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Looking Back at Kentucky Derby 2013

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 dead last.


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 decent race.


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 day.


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?


The Should-Have-Tossed:


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 Touting:


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 three days.


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 them.


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 to recap:


Obvious lesson 1: toss the sprinters;

Obvious lesson 2: toss the European horses;

Lesson 3: seriously consider tossing horses that have not run in 6 weeks;

Lesson 4: toss horses changing equipment;

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 too carefully;

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 family;

Lesson 12: look for horses that can make extended, sweeping moves around the far turn;

Obvious lesson 13: double check all tickets;

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.

 

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Older Comments about Looking Back at Kentucky Derby 2013...

Great summary! Additionally, don't feel bad about touting Java's War because I was right there with you. As for Golden Soul...perhaps we should all take a handicapping lesson from The Dark Wife.
  • head_heart_hooves · Oh, I would bet him again if I had a do over. I at least hoped he would do some running, though, even if he came up short of hitting the board. · 479 days ago
This is an EXCELLENT summary, thanks!!
Not convinced that Java's War is a dirt horse. Must importantly we have to remember these lessons come Derby Trail 2014!
  • head_heart_hooves · I am derfinitely thinking he is not. I was hoping he might be Dullahan 2.0, but it turned out he was more Dean's Kitten. · 479 days ago
  • head_heart_hooves · Wow they even have similar Dosages... Where do you think he goes from here? Turf? Synth? · 479 days ago
On the angle that Oxbox drew the inside. After Black Onyx was scratched, when the horses were loaded in, they still retained their original post, for Churchill didn't move all horses one slot to the inside. Since Oxbow broke from the PP 2, did any Oxbow supporter feel relieved that he wasn't breaking from the extreme inside(meaning, from what I've heard, that once breaking from PP 1, after crossing the track into the turn, that the inside post would be in direct line with colliding with the inside rail)?
  • head_heart_hooves · I don't know enough about the Churchill layout to answer that, but it turned out that Oxbow got away fast enough to swing over. He wasn't compromised; I was just lucky that he didn't factor... Not that it ended up mattering. :-) · 479 days ago
Not hitting that trifecta had to be excruciating ... sorry, Alex
  • head_heart_hooves · Oh believe me... Not only because I had GS second and no Revolutionary third, but because Normandy Invasion could have held on (he was 4th by a head) for an even larger payout. I had NI in both slots. · 479 days ago

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