May 1, 2008

Friday - Moment of Truth

Although yesterday's trivia question was more of an opinion poll, it underscores the fact that those still reading this blog are die hard horse racing fans! You wanna know how bad I've got Derby fever? This evening I went out and dropped a small fortune on a new high definition 42" TV to adequately view the dirt (or 50% chance of mud) kicking up in the jockey's faces. Will the strategy of picking the 20 post with Big Brown keep Kent Desourmeaux "squeaky" clean by clearing the field from the outside? Will six pairs of goggles be sufficient for Robby Albarado as he guides Pyro through the field of tiring horses in the stretch? How will Corey Nakatani and Colonel John respond to the traditional dirt surface instead of the synthetic blend? Which bomb longshot will hit the board at 30-1 or greater? Let's find out...

First, the difficulty in handicapping this field was highlighted when Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia assigned blanket odds of 15-1, 20-1 or 30-1 to all but the top 3 contenders rather than helping the public rank the entrants by recording some at 8-1, 10-1 or 12-1 as done in years past. Thus, you should see significant movement in odds as the day progresses. This should help the payouts on trifectas and superfectas as there are no "defined" horses that bettors will use based on morning line odds alone.
Since "pace makes the race", let me start by saying I think the pace will be quicker than typical for two reasons. First, the confirmed frontrunners in the race (Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory & Gayego) are breaking from the far outside posts along with Bob Black Jack in the 13 hole, meaning they will try to beat each other to the front to avoid being more than 3 or 4 wide on the short dash to the first turn. Second, there is a world record holder sprinter in this field in Bob Black Jack who has run as fast as 42 seconds and change for the half , so regardless of how much they will TRY to temper his speed it's hard to slow a precocious sort down when other colts are pressing down on him. There are also a good number of stalker types such as Tale of Ekati, Eight Belles, Monba and Big Brown who will keep some pressure on the first tier of horses. This thought process will allow me to exclude several horses with solid credentials who I think will simply run out of gas. And when a speed horse hits the wall, they typically don't finish 3rd but more like the back of the pack.

In my mind there are two solid closers in the race in Colonel John and Pyro (if you can get over his dull 10th place finish over the Keeneland polytrack, which I can). I calculated my own type of speed figures... the time each horse coming off a 1 1/8 mile race ran that last furlong. Colonel John had the quickest time of 12 seconds flat accounting for the lengths he made up between the last call and the finish line. I was surprised that the next fastest times were shared by Visionaire and Recapturetheglory. Big Brown's 9th furlong time was right at 13 seconds flat, middle of the road with this group, however he was lunging a bit in the stretch and Kent had tucked his whip away by this point, so clearly not his best effort. My fear is that Brown is so lightly raced, he could be rattled in The Derby and totally thrown off his game, which happens to a few colts every year.
Since I like the 2nd and 3rd betting choices, I'm having to think big odds to get my superfecta payoff up there! Along those lines, I think Smooth Air and Adriano are real "live" longshots. Both have the nice off the pace running style and have shown recent success. Smooth Air will be testing the outer limits of his distance, but old school trainer Stutts has been using slow gallops rather than speed drills, something that helped Afleet Alex stretch his distance remarkably. Adriano, on the other hand, is bred for Derby success with A.P. Indy as a daddy from a Mr. Prospector mare. And I believe he will be further off the pace than in his most recent Lane's End triumph, helping his cause in the stretch. I am intrigued by and will also be betting Z Fortune, Court Vision and Monba in my 3rd and 4th superfecta slots. My "horse to short" is definitely Denis of Cork. He seems to be the one everyone is raving about with workouts and how great he looks. But there's a reason his owners were lamenting how they may not even draw in for The Derby... he hasn't beaten any Derby horses or made much money! Having said that, I'm sure he'll hit the board and ruin my betting tickets. So to recap, my top picks are Colonel John, Pyro and Adriano in that order.

In past years many of us have participated in a handicapping contest for bragging rights until the next Derby, so if you are willing to put your picks on the line, please email me your top 3 choices -- in order -- to . I hope each of you will get a chance to sit back and relax tomorrow afternoon at 5:04 ET and truly enjoy the "greatest two minutes in sports." And may all your tickets be worthy of cashing!

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