- Last Updated: 9:10 AM, May 4, 2012
- Posted: 1:39 AM, May 4, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The 138th Kentucky Derby tomorrow at Churchill Downs is a confusing affair.
Voters on The Post’s online poll are leaning 17 percent for Gemologist, but Union Rags (15 percent), Bodemeister (14 percent), and Creative Cause and Dullahan (13 percent each) are breathing down his neck, while 25 percent think one of the other 15 horses in the field will win.
In fact, this is the most wide-open Derby since the last most wide-open Derby, run on May 7, 2011.
Flash back to 2006, to another most wide-open Derby.
Sweetnorthernsaint was the lukewarm favorite at 5-1, coming off a 9 1/2 length victory in the Illinois Derby in which he earned a 107 Beyer number, tops in the field (much like 4-1 favorite Bodemeister this year). Barbaro, the undefeated winner of the Florida Derby, was 6-1, with Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek at 7-1. Four other horses were in the 9-1 to 12-1 range.
Wide open going in, but not coming out. Barbaro, trained by Michael Matz, blew the Derby wide open on the far turn, drawing clear by 6 1/2 lengths — the largest winning margin in 60 years.
This year, Matz is back with another standout, Union Rags, winner of the Saratoga Special, Champagne and Fountain of Youth. Though not undefeated — he was second by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a hard-luck third in the Florida Derby — Union Rags, like Barbaro, is an imposing physical specimen, standing 17 hands high.
“He has such a presence,” said Bob Baffert, who trains Bodemeister. “I can see why he should be the favorite.”
Union Rags, the 9-2 second choice under jockey Julien Leparoux, could be favored by post time. You have to love his chances after listening to Matz, who is brimming with much the same confidence he was during Derby week six years ago.
“I didn’t know Barbaro was going to win,” Matz said. “But coming into the race, I felt like I did everything I could for that horse. He was in top condition. Whether he was good enough, he was going to have to prove that.
“Right now, Peter [Brette, the exercise rider for both Barbaro and Union Rags] and I were discussing that this horse is where we would like him to be going into the race on Saturday. We had a sharper work [five furlongs in :59 4/5] the other day, he came out of his work real good, and now it’s up to him to do the rest.
“All I know is that he hasn’t missed a work, he hasn’t missed an oat. He’s where we want him to be fitness-wise. Whether he’s good enough for these other horses, whether he gets a good trip, we’ll find out.”
In the Florida Derby, Union Rags was boxed in down the backside by his former rider, Javier Castellano on El Padrino, and by the time Leparoux extricated himself from the trap, Union Rags was too far back to close the gap on front-running winner Take Charge Indy.
Hopefully, Leparoux learned his lesson and will ride more aggressively tomorrow. He better, said retired Hall-of-Fame jockey Jerry Bailey.
“Julien has to embrace the concept that Union Rags is not an out-the-back horse, yet he’s an out-the-back rider,” Bailey said. “He has to adjust to his horse and get position going forward, not retreating.
“It might work out great for him. He knows this track really well. That’s something in his favor.”Follow @NYPostsports