05/03/2013 12:59PM

HandiGambling the Kentucky Derby


The HandiGambling exercise for Saturday, May 4 is the eleventh race from Churchill, 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 DIRECTLY TO THE BLOG.

Please separate the play from the analysis and label the play "HG" with the program numbers (instead of the horse's name) for easier scoring.

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.


For pattern handicappers and historians, I've included the past performances for the past five Kentucky Derby races (not in post position order) at the bottom of this blog post.


As of this writing, let's scratch #1 BLACK ONYX and #21 FEAR THE KITTEN

As you know, my record in the Derby is fairly abysmal.  I believe my last winner was Fusaichi Pegasus and he paid a paltry $6.60 to win.  So, my goal is to try and spread in the Derby and get alive to it in the multiple race wagers like the Pick 4.

There is a good possibility of a wet track and that could certainly wreak havoc on the race.  My advice is to pay close attention to the early dirt races.  There could be a strong bias in play if the track is wet (I'd watch for a possible bias even on fast going).

I've broken the Derby entrants into four tiers of contenders/pretenders:

TIER ONE (my major contenders):

One consequence of the Derby point system is that there are no speedy stretchout sprinters entered.  These are horses, like Trinniberg, that set blazing fractions and hurt the chances of pace-pressers and stalkers that are used to chasing slower route splits.  A colt like #8 GOLDENCENTS, an eager pace-presser, benefits from their absence.  I really hope I was wrong about Goldencents when I proclaimed him an excellent miler following his defeat in the San Felipe Stakes.  He proved that he could get nine furlongs when able to relax when winning a fast edition of the Santa Anita Derby and he may end up on the lead when the Derby field hits the backstretch on Saturday.  There are questions about his pedigree and temperament, but none about his overall quality as he's been a consistent and fast performer ever since he first set foot on the track.  If he is allowed a breather during the middle part of the Derby, he can make the rest of the field pay in the stretch.  Obviously, it won't be easy with stalkers like VERRAZANO and ITSMYLUCKYDAY likely to provide mid-race challenges and closers like ORB and NORMANDY INVASION lurking in the stretch.  Still, I'm a speed guy and like to be in front with a good horse. I believe Goldencents is a good horse.

I've been suckered by UAE Derby horses in the past, but hey, at least I'm not picking #11 LINES OF BATTLE on top!  He had a terribly wide trip when seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last year and was aided by a pace-pressing journey through soft fractions when winning over Tapeta.  He has an acceptable mud and overall dirt pedigree, adds Lasix for the first time and goes out for internationally-renowned connections at a huge price.  Obviously, I wish he had dirt form and the UAE Derby looked very weak from a class perspective this year.  At least I get the price.

#16 ORB is wonderfully consistent, having won four in a row, and he is three for three since trainer Shug McGaughey added Lasix to the arsenal. He's bred to run all day long and the bloodlines indicate that a wet track shouldn't be too much of an issue.  Reportedly, Orb has looked fantastic this week at Churchill Downs and he's proven himself against some good horses.  He's going to be a short price, too short for me to bet on him to win, but I have to use him in all multiple bets.

#5 NORMANDY INVASION is only a one-time winner, but he's fast enough (99 Beyer in the Remsen) and has run very well against good horses (his Wood Memorial was a rock-solid performance).  Chad Brown's plan, all along, was to get two races into him so that he could peak for the Derby.  Mission accomplished.  He's moved forward in both starts this year and has a strong wet-track pedigree.  I'm not sure that he has a true 10-furlong pedigree, but his gallop-out after the Wood indicates he can last this trip.  I'm expecting a good late kick from this promising sophomore.

I don't have any real knocks on #14 VERRAZANO, the undefeated Pletcher-trained colt that is attempting to overthrow the "Curse of Apollo."  Despite his lack of juvenile experience, Verrazano has loads of natural talent, owns the tactical speed to sit in an excellent stalking position while clear of traffic, and has run some of the fastest races of this group.  I'm not too concerned about a wet track, but his pedigree may be that of a nine-furlong performer.  He's an extremely logical contender, one that may be an underlay from a single-race standpoint, but certainly bettable in the multiples.

#10 PALACE MALICE ran well on a wet track to begin his campaign and I'm hoping that the blinkers will help him sort out his lead change issues.  He's been an in-and-outer this year.  I thought he didn't run very well when a close third in the Risen Star, but he had a no-chance trip in the Louisiana Derby and was running at the end of the Blue Grass.  He has a strong turf pedigree so perhaps that's why he improved on synthetic and I'm not sure the female family is really geared to ten furlongs.  There may be some upside here at a big price and he could work out a decent stalking trip under Mike Smith.

TIER TWO (my fringe contenders):

#2 OXBOW has been a source of frustration for his backers and he just can't seem to get a break from a post position perspective.  He was hung out to dry from post ten in the Risen Star, but still ran very well despite a wide trip.  In the Rebel, he was once again wide from a tough post and may have moved a bit early when confronting race favorite Super Ninety Nine.  He blew past that one, but couldn't beat back stablemate TAKE CHARGE INDY at the wire.  He didn't run very well in the Arkansas Derby, but reportedly didn't like getting dirt kicked in his face when in behind horses.  I'm expecting Gary Stevens to hustle Oxbow from the gate in the hope of getting a decent forward position. Unfortunately, Oxbow just hasn't closed the deal when it counted and I wonder if he has some hang in him.  He's interesting for the bottom of exactas, trifectas, etc., but I prefer others to win.

#17 WILL TAKE CHARGE has yet to race past 1 1/16 miles, but he is bred to run all day long and is fresh after a career-best performance in the Rebel on March 16.  A concern is the possibility of a wet track as Will Take Charge bombed over sloppy going in the Smarty Jones on February 18.  Throw that race out and you have an improving, tactical runner at a big price on dry footing. 

#20 VYJACK hasn't had a smooth ride leading up to this year's Derby.  He missed some time with a lung infection after suffering his first career defeat in the Wood Memorial.  Now, he's saddled with the far outside post and there are some questions regarding his ability to last 1 1/4 miles.  He's a very courageous and likeable performer that is proven on a wet track, but the distance may be just too far.

TIER THREE (certainly can win, but not with my money):

#6 MYLUTE removed blinkers and ran a big race in the Louisiana Derby, but the pace of that heat fell apart completely and Mylute rallied from the back of the pack when others were stopping.  His speed figures are a bit light, and I wonder if he's been exposed after nine lifetime starts while others have a bit more upside.  He goes out for a very talented trainer aand has been working swiftly over the track, but I also have some concerns about the distance (out of a Valid Expectations mare).

#13 FALLING SKY may not want to go this far.  He was helped by a crafty ride and an easy lead when winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes, but was no match for Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby and faltered last time out at Oaklawn.  It's possible his speed will compromise Goldencents although I believe that the Santa Anita Derby winner is simply faster.  Falling Sky can be a solid middle-distance performer later in the year, but I have a hard time seeing him overcome a good pace at 1 1/4-miles.

#3 REVOLUTIONARY is an extremely talented horse that has ticked most of the boxes.  He was fast in winning his maiden, overcame trouble to take the Withers and was game when winning the Louisiana Derby.  He also has won over a wet track, is trained by Todd Pletcher, and is a Bo-Rail in the Kentucky Derby. As with Mylute, however, I believe he was helped by a fast pace over a closer-friendly track at Fair Grounds.  He can certainly win, but I wonder if he gets overbet slightly due to the Calvin factor.

#4 GOLDEN SOUL also picked up the pieces in the Louisiana Derby, but couldn't finish with Revolutionary and Mylute. I wouldn't be surprised if the grandson of Mr. Prospector handles the mud just fine, but he needs a career-best performance and some race and pace luck from the rear of the field.

#12 ITSMYLUCKYDAY is one of the faster horses in the field with a pair of triple-digit Beyers to his credit and it's possible that trainer Eddie Plesa backed off of him before his second-place effort in the Florida Derby to ensure a fresh horse on Saturday.  He has a great tracking gear and shouldn't be too far away when the field hits the backstretch.  A wet track shouldn't hurt him one bit, but I am concerned about his ability to stay 10 furlongs and Orb ran right by him at 1 1/8 miles in the Florida Derby. 

#9 OVERANALYZE is a hickory colt with victories at distances ranging from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.  He hasn't run especially fast this year, but one gets the feeling he can run back to that 99 Beyer in his third start of the form cycle for Pletcher.  Toss his Gotham as he raced wide from a terrible post in his first start off the bench and he got it done against a weak group in the Arkansas Derby.  He's somewhat interesting considering the recent bullet work over this track and I'm not too concerned about a wet track.  He may be more of a tier two horse, but I've got to scrimp somewhere.

TIER FOUR (I'd be somewhat surprised if they win):

#7 GIANT FINISH wasn't disgraced in two starts on polytrack and his sire was a multiple winner at 1 1/4 miles.  His lone wet track race wasn't very good, however, and he is very light on the Beyer scale.  His preferred running style is to be close to the pace and it could be a tall order chasing Goldencents and company early.

#15 CHARMING KITTEN is an okay turf and polytrack horse, but he is a complete unknown on dirt.  I'm not worried about distance, but I'm just not convinced he'll like dirt, especially a wet track.

#19 JAVA'S WAR ran his career-best Beyer on dirt in the Tampa Bay Derby when behind Verrazano, but I have a nagging feeling that he's a bit better on synthetic and turf and his tendency to break poorly may leave him behind the eight-ball on Saturday.  He has a strong stretch kick, but really needs the cards to fall right considering his running style.

#18 FRAC DADDY has run well at Churchill Downs and goes third off the bench following an improved effort in the Arkansas Derby.  His races are slow, though, and he'll need to improve greatly to upset this bunch.

I'm not sure who I'll use in the other legs of the multiples considering the weather/scratches so for HandiGambling, I'll play:


Best of luck to all.


The Saturday graded stakes video analyses for Churchill Downs that Mike Beer and I produced can be found at the below link:



More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.


You can follow me on Twitter at DRF_DanIllman.

2008 Derby.pdf533.8 KB
2009 Derby.pdf521.87 KB
2010 Derby.pdf543.32 KB
2011 Derby.pdf525.89 KB
2012 Derby.pdf543.01 KB