Friday, May 6, 2011

It Takes a Village: The Canadian Turk Returns to Handicap the Kentucky Derby

The Ol' Turk has asked Cathy, the Canadian Turk to share her thoughts with the readers of the Turk and Little Turk for tomorrow's 137th Kentucky Derby. Cathy goes way back in racing and her street cred is unquestionable: A Steve Cauthen poster on her wall as a child, a bag of Churchill Downs dirt and a run up the stretch , blond hair waving in the breeze that's the stuff of legend. She's a serious journalist, the closest thing to a professional here at the Turk, and she was kind enough to write her second guest blog post for us.

Without much further babbling, I present, Cathy the Canadian Turk.

Seattle Slew. Mine That Bird. Super Saver. One of these things is not like the others. And, after spending a good deal of time studying the PPs for this year’s Kentucky Derby field, I have my suspicions the winner may more closely resemble the latter two horses than the former. To sum it up: This year’s field radiates mediocrity.

The Beyers are subpar at best. With Uncle Mo scratched, only Soldat has earned a 100+ speed figure, which came in a January allowance race at Gulfstream Park. The main prep races (and I no longer count races on synthetic as main preps) were all won by outsiders, with the favorites falling like cheap wooden signs in a windstorm. And don’t even get me started on the conservative prep schedules that have become the norm. It almost makes one miss the old era of D. Wayne Lukas. Almost.

Having said that, it is still the Kentucky Derby. And just like a bad day at the track is better than a good day almost anywhere else, so too is an average Derby field better than good field in almost any other race. And I have an inkling there will be some serious money to be made in the exotics. Therefore, I am concentrating on a trifecta that will pay enough to buy me a box seat at next year’s Derby. (OK, I’d be happy with infield, or even not losing money).

I’ll begin with the favorites:

Dialed In: My first thought is to hang up on this one. I don’t like the fact he hasn’t raced since early April, and I don’t like the fact he will have to weave in and out of horses down the stretch, without a lot of seasoning behind him. Throw in his workouts, which I heard one analyst describe as “lackluster,” and the low odds, and my inclination is to pass. But, with Mo out – and weren’t we all curious to see what he’d do? – I am going to put Dialed In back in my exotics, letting him fill the slot I had reserved for Mo. It’s almost solely based on Nick Zito knowing how to get a horse ready for this race, but I won’t be surprised to see him finish up the track.

Archarcharch. Boy, was drawing the 1 slot badbadbad. I loved the way this son of Arch looked in the Arkansas Derby and, though he’s a closer, we all know what that post can mean. Anyone remember Lookin’ at Lucky’s trip from the same slot last year? Still, if by some chance Jon Court can take him back and keep him out of trouble, he will be there at the end. He’s never run a bad race, except for the Smarty Jones in January, when the horse next to him flipped in the gate. And with a 10-1 morning line, there are too many pluses to resist throwing him in my exotics.

Nehro. He’s the now horse for a good reason. Another couple jumps in Arkansas and he would have been a clear winner. Again, I don’t like the lack of seasoning or the fact he’ll have to work his way through horses in the crowded Derby stretch. However, Nehro stalked the pace in the Louisiana Derby and only lost by a neck. If he can stay close to the pace this Saturday, in my opinion his chances will be greatly improved. Having a vet like Corey Nakatani in the saddle is another bonus. I think he’ll go off at less than 6-1, but I still can’t see not playing him. A horse improving at the right time is always dangerous.

The longshots. There are longshots aplenty but I’ve narrowed it down to three: Soldat, Shackleford and Pantsonfire.
Here’s what I like.

Soldat. Throw out the Florida Derby and you have a horse who’s never finished worse than second. Everybody has a bad day, and maybe Soldat’s occurred on April 3. He’s now the sole owner in the field of a 100+ Beyer and can stalk just behind the speed. He ran well at Churchill last year, albeit on the turf. At 12-1, the odds are right.

Shackleford: He threw in the towel in the Fountain of Youth, and maybe that was his bad day. He bounced back and was just a head behind Dialed In in the Florida Derby, but I’m betting at post time his odds will be three or four times that of Dialed In. I cashed a nice ticket on Funny Cide a few years back, using the same theory after he finished just behind the much lower-priced Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial. He has a win at Churchill and has had some nice workouts. If I can get 12-1, I’ll be a happy camper.

Pants On Fire: Like Soldat, he’s had eight career starts, which I like. I wish he’d had a prep between now and the Louisiana Derby, but again, throw out his bum effort in the Risen Star and he’s never run a bad race. He also beat Mucho Macho Man and Nehro and was very game in his last start. 20-1 seems like a bit of a steal. Plus, I just can’t stop saying his name.

My strategy will be to combine these six in a trifecta, but I’ll wait to see what the odds are before deciding if I’ll do a box or key a few on top. I will not be surprised to see a giant exacta, so I may just box my three longshots in an exacta play and hope for the best.
It’s been a tough first Saturday in May for us handicappers, and I tip my Derby hat to all of you. After trying to figure this field out, instead of a Mint Julep, I’m more in the mood for a glass of water and a couple Excedrin. But horse racing is all about hope, and I will be full of optimism tomorrow when the gates open. Have a great Derby Day and good luck!


Tony Bada Bing said...


When I saw you and I had the same contenders, I thought OK. I had a Mucho, Shackelford, Midnight Interlude and Animal Kingdom tri box...

The Turk said...

Tony, Thank you as always for your comments. I was blind but now I see! I knew Animal Kingdom could go the distance but I just didn't see much in him before the race. After the race I looked at his PP and its really intriguing, but I would have never had him on top. Three Cheers to the Wireplayers Derby Dozen gang that had Animal Kingdom 6th in the last poll