With the number of horses who could possibly win the Kentucky Derby decreasing to 13, 2 of them will be running Saturday in the $125,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita.
Horseplayers who like to invest in the Derby future book in Las Vegas may be surprised that of the 380 3-year-olds nominated, at $600 each, for the Triple Crown races, only a baker's dozen still have a chance. But if you subscribe to a two-tiered system--a combination of the Experimental Handicap and the Dosage Index--for plotting Derby winners, only 13 potential winners remain, including Success Express and Tsarbaby, neither of whom will be favored to win the San Rafael.
The Experimental is much easier to explain than the Dosage. The Jockey Club of New York commissions three racing secretaries--Bruce Lombardi, Tommy Trotter and Howard Battle participated this year--to give the highest weights to the best 3-year-olds based entirely on their performances as 2-year-olds.
According to the system, any horse who is weighted within 10 pounds of the top-weighted horse on the Experimental is considered a potential Derby winner.
But to remain in contention, these horses must also have favorable dosage figures, which are derived through a subjective analysis of the sires in a horse's pedigree. Dosage is not related to a horse's performance on the track, it is a projection of his ability to run fast and far based on his bloodlines on the male side.
Since 1972, there hasn't been a Kentucky Derby winner who didn't satisfy the conditions of the Experimental and the Dosage. The last horse to debunk the theory was 1971 Derby winner Canonade II, who was an unknown colt running in Venezuela as a 2-year-old.
Actually, two other horses met this year's Experimental-Dosage standard, but Bold Second was injured a few days before last November's Breeders' Cup and has been retired, and Crusader Sword is owned by Paul Mellon, who favors the Belmont Stakes over the Derby and will withhold his colt from Churchill Downs, just as he did with Java Gold a year ago.
Besides Success Express and Tsarbaby, other horses who meet the Experimental-Dosage criteria include the Forty Niner, Regal Classic, Saratoga, Passage, Buoy, Cherokee Colony, Batty, Chinese Gold, Notebook, Kingpost, Firery Ensign and Tejano, who ran second in Wednesday's Bolsa Chica Stakes at Santa Anita. Forty Niner is top-weighted by the Jockey Club.
Neither Success Express nor Tsarbaby has been very successful lately. Success Express, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was soundly beaten in the Hollywood Futurity and the San Vicente Stakes, and Tsarbaby's reputation stems more from the top horses he is close to beating--Forty Niner and Tejano--than the races he has won.
Mi Preferido, winner of San Vicente, is undefeated and will be favored in the San Rafael. At 116 pounds, Mi Preferido was weighted exactly 10 pounds under top-weighted Forty Niner on the Experimental, but disciples of dosage have given him thumbs down. Trainer Laz Barrera might as well forget about winning the Kentucky Derby already.
Jockey Chris McCarron has a theory about Very Subtle, the ace sprinter who can never win races at longer distances. Very Subtle, winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint last year, was a disappointment at two turns once again last Sunday, finishing fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita Handicap.
McCarron hasn't ridden Very Subtle often, but he was aboard Sunday and he also rode her last year at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., where she won the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy, but only because she was bothered in the stretch by Up the Apalachee, who was the clear-cut, first-place finisher.
"Very Subtle comes out of the gate flying when she sprints," McCarron said. "But in both the Oaklawn race and this last race, she broke lackadaisically.
"Some horses know whether they're running long or short, and it could be that way with this filly. When horses have had enough experience, they can sometimes tell that when the gate is lined up in front of the stands, it means that they're going to have to run all the way around the track before they're finished."
Although the American Quarter Horse Assn. has announced its champions for 1987, including the election of First Down Dash as horse of the year, it has put in abeyance the winner of the 2-year-old filly title. That's because Elans Special, winner of the All American Futurity, could be disqualified because a post-race test showed an illegal drug in her system.
The voting for quarter horse titles was finished before Elans Special's post-race urine test came back positive. Four other starters in the Futurity either raced with illegal drugs or had been improperly medicated in the Futurity Trails.