The 2013 Kentucky Derby was a
bittersweet experience for this handicapper. After vacillating
between Orb and Revolutionary all year, I finally settled on the
former as my top selection. Picking the winner, however, does not
mean cashing a ticket. Indeed, the only ticket I cashed from the
Derby was a show bet on Golden Soul. In the interest of learning
from mistakes, I will recap what led me to my conclusions, which of
them were correct, why I warmed up to a pair of horses I had been
down on all year, and how I used Orb on so many tickets that are now
in the recycling bin.
The Easy Tosses:
Falling Sky was my (and many others')
very first toss. This is a rule I will never break: toss
front-running sprinters, period. I like Falling Sky; I cashed on him
once. He is a tough horse and should be heard from again at races
suited to his style, but never, ever bet a horse in that mold (a la
Trinniberg, Conveyance, et al.). He went for the lead and finished
Giant Finish was my second toss
because, honestly, I did not know who he was until he declared for
the Derby, which is not a good sign. He was obviously outclassed,
having only won an optional claiming race, and was an easy throw-out.
He did do some running, though, and finished tenth.
Lines of Battle was tossed because he
shipped from Europe via the U.A.E. Derby. Until one of these
shippers cracks the superfecta, they will continue to be auto-tosses.
Perhaps those who liked his chances more than previous Euro
shippers, due to a good dirt pedigree, were right. That was only
good enough for seventh, however.
Will Take Charge had taken too much
time off before the Derby and was also not a horse I liked
beforehand. He had to check, however, and ended up running a better
race than I expected. I may look for the big chestnut down the road.
I learned from Steve Davidowitz's
Betting Thoroughbreds not to bet horses making equipment changes
before big races, the logic being that if the trainer hasn't figured
out what equipment the horse likes yet, it won't happen now. Palace
Malice illustrated this to a tee. Wearing blinkers for the first
time, he shot to the front and in so doing lost all chances
immediately. That he managed to hold twelfth may mean he ran a
I still think 18th-place finisher
Vyjack is a good horse, but he is no Big Brown. I would have had a
harder time tossing him were he not in the 19 post., which, unless
occupied by an absolute monster, is, like the rail, an auto-toss.
For comparison's sake, I would still have used Orb on top were he in
this post due to his apparent quality and running style. I may have
used Vyjack underneath were he not in this post. Ultimately, it may
not have mattered: he was done after six furlongs.
I also still like Oxbow a good deal,
but he looked during workouts like he was not a very smooth mover: he
drifted out around the turn and pulled his head around. He also
ended up on the rail after Black Onyx was scratched and had been doing a
lot of running with no layoff. The rail was the kicker, but I would
generally not consider a horse whose running style looks conducive to
finding traffic trouble or a horse who looks like he may just be
tired in his fifth start of the year. He did bump Revolutionary at
the outset, but he held on well until the very end for sixth.
Itsmyluckyday would have fit into the
next category except the more I looked at him the more I saw middle distance horse. As he took handicappers' interest and money,
the choice became even easier. The horse I picked on top in the
Zipse at the Track May Madness contest was an afterthought on Derby
Overanalyze had just run in so many
graded stakes races that I wanted to use him, but I could find no
other good reason to do so and thus I left him out. He also has won
every other race since his career began. While I know it is just a
silly pattern and may be completely irrelevant, it may not. I will
look for him if he runs in the Preakness. Why not?
I hate writing this because I never
liked Frac Daddy, but I read good things from enough people whose
opinions I respect to use him in the third spot despite the fact that I thought he would bring up the rear, which of course is what he did.
The connections of Charming Kitten
pushed me over the edge. It is not that I have anything against
them, but they have not fared well in the Derby and they win quite
enough races over in Lexington and elsewhere. The colt's breeding
was his best quality and I used him based on that, but I should not have. You just
have to toss as close to half of the field as possible if you want to bet this race in a sane manner. Obviously only one horse will win and only 4
will have an affect on wagers. If you can somewhat-confidently toss ten
horses, chances are you have been doing your homework.
The Ones I Am Kicking Myself for
I cannot believe that I talked myself
into Goldencents. Although I left him off my actual wagers, I
went from thinking, like many others, that the California circuit was
weak (it was) to thinking that Goldencents may hold on for a piece. That was
foolish. With the small field size, quality of competition, and breeding, Goldencents was not a good bet. Thankfully, I came to my senses when actually betting –
not that it ended up mattering.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same
for Verrazano. Despite betting against him in the Wood Memorial,
knowing his downward-trending pattern, and firmly believing he could
not win going ten furlongs at this level, what did I do? I decided
to be contrarian. No one else was using him. His odds were
increasing. So I used him in the second and third spots in the
trifecta! Despite writing that he is essentially Gemologist 2.0 in early April, I dispensed with three plus months of handicapping in
As For the Rest:
After almost talking myself out of
Normandy Invasion because he is a rather slight son of Tapit, I
remembered he is also a tail female family 1. I also really like
Chad Brown (his pre-race interview during the post parade was great).
I used him second and third in my trifecta and would have cashed it
had he held on.
The important lesson here, however, is
the tail female family. While Orb is from number eight, Golden Soul,
Revolutionary, and Normandy Invasion are all from family number one
(Vyjack is the only other TFF 1). This family is the most successful
Derby femaly family, followed by twenty-three, represented by Mylute
and Itsmyluckyday. If I had boxed all of the TFF 1's under my top
selection, I would be a rich man today.
As for Mylute, he ran a solid race.
He had to steady early and had to go wide. As I wrote, I thought he
was poised to make his best run Derby day and he very well may have done that,
as the top five were well ahead of sixth-place Oxbow. Less than four
lengths separated the top five, while Oxbow was six lengths behind
Java's War is the one horse who ran
significantly worse than I expected. He was one of the first horses
on my Derby watch list because of his dosage profile, which suggested
that he could handle ten furlongs and more. Yes, his biggest win was
on synthetic and, yes, he breaks as bad as any horse I've seen, but I
figured that he would be running while others were tiring. As it
turns out, he really didn't do any running at all. The only horses
he did pass were going backwards and he could not even make it passed
a burned-out Palace Malice.
As for Golden Soul, I saw him as more
of a third- or fourth-place type, but he was a logical underneath
horse since he is a deep closer, he is bred to run long, he is a TFF
1, and he was pointed towards the Derby all along. I ended up using
him second and third in the trifecta, which you would think means I
hit it. It doesn't.
I'm going to blame the betting
machines, but I somehow ended up with Revolutionary wheeled in the second spot but not the third. I certainly didn't intend it to be
that way. Needless to say, I am ready for the return of ADW. As for
Revolutionary, he got the trip that he wanted. He got past Normandy
Invasion (unfortunately), but he was not going to catch Golden Soul.
I feel the same about him now as I did before. He is a solid horse.
When I compared them in early April, I preferred Orb. I talked
myself into Revolutionary when he opened at 10-1 on the morning line
(which is why I picked him on top in the HRN Picks the Derby column),
but I should have known that was a poorly-made line.
As for Orb, I noticed him having
racing room in all of his races. He looked to me like other horses
would defer to him and that he could handle the 19-horse madness of
the Derby. While he is not member of female family 1 or 23, family 8
includes Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and all-time greats John Henry
and Ruffian. Let us hope we can put Orb's name on the all-timer's
list on June 9th. He was commanding in all of his wins
and made sweeping moves around the turn. Any horse that can do that
is very dangerous in the Derby if he or she can run ten furlongs.
Aside from the clear lesson of
double-checking all tickets, I learned something else about betting –
which may just be the hardest part of this game. I only played two
bets on the Derby alone: one trifecta and one show bet. All of the
rest were Oaks/Derby doubles, Oaks/Woodford/Derby pick threes, and
the pick 4 ending at the Derby. None of those were cashed, however,
as I did not have Princess of Sylmar and I tried to beat Delaunay.
The lesson here is this: I spent all year handicapping the derby. I spent a few days handicapping
the pick four. So what did I do? I put more money into races I had
spent days handicapping and less into a race I spend months
handicapping. Why did I do this? I play almost exclusively
Win/Place/Show and Pick Fours, with some Exactas, some Doubles, and a Pick Three if I'm desperate. So, I bet the way I was more
comfortable betting rather than betting the race I was more
comfortable betting. Next year, I will (may?) not be playing the Pick Four,
but I will be playing the Superfecta.
I am quite certain that the following
information has been written about to a substantial degree, but just
Obvious lesson 1: toss the sprinters;
Obvious lesson 2: toss the European
Lesson 3: seriously consider tossing
horses that have not run in 6 weeks;
Lesson 4: toss horses changing
Obvious lesson 5: toss the outside post
and the inside post unless there is a good reason not to;
Lesson 6: assuming you have watched all
of the prep races, trust your own opinions, not people like me;
Lesson 7: toss half of the field;
Obvious lesson 8: identify which
circuits are weak and which are strong;
Lesson 9: watch the toteboard, but not
Lesson 10: don't talk yourself into a horse you haven't liked all year just to go aginst the grain or because of the Derby week hype;
Lesson 11: look at the tail female
Lesson 12: look for horses that can
make extended, sweeping moves around the far turn;
Obvious lesson 13: double check all
Lesson 13: if you follow the Derby
trail, invest more into the Derby vertically than trying to use it
horizontally, even if you are a horizontal player.*
*The one exception here is if you also
follow the Oaks trail closely and play that double. Speaking of
which, I love the 2-day, 2-stakes doubles.