Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everything But The Roses

It is a fact in Thoroughbred racing that the favorite doesn't always win. A longshot can win any race at any time. That fact also applies to the Kentucky Derby. Let's face facts, if the favorite won every Derby, it certainly wouldn't be considered "the most exciting two minutes in sports". So since the favorite gets beat from time to time, who are the best horses that never did win the Kentucky Derby? Well, here are six that spring to mind:

1) Native Dancer- Went 21 for 22 in his career. The only loss he suffered came to Dark Star in the 1953 Derby. "The Grey Ghost" might be considered the greatest horse of all time had he won the Derby. The loss was widely blamed on jockey Eric Guerin and some traffic trouble the Dancer suffered on the first turn. The Vanderbilt runner went on to win the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers that year. He was voted Champion Three-Year-Old in 1953 and Horse Of The Year in 1954. His progeny also carried on his greatness with names like Northern Dancer, Dancer's Image, Kauai King, and Raise A Native among the horses with Native Dancer in the lineage.

2) Nashua- Won 22 out of 30 lifetime starts, but came home behind Swaps in the 1955 Derby. Bill Shoemaker gave the West Coast runner an expert ride to cop the Roses, stealing the race on the front end. Nashua rebounded to win the Preakness and Belmont also, just like Native Dancer. He also made up for his loss to Swaps with a match race victory over his rival in Chicago. Nashua was named Champion Two-Year-Old in 1954 and Champion Three-Year-Old and Horse Of The Year in 1955.

3) Alydar- He had the great misfortune to come along the same year as Affirmed in 1978. Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in history, while Alydar goes down in history as the only horse ever to finish second in all three races. He got progressively closer and closer to Affirmed in each race and ended up losing the three-race series by less than three lengths. Alydar even stuck a nose in front of Affirmed in the stretch of the Belmont, as noted by race caller Chic Anderson. One place where Alydar exceeded Affirmed was in the breeding shed, producing horses like Alysheba, Easy Goer, and Strike The Gold.

4) Point Given- He really should have been the most recent Triple Crown winner in 2001 because he was that good. He drew the outside post position in the Derby and finished fifth, behind Monarchos, who ran 1:59.4 on a rock-hard racetrack. Even trainer Bob Baffert admitted afterward he had the horse too much on tilt that day. Point Given went on to match Native Dancer's accomplishment by winning the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers. He was voted Champion Three-Year-Old and Horse Of The Year in 2001.

5) Damascus- Won 21 of 32 lifetime starts and only missed the money once in that time. The 1967 Derby was supposed to be his, but John Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm produced the winner with 30-1 Proud Clarion, ridden to victory by Bobby Ussery in 2:00.3, the third-fastest Derby up to that time. Damascus came back to win the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers like the others on this list and was voted Champion Three-Year-Old, Champion Handicap Horse, and Horse Of The Year in 1967. He also won what many consider the greatest race of the 1960s, the 1967 Woodward, beating both Buckpasser and Dr. Fager in the process.

6) Easy Goer- Suffered the same issue that Alydar did, he came along the same year another great one did. Sunday Silence won the Derby, Preakness, and Breeders Cup Classic in 1989, beating Easy Goer each time. Easy Goer won the Belmont on his home track by nearly ten lengths, denying Sunday Silence the Triple Crown. Easy Goer's biggest problem might have been the surface at Churchill Downs. Keep in mind that he also lost the 1988 Breeders' Cup Juvenile over the Louisville strip and even with this, he was still named Champion Two-Year-Old in 1988. Easy Goer never missed the money in twenty starts, winning fourteen of them.

I know there is one glaring omission from this list, Man O'War. He did not win the Derby in 1920 because he did not run in it. Therefore, he doesn't qualify for this list since he did not get the opportunity to run from his owner, Samuel Riddle. His son, War Admiral, was sent to Louisville by Riddle and he won the Triple Crown his Sire wasn't given the chance to win in 1937. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...Goodbye!

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