Kentucky Derby fans can focus on a real equine hero -- Arazi


As the Kentucky Derby goes, the one in 1991 was just ordinary. Strike the Gold won, then never won again. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, fresh from battle, was the highlight. The year before, Frances Genter in her polka-dot dress received as much publicity as Unbridled.

"Each Derby seems to have its own character," said Tom Meeker, president of Churchill Downs. "Last year, it was Schwarzkopf. It was a real coup getting him there. But the character this year, the real fabric of this year's Derby, is the horse."

This year, no horse stands a strand of hope of stealing Arazi's thunder. When the spellbinding colt from France emerges from quarantine to exercise at Churchill Downs for the first time Wednesday morning for next Saturday's Kentucky Derby, the 1,600 reporters who have received credentials this year are expected to be grappling for a bird's-eye spot behind the chain-link fence that separates humans from horses.

"We've needed a horse like this for a long time," Meeker said. "The neat thing about this race is that Arazi hasn't scared anybody off. Throw Arazi out, and you have a pretty competitive field."

Make that a surprisingly large group of 3-year-olds hoping that the freak turns out to be a fraud. A field of 20, the maximum allowed, could clog up the dirt artery like I-95 at rush hour.

If Arazi and jockey Pat Valenzuela end up gridlocked in a massive horse jam -- or if the colt changes into a pumpkin -- the outcome becomes a total guess.

So, ponder these possibilities:

* A.P. Indy. He was the stud of West Coast racing. He is a son of Seattle Slew -- the 1977 Triple Crown winner -- and Weekend Surprise, Summer Squall's mom. He defeated Bertrando by 1 3/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Derby. But then, Arazi easily knocked off Bertrando by five lengths in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

* Technology. He's likable enough. He won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream and the Tropical Park Derby at Calder. But he's a son of Time for a Change, and the immediate reaction is to believe that he can't go the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby. Fly So Free, who has never displayed a taste for anything beyond 1 1/8 miles, came from the same sire.

* Pistols and Roses. He's consistent (six victories, two seconds and two thirds in 10 starts). And he woke up in the Blue Grass Stakes after defeats in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby. He should be in the thick of it at the top of the stretch, but where he finishes might be another matter.

* Pine Bluff. He was the best in Arkansas, but so what? Craig Perret gets the mount after Jerry Bailey defected to ride Technology. Perret has been the beneficiary and victim of pre-Derby jockey switches each of the past two years. In 1990, Perret landed the winning Derby mount on Unbridled when Pat Day turned down first call in order to ride Summer Squall. Last year, Perret dumped Strike the Gold to devote his attention to Cahill Road. Cahill Road got hurt, and we know what Strike the Gold did.

* Dr Devious. That's right. No period after the Dr. Well, except when it ends a sentence. Anyway, a lot of people are high on the Irish-bred who has been racing exclusively in England and solely on grass. Ron McAnally trains. Chris McCarron rides. And, as a final note, the colt has carried the Derby weight of 126 pounds in each of his past four races.

The rest of the field is expected to contain who's whos in racing, as in, who are these guys?

The rundown of the Derby possible starters and probable losers: Casual Lies, Devil His Due, Dance Floor, Lil E. Tee, Disposal, Conte Di Savoya, Thyer, Al Sabin, Ecstatic Ride, Snappy Landing, West by West, Hickman Creek, My Luck Runs North and Sir Pinder.

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