04/22/2009 9:34PM

Early Pickin's


123b I don't have to make my 1-2-3 picks for the Derby Day newspaper until a week from tonight, but I'm already pretty sure who the three horses will be: Dunkirk, I Want Revenge and Quality Road, though not necessarily in that order.

Go ahead, call me a chalk-eating weasel. I know they're three of the five favorites, but I just think they're not only the best horses out there but also good enough that they've separated themselves from the rest. My feeling 10 days out is that all three would have to misfire for someone else to wear the roses.

If I were making out a Derby Day pick-6 or pick-4 ticket, they'd be my three A's. At the moment I'm not loving anyone else enough to have any B's. My C's would be Friesan Fire and Pioneerofthenile, out of slightly grudging respect for their records and their handlers; I'll probably talk myself into one more backup, some crazy longshot, if only because it seems you're obliged to like one crazy longshot in the Derby.

While I feel obliged to use Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile defensively as win candidates, I'm also willing to play against both of them in the intrarace exotics.  While both of them are obviously talented and admirably consistent, Friesan Fire's only fast race was on a sloppy track, and Pioneerof the Nile has never raced on dirt. I have no quarrel with the opinion of clockers that POTN is training superbly on dirt at Churchill, but I seem to recall that's what everyone was saying about Curlin before he tried a synthetic track for the first time in last year's BC Classic. You just don't know until they race on it. To speculate that Pioneerof the Nile will not only handle dirt as well as synth, but also improve several lengths, I'd want at least double his likely odds of around 8-1.

Some may say it's folly to be coming to conclusions this far out: What about final workouts, and the post-position draw, and listening to other people's opinions, and watching more replays and studying more charts? We'll all do all that, and enjoy it, but I'd be surprised if my opinion changes radically. I have no longstanding loyalties to anyone in the race, no future wagers, no weekly Top 10 Picks List to justify my selections against. May the best horse win, and here's hoping that turns out to be one of my three -- preferably, whichever one I end up putting on top.

--Hollywood Park opened its spring/summer meeting today amid uncertainty about the track's future, and there's a worrisome item for California horseplayers on the agenda for the California Horse Racing Board's monthly meeting on Friday. Item #6 is:

"6. Discussion and action by the Board regarding an increase in the take-out on conventional and exotic wagers on races conducted by thoroughbred racing associations as permitted by Business and Professions Code section 19601.01 and the modification of California advance deposit wagering (ADW) distributions on thoroughbred races as permitted under Business and Professions Code section 19604(f) (5)(E)."


--It felt like we should have been playing a three-day $382,110 carryover at Aqueduct today, but there was one winning ticket at that price on Sunday despite a trio of tough winners: RedyFormycloseup ($37.40), Hawkinsville ($39.00) and Sonic Sound ($29.40). The lone winning ticket, sold in Florida, was alive to only two horses in the finale -- the 13-1 winner and the 9-2 third choice, who finished ninth. You could have made a small case for any of them, but putting them all on the same ticket was quite a feat. I'm not suggesting anything sinister, just excellent handicapping and strategy on the part of the winner, who also collected 11 of only 15 winning 5-of-6 consos, worth $6680 apiece.

It was a little surprising that the Pick-6 was hit again today at Aqueduct, where a no-carryover sequence included victories by Successful Affair ($19.40), Joe Corrigan ($25.60) and Slevin ($21.60). The payoff of $40,355 seemed high for a rainy, no-carryover Wednesday, but it appears the lone winner played in Canada and received less than that announced payoff via discounted currency, since the announced pool was only $45,628.