04/30/2010 12:16PM

Handicapping treachery

Email

   Which horse ran the faster opening six furlongs in his final prep?

a)    Sidney’s Candy

b)   Ice Box

     If you said b) Ice Box, go to the head of the pace figure class.  Now, good luck with your Kentucky Derby selections.

     That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?   But it’s true.   The treachery of handicapping this Derby is made even more frustrating by the effect of synthetic racing surfaces on the way races are run, especially at Santa Anita.  

     Because of the speed-hindering tendencies of the Pro Ride surface, Santa Anita jockeys by necessity have completely changed the way they ride horses, especially in longer races.  Instead of hustling early to establish a forward position, they focus on settling back and conserving energy.  And occasionally, they overcompensate. When that happens, a frontrunner – in this case, Sidney’s Candy – can get away with ridiculously easy fractions.

     But what exactly does this mean?  Some will argue that Sidney’s Candy deserves extra credit for winning in wire-to-wire fashion against the natural bias of synthetics.  They look at his swift closing fractions and project that a pace-stalking Derby trip will be right up his alley.  Others take a more conventional handicapping approach and downgrade his performances based on the easy trips.

      This makes Sidney’s Candy the Tim Tebow of the Derby field.  Opinion about his chances to succeed at the next level is all over the board.  If his intangibles allow him to settle into a forward stalking position and he wins by three lengths, it won’t surprise me.  If his Santa Anita Derby synthetic form fails to translate and he fades to finish 12th, it won’t surprise me.  It is obvious Sidney’s Candy is much faster than his recent pace figures indicate.  Other than that, I have no clue how he’ll run, and, truthfully, neither do his connections.

     Conveyance and Line of David should go to the front based on pace figures.  That’s pretty easy to figure.  The figures show that several others could be closer than anticipated, including Discreetly Mine, Mission Impazible and even Awesome Act.

     My selection is based on the concept that speed will probably falter and Sidney’s Candy will likely not be the one to capitalize.  But my longshot choice, Stately Victor, has little to do with pace figures specifically.  Stately Victor has the right late-running style, he looks like a million dollars, the Blue Grass is looking like a stronger prep than numbers indicate, and he’s bred to handle an off track.

     No, he has never won a race on dirt.  And that’s why he’s 30-1 in the program.  You can't have everything.