05/02/2009 9:48AM

Derby Day Live


10:30 a.m.: Eight hours from now, the scratch of I Want Revenge will be, literally and figuratively, a mere footnote to the 135th Kentucky Derby. Racing will have its newest hero, at least for two weeks, and any reference to the absentees from this field will be considered churlish and distracting. So let's get it out of the way now.

This Derby is now missing all of last fall's top 2-year-olds (Midshipman, Vineyard Haven, Old Fashioned)and both of this spring's top 3-year-olds (I Want Revenge and Quality Road), and lacks the winner of every single Grade 1 dirt race to date for this crop. Maybe it turns out that the best 3-year-old was none of the above, and maybe we'll see a Derby winner so impressive that it wouldn't have mattered who else lined up against him. Whoever wins it will have beaten 18 opponents including some nice 3-year-olds, but the race suddenly feels like far from the definitive test for this class.

On the bright side, maybe it makes this a more interesting season, through the Triple Crown and beyond. The injuries to I Want Revenge and Quality Road appear to be relatively minor and they could be back soon. The 3-year-old championship will not be decided today. The last time a horse this prominent was scratched on Derby morning was in 1992, when A.P. Indy came up with a bruised foot. He returned to win the Peter Pan three weeks later and then the Belmont, and the Breeders' Cup Classic at year's end to be named the Horse of the Year. Quick, name that year's 1-2-3 Derby finishers.

Anyway, you can only play the Derby you have, not the Derby you wish you had. I liked I Want Revenge to win the race and now I scratch into Dunkirk. I'll root for him and play the rest of the card with interest and enthusiasm. First up, I'll try to rejigger the likely odds for the field in the absence of the morning-line and Oaks-Derby double favorite.

Oh, the 1992 Derby? Lil E. Tee, Casual Lies, Dance Floor.

12:30 pm: Still no updated actual win-pool odds on the Derby, so let's repeat last jight's exercise of deriving Derby odds from the Oaks-Derby double will-pays while removing I Want Revenge from the pool. The Rachel Alexandra-I Want Revenge double was the most heavily-plated one, accounting for just over 22 percent of the live tickets and implying that I Want Revenge would be the 2.80-1 favorite by post time.

The revised pool percentages now tab Friesan Fire as the 5-2 favorite, followed by Dunkirk at 4-1, Pioneerof the Nile at 5-1, then Hold Me Back at 12-1 and Desert Party and Chocolate Candy at 13-1. The anomaly continues to be General Quarters, 5-1 in the win-pool odds still being run on a crawl by TVG but more like 20-1 as implied by the double will-pays.

1:35 pm: The plan as of last night was to put around $1000 into the Derby Day pick-6, but after the scratch of I Want Revenge and an hour of trying to reconfigure my play, I slashed it down to a just-in-case-I'm-right $108 caveman ticket singling Dunkirk.

I swear I'm not pouting about the scratch; I just didn't have a strategy for how to play the Derby within the sequence once I was down to one main and a bunch of backups. In the pick-4's, where I'll redirect my handle, I can emphasize Dunkirk and also spread out liberally with backups, but for pick-6 purposes I couldn't single as speculative a horse as Dunkirk. In IWR's absence, my feeling is that if it's not Dunkirk it could be any of five or six others, and the whole proposition suddenly became unaffordable.

Just as well. Accredit ($10.60), who just won the Churchill Downs, the first leg, over troubled-again My Pal Charlie, was only a C with me and I'd be alive by only a slim thread with five races to go. This way, my $108 ticket went to an early grave and I can focus on the pick-4's yet to come.

2:15 pm: Betting on the first five races is down sharply from the 2008 Derby Day card, a 21 percent decline from $16.0 million to $12.6 million.The figures should improve somewhat, since the first five accounted for only 10 percent of the day's handle last year, and also because Churchill is running an additional 13th race this year. The Derby itself (and the multirace bets ending with it) account for about 70 percent of the day's betting, and that's unlikely to take as big a hit. I'll keep the year-over-year handle-comparison chart at the bottom of today's post so you don't have to keep scrolling around it.


2:45 pm: The first significant pool increase of the day: The second pick-4 handled $343k vs. $287k last year, perhaps because a)it was moved from races 3-4-5-6 to 4-5-6-7 and b)the minimum was lowered from $1 to 50 cents.

3:30 pm: Oops. Wasn't a fan of Tizaqueena, but the Tiznow filly ran her record to 3-for-3 on the turf and 5-for-6 overall winning the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile as favorites Visit and Lemon Chiffon seemed to flounder over the wet turf. The race went in 1:38.86, half a second slower than the first five finishers in an allowance race earlier on the card that had a similar pace, so this wasn't necessarily a key G2 event.

On to the 9-10-11 pick-3 and at least there's another pick-4 starting in the 10th.

4:20 pm Informed Decision won her second straight Grade 1 race with a dramatic victory in the Humana Distaff at a generous $8.40. The filly sprinters could be a really fun division this year with her, Indian Blessing and Ventura all in training. 


5:10 pm: What a cool horse Einstein is. The 7-year-old is now 11 for 25 with over $2.5 million in earnings, and he's that rare horse who's equally at home on dirt, synth or turf. In his last four starts, he's won the Clark on Churchill dirt, the Big 'Cap on SA synth and now the Woodford Reserve on Churchill grass. He shows up every single time and has fired off 12 consecutive Beyers in the 97-to-105 range.

I always have to remind myself that he's a son of...Spend a Buck, who won the Derby 24 years ago.

5:25 pm: Looks like there are live Pick-6 tickets to 14 of the 19 Derby starters, with will-pays ranging from $29k on Friesan Fire, $30k on Dunkirk and $37k on Pioneerof the Nile to one-winner $781k payoffs on Mister Hot Stuff, Join in the dance and Summer Bird. The five uncovered horses are Advice, Mine That Bird, Nowhere to Hide and Flying Private. If one of them wins, there would be a $781k carryover, but don't change your dinner plans: Racing won't resume at Churchill until Wednesday.

With exactly 60 minutes to post and $17 million already in the win pool, Friesan Fire is 7-2; Dunkirk is the slight second choice over Pioneerof the Nile, with both at 6-1. Chocolate Candy and General Quarters are both 9-1 but could still drift up a point. 

Through the first nine races, handle today was $36.6 million vs. $43.0 million last year, but there's an extra race on the card to close the gap.

5:40 pm: They just won't let a horse go off at more than 50-1 in this Derby yet. With $23 million in the win pool, there are seven of them still between 42-1 and 50-1. Atomic Rain is the narrow leader for longest of the long, a distinction that went to Z Humor (63.60-1) last year, Sedgefield (58.60-1) in 2007 and Deputy Glitters (60.60-1) in 2006.

6:50 pm: This game will sure keep you humble.

I'm not going to pretend I liked anything about Mine That Bird, who didn't just win the Derby at 50-1 (which struck me as an underlay) but turned it into a rout, winning by 6 3/4 lengths -- the largest winning margin since Assault won by 8 in 1946. Okay, he was the best 2-year-old in Canada last year, but he ran dead last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then lost twice in New Mexico in his only two starts this year. It's a sensational story, an instant folk tale -- a $9500 horse who was driven 2100 miles to the race by his trainer -- but simply incomprehensible to students of past performances. Tom Durkin said what every handicapper was thinking as the winner crossed the wire: "Mine That Bird has won the Kentucky Derby -- an imPOSSible result!"

Congratulations to his camp and anyone who liked him. It's going to be an intersting five weeks. And don't forget: $781k carryover at Churchill Wednesday.