Derby field is wide open and tough to pick this year
Well, the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby is at hand.
It's that time of year when the best horses on the planet vie for the right to wear the garland of roses after running 1 1/4 miles over the Churchill Downs oval.
After years of throwing my hat in the ring for trying to figure out who is the best horse in the country ahead of time, this year I have to throw my hands up and say "whaaaa"?
There is little question that the horse racing industry in general is not in the greatest of shape. My lone experience this season is going to the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course and that has not always proven to be the greatest of barometers in judging horse-racing talent.
The horse I thought would win the Illinois Derby this year - Watch Me Go - failed miserably on April 9, losing to Joe Vann and didn't even place in the money. Still, on the merits of its stakes earnings, Watch Me Go still qualified for this year's Derby at Churchill.
After the post draw on Wednesday, however, it was instilled at 50-1 because it got pigeonholed in the 20th position.
Watch Me Go is still not a bad horse and because it did so well leading up to the Illinois Derby, I figure it's worth a $2 bet across the board but that's about it.
The sad thing is that two of the more highly touted horses heading into Saturday's race - Uncle Mo and Nehro are also stuck in the auxiliary gate with Watch Me Go. For those newbies to horse racing out there, horses in the far outside (or inside for that matter) rarely play a part in the outcome of the Kentucky Derby. Uncle Mo is currently 5-1 and Nehro is 6-1 according to the morning line.
Which means this is probably going to be a huge money race this year for someone who wants to play a niece's birthday or something like that.
Other than the two outside horses, the only one that is currently less that 10-1 is Dialed In from the eight post. Logically speaking, at 4-1 this is probably the best best in the field. It is a Nick Zito-trained horse with Julian Leparoux aboard that won both the Florida Derby and the Holy Bull Stakes. Dialed In is a good speed horse that can't be ignored - especially since there is so much speed stuck on the outside. It may just go wire-to-wire if it gets a solid break.
I have a sneaky suspicion that this year's field is anyone's game. My dear friend Bill - who went with me to the Illinois Derby this year - has asked me what I think of this year's field and I have few answers. Coming into the post draw, my advice was to bet $2 across the board on every 20-1 and better long shot. However, there are 12 of them this year and I don't know if he is prepared to bet $72 to win between $50-75 IF that were to happen.
Year in and year out I have done my level best to handicap this race. Since 2000, I have predicted exactly one Derby winner - that coming in 2002 when War Emblem won. Some of you may have done better, but I doubt it. Even the best handicappers in the country pick Derby winners at about 1 in 20 chances.
To me, that still puts me ahead of the norm.
Because of the extreme exasperation that accompanies trying to figure out who can and will win the Kentucky Derby each year, I have often thought of resorting to throwing darts, or handicapping after downing a mint julep or two ... just not yet.
Because of all the inherent failures involved in picking this race - I am going to go way out on a limb this time. Unless Dialed In wins as the favorite, it will mean big rewards if it hits.
I never thought I would ever write this, but I like Todd Pletcher's horse - Stay Thirsty at 30-1 to win. Yes, yes, yes, I know that this horse failed in the Florida Derby but it has consistent Byer figures (topping at 98) and I like the draw. I'll call its failure in the Florida Derby a bump and bank on Pletcher to win again.
Sneer if you like.
After that, I like Jon Court on Archarcharch at 10-1, Decisive Moment with Kerwin Clark in the irons at 50-1, Derby Kitten with Mike Maker the trainer and Javier Castellano up at 30-1 and to complete things, I'll throw in Brilliant Speed, a horse that won the Blue Grass Stakes with Joel Rosario on board at 30-1.
Other than that, my next best guesses would be to bet on Calvin Borel on Twice the Appeal at 30-1, Mike Smith on Twinspired at 30-1, Midnight Interlude with Victor Espinoz up at 12-1 and Rajiv Maragh on Mucho Macho Man at 12-1.
That's eight horses of the field of 20 that I think can win it. If I am wrong, I'm still ahead of the curve. If I am right, I may just retire.
As always, may the horse be with you.