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Kentucky Derby picks sure to be wrong
May 4, 2012 - Mitch Rupert
I love Kentucky Derby day. It's an emotional day. Generally it's an emotion of frustration accompanied by a repeated asking of how could I be so stupid?
More than that, though, it's happy day. It's the day I'm reminded every year about Funny Cide, my favorite horse to ever walk this Earth. Yeah, Secretariat was OK and everything, but Secretariat didn't win me $300.
It's been since Funny Cide became the first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby in some 70-plus years in 2003 that I've picked a Kentucky Derby winner. But it surely hasn't stopped me from pretending to know what I'm talking about.
So here's what I've learned in 10 years of wagering on Triple Crown races, and occasionally the Breeder's Cup: if you're an amateur handicapper like myself, you can't make the wagering process all about the money. It has to be about the entertainment and the 2 minutes of excitement when it comes time to run the race.
Just as much as watching the race, I enjoy researching the horses, picking out my favorite jockeys and salivating over horses with 10-1 morning line odds being ridden by a Hall of Fame jockey and trained by the likes of a Bob Baffert or D. Wayne Lukas. Which brings me to today's 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. Even before I ever watched video of a race on the road to the Derby, I immediately was drawn to Bodemeister.
Not only is he a Bob Baffert-trained horse, but he's being ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo. Suddenly dollar signs were flashing in front of my eyes, only to have that notion squashed by the knowledge that Bodemeister will be the morning line favorite this morning.
Don't get me wrong, I mean it when I say the fun in picking Derby winners comes in the research, learning the lineage of the horses and the stories behind the owners. Anybody remember how Penny Chenery obtained Secretariat because she lost a coin toss. Don't worry, it's not like Secretariat turned out to be the greatest racehorse ever or anything.
But, that being said, the reason we try to pick Derby winners and the reason we put money down on those picks is to try and earn a little money on the investment. So with that being said, here's my look at today's 138th Kentucky Derby and my suggestions for an amateur handicapper.
My favorite to win
To draw a baseball comparison, this horse is the Michael Young of horses. He's not going to hit you 40 home runs, and he's not going to hit .380. But he's going to be the guy you want to pencil into the three-hole in the lineup every day. This horse isn't an overwhelming sprinter out of the gate. This isn't a jaw-dropping closer of a horse (look at Dullahan for that). It's a steady horse. He runs hard, runs tough and throws in an extra gear when necessary. He wants to get out front and run in the open, and the good news for Bodemeister and jockey Mike Smith is they're far enough away from the Usain Bolt of horses, Trinniberg, and the other quick starters that he should be able to run in the open at the start and get to a comfortable place on the track. If this horse stays at 4-1 odds or even drops, it'd be hard not to pick Bodemeister to win.
Favorite I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole
Call me crazy. Go ahead, the line is already pretty long to do so. This Pennsylvania horse is trained by former Olympic equestrian Michael Matz, who also trained 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. This is a strong closing horse that finished third in a tough Florida Derby field after being boxed in halfway through the race. It's a horse that I feel needs to get out to a strong start. He doesn't necessarily need to run with the sprinters to start the race, but in a race full of quick starters, Union Rags has to be within a handful of lengths for the stretch run. The problem with Union Rags is nothing about the way he runs wows me. Two of his three wins have come in Grade II races and its one Grade I win came against a less-than-stellar field.
Non-favorites to keep an eye on
TAKE CHARGE INDY
Calvin Borel didn't jump aboard Take Charge Indy until his last race at the Florida Derby on March 31. Until then, Take Charge Indy had finishes of second, fourth and fifth. In Borel's first ride, they won the Florida Derby against a field that included Union Rags. Take Charge Indy isn't a horse to pull away, but really maintains his speed over the course of a race, but he's got to run in front early.
Against good fields, it really looked like there was just too much pace for Alpha, but at the prestigious Wood Memorial, Rajiv Maragh had to pull up on Alpha in the first turn when he was getting pushed into the rail, and he still nearly came back to run down Gemologist (6-1 morning line) down the stretch. There's probably too much speed in this race for Alpha, but don't be surprised if he sneaks in to the top three.
You can start with the fact that Hansen won the Breeder's Cup juvenile race for 2-year olds last fall, and that'll give you a good idea of the talent level of this horse. This is a sprinter of a horse that wants to get out in front which could be tough in this kind of field, especially with the maximum 20 horses entered. But if he gets out in front, he has the stamina to maintain that pace and be a factor.
Sleeper pick to win
I'LL HAVE ANOTHER
Of the six handicappers on KentuckyDerby.com, two have I'll Have Another selected to win, and a third has him finishing second. With morning line odds at 12-1, this is a great value pick horse. He kind of mixes in with the pack during a race, charges at the top of the stretch and can really respond when you need a late run out of him. He goes against everything that gets me excited about Derby horse (no big-name trainer or jockey), but this horse is fun to watch run.
To win: Bodemeister.
Exacta: 1, Bodemeister; 2, I'll Have Another
Trifecta: 1. Bodemeister; 2, I'll Have Another; 3, Union Rags
Superfecta: 1, Bodemeister; 2, I'll Have Another; 3 Union Rags; 4, Dullahan
Mitch Rupert is a Sun-Gazette sports writer. You can reach him at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.
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