Friday, May 6, 2011

2011 Kentucky Derby Picks

For the first Saturday in May, “The Baseball Enthusiast” will feature my picks for this year’s Kentucky Derby. Last year’s picks are here.

I am not a professional handicapper, nor even an amateur handicapper. I only knew of 2 past Derby winners when I moved to Louisville 13 years ago, and I only knew that the Kentucky Derby happened once per year, and it happened in Louisville, and it happened every year for a long time, and it was over in 2 minutes.

It doesn’t take very long after moving here to find yourself assimilated into the Kentucky Derby phenomena wave that occurs locally. 1 or 2 years of fighting it, and to no avail…you find yourself collecting glasses, engaging in trivia matches in the grocery store with complete strangers, counting down the days until Thunder Over Louisville and the launch of Pegasus Pins, setting aside fives and ones for pools and betting windows, deciding which Derby party to go to, waking up at 8 in the morning on Derby Day to buy booze, making arrangements because the city shuts down (literally, school and offices are CLOSED on Oaks Day; the Friday before Derby…you may or may not get the picture but it’s real. And it happens to the best of us.

My first personal Derby assimilation experience was reading the nether regions of the sports pages during the weeks prior to Derby and considering the Derby hopefuls, watching their rise (and fall), and finally predicting the Derby winner and a few long-shots to place a bet on if I felt the need to. I don’t call it handicapping, I call it “fantasy derby” because it’s the same thing. You have only luck and enough information from statistics, past behavior, and personal rules (gut feelings, really) and not enough time to select your player(s), and if they win…bring on the “yoo hoo” shower. If they lose, well…maybe next year. Handicappers claim to have a system, in fact handicappers claim quite a bit and never seem to have to defend themselves and/or justify what they do. And they shouldn’t have to! They come out of the woodwork here once a year, then they are (literally) gone.

Regular perusal of local pre-Derby horce racing odds and ends is very helpful, along with some historical research…as much or as little as you like. For example, I care less about Dosage, names, trainers or bloodlines as I do gate position, jockey, past 6 races, what kind of track, recent workouts, etc. I do review some handicappers’ comments, of whom the one I enjoy the most is Jennie Rees, you can read her blog
and understand why.

As I stated, I don’t have a system. This is just another fantasy draft, and it’s over immediately. I keep thinking how much advanced statistics could help plot a few things, but really…they wouldn’t help in picking Derby winners any more than they would help in Fantasy Baseball…don’t forget how much of an impact luck has. It does help a great deal to have some basic knowledge of some basic ‘stuff going on,’ and you also need to know when to get in on a streak…and when the streak may be getting stale. Just like Fantasy Baseball.

At any rate…early on, I started sharing my notes with friends and family, my format is usually:

1. I share some personal stuff about visits to Churchill Downs, if any, I’ve made during the Spring Meet leading up to Derby
2. I write about “the favorite(s)”
3. I write about “my favorite”
4. I offer a few long shot picks worth spending a few bucks on for bets with high payoff

When I predicted Fusaichi Pegasus would win in 2000, that was pretty much an even-odds favorite and I have to tell you the truth, my strongest advocation for that horse was his “Japanese Heritage.” But, it was my first prediction and my first win…even if it was only a base hit.

In 2001 I was more careful in my selection and drafted Monarchos as my favorite. Monarchos ended up with one of the fastest finishes in Derby history and those who heeded my prediction (my dad being one of them) were most appreciative; Monarchos paid 10-1/2 at post time!! A triple!

In 2002 my streak continued when my favorite War Emblem executed a pole-to-pole victory and paid 20-1/2…my $2 bet came home with me in a much greater quantity and again, if you listened to my advice, it would have been just as good for you as well. This was a home run for me!!

After War Emblem, my streak ended. My 2003 favorite (Sir Cherokee) scratched just before the race. For the next 5 years, my favorites and long shots became definitively lost in the dust of each race. In 2009, my favorite led the pack until Mine That Bird made an astonishing come from behind victory at 50-1 odds to win by 6-3/4 lengths…with my favorite coming in second.

Happily, in 2010 (my 11th year of preparing my personal Derby report on Oaks Day) my favorite won, Super Saver crossed the line and I became officially 4-for-11 in picking winners (a .363 BA isn’t really that bad). He didn’t pay that great, but a base hit is better than a strike out.

So far, my Derby favorites have done better than my Fantasy Baseball teams. So far…

Fantasy Baseball folks, take note…it seems so far my tendency is to be streaky. Am I starting another streak, or was last year just a fluke?

Well, that’s my story, there’s my record, so without further ado…my 12th annual edition of Stevo’s Derby Picks:

The weather on Oaks Day is a little cooler than yesterday, but rain is still threatening tomorrow…maybe late in the day (60%), which also means maybe not at all.

The field isn’t as wide open this year as it was last year, in my opinion. For one thing, there are way too many grass and/or turf horses with no dirt track experience making the draw this year. On my card, I’m scratching all 5 of them off.

Churchill Downs linemaker Mike Battaglia gets paid to do what he does…but I don’t, so I’m not drinking the kool aid on either of this year’s favorites, especially Uncle Mo who scratched only a few hours ago. I see a real contender, a real maybe, and a couple of fair long-shot picks for your betting budget.

The favorite:
Dialed In (4-1) Nick Zito knows his stuff, and his Florida Derby win was nothing less than fantastic, but that was then and this is now…he pulled the 4th gate, which was some cause for celebration by his owners and staff (and apparently Mike Battaglia), but why do you celebrate this if your jockey is anyone but Calvin Borel, who can bring you success out of that position? Jockey Julien Leparoux is an inexperienced Derby jockey (only four mounts, best finish 5th in 2006)…if your horse picks that inside track you better hope you have someone who knows the inside track in the saddle.

My favorite:
Twice the Appeal (20-1) In a field of 19 and with a formidable 3-2-1 record over 10 starts (those 3 wins were in his last 4 starts), that’s great stuff. You may shudder with a #3 gate position pull, but who’s in the saddle? Calvin Borel…you want to draft the MVP…so draft him! As I noted last year, if this was Fantasy Baseball, you’d take Albert Pujols in the first round. You only have one round here!! In graded stakes horse racing, with that kind of stuff going on, this looks like nothing but a home run to me. With a strong start out of that gate, Borel can take this horse all the way to Lexington by the time the turf horses hit the backstretch!! This year I’m thinking the streak may still be on.

You may want to consider:
Mucho Macho Man (12-1) This horse has more of a “Derby Story” behind it at first glance (trainer Kathy Ritvo), but a 2-3-2 record in 8 starts, a 3/8 mile 37.4 second workout, and a great start in the Louisiana Derby that went bust due to a bad luck blown shoe had my eye, the #13 gate draw kind of hooked me. The gate position is really the key here.

If it rains before the race:
Midnight Interlude (10-1) Bob Baffert and Victor Espinoza (WAR EMBLEM!!) reunited again…this horse runs great in slop and sludge!! If it rains, head for the window!!!!

Long Shots:
Pants on Fire (20-1) What’s in a name? Jennie Rees commented on how it would be to see this horse’s name up there on the wall with Secretariat and Affirmed…good point! Maybe that comment stuck in my head, but hey…2-3-1 in 8 starts, a win in the Louisiana Derby, and the buzz on rising star jockey Anna Napravnik have me thinking $2 is well wagered on this front.

Decisive Moment (30-1) Reportedly, this horse loves the track at Churchill Downs. Today’s line may go as high as 50-1 by race time due to the lack of anything more to show than a 2-2-3 record in 8 starts and a n00b jockey in the saddle.

Watch Me Go (50-1) Holy Cow! With Uncle Mo’s scratch and an outside slot (18) vacated, here’s a real long shot for ya…4 wins in his last 10 starts, but finished 6th in the Illinois Derby. Way outside like this…if there’s a crowd on the inside track, and things open up on this side of the track…you just may “watch him go”…

Odds listed are from today’s morning line. Good luck, hope your horsey comes in!!

1 comment:

  1. Nice analysis Stevo- I didn't know you were so up on the thoroughbred stats! I don't get there often but maybe a Churchill "track day" is in order sometime.


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