The Pi-Rate Ratings

May 16, 2008

A PiRate Look At the 2008 Preakness Stakes

A PiRate Extra

Preakness Stakes 133


Pimlico Race Course-Baltimore

Approximately 6:15 PM EDT

Television: NBC (Tom Durkin Calling the Race)

Radio: Premiere Radio Networks (Dave Johnson Calling the Race)

Forecast Weather at Post-Time: Mostly Cloudy & Low 70s


Meet the new super horse.  Big Brown overcame historical odds of coming from post 20 and being too lightly raced to make the Kentucky Derby look like a contest between the Boston Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs.  Immediately following the race, he had been awarded the honor of becoming a sure thing for the Triple Crown. 


Now, let’s recount all the Triple Crown winners in the last 30 years.  Oops, there haven’t been any.  Spectacular Bid was 1-9 when he lost in the Belmont.  You couldn’t ask for a more prohibitive favorite.  Pleasant Colony pulled off two exciting victories and went off as the favorite in the Belmont and finished third.  Alysheba edged Bet Twice two times before seeing his rival dust him in New York.  Sunday Silence and Easy Goer repeated the Alysheba-Bet Twice challenge a few years later.  Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Charismatic entered their Belmonts as favorites to take the Crown and all three just missed.  Ditto War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones.


Yes, there have been numerous super horses since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978.  They won the first two legs, but missed out three weeks later.  Now, add Fusaichi Pegasus, Monarchos, Unbridled, and Swale to the list.  These four looked every bit as impressive as Big Brown when they earned their roses at Churchill Downs, and they failed to deliver in the Preakness.


Big Brown may very well be the next Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation, Count Fleet, or Whirlaway, but he could also be the next Smarty Jones or even Fu Peg.  That is what makes handicapping so much fun and intriguing.


The one sure thing in this race is that Big Brown’s odds have opened at 1-2, and I would guess by post-time, they will be even stronger (at least 2-5 and maybe 1-3 or 1-4).


Here are the current odds for the race as of Friday morning.  Since Behindthebar was scratched a half hour ago from the time of this writing, new morning line odds have yet to be issued.  Behindthebar figured to be the strongest Big Brown Rival, and now the presumptive super horse has little competition.


PP.       Horse                           Odds               Jockey                         Trainer

  1        Macho Again              20-1                 Julien Leparoux           Dallas Stewart

  2        Tres Borrachos            30-1                 Tyler Baze                   Beau Greely

  3        Icabad Crane               30-1                 Jeremy Rose                Graham Motion

  4        Yankee Bravo             15-1                 Alex Solis                    Patrick Gallagher

  5        Behindthebar              SCR               

  6        Racecar Rhapsody      30-1                 Robby Albarado         Ken McPeek

  7        Big Brown                    1-2                 Kent Desormeaux       Richard Dutrow

  8        Kentucky Bear            15-1                 Jamie Theriot               Reade Baker

  9        Stevil                           30-1                 John Velazquez           Nick Zito

10        Riley Tucker                30-1                 Edgar Prado                Bill Mott

11        Giant Moon                 30-1                 Ramon Dominguez     Richard Schosberg

12        Gayego                          8-1                 Mike Smith                 Paulo Lobo

13        Hey Byrn                    20-1                 Charles Lopez             Eddie Plesa


Breakdown of the Field


1-Macho Again

This horse won the Derby Trial three weeks ago and recorded a personal best Beyer Speed Figure of 99.  That race was 7 ½ furlongs around one turn.  Macho Again has raced 1 1/8 mile just once and finished a distant seventh in the Lane’s End.  He was bumped coming out of the gate, but that didn’t prevent him from performing so poorly in the final 2 furlongs.  What you have here is a decent sprint horse that comes from off the pace.  Look for him to make a move on the backstretch but have nothing left in the tank going into the turn.  I expect him to finish well back.


2-Tres Borrachos

Here is an improving horse.  His speed figures have improved with each race, and he has raced much faster on dirt than on polytrack.  He set the pace at the Arkansas Derby, appeared to tire from setting too fast of a pace, and then he passed another fading horse to finish third.  If Big Brown runs an average race, Tres Borrachos will not finish within five lengths of him.  If Big Brown doesn’t show up, then this rested horse will be a factor in the race.  He stands a decent chance of hitting the board.


3-Icabad Crane

This horse won at Pimlico on April 19 in the Federico Tesio over a very weak field.  He came from off the pace to win in the stretch, and he should be passing horses tomorrow.  If the pace is overly fast, it will be to his advantage, but Tesio had a slow pace, and he still passed the speed horses who tried to cheat from the front.  He should be considered in any exotics.


4-Yankee Bravo

This horse is similar to Macho Again.  He could fade in the final 1/8, and he could fade more than Macho Again.  However, he could be closer to the lead when he begins to fade.  He won the California Derby and another minor stakes race, but he has finished third and fourth in his two graded stakes races.  If you think he will hit the board, then you should be putting something on Macho Again as well.


6-Racecar Rhapsody

I make it a habit never to wager on horses running in grade 1 stakes and still eligible to be running in non-winners of one other than maiden allowance races.  This horse has one lifetime victory, and that was last October.  However, it may be time for an exception, as this horse has good enough speed to challenge for the lead tomorrow.  He may be in last place for the first ¾ mile, but he has one huge kick that could propel him by the field into second place.  Still, he’s not for me.


7-Big Brown

There is only one horse in the field that has recorded a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure.  Big Brown has done it three times in a row.  In his only other race, his first one ever, he ran a 90 BSF, but he won that one by more than 11 lengths!  How can he possibly lose this race?  Unfortunately, accidents happen, and he could stumble or throw his jockey, or veer out wide after being spooked.  Then again, his problem from feet and his jockey’s desire to give him five weeks off between starts could be more important than most people think.


I expect him to bounce this week.  He won’t be able to run the type of race we saw in the Kentucky and Florida Derbies.  On the other hand, there will be no Colonel John, Pyro, or Smooth Air in this field.  His top challenger has scratched.  I don’t expect him to lose unless he stumbles or throws his jockey.  He should be able to rate from just off the lead and then run away from the field at the mile pole.  I expect to see a slower time because Desormeaux may never have to go to the whip.  Why try to run a 1:53.4 when he can probably win at 1:55?


The problem with wagering on such a prohibitive favorite is the return is not worth the small risk.  More people at PRC may purchase a $2 ticket to win and never cash it, hoping the assessed value of the ticket one day becomes valuable.  Does anyone care to buy a set of uncashed winning tickets to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont stakes?  That $6 investment in Secretariat fetched $5,000 for one smart investor.  


As if he needs any extra benefit, Big Brown will now break from post number six, the post that has produced the most career Preakness wins.


8-Kentucky Bear

Throw out a horrible run in the Fountain of Youth, and this horse looked good in his other two career starts.  We are trying to locate the number two horse in this race, and Kentucky Bear has to be included in the argument.  In the Bluegrass, he was caught nine wide and lost a lot of ground, yet he rallied for third and was closing the entire time.  In his first time out, he exploded in the stretch and ran away from all challengers.  He should post a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90-95 range, and that just may be good enough to finish in the money.  It helps that he appears to like this track when it is fast, and the track should be fast for the race.



Kentucky Bear was nine wide in the Bluegrass, but this horse was 12 wide!  He made up 3½ lengths, so he has to be coupled with Kentucky Bear if you think Kentucky Bear has a chance in the Preakness.  The difference in my opinion is that Kentucky Bear is better suited for staying for 9½ furlongs.  Stevil is still eligible for 1X Allowance Races, so I don’t expect victory number two to come in the Preakness nor do I expect him to finish second.


10-Riley Tucker

We have yet another horse with one career win, but this one ran a 96 Beyer in the Lexington Stakes in his most recent race.  That was good enough for third.  It also represented a huge jump forward.  I expect him to regress toward the mean in this race, and that means a fifth to last place finish.


11-Giant Moon

If you are looking for a live long shot, look no further.  This horse has the credentials to shock the world if Big Brown falters, and he should hit the board.  Throw out a race where he was racing in the slop and with fog too thick for the track announcer to see in the Gotham Stakes.  He was caught tight in the rail, and his jockey Ramon Dominguez had little choice but to ride the rail through the fog.  Except for that race, you have a consistent better than average improving horse.  At 30-1, he looks quite enticing.  If those odds go south, then he becomes a great overlay.



Gayego is the only challenger from the Kentucky Derby returning for more of Big Brown.  He’s also the only other horse in the field with a triple digit Beyer figure, earning a pair of them.  He never figured in the Derby, and we did not see his potential two weeks ago.  I don’t expect him to return to form in two weeks.  If he was a long shot, I might consider wagering something on him, but he figures to go off as the second betting choice.  I won’t be using him in my picks.


13-Hey Byrn

He’s the only horse to have won at 9 ½ furlongs in this race, which means little or nothing to me.  He finished more than 15 lengths behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby, and you have to ask if he finishes 15 lengths back in the Preakness if that will be good enough to hit the board.  I don’t think so.


My Call of the Race


The horses are all in the gate, and they’re off.  Breaking sharply and taking the early lead is Giant Moon with Tres Borrachos, Big Brown, and Hey Byrn right there with him.  Gayego is just behind the leaders, and then there’s a gap back to Macho Again and Kentucky Bear.  Stevil and Riley Tucker are 3 and 4 wide to the outside and then there’s a gap back to Yankee Bravo.  Icabad Crane is 11th,  and the trailer is Racecar Rhapsody as the horses head into the first turn. 


They’re in the turn, and it’s Giant Moon with a ½ length lead over Tres Borrachos.  Big Brown is well-placed in third and Gayego is fourth a length back.  Hey Byrn is just behind in fifth, and three lengths separate him from the logjam in back.  Macho Again has been saving ground on the rail, with Kentucky Bear running to his side.  Stevil and Riley Tucker are still wide of Kentucky Bear and then there’s a gap of two lengths back to Yankee Bravo with Icabad Crane and Racecar Rhapsody not being asked to run. 


The opening quarter was a slow 23 and 8 tenths.  As they head down the backstretch, Tres Borrachos has moved a nose ahead of Giant Moon.  Big Brown is running comfortably in third and Gayego is beginning to move closer to the leaders.  Hey Byrn is still in fifth but Macho Again and Kentucky Bear are closing in on him. 


They race down the backstretch and the half goes in a pedestrian 47 and 2 tenths.  Gayego is making a move and he’s closing in on the lead and neck and neck with Big Brown.  Tres Borrachos is beginning to tire and Giant Moon has the lead.  And there goes Big Brown.  He’s going for the lead, and he has it right now.  Giant Moon is in second, and Gayego has a bead on him.  Hey Byrn and Tres Borrachos are tiring, and Macho Again has passed them both.  Kentucky Bear makes his move and he’s going to the outside of Macho Again.  Racecar Rhapsody is flying and has made a move to get into eighth.


As they approach the final turn, it’s Big Brown opening a two and a half length lead.  Gayego has moved into second and may be gaining ground on Big Brown.  Giant Moon is third and there’s a gap of two back to Macho Again, Kentucky Bear, and Racecar Rhapsody.


As they turn for home, it’s all Big Brown.  He’s opened a four length lead over Gayego with Giant Moon gaining on him in third.  Kentucky Bear and Macho Again are hooked up in a duel for fourth with Racecar Rhapsody still there in sixth.  Yankee Bravo is making his move, but it is too late.


In the deep stretch, it’s all Big Brown by four and a half lengths.  He’s going to cross the finish line and win the 113th Preakness Stakes.  Kentucky Bear closes strong for second with Giant Moon holding on for third.  There’s a photo for fourth between Gayego and Macho Again.


My $100 Mythical Wager


You hear that there’s no value in putting $100 on Big Brown to win at 1-2 odds at best.  I beg to differ if you think he has a 75% chance of winning this race.  Where else can you get a 50% return on your investment in just two minutes?  Think about this.  Let’s say you invested $100 on a stock at 9:30 AM Monday.  How many will give you a chance to sell at $150 at 9:32 after all commissions have been paid.  You’d be lucky to find a stock that will return 50% in a year, and more realistically, you would happily settle for a 50% return after three years.


On the other hand, betting $100 on Big Brown to win is like routing for the 1927 New York Yankees to beat the St. Louis Browns.  I’m guessing there will be more money in the exotic pool for than any other this decade.  Even when Barbaro won the Derby so convincingly two years ago, he wasn’t nearly as heavy a favorite as Big Brown is going to be (mostly because there was still some class in Preakness 101).  Big Brown has chased away all the other class horses, and what we are left with is something akin to when the great Boxer Joe Louis defeated Primo Carnera and Max Baer.  Once he was the heavyweight champion, there weren’t any top-class contenders left, and those poor saps who went down hard were said to be members of “the bum of the month club.”  It’s fitting that Louis was the Brown Bomber, a nickname that could aptly apply to Big Brown.


So, I am going to take half of my $100 and go with what looks like a sure thing.  Then, I am going to take my “sure thing” and use it in the exotics.


$50 on Big Brown to win


$4 Exacta Partial Wheel with Big Brown keyed over Giant Moon, Kentucky Bear, Gayego, Macho Again, and Racecar Rhapsody ($20 total in the wheel)


$1 Trifecta Partial Wheel with Big Brown keyed over Giant Moon, Kentucky Bear, and Gayego over the field (30 separate $1 wagers)


The Real Experts


Two weeks ago, I introduced you to a group of friends who are much better at this than me.  Three of them proved their worth and picked winning wagers for you, while my return lost all of its $100 investment.  All three of those experts are back to offer their sage advice.  This week, one new expert will supply his genius to the race.  He would have contributed for the Derby blog, but he was working as a journalist at Churchill Downs and wrote an excellent, albeit sad story on the filly Eight Belles.


Note: The experts all submitted their selections prior to Behindthebar scratching.  I contacted Wes K so that he could alter his pick after the announcement.


Walker Jones

Fool me once….Big Brown convinced me he’s a horse for the ages so I’m certainly not going to try to beat him in this spot.  He obviously offers no value in the win pool and if he comes in first or second he will kill the place and show pools so I’ll take a stab at the exotics.  Before outlining my wagers I pick the race as follows:


1) Big Brown

2) Tres Borrachos

3) Racecar Rhapsody


Tres Borrachos is bred for the classic distances and has tried hard in all of his races and is improving.  He was headed in the Ark Derby and fought back for the show.  He may get an easy lead and should hang tough in the stretch even if Big Brown goes by him.  Racecar Rhapsody is also bred to easily handle the 1 3/16 distance and is a deep closer.  He should be flying late.  Both Tres Borrachos and Racecar Rhapsody have run their races no matter what the surface as opposed to others like Behindatthebar who may prefer a synthetic track.


I will bet my $100 as follows….


$30 exacta Big Brown on top of Tres Borrachos/Racecar Rhapsody = $60

$20 trifecta Big Brown to win with TB & RR second and third = $40


Wesley Kahnert


I’ll stick with the winning formula I had in the Derby.  I may not be ready to give him the Triple Crown, because the Belmont is torturous on horses not ready to run 1 ½ miles on three weeks notice, but I cannot see any horse coming within 10 lengths of Big Brown.  Half of the remaining dozen can finish second in this race and almost all of them have a chance for third.  The luck of the draw says that one of the two horses in the field will be a nice long shot. 


I’m taking $100 on Big Brown in a trifecta with the entire field in the second and third positions.  (Editor’s note: That means $1 each on Big Brown over the field over the field for 100 separate wagers.  If Big Brown wins, Wes automatically wins the trifecta).


Randy Moss’s Protégé  (Note: This person has no affiliation with Randy Moss other than being a devout follower of Moss’s Pace Figures).


Big Brown ran a 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby, and if you look at the pace and how much extra he had to run in the race, he ran the equivalent of a 115 to 120.  If you follow the Thorograph sheets, you will see that they consider Big Brown’s Derby to be up there among the top Derby finishes ever.  I agree that we are looking at the next Secretariat.  I don’t think the short layoff will hurt Big Brown.  As long as his front legs are okay, he will run the same race Saturday that he ran two weeks ago.  Richard Dutrow is acting like the coach who builds up his opponent, so when his team wins 42-0, it looks like an accomplishment.  Expect 42-0 in this horse race.  His winning silks will already be painted on the weather vane before the second place horse crosses the finish line.


I’ll put $20 on Big Brown to win, $20 on Big Brown to show because his show pool money may be even better than his win pool money if few people bet him to show.


With the other $60, I will play an Exacta partial wheel with Big Brown keyed over the six longest shots: Tres Borrachos, Icabad Crane, Racecar Rhapsody, Stevil, Riley Tucker, and Giant Moon at $10 apiece.


Bill Marhsall


William goes by the handle of Class of Clyde in the Vanderbilt University Athletics Internet world.  He is a veteran of thoroughbred racing, and he was in Louisville to report on the Derby for the Aiken, South Carolina newspaper.


“Sure Things at Pimlico”


One thing can be said with confidence about the Preakness – when the result is in, it’s even money it won’t make sense.  For every Preakness that plays according to form, there’s one that throws form out the window.  So there’s hope for those seeking the winner of this Preakness elsewhere than the obvious.  And without question, the obvious is Big Brown.


While there have been no big upsets since the turn of the century, not many expected 3-10 favorite Fusaichi Pegasus to lose his bid for the Black-Eyed Susans in ’00.  But he did – to Red Bullet, which he had beaten in the Wood Memorial.  The very next year, Monarchos wheeled in to Baltimore from Louisville having recorded the second fastest winning time in the history of the Kentucky Derby.  Point Given was the “hot horse” that year, but few would have predicted that, of the five Derby runners returning for the Preakness, Monarchos would finish last.


In the ‘90s, we saw Louis Quatorze, 16th in the Derby, win the Preakness handily.  There was Pine Bluff, 5th in Louisville leaving that spot available for the Derby winner, Lil E. Tee, at Pimlico.  Hansel, 10th in the Derby galloped home 7 lengths ahead of his Preakness field, including the first three from the ’91 Derby.


On the flip side, 6 of the last 11 Preakness winners were keeping a Triple Crown bid alive, having also won the Derby.


This year, we have another sure thing in Big Brown, with only one Derby rival, Gayego, showing up for a rematch.  Almost half the field (5 starters) are eligible for non-winners of two lifetime.  No doubt, Big Brown should walk his beat.  But no less so than Riva Ridge and Swale, both compromised by sloppy tracks, or Bold Forbes, done in by a suicidal pace, or Strike the Gold and Sea Hero, well beaten for no apparent reason.


Big Brown may win from here to there, but remember, there are no sure things in horse racing.


All the above being said, I think Big Brown will win this Preakness.  The only way I see to bet it is to try to pick the second horse and make exactas.  Trifectas cost too much with the synthetic variable on top of too few starts and too little consistency among the rest of the field.  I liked Macho Again’s Derby Trial in which he beat some decent horses on the dirt from off the pace.  I thought Yankee Bravo ran well in the Louisiana Derby and was intimidated when lodging his bid in the Santa Anita Derby by a swerving Bob Black Jack.  Racecar Rhapsody has never run a truly bad race and, being a dead closer, might come along to pick up the pieces.  With $100, I’d make $20 cold exactas with Big Brown on top of these three and $10 exactas with Big Brown beneath these three.  With the remaining $10, I’d do a $2 box using Macho Again with both Yankee Bravo and Racecar Rhapsody, and use the last $2 for a cold exacta, Yankee Bravo on top of Racecar Rhapsody.  


May 3, 2008

Kentucky Derby Wrap-Up

Congratulations to Wesley, Walker, and “Randy” for their profitable days at Churchill Downs Saturday afternoon.


Wesley played his $100 bankroll on Big Brown to win, and that wager returned $340.  Walker cashed winning tickets on Eight Belles to place and show, and it returned $170.  “Randy” hit the exacta with Big Brown and Eight Belles returning $141.60.


Jeannie’s $100 wagers returned just $6.40, as she had $2 on Eight Belles to show.  As for Bob and me, we didn’t cash any winning tickets.


Of course, I can speak for all six of us when we express our condolences on the death of the filly Eight Belles.  With Barbaro breaking down two years ago in the Preakness, the horse racing industry now has two tragedies in three years, both of which occurred when the sport was showcasing its greatest moments.


If there ever was a year for the three decade long triple crown drought to end, this one needs to happen.  Big Brown won the Derby in such convincing fashion, it’s hard to foresee huge fields challenging him in Baltimore in two weeks.  If he romps at Pimlico, this could be the smallest Belmont field in years. 


Big Brown went four wide into the first turn after having to veer in from the 20th post position.  He had to stalk for the first time in his life, and he never got close to the rail until the final stretch.  He, in essence, would have won by 10 or more lengths had he been able to get out in front and inside early.  With the tragic loss of Eight Belles, the closest competitor to him who could make it to the Preakness was Denis of Cork, who was eight lengths back; using the same logic as above, Big Brown beat him by about 12-15 lengths.


If he comes to Baltimore in complete health, Big Brown could go off as a 1-5 favorite.  With a better post draw, he could wire the field at Pimlico.  If he wins there, he will be the shortest favorite to attempt the Triple Crown since Spectacular Bid in 1979.  Of course, the Bid failed to win that Belmont, so remember a sure thing this is not.

May 2, 2008

A PiRate Look at the 2008 Kentucky Derby

A PiRate Extra

Kentucky Derby 134


Churchill Downs-Louisville

Approximately 6:04 PM EDT

Television: NBC

Radio: ESPN


Welcome back to the PiRate Ratings.  Today, it’s time to take an in-depth look at the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby.  In past years, I have been fortunate to have predicted a few winners and cashed several winning tickets.  Last year was one of those fortunate years, as Street Sense came in first as I predicted.  This year, I have very little confidence that any handicapper can feel confident.  With the change to Polytrack racing surfaces in several of the most important prep races, nobody can know for sure how horses racing on dirt for the first time this year will adjust.


The Daily Racing Form’s speed expert, Andrew Beyer, summed it up best when he commented a couple of days ago, “Judging how horses will make the transition from Poly to dirt is guesswork, not handicapping.”  I agree with Beyer, and if the Thoroughbred Racing Association doesn’t address this issue soon and decide on one type of track only, you will see a reduction in the number of serious people willing to wager on big races like this.  The industry can ill-afford to lose any more customers.


In today’s preview, I am going to introduce 5 additional experts to the PiRatings.  Three of them either own or have owned racing thoroughbreds.  One is a successful handicapper who has won two pick sixes in his lifetime.  The fifth is a huge fan who will be making her 28th trip to the Derby and has been a regular at the famous Barnstable Brown Party.  All six of us will report on how we would spend $100 on this race if we were at the Churchill Downs betting window.


Let’s start off this preview in earnest with a look at the field.  Odds given are the current odds as of Friday morning.


PP. Horse                         Odds            Jockey                             Trainer

  1. Cool Coal Man             20-1             Julien Leparoux       Nick Zito

  2. Tale of Ekati               15-1             Eibar Coa               Barclay Tagg

  3. Anak Nakal                 30-1             Raphael Bejarano    Nick Zito

  4. Court Vision                20-1             Garrett Gomez        Bill Mott

  5. Eight Belles                 20-1             Gabriel Saez           Larry Jones

  6. Z Fortune                   15-1             Robby Albarado      Steve Asmussen

  7. Big Truck                    50-1             Javier Castellano     Barclay Tagg

  8. Visionaire                   20-1             Jose Lezcano          Michael Matz

  9. Pyro                             6-1            Shaun Bridgmohan  Steve Asmussen

10. Colonel John                 4-1            Corey Nakatani       Eoin Harty

11. Z Humor                     30-1             Rene Douglas          Bill Mott

12. Smooth Air                 20-1             Manoel Cruz            Bennie Stutts, Jr.

13. Bob Black Jack             20-1             Richard Migliore      James Kasparoff

14. Monba                        15-1             Ramon Dominguez  Todd Pletcher

15. Adriano                      30-1             Edgar Prado           Graham Motion

16. Denis of Cork              20-1             Calvin Borel            David Carroll

17. Cowboy Cal                20-1             John Velazquez       Todd Pletcher

18. Recapturetheglory       20-1             E.T. Baird               Louie Roussel

19. Gayego                      15-1             Mike Smith             Paulo Lobo

20. Big Brown                    3-1            Kent Desormeaux    Richard Dutrow, Jr.


The Major Prep Races


Wood Memorial: Tale of Ekati passed favored War Pass in the final 1/8 mile.  Court Vision came in third.


Blue Grass Stakes: Monba went 6 wide and came from off the pace to edge Cowboy Cal by a neck.  Favored Pyro never figured in this race and finished a distant 10th.  Keeneland uses a polytrack surface.


Santa Anita Derby: Colonel John rallied from 9th at the ¾ pole and edged Bob Black Jack.  Santa Anita is now a polytrack surface.


Florida Derby: Big Brown went immediately to the lead in a very fast opening quarter and slowly gained ground as his opponents slowed in the final furlong and winning by 5f over Smooth Air.  This marked the second time in three attempts for Big Brown to wire the field, and in the other race, he was never more than one length back of the lead.


Arkansas Derby: Gayego stalked from second place for the opening ½ and then took the lead prior to the ¾ pole.  He held off a challenge from the closing Z Fortune, who made up 5 lengths in the stretch.


Illinois Derby: Recapturetheglory wired the field in race that equaled the best time at 1 1/8 mile at Hawthorne in the last three years.  He pulled away in the stretch showing that he had plenty of run in him.  Z Humor remained in 3rd position for the entire race, but he lost ground in the final 5/8 mile.


Lanes End: Adriano went 4 wide around the stretch and came from off the pace to pull away in the final 1/16 mile.  Turfway Park uses a polytrack surface.


Fantasy Stakes: Eight Belles closed fast in the stretch to pass Alina in the final 70 yards and take this race for fillies at Oaklawn Park.


Breakdown of the Field


1- Cool Coal Man: He won an allowance race at Churchill Downs in November, and many will bet on him for that fact alone.  In graded stakes races, he won the Fountain of Youth, but then he finished 9th in the Blue Grass.  Nick Zito brought him to CD where he breezed ½ mile in 47.2.  He may like the track, but he is an early speed horse with better speed horses in the race.  Look for him to vie for the lead for the opening mile, but he will be passed in the final 2 furlongs.  I don’t look for him to finish in the money.


2- Tale of Ekati: Winning the Wood Memorial over War Pass should have made him a strong contender here, but his odds are 15-1!  His jockey in that race, Edgar Prado, chose to ride Adriano, so that doesn’t bode well for this colt.  At least Eibar Coa has ridden him before, and he won one of those races.  Coa will try to stalk from the second flight of horses and then make one big run at the head of the stretch.  I just don’t think he has the stamina to go 10 furlongs, and I think he will quit in the stretch.  He’s trained by Barclay Tagg, who gave us a near triple crown with Funny Cide.


3- Anak Nakal: If this horse won, it would have to rank as one of the five biggest upsets in Derby history.  In his three races this year, he finished 8th in the Fountain of Youth, 7th in the Rebel, and 5th in the Wood.  Except for his maiden win, his only other win came against a weak field in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last year.  Even though he is an improving colt, I cannot see him challenging Saturday.  His fasted Beyer speed is 87, and it takes a 104-110 to win this race in most years.


4- Court Vision: This horse has an excellent pedigree that couldn’t be any more Kentucky Derby favorable.  He’s a deep closer, and he will be flying past horses in the stretch.  In a field of 20, jockey Garrett Gomez will be hard-pressed not to be checked a couple of times.  I don’t see him being able to get the perfect trip he will need to be a factor.  With a top Beyer of 90, we have the same dilemma as with Anak Nakal-he doesn’t have enough speed to stay close enough to the lead to let that one burst carry him past the field.


5- Eight Belles:  This filly would have been close to an even money favorite in the Oaks, but trainer Larry Jones decided to go for the roses.  I think she will finish far up the track and never figure in this race.  Eight Belles has won four consecutive races this year, but she hasn’t raced against Colts.  She’s faced weak competition, hasn’t raced in a field larger than eight, and has never raced farther than 1 1/16 mile.  The odds are too stacked against her.  Look for her to finish well back in the pack.


6- Z Fortune: He was forced 4 wide in the Arkansas Derby and still finished a game second, earning a 102 Beyer number.  Although he drew an excellent post, he figures to be left behind in the opening ½ mile.  I don’t think he has enough closing kick to pass at least a dozen horses in the final 3/8, and I expect him to have at least that many to pass.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit the board, and at 15-1 odds, he should pay well to show or in exotics.


7- Big Truck: Like Pyro, he couldn’t handle the polytrack surface at Keeneland and finished a distant 11th.  He won the Tampa Bay Derby by coming from off the pace against 1-20 favorite War Pass.  Former rider Eibar Coa chose to ride Barclay Tagg’s other horse, Tale of Ekati.  I don’t see him factoring in the race.


8- Visionaire: The winner of the Gotham at Aqueduct in March, he was forced 10 wide in the Bluegrass and while making a move from last place in the stretch, he finished 5th.  He is a stretch runner who can fly in the final furlong, and he should have no problem with the distance.  Passing 19 horses is tough, and a couple other stretch runners could be flying at the same time.  If the truck comes up muddy, expect to see his odds drop in free-fall.  He ran a 98 Beyer in winning the Gotham in the slop.


9- Pyro: One of the big wildcards in this race, Pyro would have been the co-favorite if he had chosen to run on a dirt track in his final prep.  He ran in the Bluegrass, and he obviously wasn’t able to handle the polytrack surface.  Throwing that one race out, this horse has been a consistent runner.  On the negative side, I have doubts about his ability to go 10 furlongs, and I cannot remember a horse who won any Grade I stakes race after posting a 73 Beyer number in his previous race.  In a race with several closers, jockey Bridgmohan could be forced to go too wide to figure.  At 6-1, I look for another horse.


10- Colonel John: Here’s another wildcard horse.  He’s never run a triple-digit Beyer, and he’s never run on anything but polytrack.  This is where things get tricky.  Jockeys running on polytrack believe that their horse must rate and come from off the pace to win, saving energy along the way.  It has led to many slower than normal races, and Colonel John has won four times in slow times.  At Churchill Downs, he has shown a likeness for the dirt track, earning a bullet for his workout on April 27 after breezing 5 furlongs in 57.4.  He has enough speed to stay close to the first flight of early speed horses, and his pedigree suggests that 10 furlongs is where he will run his best race.  You have to consider him a legitimate threat to win the race, especially if the pace is very fast.


11- Z Humor: Here’s a horse that really shouldn’t be in this race.  He has only finished in the money in one race this year, and that was a third place showing in the Illinois Derby.  He got a perfect trip in that race and couldn’t take advantage of it.  I expect him to finish in one of the final five spots in this race.


12- Smooth Air: Big Brown ran away from him in the Florida Derby, and I cannot see him reversing that in this race.  He could still hit the board, but he has little room for error in a race where better horses will be making their big move at the same time as he.  This horse has not been 100% this week, as he has run a fever.  I don’t see him moving forward, and I won’t include him in any WPS bets.


13- Bob Black Jack: He could be another Housebuster.  Housebuster was nearly unbeatable between 6 furlongs and a mile, but that was as far as he could run.  This horse should challenge Big Brown for the early lead, and he could set a pace that will be too fast for any of those who challenge him to sustain.  Add to this that it will be his first race on dirt, and he hasn’t wowed anybody at Churchill Downs this week.  Look for him to be on or near the lead at the end of a mile, but he will not have anything left at that point.


14- Monba: Here’s another horse with a past win at Churchill Downs, and that will earn him some backers.  I won’t be one of them.  He came out of the Fountain of Youth lame in February after being squeezed, and although he recovered to win the Bluegrass, I look for him to regress this weekend. 


15- Adriano: He won the Lane’s End at Turfway Park back in March and hasn’t raced since.  It wasn’t a necessarily strong race, and his 92 Beyer he earned in that race was his best.  He has raced just once on dirt, and he didn’t figure in that one, finishing 9th in the Fountain of Youth, well behind winner Cool Coal Man.  He’s one to toss out.



16- Denis of Cork: He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in November with 2007 Kentucky Derby Champion jockey Calvin Borel onboard.  He proceeded to win an allowance race and then the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes before finishing a distant 5th in the Illinois Derby.  Those four races represent his entire resume.  I cannot see him figuring in the Kentucky Derby and would toss him out if you are thinking of playing an exacta box.


17- Cowboy Cal: Here’s a consistent horse.  After his first race in which he was wide and tired in the stretch, Cowboy Cal has run five races in which he earned Beyer Speed numbers of 90, 95, 93, 91, and 92.  He should run a respectable 92 or so in the Derby, and that ought to be good enough for 9th or 10th place.


18- Recapturetheglory: He blistered the Hawthorne track in winning the Illinois Derby in 1:49 for 9 furlongs, but Andrew Beyer only gave him a 102 rating for that race, even though the track variant that day was 19.  I have to consider him a real dark horse.  He has a stalking style, and that style has won more Kentucky Derbies than any other.  He’s trained well since he arrived at the track.  I don’t see him getting the roses, but he should be highly considered on the bottom of exacta plays.


19- Gayego: The winner of the Arkansas Derby is just 15-1 in the morning line.  Here’s a horse that can rate behind fast and slow paces and still come home first.  He proved he could handle dirt at Oaklawn after shipping east from California.  His one drawback is his pedigree which does not show 10 furlongs to be the optimum distance for this bloodline.  He could come off the pace and stick a nose in front rounding the stretch, but he might not be able to stay at that point.  I think enough horses will pass him in the stretch to prevent him from earning a check.


20- Big Brown:  Here is the biggest wildcard in the field.  Obviously, he is the best horse in the field.  If just the top eight horses ran in this race, he’d be favored at less than even money odds.  Heck, at an eight horse maximum, he’d be even money odds to win the triple crown this year.  However, this is a 20-horse race, and this horse is breaking from the 20th post.  We’re also looking at an inexperienced horse who has to be on the lead or no more than one length back.  He is going to have to extend himself to pass enough horses in the opening 1/16 mile in order not to be forced 7 to 10 wide at the first turn.  He’s going to see Bob Black Jack and three or four others race out quickly, so it won’t be a given that he can get to the turn without going very wide.  Of all the horses who have won from the 16-20 posts, 100% of them did so by coming from off the pace.  No horse has ever wired the field from the outside.  There’s no value in playing him to win at 3-1 odds, and there are a slew of horses like Mr. Frisky who were can’t lose prospects who lost.  I won’t play him, but I won’t be surprised if he goes out and becomes the next Seattle Slew.  I didn’t pick Seattle Slew to win that day either, so take this for what it is.  I’ll be looking for the horse that can beat him.



My $100 Wager on the Kentucky Derby


With 20 horses in the race and 20 different betting interests, it allows one to place money on a really good horse at relatively high odds.  I want a double-digit odds horse in my betting choices. 


Before I reveal my “official” choices, I will explain that I have about 60 different factors I look at.  I award weighted points to each horse for each factor and then add the numbers together.  Last year Street Sense had the high point total, and I picked him to win.  This year, the polytrack problem makes the exercise much more difficult and time consuming.


Colonel John finished with the most points, with Z Fortune a surprising second and Cowboy Cal an even more surprising third.  I don’t just routinely play the horses in the order they finish in my system, but I will look for either Cowboy Cal or Z Fortune to hit the board at big odds.  Thus, I will play both of them to show. 


Even though I do not like his Beyer numbers, I am still going with Colonel John to hit the board as well.  Among the other top contenders, I am still scared of Pyro.  I expect we could see his odds drop as the race approaches.  That’s why I am willing to pick him to finish in the money as well.  So, it leaves me with four horses to place wagers on to hit the board.  Thus, here is how I am playing the race:


#6 Z Fortune $10 to show

#9 Pyro $10 to place and $10 to show

#10 Colonel John $20 to win, $20 to place, and $20 to show

#17 Cowboy Cal $10 to show


I am staying away from exotics this year because there would be too many variations to play, and the track take is too much.


Guest Experts


Now it’s time for the people who really know their stuff.  I will present five guest experts with much better credentials than me.  They will tell you what they think about this race.  I present them by the name they chose for me to use.


1. Boulder Bob

Bob is an amateur handicapper who has frequented all of the major West Coast tracks.  He has won Pick Six bets twice in his betting life and claims to have successfully picked 11 outright winners in this race since 1984.


“I look for horses that ran the final 1/8 mile in a 1 1/8 mile Grade 1 or 2 race in less than 13 seconds while gaining ground or extending their lead.  These horses are the ones most likely to go the distance at 1 ¼ miles and have the class to do so.  Colonel John and Recapturetheglory are the two horses that best fit that bill, so I’m playing them to win and place.  I will use them in exacta boxes as well.”



$20 on Colonel John to win

$20 on Recapturetheglory to place

$10 on Recapturetheglory to show

$5 each on an exacta with Colonel John on top of Recapturetheglory, Big Brown, Pyro, Tale of Ekati, and Gayego


$5 each on an exacta with Recapturetheglory on top of Colonel John, Big Brown, Pyro, Tale of Ekati, and Gayego.


2. Wesley Kahnert

I came to know Wes quite by accident.  He became a regular contributor to the Vandymania Internet fan site where I once was a writer.  He used the posting name of Weskahnsin, and I mistakenly thought he was from Wisconsin, my adopted home state.  Little did I know his handle stood for, “Wes Kahn’s In,” something many people said to him when he entered the locker room where he played college football.  Wes has relatives who work in the horse racing business, and he has been to several races over his career. 


“I don’t have much time to contribute here, but I will go with the favorite Big Brown to prove to one and all that he is the next super horse.  He’s the only horse in this field to run two 106 Beyer’s and a 110 Bris Speed Rating.  He should have enough speed to position himself behind Bob Black Jack and move inside enough to save ground.  Bob Black Jack will quit, and Big Brown will pass him and win by 5-10 lengths.  I don’t like Colonel John or any of the west coast horses.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Pyro returned to form and finished second.”



$100 on Big Brown to win


3. Walker Jones

Walker is another regular poster at Vandymania.  He lives in New Orleans where he owns a freight forwarding company.  A 1968 graduate of Vanderbilt University, he owns a 3 year old filly, Cutty Spark, who will be racing tonight (Friday, May 2) in a $12,500 maiden claiming event at Evangeline Downs. 


“Let me begin by stating that this is the toughest Derby for me to handicap in recent memory.  Aside from the obvious wild card of synthetic surface form I have a ranking system to judge stamina as 1 1/4 miles is a whole new ball game for 3yo colts on the 1st Saturday in May.  My ranking system is 1-4 stars and in this field no colt has more than two stars according to my system.  As a result I believe the derby is wide open and I will throw out the three top picks…Big Brown, Col. John and Pyro.  It seems to me that there is plenty of speed and the race will set up for a closer so I’m throwing out all of the speed horses and the ones that come from right off the pace (Gayego, Big Brown (again) Recapture the Glory, Cowboy Cal, and Bob Black Jack), I always throw out any colt who has a terrible recent race (Pyro (again), Monba, Adriano, Cool Cold Man, Anak Natal, Big Truck, Dennis of Cork, Tale of Ekati, Z Fortune) and finally any colt who is changing equipment for the derby (Court Vision – blinkers on).  This leaves Visionaire, Eight Belles (f), Smooth Air and Z Humor.  After analysis of the form and pedigree of these four I pick the race in the order shown above. Visionaire’s Blue Grass is much better than it looks.  He was 10 wide and shuffled back to last and was running better than any of the others at the end to finish 5th beaten a little more than 6 lengths. I expect Eight Belles (f) will be a little further back than usual and make a good run.  I don’t think Z Humor and Smooth Air are good enough to seriously threaten. They just weren’t eliminated by the above criteria.   Betting strategy….  I’m not going to try to hit a home run here and cash an exotic bet.  With 20 betting interests the place and show bets should pay very well, especially if the favorites run out as expected.


A point I forgot to make about Big Brown is that usually when everyone thinks a horse is “the next super horse” it turns out not to be the case.  Even if the horse does turn out to be great he doesn’t win the derby (Curlin last year and Point Given a few years ago as examples).”



$20 on Visionaire to win, $20 to place, and $20 to show

$20 on Eight Belles to place and $20 to show


4. Jeannie the Horse Queenie

Jeannie has asked not to have her real name revealed here, so I helped her come up with this name.  She has a financial stake in three horses and has been a multi-year attendee at the famous annual Barnstable Brown Bash for the benefit of diabetes research.  Jeannie correctly picked Street Sense, Barbaro, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, and Go for Gin in the last 20 years.  She currently lives just outside of Nashville, but she is originally from Kentucky.


“I saw Adriano win the Lanes End in March and thought he was going to be my horse.  I expected him to run in the Bluegrass or Lexington, but when his handlers chose to skip them and go straight to the Derby, I didn’t like the long layoff.  So, I threw him out.


Next, I liked how Big Brown won the Florida Derby with ease against a decent field.  However, he is too lightly raced, and I cannot play a speedball from the 20th post.  Smooth Air, the second place finisher in the Florida Derby drew the 12th post, and he will have a little extra room to his outside for the auxiliary gate.  I expect him to break cleanly and get a perfect ride to the first turn.  He should be 5 lengths off the lead until he is ready to make his move, and I think he will be able to make a big move at the end of the backstretch.  At 20-1 odds, he should pay well if he hits the board.”



$5 on Smooth Air to Win

$5 on Smooth Air to Place

$20 on Smooth Air to Show

$2 each on an exacta box with Smooth Air on top of Big Brown, Pyro, Colonel John, Court Vision, Z Fortune, Visionaire, and Adriano

$1 each on a trifecta with Smooth Air on top of the same horses in the exacta as second and third choices

$5 on Adriano to Show

$2 on Eight Belles to Show because she’s a real lady


5. Randy Moss’s protégé

Let me preface this by saying that this “expert” does not have a relationship with Randy Moss and has only met him in passing at the track.  He uses Moss’s special pace figures to pick his winners.  This person chose not to release his name, but he will have a special interest in the under card at Churchill Downs tomorrow.


“I have been using the relatively new Moss Pace figures to pick winners of claiming and allowance races in the last two years, and the numbers of winning bets has increased for me.  So, I am going to give it a try in the Derby.


In his preview that he gave in the Daily Racing Form, Moss mentions that horses with front running styles are hurt on polytrack courses, so their prospects should increase when they move to dirt.  For that reason, I like Gayego to make a leap forward after running an excellent race at the Arkansas Derby.  I look for him to hit the board, but he’s not my choice to win the race.  I’m going with Pyro to prove that the Bluegrass was an aberration, and I think Colonel John will be chasing him home at the finish.  Visionaire is my long shot to finish in the money.”



$10 to win on Pyro

$10 to place on Pyro

$10 to show on Pyro

$10 to place on Colonel John

$10 to show on Colonel John

$6 to show on Gayego

$5 to show on Visionaire

$2 exacta wheel on Pyro over Colonel John, Gayego, Visionaire, Big Brown, Recapturetheglory

$2 exacta wheel on Colonel John over Pyro, Gayego, Visionaire, Big Brown, Recapturetheglory

$1 exacta wheel on Big Brown over the other 19 horses


So there you have it.  I hope this has been of some help to you.  I will return in two weeks to preview the Preakness in a truncated version of this preview.  I will be in Milwaukee during the Belmont Stakes, but I hope to find time to preview the final leg of the triple crown.  Then, look forward to some new stuff coming this summer.

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