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Deserving of a Kentucky Derby


There have been quite a few great colts to have been beaten in the Kentucky Derby. Superstars like Native Dancer, Holy Bull and Arazi looked hard to beat on the first Saturday in May but came up short.


In the last three decades, Afleet Alex, Arazi, Easy Goer and Point Given are four colts who top the list of those who were deserving of a Kentucky Derby. Honorable mention go to Holy Bull, Mister Frisky and Curlin.


When you combine what these four did leading up to the Kentucky Derby, who beat them in the Kentucky Derby, unlucky trips/pace/surface in the Kentucky Derby and what they did following the Kentucky Derby, they top the list. (There is a poll on Twitter where you can vote on who is tops. Do that HERE).


ARAZI

Arazi came into the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile as a European superstar. He had won 6 of 7 in his career and rattled off three straight Group 1 victories in France. He faced 13 foes in the Juvenile and went off as a tepid 2-1 favorite over Bertrando who had won all three of his starts impressively in California. Most figured it would be decided by one of these two. They were right. But no one could have predicted what took place. Arazi was traveling near the back of the pack for the first half of the race before he made a move so menacing that the term "Arazi-like move" was coined (see the replay HERE). He would win that race by five lengths but could have been much more.


Following the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Arazi would raced just once a month before the Derby. It was an easy win over 7 rivals in a small stakes in France. There were people comparing Arazi to Secretariat in the week leading up to the Derby, including Secretariat's trainer Lucien Lauren.


In the Derby, Arazi, drawing the 17 post, would make another sweeping move, this time much earlier in the race. For a few seconds it appeared he would run away from that field and validate the '91 Juvenile win, and the hype. But his run died turning for home. Similar to when Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas, the mystique was never the same with Arazi. He won just once more in five starts overseas.


AFLEET ALEX

Afleet Alex was Smarty Jones before Smarty Jones. He was trained by an obscure trainer and started racing on smaller circuits. He absolutely destroyed small fields in his first two starts at Delaware Park before he faced the big boys in the Grade 2 Sanford as a two-year old. He beat 10 foes that day as the 3-1 favorite and did so by a widening five-lengths.


Coming into the Kentucky Derby, Afleet Alex had just won the Arkansas Derby by 8-lengths in what was then a career-best performance. That win allowed backers to quickly forget his last place finish in the Rebel. He would go off as the second favorite behind the freakish Bellamy Road who had won the Wood Memorial by an unbelievable 17-lengths.


Afleet Alex ran too good to lose in the Kentucky Derby. He made an early move to the leaders and into one of the fastest fractions ever set in the Derby (:45.1, 1:09.2). He battled on gamely despite running into the teeth of those fractions and was game all the way. He was overtaken late by 50-1 uspet winner Giacomo and longshot Closing Argument. No one else traveling near the lead would finish in the top 8.


Afleet Alex won the Preakness by five (after clipping heels and almost tossing the rider) and the Belmont Stakes by seven. He would never race again.


EASY GOER

It's quite simple really. If it weren't for Sunday Silence, Easy Goer might be ranked second to Secretariat as the greatest horse of the twentieth century. As great as Easy Goer was, he was also pretty unlucky. He famously hated an off-track. He was upset at 4-5 odds in the mud at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and he lost to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby the following year on a similar surface.


While the other three candidates deserving of a Kentucky Derby were great, Easy Goer was Hall of Fame great. The others were beaten by inferior horses in the Derby but Easy Goer was not. Sunday Silence was every bit his equal in talent and accomplishments and both were hurt by being born in 1986. Both would have been Triple Crown winners without the other.


After the Derby, Easy Goer would lose the Preakness to Sunday Silence by a nose in what was considered one of the greatest horse races ever run (see it HERE). He blew out Sunday Silence in the Belmont on his home track, denying Silence the Triple Crown. In the end, Easy Goer had done a bit more than Sunday Silence but had only managed to beat his foe once in four tries.


POINT GIVEN


Being from Minnesota, I'll make a comparison here. Point Given was to horse racing as the 1998 Minnesota Vikings were to the NFL. The Vikings were 15-1 that year and made it to the NFC Championship where they were supposed to breeze past Atlanta. They were 11.5 point favorites but lost in overtime after Gary Anderson (perfect on field goals and extra-points for the season) missed in regulation that would have sealed the game.


Point Given actually has Minnesota ties. His dam, Turko's Turn, was the daughter of Turbo Launch. Turbo Launch ran in the late 1980's at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota. She upset the heavily favored, D-Wayne Lukas trained Lost Kitty in the '87 Debutante at that Minnesota oval.


Point Given dominated the three-old season for Bob Baffert. He was ridden out (110 Beyer) in the Santa Anita Derby and would go off at 9-5 in the Kentucky Derby. Just like Arazi and also out of the 17 post he would make an early move from mid-pack to second but unexpectedly flounder afterwards and finish 5th.


Point Given would rally after the Derby flop. He won his final four starts (all Grade 1's). He took the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers. His 12-length win in the Belmont was one of the best performances in that race this side of Secretariat in 1973.

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