Commentary

Stewards apt to let them ride

Updated: February 4, 2013, 5:39 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Imagine what a jockey would have to do to be disqualified in the Derby if the Super Bowl referees were the stewards.

At the Super Bowl just concluded, the zebras didn't swallow their whistles. They ate the rule book. Helmets were ripped off. Guys were hit out of bounds. A referee was shoved. Receivers were held. Linemen were held. Not a single holding penalty was called. Off-sides bursts weren't observed. In a regular season when looking at somebody crossways could be a 15-yard foul, a total of 53 yards in penalties was called in the Super Bowl. In some regular season games, that could happen in the first series.

The obvious swing to lenient Super Bowl officiating follows college football and basketball trends where a foul in the last couple of minutes of a playoff game should require stitches.

All that's missing is refereeing the same way during the regular seasons.

Were the Super Bowl refs Derby stewards, somebody would have to knock a rider off a horse to be taken down.

The Derby season is in full flight earlier than ever.

The new point system has everybody's interest peaked.

Some major contenders only have one prep race remaining; presto, stuff like the Louisiana Derby just got better.

The competition for the 20 Derby spots appears to be wide open to many pretender-types, which is to say the process could be narrowing for some of the classier animals, so that one spot almost needs to be reserved for a judges' selection like they do on the talent shows -- save one place for a bad luck horse.

It's never too early to start thinking about handicapping the Derby.

Beware of short-field wins.

Nothing inflates a Beyer speed figure like coming from off the pace to defeat four or five.

Also please take note of bad breaks literally, bad breaks from the gate.

The stalking style usually wins the Derby -- tracking nervous speed around the bend. Break toward the back of the pack and you're finished.

Being lazy out of the gate is the chief concern about rapidly improving rocket Revolutionary. This one broke next to last in the Withers and then went looking for trouble in a field a third the size of the Derby. According to the jockey, he wasn't worried in the least and even seemed to indicate that he rode strangely on purpose. Revolutionary pinned his ears back and won by a neck and galloped out fast and easy.

Were Revolutionary to break similarly in the Derby, he finishes ninth and I'm overdrawn again.

At the Derby, if you can't break like a stalker, it's probably best to break last and head for the rail and run a straight line and hope most others have to weave.

Here's something else important to keep in mind this spring: horses that beat nobody.

You hear them discounted all the time by the so-called experts: Yeah, he won a couple, but against nobodies.

You shouldn't blame a horse for winning.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.