Overlay players, whore always
shopping for value, and contrarians, who refuse to back popular choices
in anything, love the Kentucky Derby. Its Payday.
For 20 years now, the Derby has
confounded the chalk players and played into the hands of the
contrarians and overlay bettors. Not since 1979, when Spectacular Bid
won the roses, has a favorite crossed the finish line first. Instead,
in many instances, a horse that ran second, third or even fourth in a
major prep has triumphed on the first Saturday in May.
A good case can be made for joining
the Derby overlay or contrarian camps. They figure that anything can
happen in the Derby, and it usually does. For example:
Charismatic, a colt that had
raced in a $62,500 claiming event only months before, won the 1999
Derby and paid a whopping $64.60.
Go for Gin, who had gone to the
post three times as a two-year-old before breaking his maiden,
walloped highly acclaimed Holy Bull in the 1994 Derby and returned
$20.20; the Bull finishing an ignominious third from last.
Lil E. Tee, who finished second
in the Arkansas Derby and had won only $29,106 as a two-year-old,
defeated Arazi, acclaimed by some as "horse of the century,"
in the 1992 Derby, rewarding backers with a hefty $35.60 payoff.
Ferdinand, racing in the shadow
of favorite Snow Chiefs reputation, advanced from last at the
half-mile marker to capture the 1986 Derby, paying a handsome $37.40
and giving Bill Shoemaker his fourth and final Derby win.
Genuine Risk, a chestnut filly,
seriously embarrassed the guys when she captured the 1980 Derby,
paying a respectable $28.60.
Nice payoffs, huh? And not all that
unusual in the span from 1980 to 1999 when 15 double-digit win mutuels
were recorded, averaging $27.80.
Nineteen, or 95%, of the past 20
winners of the Derby finished in the top four positions in one or more
of the six key Derby prep races, which are Gulfstreams Florida
Derby (G1), the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Oaklawns Arkansas Derby
(G2), Aqueducts Wood Memorial (G2), Keenelands Blue Grass Stakes
(G1) and Turfways Spiral Stakes (G2) (formerly the Jim Beam).
1980 to 1999
Genuine Risk 1980 $28.60
Gato Del Sol 1982 $44.40
Spend a Buck 1985 $10.20
Ferdinand 1986 $37.40
Alysheba 1987 $18.80
unbridled 1990 $23.60
Strike the Gold 1991 $11.60
Lil E. Tee 1992 $35.60
Sea Hero 1993 $27.80
Go for Gin 1994 $20.20
Thunder Gulch 1995 $51.00
Grindstone 1996 $13.80
Silver Charm 1997 $10.00
Real Quiet 1998 $18.80
Charismatic 1999 $64.60
Heavy betting on the two
or three top choices in the Derby nearly always results in
inflated prices on the other entrants in the Derby field.
The sharper contrarians look for odds of 5-1 or up on horses
with a legitimate shot to win the Derby. Some contrarians
even bet multiple horses, if the odds are attractive enough.
This is sometimes called shotgun handicapping.
The bottom line is that
contrarians bet against the favorite, and that has worked
for 20 straight years. Will it work again in Derby 126?
Maybe. But its not enough just to eliminate the favorite.
You have to find the winner.
A solid approach is to carefully review
the past performances of the top four finishers in each of
the six major Kentucky Derby preps.
While nine, or 45%, of the Derby
winners since 1980 had won one or more of these major preps, eight, or
40%, had finished either second or third. Two, or 10%, had finished
fourth. Only one Derby winner in the 20-year span from 1980 to 1999
did not earn a key Derby-prep credit Spend a Buck (1985).
Another Grade II race, the Louisiana
Derby, with a purse of $750,000, may become a key Derby prep. Its
winner in 1996, Grindstone, went on to capture the Kentucky Derby.
Such stats prove the ancient axiom
that class wins the big races. Yet, class is a somewhat elusive
quality. So many times, three-year-olds change form dramatically in
the weeks and months leading up to the Derby, and their true class is
hard to identify.
A prime example is Charismatic,
winner of the 1999 Derby, who established his class rather late. In
his races at Santa Anita during January of 1999, Charismatic didnt
show much, finishing off the board. But after winning a $62,500
claiming race at Santa Anita in February on a disqualification
the colt began to exhibit his true class. In his next trip, he
finished second in a $50,000 allowance race at Santa Anita and
followed that with a close second in the El Camino Real Derby (G3) at
Bay Meadows. Next, at 44-1, he finished fourth in the Santa Anita
Derby. Clearly, he was ascending the class ladder.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas shipped him
to Kentucky, where he easily won the Lexington Stakes (G2) at
Keeneland in record-shattering time for the mile and one-sixteenth.
Two weeks later, he went three-wide to capture the Kentucky Derby.
Ironically, many handicappers still
considered him too cheap, even after his impressive Lexington Stakes
win, to be a serious Derby contender. He went to post at odds of 31-1.
The following angles are useful in
arriving at major players in the Derby line-up.
Look for a horse that closed
sharply in his or her last race, even though maybe finishing third or
fourth. Such horses, aptly labeled "now" horses by D. Wayne
Lukas, may be ready to peak on the first Saturday in May.
The late Jim Bolus, Kentucky Derby
historian and ace handicapper of the event, always looked closely at
classy, late-developing Thoroughbreds as patented upsetters in the Run
for the Roses. He considered the Blue Grass Stakes a particularly
important prep race because of its class and closeness to the Derby.
Bolus picked longshot Sea Hero to win the 1993 Derby based on his
pedigree and the colts strong late move to finish fourth in the
Blue Grass Stakes.
Pay particularly close attention
to the entrants of trainers whove won the Derby or have Derby
experience, including four-time winner D. Wayne Lukas and two-time
winner Bob Baffert. This year, Lukas is again planning a
multiple-entry in the Derby. Despite his filly Surfsides
less-than-spectacular win in the Santa Anita Oaks in which she clocked
a so-so 1:44.03 for the mile and one-sixteenth and barely held off a
filly whod broken her maiden in her last race, Lukas remained high
on the daughter of Seattle Slew. She raced without Lasix in the Oaks.
He was pointing her toward the Santa Anita Derby against an all-male
cast. Her performance in that race will provide a true index to her
Kentucky Derby potential. The Lukas party also includes High Yield,
who dueled Hals Hope to the wire in the Florida Derby,
losing by only a head; Exchange Rate, winner of the
$125,000 Risen Star; and Commendable, fourth a length behind
winner War Chant in the San Rafael but off the board after
setting the pace in the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita.
Bafferts top gun for the Derby is
Captain Steve, a fast-closing third in the Louisiana Derby.
Last year, Captain Steve won Keenelands Gr. II Lanes End
Breeders Futurity, Churchills Kentucky Jockey Club and the Grade
I Hollywood Futurity. Another Baffert contender may be the $1.8
million Tribunal, second to Fusaichi Pegasus in a
distance allowance race at Santa Anita but a disappointing last in the
Louisiana Derby after a bad break.
Trainer-owner-breeder Harold J. Roses
Hals Hope became the first colt to win a key Kentucky Derby prep,
when he captured the Florida Derby after a long stretch duel with High
Yield on March 11 at Gulfstream.
Frank Brothers also served notice
that his Mighty, who closed at 23-1 in the Kentucky Derby
Future Wager Pool Two, needs to be taken more seriously after a
dynamic stretch run that captured the $750,000 Louisiana Derby by two
lengths on March 12.
Meanwhile, Todd Pletcher was
squaring off with a double-barreled shot at the Derby with his More
Than Ready, who ran a strong second in the Louisiana Derby after
leading, and the undefeated Trippi, winner of the Swale Stakes
on the Florida Derby undercard.
Neil Drysdale, whose A.P. Indy
probably would have won the 1992 Derby had he not come up with an
injury and been scratched, has a promising trio of prospects for this
years Run for the Roses. Both his War Chant, the impeccably bred
colt who won Santa Anitas Grade II San Rafael Stakes, and Fusaichi
Pegasus, the $4-million colt who beat an excellent field in the San
Felipe, are major players, while his Toqueville, a French
Deputy colt, is lightly raced but well regarded.
Other leading trainers with serious
Derby contenders at ATM press time included Alex Hassinger, whose BC
Juvenile winner Anees, second choice in Kentucky Derby Future
Wager Pool Two at 10-1, ran third in the San Felipe in preparation for
the Santa Anita Derby; Robert Frankel with the duo of Cocky, a
close third in the San Rafael Stakes, and Aptitude, second in
the Grade III Gotham; Jenine Sahadi, whose The Deputy whipped
1-2 favorite Captain Steve in the Grade II Santa Catalina and ran
second in the San Felipe; Joe Orseno, whose undefeated Red Bullet, winner
of the Gotham, has a powerful late punch tailored to the Derby; and
two-time Derby winner Nick Zito, whose Rollin With Nolan, a
Gulfstream allowance winner, has to pinch-hit for Greenwood Lake, who
was removed from Derby contention after an injury.
Be certain your top selection
can go the classic 1?-mile Derby distance. Although somewhat
discredited in recent years, the Dosage-Index factor served as a
reliable guide for many years in selecting a horse that could compete
effectively at the Derby distance. Be wary of any entrant with a
dosage index over 4.0. If a major Derby-prep winner has a dosage index
over 4.0, look closely at his pedigree. If he doesnt have an
outstanding sire, who could win at classic distances, then you may
want to eliminate him from consideration.
Dual qualifiers horses with a
dosage index of 4.0 or less and which are rated within 10 pounds of
the top-weighted male in The Jockey Clubs Experimental Free
Handicap have done well in the Derby. Dual qualifiers won five
Derbys in the 90s while accounting for only 23% of the starters.
This year, nine colts and three
fillies are dual qualifiers. The colts are Anees, Captain
Steve, Dixie Union, More Than Ready, Chief Seattle, High
Yield, Exchange Rate, Mull of Kintyre and Scottish Halo.
The fillies are Cash Run, Surfside and Circle of Life.
Eliminate any horse that has run
poorly at Churchill Downs, but move up on your list any horse that has
won or raced extremely well at Churchill. This significant
horse-for-course factor is sometimes overlooked.
Churchill horses-for-course which
are slated to run in this years Derby include Captain Steve, who
won the Kentucky Jockey Club last year; More Than Ready, winner of the
$120,000 WHAS Stakes; and Mighty from the hot barn of trainer Frank
Brothers, who won Churchills Iroquois and was second to Captain
Steve in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Study the betting action in the
three Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools, particularly the final one,
April 13-16, a period that covers the Blue Grass Stakes, the Wood
Memorial and the Arkansas Derby. Todays bettors, probably more
sophisticated than those of past years, have a way of targeting likely
Compare Derby entrants
Churchill workouts, paying close attention to those at five furlongs
or longer. Pay particular attention to horses whove earned bullets,
the fastest drills of the day. Silver Charm fired three straight
Churchill bullets before winning the 1997 Derby.
Once youve narrowed your Derby
list to three, four or maybe five horses, consider betting strategies.
It might be profitable to use all of
your Derby selections in a Pick Three. (This year there will be three
Pick Threes that include the Derby.) Look at the races on either side
of the Derby, and try to limit selections to two or three in each of
the non-Derby legs of your Pick Three.
For example, if you bet races six,
seven and eight (the Derby), and you use two horses in the sixth,
three in the seventh and five in the Derby excellent coverage
the total cost is only $30 for a $1 ticket. If one of the non-Derby
legs includes a fat overlay, this Pick Three can produce a whopping
Last year, when there were only two
Pick Threes that included the Derby, the payoffs were fantastic. The
Pick Three payoff starting with race six paid $2,995.00 (a $1 ticket
paid half that amount), and the Pick Three starting with race seven
paid $816.40 (half of that on a $1 ticket). In the sixth race, the
winner, Zuppardo Ardo, paid $10.60; in the seventh, the winner, Wild
Event, paid $13.20; and Derby winner Charismatic paid $64.60. Even
with 3-5 favorite Golden Temper (an obvious ace) winning the ninth,
the Pick Three on races seven, eight and nine was still a tremendous
Nearly every year, the exacta and
trifecta payoffs in the Derby also are whoppers. For example, the two
logical choices in the 1998 Derby Captain Bodgit (the favorite)
and Silver Charm (the second choice) used in a $2 exacta box at a
cost of $4, paid $31.00, a very nice return. Florida Derby winner
Thunder Gulch, played on top in a trifecta with 8-1 Tejano Run second
and favorite Timber Country (coupled with Serenas Song) third,
produced a monster $2,099.20 for just $2 in the 1995 Derby.
Derby Day is nearly always Payday
for the sharp and daring handicapper.