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Friday, May 6, 2011
Writing to win


LOUISVILLE, KY -- Animal Kingdom will win the Kentucky Derby. I know this because I didn't write a feature about him.

Don't get me wrong. It's not as if the thought never crossed my mind. A full schedule of assignments simply led to the Team Valor runner getting shuffled off the radar -- no offense, Barry Irwin -- and before I knew it, we were out of time and a feature on the colt and his connections was out of the question.

Extenuating circumstances came into play. Animal Kingdom's trainer, Graham Motion, was going to be the focus of the feature, but the New York Times' Joe Drape did such a damn good job with his piece last week that I wondered what more could be said. Then Toby's Corner, Motion's other Derby contender, missed the race with an ailment and the story potential dipped even further. Nothing against Animal Kingdom, who won the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes over Turfway's Polytrack last time out (and who has never been worse than 2nd, although his starts have only come on synthetic surfaces and turf), but it was Toby's Corner who upset the Wood Memorial over an ailing Uncle Mo in what track announcer Tom Durkin called "the most shocking defeat in the Wood since Secretariat himself."

I would not presume to take credit for this horse's likely Derby victory if it weren't for a certain filly, one Daisy Devine. At Fair Grounds this season, I stopped by the barn of trainer Andrew McKeever to see the Kentucky Oaks contender. Unfortunately she didn't run as well today, but back when I took her picture and asked about her background last March around Fair Grounds Oaks day -- then never followed through on the angle -- guess who won.

Word on the street is that this colt has been working phenomenally in the days leading up to the Derby. Word on the street around the racetrack is usually right. Last Wednesday at the Kentucky Derby press party, I was introduced to John Panagot, who works with Motion. He seem collected, confident, in spite of a little bobble in plans -- new rider in John Velazquez will be in the saddle since jockey Robby Albarado suffered a broken nose Wednesday in a post parade accident.

Motion thinks his colt will make the surface switch without a problem.

"He gallops on it fine," the trainer said earlier in the week. "He's galloped on it all winter at Palm Meadows. I think he's handled everything we've asked him to do. Ultimately, you just don't know how they are going to get over it until they run, but certainly from the way he's gone, he gives you every indication that he's going to handle it. And he's doing very well."

The story gets better, as only Derby stories can. Hoofing it back to the media lot due to a delay in shuttle service on Kentucky Oaks night, your intrepid reporter and the courteous turf writer from Pittsburgh (whose pace was limited due to his accompaniment of the lady in heels) seemed destined to a hopeless, lengthy trek. Panagot, innocently leaving the track by car, drove past and was hailed with shouts of desperation. A true gentleman, he turned his vehicle around and picked up the two straggling members of the media, whisking through a confusing maze of one-way traffic and diverted routes in order to arrive at our desitnation.

For that basic human kindness, I have decided, he deserves the Derby score. But his horse was going to win anyway. It's Murphy's law.

Blogs, by the way, don't count.