Our worst Kentucky Derby picks
This week, we're strolling down memory lane to revisit several Kentucky Derbies that hold special personal meaning for us. Our fourth and final "team blog" looks back at our worst Kentucky Derby picks.
Vance Hanson: Having recounted earlier this week my inability to pick a Kentucky Derby winner for the better part of two decades, I have plenty from which to choose as my worst selection. The one that's always stood out to me the most was Vicar in 1999. After two gut-wrenching victories in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, the Carl Nafzger-trained colt had slipped to third in the Blue Grass in his final Derby prep, and it was a very dull third at that. If you watched Vicar's stride in action, deep down you knew getting 1 1/4 miles was going to be a struggle for him, and the Blue Grass was a perfectly good indicator that he was approaching the biggest race of his life on the downward curve of his form cycle. So why did I back him? I believe it was blind allegiance more than anything. A few months earlier, some college friends and I created a Triple Crown fantasy contest, and if memory serves Vicar was my first pick in the draft. He did great for me in the short term, racking up points right away during the Gulfstream Park meet, but fizzled out later. Not only did he beat just one of 18 rivals in the Kentucky Derby, but followed up two weeks later by beating just three of 12 opponents in the Preakness. I was far from the only one in the country who had difficulty imagining a Derby win by ex-claimer Charismatic, but in retrospect there were better options to choose from that day.
James Scully: Friesan Fire was the toast of New Orleans in early 2009, sweeping the three graded stakes races for Kentucky Derby hopefuls at Fair Grounds. He opened his sophomore season with comfortable victories in the Lecomte and Risen Star before thrashing the competition with an impressive 7 1/4-length Louisiana Derby victory, earning triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings in the latter performances. The Larry Jones-trained colt appeared to be have plenty going for him from a talent perspective and even though his female family looked speedy for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby distance, sire A.P. Indy promised to make up for any stamina deficiencies. But Friesan Fire had never raced past 1 1/16 miles (Louisiana Derby hadn't been extended in distance yet) and proved ill-suited for the extra ground at Churchill Downs. I was one of many who were fooled that year, supporting Friesan Fire as the 7-2 favorite in a 19-horse field. After a rough start, he began steadily retreating toward the back of the pack before the field even completed the first turn, eventually checking in 18th. He was never competitive and I've never had a Derby pick perform so badly. Friesan Fire completed his career in middle-distance races, never winning past 1 1/16 miles.
Kellie Reilly: There's no shortage of candidates for this dubious distinction, but Awesome Act takes the cake for trudging home a remote 19th in 2010. My opinion was heavily influenced by the fact that I'd gotten in on the "ground floor" with him, so to speak. A blueblood by Awesome Again and out of a full sister to champion and noted sire Machiavellian, Awesome Act shaped up as a promising two-year-old for Jeremy Noseda. I'd tabbed him as an interesting longshot in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, and he rattled home late for fourth at 31-1. The English shipper returned for the Gotham at Aqueduct, where he showed the gears of a proper Derby horse to maneuver through traffic on the far turn and burst clear. Awesome Act was subsequently no match for Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial. But after Eskendereya suffered a career-ending injury, the Derby suddenly took on a more open look. In a fit of willful blindness, I ignored the fact that Awesome Act had been outdueled by Jackson Bend for second in the Wood, and blamed it on his tough trip. The sloppy track at Churchill should have been another concern, but that warning signal failed to register as well. When mud-loving Super Saver sailed home, it all made sense -- in hindsight. Poor Awesome Act beat only one horse. Sidelined for nearly a year thereafter, he resurfaced briefly with Steve Asmussen, but was never the same. Although Awesome Act was better than he showed at Churchill, he was a terribly ill-advised pick.
Jennifer Caldwell: Wildcat Red is thus far my worst Kentucky Derby pick to date. Like so many before him, I began following the bay colt during his two-year-old season and stayed true as he made his way through the 2014 Kentucky Derby preps. His gusty head win in the Fountain of Youth and near miss in the Florida Derby merely strengthened my resolve that Wildcat Red had what it took to win the Run for the Roses. Alas, it wasn't meant to be as the front-running sophomore bobbled at the start, bumped with a rival, found himself shuffled back to last in the 19-strong field and lost ground while six wide. Wildcat Red ended up beating just one horse while 29 1/2 lengths behind winner and eventual Horse of the Year California Chrome. He was given some time off following that harrowing experience and returned to romp in his next outing at Gulfstream Park against stakes rivals.