They Make Derby Tarot Cards, Right?

Molly Jo Rosen

April 16th, 2014

by Molly Jo Rosen

I love my friends. I do. I'm lucky to have them. And most of them know there is one question you do not ask under any circumstance and certainly not with less than 20 days to the first Saturday in May...

Who's going to win the Kentucky Derby?!?!?!?!?

I'm a lot of things, but clairvoyant is not one of them. I have no earthly clue who's going to win the 140th running of America's oldest continuously run sporting event.

2011? Yes. I had the great fortune of calling Animal Kingdom 43 days out after what he did in the Spiral.

Any horse who can do this...

... then train like a beast at Churchill, makes my job as a handicapper easy.

I got the same Without Question feeling last year Derby week: no horse trained better than Orb, so he seemed like a lock.

I have seen 7 Derbys live since working my first one in 2004: between Smarty Jones, Animal Kingdom, and Orb ~ that's 3 I've correctly called cold.

The hard part about the Derby isn't that it's a bunch of talented horses - that's the fun of the Breeders' Cup - rather, it's that there are 20 of these guys to keep straight.

Usually there are a few clear favorites, but this year it seems the only name everyone can remember is California Chrome. And rightfully so: the aptly named coppery colt owns a 24-1/4 combined margin'd four race win streak into Louisville. I'll be shocked if he isn't your favorite come post time, likely around 4-1 if Derby betting history is anything to go by.

But there are 26 other horses still considered contenders and (I think) really only 21 that are worth discussing.  It feels like no one's talking specific names, instead horses are being clumped together in mishmashed groupings: the Baffert Brigade, Pletcher's Not As Many As Last Year, Cheap Gulfstream Speed, Ramsey Runners, Synthetic Throw Outs, and so on...

For me, there's a set of horses I keep forgetting ~ but even that's broken into into the Oh That's Right!s and I Did Enough!s.

For whatever reason, I can't keep Constitution and Ring Weekend - or the races they won - in my head. Then there's Wildcat Red, General a Rod, Uncle Sigh, We Miss Artie, Vinceremos and Ride On Curlin: horses who have the talent to spoil superfectas on the big stage, but will get lost in the shuffle.

And you can't forget the What Happened Last Out?!? contingent: Candy Boy, Midnight Hawk, and Cairo Prince  are lucky to get in given the efforts - or lack thereof - they gave in their final preps; TapitureIntense Holiday, and Hoppertunity did enough to get in with efforts a few races back; and Samraat is just a game SOB who lays his body down every time and was due to fall short eventually.

Then there's the I Stepped Up! group who won when the points mattered most: Vicar's in Trouble, Wicked Strong, Dance With Fate (likely not going but still on the list), Danza, and Chitu. They haven't exactly been the most consistent, but - hey - there's a lot to be said for peaking at the right time.

And lastly, there's Medal Count. He's not last because he doesn't belong: I take this horse so personally that he deserves his own category entirely. I was alone in the grandstand when his immense talent shined last year in a September 28th workout over the Keeneland PolyTrack that took my breath away and made me think my stopwatch had broken; plus he's bred to run for days and ran back-to-back big races on back-to-back weekends this month.

So - to answer my wonderful friends who will ask me a thousand times about a hundred different variations of wagers in the next 18 days - I honestly don't know who wins the Derby. It's a matter of who's impressed with wins (California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Tapiture, Samraat, Medal Count), who's proven gritty in defeat (Wildcat Red, Chitu, Uncle Sigh), and who trains extremely well (to be determined).

And at the end of the day: you have to bet the Derby the same as you would any other race... skill, luck, and no crystal ball.

With a few weeks to go, who's your Derby horse? Tell us below! And remember to enter the Countdown to Derby contests by clicking here.