You can almost picture the racing gods at this very moment debating the issue, can't you? Just as it looks as if they've hit an impasse and might table the issue for a year, somebody with an angelic countenance leaps to his winged feet and yells, "Hey, what about Jersey Joe?"
What about Jersey Joe Bravo indeed: He might be the most underrated jockey in the country -- but, of course, he's not underrated in Jersey, where he has won 22 riding titles at The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park. For three generations -- first his grandfather, Bartolo, and then his father, George -- a Bravo has been riding winners. Jersey Joe Bravo has the mount on Danza, the Arkansas Derby winner and another horse that has looked very sharp this week.
"And you guys call yourselves omniscient?" a racing god with a multitude of appendages interrupts. "To listen to all this palaver, somebody might think you never heard of The Chief. You guys are missing a wonderful opportunity here."
For 20 years, James Jerkens worked as the assistant to his father, trainer Allen Jerkens, the 85-year-old Hall of Famer aka The Chief. For the Derby, the younger Jerkens will saddle Wicked Strong, whose name honors the city of Boston and whose earnings, in part, go to help the victims and families of the Marathon bombing. And the big colt's owner, Centennial Farm, has been putting together partnerships and campaigning stakes horses for more than 30 years.
"Personally, I think we should see to it that Wicked Strong wins Saturday," the god of many appendages says. "He might be best, after all, and he'll benefit from a lively pace and come charging in the stretch so that all we have to do is clear a little path for him. Easy work. But I understand if you think that outcome's a little too predictable -- the race, after all, is supposed to be mysterious and inscrutable -- so I also wouldn't have any problem at all if my distinguished colleagues in the deity biz decide on Intense Holiday."
Yes, that would work: trainer Todd Pletcher teaming up with his all-time favorite partner on horseback, Johnny V., for a Derby win, and Starlight racing's partners celebrating triumphantly, their bonhomie flowing like champagne. Two years ago, Starlight seemed to have a Derby horse and superstar in the making with Algorithms, but, before the colt could fulfill his considerable promise, injury pushed him into retirement.
It has been 100 years since anybody from Louisville won the Derby. But it could happen here, with Intense Holiday. When Jack Wolf, who graduated from St. Xavier High School in Louisville, and his wife, Laurie, jumped into the sport, their first horse was Harlan's Holiday. He disappointed as the favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. Afterward, they formed Starlight Racing, and, appropriately enough, they're returning to the Derby this year with a son of Harlan's Holiday.
And so, who will win the racing gods' favor and, along with it, the 140th Kentucky Derby? Well, I'd never be so presumptuous as to speak for the racing gods, but this is how I see the race:
1. Intense Holiday
3. Wicked Strong
4. Medal Count