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March 29, 2019

As May Approaches

By: Jonathan Stettin


This is usually the time of year racing fans, and bettors alike are filled with excitement as the first Saturday in May is approaching fast. The top three-year-olds are sorting themselves out in the Kentucky Derby preps, and we get to hone in on who we think are the contenders, pretenders, and maybe even a leading candidate. As if that was not enough, the gals are going through the same with most hoping for a shot at the Kentucky Oaks on the Friday before the Derby.

This year is a little different, but for the most part, we shall ignore that. The build-up is suffering through some distractions due to the state of racing and all the issues surrounding it magnified by what is going on in California. The racing industry is continuing to erase any hope they can govern themselves, and that different venues and jurisdictions can cooperate with one another. There was never a more desperate time for a centralized governing body led by a commission made up of people from all areas of the sport including but of course not limited to bettors. Remember the Horse Racing Integrity Act is floating around again, so we are on the government radar, and we already saw greyhound racing banned in Florida this year.

Now back to Derby season. There was a video floating around social media the other day showing Hidden Scroll being taken to the gate and then removed a few times. Most people who watched it and commented did not like what they saw and questioned what was going on. I saw comments like jittery and nervous and questions about the small amount of lather in his neck. I’d like to use this as an example of why right or wrong you have to trust your own eyes. I liked what I saw — a lot. I’m not saying he is my Florida Derby or Kentucky Derby choice, but what I saw will bolster my opinion of his chances not detract from them.

I know Bill Mott and how he trains and the type of horseman he is. I believe I know exactly what he was doing and why and have no need or desire to ask.

We all saw Hidden Scroll in the Fountain of Youth. He was green and keen and set some fast splits after rushing to the top following a less than ideal getaway. Those of us who closely follow the sport know he was being trained behind horses in the morning following that race to get him to relax and finish. What those who watched saw at the gate was more schooling. The lather was not enough for concern especially given the Florida heat and humidity. A horse equates going to the gate with charging out of it. Some, especially aggressive ones, as we know Hidden Scroll is will get anxious as they approach it. That’s what I saw. Hidden Scroll got a bit hot and keen as he neared the gate and as he was backed in and out of it a few times before being taken back to the barn.

What ideally follows is a horseless likely to get worked up going to the gate in the future as now they are not thinking automatic charge. They can take it more in stride, and gate issues become less likely. This is a young lightly raced and inexperienced horse on the Derby trail. He was being taught and schooled. Again I liked what I saw and won’t be surprised if he breaks better and is more willing to settle. He’s learning. Some can’t or just never do, but we do not know that about him yet, and it was interesting for me to watch a master like Mott at work with a colt like this.

This year is especially exciting for me. If they ran for the roses tomorrow, I do not know who the favorite would be, or if they would be less than maybe 5 or 6-1. That means we could be looking at a wide-open affair with great wagering odds and opportunities across the Derby board. This after our fair share of some easily predictable and “in form” winners over the past few years with horses like California Chrome, American Pharoah, and Justify.

In years like this, I can’t help but think one of those old Kentucky Derby rules might go down in flames. Maybe we get a winner from Dubai, Europe, Japan, or something odd like that. There is still time for someone to emerge as a solid choice, but it is shortening fast. Stay tuned.