Today starts the one week of the year when horse racing is back on top, muscling out the NBA playoffs, major league baseball and the NFL offseason. And for the past couple of months, the Tribune newspapers' Triple Crown panel has tried to bring clarity to the situation.
The panel did reach consensus on one thing: This year's Derby is as wide-open as any in recent memory. Here's a sampling of their analyses, from Sandra McKee of The Sun; John Cherwa of the Orlando Sentinel; and Dave Joseph of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
It's said this is one of the most evenly matched fields to come into the Kentucky Derby, which means there are about eight top-of-the-line choices who could wind up in the winner's circle. It is also true that a bad draw or a bad trip could knock any one of them from contention.
That being said, Scat Daddy is my No. 1 pick. He has done nothing to disappoint this spring and appears to be improving with each outing. He found a way to beat the strongest opponents in each of his past two outings (Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth), and his speed numbers are good.
Curlin is second choice. He's young, and history says an unraced-at-2 horse can't win the Derby. But until Barbaro won last year, a horse who took eight weeks off before the Derby had never won, either. All Curlin has done is win, and the best trainers in the business see trouble when they look at him.
The Danzig colt Hard Spun has the breeding for distance and speed. He's rested, and aside from a loss in the Southwest Stakes, on a track surface he didn't like, he has won easily in five other starts.
Everyone seems intent to jump on the bandwagon of Curlin, a horse with seemingly phenomenal talent. But you have to go back to 1915 to find a horse that won the Derby after three starts.
So, throw that horse out, and get a good price on a very sharp yet overlooked horse called Hard Spun. He has won five of his six races, but he hasn't raced in six weeks. Nobiz Like Shobiz has been working well and should be near the front. He's our pick for second. In third, look for Circular Quay, winner of the Lousiana Derby, just like Barbaro.
There are a dozen horses for whom you can make a strong case. But Street Sense has been remarkably consistent throughout his short career, and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by 10 lengths. He's my pick, followed by Circular Quay, who is tremendously athletic and should relish the distance. If Nobiz Like Shobiz can relax for the first half-mile, he could be the one who wears roses.