05/02/2013 2:17PM

Steven Crist: Overanalyze good bet to improve in Kentucky Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Overanalyze (left) and Gary Stevens, working alongside Palace Malice and Mike Smith, is 15-1 on the Derby morning line.

The 139th Kentucky Derby seems like a race where you should take a flyer rather than pound a favorite. After a prep season that was short on dazzle and left half the field looking capable of winning the race, I think you’re supposed to try to get one of the pricier plausible entrants into the winner’s circle, and I’ve managed to talk myself into one – though I acknowledge I risk revocation of my lifetime membership in the Society of Speed Figure Believers.

I’m taking my shot with Overanalyze, who comes off a runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby that looked impressive but could have been timed with a sundial. His time of 1:51.94 for nine furlongs earned a puny Beyer Speed Figure of 88, six points slower than any Arkansas Derby winner in the last 20 years, and nearly 20 points lower than champions such as Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, and Curlin earned winning the race.

At 15-1, however, I’ll gamble and argue that he might be substantially better than that.

This is no criticism of speed figures in general or this one in particular. It is hard to quarrel with that offputting 88. There were nine other route races on the Arkansas Derby card to supply context and comparison points, and an hour before Overanalyze’s victory, the 4-year-old Cyber Secret won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in 1:49.67, which is 2.27 seconds faster than Overanalyze’s clocking. That is an eternity on the racetrack, a difference of more than 13 lengths and 20 Beyer points, and there have been no reports that the track was infused with Slow Dust or otherwise changed between the two races.

[DRF LIVE AT THE KENTUCKY DERBY: News updates, photos, videos]

The final time of the race was indisputably weak, but there are a few other things to consider. The pace of the Arkansas Derby was mild (1:12.57 versus 1:10.97 in the Oaklawn Handicap) and Overanalyze was placed seventh early and not asked to advance until nearing the stretch turn. From there, he picked off leaders one by one from the outside and then drew away with authority, running his final furlong in a completely respectable 12.72 seconds, a bit quicker than Cyber Secret’s final eighth of 12.91. Given where he was after six furlongs, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that he should have been able to run his final three furlongs 10 lengths faster than he did in order to earn a Beyer of 100.

If Overanalyze were an unaccomplished colt who had never run a Beyer better than an 88, I would toss him with impunity, but that’s not the case. He is in fact one of only two horses in the field, along with Goldencents, to have won three graded stakes, and it takes a pretty good 2-year-old to win both the Belmont Futurity at 6 1/2 furlongs and the Remsen at nine furlongs. In the Remsen, he earned a Beyer of 99, and any horse who runs that well late in his 2-year-old year is eligible to exceed that figure five months later. Maybe he’s an overachiever, but at double-digit odds, he also could be an overlay.

Of the favorites, Orb looks like the one to beat. He has improved from race to race this year, he may not have been fully cranked up for his Florida Derby, the added distance should be no problem, and he has been training exceptionally well. He seems like a solid key horse to finish in the top four, and the only thing not to like about him is his likely low starting price of about 4-1.

[KENTUCKY DERBY FIELD: Contender profiles and handicapping videos]

No disrespect to Verrazano and Goldencents, the Wood and Santa Anita Derby winners whose fastest races are the best in the field. Both should be right there with a furlong to go, but that’s when things could get dicey. They could soften each other up for the late runs of Overanalyze, Orb, and a couple of others. Normandy Invasion was getting to Verrazano in the Wood and could get by him with some extra real estate. Revolutionary can be erratic but has some genuine acceleration and looked good inhaling the Louisiana Derby field around the turn.

So let’s call it Overanalyze, Orb, Normandy Invasion, and Revolutionary in that order, and hope that there was a mysterious hole in the space-time continuum at Oaklawn on Arkansas Derby Day.