May 1, 2009

Derby 135 Week - Oaks Day

My how time flies when we're having fun. It's hard to believe that Derby day is nearly upon us. But first comes the best race program assembled since the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita last October. Friday has historically been known as both "Fillies Derby" day and Louisville's Day at the Downs. I look forward to being amidst the 100k plus racegoers across the grandstand and infield celebrating two standout ladies; Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra (different races). And with Macho Again running in the Alysheba Stakes on the undercard, it's starting to remind me of Louisiana Derby day... I hope I'm as lucky! Rachel Alexandra and Flying Spur keyed a nice trifecta ticket for me and ditto for Macho Again on that rain-soaked day, which I'll be betting back tomorrow.

Speaking of rain, that's been a real concern for The Derby. I still doubt we'll have a soupy track like the one Smarty Jones won over. But if it does come up wet, beware of Friesan Fire -- after all, his mother was a mudder! Desert Party is the only other starter who has won on an "off" track.

I've done my best to save most of my thoughts on handicapping The Derby until the last moment, so not to influence your opinions. After all, I've only picked one winner (long-shot Funny Cide in '03) since I started this 13 years ago. In recent years I have turned away the obvious talent, which this year seems to be I Want Revenge (now that Quality Road is out). So it should surprise no one that I'm tossing the favorite in my picks, though not ALL of my bets in case I'm wrong. Here's how I see the race unfolding...

Of the top choices, I think Papa Clem and Friesan Fire will flash speed based on their quick works, along with long-shots Regal Ransom, Join the Dance and Atomic Rain. My guess is that Joe Talamo will be forced to rush Revenge to save ground on the first turn. Then comes all the horses who expect to be laying 5th or 6th (pushing each other faster) like Pioneer, Desert Party and General Quarters. Thus, I like the long-shot closers Hold Me Back and or Musket Man to run into the exotics.

I know I live in Texas and should be concerned with this swine virus outbreak, but I'm feeling another kind of fever -- Pioneer of the "west" Nile virus! True, he has yet to pop a triple digit Beyer speed figure, but he's beaten several top choices - including I Want Revenge twice in a "loser leave town" match in the Lewis Stakes. The fact that he hasn't run on a dirt surface leads me to believe he has more upside than others.

For all of you who are interested in our handicapping contest, please post your picks (top 3, in order) in the comments section - or send me a personal email if you prefer. Nobody has picked a "stone cold" trifecta yet, so perhaps this is the year! Happy Derby to you and yours.

Horse Racing

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