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On the bumpy road to the Derby

With six weeks remaining until the Florida and Louisiana Derbies, seven until the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial, eight until the Arkansas Derby and 11 until the Kentucky Derby, aren't there more roadside questions than attractions on this bumpy but celebrated journey to the Triple Crown? And as highways go, doesn't this paved-with-surprises road have more frightening turns, disturbing dips and perplexing questions than Colorado's Independence Pass?

But since there are so many, where do the questions begin? Well, isn't Union Rags the biggest question? Isn't he a Tyrannosaurus Rex of an inquiry, a question mark that could be viewed from outer space and a brainteaser that would have intrigued even J. Edgar Hoover, who, by the way, liked to play the ponies?

What can be inferred from Javier Castellano's decision to give up the mount on Union Rags and instead ride Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth?


Union Rags was so big and powerful and talented as a 2-year-old (when -- I have to say it, even though my tongue is clamped between upper and lower incisors -- he should have been the champion) that he looked like and ran like an outstanding 3-year-old, and so don't you have to wonder how much room remains for development, especially since he comes from a family that, on the bottom of his pedigree, is notable for, well, nothing lately, and since he's by a stallion best known for producing precocious youngsters? Because winning the Kentucky Derby is all about development, isn't that the overwhelming question: Will Union Rags develop significantly and positively as a 3-year-old, and if so how much better will he be?

But will the Fountain of Youth answer that question? If in his first start as a 3-year-old Union Rags basically duplicates his best effort as a juvenile, which is to be expected, won't he finish second, or maybe even third? Wouldn't that be a good place, though, to start his campaign? And wouldn't such an effort suggest that the Florida Derby is going to be the telling race, the one that reveals whether he's going to improve meaningfully as a 3-year-old and whether he's going to prosper at longer distances?

What can be inferred from Javier Castellano's decision to give up the mount on Union Rags and instead ride Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth? Well, doesn't it mean that the white-coated gentlemen won't have to take Castellano and his agent, Matt Muzikar, away in a padded van? Wouldn't it have been madness not to ride the top Triple Crown prospect for the most powerful stable in the country?

But does it really matter? How many jockeys gave up or turned down the mount on Alysheba before Chris McCarron ended up in the saddle or on Thunder Gulch before Gary Stevens took the reins, and won't Union Rags and Algorithms accomplish whatever they're going to accomplish with or without Castellano?

If Algorithms, who looks like "he'll run all day," according to his destined-for-the-Hall-of-Fame trainer, continues to improve as he stretches out to longer distances, how good could he be?

Are there any seats left on his bandwagon?

But with Hansen going to New York, could a cool pace in the Fountain of Youth put a Discreet Dancer in the winner's circle? Or should any inquiry begin by wondering what makes a dancer discreet anyway? Is it the dance, the technique, the stallion or the top hat? With nearly two weeks remaining until the race, is it appropriate to wonder if it's possible to be discreet while dancing in the Fountain of Youth? Or would it be an indiscretion to dance after missing a workout? And if the handsome colt does indeed dance on Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park, will I fully understand what Todd Pletcher meant when he said he doesn't know how good Discreet Dancer could be?

And just as the Holy Bull was the absolutely worst spot for him to make his seasonal debut, isn't the Gotham on March 3 at Aqueduct the absolutely perfect spot for Hansen, a 1 1/16-mile race around two turns on an oval that will allow the flashy colt to take advantage of his speed and athleticism? But is there time for some law or city ordinance to be passed requiring owners and trainers to dye their hair the same color they dye their horses' tails?

What's the over-under on how many of the 20 starters in the Kentucky Derby will be trained by Pletcher and Bob Baffert? Four or five?

How many seats remain on the bandwagon for Fed Biz, who, like Algorithms, was rated among the top trio of Triple Crown prospects here more than six weeks ago, long before their recent victories? How many bandwagons can a person ride in simultaneously without going deaf?

Could My Adonis, who ran the second half-mile in 47.60 seconds while rallying to be third in the Holy Bull Stakes, be one of the more inconspicuously intriguing horses on this busy highway to Kentucky? Is Bodemeister still inconspicuous? Probably not, and so will somebody please tell Trevor Denman how to pronounce the horse's name?

Have you noticed that Kentucky Derby winners often have noble names?


Some things will forever remain inexplicably inane, such as a chowderhead's vote for Rapid Redux as Horse of the Year, but what is the reason for the relentless fascination with Ever So Lucky? And why was he included among the individual betting interests for the first Futures pool while Secret Circle wasn't?

Have you noticed that Kentucky Derby winners often (But aren't there many exceptions?) have noble names, such as Sea Hero, Charismatic, Majestic Prince, Monarchos et al? And does this mean that among this year's nominees Boompa, Chief Gaga and Street Thug have no chance? But can't fans still be grateful that nobody has yet named a horse The Joy of Sloth or Terraphage?

While the 3-year-olds have the spotlight, aren't all these older horses exciting? Wasn't Hymn Book's victory in the Donn the best performance of the young season?

With a few days remaining until its nominations close and less than three weeks until the race, isn't the Santa Anita Handicap already intriguing? Won't Ultimate Eagle and Game On Dude fire up an inferno of a pace? And wouldn't Alternation, the stretch-runner who was so impressive in winning his seasonal debut at Oaklawn Park, enjoy a California sojourn?

And isn't it comforting to know that only 37 weeks remain until the Breeders' Cup while there are 44 until the final day (Dec. 21) of the Mayan, or Mesoamerican, Long Count calendar, which supposedly marks the end of the world or maybe the arrival of the next solar maximum or perhaps tea time with Planet X, aka Nibiru? Or could the end of the Mayan calendar simply mean that only four shopping days remain until Christmas?