The Pi-Rate Ratings

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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