I am the racing fan in my family. Each year I am able to get the in-laws fired up for a Derby party and, if I am lucky, the excitement carries through the entire Triple Crown series. After the Belmont, though, forget it. I am on my own again. By Breeder’s Cup Day, they are all about football and I watch alone.
Because I am the only racing fan, I enjoy the position of “family expert” in regards to racing in general and the Derby specifically. I use the word “expert” only as a relative term in regards to, well, my relatives. Be that as it may, the position does have the advantage of allowing me to sound, if only for a day, that I know what I am talking about.
Watching the Derby telecast the last few years, we have all been hearing about the “Derby Rules” that keep falling. In 2006, Barbaro won the Derby off of a 5 week layoff, something that had not been done in some 50 years or so. In 2007, Street Sense not only won the Derby as the reigning Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion, but also did so on only 2 preps as a 3-year-old which broke a 20 year plus “rule.” (Although in 2006, Barbaro’s first prep was on Jan 1 of that year. I doubt anyone would think that Barbaro would have lost the Derby had he started that race 24 hours earlier). And, in 2008, Big Brown won the Derby in just his fourth lifetime start, something that eluded even the mighty Curlin in 2007.
The one rule we keep hearing over and over is that no horse has won the Derby with zero starts as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882 (also a rule that Curlin failed to break). So, my family is always asking about various rules in regards to post position, jockey records, ownership, you name it. The one thing I always tell them about is how to throw out certain contenders using my favorite “rule.”
It is now going on 64 years since a horse has won the Kentucky Derby with a stupid name. That dubious honor goes to Hoop Jr. who won in 1945.
Ok, I admit that my “rule” has nothing to do with handicapping and pretty much makes no sense, but it’s fun and has actually saved me a few bucks over the years. And, it also has the benefit of allowing me to define “stupid.”
In recent years, horses like Sweetnorthernsaint, Brother Derek, Denis of Cork and Atswhatimtalknbout were automatic tosses regardless of whether they were highly thought of by handicappers or not. Even back in 1973 one could, without studying a lick, determine that a horse named Shecky Greene would never beat a horse named Secretariat. See how that works? Some horses are automatic tosses.
Don’t be fooled by the rule, though. It won’t automatically point you to the winner. Forego, Alydar and Easy Goer are all examples of horses with great names who lost the Derby. Heck, a great name doesn’t even guarantee you a spot in the Derby at all. If it did, the horse bearing the best name of all time, Rock Hard Ten, would have been in and won on the strength of his name alone. But, as I said, it doesn’t point to winners, only to throwouts. Ask anyone who bet on Belamy Road and had to watch Giacomo win at 50-1. As they were tearing up their tickets, one might have heard them say, “Damn, at least Giacomo is a cool name.”
This year I have had to defend and repeatedly define my rule. To anyone who will listen, I proudly tell them that I was able to bet a future wager on The Pamplemousse at 29-1 prior to his smashing victory in the Sham.
“Jim, what about your rule? Isn’t The Pamplemousse a stupid name?”
“No,” I say, “Pioneerof the Nile is a stupid name. That insufferable lack of a space after the ‘r’ will do him in. The Pamplemousse is a cool name.”
I then go into a long talk about how “Pamplemousse” would be a stupid name, but the addition of the word “The” makes it perfectly acceptable. By then, they usually have a far away look in their eye and are sorry they asked.
But, they like my mint juleps, so they put up with me.