LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With the media settling in for their annual week of pre-Derby coverage, this year's theme could be "Much ado about the No thing."
Virtually every horse preparing for Saturday's 117th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs has a chink in its armor. Hard-and-fast rules that eliminate horses and have been applied for years are ones haunting many entrants this year.
Even the four favorites can't escape some long-standing stigmas.
Fly So Free is the probable favorite and defending 2-year-old champion. A favorite or juvenile champion has not won the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
Best Pal is a California-bred gelding. No gelding has won the Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, and no Cal-bred has won since 1962 (Decidedly).
Strike the Gold doesn't have a low enough Dosage number. No Derby winner has had a Dosage rating -- the complicated formula that assigns a numerical value to a horse's pedigree -- of over 4.00 since 1929. Strike the Gold's Dosage is 9.00.
Frank Brothers, trainer of Hansel, the last of the four favorites, said: "Surely those things have some merit. I'm a guy who believes in history and the Dosage. But it'll be a new game when we tee it up Saturday."
Hansel has some negatives to him, but they are more subjective. The colt has won four stakes, but none came over top-flight opposition. His last two races resulted in impressive victories, but the 2-3 finishers behind him in the Jim Beam Stakes were Richman and Wilder Than Ever. In the Lexington, the 2-3 horses were Shotgun Harry J. and Speedy Cure. Those horses are hardly world-beaters.
In their two meetings in Florida this winter, Hansel was beaten soundly by Fly So Free.
"He didn't try at all in his first start of the year [the Fountain of Youth]," said Brothers, 44. "Mentally, he wasn't racy. The Florida Derby [in which Hansel was third] was a better race, but he didn't get anything out of his first time back and the other horses had a jump on him.
"He's run out of his skin here. You've seen a better horse here. You'll see a better horse. Mentally, he's put his act together."
There are X's next to other horses' names. Six horses have not won a stakes race: Another Review, Corporate Report, Happy Jazz Band, Lost Mountain, Subordinated Debt and Wilder Than Ever. If you don't count Alysheba in 1987 -- he won the Blue Grass Stakes but was disqualified -- the last time a horse's first stakes win came in the Run For the Roses was 1967 (Proud Clarion).
The last time a horse won the Derby with as few as four prior starts was in 1915, when Regret won. Alydavid and Corporate Report have just four starts each.
Sea Cadet, who should be no worse than sixth choice, has a front-running style that figures to work against him. Front-runners in big Derby fields tend to get used up in a ruinously fast pace, and Sea Cadet simply may not want the 1 1/4 -mile distance.
But there may be something much more powerful working against the colt. He was born without a tail. All he has is a stub.
No horse has worn the roses without his tail on.