Commentary

Finley: Should Ice Box have won Derby?

Updated: May 8, 2010, 12:02 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Taking nothing away from Super Saver, who ran a terrific race to win the Kentucky Derby, but he wasn't the best horse Saturday at Churchill Downs. In defeat, Ice Box turned in one of the more remarkable losing efforts in Derby history and lost only because he was very unlucky.

With a 20-horse field, it's expected that a lot of horses will get into a lot of trouble, but Ice Box's calamitous journey around Churchill Downs redefined what it means to have a bad trip.

He was banged around some at the start and coming through the stretch the first time, but his real problems began nearing the turn for home.

With his horse full of run, jockey Joe Lezcano tried to make his run on the inside only to run into a brick wall nearing the quarter-pole and was stopped cold. Lezcano regrouped and took his colt off the rail only to run into another traffic jam about 20 yards later. From there, he had to alter course two more times while desperately trying to find an open lane. He didn't get running room until the field was nearing the 16th pole. At that point, he took off, passing nine horses, a remarkable number, only to fall short by 2½ lengths.

Nick Zito has yet to decide whether Ice Box will run in the Preakness. If he doesn't, the Belmont likely will be his next start. There are no guarantees he will win either race. With a trip that tough in a race that grueling, Ice Box is no sure thing to bounce right back. Even so, considering that Eskendereya is sidelined, Ice Box is the best bet to emerge as the best of his crop.

More Kentucky Derby observations

• Now that Todd Pletcher has gotten the Derby monkey off his back, jockey John Velazquez looms as the biggest figure in the sport never to have won the sport's biggest race. Velazquez, who finished 10th aboard filly Devil May Care, is now 0-for-12 in the Derby.

This time around, Velazquez was, like Ice Box, just unlucky. That Pletcher won a Derby and Velazquez was not the jockey on his horse is hard to believe. Velazquez is Pletcher's stable jockey and rides the vast majority of his top horses. Velazquez rode Super Saver twice during the colt's career and no doubt would have been his regular jockey in 2010 if Pletcher had thought Super Saver was his best hope for the Derby. But when Eskendereya blew the field apart in the Fountain of Youth, there was no doubt which Pletcher horse Velazquez would ride in the Derby. Pletcher had to find someone else to ride Super Saver and wisely picked Borel. Once Eskendereya was injured, it was way too late for Velazquez to maneuver his way back on Super Saver.

Of course, there's no guarantee that Velazquez would have won aboard Super Saver. The win may not have happened without another perfect ride from the incredible Calvin Borel.

• Yes, this was a wide-open Kentucky Derby, but did people really think they were making smart bets when wagering on hopeless long shots at ridiculously low odds? To take 23-1 on Backtalk or 27-1 on Homeboykris is insane. Both horses should have been at least 200-1. What's happening is that the dumb money jumps all over the dregs of the field hoping to get lucky, a phenomenon that has obviously picked up steam with the Mine That Bird win in 2009.

• Bill Christine reports on HorseraceInsider.com that Churchill Downs management declined to provide seats to the Derby for Ron Franklin and Jorge Velasquez, two retired riders who have won the Derby, even though both were willing to pay for the seats. That forced the two, who were in Louisville for a function that was not run by Churchill, to watch the race from the bar in their hotel.

Shame on Churchill Downs. These are two heroes of the sport and they should have rolled out the red carpet for them and treated them with the respect they deserve. Imagine the Los Angeles Dodgers telling Sandy Koufax that he couldn't have a seat at a game or the Yankees doing the same to Whitey Ford or Yogi Berra? That the two were apparently trying to come up with seats at the eleventh-hour is no excuse.

Churchill needs to get this right and announce ASAP that any jockey, trainer or principal owner who has won the Kentucky Derby is guaranteed a good seat -- and not one on the rail by the three-16s pole -- for the rest of their lives. For Velasquez and Franklin, they should invite them back next year, pay all their expenses and issue a public apology.

• 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