One of the great things about the Kentucky Derby is that even the casual observer will usually find a horse in the field to root for in the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May.
Whether it is a selection that was arrived at after meticulous study, for sentimental reasons, or simply because of a catchy name or a favorite number, having a rooting interest enhances the experience.
The $2 bettors heart pumps just as fast, and he - or she - screams just as loudly as the so-called heavy hitters when the starting gate bursts open and the field thunders toward the clubhouse turn.
So everybodys backing their horse in the Derby.
Im no different.
And I like The Deputy to win the 126th running of the Derby.
Making this selection means going against the probable favorite in the race, Fusaichi Pegasus, a horse that has beaten The Deputy once before.
And Ill tell you up front that Im not among those who believe that Pegasus will act up before the race and expend a lot of energy in a manner that will compromise his chances.
Instead, I think its important to take a closer look at the race when these two went head-to-head, the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 19th, to understand why Im leaning towards The Deputy.
For the record, the race was run at a distance of one-and-1/16th miles over a fast track and Fusaichi Pegasus beat The Deputy by ¾-of-a-length.
Pegasus was making his second start off a six-and-1/2 week layoff in the San Felipe while The Deputy was making his first start back from a freshening (rest) of about the same length of time.
This is significant because it should have meant that Pegasus was a little tighter (better conditioned) than The Deputy for that particular race.
Its also important to note that The Deputy was giving away six pounds in that race. He carried 122 pounds (jockey and saddle), while Pegasus carried 116 pounds. In the Derby, both horses will carry 126 pounds.
The Deputy was bred in Ireland and raced in Great Britain on the grass as a two-year-old before being brought to the U.S. and put under the care of trainer Jenine Sahadi for his three-year-old campaign.
|Trainer Jenine Sahadi gives a kiss to her Kentucky Derby contender The Deputy.|
Then Sahadi introduced the colt to dirt racing in the Santa Catalina, a mile-and-1/16th race also at Santa Anita. The Deputy responded with another one-length score, beating fellow Derbstarters High Yield (2nd) and Captain Steve (3rd) in the process.
The aforementioned San Felipe was next. By finishing second, The Deputy finished ahead of two more Derby starters - Anees (3rd), Commendable (4th).
In his final prep, The Deputy won the mile-and-1/8th Santa Anita Derby by a length over yet another Derby starter, War Chant. Captain Steve finished three lengths back in third. Anees was fourth.
So, other than Fusaichi Pegasus, The Deputy has already beaten some of the more highly regarded members of the Derby field.
In doing so, hes improved his speed figures gradually and steadily. This leads one to believe that hes sitting on a performance in which he will improve yet again in his third start off a layoff. If that turns out to be the case, hell be right there in deep stretch.
He shouldnt have too much trouble finding a good spot to navigate from as his connections benefited from some surprising post position choices by others and wound up in the No. 11 post. Thats a good place to start from and the only knock was that hed be one of the first to load into the gate.
The racing gods seemed to smile down on The Deputy when Globalize was forced to scratch after a freak incident Thursday, thus moving The Deputy to the No. 10 hole. Hell now be one of the last to load.
The Deputys running style is suited to this Derby field, as he should sit in the second-flight of horses, just behind the expected speed duel up front.
A sweeping move on the far turn, the winning move in many recent derbies, should have The Deputy in the thick of things at the top of the stretch. Then its gut-check time, and while the horse isnt physically imposing, he seems to have a big heart and has always responded to jockey Chris McCarrons urging.
And that brings us to The Deputys key human connections Sahadi and McCarron.
The dominant story line with this horse has been that should he win, Sahadi would become the first woman to saddle a Derby winner. This is nothing new to her. She became the first woman to train a Santa Anita Derby winner when The Deputy won that race. Shes also saddled two Breeders Cup champions.
By all indications, shes handled The Deputys preparations in expert fashion. Yet, her abilities as a conditioner are still questioned. A Derby win would go a long way toward silencing the skeptics for good.
Chris McCarron is a Hall of Fame rider whos been aboard The Deputy for all four of his races in the U.S. Hes patient and professional. And hes won the Derby twice in his career, so he knows what it takes to get to the winners circle.
More than any other entrant in the 19-horse field, The Deputy seems to be the hardest one to knock. He raced as a two-year-old, hes won graded stakes, including a Grade I, hes trained beautifully at ChurchilDowns, hes beaten most of the top competition, his running style fits, hes got a great rider aboard, and hes most likely NOT going to be the favorite.
Hes the horse that will have my heart pumping and my voice bellowing Saturday afternoon.
Written by John Esterbrook