Being the newest member to the HRN team, I was compelled to pull out my best handicapping skills to avoid getting anywhere near the Sophomore Slump and picking winners for the Kentucky Derby! I’m very privileged to be a part of a great group of people who share my passion for horse racing, and knows how difficult it can be to pick winners.
So if you had “boxed” my HRN picks for the Kentucky Derby you would have walked away cashing a really nice return! My HRN picks were California Chrome (5), Intense Holiday (16), Danza (4) and Commanding Curve (17). A $2 exacta (5,17) payoff was $340, and a $2 trifecta cashed a nice return of $3424.60! My long shot was Commanding Curve (17); which I had a very nice place/show bet on him along with a few other bets I had made. A very successful day at the Sports Book, I was on cloud nine!
I woke up this morning thinking about the big fish that got away! All the would of's, could of's, and should of’s (I’m sure at one point or another, you have all felt this way). The superfecta slipped through my fingers! It’s like the Four Season’s song, “So close, so close and yet so far”. After doing further handicapping, I “keyed” California Chrome with the 4/14/17/19/20. I decided to leave out Intense Holiday (16). The reason I had initially put him in my HRN Picks was because the Clockers’ and viewers raved on how “good” he looked while training at Churchill Downs. His numbers on the other-hand did not scream out at me, and I wasn’t sure how well he would do stretching out to a 1 ¼. For that reason, left him out of this trifecta and superfecta bet.
My superfecta bet was: 5 with 4,6,14,17,19,20 with 4,6,14,17,19,20 with 4,12,13. Trying to keep the cost of my bet down I decided to omit Wicked Strong in the 4th spot. If any, I thought he would come in third. Alas, that was a bad move on my part since Wicked Strong respectively finished 4th! Although my picks did represent the top 9 finishers, this reflects a bad move on my part for not using my same trifecta picks for the superfecta. Go big or go home right? Darn!
Trying not to knock myself down too much since we all know how difficult just picking a winner can be; let alone hitting a trifecta or a superfecta. You really don’t know what to expect in picking the right combination with a field of 19 horses going a 1 ¼ for the first time. The frustrating part of betting horse racing is just betting “around” the winners.
As I had mentioned earlier, Commanding Curve was my long shot and it wasn’t because his Trainer Dallas Stewart was also Golden Soul’s Trainer (Golden Soul was last year’s 35-1 long shot who came in 2nd to winner Orb); rather I chose him because I liked his numbers. I’m a little old school when it comes to handicapping “Classic” distances like the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont Stakes, and I like looking at the horse’s Dosage Profile which includes the Dosage Index/Center of Distribution. This information provides me a better representation of their pedigree, and relation to the horse’s stamina, speed, and ability for the distance. Dosage is pretty complicated subject and it tends to put some people off, but I find this subject very interesting and continually learning about it. I don't just use this information to handicap a race; I use it rather as one of my tools to narrow down contenders from the pretenders. Always remembering there are exceptions to every rule. Right of the bat, I was able to narrow the field down to 6 horses: California Chrome, We Miss Artie, General a Rod, Medal Count, Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong; the only 6 in the field who had double-digit "Classic" Numbers within their dosage profile. I then looked at their Tomlinson Distance numbers to see what numbers would suggest the liking to the “Classic” distance and adjusted my picks as needed. From there I cut out We Miss Artie and General a Rod from my picks. Why? Listening to media up to the week of the Derby it seemed that We Miss Artie did not seem to like the surface at Churchill Downs, and although General a Rod had the perfect numbers; (and was 3rd off the layoff) there were others in the field that had a better Tomlinson numbers, and I really did not like how he ran his past races. I kept Danza on my contender list, not because of his Dosage Number or Tomlinson Number, but because he was 3rd of the layoff (a factor I like when handicapping) and he had been improving with each of his race, he seemed to be peaking at the right time and was full of himself while training at Churchill Downs. I added Samraat to the list, because I had liked his races in New York, and thought he may hit in the exotics. With that said, I added Ride On Curlin to my contender list, Dance with Faith, and Chitu to my mix.
When it comes to the Derby I rarely ever play the favorite because of statistical reasons. To back up my thought process since 1980, there have been 23 favorites made 5-2 or shorter on the morning line, with California Chrome being the 24th. Of the previous 23, only Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 won the race. The last time a horse was made 5-2 on the morning line was in 2005, when Bellamy Road was favored after convincingly winning the Wood Memorial that year. He ended up finishing the Derby seventh with the 50-1 long shot Giacomo winning the race. This year’s Derby, I went against my handicapping rules and keyed California Chrome with the horses mentioned above. In my previous blog about California Chrome, I had shared my thoughts on how amazing he looked, and after watching the Santa Anita Derby in the crowd that day ~ I was convinced I had seen the Kentucky Derby winner. This colt is amazing; he is Rockstar and the 4th California Bred to win the Kentucky Derby.
What do I think about California Chrome, and his chances in the next two legs? What I do know is he loves to win, and possesses a fighting spirit which is needed on the road to the Triple Crown Trail. California Chrome's figures are on the speed side, but well within ‘classic guidelines’, and consistent with his past performances. He was only one of six in the Derby field with double digits in Classic, which is a good sign. Recent Derby winners with figures not too different from California Chrome's include Super Saver, Smarty Jones, War Emblem and Fusaichi Pegasus, all of which had excellent speed, but could be rated to get the distance like he did in Derby. If all goes well In 2 weeks, he will be facing a group of speedsters in the shortest distance of the Triple Crown Trail. 3 weeks later, he will be facing the third, final, and longest leg of the Triple Crown Trail. This will be a tough journey for all horses that will run in all three races, but heart, competitiveness, and luck will carry one lucky colt to the winner’s circle and lets all hope it will be California Chrome! There are a few fans commenting about his final time for the Kentucky Derby, and critiquing on how slow it was. When all is said and done California Chrome ran an outstanding race, and proved he was the best in the field. He walked away a winner and at the end of the race he was draped with the lush blanket of over 500 Kentucky Roses!
There you have it, in the “Mind of a Handicapper”! The process can be complex in figuring out what horses to keep, and what horses to throw out of a race. It’s a cumbersome task, and those who play the ponies will understand what I’m talking about. It’s the love for the sport that makes things so exciting, and really digging into a horse’s past performance and pedigree. Before joining the HRN team, I was a huge follower of the Super Screener, and as a racing fan myself; if you did not pick one up for the Kentucky Derby you have to pick one up for the Preakness and the Belmont! I have used this product for the past 4 years and absolutely love the information. After I do my normal handicapping I cross-reference my picks to Super Screener’s information. I thrive on this type of information and it has been more than helpful to me in separating contenders from pretenders.
In the end, anything can happen in horse racing. Many factors can affect the outcome, and it’s the excitement of picking a winner that brings us back for more!