KENTUCKY DERBY HISTORY: 1957

The 1957 Kentucky Derby field included three of the best-ever American racehorses and an astonishing finish prophesied in a dream.

This ’57 Derby is considered to have had the best field in the history of the race.  More remarkable is that the race-week favorite, Calumet Farm’s General Duke, was scratched the morning of the race with a bruised foot that he suffered four days earlier in the Derby Trial.

The Derby entrants included Hall of Fame horses Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table, plus seven other entries, one of which was Calumet Farm’s backup to General Duke, Iron Liege.  Nine of the ten entries had equaled or set at least one track record.

Another distinction for the 1957 Kentucky Derby is that it had one of the most bizarre endings.  Bill Shoemaker, riding Gallant Man, caught front-running Iron Liege at about the sixteenth pole but misjudged the finish line and briefly stood up in the stirrups.  Shoemaker’s error allowed Bill Hartack and Iron Liege to win the race.

The race chart comment was:

“Iron Liege…took command during the (stretch) drive and, responding to strong handling, held Gallant Man safe but with little left.  Gallant Man…moved up determinedly in the early stretch, reached the lead between calls, and was going stoutly when the rider misjudged the finish and could not overtake Iron Liege when back on stride.”

Round Table was third and Bold Ruler fourth.

Several nights prior to Derby Day, Gallant Man’s owner, Ralph Lowe, had a dream that Shoemaker stood up in the stirrups…a premonition he personally conveyed to Shoemaker, who dismissed it.

Fourteen of the twenty-seven horses, jockeys, and trainers in the 1957 Kentucky Derby are in the Hall of Fame.  The book Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century lists Round Table at 17, Bold Ruler at 19, and Gallant Man at 36.  General Duke, arguably the most talented 3-year-old racehorse of 1957, never raced again and was euthanized with a neurological disorder in 1958.  Iron Liege won 11 of 33 races, had a modest career at stud, and died in Japan in 1972.  Bold Ruler sired Secretariat.

I’ve always wondered whether Ralph Lowe’s telling Bill Shoemaker of his nightmare programmed the jockey’s mind, subliminally at least, to misjudge the finish line.  Not even Shoemaker could have answered that question.

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I’ll be posting a series of Kentucky Derby history stories (every Monday) from now through the first week in May.

KENTUCKY DERBY MUSINGS IN FEBRUARY

The last three winners of the Kentucky Derby were trained in California and four of the last five winners came to Kentucky from the Golden State:  Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome, and I’ll Have Another.  Is this a sign of dominance from the West Coast?

Hardly.

Prior to I’ll Have Another winning the Kentucky Derby in 2012, horses trained in the eastern United States won the race from 2001 through 2011.  War Emblem, winner in 2002, was sold shortly before the Kentucky Derby and his new trainer was California-based Bob Baffert, but the colt prepped for the Kentucky Derby in the Illinois Derby.

Before 2001, California horses won the Kentucky Derby for four straight years, from 1997-2000.

So, in recent history, there has been no dominant trend in western U. S. or eastern U. S. horses winning the Kentucky Derby, although there have been mini-trends wherein horses from one or the other geographical location won the race for several years in a row.

NTRA, the Blood-Horse magazine, and other racing organizations periodically publish their list of leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby.  NTRA, for example, polls members of the horse-racing media.

I have always been more attentive to what people do than what they say.  Accordingly, I consult the betting action, whether it is a sporting event or a political campaign.  Following are the current twelve top contenders for the 2017 Kentucky Derby, as determined by betting odds in Las Vegas.

Irish War Cry 2/1
Classic Empire 3/1
Uncontested 7/2
McCracken 4/1
El Areeb 5/1
Mastery 5/1
Unique Bella 6/1
Gunnevera 7/1
Running Mate 7/1
Squadron 7/1
Fact Finding 10/1
Gormley 11/1

Uncontested (the current third betting favorite), Running Mate, Squadron, and Fact Finding are not on the current NTRA list of top contenders.  NTRA has Mo Town, Practical Jute, and Royal Mo on its list, but none of them are in the top-12 betting interests in Las Vegas.

I’ll be posting occasionally on the Kentucky Derby as the big event approaches on the first Saturday in May.

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AMERICAN PHAROAH VS. ARROGATE

Whether Arrogate could beat American Pharoah at 10 furlongs on their best days is like asking how Secretariat would have fared against Man ‘o War in their primes.  While the former matchup is possible, it is not going to happen because 5-year-old American Pharoah is not going back into training.

Another debatable issue is this:  If Arrogate wins the Dubai World Cup in March 2017 will he have achieved a feat more difficult than American Pharoah completing the American Triple Crown?  The view here is that the answer is “yes.”

Arrogate won the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 4, 2016 in California at 1 ¼ miles and subsequently traveled across country and two time zones to Florida to win the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 28, 2017 at 9 furlongs.  If he contests and wins the Dubai World Cup at 10 furlongs on March 25, 2017, he will have traveled another eight thousand miles plus and run in a time zone 12 hours different than in his home base in California.

In addition, the winner of the unofficial World Cup triumvirate must compete against the best dirt specialists in training anywhere in the world, whereas the winner of the American Triple Crown has to take on mostly U. S.-based 3-year-olds.  Winning the American Triple Crown is certainly an arduous task over five weeks, but it requires limited travel and the three races all take place in the Eastern time zone.

A final provocative question that is likely to be answered in time:  Will American Pharoah or Arrogate prove to be a better sire?  The guess here is that Arrogate will be because he is manifestly in the same class as American Pharoah as a racehorse and has a much stronger female side to his pedigree.  Whereas American Pharoah’s dam was unplaced in two starts, Arrogate’s dam won six races in nine starts and over $200,000 and his champion 2-year-old and Grade I stakes-winning granddam (Meadow Star) won close to $1.5 million in the early 1990s in 11 wins from 20 starts. Moreover, Arrogate’s 4 X 4 inbreeding to Mr. Prospector is compelling.
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If the Pegasus World Cup Invitational becomes an annual success, the combination of the Breeders’ Cup, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, and the Dubai World Cup could be coordinated to form an official World Cup Triple Crown or Grand Slam that would entice owners of outstanding 3-year-old dirt horses to keep them in training as older horses.  Winning the three races would net the owner about $16 million and owners of well-placed but non-winning horses would also have the opportunity to substantially cash in.

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