The year was 1882, and the Kentucky Derby was only eight years old. That year a horse by the name of Apollo won the Kentucky Derby. At the time, he was the only horse to win the Derby without racing at the age of two. Now, 131 years later, Apollo is still the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing at the age of two. If you are like me, it’s hard to imagine that being possible. We’ve had several horses come to the Louisville with a chance to break this streak, but none of them could get it done. So the question is…will this year be any different? Can Verrazano finally break this 131 year old curse?
Verrazano enters this years Derby off a huge performance in the Tampa Bay Derby, as well as a solid effort in the Wood Memorial. He made his debut on January first against Maiden Special Weight company, and the competition was no match. Soon after he dominated a field of allowance runners, which then propelled him to the before mentioned stakes races. His natural speed is a dangerous and effortless weapon, and if he breaks well he shouldn’t have much problem getting clear of the majority of the field and staying out of traffic trouble. That factor is huge when trying to maneuver through a twenty horse field. The horse certainly doesn’t know or care that he didn’t race at age two, and he only missed it by a day! Still, the doubt looms…131 years of history says he won’t win on the first Saturday in May.
I can’t help but think back to 2007, as well as last year, when I look at Verrazano. In April of 2007 Curlin rolled to a double-digit length win in the Arkansas Derby and stamped himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite. Curlin did not race at age two, but he left little doubt that this was the horse to break the curse. He had looked unbeatable in his three starts prior to the Derby. While Curlin went on to win horse of the year in 2007 and 2008, and retired as the all time leading money winner, he was a well beaten third in the Kentucky Derby. Curlin drew post two, broke poor, was shuffled back, ran greenly, and had nowhere to run until late in the race.
Last year, it was Bodemeister that looked primed to break the curse. Bodemeister drew a much better post than Curlin did, and also broke much sharper. It was blistering early fractions that did him in. After setting fractions that were astronomical, Bode actually began widening a five length lead in the stretch, before finally tiring and finishing second. It was one of the bravest efforts we’ve ever seen in the Kentucky Derby, but it wasn’t a win. Another year, another heart-break. Whether it was lack of experience or bad trips that beat these great horses will always be unknown. What is not unknown is the fact that they were both solid horses that were defeated in the Kentucky Derby. Continue reading