Kentucky Derby-(Louisville, Kentucky) the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is carded as race 11 this Saturday at Churchill Downs, approximate scheduled post time is 6:34PM. The field consists of 20 entrants who are vying to make history having their name forever etched in racing lore. The weather forecast is no precipitation Saturday with perfect temperatures, should be ideal track conditions.
The Derby has been phrased as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” and rightfully so as celebs, sports fans, and even the average Joe join racing fans everywhere to put horse racing at the forefront of sports. I am not a marketing expert, but my guesstimate is 80% of wagering participation is done by amateurs. The technical definition of an amateur is: One who engages in an art, science, or study, or athletic activity as a pastime instead of a profession.
I commonly refer to the Derby as a puzzle, but another could surmise it is game like the popular Hasbro rendition Clue. Interesting enough no matter what art, science, study or Ouija board any of us uses to predict the outcome, we have all have the same goal, Getting to the WINNER!
Art- Growing up near the Meadows in Pittsburgh, I met a guy in the grandstand that only carried a newspaper with the entries. He would sit there and watch each horse warm up, notated mannerisms. In essence, he never looked at a racing form. At first I dismissed him as a degenerate that just was too cheap to buy a program, but I came to respect him as one of the best handicappers I ever met, he taught me use my eyes to tell the story. He would commonly pick winners on horses I wouldn’t have bet with $2 I stole from mom’s purse after reviewing their past performances, to explain all then nuances that would go into this art form would be a whole separate article but just understand handicapping through art is simply a subjective analysis that can’t be equated through math.
Science- Completely the opposite of art in relation to horse handicapping, this methodology is an analyst looking a speed figures/statistics of which one simply is the fastest. Unfortunately the best or fastest horse doesn’t always win. Comparing that to college hoops this past season, Kentucky was undefeated and 2 games away from a perfect season that got ruined yet I still feel they were the best team on paper. The lady counterparts, UConn Huskies did show up and win their 85th title (only 10 actually but feels like more) as they were the best team on paper as well. I use Connecticut as an example as another handicapping influence on me is my friend “Big Al” who pours over numbers, stats, figures and creates mathematical compilations of middle halves and other speed tidbits to identify his horses, oh yeah, he’s from Connecticut. He once identified a runner to me at the Meadowlands that looked marginal on paper, yet I indulged and was handsomely rewarded. Over the years, I have been able to successfully incorporate his figures into positive returns. One could also follow the Beyer Speed figures which are provide by Daily Racing Form which is still the only publication a serious horse player should use, but others exist but they all strictly just use numbers and as they say, numbers don’t lie.
Study- One must understand the game and study it to come up with answer or hypothesis, this list could include: track conditions (has it rained, has it been too hot), post positions (how can he win from there), pace (where will he be sitting in the race), trainer intentions (is he prepping for something else, trying at all cost to win now), jockey (is the rider hot, does he fit this horse) and the list goes on. My teacher that helped me learn the game is Barry Meadows who wrote a book Professional Harness Betting, there isn’t a fancy cover and it isn’t cheap ($100) but it is a must read book that could be applied to betting Greyhound or Thoroughbred racing. Barry lives in Southern California and we still haven’t had a face to face, something that is on my bucket list.
Ouija Board- I get a lot of emails both pro and con about my ideas & selections, but my favorites from my listening audience are the ones from people that are picking a horse just because of a name or feeling. One of my favorites was from a long-time follower that emailed me and said, “great article but I am betting Dean’s Kitten because my son’s name is Dean”. I tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn’t have it as Dean’s Kitten had virtually no chance of winning, the arrogant owner just wanted a spot in the starting gate. He ended up going off at 25 to 1 and my line I assigned to him was 1,000 to 1 (in fairness he did beat 6 horses and ran 14th). Now I will admit, there have been times, I have played a name or even hit the quick pick button, but the success rate is no greater than playing the lottery.
The 2015 Derby preps have run true to form with the standout’s holding their form. In a breeding era where our thoroughbreds get frailer each year, it’s amazing how healthy overall this group has been. Last year for the first time ever, a future Derby pool was conducted in November of the contestants two year old season and only 1 of the 23 listed horses made the starting gate. This year we have 8!
It’s time to start this 2015 Derby analysis, let’s start eliminating and identifying pretenders:
The Apollo jinx is alive and well, No horse has won the Derby without racing at two since 1882 (Apollo). If you like angles, history has that angle on your side. Materiality didn’t start at two and accordingly can be dismissed from the top spot although I would include in underneath gimmicks.
Since 1980, 31 of the 35 Derby winners were out a winning dam. That is 90% and over half the field this year is NOT out of a race winning dam including: American Pharoah, Mubtaahij, El Kabeir, Upstart, Far Right, Danzig Moon, War Story, Stanford, Mr. Z, Bolo, & Keen Ice.
The Ken Ramsey pitch angle is one of my favorites, which is to dismiss any runner from this owner as he would run me in the race if I had 4 legs and qualified to enter the starting gate. I will admit though, this is his first true runner that has a nice dirt pedigree and has shown talent. He swept the Louisiana circuit winning all 3 preps down there and amassing 800K in the process, but his worst race was over this track and he isn’t a strapping looking colt. I’ll use this angle until I get beat by him.
Since 1996, 17 of the last 19 Derby winners finished 1st or 2nd in their final prep; the other 2 were Mine That Bird & Giacomo (2 of the 3 longest prices ever) who both finished 4th in their final preps both lighting up the board and paying over $100 to win. Itsaknockout & Ocho Ocho Ocho can now be safely eliminated.
After eliminating the ones above, 5 are left and I although Tencendur ran a bang up 2nd in the Wood and does have improving Beyer’s I just can’t endorse him for win honors, but maybe he is that exotic filler underneath.
With all the form holding through the preps, I really feel we have a solid group of three year olds. It would not surprise me if we have an Affirmed & Alydar rivalry brewing or end with a Sham & Secretariat showdown.
Having watched American Pharoah race, I think he is a very talented horse, maybe will even prove the fastest horse of his generation. The versatility he showed in the Arkansas Derby was scintillating how he just toyed with the field. He will go to the gate as the prohibitive favorite, deservedly so. His dad ran a game 2nd in 2009, no reason to think the distance or surface will cause him any problems. Before we give him the blanket of roses, lets breakdown some of the factors going against him; If he wins, he would be the 3rd straight betting favorite, that hasn’t happened since the 70’s and certainly seems far-fetched with the new 20 horse field era. His rider Victor Espinosa, won the Derby last year on California Chrome. While I like Victor, I consider him a good rider, not a great rider and only the greats repeat. The owner Zayat Stables ran into legal problems back in 2010 when they started defaulting on loans next Mr. Zayat assures long-time journeyman ride CC Lopez who had been the regular ride on his other entrant El Kabeir that he would retain the mount for the Derby only to replace him days later, bad juju. Lastly, he missed some training earlier this year and has even been equipped with a special shoe which he will wear Derby day, even the slightest hindrance physically could make him an also ran. With all that said, great horses overcome great obstacles so while I will be trying to beat him, he must be considered.
Three hurdles all 20 entrants must overcome: First time racing in a 20 horse bulky field, first time going a mile and a quarter, and carrying 126 lbs for the first time in their careers. To win the Derby, you have to have the horsepower, have your horse peaking, be in the right spot, but most importantly got to be lucky…..let’s see what lucky one we can find………..
#8 Dortmund– Certainly not the sexiest pick as the average future trusted sports books had him a solid 2nd choice at 4 to 1 ish, but he brings a whole lot of intangibles to the table. I was introduced to this guy when one of my horse trainers called me 11/29/14 and said, “what is Bob Baffert doing shipping a horse all the way across the country to run in an Allowance race at Churchill downs, the answer is he is prepping for the Derby” I scoffed at that remark, who is scoffing now. That day, he was stuck with a wide draw, raced wide and when asked to run gobbled up the competition and hasn’t looked back. He’s a perfect 6 for 6 and is a monster of a specimen. Some pundits say his size could play against him in this race as the bulky field might not allow for his free running style, I tend to ignore that as what I have witnessed is a horse that is gutty, battle tested, can rate or control. Ascending Beyer speed figures show he is even getting better, his dad scored here from the 20 post. If you want me to point out a flaw, I can’t. I played against him in the futures but a wise man told me if you can’t beat them, then back them. All systems go at what should be a popular mild upset.
#10 Firing Line– If you love Dortmund (which I do), then you have to really like this guy as he ran twice to the wire with Dortmund only losing both decisions by a head, they freshened him up since then and sent him to Sunland to cruise by 6 rivals that day easily in a track record performance. In his last race with Dortmund, hall of famer Stevens moved way to early on the bend and this guy scooted right past Dortmund and then idled a bit, I really feel a better time ride would have allowed him to win that race going away. The good news is Stevens is a 3-time Derby winning jockey so he won’t get caught up in the moment like a bunch of other rider’s likely will so he is primed to be a very legitimate chance of upsetting the apple cart. Speaking of apples, taking one of my good friends and gambling buddies “Apple” with me to the Derby this year, he last went with me in 2008 when Barbaro & Lemons Forever won both features, we had both so maybe this horse will be with us as well. My only concern is the distance, he does have a decent dosage index but he needs to prove to me a mile and a quarter is up his alley, very live long shot not to dismiss.
#2 Carpe Diem– This is his third start of the year which I feel is always the best race of a horse coming off a form cycle, has done nothing wrong in his career with his only loss coming at Santa Anita which is a speed favoring strip and he got lost early before launching a strong bid to save 2nd that day. Pricey 1.6 million yearling has paid back his initial investment now a big step forward in here will put him solidly in the black. Rider and connections know their way around a horse and although Pletcher is chastised for his poor Derby record, he still has the most successful stable currently in North America. He is virtually interchangeable with my top pick, yet will offer a lot more value on the tote board. Has went to the gate favored in every career start, the stat ends today, but might start again if he gets a bigger piece of the pie. Biggest hurdle he will need to overcome is the dreaded inside post which will spice his price, for value players expecting a big run at a slightly bigger price then the main two fan favorites.
#15 Frosted– I am very excited about Firing Line, but I am equally as excited about this guy. In the Fountain of Youth he made a bold move and looked like he was going to be an open length winner against a few very legitimate rivals, but stopped like a ghost came up out of the dirt and grabbed his leg. Trainer McLaughlin then made a bold move which he opted for the tie forward surgery and got him ready for the Wood where he romped to victory with his career best fig. I am cautious with horses with breathing problems as I firmly believe they resurface somewhere down the line, but I think he will be on tilt for this event and see him making his presence felt. Does have to overcome a big obstacle as the Wood runner prep drought since Funny Cide’s win in 2003 has been 24 starters and none to hit the board. A very nice horse to add to trifectas & superfectas, don’t sell short.
Betability: If I would have wrote my article 3 weeks ago, I would have stated I feel there is a 75% chance that either Dortmund, American Pharoah, or Carpe Diem win this race. I have since cooled on that a bit as my value players (Firing Line, Frosted, Mubtaahij) keep growing on me, I could also see a trip horse win out such as Upstart or International Star, but after that I just can’t see any of the others getting to the winner’s circle. Still this is the greatest betting race in North America, definitely worth indulging. No matter who you like, this will be the best price you will ever get on them, batter up.
10 & 15 to Win & Place for 1 unit
10 & 15 wheeled first and second in Exacta’s with All (except the 1,9,11,13,17) for 1 unit
Exacta Wheel 2 unit 2,8,18 / 10 & 15
Trifecta Wheel ($63 for $1) 8,18 / 2,3,4,6,7,10,12,15,16,18,19,20 / 10,15,19
Trifecta Wheel ($63 for $1) 2,3,4,6,7,10,12,15,16,18,19,20 / 8,18 / 10,15,19
Superfecta Wheel for 1 unit 8,18 / 2,3,4,6,7,10,12,15,16,18,19,20 / 2,3,4,6,7,10,12,15,16,18,19,20 / 10,15,19 ($600 a unit)
Saver bet: 1 unit WPS #19
Should you be interested in the Oaks on Friday, it is a 14 horse competitive field, I am leaning toward I’m A Chatterbox (#8) who is unbeaten this year showing racing versatility while beating everything the Fairgrounds sent at her, trainer Jones is exceptional with fillies and you should get at least an $8 win mutuel.
Graded Analysis with fair value win odds
#8 Dortmund – 5 to 2, simply put, you can’t bet against perfection and so far he is a perfect 6 for 6, versatile, strong, and has been over the strip, no reason to try to beat.
#10 Firing Line- 9 to 1, I will have this guy in multiple leg wager such as the Pick 4 as I do think he has a puncher’s chance of winning, wouldn’t shock me.
#2 Carpe Diem- 7 to 1, loved him at 2, haven’t been as enamored with him this season, but he has done nothing wrong, tough post to overcome, but has talent, don’t abandon.
#15 Frosted- 12 to 1, he could win by 4 or get vanned off, but I tend to think he is going to make a bold move and get his number displayed on the infield tote board, scary price play.
#18 American Pharoah- 4 to 1, has the worst dosage index in the race as well as my other notations above, easy one for me to try to beat. Note, was bet very hard in futures in each pool.
#6 Mubtaahij- 10 to 1, the true mystery to the race as his breeding suggest he could go around twice if needed and I respect conditioner de Kock as well as anyone in world, unknown player.
#3 Materiality- 20 to 1, Apollo jinx is too hard to overcome especially with recent failures like Curlin & Bodemeister, but both of those two still got a slice, not out of the question for minor rewards.
#19 Upstart- 20 to 1, was the first horse of the year to make a bold statement in Florida and then got treated like Rodney Dangerfield by being DQ and then by not getting put up, too much bad karma haunting him.
#20 Far Right – 50 to 1, late runner actually could figure in the 3rd to 6th spots reminding me of an Ice Box, just don’t see him winning no matter how fast they would go upfront.
#7 El Kabeir- 35 to 1, CC Lopez deserved this mount but Borel is actually a major improvement, could Mine That Bird strike again? Doubt it as he doesn’t see fast enough.
#4 Tencendur- 45 to 1, If you are a Frosted fan, take him along for the ride as you would be hoping for a 2003 repeat as both Wood runners ran 1-2, my wise guy horse who will outrun his odds.
#12 International Star- 30 to 1, athletic horse who has done nothing wrong this year, likely have him rated way too low, his worst career race was over this surface, will have to beat me.
#9 Bolo- 75 to 1, a couple respected handicappers told me he is the value play coming out of Cali, no blood no speed and soundly beaten in last, enjoy your saddle cloth as that is all the owners will take home.
#11 Stanford- 100 to 1, has Pletcher in his corner and my buddy Bobby loves him, why? I have no idea would need 100’s of things to happen to even contend, will get an early call, not a late one, pass.
#16 War Story- 100 to 1, Amoss runner has been a big disappointment, they had some extremely high hopes for him when the season started but has run even in all 3 of his preps, hard to envision.
#5 Danzig Moon- 100 to 1, owns a maiden win and that is it, trainer seems to burn more cash on big days then a furnace in Siberia, will not burn my cash.
#1 Ocho Ocho Ocho- 500 to 1, in the race because the trainer said the owner wanted to run, small horse who had an opportunistic freshman year and that’s where the party ended.
#13 Itsaknockout- 200 to 1, will get way overbet due to the mega fight between Mayweather & Pacquiao later Saturday evening, jockey is wearing both fight names on each leg, strictly a side show.
#17 Mr. Z- 500 to 1, Lukas loves to be in these races and who can blame him as he is just about at the end of the road, know him early, will need binoculars to find him late, post has never won.
#14 Keen Ice- 500 to 1, a not sure he could win a 1X race, but does show some late foot which could mean he could clunk up but certainly not for win honors.
This year’s Preakness should see some very intriguing new shooters, be sure to follow along with my on the Triple Crown trail as that publication will be out May 13 at as well as the Belmont Stakes on June 7th at www.equineinvestor.com
-Professional handicapper at www.equineinvestor.com