For nearly four decades Ernie Munick has been giving his heart and mind to thoroughbred racing. He is a writer, a vlogger , a musician, but most devotedly a handicapper and horseplayer. He can be seen twice a week on the NYRA Network's RACEDAY, and his videos for the Breeders' Cup can be found by clicking here.
With the Arc de Triomphe, Grand National, Snake River Canyon and the recently discovered Super Earth dubbed GJ 1214b by NASA as his immediate goals, Trinniberg (20) is the first toss. A red and yellow aircar will be hovering for him about the quarter-pole, and with aviator goggles and a smart trailing scarf he shall Jetson the leaders through the world's most famous stretch.
Named after the fragile yet elegant Phalondirtus species, Daddy Long Legs (19) seeks to become the first high earner to beat only one horse in both the Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. Overhyped, misleading, YouTubed gallop-outs in nondirt preps only add to his yeah-right appeal.
The Tampa Bay Derby, an anti-key race won by Prospective (18), has produced zero next-out winners, and six of its 11 starters have yet to race again.
So far this season, Liaison (17) is earning - I did the math - about four times the minimum wage.
Optimizer (16) would be a far more respectable Derby character if he had taken the routes mapped out by Motion (Went the Day Well) or Romans (Dullahan). English Channels can dirt, sure, but this year has mostly been a waste of opportunities. Optimizer should be in tomorrow's American Turf, with the other English Channels, three of them, right before the Oaks. Hope there's still horse left for the Jamaica.
With Johnny and Graham, Went the Day Well (15) brings about the finest corner possible. Dirt, however, might be his third favorite surface. Only one Animal.
From Blind Luck's trainer/manager comes Rousing Sermon (14). This is a Hail Mary, for sure, but Hollendorfer has earned those frequent flyer bonuses.
Done Talking (13) has a sort of suck-up allure that cannot be dismissed in the 20-horse wilderness.
Daddy Nose Best (12) and Sabercat (11) have improved from race to race this year, classic Asmussen, and the barn's instinct for taking on bigger game is often spot on. Daddy's also been many a railbird's darling this week, and that bulging New Mexico speed figure and fast-finishing style will also draw support. Thing is, I don't trust that speed figure; Isn't he Clever followed that near-miss to Daddy with a nowhere nothing, reinforcing my suspicion that the feeble competition that day should be given greater consideration than the mighty figs. I wouldn't be shocked to watch Sabercat finish in front of Daddy Nose Best. The Nakatani revival remains in effect.
I don't foresee a trip with which Take Charge Indy (10) will be able to settle into a comfortable rhythm, even under the greatest Derby rider of modern times.
El Padrino (9) shot the loudest blank of the year in Hallandale. Even if you dismiss the race, citing jock-riding-jock and the outside trip, you have to wonder if he's better on a wet track. And that terrific throw-down at the Fair Grounds might've starched him and Mark Valeski.
Never at any point, during this season or last, has Hansen (8) impressed me as a major Kentucky Derby contender. While there is much skill here, and toughness, and love for the track, he like Indy will probably be hounded at all calls - unless a horse or two break slowly. This can happen.This has happened (1985 a great example, Spend a Buck left in charge). I'm still surprised Ramon chose gray over bay.
The fireballs up front, if they call break cleanly, almost assure the incineration of anyone in the first-, second-, and maybe even third flights. Though a stalking winner in both scores at Santa Anita, I'll Have Another (7) was very relaxed and amenable; he appears to have the equilibrium to handle a mad first turn, a hot first mile, and I imagine he'll allow his jockey to drop further back Saturday, if necessary. He also has a pedigree that stays till next year.
Alpha (6) is nearly undefeated with Lasix. He'll get exactly the pace scenario he covets, but avoiding all that congestion and body contact under a new partner seems an extra large mission for a smallish colt.
Bodemeister (5) has yet to prove he can fire a magic bullet from off the pace.
Dullahan (4) is awfully ominous. Kent, Dale, pedigree, race shape. That wasn't the prettiest opening quarter last November, and he was till beaten only six lengths.
Creative Cause (3) is obviously a Classic-quality colt - blinkers or not (I think he's straighter without) - but Harrington's words (from DRF) concern me: ""He doesn't like to be crowded…(this) horse is a stalker…(he) hasn't got a deep close." If instructions are to shadow Bodemeister, for example, that could result in early backpedaling.
I'm rooting for Union Rags (2). I love his face, his prideful dark eye. Wiseguys are quick to mention that he hasn't earned a triple-digit Beyer. (What route did Union Rags take out of Florida? I-95). But Matz, a great trainer and a true gentleman, has him primed for the special and Julien is hankerin' for redemption. I hope he doesn't overreact to the Florida Derby, scrubbin' on him too soon. This time, he will need to drop back: staying clear and saving ground will be paramount.
Finally, who better to appreciate the import of the three Jewels than Gemologist (1). I love his gate speed. Five starts, five sharp getaways, particularly his last two. He is nimble and powerful. He is professional, unexcitable. In the Wood he allowed The Lumber Guy to cross his path into the clubhouse turn, then was carried about six wide there, but never lost spirit. There were three distinct moves in this race: for position in the opening, for the lead turning for home, and for the gold with the pugnacity of his two-time come-again sire.
Post 15 is sweet. He has good memories of Churchill, and it's Javier's time. He and Julien, as they have been in so many races and will in so many more, could be shoulder to shoulder into the sonic thrust of a hundred thousand horseplayers. Elite jocks must check their testosterone, be careful to keep their eyes on the prize.
Louisville in young May. Only the perfection of Big Brown could shatter the sheer imperfection of my Derby record, now 1 for 39. Take me home, Gemologist, perfection again, six for six.