All that has dramatically changed. This Derby emerges as a contest longer on talent and richer in possibilities than anyone might have imagined. Of the 17 Derby candidates, at least seven have a solid shot at wearing the roses: Summer Squall, Mister Frisky, Thirty Six Red, Unbridled, Silver Ending, Land Rush and Pleasant Tap.
No doubt the smart-money favorite will be Summer Squall. Though not much to look at—he's a narrow bay of light flesh, and you can count his ribs when he is unsaddled—Squall has nonetheless proven himself a game, gifted colt who flourishes in the heat of battle. In his last Derby prep, the nine-furlong Blue Grass Stakes, he lost the lead to Land Rush on the turn for home but came back to win by almost two lengths. He's a known bleeder, but he's still the horse to beat.
To win, of course, he'll have to outrun sentimental favorite Mister Frisky, the ill-bred winner of the Santa Anita Derby and, at 16-0, the only undefeated horse in the race. Like Summer Squall, Mister Frisky runs as if his next bag of oats depended on it. So does Thirty Six Red, winner of the recent Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. A beautifully bred son of Slew o' Gold and grandson of Seattle Slew, Red has the 1�-mile Derby distance programmed in his genes.
Among other top prospects, Silver Ending, who cost his owner only $1,500, looked like a million winning the April 21 Arkansas Derby. Florida Derby victor Unbridled has been training with gusto and will be tough on a fast track.
And Pleasant Tap, a son of 1981 Derby winner Pleasant Colony, arrived at Churchill Downs on Saturday kicking and squealing and looking as if he wanted to eat his stall for lunch. He whipped none other than Grand Canyon in the Sunny Slope Stakes at Santa Anita last October, and since then has shown talent, most recently in finishing second in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland shortly after recovering from a cough.
There will be lots of speed in this Derby: Fighting Fantasy, Burnt Hills, Frisky, Squall, Red, Real Cash. The question is, Who is rising fastest to the moment, and who can get the trip?
I'm taking a long shot: Pleasant Tap.
In selecting their team's most valuable player, Orlando Magic fans seem to have used criteria that were mystifying at best, despicable at worst. In voting sponsored by the team, a newspaper and a supermarket chain, fans chose reserve guard Scott Skiles, who played only 21 minutes per game and whose 7.7-point scoring average ranked him ninth among Magic players. Skiles received 28% of the 5,000-plus votes, followed by the team's leading scorer, forward Terry Catledge (19.4), with 21%.
Perhaps not incidentally, Skiles is white, while the eight players who out-scored him are black. Said one Orlando starter, "It was an insult to all black players. The fans said a lot about themselves. They just reminded everyone that this is the South."