By Jonathan Stettin
For the most part the prep work is done and but for some potential late defections, the field for the 140th run for the roses is set. I had originally planned to do a Kentucky Derby preview, as most who pen the sport seem to, but late last week I decided against it. Instead we’ll talk about handicapping the greatest two minutes in sports and touch base on some angles and how to bet it.
A twitter follower recently asked me what is the most crucial handicapping angle in the Kentucky Derby. After some thought, I realized there isn’t one. There are many and all may be important or in the alternative not important on any given first Saturday in May. The Derby is a different type of race to handicap as there are more intangibles than in the everyday horse race, which by the way has its own share of intangibles.
We all know the sport has changed over the past several years as has the breed. With a different game there are different rules and we must adjust and adapt to them. While much of handicapping is based on statistics, I have seen far too much emphasis being placed on stats that really will not affect or play into the outcome of Saturday’s event. Again, this is a different type of race. To be successful we have to look at it differently and with an eye towards how things have changed.
For those who don’t remember the dosage index theory, rest assured it had a long run of predicting winners and eliminating pretenders. There was a section in the Daily Racing Form devoted to it on Kentucky Derby day and many would not wager on a horse who did not have the dosage. This was not that long ago and today it barely gets a mention. Apparently you don’t need dosage to win the race, you just have to be faster than the other horses and stay the mile and a quarter.
There was also a time when the auxiliary gate shared a similar reputation with the dreaded rail post. Not anymore. Many are posting and writing about how you need to come from way back to win, well Bodemeister almost had something to say about that but Winning Colors, Spend a Buck and Bold Forbes actually did. People also point to the obvious best horse as the most likely winner, for example if they opened for betting now and each horse had his own line, the only one with a wait would be California Chrome’s. Ask him how that worked out for Holy Bull and Point Given and Bellamy Road.
Of course we have the whole Apollo thing. That will probably be the next to go, maybe even this year. This is a result of the game and breed changing. What was important back when is not so much today. That bottom we liked to see has given way to more speed and precociousness. Curlin could have done it with some better luck. Pulpit may have if he did not get hurt during the running, Bodemeister sure came close. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t let that stat keep you from a winner.
The Derby can fool the best of them. Not only handicappers but trainers, riders and owners too as the great history will show. Bill Shoemaker who I’d bet was a better than decent judge of horseflesh, chose Hill Rise over Northern Dancer. We all know who wore the roses and went on to be a great sire. I am on a three Derby win streak, I loved Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another, and came up with Orb in a last minute decision over Palice Malice but I have been fooled before as well. I remember saying who is this Lil E Tee? Super Saver completely got by me as did Mine That Bird. Giacomo didn’t, but that’s a story for another day.
In addition to all the angles and statistics being thrown around, there also are the opinions. It is for that and other reasons I elected not to do a preview. If you wish to know who I like Saturday just ask me Saturday after I actually handicap the race. This brings me to one angle I will stress for this race and really any other. Do not go in biased. Don’t marry a horse before you handicap the race. I see people do this time and again. If you want to be a fan then go ahead and knock yourself out but if you want to wager for profit then don’t form an opinion until you handicap the race. It is a recipe for tearing up tickets. Go into your chosen method without bias, and then you’re assured to actually handicap as opposed to massaging the horse you are a fan of, into your pick. Fortunately for those of us who do wager for profit, there are enough of the others to help the cause. Don’t be one of them.
The other thing I would emphasize is, stick to your opinion. There is value in the Kentucky Derby regardless of who wins. I would hope I illustrated earlier, that in this race more than others, a lot can happen. Almost anything, so when you’re right you can get paid and make up for a lot of wrongs. Don’t be influenced by the opinions of others in this race and that includes the board. Don’t let the stats fool you either; this is the race where it might not matter. Just find the fastest horse likely to avoid trouble, handle the track and get the distance. Piece of cake.
With horses of this caliber and in this type of race, it helps more so than usual to know how they are training and working going into the race. Bruno with the works is an excellent source for this information as is Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsh. Pay attention to the details they point out.
In my search for maximizing value along with my chances for success on Kentucky Derby weekend, I have adopted a strategy to which I usually stick. It involves 5 key wagers over the weekend. I play the pick 4 ending with the Kentucky Oaks. If St Johns River would have gotten up the year I keyed Animal Kingdom the following day, I might still be on Holiday. She didn’t however and of course her rider Rosie Napravnik came back to win it the next year I think. Two more jumps! If I am right in the Oaks then hopefully I take down that pick 4 and am also alive carrying into Derby Day with the Oaks, Woodford, Derby pick 3. As hard as the Derby is, more often the Woodford has been my nemesis. Just ask Little Mike. With this strategy you can go into Saturday strong. I then play the pick 6 Derby Day and set up for an exciting close of the day. If I am not alive I will play the pick 4 ending with the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby itself, hopefully I am alive but either way I play some triples and superfectas. There is always value in the Derby triple and super.
This year we have some strong favorites with which to deal. We have Untappable in the Oaks, Wise Dan in the Woodford and California Chrome in the Derby. Beating one or two of them in the multi race exotics will create some value for sure.
Good luck everyone this weekend. Enjoy it, as we should have two exciting days of great cards, stories, opportunities and maybe a score or two.
This week’s high five goes to Jockey Stewart Elliott who moved his tack to the tough Keeneland spring meet and tore them up showing he can ride with the best of them.
The low five goes to the hall of fame voters who did not vote in Chris Antley . Enough said on that.
Horses to Watch
This maiden claimer was much the best at Aqueduct when trapped on the rail literally the entire backstretch and most of the stretch. Should not be a maiden much longer if ran back against similar.