Updated on 09/17/2011 10:16AM

Is 'Silver' a key horse or one to avoid?


LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you are going to bet on the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, you will probably want to structure your wagers based upon your estimation of Badge of Silver's chances. If you believe his off-the-board finish in the Louisiana Derby was an indication his form is deteriorating, you will want to leave him out of all of your exotic bets. If you believe that race was a fluke, you will want to use him on all of your exotic tickets with the expectation that he will run a much better race this time.

In the Louisiana Derby, Badge of Silver rallied from fourth, passed eventual winner Peace Rules, assumed command while apparently full of run at the top of the stretch, then stopped suddenly during the last 1 1/2 furlongs. That was definitely an uncharacteristic performance. Badge of Silver had dominated maidens at Keeneland in a nine-length score in a 4 1/2-furlong race in his debut. He crushed first-level allowance opponents by seven lengths in a six-furlong race at Fair Grounds, with a 108 Beyer. Then Badge of Silver stretched out to 1 1/16 miles, and thumped Grade 3 foes in a facile 10-length triumph, with another 108 Beyer, in the Risen Star. Did his immense talent suddenly evaporate overnight prior to the Louisiana Derby? I doubt it.

As it turns out, there is a simple explanation. Trainer Ronny Werner believes that Badge of Silver displaced his palate, and was unable to breathe properly during the Louisiana Derby. With help from a myectomy, a minor surgical procedure designed to prevent a recurrence of that problem, Badge of Silver should be ready to deliver an effort in the Blue Grass that will set him up nicely for a big performance in the Kentucky Derby.

With so many handicappers focusing on his finish position in the Louisiana Derby, few seem to have noticed that Badge of Silver did something in the race that dramatically increases his chances of winning the Kentucky Derby. In his first three starts he led all or most of the way. So when Badge of Silver proved that he was willing to rate as far back as fourth early during the Louisiana Derby, and was quite relaxed in third place through the run down the backstretch, he displayed a new and crucial dimension that will give his connections more strategic options in Louisville. If the fractions are modest in the Kentucky Derby, Badge of Silver's natural speed will make him formidable. If the pace is too fast, he doesn't have to duel - he can rate a few positions behind the leaders, then sweep past them when asked. With all of the ability he has, that additional facet might be all he needs to win the roses.

Badge of Silver is my choice to win the Blue Grass, but this race is not his primary goal, and he doesn't necessarily have to win to earn the chance to move on to Louisville. There are other Derby contenders in this field, including some who will offer betting value in this race, and others who won't.

It will be hard to leave Peace Rules out of the exotics. He has won four of his last five, with his most recent defeat being a loss by a head to Man Among Men on the turf at Santa Anita Oct. 24. Remarkably, he has managed to improve on his Beyer Speed Figure in all six of his starts since his debut. He is one of many in the Blue Grass field who have tactical speed. The problem for bettors is that Peace Rules will be well supported at the windows.

Brancusi only figures to contend based on his last race, a surprising third in the San Felipe, beaten by only three-quarters of a length by Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil. That he has run only one good race makes him a riskier bet than Peace Rules in the exotics, but his odds may be high enough to compensate for that difference. This is a good time of year to embrace rapidly developing 3-year-olds. Brancusi also likes to be up close to the pace in his races.

I still believe that Great Notion is underrated. He was impressive while romping by nine lengths in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn with a 104 Beyer. You can throw out his second-place finish as the 3-5 favorite in the Rebel since he had a very tough trip. He broke poorly, then raced wide while asked to rush up to take the lead through a pace that was already too fast. If he breaks well and can be coaxed into relaxing better during the first part, he can stick for a share at attractive odds.

Lion Tamer will attract some play, but he had every chance to capitalize on a dream set-up as a closer behind the much faster-than-par pace in the Lane's End, and failed to get the job done. I would need generous odds before betting that he will rebound.