|"Keep shakin' the Magic 8 Ball and it might say Black Onyx"|
I like to start every handicap by identifying what conditions the race track is going to be in. Before race time you will want to check the track surface. This sort of information is easily found at the track websites, usually listed in the racing or horseman's section, and typically under track maintenance or track conditions.
Next, I like to check the weather. It's important to know if it will be raining the day before or the day of, and for how long before the post time. Any time you can limit the number of variables in handicapping you can improve your ability to pick winners, and quite frankly mud and slop is a variable that can't be ignored. It appears that weather will not be ignored this weekend, with 80% chance of rain Saturday, and 60% from 1 PM on. I'm going to assume the track is sealed and I'll factor my thinking about the mud into my analysis.
This year, horses had to earn their way into the starting gate by earning points in races designated by Churchill Downs. I think the system was successful in its first incarnation: It gave fan's races every week of special significance, it downplayed graded stakes earnings in sprint and turf races, and it forced trainers to get their charges some action, especially the winners of the big stakes races from late last year. I took a look back today to look at which races seemed key and which races were non factors. I thought I'd be able to better glean what horses faced the most competition. I've crossed out the horses who aren't running in the Kentucky Derby. The races in red have no Derby starters as the point earners. The horses in blue are running.
I'm not sure what the take away from that exercise was; if forced to articulate I'd say it shows that most of these horses avoid each other and the notion that each prep race is some WWF steel cage match isn't the case. I personally ignore everything before the Futurity at Hollywood in mid December. I look for guts and willingness to win primarily.
So what are we going to do with this? Typically I start with my base handicap and from that my choice of wager is settled on. With major races, I like to bet the Super High Five. It's a tough bet, it can get expensive, and the odds aren't that good. Boxing 5 horses costs $240 but you might as well give your money away, you aren't likely picking 5 out of 20 like that. Boxing 6 horses costs $1,440 for a $2 bet. Get the idea? Crazy bet. We'll get to that.
I like to wager the Super High Five and get style points too: as low an investment as possible and still have a reasonable chance of winning. In order to do that you have to build a matrix: perhaps a single winner, a few horses for place and show and a bunch of choices for fourth and fifth. I've hit it a few times so I know I can, but again, it's not for the faint of heart and when you bet you must be prepared to lose. I think I'll build the base handicap and then develop some betting options to choose from.
My base handicap is nothing more than a reording of the field into probable order of finish. It's my morning line without assigning odds. I'm a layer handicapper: I assign horses within layers and I typically don't get too emotional if a horse wins or not as long as I had him in the right layer of Win-Place-Show-Exotic and Toss. That's the trick I'm trying to employ here, slotting the horses within the matrix and seeing if the stars align.
With 20 horses you have to make tough choices. I tossed Mine the Bird. It was the sensible thing to do, but there were some very good, very shrewd, and better handicappers than I, that didn't. This group of toss horses is where misery will be born for me. One of them won't get the memo and will stumble in under a blanket finish for 5th and I'll die in that instance. If I'm going to toss them in the discard pile I'm going to look at them a bit closer first.
Black Onyx/1: first dirt will be the Derby. Work was just OK. Won grade 3 Spiral Stakes. Beat NX1 winner and Derby entrant Giant Finish by 2 1/2 lengths. Also Eligible Fear the Kitten was Also Ran here.
Golden Soul/4: Maiden Winner, one win in five starts, no dirt, non-descript work. Watch end of Louisiana Derby if you need something to hang your hat on.
Mylute/6: I said we have to make hard choices. The combination of Napravnik and Trainer Amoss win at 33% clip together. Place in the Louisiana Derby. N1X winner.
Giant Finish/7: Winner of only NY State Restricted races, and performed badly in the mud in one of them.
Lines of Battle/11: I respect War Front and I respect first time Lasix, but hard decisions are hard decisions.
Falling Sky/13: Dropped like a stone in Arkansas Derby. Nice bullet work :59 3/5ths at 5f on April 7 and 26th, no fluke. Grade 3 Sam F. Davis winner. He's a gutty horse who will be part of pace but I am going to bet he drops out of top five by finish line.
Frac Daddy/18: Maiden winner, never fired in Florida Derby, came up, albeit slow, for Place in Arkansas Derby. Third race after an early season injury reboot, I suspect he will run solidly, but hopefully 6th.
Vyjack/20: Third in Grade 1 Wood, exited with an infection. Works have been slow. Grade 3 Gotham Winner. Grade 2 Jerome winner. He could get into Top 5 but again, broken record, tough choices must be made.
So, We have tossed 8 of 20 horses: 1,4,6,7,11,13,18 and 20
So what do we have left?
Oxbow/2: Gary Stevens up for Trainer Lukas. It gives me the chills to see a Calumet Farms runner but its not the same without devil's red and blue silks. Gutsy runner with a tough trip in Arkansas Derby.
Revolutionary/3: Calvin up on a closer, how unique. Hard close at Louisiana Derby and Grade3 Withers. Castellano picks Normandy Invasion mount.
Normandy Invasion/5: Fox Hill Farms, with so many good fillies, brings in Tapit's son, trained by Chad Brown. A closer, just not sure if he's a winner, seems to like to rush to the front. Should be OK in slop. Distance should be OK despite Tomlinson of 228. Let's look at close in Grade 2 Remsen and his loss to Overanalyze. Very game!
Goldencents/8: 3 wins in 5 dirt starts. Distance a real issue. I think very highly of Kevin Krigger and his swagger and Doug O'Neill and his swagger, team swagger. A rare three digit Beyer for this slow group in Santa Anita Derby. Don't buy into the trash talking that he didn't beat anyone. He's run far past his class.
Overanalyze/9: 4 wins on dirt, 99 Beyer in Remsen. Weak Gotham effort before winning Arkansas Derby. Sharp :47 flat 4f bullet 4/27.
Palace Malice/10: On a short list of horses that could rip my heart out; Nice close on stalk trip in Blue Grass Stakes. Sharp form but didn't have enough in the tank three weeks ago, gets blinkers on for this.
Itsmyluckyday/12: Outfinished in Florida Derby on a very sensible pace. Son of Lawyer Ron will always be asked distance questions.
Beat Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull.
Verrazano/14: Winner of Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial; Undefeated, didn't race as a 2 YO but ran on January 1st so lets not get all crazy about that. Like the post especially if sloppy.
Charming Kitten/15: Only considering for 4th and 5th spots, and even then, only a minor look. A turf horse that should get a good trip for final big run at end.
Orb/16: Rosario up for Trainer McGaughey, 4 wins in a row including Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth Stakes beating the impressive Violence who ran wicked fast fractions. Top 3.
Will Take Charge/17: Trainer Lukas shut him down and he's been training well since winning the Grade 2 Rebel.
Java's War/19: Winner of Grade 1 Bluegrass Stakes. Closes hard, expect him to take run into Super High Five from the outside.
So what do we have?
I like Overanalyze to win, with Normandy Invasion perhaps too high but in Place, and the two money horses on the board, Orb and Verrazano Show and Exotic. I've created two Super High Five $1 Bets that will cost you anywhere from $88 to $154 dollars. I don't like The $88 bet very much and I think I'll play with it a bit, perhaps singling Overanalyze and picking up another horse or two for fourth and fifth. You get the idea from the spreadsheet below. The safe thing, perhaps the smart thing, would be to flip flop Orb/Verrazano and Overalyze/Normandy Invasion. I may on one or two tickets, or I may not. All of us have to detirmine our own levels of recklessness.
I hope whatever you do you have fun and enjoy the Derby. To my friends new to horse racing, I always suggest just having fun with exacta combinations using the tote board odds: take the horse with the 2nd and 3rd highest tote board action and combine them with some of the horses in spots 6-10.
Don't forget the Oaks-Derby Double bet, perhaps my favorite and the subject of tomorrow's Turk posting.
Thank you friends, and Thank you Thorofan. Turk Out!