The day after the riveting triumph of Chief's Crown in the Blue Grass Stakes, Angel Penna Jr., the trainer of Rhoman Rule, whose victory in the Everglades Stakes stamped him as one of the most promising of Kentucky Derby candidates, summed up what most horsemen were thinking. "Chief's Crown is the best 3-year-old," Penna said. "He keeps winning and winning and winning. The rest of them will need a break."
Nonetheless, what makes this Kentucky Derby fascinating is that it should be one of the most competitive in years. Apart from Chief's Crown, there are the two confirmed front-runners, Spend A Buck and Eternal Prince, and three solid horses who will be coming off the pace—Tank's Prospect, Rhoman Rule and Proud Truth. A fourth stretch runner, Stephan's Odyssey, ranks just below those three, along with Sky-walker, the Santa Anita Derby winner.
Big question: How good is Spend A Buck? In his last start, on April 20, he ran one of the most powerful Derby preps in history when he won the Garden State Stakes by 9½ lengths and smoked over nine furlongs in 1:45⅘ only two-fifths off Secretariat's world record. Was that performance a freak? Spend A Buck got the lead easily at Garden State, but in the Derby he'll have Eternal Prince with him. The two could rip off blazing early fractions, setting up the stretch runners. Tank's Prospect won the April 20 Arkansas Derby by 6½ lengths in sharp time—nine furlongs in 1:48[2/5]—for trainer D. Wayne Lukas (see page 70).
I have picked the last two Kentucky Derby winners for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Sunny's Halo ($7 for $2) in 1983 and Swale ($8.80 for $2) in '84. So a small streak is on the line. I am sorely tempted to go for Tank's Prospect—I think the Arkansas race set him up just right—but Chief's Crown performed with authority in the Blue Grass. On Derby Day, the Chief will lie off a fast early pace, then run down the leaders in the stretch. And win again.