April 29, 2008

Wednesday - Human Connections

Yesterday's trivia answer is Yum! Brands, which is the parent company to KFC, Taco Bell and other calorie pushing fast foodies selling heart attacks in 99 cent increments. Those of you on my email list last year already heard my tirade about this sponsorship, so I'll leave it at that.

The equine superstars provide most of the drama and lead in stories on Derby day, but without centuries of breeders refining nick patterns and owners willing to drop ever increasing sums of moola to purchase this bloodstock, deeply committed trainers and life risking jockeys would not be able to ply their trades. Of all the multiple winning jockeys and trainers, only one man has proved a dual threat winning as both. And while Nick Zito is revered at Churchill Downs as a two-time Derby winning trainer for his plainspoken nature, the seemingly unavailing Todd Pletcher, 0 for 19 with Derby starters, has more top 3 finishes than Zito with a comparable number of starters.

Many handicappers like to bet on certain "hot jocks", but it's clear to me that the trainer has the most influence on the condition of the horse. Along those lines, Steve Asmussen is in a good position to steal The Derby with Pyro or Z Fortune after taking over the rest of the racing world, mainly via Curlin -- 3rd in last year's Derby but now horse of the world. His dominance over his home base Lone Star Park makes it difficult to bet any race he has a starter since his horses are bet to heavy favoritism and run accordingly (winning at a 40% clip), similar to the way Pat Day ruined odds at Oaklawn Park throughout the '80s and early '90s. But there are other fine horsemen represented with multiple starters, such as Bill Mott (Z Humor and Court Vision), Barclay Tagg of Funny Cide '03 fame (Tale of Ekati and Big Truck), the aforementioned Nick Zito (Cool Coal Man and Anak Nakal) and the expected appearance of Todd Pletcher (Monba and Cowboy Cal).

As for the owners, Calumet Farm set the gold standard by sending eight winners from only 20 starters, most notably Whirlaway in 1941. Furthermore, Calumet is credited with breeding a record nine Derby winners. A few victorious owners this past decade have been multiple owner groups via racing syndicates or individuals hitting it big in their early foray into racing. The success of ordinary racing syndicates (with horses such as Funny Cide and Afleet Alex or Dogwood and West Point Stables on the higher levels) have also created more opportunities for a nominal investment to produce the thrill of a lifetime. One owner that the Jockey Club would shriek to see in the winner's circle again is Mike Pegram, the McDonald's franchise owner who's association with Bob Baffert produced a winning colt named (sshhhh) Real Quiet '98. If any of you recall that inebriated trophy presentation, those few minutes are likely why "live" events are now time delayed to block the foul language.

The post position draw will occur Wednesday afternoon in a made for television event on ESPN2 at 5:00 ET. Then I'll spend Thursday and Friday focusing on the horses and betting strategies (for those so inclined).

No comments: