Put your money on Starlight
How ridiculous of a sports roll is Schenectady County on?
The Scotia-Glenville boys’ basketball team went undefeated and won the state championship and Federation title in late March.
Duanesburg’s Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State won the 285-pound weight class to become the first Section II wrestler to win an NCAA Division I title the same weekend.
Then there was the Union College hockey team.
Oh, yeah. Them.
My Kentucky Derby pick has as strong a Schenectady influence as any of these stories, and the hard part for me was deciding which one of Don Lucarelli’s horses is going to win the 140th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs today.
Get to that later.
A 1970 Mont Pleasant High School graduate and classmate of his future wife, Barbara, Lucarelli and his brother, Joe, turned Bellevue Builders into a highly lucrative lumberyard that Don eventually used as a means to engage in his lifetime passion — thoroughbreds — as an owner.
When he got his first win in 2006 — at his hometown track, Saratoga Race Course, no less — he said, “Really, for me, and I mean it, this win was not only for myself, it’s for all the guys in Schenectady that I hang out with that are two-dollar bettors and can’t own horses and aren’t able to take part in partnerships, but they can share in a dream through me, and I love that part.
Really, I do.”
That was Octave, in the Adirondack, and since then, his horses, owned in partnership with Jack Wolf through Starlight Racing, have won multiple graded stakes and even an Eclipse Award for the champion 2-year-old colt — Shanghai Bobby — in 2012.
Starlight Racing’s record at the Derby since Wolf and Lucarelli partnered, though, is abysmal.
Two last-place finishes and a ninth.
I’m taking a shot and saying that they’ll be plucking roses out of the blanket today, anyway.
They have two horses — Intense Holiday and General a Rod — in the 19-horse field, and I really like both of them.
But let’s sift through the rest of the field.
California Chrome has won four straight stakes in convincing fashion and is the deserved favorite, but I’m willing to toss him based on the fact that he hasn’t raced outside of California. Who knows if he’ll like Churchill, which was sealed on Friday despite no rain and likely will be as hard as the Autobahn today.
I’d really like to pick Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong on top, but the extreme outside post is just detrimental enough that I won’t.
Danza was very impressive in winning the Arkansas Derby and has also looked impressive at Churchill by all accounts, but I’m willing to wager that his inexperience and sprinter-type sire Street Boss, make him a bet-against.
I was asked by my friend Keith at Woodbine to supply a live bomb, and from among the 10 horses that Mike Battaglia listed at 20-1 or higher on the morning line, I settled on Uncle Sigh, who seems like a tough customer and will get the key equipment change of the Derby, the addition of blinkers by trainer Gary Contessa.
Medal Count seems to have a little bit of wiseguy juice behind him, but I’ll bet against him based on the fact that he’s done all of his best work on turf and synthetic.
That brings us back to the two Starlight horses.
Intense Holiday jumps out at me for several reasons. There’s a lot to like here.
Despite the fact that he’s a relatively young colt, he continues to learn, grow and improve, and is not lightly raced. He’s been out eight times since last July, has a nice long stride and a late-running style that should suit the Derby. He could be Orb this year if the anticipated hot early pace melts down, and will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who won the Derby in 2011 on Animal Kingdom.
Gee, I almost just talked myself into picking him there, but the selection to win the 140th Derby is General a Rod.
What I like about him is the fact that he’s battled and gotten a piece in all five of his starts, has a pretty good Derby/classic pedigree, with Roman Ruler as a sire and Dynaformer as a damsire, and gets Joel Rosario, who was on Orb last year, in the irons.
The deciding factor between him and Intense Holiday is that General a Rod, who drew a great post — No. 8 — should get first crack at the pacesetters.
Intense Holiday, who has thrived in works over the Churchill main track and was a buzz horse last weekend, will be coming all the way down the stretch, but I’m willing to wager that Rosario will be able to portion General a Rod’s speed and keep him settled enough early to have enough gas at the end to finish.
The roar at Boulevard Bowl will be tremendous.
Derby superfecta: General a Rod, Wicked Strong, Intense Holiday, Danza.