Derby Day: half-baked ruminations on horseracing's finest day
class=img_thumbleft>One of the grandest days of the sporting calendar is upon us. On Saturday the 132nd Kentucky Derby will take place at Churchill Downs . Even better for local horseracing junkies, Canterbury Park opens its summer season that same day. In honor of this occassion, over the last couple of days I've conducted an email discussion with two renowned gamblers and jackasses, Jack Sparks and James "Taco" Martin . Hopefully this discussion can continue in the comments section below.
HBO26 is showing "Bikini Chain Gang," I'm listening to "The 5 Levels of Drinking," by Larry Miller, I have 45 minutes until a multi-vendor conference call for my day job, I haven't really slept a lot in the last 4 days, and Demko and I have a half baked idea to discuss the Kentucky Derby in Balls!
This is where you learn the definition of the word "limits."
For instance, there are people who have fallen in love with a horse in the May 6th race who desperately pray that that horse doesn't have a limit of one and 3/16th's miles. The derby is a mile and a quarter, and if your horse is some kind of fucking freak that runs as hard as he can until he craps out 220 yards short of the wire, well that speaks for itself, doesn't it?
For whatever reason, I'm listening to "El Paso" by Marty Robbins, another example of limits. A) He didn't have to shoot that guy over Felina, and B) he didn't have to come back. It's the old trap, going back to the well once too often, getting greedy, thinking that passion and numbers will somehow equal success.
For instance, if Baffert gets 3 of 20 horses into the gate, you figure, "hey, 3 horses out of 20, he's gotta have a shot." This is pure folly. There are two stone cold rules to this chilly slab of pari-mutuel marble: 1) half these horses have no chance at all, and 2) "names is for tombstones baby...take this honky out back and waste him." Last year, a really shitty horse named Giacomo won the Derby because the rest of them all fucked off. Then Giacomo fucked off for the rest of the year. Under the right conditions, Baffert could have fucked up Secretariat.
No, this year's race is remarkable for the number of speed freaks in it who ARE ALSO getting odds to win. Pay attention here...usually in a big race like this there are one or two horses that "set the pace." These horses are beautiful...sprinters...give them a mile on turf and it looks like a fucking picture book on the replay monitor. They get out there, run like a bat out of hell, get caught at the end, and end up 3rd or 4th; if you do a little ciphering and box these guys into your exotic, you can clean up.
But this year's Derby has no less than 7 of these fuckers. I wouldn't bat an eye if a horse fell over dead on the backside next Saturday. They're going to break every record getting to 6 or 7 poles. Then they're going to start falling off like junebugs flying into a zapper light.
YOUR job is complicated because 1) as God is my witness, one of these nags has a better than even chance of running wire to wire, 2) there are 2 or 3 stalkers in the group, one of whom is probably going to win it, and 3) some crap horse is going to come in between Place and 4th and destroy everybody's superfecta, a grandmother in Bugtussle is going to hit it and buy herself a brunette Jackie-O wig, with accompanying pill box hat.
All that being said, here are the 4 horses that Demko's going to talk me out of 5 minutes before post:
Sweetnorthernsaint--you want a closer that's going to have a mediocre number that can win you some real dough? Here's your guy.
Sinister Minister--crazy speed horse that's going to run 3rd or 4th, throw him in your box.
Lawyer Ron--the only horse in this race that's been forced to do a little running. He's been beating up on the Arkies, but he's still been running.
Brother Derek--the fastest horse in the race...can he go a mile and a quarter?
Finally, watch for the horse that the junkies jump off of ... by this I mean, there's a horse in this race that oughta win it on paper. But there isn't a single one of those people with the notebook the size of a phone directory, sitting in their own filth at a teleracing cubicle who's going to bet on him ... Hello, my name is Barbaro. Never lost, never really been challenged, good pedigree. Sounds beautiful, doesn't it? The television networks will run a story about how he eats too much and likes to take long naps.
None of these horses has ever run a 1 1/4 mile race. Look at their race histories. (You might have to register at Daily Racing Form, but it's free and highly worth your while.) In other words, you're attempting to figure out what these beasts might do under circumstances that they've never encountered before. What kind of absurdly foolish task is that?
Furthermore, the field is going to be monstrous, probably 20 horses, the max allowed at Churchill Downs. (The post draw will be televised live at 4 p.m. central on ESPN today.) These horses have never raced in a field this large and never will again. Once more: you're dealing with circumstances that these horses have never previously encountered. I ask again: What kind of absurdly foolish task is that? All kinds of strange shenanigans are likely to ensue. That's how a worthless future tub of Elmer's glue like Giacomo wins the Derby.
I'm a proven loser at this game. I can't pick a third-place finisher in a five-horse field. So the absurdity of me giving anyone advice about anything other than which horse is likely to be shot first is profound. Plus I missed most of the big prep races.
That's why I seek the counsel of people who supposedly know a lot more about this stuff than me. I think Jack has pretty much covered the favorites, so here are a couple of longshot possibilities.
Dan Illman makes a half-hearted case for why Keyed Entry (currently at 30-1 odds) might be worth tossing some bucks at. This horse has the best Beyer speed rating of the longshots and has shown some potential.
I'm more intrigued by Showing Up. He's only run in three races, but won each time. Andrew Beyer makes the case that if Barcley Tagg (trainer of 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide) believes this horse belongs in the field then the beast merits watching.
Taco, can we convince you to add some thoughts to this steadily mounting heap of ignorance?
James "Taco" Martin:
I'm going for the money all the way this year baby! I can't imagine any situation where all the money was on two horses like the last few years.
Lots of speculation and hunches this year more then PPR's to go on. Any and all speculation is first subject to post position and IF any horse can get from his or hers gate to the first turn in good shape. Right away that is going to cut the 20 horse field to maybe 8. That's an insanely large field with crazy front running speed. I'd take odds that a pile up may even happen before they hit the first pole.
Everyone is predicting a lightning fast race which makes you think the first few turns are going to be a real mess. I'm looking for a horse that likes to keep pace behind the front runners and has a mighty finish. Some of these horse are going to run themselves out you got to think.
Long race with a lot of untested horse at this distance and so much speed makes me think that the jocks are going to be a even bigger factor then in most stakes races.
Barbaro is the only horse I've noticed that strikes me as it may one day be considered on of those special horses in history.
You can make solid cases for ten or more horses in this field. I will say I do agree with the Keyed Entry tip if those odds hold anywhere close to 30-1. I think you're going to see 7-10 horses going off at 5-1 to 12-1. Lot fewer long shots (25-1+) then last year. Chances are pretty slim that anyone is going to be able to score big on a win ticket but I'm betting all the payoffs should be above average. I watched all the pre-derby tune ups and have purposely not looked at any writers tips in the last two weeks. I'm going to mostly just react to the tote board. I don't want to fall in love with some hag I can't leave at the alter if the right odds show up three minutes to post. Then again I could be totally wrong (again). That's why we go, horse race handicapping keeps us humble.
It's a post time call if there ever was.
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