As much as I love beating CHALK in each and every race (especially in a 20 horse Kentucky Derby field with odds galore), favorites have been drubbing me into submission the last several years making my Derby bets look foolish. American Pharoah was the only top win pick I’ve had from the last four Derbies (Nyquist, California Chrome and Orb being other chalk winners). Interestingly, Pharoah’s 2.9 – 1 odds were better than Nyquist (2.3-1) and Chrome (2.5-1). But this Saturday I’m hoping to get some decent exotic payoffs in spite of backing the likely favorite or 2nd choice on top, Always Dreaming. To do so, I’ll need a double-digit price horse Hence and/or bomb long-shot State of Honor to crack the top four spots.
There are a few main threats to claim the roses such as Irish War Cry, Girvin and Classic Empire coming off impressive prep victories that I will simply bury my head in the sand and ignore (at least in the win spot on my tickets). Closers McCraken, Gunnavera and Tapwrit should be coming late, but perhaps too late for my taste. The tough part about Derby handicapping is having to eliminate several top contenders to play an affordable ticket. That's what makes this so damn fun!
One of my current "hunch" horses may have the best key-race angle of all, yet is coming into The Derby with a historically unsuccessful route via Sunland Park. I am speaking of the strapping hoss chestnut son of Street Boss, HENCE. Somewhat reminding me of other late maturing Steve Asmussen charges Nehro and Creator (breaking maiden late in the spring then getting real good), his Sunland Derby last to first sweeping move in a fast time was very impressive, but his previous flat 7th place finish in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes was a clunker. I recall the day he broke his maiden at Oaklawn as a heavy favorite, drawing away at the top of the lane before bolting into the rail and losing his action, only to re-rally late to retake the lead. That proves the talent level and"heart" factor of a horse that may be leading up to his best race yet. H
Hence, my main tickets will include Always Dreaming and Hence on top of a few others, including McCraken, Classic Empire and bomb long-shot State of Honor. SOH hasn't won this spring, but has been more consistent than any other running 2nd/3rd and the "lesser" Mark Casse horse is doing fine in the cooler weather of Louisville (float like a butterfly, sting like a bee).
And for you Kentucky Oaks homies, on this - Louisville's Day at The Downs, I'm playing the Cat-Man-Do's little filly, Farrel over long-shot Vexatious to get my Derby Day bankroll started.
Good luck to all!