You, as a handicapper,hate to make assumptions. No matter how much preparation went into the race, there would always have to be the possibility of also-eligible horses getting in, or a late equipment change, or bad weather, etc. etc. Sometimes, though, for various reasons, known and unknown, you must take a hard guess and pray all goes according to your plan.
Such it is for the Kentucky Derby. I will not have the opportunity to wager in the last hour before post time. Instead, I will have more time to wager based on the public sentiment of advance wagering. My plan is to see what horses are getting bet down, and who are being ignored. With so much money on this race, the numbers won’t truly change that much until the last 15 minutes or thereabouts. I feel pretty confident as to how this race will go. But, there are the obvious factors:
Rain is in the forecast for Oaks and Derby Day. The track does dry fast, but will the track get to be fast for the race? I do have a safeguard, tho it won’t impact my wagers all that much.
The also-eligible horses can’t be thrown out entirely, and should there be a scratch, I’d have to recalculate for those changes…and I might not have a proper analysis in place to adjust for this.
I can only hope that the field of 20 + 2 remains the 20 horses, and the track will be in off-track conditions, as that’s how I factored in everyone.
We go horse-for-horse:
1 LOOKIN AT LEE was 3rd in the Arkansas Derby and 4th in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, not an Enlightened Derby qualifier. Arkansas Derby score was 94, a new small top which finally improved on his 2YO best of 93 in the BC race. The 94 was quick for sure tho he had some trouble in that race. Noticeable pace pattern around 90.
Pace: This deep closer needs slightly faster than average speed early, slightly slower average speed late.
2 THUNDER SNOW is the big mystery horse to many, especially for me as there are no Brisnet numbers to evaluate fractions and pace. I did borrow statistic info from Trakus and The Racing Post to figure what those variables are, and I do have something to work with now. Best AWD numbers in the field (Helmet/Eastern Joy, out of Dubai Destination). Last race was his Dubai World Cup win on 3/25, stretching out from 1-3/16 miles. Gets Lasix for the first time. Seems to be a bit of a bounce risk based on his 2 Dubai races, estimated gain of 7 points in BRIS, a bit much for me. Not an EDT qualifier. The system in UAE does not have a truly Derby Trail in place, unlike most other countries.
Odds: 44-1. He’s in the mix, but barely, and probably not going to be an overlay.
3 FAST AND ACCURATE won his last 3, including the Grade 3 Spiral, with 3rd straight score in the 80s, a plateau of numbers ahead of his prior races. Still, it’s slow compared to others. Waiting since 3/25 to stretch an extra furlong. Positive jockey change back to Channing Hill, who rode the maiden breaker win on 12/14. Track bias is in his favor, if you judge from last fall’s meeting, where horses in routes who are early-pressers won at the rate of 29%. Combine that with the fact that the most wins in those races are in posts 1-3, at 14%. Very good works: 4 at CD and CDT, 3 of the 4 very fast, one a bullet.
Odds: 4-1. Should be one of 4 overlays in this race.
Pace: Slightly better than average early, to average late.
4 UNTRAPPED has yet to improve class beyond maiden, tho has run in the 90s since and has mainly kept in the money positions. Lone start at CD was a win, to break maiden last November. Real question mark re pace, tho overall can hold his own. Quick troubled trip last time out in the Arkansas Derby, strong pace pattern in the low 90s. Positive jockey change to Ricardo Santana Jr, who rode that maiden winner. Blinkers come off too. Not an EDT qualifier.
Pace: Based on one race, this closer needs a slightly fast pace throughout.
5 ALWAYS DREAMING 5-3-1-1 lifetime, including a win last out in the Florida Derby, scoring with a big gain in pace, 102. Recovery in pace is certainly an angle to watch for. He broke maiden with an 89 on 1/25, then dropped to an 84 in a 75k optional-claimer, then came the 102 number last time out. Bounce? I think so, especially as he spikes up to the track par, which is a red flag for me. FL Derby was won with a 4-lb gain from previous; he gains 4 more today. 24-second turn time in the FL Derby, matches best of this field.
Pace: Needs a very slow pace throughout, will be among the slowest of those who run fastest in the backstretch
6 STATE OF HONOR was 2nd in the Florida Derby. Not winning an EDT race keeps him from qualifying, compared to others in the Southern division who did. Yet to improve from maiden status, but has run mainly in the 90s and either 2nd or 3rd since. In fact, he has 3 new small tops from his 3YO campaign coming in. Mid-90s pace pattern. From the first 20 horses, this is the lone sprinter of the field. Does this angle translate to a win?
Pace: Based on one win, this sprinter needs a slightly slow pace throughout.
7 GIRVIN has dazzled in his 4 races, with 3 wins, including the Grade 2 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. Away from Fair Grounds for the first time, he won the LA Derby taking on 6 more lbs, and gains 4 today. I say he’s lost in a pack of great horses here with better pace patterns and recent changes.
Pace: This closer needs a somewhat fast pace that slows to average later.
8 HENCE’s win in the Sunland Derby last time out with a 103 was deemed a lesser race than others in his division who won out, and he lost a tiebreak to be an EDT qualifier. Strong gain from 86 in the Southwest Stakes, suggesting this deep closer may well bounce. Slow 83 score in his lone CD appearance, not impressive on mud either. Won the Sunland Derby taking on 7 lbs, and gains 4 more today. Despite the bounce risk, he gained some insurance by posting the best work tab of the field: 4 works at CD, 2 very fast, one a bullet.
Pace: Needs a meltdown in pace, very fast early, slower than average late.
Odds: 2-1. Overlay.
9 IRAP broke maiden by winning last time out in the Blue Grass Stakes, and with a 100, better than his 93 in the Sunland, which was a small new top compared to his 2YO best of 91. Handled mud well in one such race. Gained 1.4 seconds in turn time between his last 2 races, biggest such gain of the field.
Pace: Based on the Blue Grass win, seems like he needs an average pace throughout.
10 GUNNEVARA won the Saratoga Special, the Delta Downs Jackpot and the Fountain Of Youth, the latter with a 102 score. Dropped to 95 last out in the Florida Derby. Best pace figures of the field, and comes out of a quick troubled trip. 24 second turn time in the Florida Derby, matches best of this field. Doing so with a drop in speed figure suggests there is even more in the tank. Lacked points in his division to be an EDT qualifier.
Pace: Needs pace meltdown, fast early, to below average late.
11 BATTLE OF MIDWAY has alternating wins and placings in 4 lifetime races. 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby last out gaining sharp to 98 from 92. No races at 2. Won maiden debut in off-track conditions. Positive jockey switch to Flavian Prat, winning in a 75k optional claimer on 3/9.
Pace: Needs average pace early, slower than average late.
12 SONNETEER still a maiden after 10 races, was 4th in the Arkansas Derby and 2nd in the Rebel, with small new tops of 94 and 93. I like his one mud appearance, and steady slow gains in pace, and had quick troubled trip last out, with pace pattern around 90. No real adjustments made by his connections, so it’s hard to lend confidence.
Pace: Unknown, as he hasn’t won, but he’s a deep closer.
13 J BOYS ECHO won the Gotham in March with a big 104, bounced to 93 last out in the Blue Grass. I like to play the bounceback angle with him. Slowest CD number of the field. Only other horse to drop in speed figure with gain in turn time. Lacks evidence supporting a win here.
Pace: This closer needs a fast pace early that slows somewhat down later.
14 CLASSIC EMPIRE Too attractive not to like or leave off of multi-horse wagers, seeing he has 4 graded stakes wins. Peaked last year with a 108 in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Since then, a 92 in the Holy Bull, and a winning 96 in the Arkansas Derby. 94 in the Bashford Manor matches for best CD speed. Having won here a year ago, as well as last summer, this should feel like very friendly confines to him. One caveat..74 in his lone off-track race, tho that was his maiden debut.
Odds: 44-1 if fast track, 59-1 otherwise.
15 MCCRAKEN I have in multiple exacta wagers in the Future Wager pools. Won his first 4 races,then was 3rd in the Blue Grass. 99 in his prior race, the SF Davis. 94 score in the Street Sense at CD last fall matches the best CD speed of this field. Very slight bounce risk. Own a mid-90s pace pattern. Only horse of the 20 who is coming in 2nd off layoff and a 2nd call speed figure gain from his 1st race back. 3 works at CD, all very fast.
Pace: Slightly fast early, average later.
Odds: 44-1 fast, 59-1 off-track.
16 TAPWRIT I had figured to win all those roses in the previous study. Changing my tune here a bit. Winner of the Pulpit under sloppy conditions with a 98, 2nd fastest mud score of the field. Best pace form of the field, with a small new top 2 races back in the Tampa Bay Derby at 101. Bounced to an 87 last time out in the Blue Grass with some trouble. Fastest pace pattern of the field: last 5 races were 87, 101, 97, 98, 87, suggesting an uptick here.
Odds: 3-1. Overlay
Pace: This closer needs a slow pace all throughout.
17 IRISH WAR CRY is a bounce risk, having gone from 76 in the Fountain of Youth, to 102 in winning the Wood Memorial. Cannot deny his speed but seems inconsistent compared to others. 4 wins in 5 is hard to ignore but ignore I will. One of several horses whose number spikes too high for my liking.
Pace: Needs average speed early, slightly slower later on.
18 GORMLEY won the Front Runner at 2, and the Sham and Santa Anita Derby at 3, gaining 8 points to 99, following a bounce. Sham score was 102, the best off-track speed figure of the field. I have him measured also as having best tactical speed of the field as well. Last 3 2nd call numbers are all triple-digits. The question is whether his pace is suitable for this race and if it can see him through for 10 furlongs.
Pace: Needs fast pace all throughout.
19 PRACTICAL JOKE: LIked him considerably in the Future Wager early on, and actually have him via the Sire Future Wager. 6 lifetime races, all in the 90s, all in the money. Won his first 3, including the Champagne and the Hopeful. The Champagne and the 3 stakes races he scored in afterward represent an upper 90s pace pattern, and 2 new tops in the process. Small new top last out in the Blue Grass. Not much more supporting evidence against this superlative field to suggest he can win.
Pace: Fast early, slows to average later, likely can score as the closer in a meltdown.
20 PATCH 1 win and 2 seconds lifetime, with a 101 for his maiden win in February, then paired with a 98 in the LA Derby last out on April 1; waiting that long to stretch another furlong can only help. The 98 score is best of those exiting a non-winning race with trouble, as he survived some bumps and a wide trip. 3 works, all fast, 1 at CD.
Pace: Based on one win, the pace has to be quick all throughout for him to close.
Odds: 9-1 Overlay
I haven’t planned out the also-eligible horses, but here’s what I got:
ROYAL MO won 3rd try as maiden with a 91, then the RB Lewis with a 95. Surpassed this last time out with a 98, 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby. The 98 represents a pace recovery race, 3rd race following a good start upon layoff and subsequent bounce. Matches Patch for quickest non-winning race with trouble. In the SA Derby, he also had a wide trip, and Gary Stevens lost his whip late in the race. Could well bounce from the 98 score, however. If Royal Mo is in the field, he becomes the only other pure sprinter.
Pace: Slightly faster than average throughout.
MASTER PLAN is the other horse with a run in Dubai. Seemed to handle mud pretty well, with a 96 in the Pulpit, then a 92 in the OBS Championship, and an estimated 93 in the UAE Derby. Connections have done rather well in adjustment here and is also waiting since 3/25 to stretch half a furlong.
Pace: This closer needs a slow pace throughout.
Recap of contenders:
Top 4…the only horses I have any confidence to win overall: Fast & Accurate, Tapwrit, Patch, Classic Empire.
Fast & Accurate 4-1
These 4 are 44-1 on wet track, 59-1 otherwise: Thunder Snow, Classic Empire, McCraken, Gormley.
Projected overlays: Fast & Accurate, Hence, Tapwrit, Patch.
Future wager impact:
Win: McCraken 12-1
Lookin at Lee 37-1
Classic Empire 6-1
Exacta: McCraken over/under field at 6/5: (Thunder Snow, Fast & Accurate, Untrapped, Always Dreaming, State Of Honor, Girvin, Hence, Irap, Battle Of Midway, Sonnetteer, J Boys Echo, Tapwrit, Patch, Royal Mo, Master Plan)
Sire Future Wager impact:
Practical Joke (via Into Mischief): 24-1
Royal Mo (via Uncle Mo): 9-1
Win: Gunnevara 24-1
Exacta: McCraken at 9-1 over/under field at 5/2 (Thunder Snow, Fast & Accurate, Always Dreaming, Girvin, Hence, Irap, Battle Of Midway, Sonnetteer, J Boys Echo, Tapwrit, Patch, Royal Mo, Master Plan)
Win: Irish War Cry 7-1
Exactas between Classic Empire (11-1) & McCraken (6-1), and both over/under field at 5/2 (Lookin At Lee, Thunder Snow, Fast & Accurate, Untrapped, Girvin, Hence, Irap, Battle Of Midway, Sonneteer, J Boys Echo, Patch, Master Plan)
Win: Girvin 17-1
Thunder Snow 23-1
Exactas between Classic Empire at 10-1, Gunnevara at 9-1 and Thunder Snow, and these over/under field at 11-1: Lookin At Lee, Fast & Accurate, Hence, Irap, Sonneteer, Patch, Royal Mo, Master Plan.