Favorites bring glittery records to the Kentucky Derby.
This year, Dinard is a nose away from being unbeaten in five starts. Fly So Free, the 2-year-old champion, and Best Pal are 7-for-10 and have earned more than $1 million.
And then there's the other end of the Derby spectrum. They are the round-outs, the race-fillers. Except for their owners and trainers, few people think these horses belong in the race.
A colt named Big Al's Express arrived at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., last weekend to begin preparations for the May 4 classic. The colt has an odd record for a Derby contender: 0-for-0.
Trainer Tommy Allen, encouraged by the morning workouts the colt posted in recent weeks at the Stockton Fair Grounds in Northern California, has brought the horse to Churchill Downs and plans to run him Saturday in the Derby Trial.
"He's dead serious," Julian "Buck" Wheat, a Churchill Downs official, said yesterday.
Don't expect the colt to start, however. Although maidens (non-winners) occasionally make the Derby field, a first-time starter makes a mockery of the race. In the 1970s, the Churchill stewards would not permit One Eyed Tom in the Derby after the colt failed a test from the starting gate.
Another unstarted horse in the 1970s -- the filly I.B. Valdors -- also was pulled out during Derby week. Although her defection has faded from the memory of historians, the probable reason was that the intense ridicule proved too much for her connections.
Still, maidens make the field. The last to run was in 1979. The amazing thing about Great Redeemer was not that he finished last, more than 47 lengths behind winner Spectacular Bid -- but that he went off at odds of only 78-1, which means people actually were betting on him.
Wilder Than Ever, also being pointed to this year's Derby, is not a maiden, but his credentials are hardly top-notch. The colt finished third at 118-1 in the Jim Beam Stakes, then ran last in the Blue Grass Stakes. His Churchill-based owner and trainer, Ray Cottrell and John Churchman, apparently didn't get enough thrills from last year's Derby. They had Fighting Fantasy (111-1), who finished 15th and last, 49 lengths behind winner Unbridled.
Owner Randy Williams of Pasadena shipped Wind Splitter to the Derby in 1989. The gelding never had won a stakes race and was grouped in the mutuel field -- but comparing his record with those of Great Redeemer, Wilder Than Ever and Big Al's Express made Wind Splitter a super horse.
"He had run second four times in graded stakes," Williams said.
Wind Splitter ran 11th, beaten by less than nine lengths, in that Derby, won by Sunday Silence. Now 5, he has gone on to win more than $280,000.
"When we got to Louisville, it was a joke," Williams said. Trainer Dale Capuano "got no publicity at all. But I kind of expected that.
"People [run their horses] in the Derby for the publicity and just to say they've done it. How many people do you know who can say they've run a horse in the Kentucky Derby? That's really something. Some people spend millions of dollars and can't do it.
"It's the prestige of the thing. I'm glad we went. But I'm not sure that I'd want to go again."
Kentucky Derby contenders
Here are the prospective starters for the May 4 Kentucky Derby:
Horse.. .. .. .. .. .. Last race
Best Pal.. .. .. .. .. 2nd, Santa Anita Derby
Big Al's Express .. .. unstarted
Corporate Report .. .. 2nd, Arkansas Derby
Dinard. .. .. .. .. .. 1st, Santa Anita Derby
Hansel. .. .. .. .. .. 1st, Lexington Stakes
Fly So Free.. .. .. .. 2nd, Blue Grass
Green Alligator. .. .. 1st, California Derby
Lost Mountain .. .. .. 2nd, Wood Memorial
Mane Minister .. .. .. 4th, Santa Anita Derby
Olympio .. .. .. .. .. 1st, Arkansas Derby
Quintana.. .. .. .. .. 4th, Arkansas Derby
Richman .. .. .. .. .. 3rd, Arkansas Derby
Strike the Gold. .. .. 1st, Blue Grass
Tank .. .. .. .. .. .. 1st, Garden State Stakes
Wilder Than Ever .. .. 6th, Blue Grass