It was the mid ’90s when I really began paying close attention to the ins and outs of handicapping the Kentucky Derby and like a lot of others, I was always paying extra close attention to Jockey’s. In those days the derby field seemed to be littered with legends and previous winners ranging from Pat Day to Chris McCarron, Jerry Bailey, and Gary Stevens. It was always interesting to see who D. Wayne Lukas would choose as his guy, wonder if Pat Day would win again or see if another Jockey could sneak into the winners circle.
In 1998 it was Kent Desormeaux that burst onto the scene. Claiming his first ever Kentucky Derby win aboard Real Quiet, he stole the thunder from his stalemate Indian Charlie and Jockey Gary Stevens. After reaching the feat for the first time in ’91 with Nick Zito and Strike The Gold, Chirs Antely claimed his 2nd with Charasmatic the following year. Then in 2000 Kent D struck again with Fusaichi Pegasus. Going into 2001 I was beginning to think it was almost certain the winning rider would be one that scored for the 2nd, 3rd or in the case of Gary Stevens with Point Given, a 4th time. However, after the cards fell, it was ’99 Eclipse Winner and long time NYRA leading jockey Jorge Chavez that wore the roses along with his colt Monarchos.
2001 began a chain of events that left the 90’s jockeys in the 1990’s. The legends that I became so familiar with seeing on top began taking a back seat on derby day as the next six winning jockeys following Chavez were all first time winners. After Calvin Borel’s 1st win with Street Sense, Kent Desormeaux ended the club’s streak and joined the short list of 3 time winners. Calvin Bo-Rail would follow with back to back wins leading us to 2011.
It wasn’t until yesterday that the 3 time winner landed a mount with Twice The Appeal and it isn’t likely that he will go off at odds lower than 25-1 — Advantage: First Timers Club. Former winner Mike Smith also just landed a mount with Twinspired who can potentially show odds of anywhere between 25-1 to 45-1 — Advantage: First Timers Club. So, that leaves Victor Espinosa and Midnight Interlude as the club’s only other threat. Only difference is that this colt could be seeing a little bit more action. Although he fought brilliantly in the stretch to win the Santa Anita Derby (his only stakes race) his lack of experience against tough competition leads to — Advantage: First Timers Club.
Check almost any top five list out there and none of these horses will be included and only a few will list Midnight Interlude in the top 10. Top contenders on everyone’s list, including our own, are carrying at least 9 riders with the intention of winning their first. Even with all of their honors, success, and story book Kentucky Derby long shot winners, I think this year will open the door for another entry into the First Timers Club.
As we have mentioned countless times, this year is a tough one to handicap. Regardless if naysayers feel the field is too unimpressive, the Kentucky Derby doesn’t lose any creditability with me. Any jockey will tell you the same. Ask any previous winner and they’ll tell you it wasn’t easy to get there either. 2011 is shaping up to be any bodies game and you can expect an all out fight to the finish. Win or lose for me, it’s always rewarding to see a Jockey get their first and this year the odds are telling us — Advantage: First Timers Club.
Written By: Little Brink