Road to Derby a battle of attrition

There is a reason why the Road to the Kentucky Derby can resemble those old demolition derbies held decades ago at Islip Speedway on Long Island. The horses that will make the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May are the ones who are still running.

Two leading Derby contenders fell by the wayside this week — Boys at Tosconova and Tapizar. Trainer Rick Dutrow, who took Boys at Tosconova out of training, told the Daily Racing Form that the colt “just wasn’t right.” Tapizar will undergo surgery after suffering a bone chip to a knee in finishing out of the money Saturday in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

Both horses were solid choices in Las Vegas Kentucky Derby future books and are now sidelined indefinitely.

Unfortunately, this is a rite of passage for any horse with Kentucky Derby aspirations. You can’t baby a young horse for four months and then expect to win the Derby in a 20-horse field going 1¼ miles.

These still-developing youngsters are pushed hard in training, pushed harder in their prep races and by then maybe are mentally and physically tough enough to win the Derby.

Every Monday, I send a top-10 Derby list to My best five this week are Dialed In, To Honor and Serve, Uncle Mo, Brethren and Astrology. I hope all five make the Derby field because each one is good enough to win. However, with 78 days left until the Run for the Roses, the odds are against all five of them surviving the Road to the Derby.

There are reasons why no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. One is that when the Derby winner exits Churchill Downs, he often looks as if he just finished a demolition derby.

■ ‘BLINKERS OFF’ APPEARANCE — I am scheduled to be a guest handicapper on “Blinkers Off” on TVG on Feb. 25. The 30-minute show, hosted by Matt Carothers, will air live at 8:30 a.m.

■ CANTOR GAMING — It’s been interesting to watch Cantor Gaming invest in the future of Las Vegas. The company’s signature race and sports book at the M Resort offers the in-game and in-race wagering technology that will one day become the industry norm.

But what caught my eye were the company’s new race and sports books at the Tropicana and the Hard Rock Hotel. Its investment is so philosophically different than what’s being practiced on most of the Strip. Is it possible that Cantor is more bullish on horse racing than the horse industry is on itself?

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at

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