Handicappers swear by many time-tested angles regarding the Kentucky Derby, but one of the most heralded is the “Curse of Apollo.”
The term refers to the fact that no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without a start as a 2-year-old.
Trainer Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister came close to shattering that long-held streak in 2012. The Arkansas Derby winner, who made his career debut on Jan. 16, looked like he was ready for roses until he was passed late in the stretch by a surging I’ll Have Another.
Several late-blooming Derby prospects who started their careers in January are prompting the question: Is this the year the curse is dismissed?
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, nominated a record-setting 41 horses to the Triple Crown. Among those are Constitution, Hartford, and Anchor Down, all three sons of Tapit who made their career debuts in January at Gulfstream. Of the trio, Hartford and Constitution look the most promising for a chance at the Derby.
Hartford won his first start effortlessly at seven furlongs on Jan. 16 and he boasts a pedigree suited for the 10-furlong test. His dam’s sire, Editor’s Note, won the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes. Constitution overcame a troubled start to win his debut at seven furlongs on Jan. 11.
Baffert, always one to watch when it comes to Derby contenders, has a trio of newcomers as well.
Bayern, a son of 2005 Suburban Handicap winner Offlee Wild, raised eyebrows with his 15-length romp in a mile allowance at Santa Anita on Feb. 13. He won his debut at seven furlongs on Jan. 4.
Hoppertunity, a son of 2007 Haskell Invitational winner Any Given Saturday, was fifth behind Bayern in his debut. He bounced back with a big win at a mile on Jan. 30 and might be headed to the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 22.
Roger Rocket is an under-the-radar contender for Baffert. The son of 1997 Blue Grass Stakes winner Pulpit rallied from off the pace to win his first start at Santa Anita on Jan. 18. He’s entered in Sunday’s Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes.
An outsider to watch is Oaklawn-based Street Strategy, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense trained by Randy Morse. Second in his debut on Jan. 11, he improved in his second start to win by more than six lengths on Jan. 30 with Calvin Borel aboard.
Santa Anita-based Texas Ryano, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, is a long shot to make the Derby field, but his debut on turf on Jan. 20 was quite promising.