The final spots in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field will be decided Saturday in the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
The Derby point standings presently have the 20th horse with 20 points. That will change after the top four finishers in the two prep races earn 100, 40, 20 and 10 points, respectively.
Two strong Derby contenders, Cairo Prince and Uncle Sigh, each have 24 points and are on the bubble. But like UConn as a No. 7 seed and Kentucky as a No. 8 in the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen once you get in.
The Blue Grass drew 15 horses and is as wide open as a stakes race can be. Keeneland has a Polytrack surface, so most of the entrants have either a synthetic or turf resume.
The favorite, Bobby’s Kitten (3-1), has no Derby points, so he’ll need a top-two finish for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsay. The Ramsays already have two in the Derby field in Vicar’s in Trouble, the Louisiana Derby winner, and We Miss Artie, who won the Spiral.
Medal Count (9-2) won the Transylvania on turf at Keeneland on April 4. Trainer Dale Romans desperately wants to earn points to make the Derby field.
My choice for an upset is Coastline (8-1) for trainer Mark Casse. He won his maiden at Keeneland and last out ran third, beaten by a head, in the Spiral at Turfway Park, which also has a synthetic surface.
This will be the last Blue Grass, and final meet at Keeneland, run over a synthetic surface. The track will install a dirt track in time for its fall meet.
If you read between the lines at Keeneland and Del Mar, both are changing to dirt in hopes of hosting a future Breeders’ Cup. If that’s the case, it’s a weak reason. I thought the safety of the racehorse was supposed to come first.
At Oaklawn, all eyes will be on unbeaten Bayern (2-1) for trainer Bob Baffert. He won both his starts but has no Derby points. The colt is freakishly fast. Baffert is hoping to mirror the success of Bodemeister, who won the 2012 Arkansas Derby, then was second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Tapiture (9-5) is a slight favorite, but more importantly gets a new rider in Joel Rosario. Rosario won the 2013 Derby on Orb so the wheels are in motion to get the best possible Derby mount.
What figures to overshadow a good race by Tapiture is the focus on his trainer Steve Asmussen, who recently was the target of a PETA undercover video alleging horse abuse. In about a week, he went from being a prime choice for Racing’s Hall of Fame to a poster boy for what’s wrong with the sport.
The horse racing industry has a history of operating under the black cloud of Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.” The chances of Tapiture winning the Kentucky Derby, thus shining even more light on the PETA video, are not far-fetched.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @richeng4propick on Twitter.