04/29/2008 11:00PM

Derby figures add up to just one


PHILADELPHIA - Trainer Rick Dutrow says Big Brown is a lock in the Kentucky Derby. If this was a race that we all had not scrutinized for months and that did not have so much history we like to add to the equation, Big Brown really would jump off the page.

Incredibly, only four horses in the 20-horse field have earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in two-turn Derby prep races this year: Big Brown, Gayego, Recapturetheglory, and Z Fortune. This suggests either the artificial surface phenomenon is having an effect on final times or this is not a very strong bunch.

Big Brown got a Beyer Figure of 104 in an eye-opening allowance race, followed by a 106 in the Florida Derby. Gayego got a 103 in the Arkansas Derby. Z Fortune got a 102 in the same race, finishing second to Gayego by three-quarters of a length. Recapturetheglory got a 102 for his Illinois Derby victory.

So, on the numbers, Big Brown, by virtue of having done it twice, stands out every bit as much as his trainer says he does. Moss pace figures also strongly suggest Big Brown has a running style edge, as only Bob Black Jack has the same kind of early speed. Obviously, Bob Black Jack can make the front if the colt's connections want that to happen. But it could be they want to keep the colt back off the pace in hopes of conserving something for the finish. Don't expect that will work, but it is a thought.

Big Brown clearly does not need the lead to win, but may end up on the lead. If you bet on the colt at, say, 3-1, how would you like to see him cruising up top as the field heads into the backstretch? That could happen, but it is not like hope is lost if it does not happen.

In a Derby with all the uncertainty of the artificial surface preps, Big Brown got his two big figures on a dirt track at Gulfstream Park.

Still, this is the Derby, where more unusual things happen than in any other race. Part of it is the size of the field. Part of it is amount of pressure on the jockeys and trainers. Tactical mistakes are made because of the unusual size of the field.

Fundamentals, however, do not get cast aside because of the size of the field or importance of the moment.

If trying to pick a winner has its complications, constructing bets is even more complicated. How much and how are the questions.

The superfecta, of course, offers potential life-changing value. It is hard to resist and incredibly hard to hit.

Hey, if you have a spare $116,820, you could lock up the super now by covering all the possibilities (20x19x18x17).

Maybe, Eight Belles will scratch and you can get it down to $93,024 (19x18x17x16).

If you don't have the bankroll for an all-all-all-all, or do but think it might pay less than you bet, you have to handicap the super like you handicap everything else. That, of course, is where the artificial surfaces come into play.

How do you evaluate Pyro, Big Truck, and Cool Coal Man - 10th, 11th and 12th in the Blue Grass after winning the Louisiana Derby, Tampa Bay Derby, and Fountain of Youth in their previous start. If just one of them had run so poorly, you might just decide that horse has gone off form and act accordingly. But all three in one race seems like something more than coincidence. But what is it, really? Is there any way to know for sure until the Derby is run.

Really, who can tell the difference between Z Humor, Anak Nakal, and Smooth Air? All will be running from off the pace. One might hit the super, but which one. How many do you use? Which do you discard?

Depending on your bankroll, you have a few choices if you are going to attack the super. You can lock in on a 30-1 (or higher) horse that you think has a chance to get a piece and then frame a bet around that horse. Or you can lock in on a couple of solid horses that you key in most of your tickets and then start to spread, hoping an unexpected longshot will find a way to hit the ticket. You can pick a winner first and then try to fill in the blanks.

Typically, shaky speed horses are the best to eliminate from superfectas. They are often fading in the stretch when the plodders are just getting under way.

Trying to envision how a race will be run is usually the key to exotic wagering, but trying to get an accurate mental picture of what may go down in 20-horse field is often an exercise in futility.

If you can anticipate anything beyond the first flight and the last flight, you are way ahead of the game.

There is little ambiguity about the Beyers in this Derby. They point right at Big Brown.