04/30/2008 12:19PM

Picks Day

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It happens every spring: the return of racing to its grandest stage, a rite of renewal that has been going on for more than a century. I speak, of course, not of the Kentucky Derby but of Opening Day at Belmont Park.

I'm still hoping to get over there today for the last few races, since that was sort of the point of moving from Manhattan to just 5.1 miles from the Belmont clubhouse entrance 22 years ago. There are supposed to be some customer-friendly upgrades to the place worth seeing, as is the featured Westchester Handicap, with Grasshopper a legit 3-5 in his Met Mile tuneup against Divine Park, Sightseeing, Mr. Umphrey, Miner's Lamp and Saint Damon. The rest of the card, however, is not exactly scintillating: It beguins with three straight five-horse claiming races, and two of the day's four scheduled grass races have been moved to the main track due to heavy rain here Monday.

If I end up watching from home, I have my cable-tv choice of the pure simulcast feed via Nassau County OTB on Channel 74 or TVG coverage on Channel 402. I'm on 402 at the moment because there hasn't been any sound on the OTB feed since it started more than an ahour ago, and video keeps flickering and changing from color to black and white. But at least in theory, I have two more options than simulcast players in 16 other states will have. Belmont has yet to strike deals with the Midlantic and Southern cooperatives negotiating on behalf of tracks in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Blackouts seem to be the theme of what's supposed to be racing's week in the sun. Just three days before post time, it's still unclear whether many account-wagering customers will be able to bet on the full Derby card, and no one outside of Florida is able to bet on Calder, where purses have already been cut 30 percent and the handle on Sunday's late pick four was all of $7,086.

If I don't make it over to Belmont, it will be because today is Picks Day at DRF, which means I have to make my 1-2-3-4 consensus-box Derby choices and write a column for Saturday's paper by 6:30 p.m tonight. I'm probably making it more complicated than it needs to be but here's what I'm wrestling with: I want to (and probably will) pick Big Brown because I think he's a sensationally talented horse and I'm rooting that he's really as good as he's suggested he could be. On the other hand, I think a horse making his fourth career start in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby is a highly unattractive wagering proposition as the 5-2/3-1 favorite and I can't imagine betting a dime to win on him. So maybe I'm supposed to put him second or third behind horses I think offer more value, like Pyro at 8-1 or Tale of Ekati at 20-1.

I've got five hours to make up my mind. Perhaps a Belmont run will bring everything into focus.

[Update 6:50 pm:] Made it out to Belmont for the 6th through the 8th and felt better for it. Everyone seemed in a pretty good mood from the change of scenery, which is what seven straight months of Aqueduct can do to you. There's a new hospitality desk at the clubhouse entrance where employees actually greet you when you walk in, and some nice new flatscreen tv's scattered around the plant, but the most dramatic change is the graphics package on the simulcast signal, which seems sharper and bolder.

Trainer Billy Turner, who had won only 16 races in the previous 16 months, sent out three straight winners in the 4th, 5th and 6th, scoring with 8-1 Cloud Nine, 32-1 Drift King and 5-2 Just Zip It, for a $1,620 Turner-Turner-Turner pick three. Add "Turner on April 30ths" to your book of angles: On April 30, 2005, he won the 5th and 6th at Aqueduct.

Divine Park won the Westchester by five in a snappy 1:32.74, final quarter in 23.60, with Grasshopper an indifferent second and Sightseeing a rallying third.

Nobody picked six or even five so there's a $36k carryover into day two.

Derby 1-2-3-4 selections? Big Brown, Pyro, Tale of Ekati, Monba.

Unitas More than 1 year ago
Hey Steve, I feel your pain...Unfortunatley, this is the world of NYRA, where they could care less about the fans...Can you believe NYRA was granted a new 25 year contract to oversee thoroughbred racing @ the major NY tracks? I can't wait until the year 2033...
River Flyer More than 1 year ago
crich: While I like your post about Big Brown it seems to have one fatal flaw. The notion of Big Brown crossing over and running an opening half in 46 and change: WON'T HAPPEN! First off, this horse will be the BETTING favorite in a field with multiple other early speed types. Because of this he will get lots of attention from the other speed horse type jocks, they are not going to hand him a 46 and change uncontested lead, it just isn't going to happen. Bob Black Jacks trainer has already all but admitted that his horse is being put on the lead no matter what the early fractions are. And Pletcher has an entry where the use of Cowboy Cal's speed early directly benefits his running mates Monbas chances. Recapturetheglory has one chance for victory - frontrunning, his connections know he does not posess the late kick to outkick many of these late, they know it! Because of this I see no way that Big Brown will be allowed to "cross over" and run a 46 and change opening half on an unpestered lead. I seriously doubt that every single one of these speed types will be willing to simply watch BB cross over in front of them comfortably at any pace near 46 and change speed. Also, this is a horse who in 2 dirt races to date has shown zero ability to rate comfortably at 46 and change despite the conjecture from the punters that he can. To date, he has not shown that he can do it. Doing it once on turf is NOT doing it on dirt. In fact, on dirt this horse looks like he will be completely determined to run 45 and change and maybe even 45 flat if that huge Churchill grandstand crowd gets to him the 1st time through the stretch which by the way breaking from the 20 hole I think there is a very strong possibility that huge noise gets to him and he's either rank under Kent D or tries to runn off the 1st time through the stretch. I see the opening half being under 46, and I'll be honest, it wouldn't even surprise me if it's closer to 45 flat than 46. This horse has NEVER faced a quality early speed type yet in his life, NEVER and if he rates at 46 and change on dirt without being hassled it will be because: a) the other jocks let him have it (won't happen) and b) he'd be doing something on dirt which he has yet to do in his dirt races.
River Flyer More than 1 year ago
Arazi: I think jocks say stuff like that just to keep their owners egos happy: Kent rode a fairly decent turf horse in the early 90's named Kotashaan who I would go out on a limb and say was possibly as good as Big Brown. He also rode some fairly decent Derby entrants such as Real Quiet and an "ok" Derby horse named Fusiachi Pegasus. The jockey talk about this horse being the greatest I have ever ridden is often repeated by jocks everytime they mount the latest greatest thiingy. It's all about pumping the owners ego usually and if they were candid with you in private I think even most of them would admit it's just BS that they are spouting most of the time when they make such comments.
Ryan More than 1 year ago
C Rich - Richard Dutrow is NY based...You're thinking of brother Anthony who runs mostly in the mid atlantic circuit.
spiffy one More than 1 year ago
OHHH KENT...HOW QUICKLY YOU FORGET.....REAL QUIET....
John O' More than 1 year ago
Unitas has every right to be annoyed.Maybe its me but why does NYRA wait to belmonts open to lease out the lot across the street.After a short walk,that lot is a quick exit to the highway.Wait to Fathers day weekend ( one of the big attendance days) ,that lot gets rented out to mercedes or bmw.The horse players have to take the bus from the back lot.Good luck getting a response to an e-mail or a letter. Customer friendly my you know what.
sunbath More than 1 year ago
Lets FLIP keeps on FLIPPING .That baby is having LASIX.
Steve More than 1 year ago
Steve, please get someone to fix Channel 74 Cablevision.They have not done their homework, and the viewers are suffering through crappy video, no sound etc
C.Rich More than 1 year ago
I know Dutrow now operates in NY. But all of the Dutrows started out from Maryland starting with Dick Sr. Seems like being outspoken is a Maryland thing. Must have something to do with the crabs.
Diceman More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve, What a great week-end to be alive! Two days of fantastic racing at CD on Friday and Saturday! Let's all stop and smell the "ROSES!" I have completed my Handicapping Analysis for Saturday's Derby. I use a math based system using only 4 numerical factors found in the Horse's Past Performance printed in the DRF. Numbers don't lie! Subjective analyis and comments are discarded. Each Horse's PP record is analyzed and a Point Number is assigned, not to exceed 21. The system works and I have scored on many exotic bets! I don't intend to reveal the system in this blog but I will share the Numbers assigned to each Derby Horse. I must admit some of the results were shocking and a revelation! Here are my top 5 "A Horses" and the Numbers assigned: Pyro - 20, Visionaire - 20, Dennis Of Cork - 19, Eight Belles(f) - 19 and Smooth Air - 19. The "B Horses" are: Colonel John - 17, Cool Coal Man -17 and Z Fortune - 17. The "C Horses" are: Adriani - 16, Big Truck - 16, Cowboy Gal - 16 and Monba - 16, Big Brown - 15, Court Vision - 15, Gayego - 15, Recapture The Glory - 15, Tale Of Ekati - 15, Anak Nakal - 14, Bob Black Jack - 13 and Z Humor (last but not hopeless) - 13. I will only use "A Horses" in my exotic bets and I will key on Pyro and Visionaire. Pyro is 6/1 on the ML. The others are 20/1. If, and it's a big if, any of my "A Horses" finish in the top 4 positions I will need a Body Guard and a Wheel Barrel to leave the Track safely! If my selections bomb out, what the heck, I had FUN doing the Math! Remember - A bad Day at the Track is Better than a Good Day at the Office! Good Luck and Enjoy the Oaks and Derby Day races!