The Kentucky Derby won't be run until the first Saturday in May but The Greek Sportsbook already has prices posted and is accepting wagers on the 132nd Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
Not surprisingly, the winners of the six major prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby - the Florida Derby, Illinois Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes and Arkansas Derby - are among the leading contenders to be draped in a garland of red roses, May 6.
Let's take a look at the top 3-year-olds being pointed to the 2006 Kentucky Derby:
Brother Derek: Has won four straight races and six-of-eight starts, overall, usually on the front end. Scared away most of the competition when he rolled to a 3 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, April 8 against just four rivals, the race's smallest field in 60 years. He almost certainly won't have an uncontested lead at Churchill Downs where horses such as Sweetnorthernsaint and Sinister Minister (see below) also prefer to race up front. But Brother Derek's jockey, Alex Solis, feels the colt can rate just off what figures to be a solid pace. Trained by Dan Hendricks, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since a motorcross accident on July 7, 2004.
Barbaro: Came off an eight-week layoff to run his record to five wins in as many starts when he claimed the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 1. No Kentucky Derby winner has successfully used the Florida Derby as his last prep race since Needles in 1956. Edgar Prado probably will have the ride for trainer Michael Matz, who survived a plane crash in an Iowa corn field 17 years ago to become a three-time Olympian in equestrian and who carried the US flag at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Lawyer Ron: A failure competing on the grass at the beginning of his career, Lawyer Ron ran his record to seven victories in seven starts since being switched to the dirt with a tally in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, April 15. Trained by Bob Holthus and ridden by John McKee, Lawyer Ron's stalker style should be a good fit for a Kentucky Derby loaded with speed. The last two Arkansas Derby winners, Smarty Jones in 2004 and Afleet Alex last year, each went on to win two legs of the Triple Crown and earn an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old colt.
Bob and John: The winner of the April 8 Wood Memorial on a sloppy track at Aqueduct under jockey Garrett Gomez has been no worse than third in eight of nine career starts, including four wins. Bob and John will join Bob Baffert-trained stable mates Sinister Minister and Point Determined, the runner-up to Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby, in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Baffert is no stranger to Louisville, having won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002.
Sweetnorthernsaint: Burst into Derby contention with a scintillating 9 1/4-length romp as the favorite under Kent Desormeaux in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Park, April 8. It was his third victory in six career starts and was achieved in a pace-tracking style that augers well for the Kentucky Derby. Michael Trombetta Jr. trains the colt.
Sinister Minister: Cruised to an impressive 12 3/4-length gate-to-wire victory under Garrett Gomez in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, April 15 for the aforementioned Baffert. The winning margin was the third largest in 82 editions of the Blue Grass Stakes. Sinister Minister, who was aided by a speed favoring track at Keeneland, will find a surface less sympathetic to front runners at Churchill Downs. However, while Sinister Minister's ability to endure the demanding mile and a quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby may be suspect, there's little doubt that his abundant speed will have an impact on the tactics of the race.
It's worth remembering that while a victory in a horse's most recent start before the Kentucky Derby may be an indication of an athlete rounding into peak form, it's no guarantee for success on the first Saturday in May.
In fact, over the past 20 years, nearly twice at many horses have won the Kentucky Derby off a loss (13) as those coming off a win (seven). The list includes Giacomo, 2005, fourth in the Santa Anita Derby; Funny Cide, 2003, second in the Wood Memorial; Monarchos, 2001, second in the Wood Memorial; Real Quiet, 1998, second in the Santa Anita Derby; Silver Charm, 1997, second in the Santa Anita Derby; Grindstone, 1996, second in the Arkansas Derby; Thunder Gulch, 1995, fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes; Go for Gin, 1994, second in the Wood Memorial; Sea Hero, 1993, fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes; Lil E. Tee, 1992, second in the Arkansas Derby; Unbridled, 1990, third in the Blue Grass Stakes; Alysheba, 1987, third in the Blue Grass Stakes; and Ferdinand, 1986, third in the Santa Anita Derby.