Those familiar with the sport realize there are no slam dunks when it comes to winning the Kentucky Derby. There is one trainer from Texas, however, that will be sending a Phi Slama Jama lineup to post on the first Saturday in May.
Todd Pletcher is no stranger to success on the biggest of stages in the Thoroughbred racing game. With over 5,500 wins and a resume bigger than his home state, this Dallas-born conditioner ranks with the best in the sport. When it comes to the world’s most famous race, Pletcher has sent more horses to post (62) for the Kentucky Derby than anyone in history. That number speaks of his ability to get young horses in peak form. Twice his runners (2010 Super Saver, 2017 Always Dreaming) have won and have finished second twice and third on four occasions.
Now that we understand some of the history of Todd Pletcher, what in the world does a college basketball team from the early 1980s have to do with the 2023 Kentucky Derby?
Phi Slama Jama was the nickname given to the University of Houston basketball team. Coach Guy Lewis had a super impressive lineup featuring a high-flying style of play that left jaws agape and the opposition in ruin. From 1982-1984 the tallest fraternity in Texas stood head and shoulders above others. When we look at Pletcher’s lineup for Kentucky Derby 149 those dunkers from down South come to mind. Here is our correlation.
Forte is the runner that we compare to Clyde Drexler. After winning the Eclipse Award as a two-year-old champion male in 2022, this son of Violence has won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby. His sweeping move around the far turn at Gulfstream Park on April 1 in his last start was reminiscent of The Glide making a steal at mid-court, weaving through traffic, and rattling the rim with a thunderous rock-the-cradle dunk.
Tapit Trice brings memories of Hakeem Olajuwon. A winner of all three starts this year, this son of Tapit has brought back visions of The Dream with his ability to shake off a double team and powerfully score. In winning the Bluegrass Stakes in his last start, he refused to be denied as a determined stretch run tickled the twine like that turnaround jumper from the hands of Hakeem.
Kingsbarns is an unbeaten son of Uncle Mo that has been nothing short of brilliant in winning all three of his career starts. His gate-to-wire tour de force in the Louisiana Derby rekindled the powerful scoring abilities of Michael Young. Never afraid to take it right to the opposition, the two-time first-team All-Southwest Conference scoring dynamo was fantastic in the open floor, like this front-running phenom from the Pletcher barn.
“We’re blessed to have had a very good spring”, says Pletcher. “Now we just need to have good time with them until the Derby.”
We have already established there are no slam dunks in this race, but a high-flying lineup is never a bad thing. The Kentucky Derby will be run on May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.