’t run his best race. However, he has yet to eclipse any of his competition at the wire as a 3-year-old, winning the San Felipe Stakes due to a disqualification of McKinzie and finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby. But I generally get the feeling that Bolt d’Oro has much more left in the tank. His jockey Javier Castellano will keep him closer to Justify coming out of the last turn. The Desormeaux Brothers hope for more of a battle for the early lead between these two as this will set up things nicely for their closer My Boy Jack.
Overall, the 2018 Kentucky Derby is wide-open this year and I expect a wild and woolly race to the wire. I would love to see the 136-year Curse of Apollo finally come to an end. To help reverse the curse, instead of the Mint Julep that Churchill Downs has promoted since 1938, the Derby cocktail of the day should be an 1880s favorite — the Whisky Daisy, made with genuine Kentucky bourbon.
From “Bartender’s Guide” by Jerry Thomas (1887):
- 3 dashes gum syrup
- 2 dashes Orgeat syrup
- The juice of half a small lemon
- 1 wine-glass of Bourbon, or rye whiskey
Fill glass one-third full of shaved ice and add ingredients above. Shake well, strain into a large cocktail glass and fill up with Seltzer or Apollinaris water.
Michael is a pharmacist by profession, author of “Masten Gregory: Totally Fearless” as well as a horse racing blog that can be found at: www.thederbyhandicapper.com. He attributes his love for horse racing to two things: his grandfather who used to listen to horse races on the radio broadcasted from the now defunct Ak-Sar-Ben race track in Omaha, Nebraska and a Sports Illustrated subscription in the 1970s.