Relax George, you still have a very good horse

Bill Finley looks at how The Boss' horse, Bellamy Road, managed to lose the Kentucky Derby.

Updated: May 12, 2005, 1:29 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Relax, George.

That's the best thing you can do after your horse showed about as much life in the Kentucky Derby stretch run as Jason Giambi's bat. Maybe Bellamy Road didn't win the race every horse owner wants to win. Maybe you are 0-for-6 in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe you'll never have another horse this good or even another chance to win the Derby.

You still have a very good horse. So don't fire trainer Nick Zito, who replaced the guy you fired in January, Michael Dickinson. Don't fire jockey Javier Castellano. You can't fire Bellamy Road. Don't throw a fit or say that Bellamy Road was your worst purchase since Hideki Irabu, that fat toad. Don't blame this one on Joe Torre or Brian Cashman. Don't do anything other than appreciate just how hard it is to win the Kentucky Derby.

The way this race developed, Bellamy Road never had a chance. As it turns out, he is a one-dimensional speed horse. One-dimensional speed horses can win an awful lot of races, but they cannot win a Kentucky Derby in which the front-runners rip through opening fractions of :22 1/5, :45 1/5 and 1:09 2/5. Bellamy Road may not have been on the lead, but he was too close to a pace that fried anybody that got near it.

Zito was smart enough to know that there was no way he could send Bellamy Road after Spanish Chestnut, the rabbit who everybody knew would be sent on a suicide mission to soften up the front-runners in an attempt to set the race up for Bandini. Both are owned by Michael Tabor.

Castellano did his best to stay away from Spanish Chestnut and had Bellamy Road tucked into fifth place down the backstretch. But that wasn't where you wanted to be in this race. To have any chance, you had to be way back in the early going. You had to have saved something for the stretch run, where the spent front-runners were going to collapse like Bernie Williams' career.

"There was a good pace in the race but I knew it would be fast and we could rate off it," Castellano said. "I had a good, good trip. That's what I wanted to do. It didn't work out. Nothing changed from the Wood Memorial. I just didn't have the horse today. Did you see any problem?"

Yes, Javier, I did. Your horse got caught up in a pace that would have stopped any horse short of Seattle Slew. But what else was he going to do? Bellamy Road just isn't the type of horse that you can force back to last in the early stages of a race.

It's hard to tell what Steinbrenner will do from here. For some silly reason, he hid from the media all week, refusing to answer any questions about Bellamy Road. So nobody knows what was on his mind, before or after the race. Probably, he's got more important things to worry about than a horse race. Having a bad baseball team with a $200 million payroll might just distract a fellow.

"Great expectations bring great disappointments," said Zito, who had a pretty bad day himself. His five-horse arsenal was bad, bad, bad, bad and worse. Bellamy Road was seventh; Andromeda's Hero was eighth; High Fly was 10th; Noble Causeway was 14th; Sun King was 15th. He had five shots and didn't even hit the board.

Of course, the other four aren't owned by a very demanding 74-year-old who hates to lose.

In hindsight, Bellamy Road probably should have had one more prep. He had just two this year and history says that any horse having fewer than three preps just isn't going to be ready mentally and physically for something as tough as the Kentucky Derby. Would another prep have helped? Probably. Would it have made him a winner? With the way this race developed, no way.

The Kentucky Derby is a lot like the World Series. It's all that matters and winning a race like the Preakness, Belmont and Travers isn't quite the same. Bellamy Road will no doubt run in the Preakness or Belmont and maybe even both. There might just a Triple Crown race out there yet with his name on it. Accepting a consolation prize is never fun, but it's the best George can hope for.

It's a tough game, George, tougher the baseball. You only have 29 teams to beat in that sport. In this one, there are about 35,000 foals born every year and only one can win the Kentucky Derby.

There's just nothing you can do about it. Better luck next time.

Watch the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 21 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com

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