Lots of horses are probably wondering why everybody is so nervous this week, why people around certain stalls are mumbling to themselves and talking to good luck charms.
Chief among the horses wondering what's going on is Revolutionary.
He's the one with a presence, and a penchant for finding trouble in sparse crowds. He also breaks like he just woke up. Revolutionary won a 10-point Derby prep race back in the day and has been cooling his heels ever sense. He is entered in the March 30 Louisiana Derby, completing Revolutionary's Plan A, as the Louisiana race is just five weeks from the Kentucky Derby, May 4.
For Revolutionary, there is no Plan B.
If he has a bad race day in New Orleans, takes a bad step or goes looking for a rumble, he can watch the Kentucky Derby with the rest of us. To get enough points for the big day in Churchill, he might need to win or to run second.
Perhaps fortunately for the late-moving Revolutionary, the home stretch at the Fairgrounds is long, stretching from here to Nachiwackadoodle.
What the first season of a scavenger hunt for Derby points has proved is that the rockiest road to the first Saturday in May has on its map one 10-point race and one 100-point race, period.
So college basketball is not the only sport with a one-and-done element to it.
If a horse gets but one race to collect enough points to get to the Derby gate, it will need to break much better than a donkey in its single March run.
It will be interesting to see what lands in the panic pools, the two 20-point races only a couple of weeks short of the Derby.
Some other nice horses will wonder where all the time went at the Florida Derby, also March 30. Plug up a race replay: If memory serves correctly, Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby were once nice runners. Under the new point system, about all Bobby got for winning at the Breeder's Cup was a juicy apple.
The straightest path to one of the 20 gate spots at Churchill would be a 50-pointer, followed by a 100-point race, two solid chances to get where you need to be, spending the spring in Arkansas, for example, with the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby. Some are already saying that the point system needs to be tweaked. Maybe some of the owners and trainers should be tweaked as well.
The Triple Crown handicapping tip for the week has to do with horses that closed well and are running at more distance next time out. It is almost universally considered that a fast closer at a mile and a sixteenth will be quite the play at a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter. Even people who make a living watching thoroughbreds run fall victim to this illusion. The addition of distance doesn't mean that a horse will close as well as had been the case before. It means the horse will be farther back, and tiring. It's never too early to place a winning stencil over the Kentucky Derby path. Extremes seldom win. One of the four or five stalkers will have the best chance.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.