05/07/2011 9:30AM

HandiGambling 232 (Kentucky Derby)

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Today's HandiGambling 232 exercise is the eleventh race at Churchill Downs, the 137th running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles. 

Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan." Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified. Please post your plays and analysis to the blog.  Past performances are available at the previous blog post.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. One entry per person please. I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place. The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are. I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.

As of this writing, the main track is FAST.

Let's scratch #18 UNCLE MO. 

John Velazquez rides #16 ANIMAL KINGDOM.

A lone handicapper lurches out of the murky evening.  He clutches his battered overcoat to his chest in a vain attempt to ward off the chill. Like a modern day night watchman, he clears his throat.  But, instead of informing the populace that "all is well," he begins to recite Kentucky Derby also-rans, the names disappearing into the fog with the rest of the ghosts as soon as they are mentioned. 

"American Lion"
"Desert Party"
"Recapturetheglory"
"Curlin"
"Sweetnorthernsaint"
"High Fly"
"Lion Heart"
"Empire Maker"
"Medaglia d'Oro"
"Balto Star" 

These are the horses he picked.  An uncomfortable silence falls upon the community.  All, apparently, is not well.

It's safe to say that the Kentucky Derby has become my white whale.  I haven't picked a Derby winner since Fusaichi Pegasus returned a paltry $6.60 in 2000.  While most handicappers are bemoaning the inscrutable nature of the 2011 edition, I find them all puzzling.  Am I really betting on a field of 20 inexperienced runners that have never previously raced the distance?  To say the financial beatings sustained on the first Saturday in May are disheartening would be an understatement. 

This year, I'm just about ready to wave the white flag.  There are question marks surrounding all of the entrants so I'll try to get alive to three horses in the multi-race wagers.  If I'm out by the Derby, I'll enjoy a mint julep and watch the spectacle unfold.  If nothing else, it will give me something to write about next week.

If I can make cases against the whole field, at least I'll go out with a bang.  #11 MASTER OF HOUNDS

http://www.drf.com/news/under-radar-master-hounds

struck me as a second-rate turf horse after finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.  The only really good thing you could say about his race was that he got experience in the detention barn beforehand.  Previously, he didn't do much to distinguish himself on grass, bombing twice as the favorite before winning a maiden at Tipperary that was so weak it made Uncle Mo's Timely Writer Stakes look like last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. 
Perhaps it was at that point that international super-trainer Aidan O'Brien realized that Master of Hounds didn't have much of a future on grass.  He certainly wasn't going to challenge the fabulous Frankel, the winter book odds-on favorite for the 2,000 Guineas.  And, despite boasting a strong pedigree, there had to be doubts from a pedigree and a quality standpoint about the 12 furlongs of the Epsom Derby. 

So, he went to Dubai, and he got his earnings

And, now he's in the Derby.

Hey, it's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Master of Hounds has never raced on dirt.  He had a rather soft trip from the outside in the UAE Derby, prompting moderate fractions before being run down late by a filly.  A filly! 

He will probably be outrun early, thus getting dirt kicked in his face for the first time.  He probably won't like that.

Master of Hounds does have a classy pedigree although there are some sprint influences on the bottom half that could hurt him going 10 furlongs.  Perhaps he's a better horse on the main track than he is on the turf.  That's what I'm hanging my hat on although I realize the nail in the wall is rusty and brittle and I might find my hat crumpled on the floor at 6:25 pm ET.

I guess it's an indictment of the rest of the field that I picked Master of Hounds on top.  Considering my past history in the race, it's probably a blessing to them. 

I'll also use the two coming out of the Arkansas Derby.  While #1 ARCHARCHARCH drew poorly, he really hasn't run a bad race in his career for the veteran horseman Jinks Fires.  He was caught up in a ridiculous multi-horse speed duel when the beaten favorite in the Smarty Jones, then upset the apple cart in the Southwest.  I feel he was compromised by a speed-favoring rack when an even third in the Rebel and he got it done, albeit barely, in the Arkansas Derby.  Obviously, it's all about pace and trip for him from the post position, but I feel he's one of the more talented horses in the field. 

#19 NEHRO

http://www.drf.com/news/2011-kentucky-derby-under-radar-nehro

is eligible for a 'n2L' race, but he doesn't have to be Secretariat to win this year's Derby and he seems to be improving with each and every race for Steve Asmussen.  As with Archarcharch, and every late-running type in the history of thoroughbred racing, he is at the mercy of pace and trip.  Will he be able to go around/through a slew of tiring horses under stressful circumstances?  He could be this good.

As for the others:

#2 BRILLIANT SPEED received a brilliant ride from Joel Rosario to win the Blue Grass.  I felt closers ruled the day at Keeneland that afternoon and that Brilliant Speed may have been aided by the nature of the track.  He also must prove that he can stand up on dirt, having been beaten 40 1/4 lengths in two prior starts on the surface.

#3 TWICE THE APPEAL is 8-1 as I write this blog which is only surprising since I expected him to be favored in the early wagering based on the Calvin Borel factor.  He's a perfectly nice horse that may have been stymied by synthetic and turf surfaces in California earlier in his career and has flourished since switching to dirt.  He received excellent pace setups in his last two races against weak fields and has yet to reach 90 on the Beyer plateau.  After 10 races, I wonder if we've already seen his best.

#4 STAY THIRSTY didn't impress me when winning the Gotham as he had trouble with his lead changes in the stretch.  He reportedly overheated prior to the Florida Derby and I guess that's an excuse, but he simply didn't run that day and hasn't moved forward much on the Beyer scale since his juvenile season.

#5 DECISIVE MOMENT is a gritty, blue-collar colt that looked good winning the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs in his 3-year-old debut.  He didn't run well in the Risen Star when tiring after setting the fractions, but that track may have favored closers and Decisive Moment came out of that race with a soft tissue injury to his left hind ankle.  He returned with a big effort in the Grade 2 Spiral on polytrack, dueling on a hot pace throughout before grudgingly giving way in the stretch.  He should be close to the early pace, but I'm not sure he can survive fast splits at this distance.

#6 COMMA TO THE TOP, like Decisive Moment, is one tough customer.  He has a huge heart and I believe that he'll be in front going into the first turn.  I guess he could make things interesting if they leave him alone through moderate splits, but I have a feeling he'll have to go fast early and he hasn't shown the stamina required to last 10 panels. 

#7 PANTS ON FIRE reportedly suffered from a lung infection earlier in the winter, but he rebounded to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.  Perhaps the illness adversely affected his prior performances, but I felt that he was exposed when beaten in races like the Count Fleet, LeComte and Risen Star.  Did he simply find himself prior to the Louisiana Derby, or is the fact that he beat Nehro and Mucho Macho Man more of a negative mark against those two?  He has some tactical speed, and I wouldn't mind using him "underneath," but a win could be a hair or two out of reach.

#8 DIALED IN is definitely the horse to beat.  He's done nothing wrong in four lifetime starts, should relish this distance, and it looks like he's put it together mentally with each and every race.  Earlier in his career, he would lug in or would be late to change leads, but he stayed straight and strong when reeling in SHACKLEFORD in the Florida Derby.  His running style concerns me as he is a one-run closer that needs to weave his way through a bulky field.  That could make him prone to Ice Box-like trouble (Zito's runner-up last year with the same running style).  He wouldn't be a surprise at all.

#9 DERBY KITTEN won the Grade 3 Lexington on Keeneland's polytrack.  His only prior dirt start resulted in a 27 1/2-length defeat in a one-turn maiden special weight at Belmont on October 2.  He looks like a promising turf or synthetic runner, but will have to step it up to win the Derby. 

#10 TWINSPIRED's lone prior dirt race ended up with him finishing a well-beaten eighth in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park.  He ran pretty well in the Blue Grass, but was no match for Brilliant Speed in the final furlong.  Note that he has lost ground from the stretch call to the wire in all three of his races at distances longer than one mile.  

You can draw a line through #12 SANTIVA's recent loss as he had trouble over synthetic in the Blue Grass.  He won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club over this surface last year, and I thought he ran pretty well in the Risen Star two starts back at Fair Grounds.  It's just that his prep schedule seems so weird on paper.  One race in February followed by a synthetic race in April followed by the Derby?  Perhaps that will work this year.  Santiva isn't the worst longshot in the world.

#13 MUCHO MACHO MAN changed back to his wrong lead during the late stages of the Risen Star and that bothered me a little bit going into the Louisiana Derby.  He seemed reluctant to go into the gate that afternoon, and then ripped off his shoe coming out of the gate.  He finished a game third behind Pants On Fire and Nehro in the Louisiana Derby and his quick workouts allay fears concerning the possible lingering effects of that minor foot injury.  He wouldn't be a shock.

#14 SHACKLEFORD 

http://www.drf.com/news/2011-kentucky-derby-under-radar-shackleford

was very green when winning an entry-level allowance race on February 5, but then was terrible in the Fountain of Youth.  Then, he was pretty good in the Florida Derby, setting brisk fractions before being run down late by Dialed In.  All reports have him looking fantastic going into the Kentucky Derby, but I wonder how this race will set up for him.  Will he stalk Comma to the Top, make the front and hold off the closers?  Doesn't that seem like a lot to ask?  He's another contender considering the way he looked this week.

I'm rooting for #15 MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE because if he wins, then we won't have to listen to the Apollo jinx/nonsense anymore.  While it's true this horse doesn't have a great amount of inexperience, he has as many races under his girth as the favorite, and showed courage in winning the Santa Anita Derby, his first race against winners, despite a wide trip.  He is bred to run all day long on the bottom of his pedigree so distance shouldn't be an obstacle.

#16 ANIMAL KINGDOM is a runner that I'll seriously consider on the bottom half of my exotic wagers.  He flew past the field, albeit with the help of a hot pace, when winning the Grade 3 Spiral on March 26.  He has a stamina-oriented pedigree, but has never raced on dirt and those bloodlines scream turf.  I think this horse has a nice future.

#17 SOLDAT is the only runner in the field with a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure around two turns this year.  He showed high speed in winning two nine-furlong races at Gulfstream, then seemed to dislike racing in behind horses in the Florida Derby.  He should be prominent from his outside post while avoiding the kickback and could be more comfortable stalking the early leader.  He's a solid, solid runner offering overlaid odds at the moment.

#20 WATCH ME GO is hard to recommend.  After winning a weak renewal of the Tampa Bay Derby at 43-1, he reportedly scoped mucus before running a poor sixth as the favorite in a weak renewal of the Illinois Derby.

Here's my donation for the week:

$50 Win-Place - Master of Hounds (#11)

***

For more-detailed video analyses, check out the individual contender profiles on drf.com:

(for example):  http://www.drf.com/news/master-hounds

Or, you can go to the usual weekend stakes preview page here:

http://www.drf.com/news/weekend-stakes-preview-videos

Best of luck to all.

***

Quick and Dirty selections:

Turf Sprint:  BRIDGETOWN, REGALLY READY, CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE
Humana Distaff:  AMEN HALLELUJAH, HILDA'S PASSION, TWELVE TWENTY TWO
Distaff Turf Mile:  UPPERLINE, KISS MINE, NEVER RETREAT
Mervyn LeRoy:  COFFEE BOY, SIDNEY'S CANDY, HONOUR THE DEPUTY
Churchill Downs:  APRIORITY, LE GRAND CRU, AIKENITE
Turf Classic:  AL KHALI, TEAKS NORTH, GET STORMY

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Saving the best for last, Olivia Katherine Duckworth, 4, who shocked the racing world by correctly selecting Mine That Bird to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby, is extremely confident that Nehro will win this year's edition.  "Take it to the bank," she proclaims.