04/28/2013 12:03PM

The Derby Favorite

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I had an interesting conversation the other day with my Derby Watch colleague Jay Privman about something he tweeted last week. Privman wondered aloud in cyberspace whether Verrazano, who has been future book favorite for the Kentucky Derby everywhere for virtually the entire prep season, would actually be the betting favorite in real Derby wagering, which begins on Friday.

Privman’s position was based on the observation that few, if any, public handicappers have come out and said they are picking Verrazano on top, or are even leaning in that direction. This is a good point that would apply to just about every race. Every race, that is, except the one named Kentucky Derby.

Whether it’s a good thing or not, public handicappers often produce opinions that are reflective of what the general betting public will come to conclude. But the Derby is a different betting animal. The general public has an impact on Derby odds the likes of which are not seen in any other race. The only proof you need of that is how every year, a handful of horses who should be 100-1 or higher (and would be in any other race), go off at prices that are a tiny fraction of what they should be. Perhaps because they have come to know the players during the months of preps, the public does what it wants in the Derby. Public handicappers just do not have the influence on betting in the Kentucky Derby that they might have on other races.

That’s the main reason why I told Jay that I thought Verrazano would indeed be the Derby favorite. Verrazano is undefeated, which resonates with the public. He’s trained by a man in Todd Pletcher who is familiar to even the most infrequent racegoer. He’s been the favorite all along, and he hasn’t done one thing wrong thing to jeopardize his position. In addition, the three or four horses who would seem to be in a position to overtake Verrazano as the favorite of the Derby have not yet galvanized their constituencies to the point where they might actually become the favorite.

But that was last week, and now I’m not so sure. I was at Belmont Park on Saturday and there were several folks who came up to talk to me, which I like because, hey, I’m a horseplayer, too. Of course, all these folks wanted to talk about was the Kentucky Derby, and I was struck how every single one of them was against Verrazano.

Now, it goes without saying that this was the farthest thing from a scientific sample. But these folks were rank-and-file horseplayers. And since they are very much like the larger group of people who will determine the odds in the Kentucky Derby, I can see now how it could be possible that Verrazano won’t be the favorite Saturday.

That said, I believe at this moment that there is still a greater likelihood that Verrazano will be the favorite, and as of right now I plan to keep him in that role on my line. I don’t yet see current Derby “buzz” horses Normandy Invasion, Revolutionary, and to a lesser extent, Orb, are building a big enough following to overtake Verrazano in the betting. But there is still time for one of these horses to “snowball.”

So, I thought I would pose a question to drf.com readers that I thought was a fait accompli less than two weeks ago: Do you think Verrazano will be the actual betting favorite in the Derby? Remember, this is not about whether you like him or think he will or won’t win. It’s about whether Verrazano’s support in a wider sense has remained strong, or has eroded.

UPDATE, Tuesday, 1:23 pm - After careful consideration which ranged from listening to the opinions of colleagues I respect, seeing the lay of the land in the Las Vegas race books I pay attention to, up to thinking about whether to put in a call to Miss Cleo, I have decided to flip-flop Verrazano and Orb on my DRF Kentucky Derby line and make Orb the 5-1 favorite, and Verrazano the 6-1 second choice. Of course, this is over 27 hours before Wednesday's Derby draw, and things could change if a prominent horse draws very badly, which means the one hole.

kevin r More than 1 year ago
For the (-) comments I got back after stating Goldencents (Pitino) and Revolutionary (Borel) would be the favorites for the Derby.....early wagering is on my side.
Jim Sims More than 1 year ago
Among the "second choices", Mylute doesn't seem to get much mention? Is it because of the jockey, Rosie Napravnik?
Philip Conforti More than 1 year ago
where has steve crist been ?
Scott More than 1 year ago
I think the presence of an undefeated horse will keep the odds high on both Orb and Verrazano. In my opinion, Orb will handle the extra ground better than Verrazano. I think Verrazano was about at his top distance in the Wood. I expect him to run well, but in the end, I think he'll fade to 3rd or worse when the dust settles.
Robert More than 1 year ago
To answer the question asked I believe Verrazano will be the favorite because for the bettor who only bets once or twice a year they will see his is undefeated has 2 100+ beyers ( it doesnt matter if they dont know what it means they are higher then the other horses) and he has a jockey people have sort of heard of before. Another Question is how low will Revolutionary go with Borelin the saddle, he may be 3rd choice after Verrazano and Orb.
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
One thing about Mike Watchmaker is that he picks his horse, win or lose. He doesn't pick half the field like so many do. In the old days when you asked someone who they like they would give you a name/number, now they will throw out 5 numbers. If you can't narrow it down a bit pass the race. 5 horse tri box, no thanks
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
In the old days, we had horses who actually ran enough that we could have a good handle on their form. A proper 2yo campaign, followed up by 4, maybe 5 runs pre-Derby. Nowadays, they don't start as 2yos in May and June as Affirmed and Alydar did. And there are so many major preps now and so few starts are expected that horses can avoid having to face the tougher competition and come in with a good-looking record (Gemologist anybody?).
Scott More than 1 year ago
It's pretty easy to pick one horse you like the best to win, but in a 20 horse field you really need to have 3 to 5 that you like and figure out a way to cover them. I think smart handicappers tend to stay away from the Derby just because there are way too many unknowns. Of course, where's the fun in that? Peel back a hundred or two and let your dreams of the big trifecta ticket ensnare you. $1.00 Trifecta Wheel at a glance: 5-10-16 with 3-5-10-16-19 with 3-5-10-14-16-17-19 cost $60.00
David Crisp More than 1 year ago
I would have hoped that Orb would fly a bit more under the radar. Really loved his Florida Derby and am expecting a strong run assuming he gets a decent draw. Everyone is discounting Palace Malice, which I think vastly underestimates this improving colt. He may be a grinder, but grinders win the Derby. Not many Derbies where a strong turn of foot has made the difference.
Scott More than 1 year ago
David, if we can get Orb at even 4 to 1, then it's a gift! Palice Malice is an interesting longer shot. Unlike many of the other contenders, his pedigree seems more suited to the Classic Distance and your assessment of grinders winning the Derby is a fair one. Despite the good front end speed in this race, I think we'll see a more moderate pace and it really will come down to who lasts the longest. My prediction is a fairly slow Derby time with Orb winning by a length or two. Horses like Palice Malice, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion and possibly Verrazano will round it out (not necessarily in that order).
Kevin Potts More than 1 year ago
I like Orb and Revolutionary. They have been my picks for a couple of months now along with the missing Hear the Ghost. I like the way they both won their last races, Orb closing off of a slow pace and Revolutionary refusing to be passed in the Louisiana Derby. I saw Orb schooling in the paddock last Saturday night, probably because he got pretty overheated prior to the Fla Derby. He looked very well. Regardless of my picks, good luck everyone and have a fun Derby.
Richard Berry More than 1 year ago
Any body know does java War pedigree go back to man of war.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Yes, there are crosses of Man o' War in Java's War's pedigree. Call the Witness, the damsire of Runaway Groom, the paternal grandsire of War Pass, sire of Java's War, was out of a War Admiral mare. So was Hoist the Flag, who sired War Pass's second dam. So what? Most horses with US-based pedigrees have Man o' War in them somewhere, via sons War Admiral or War Relic, or one of the original Big Red's producing daughters. Itsmyluckyday has at least 15 crosses of Man o ' War in the far reaches of his pedigree. It's no big deal for a horse to have Man o' War in their pedigrees; it part of being a North American Thoroughbred.
Brenda Bedarian More than 1 year ago
Java's War does not go back to Man o' War through his sire line. He does have several instances of Man o' War through Raise A Native, but not as a direct sire line. pedigreequery.com
Richard Berry More than 1 year ago
Ill let you in on something but don't tell everybody Java War your next triple crown winner. Bet 1,000.00 to win ,place,and show. P.S> take a wheel barrow with you when you bet. to hull your money back. Mark this down
Nicholas Mantzanas More than 1 year ago
The horse was way behind verrazano in Tampa and barley won on a closers poly at keen. NO WAY