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Good to know

5/2/2014

While David Letterman has no fear that I will take over his popular nightly ranking of various esoteric things, I doubt he knows any of the following facts about the world's most famous horse race.

No. 10 -- Sir Barton, the first to sweep the American Triple Crown in 1919, won the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on May 10 then shipped to Baltimore to win the Preakness four days later. Not wanting to see him go stale, his trainer H.G. Boswell shipped him to New York and sent him out to win the Withers Stakes at Belmont, May 24 before he won the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

No. 9 -- The great Man o' War never raced in the Kentucky Derby. But, he not only won the Preakness and Belmont in 1920, he thoroughly thrashed Sir Barton by seven lengths when they met in an "ultra rich" $75,000 match race at the 1 ¼ mile Derby distance in the fall of 1920. That was to be Man 'o War's final career race and by far, the largest purse for either horse.

No. 8 -- Some fans of the Kentucky Derby know that African American jockeys were quite successful in the early days of the race. But very few know that the trainer of the first winner Aristides in 1875 was former slave Ansel Williamson. Fact is, the next two Derby winning trainers -- James Williams and Ed Brown -- also were black.

Sadly, it is even more historically important that the only black owner of a Derby winner was Dudley Allen, who also was the last black man to train a Derby winner, Kingman, in 1891. No black jockey, no black trainer no black horse owner has been in the Derby winner's circle since.

No. 7 -- No female trainer has ever won the Kentucky Derby, but Shelley Riley came closest, with Casual Lies, who finished second to Lil E Tee in the 1992 Derby. There have been, however, 15 different women who have owned or shared ownership of 21 Derby winners dating to Laska Darnell, who owned the 1904 Derby winner, Elwood, trained by her husband Charles.

Two of the 15 women not only won the Kentucky Derby, they also swept the American Triple Crown: Penny Chenery, who campaigned Secretariat in 1973 and Karen Taylor who owned a significant part of Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner.

No 6 -- As California bred California Chrome attempts to win this year's Kentucky Derby, no horse bred in his state has won the race since Decidedly in 1962. Meanwhile, as New York-breds Samraat and Uncle Sigh try to win this prestigious race, the only previous NY bred to pull of the feat was Funny Cide in 2003. Vicar's In Trouble is attempting to become the first Derby winner bred in Louisiana; We Miss Artie is trying to join two other Canadian bred Derby winners.

Meanwhile, Wildcat Red, Dance With Fate and possibly Pablo Del Monte -- if he gets in from the also-eligible list -- will be seeking to be the seventh Derby winner bred in Florida. All the other horses in this 20-horse field were bred in Kentucky, where 106 out of 139 previous Derby winners were born.

No. 5 -- Of all the jockeys in this Kentucky Derby, five will be Derby rookies: Corey Lanerie, who rides Harry's Holiday; Irad Ortiz, Jr., who rides Uncle Sigh; his brother Jose Ortiz, who rides Samraat; Joe Rocco, Jr., who rides Vinceremos, and Jeffrey Sanchez who will ride Pablo Del Monte after the scratching of Hoppertunity on Thursday let him in to the 20-horse field.

Two jockeys in this Derby have won the race three times each: Calvin Borel and Gary Stevens. Corey Nakatani has never won in 16 tries, and Robbie Albarado is winless in 13 attempts. No female jockey has won the Derby, although Rosie Napravnik, who rides Vicar's In Trouble, did finish fifth last year aboard My Lute.

No. 4 -- Of all the trainers in this Kentucky Derby, D. Wayne Lukas has four Derby trophies, Bob Baffert has three and Todd Pletcher has one. That's it. No other trainer in the race has enjoyed the post-race celebration every trainer in the game dreams of.

California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman was the exercise rider for Swaps when that fantastic horse upset another great, Nashua in 1955. So, he probably knows what it feels like. Steve Asmussen, trainer of Tapiture, did train Curlin to a third-place finish in 2007 and Dale Romans, trainer of Medal Count, trained Shackleford to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 Derby. Interestingly, both trainers went on with those horses to win the Preakness two weeks later.

No. 3 -- Only three horses in Derby history have ever run the 1 ¼ mile distance faster than 2 minutes. Secretariat did in 1973, setting the record at 1:59.40 that still stands, and Sham, who finished second in that historic Derby, was beaten 2 ½ lengths. According to electronic-calibrated clockings, he also shaded 2:00. Monarchos, the 2001 Derby winner, was the third horse to do it, having been clocked in 1:59.97.

No. 2 -- Many Derby historians consider the victories scored by Mine That Bird in 2010 and Canonero II's storybook Derby win in 1971 to be the biggest upsets in Derby history. But Donerail did win this race at 91-1 in 1913 and a strong case can be made for the Giacomo, Closing Argument, Afleet Alex, Don't Get Mad order of finish in 2005 as the most outrageous result in this or any other race since the pari-mutuel system was invented.

Giacomo won the race at 50-1; Closing Argument finished second at 71-1; Afleet Alex was third at a modest 9-2, while Don't Get Mad was fourth at 29-1. And get this: The $2 exacta paid $9,214; the Trifecta paid $133.134.80 and the Superfecta involving all four horses paid $864,253.

No. 1 -- There are no guarantees attached to these thoughts, but there are scant few horses who can be safely tossed from contention in this year's Kentucky Derby. But, the scratching of Hoppertunity and the inclusion of speedy Pablo Del Monte from the also-eligible list will put more pressure on the front runners and horses who race close to the pace. That includes the race favorite California Chrome, who has been impressive in all of his California starts this year but has been lightly trained for this, at home, in California. As such, I have high hopes for these four in various wagering pools:

#16 Intense Holiday: A Todd Pletcher trainee who ran well in New Orleans without peaking and has worked strongly at Churchill to set up his best late rally.

#18 Candy Boy: A win in February at Santa Anita and his recent training drills at Churchill say he is ready to recover his best form and then some.

#8 General a Rod: Was pushed too close to the pace of Wildcat Red in Florida and could improve a lot with a more patient ride by last year's winning rider, Joel Rosario.

#14 Medal Count: A longshot stretch runner who also has trained forwardly over the track and did win a race on dirt last year.