Wide Open Field Ready for Kentucky Derby

Race fans cheer at Churchill Downs

Race fans Carly Cottoh (L) and Tammy Cottoh cheer on their favorites during a Kentucky Oaks Day race at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Reuters hide caption

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Saturday marks the 131st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. William Nack, a former Sports Illustrated reporter, tells Linda Wertheimer that while Bellamy Road is the favorite, he thinks this year's run for the roses is any horse's game. And he'd pick Afleet Alex.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The only fair prediction I can make about trainer Nick Zito's party of five, otherwise known as this year's Kentucky Derby, is that it's a mile and a quarter and not a nose less. But William Nack can say whatever he wants to. Mr. Nack is a former reporter for Sports Illustrated, the author of "My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money and the Sporting Life," also, "Secretariat: Making of a Champion." He joins us from his home in Washington.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. WILLIAM NACK (Author): It's a pleasure, Linda. How are you?

WERTHEIMER: I'm fine. I'm wondering about this horse that seems to be the early favorite, Bellamy Road, one of the five Zito horses. This one is owned by George Steinbrenner which, since he owns the Yankees, makes him a little hard for me to root for. Is he a formidable horse, this Bellamy Road?

Mr. NACK: Well, he burst upon the scene last April the 9th in the biggest preparations for the Kentucky Derby that's run in New York, a thing called the Wood Memorial. He won by nearly 18 lengths and it was truly an awesome performance. I've been looking at Derby preparations for 30 years, and this is one of the most impressive I've ever seen. He looks like a freak. That's the word that horse people use to describe an animal that sort of transcends the normal bounds of quality. And he's a reasonably well-bred horse. He's not beautifully bred, but the only thing is is that there's a theory in horse racing that when you run a brilliant race, as brilliant as he did in the Wood Memorial, your next race you will bounce. To bounce means to run very badly after a brilliant effort. And a lot of people who are serious handicappers expect Bellamy Road to bounce to the moon.

WERTHEIMER: This horse, Afleet Alex, is he the horse to watch to take advantage of a bounce if there's a bounce?

Mr. NACK: Well, in terms of the history of the Kentucky Derby, Afleet Alex really fits the bill in the sense that he had an extremely successful two-year-old year last year. That really portends a good result in the Kentucky Derby. He appears to have the pedigree, and he's a sentimental favorite among all of them because money that he makes--or portions of it are donated to children's cancer research.

WERTHEIMER: This horse is owned by a consortium of people that have never owned a racehorse before. This is their first time. They all think it's a lot of big fun, sort of like the people that owned Funny Cide or Smarty Jones. It's another one of those.

Mr. NACK: Yes, and the horse has just run his eyeballs out for these people. He's won over $1 million in his life. And he's showed up every time the gate is open.

WERTHEIMER: Trainer Todd Pletcher, who could have chosen to start his horse anyplace, picked the auxiliary gate for his horse. The horse is called Bandini. Now why didn't he take the post position, and why--who's Bandini anyway?

Mr. NACK: Bandini's probably the best bred horse in the race, and pedigrees are important in the Kentucky Derby. He's by Fusaichi Pegasus, and I believe that Pletcher took the auxiliary post, number 15, because I believe five out of the last 10 Kentucky Derby winners have broken from that far outside auxiliary post. By the time you get to the first turn, which is a quarter of a mile away, they've sorted themselves out and you can just get a nice place on the outside and stay out of trouble.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think this Derby is like a two-horse race? Or is it wider open than that? What?

Mr. NACK: Oh, it's much wider open than that. I could see any one of seven horses winning, everybody from Bellamy Road to Afleet Alex to Bandini and High Fly and High Limit, Noble Causeway and Sun King. Those are all horses that, if they were to win, it would not surprise me.

WERTHEIMER: William Nack is a former reporter for Sports Illustrated and the author of "My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money and the Sporting Life."

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