05/13/2005 12:00AM

No regrets for no bets on Giacomo

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Afleet Alex will be a threat in the Preakness if he's ridden more patiently.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Being kind of right about a horse race is like having kind of a good hand in poker. It usually ends up costing you money. A prime example: I selected two of the four horses involved in the $864,253.50 Kentucky Derby superfecta among my top four picks (Afleet Alex and Don't Get Mad). Did I win the jackpot? No. Did the race cost me money? Yes.

Here is another example: As part of my betting strategy for Pool 1 of Churchill's Derby Future wager, I recommended a bet on Giacomo at 30-1 or higher. Did I bet him? No. He closed at 25-1, and you have to draw the line somewhere, right?

No problem. I was not deterred. In my betting strategy for Pool 2, I once again recommended a bet on Giacomo at 30-1 or higher. On the Friday morning when the column was written he was 50-1, so 30-1 seemed quite reasonable. This time he closed at 26-1. No, I didn't bet. Yes, I could have had 50-1 in Pool 3, and 50-1 on race day, but by then Giacomo's form appeared to have flattened out, so I lost interest in him and liked other horses better.

Is there a long-term lesson to be learned from this? Absolutely not. Strict minimum odds requirements have saved me much more money than they have cost me over the years, so vowing to show less willpower in the future is not a change I would like to make.

If there was a lesson to be learned from the Oaks and Derby cards, it is that low odds on horses who won by large margins last time are usually not a bargain. There were six horses on those two cards who had won by double-digit margins last time or in each of their last two starts.

Desert Patrol had been a 15 3/4-length winner last time at Keeneland as the even-money favorite. He finished fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the second race on Oaks Day. Sis City won the Davona Dale by 16 lengths, then won the Ashland by 10 1/2. She finished fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the Oaks.

Northern Stag won by 25 1/2 lengths in the slop at Keeneland and was made the second betting choice at 9-5 in the first race on Derby Day. He finished fifth. One race later Wildcat Shoes, who had scored by 12 lengths last time at Keeneland, was all out to prevail by a half-length at even-money. Half Ours won his maiden by 10 3/4 lengths first time out at Keeneland, then was pounded down to 1-2 in his win in the Three Chimneys Juvenile. Then last, but not least, Bellamy Road won an allowance by 15 3/4 lengths, and the Wood by 17 1/2. He was seventh as the Derby favorite.

Two of those six horses won, but they returned a total of just $7, for an ROI of $1.16. The ones who lost were not serious threats. If you like a dominant last-out winner, make sure you get a square price.

What will Alex do in Preakness?

Looking ahead to the Preakness, many handicappers are wondering which version of Afleet Alex will show up. The one who uncorked a powerful stretch kick to win the Arkansas Derby with a 108 Beyer would be hard to beat. The one who made a threatening move and was outkicked late to finish third with a 99 Beyer in the Kentucky Derby would be a major player, but not a standout.

The difference between those two performances is directly related to the fractions of those races. When Afleet Alex ran six furlongs in a leisurely 1:12.78 in the Arkansas Derby he was full of run late, and ran an optimal race while covering the last three furlongs in 36.02 seconds, and average of approximately 12.01 seconds per furlong. But when Afleet Alex was just five lengths behind the 1:09.59 pace in the Kentucky Derby, the extra energy he used to run more than two seconds faster to that point was not available to him late, and prevented him from capitalizing on the slow 53.16 final half-mile, an average of 13.29 per furlong. If Afleet Alex is ridden more patiently in the Preakness, he will be formidable.

* A brief footnote to the Keeneland meet - my $2,000 betting bankroll rallied from off the pace to finish ahead at the meet with a $24.20 winner on my lone bet on closing day (another bet on the card was scratched). The gain on the day was $444 on a $40 win bet, enabling the fund to finish at $2,106.