The Animal Planet Hypothesis, which places the show “Jockeys” behind much of this week’s Derby intrigue — including a $93 bomb on Oaks Day, the scratching of I Want Revenge and the victory by Mine That Bird — gathered strength Saturday night when word came up through reliable channels that the cable network had actively lobbied trainer Bennie Woolley to put rider Chantal Sutherland on the back of the far-fetched winner.
Sutherland was a featured performer on the show in its first season, and she might have gotten the mount had Square Eddie not been pulled out of the race. When that happened, Calvin Borel became available, and even a 1-for-32 trainer who was loaded when he wrecked his motorcycle can make that choice.
Conspiracy is a happy and willing companion to losing gamblers, and after the shock of Mine That Bird winning by six lengths had worn off enough to allow for the regaining of control over limbs and brains, players began to examine the money.
Mine That Bird went off as the third-longest shot in the field of 20, and his price wasn’t nearly long enough.
Mine That Bird went off as the third-longest shot in the field of 20, and his price wasn’t nearly long enough. At 50-1, only Join in the Dance (51-1) and Atomic Rain (55-1) took less money, and the latter horse had finished second in the Grade 2 Remsen last fall and fourth, beaten less than five lengths by I Want Revenge, in the Wood Memorial.
More than a few folks, inexplicably, liked Mine That Bird, who should have been closer to 100-1. The Pick 3 into the race paid just $2,905 for $2. With $20.4 million in the exacta pool, a $2,074.80 payoff looks exceedingly light. Did that many people really wheel Pioneerof the Nile top and bottom?
Tapped out and agitated, I skipped the final two races on the card and walked the perimeter of the track, a sticky goop, past the stoned and the stunned to the backstretch in search of wisdom from the losers.
A gaggle of beautiful women in sun dresses stood outside the Barn 34 office of trainer Todd Pletcher, and inside I found the great man clipping his nails with a scissors large enough to get him tased and dropped at any American airport.
I asked Pletcher, who is compiling an awesome record of Derby futility, about the Sunland Derby as a prep race, and he said, “We ran Advice, and it didn’t work out well for him.”
Didn’t it? Advice finished fifth at Sunland, beaten one length by Mine That Bird, and then came back to win the Lexington. So, clearly, the race was live.
“If you look at the winner’s form, it’s not that bad,” Pletcher said. “He was one of the best if not the best 2-year-old in Canada.”
Pletcher expressed satisfaction with the performance of Join in the Dance, who set the pace for a mile, beginning with an opening quarter in 22.98 seconds, and held for seventh.
Pioneerof the Nile and Papa Clem (fourth) ran even more remarkable races considering they were with the pace the entire way, and the winner came flying from last as if shot out of a cannon.
“When you look at the times of the races like the Humana Distaff, and fillies of that caliber go in 1:23, you know it’s a compromising surface,” Pletcher said.
Somebody needs to call Andy Beyer and tell him he might want to revisit those New Mexico speed figures.
Pletcher said Dunkirk, who ran 11th under Edgar Prado, might run in the Belmont but the prime goal for the $3.7 million horse will be the Travers.
Outside Barn 42, Summer Bird frolicked in the grass as if he had just had the time of his life. Find an extended replay of the Derby and watch as this beast, who ran sixth, gallops out to second on the turn, finally pulling up nearly abreast of Mine That Bird.
“Both of them are Birdstone,” said Summer Bird’s trainer, Tim Ice (Doesn’t Molson make a Tim Ice?).
“Obviously, he’s a Triple Crown horse. This was just his first crop to race. I’m happy with him. He showed he belonged in there. We beat Dunkirk with all his hype. They were knocking my horse for only running three times.”
After a little conversation like this, the victory by Mine That Bird looked less implausible, perhaps even conceivable.
Walking back across the track, gazing up at the Twin Spires and wondering what hath the racing gods wrought, my cell phone rang and it was Action Andy, the guy who originally had put forth the Animal Planet Hypothesis.
“Who won the last race on the card?” he asked, scarcely hiding his disgust. “Jon Court,” another featured performer in “Jockeys.”
In the final analysis, either the Kentucky Derby, America’s greatest horse race, was deeply defiled, bought and sold for the sake of a fabricated, fly-by-night cable series, or somebody needs to call Andy Beyer and tell him he might want to revisit those New Mexico speed figures.