May 1, 2008

Kentucky Derby Picks

Brien's Picks
I was pretty successful with last year's picks in both the Derby and the Preakness, so let's hope that I have as much success this year.

A brief note about my methodology: I go through the field once at first, giving each horse a yes, no, or maybe score. After that, I evaluate all the yes and maybe horses to determine what to bet. Exactas are the bet of choice.

As always, there is one key rule to keep in mind when betting the Derby: look for distance. This is by far the longest race any of these horses has run, so we need to find a horse that performed well at 8 or 9 furlongs and still has a little bit more in the tank.

  1. Cool Coal Man - "flattened out" in his last race, no thanks
  2. Tale of Ekati - good performance in the Wood, maybe
  3. Anak Nakal - Hasn't finished in the money all year, that would be a no
  4. Court Vision - Not enough here to warrant much attention, cool name though
  5. Eight Belles - Performed well against weak competition, maybe
  6. Z Fortune - Nothing there
  7. Big Truck - Tired in the Bluegrass, doesn't belong in the Derby
  8. Visionaire - "lacked late kick" won't win the Derby
  9. Pyro - We can look past the bad Bluegrass, he warrants a maybe
  10. Colonel John - Looks good, he'll be in our exacta bets
  11. Z Humor - Apparently Ahmed Zayat likes names that start with Z. Too bad his horses suck
  12. Smooth Air - Not a great finisher
  13. Bob Black Jack - Likes to be on the inside, and that's not going to happen in this race
  14. Monba - Appears to have some distance in him, maybe
  15. Adriano - Weak speed figures, no G1 races. No
  16. Denis of Cork - In the field based on one good race, everything else looks pretty weak.
  17. Cowboy Cal - Looks good, a couple of close calls, has some distance. Yes
  18. Recapturetheglory - Came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Derby. I'd be scared to leave him off my ticket.
  19. Gayego - Strong speed figures, in the top 2 every race, put him on the ticket
  20. Big Brown - 3 wins in 3 lifetime starts, looks good but I hate to be the favorite. Maybe.
After one pass through the field, here's where we stand:
  • Yes: Colonel John, Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory, Gayego
  • Maybe: Tale of Ekati, Eight Belles, Pyro, Monba, Big Brown
What next? There's a lot of value in the Derby if anyone but Big Brown or Colonel John wins, so we'll leave them off the top of the ticket. My bet is:
$2 Exacta
Win: Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory, Gayego
Place: Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory, Gayego, Colonel John, Big Brown

That's a $24 bet that should pay off very nicely if it wins, especially if it hits with anyone but Colonel John or Big Brown in 2nd. For those that are taking this to the track, the numbers are
17,18,19 10, 17, 18, 19, 20 (ouch, that's a lot of money on the outside pole).

Russell's Picks
Only three horses come in under 10-1 on the morning line, so here are my thoughts on those 3 and the others worth watching.

Big Brown is the morning line favorite at 3-1, but there are reasons to be wary. The horse has only run twice this year and likes a fast pace with or near the lead. Considering the relatively bad odds, there are lots of things that could go wrong. Starting from the far outside, getting to the early lead takes some extra energy. How will Big Brown react to having the mud of 19 other horses in his face? What if it rains (chance of T-Storms in the forecast) and keeping a sub-46 pace early isn't possible? Not worth the money, in my opinion.

Colonel John is next best based on the line, and is my favorite. His victory in the Santa Anita Derby was very impressive, and he had plenty to spare for the extra 1/8 of a mile. The Beyer speed number isn't great, but the time is the same as Big Brown's victory. People are making a lot of fuss about the new surface, but I think the workout of 57-4 at CD should put that to rest. This is a legit contender.

Pyro's third at 6-1, but I'm just not impressed. Even ignoring the debacle in his last outing, the speed just doesn't appear to be enough based on finishing times of the two wins this year and the last workout. In a field with 20 horses, this is not a good value.

So which other horses are worth some money?
Gayego appears to be a mirror image of Big Brown, but at a much better price. All of the concerns about front-running and the outside post still apply, and the last workout was slow in the mud, but he seems to be ramping up at the right time.

Recapturetheglory has a legitimate shot as a frontrunner that could slow the pace early and pull away late, as the closers get slowed down by all the other horses in the field. I'm thinking War Emblem here. At 20-1, it's worth a couple bucks.

Eight Belles, the filly, certainly has the speed to compete and has been one of the most consistent horses so far, other than the favorites. Plus she likes to win, four straight coming in. The big question is whether she can hang with the boys and G1 competition.

Z Fortune could pull it off with a good trip on the rail, but that will be tough to find in such a big field. If the odds climb from 15-1, he should be considered as a long shot.

How I would bet:
$2 Exacta: Colonel John 1st, all others mentioned here 2nd (6 bets, $12 total)
$5 Win: Gayego, Recapturetheglory, Eight Belles, Z Fortune (4 bets, $20 total)
$8 Win: Colonel John (unless odds fall to 3-1 or lower)
Total $40

Final Thought: Horses that like to win and are used to winning are more likely to win. 11 of the last 12 Derby winners finished 1st or 2nd in their previous race.

J-Red's Picks

Ok, amateur hour is over. I'll start by splitting the 20 into three categories - vanity entries, outside chances and strong entries.

Vanity Entries

(1) Cool Coal Man - If you're tempted to throw out the Bluegrass you have to explain to yourself why Desormeaux was willing to bail on him too.

(2) Tale of Ekati, (3) Anak Nakal, (4) Court Vision - These are the three Wood Memorial Horses. At the second turn, Anak Nakal and Court Vision were in the same pack that made a five-wide move. Tale of Ekati stayed near the pace setters for the entire trip, winning. That means Tale of Ekati had a pretty clean trip around and posted a 93. The other two had a wider trip, posting 87 and 90. I don't see any of the three suddenly jumping into the high 90's or low 100's for this race. In fact, only Tale of Ekati has cracked 90 before of these three.

(7) Big Truck - There's nothing to be excited about here. The most impressive showing, an off-the-pace 93 in the Grade 3 Tampa Derby included no other serious Derby contenders. He was entered in the Bluegrass, only to embarass himself with a distant 11th. Now Barclay Tagg thinks he can win in this field? Huh? Workouts were impressive, but not since Bluegrass.

(8) Visionaire - Only impressive run is a 98 in a Grade 3 Gotham Stakes so foggy that the PP only includes the first call and the order of finish. Workouts are middling. Jockey is average. Trainer is below average.

(15) Adriano - Prado has been on a few of these horses, all in this category. He'll mount up on Adriano which has the unfortunate distinction of running two decent races (90 in an allowance, 92 in a Grade 2) among a handful of uninspiring 70s, including a 70 in the only race he's run on dirt.

(16) Denis of Cork - Of this tier, this is the only horse that could shock people, only because his first race was in November 2007, he has only run on dirt, and his first three races were showing a possible impressive trend. If you're going very deep in trifectas or fooling around with supers, this might warrant a look.

Outside Chances

(5) Eight Belles - This is the filly. The owner/trainer were unsure whether they would run her in this race, waiting to see where she drew. Since she got a decent post, they decided to green light her. It's not impossible for her to win, but she has been racing against vastly inferior competition (look at her odds in the past three races) and the extra five pounds just doesn't make up for that.

(10) Colonel John - Are we seriously making this horse the second favorite based on the presumption that his workouts will translate to actual race performance on a dirt track? Ok, so he's won 4 of 6 and placed in the other two, but, as Mike Watchmaker said, "the only chink in his armor is he hasn't run fast yet. Um, yeah. That's a requirement here. I just can't imagine taking this little value with this little to get me excited.

(11) Z Humor - One of my favorite things to see, especially in younger horses, is a Beyer climb approaching a big race. Z Humor has a good starting spot, and the races in 2008 show a 79-84-94 climb with a graded 97 and 96 in his past. Might he pop a 100+ Saturday? Can't put him in the top tier with comments like "mild bid", "empty" and "flattened".

(12) Smooth Air - One of the more consistent horses in the field, Smooth Air compares well with Colonel John. Has never been out of the money, but has recently been fighting an illness. Distance might be an issue too.

(13) Bob Black Jack - A lot of questions here, including a lifetime of synthetic racing. Also, he has just recently been tried at distance, with okay results. The dirt workouts aren't impressive, and if we're using that to prop up Colonel John I guess we had better be using it to knock down this fellow.

(14) Monba - This one almost made my top tier. If you throw out the Fountain of Youth, where Monba was injured, he has been building a decent resume. The only real concern again is that he hasn't really run fast yet. This could be the race, or he could just post another 92-95 and be in the middle somewhere.

(17) Cowboy Cal - Interesting Pletcher entry here. After four turf routes, he was taken to Keeneland's synthetic Bluegrass G1. He seems to have a nose for the front, with his biggest defeat since breaking his maiden coming by 1.5 lengths. I just don't see enough to pop him into the top tier.

(18) Recapturetheglory - This is the only true speed horse in the mix, save Gayego, and he's coming from way outside in the auxiliary gate. I just can't see him getting cleanly to the front here, but if he does he might hold on to a share of the podium.

(19) Gayego - Came to the dirt for the Arkansas Derby and ran the best race of his life, albeit from the front the whole way. I think if you compare Gayego's run in the Ark. Derby to Z Fortune's, you'd get the impression that Z Fortune is the better horse. Still, include in exotics. If he can get clear by the half-mile mark, might have a shot.

The Big Boys

Ok, now we've got three left. I think the winner will come from this trio.

(6) Z Fortune - This horse is not getting any love. Z Fortune got a bad trip at the Arkansas Derby, four wide on both turns. Despite that, he got within 3/4 of a length to Gayego running a fast-for-this-Derby 102. Add in a good post position and this might be the hidden gem at 15-1.

(9) Pyro - The oddsmakers have him as the third favorite. His total disaster in the Bluegrass was also his only trip in synthetic. My major concern here is that there seems to be some regression since turning three and leaving the NJ-NY circuit. Workouts are also not inspiring. Still, in this field you have to include him.

(20) Big Brown - This horse is the class of the race, but unfortunately he's hanging out in the 20th spot. Lightly raced, Big Brown could be this year's Curlin, just a race or two from being a superstud. That being said, if Big Brown can get over cleanly and quickly, Desormeaux has the horse to beat. Of major concern, Louisville is the home of UPS. UPS is beloved there. I suspect Big Brown will go off at worse than easy money (from the 20th spot in a 20 horse field in his fourth race, etc. etc. etc.) It's too bad we won't be able to bet Big Brown to win.

How I'll Bet It

$20 win - (6) Z Fortune
$20 place - (6) Z Fortune
$20 show - (6) Z Fortune

$2 ex - 6, 9, 20 OVER 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19, 20 (=$48)

$1 tri box - 5, 6, 20
- 6, 20, 9 (=$12)

Total wagered = $120 (you can of course cut that in half and only use one tri box and get it down to a more manageable $60)

What I Actually Bet

Of course I had some second thoughts before I actually went to the window. I cut out the WPS bets and trifecta and went with a more conservative exacta approach, focusing on Z Fortune, Pyro and Colonel John on top. Basically I honed in on the probably exactas that would pay $100 to $400.

$2 ex 6, 9, 10/2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 20 ($66)

and to round it up to an even $70

$2 ex box 6-10

Obviously, 6-10 is probably ideal for me.

8 Responses:

Dean said...

You guys do the ponies, too? Sweet. I bought the racing form this afternoon - I'll try to chime-in later with may picks (sure to go wrong).

J-Red said...

Mine are coming later. I think Brien and I will disagree a lot.

Brien said...

J-Red, you put way too much stock in speed figures.

J-Red said...

The speed figures are the only way to reconcile all the different track surfaces and distances these 20 horses have been running. They're still the most reliable thing out there.

I've always thought you put too much stock in the comments. Only the jockey knows for sure whether a horse "tired", was "unwilling" or had "no response".

Russell said...

How has Colonel John not run fast enough when his winning time in the Santa Anita was 1:48, the fastest of any horse in the field? Are you just basing it on the Beyer figure?

Dean said...

Keeping it simple and cheap... until I decide to do something more stupid later:

$2 Trifecta box: Pyro, Colonel John, Monba

$5 ACB long shot: Big Truck

Good luck, guys.

J-Red said...

The total time in which a race is run is pretty worthless to compare across tracks. I don't know how tight the turns are there. What the track record is. What the relative humidity was. What the wind situation was. How the tracks behaves. That's why Beyers are still valuable. They let you compare across tracks.

J-Red said...

Damn, could have made $21 today if I had just stuck to my original bets.

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