NEAL CONAN, host:
Every year it seems a horse emerges as the winner of the Kentucky Derby and is immediately hailed as America's next super horse, bound to be the first Triple Crown winner in 28 years since Affirmed performed that deed at Belmont Park in New York.
This year, the bets are on Barbaro, who ran a commanding race in the Kentucky Derby and blew away his rivals with a powerful stretch run. In most years, you can depend on Andy Beyer--the horseracing columnist for The Washington Post and creator of the Beyer Speed Figures that you see in the Daily Racing Form--in most years you could expect Andy Beyer to be among the skeptics. This year, as he joins us on the phone from his house in Washington today, he sounds a little bit more positive about Barbaro's chances.
In fact, Andy, I never thought I'd read you writing that, unless something goes badly wrong, some unlucky happenstance, Barbaro is going to win the Triple Crown.
Mr. ANDY BEYER (Horseracing Columnist, The Washington Post): He is. The hype is for real this year, Neal.
You know, in the last--at least the last few bids for the Triple Crown, you know, in my heart of hearts, I've been, you know, kind of uncertain whether I wanted to see horses like Funny Cide and War Emblem win it, because I felt they did not belong on a list of the great thoroughbreds of all time.
But, I really think, from what I've seen in his brief career so far, that Barbaro is worthy of having his name up there with horses like Seattle Slew and Affirmed, and that, you know, I think he's got the potential to go on and be, you know, one of the sports' greats.
CONAN: He is undefeated thus far in his young career. And lightly raced.
Mr. BEYER: Well he's, the Derby was only his sixth race. But I mean, he's been--you know, he's been managed very judiciously by a good trainer, Michael Matz. But he's, you know--he's, not only has he done everything right, he has displayed different dimensions that you rarely see from even the best horses.
Barbaro's breeding suggests, or suggested, that his best game was going to be running on the grass. And he ran his first three races on the turf. After the second one of them, I mean, I was, you know, just as a fan, I was just blown away. I mean, I thought this was the most impressive young grass horse that I think I've ever seen in this country. And I wrote, after that, that the owners, you know, ought to probably pursue winning the Epsom Derby in England. And if they, you know, they wanted to go for the Kentucky Derby and--you know, for this horse to make the switch to dirt, and be, you know, as good on dirt as he was on turf, is really exceptional. I mean, because, you know, they are two very different games. I mean, you rarely see horses, you know, with equal aptitude on both.
CONAN: We're talking with Andy Beyer, creator of the Beyer Speed System, about Saturday's upcoming Preakness.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Andy, going into the Kentucky Derby, which was a wide-open race, a lot of people said there were any of maybe half a dozen, more than that, horses who stood a good chance, especially in the Derby, which is always a cavalry charge. In this case, 20 horses breaking from the gate, anybody can have a bad day.
Mr. BEYER: Yeah. I mean, there--in this year's race, as in all of them, with a 20-horse cavalry charge, you know, there, you know, there were some horses who were compromised. I mean, Barbaro has the kind of style and versatility that he can, you know, he's usually going to avoid, you know, trouble that befalls other horses. I mean, he's kind of a push-button horse. He's got speed when his jockey needs it; you know, he's got a tremendous closing kick when he needs it.
But the, you know, the fact that, you know, you heard before the Derby, that it was a wide-open race, I think was not, you know, was not wrong. I mean, Barbaro's two dirt races going into the Derby--I mean, he'd won them both, they were okay, but they left the impression that he was not as good a horse on dirt as he was on turf. And so he had not shown, you know, that--you know, tremendous level of performance on dirt until the Derby itself. I think, in part, because Michael Matz was training him in a way, very much calculated to produce, you know, the--his absolute best, you know, performances in the Triple Crown.
CONAN: And we tend to look at that--the length of his victory, or six, six-and-a-half lengths as he finished up, you tend to look at the stopwatch and that told you some interesting things.
Mr. BEYER: Well he--it was very good. I mean the--his Beyer Speed Figure was 111, which is more than respectable. It's not stratospheric. But I have a hunch that this horse is just beginning, you know, to show what he's got. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if he takes his game to yet another level in the Preakness.
CONAN: There are a couple of his running mates from the Derby who are showing up at Pimlico on Saturday; both of them among the favorites. They were Brother Derek, who ended up finishing fourth, and Sweetnorthernsaint, who finished seventh. Six other entries in the race, obviously a much smaller field; but both those horses, both of whom got a lot of interest before the Derby, both had excuses in that big race.
Mr. BEYER: Yeah, Sweetnorthernsaint didn't have enough of an excuse for my taste. I mean, he did have some trouble, but I thought he ran out of gas in the stretch.
Brother Derek is the only horse who is capable of pulling an upset in here. I mean, he had been the morning line Kentucky Derby favorite after, you know, winning four straight races in California. And he had an absolutely brutal trip at Churchill Downs after breaking from postposition 18. I mean, you just will rarely see a horse go wider than he did on the turn.
But, even taking that into account and giving him all the credit for the ground that he lost, I don't see him improving enough to beat Barbaro. I think he'll run well, I think the race will be closer, but I think it's just--it's going to be Barbaro and Brother Derek, one-two.
CONAN: And, boy, you're going to really be betting a lot on that exact, I'm sure. But let me ask you, you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, that there'd been--you had mentioned the idea of taking an American horse to one of the great European classic turf races, the Epsom Derby. But I gather there has been actual mention of maybe the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris.
Mr. BEYER: I hope they will. I mean, I--you know, this horse, because of his ability to run on both grass and dirt, has the potential to, you know, to accomplish, you know, feats that are even more historic then the Triple Crown.
And we've never had an American-based horse go to Europe, you know, and win one of their great, you know, flat races on the turf. I mean, I'm excepting steeplechase races. And, you know, I mean, the owners seem like pretty sporting people, I mean, they turned down $5 million for the horse early in his career. You know, so I would hope, perhaps next year when he's a four year old, you know, they'll give him a shot for glory in Europe. I mean, that would, as I said, that would be at least as great an accomplishment as sweeping the Triple Crown.
CONAN: Andy Beyer, as always, thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate your time.
Mr. BEYER: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Andy Beyer writes for The Washington Post. He's the creator of the Beyer Speed Figures that you see in your Daily Racing Form. He joined us today by phone from his home in Washington, D.C.
Michele Martin will be here tomorrow. On Friday, Ira Flatow and SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'll see you Monday.
In Washington, I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.
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