The Rockefellers and Standard Oil couldn’t get away with it. Ma Bell bit the dust for the same reason. Dynasties like the Yankees, Celtics, and UCLA basketball eventually dissipated after incredible runs. The Romans eventually lost their empire, even the Mings in ancient China eventually solve their dynasty slip away. So, now we have what amounts to two dynasties in the “Sport Of Kings” horse racing.
The dominance of Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert has been prolific now for a number of years. But instead of their dual command on the sport lessening as the years go by, it has become even more pronounced and now borders on utterly ridiculous. The Kentucky Deby is scheduled to be off and running at Churchhill Downs in just 18 days. The annual Run For The Roses is Americana at its finest. The pageantry and tradition of the most exciting two minutes in sports is a national treasure. Everyone is a horse racing fan on Derby Day. It is truly a classic on the country’s sports and entertainment stage.
The maximum field for the Derby each year is 20 starters. When the gates open on Saturday, May 2, for this year’s edition of the Race, of the 20 starters, eight will be representing Pletcher and Baffert. The dynamic duo will have the three overwhelming favorites in the race. Baffert is featuring a powerhouse 1-2 punch. American Pharoah looks to be a potential super star and teams with undefeated champion from the West Coast Dortmund. Carpe Diem is Pletcher superstar entry, one of five that he’ll send out in a quest for racing immortality.
In fairness, capitalism was certainly put in to play to ensure that the top horses in the land to get to compete on Derby Day. A Point system has been devised which we wards horses starting in the biggest races of the year leading up to Kentucky Derby Day. Baffert and Pletcher have earned their way in with their respective horses through their performances. They have not been given any advantages or free passes. But that’s not the issue. Owners with millions to spend in search of Triple Crown glory, seek out and place their horses in one of these two elite barns. And who can blame them? Pletcher and Baffert are far and away the most successful trainers in the game. But unlike recruiting in other sports, or salary caps in professional sport, there are not limited roster spots. When the phone rings with another outstanding prospect being offered to their operations, Baffert in Pletcher sound like Johnny Olson from the old Price Is Right television show, “come on down.”
The 2015 race shapes up to be a classic. The Kentucky Derby is a great equalizer in the fact that with 20 horses, traffic problems almost always develop. A good clean trip is many times not in the cards for some of the top contenders. In many respects, often times it turns out looking more like a demolition derby then a horse race. Coupled with the fact that these three-year-olds will have to go a mile and a quarter for the first time in their lives, it makes winning a daunting task regardless of a horse’s talent level. The top stars this year seeing poised to stay a starring battle for the title that we haven’t seen in quite some time. No matter what happens, it is always great theater. I have been blessed to attend many spectacular sporting events, but the roar of the 180,000 that gather for the Derby when the gates open stands alone in sheer decibel level and electricity.
On that first Saturday in May as the Titans square off with their superstars, it probably would be a good idea to stop and contemplate just what these two gentlemen have accomplished. With a 36 year drought since Affirmed captured the Triple Crown in 1978, it would be fitting if either Pletcher or Baffert was the trainer to finally break through. Don’t look for their stranglehold on the upper echelons of the racing kingdom to be lessened anytime soon. I can say with all assurance, they are probably busy readying their outstanding crop of two-year-olds for later in the year that will form the nucleus of next year’s top triple crown contenders. It’s good to be king, even if you’re only co-rulers. In the likely event that one of them is posing in the winner circle picture at Churchill Downs, that throne, at least for now, will be all their own.