Looking at the 2014 Kentucky Derby Hopefuls

March 10, 2014

For some of us the excitement never ceases as our game really has no off-season. Sure it heightens on our big days, but we die hard race trackers can get excited at just about any race at any time or track, if it provides the right kind of opportunities. Those opportunities are wagering for profit and athletic competition. A neck and neck stretch drive with both horse and rider laying it all on the line with the outcome meaning large amounts of cash can happen any time in the sport of kings. It’s just one of the many things that make this game so great.

There are two times of year; however, when not only does the enthusiasm heighten for the daily race trackers but for the average and casual fan as well. Those two times are the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby/ Triple Crown Series and the Breeders’ Cup. One of those times is upon us now and Derby Fever is in the air and going around. The sizable pools and varying opinions on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby day provide a smorgasbord of wagering options, many with life changing potential. That should get your blood pumping and your head into your past performances.

I have never been a fan of the advance Derby wager or any horse racing advance wager really. The odds are just too low and I am talking Las Vegas odds let alone the Churchill Downs pools. While it is fun to speculate so far out, as a professional it just doesn’t make sense to me. There is enough value to be had race day when you actually know who is running. I’d want a minimum of about 75-1 on the current favorite to even consider it, but that’s just me. For those who enjoy it and the bragging rights that go along with it, I encourage it.

When it comes to spotting the 2014 Kentucky Derby hopefuls, there are certain things to look for and certain things to avoid. One of the things I almost always avoid is the hype. It’s almost never right and when it is, there is usually little value to go with it. The problem with “the hype” is, it is almost always based on the things you don’t look for in a Derby horse. Over the past two years I was barraged with an abundance of criticism, some of it quite hostile, when I guaranteed Uncle Mo was not a Derby horse, not ever. The same with Hansen, who I stated the only Derby he might win was the Ohio Derby and that was a big maybe. It happened again with Verrazano, who had his share of hype and followers but was never going to get the roses.

All of those horses were well hyped and had their loyal legions of fans prepared to send in plenty of money on them come Derby Day. It’s the kind of thing that makes some salivate. One of the biggest advantages a handicapper can have is knowing a short priced horse that won’t win. The problem with those horses, who all were nice horses to say the least, was they were not the Derby type. When a horse runs exceptionally fast early in its career, it leaves little room for improvement and development. Too often people think they are machines and will run the same way every time. For the roses I look for a horse who is improving and developing and who should run its best race to date the first Saturday in May. More often than not this will not be one of the hyped horses.

One of the hyped horses for the 2014 Kentucky Derby is Shared Belief. Yes he’s fast, and he sure looked good winning the Cash Call futurity late last year. It was after that race his hype reached new heights and Vic Stauffer proclaiming in his call the run for the roses may go through the jungle only fueled the fire. Once again I was bombarded all across social media when I told all his fans he was not a very likely Kentucky Derby winner. While I respect his trainer Jerry Hollendorfer as much as any in the game, he is not the one who has to run the race. The chances of Shared Belief holding that December 2013 form until May of 2014 is very slim. He simply was running too fast too early and had nowhere to go from there. Sure Seattle Slew and some like him could do it but how often do those come around? This is a different breed nowadays and we have to adapt to what types of horses we are dealing with today. Can Shared Belief win the 2014 Kentucky Derby? Sure, but it is not very likely and he will be a short price.

There was a horse in that same Cash Call Futurity however who caught my eye and looked all the part of a Derby horse to me. He didn’t get any hype at that time and to most observers he just lost to a better horse. Candy Boy had a nice bottom to him showing steady progression in some well-regarded maiden special weight races. Although his trainer John Sadler is not exactly a household name in Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races just yet, he is very astute with both claiming and stakes horses and is bringing this horse along expertly. The horse has the look and size and blood to be ready for a mile and a quarter in May. These are attributes I look for. There was something else that day that really caught my attention and credit Gary Stevens with that. Gary made a very early aggressive move with Candy Boy that day and took him out to a daylight lead. It was not exactly the horse’s style but I felt he would benefit from that experience and move way forward from it, and did he ever. Very similar to how Palice Malice moved forward off his strange Kentucky Derby effort. Candy Boy is at the top of my 2014 Kentucky Derby list as of today.

With some major prep races yet to be run there is a lot to be decided between now and the first Saturday in May. Bayern is a horse of obvious talent and Honor Code may come back better and faster than he was at two. One thing is for sure the lead up to the roses never disappoints nor does the greatest two minutes in sports. Could we generate a list of ten or twelve and have the winner on it, likely so but that isn’t my style. My advice is to make your pick race day and not now, know who’s in and who’s out and who is coming up to a peak effort, not who ran great weeks or months ago.

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