After talking this week with Secretariat biographer William Nack and Stonecrest Farm owner Dr. William Reed, a Kansas City heart surgeon, I consider myself a full-blown expert on horse racing. Before giving you the winner of today’s Kentucky Derby, a word from Nack on why Secretariat deserved to be called an athlete.
“He was trained like an athlete,” Nack said. “He was fit. He was on a very strict regimen. He was like an Olympic athlete who was sheltered all his life to perform at his optimum for our entertainment — which is what it was for — and for money.”
Nack, who grew very close to Secretariat, doesn’t see another horse like him in this year’s deep Derby field, but he does have a pick for the winner’s circle: Union Rags.
Like Nack, Reed has a great deal of affection for horses. It’s been a tough week for the surgeon. Dynaformer, the sire of his best horse, Perfect Drift, suffered a heart attack April 17 while covering a mare and died April 29.
The date of the death chilled Reed because it also happened to be the birthday of Perfect Drift and Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, also by Dynaformer.
“You get attached to horses, and you should never be in the business unless you really love horses,” Reed said, adding that his son sent a note to the farm where Dynaformer died. It read: “Rest peacefully, big horse. You gave us a gift that was immeasurable in Perfect Drift. As long as we run horses, we’ll be thinking about you.”
Perfect Drift ran third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and the gelding apparently is quite the lady’s horse.
“Perfect Drift has always loved women, children and the disabled,” Reed said. “He will physically move you out of his stall to let a woman come in and pet him. There was one time when the groom couldn’t get him to let a male veterinarian in to give him his medication. A trainer had a girlfriend who was a vet. She came in and said, ‘Get over there, Drift.’ She gave him the medication and said, ‘What’s the problem?’”
The big bay is fine with everyone outside the stall, Reed said, but inside it he wants nothing to do with men.
Perfect Drift resides at the Kentucky Derby Museum — an honor bestowed only upon horses considered perfect prototypes of thoroughbreds — in the weeks leading up to the Derby every year since 2009.
Asked Friday night for a Derby winner, Reed said he hadn’t made up his mind, but was leaning toward Union Rags, same as Nack. Union Rags and Bodemeister took turns as the favorite Friday. Dullahan and the speedy Hansen were generating quite a buzz as well.
Reed’s attorney, “a Derby addict who’s been staying up until 2 in the morning handicapping all the horses, has been moving toward Bodemeister, and Bodemeister has been very impressive.”
Reed said it’s a tough race to forecast because, “there are five, six, seven horses with legitimate chances of winning it.”
And some, he said, that have no business running in it.
“Unfortunately, there will be people who will put a horse in the Derby so they can say they have a horse in the Derby and throw a party,” Reed said. “It’s not fair to the horse, and it’s not good for the race.”
So which athlete will emerge from the 20-horse field as the winner? Well, with all due respect to the great storyteller Nack and the warm-hearted surgeon and his Derby-addicted attorney, the win won’t go to Union Rags or Bodemeister. Neither Hansen nor Dullahan will get the win.
Fine horses, all of them, but they have about as much chance of winning the Derby as Brock Berglund has of wearing a Kansas University football uniform.
Gemologist has won five races and got the win every time. That’s downplayed because he didn’t face competition the likes of Union Rags and Bodemeister. Javier Castellano has ridden Union Rags to victory and could have ridden him in the Derby. Instead, he chose Gemologist. Some surmise he did so to stay on the good side of big-time trainer Todd Pletcher. Maybe. Or maybe Castellano knows a winner when he rides one.
Remember, some athletes just know how to win, regardless of the competition. Gemologist is one of them, and I’m willing to stake my new-found, self-annointed status as a full-blown expert on it.