Folks who know me, know I like to gamble a little. Fortunately, I live in a part of the country where casino gambling isn't readily available. That, combined with the crack down a few years back on gamblers' abilities to fund offshore accounts, really stopped me from pissing a lot of money away. But, instead of sending thank you notes to Congress and the members of the state legislatures in Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, I'm going to give in to my gambling urge today and use my long abandoned Youbet.com account to satisfy the urge.
Post time for today's 135th Kentucky Derby is 6:24. A live cut in on TV a little while ago showed wet and rainy conditions in Louisville. Those conditions, combined with two other factors, one old and one relatively new, make handicapping the Derby more of a crapshoot than ever.
Let's take a brief look at each of these three factors, beginning with the weather. A lot of people don't like to be out in the rain and mud, and some horses feel that way too. Seeing the majority of the horses in the Derby began their racing careers in California of Florida, very few of the entrants have any experience racing in wet conditions. This includes favorites I Want Revenge, Dunkirk, and Pioneer of the Nile. You just cannot predict how a horse will run his first time in the mud. On the other hand, Friesan Fire won the Louisiana Derby on a sloppy track and Papa Clem finished 2nd in the same race.
The relatively new factor that muddles handicapping the Derby is change of racing surfaces in states such as Calilfornia. At Churchill Downs, site of the Derby, the racing surface is still dirt. But, in Cailifornia, tracks have replaced their dirt surfaces with synthetic ones in an attempt to prevent horse injuries. Many of the prep races leading up to the Derby are held in Califiornia and many of the entrants have raced most, if not all, of their careers on synthetic surfaces. The morning line favorite, I Want Revenge, seems to have made a successful switch to dirt by winning the Wood Memorial and Gotham Stakes in New York after beginning his career on the synthetic tracks in Cailifornia. But, from what I've read, this seems to be an exception to the norm.
The traditonal factor that complicates handicapping the Derby is the large field. 20 horses will enter the starting gate today. With that many horses in the race, it's easy for even the best of horses to get pinned back in the field or on the rail. One stroke of bad luck heading for the first turn and your horse may be done.
With all that said, it's probably just as easy to throw a dart at the Kentucky Derby program and pick a winner instead of reading the program. But, I've actually put some thought into my prediction, so here goes....
It would be VERY easy to go with morning line favorite, I Want Revenge, based on based on his speed figures and two prep wins at Aqueduct which proved he could make the transition from synthetic surfaces to dirt. But at morning line odds of 3-1, that seems like too much of a sucker bet in wet conditions against against 19 other horses. Plus, if you follow Andrew Beyer, you know the horses he picks to win the Derby NEVER win and he is all over I Want Revenge.
Pioneer of the Nile, at a morning line of 4-1, has already won over a million dollars in his young career, but all but $40,000 of those winnings, came on synthetic surfaces. (BTW, the other $40K came on turf.) He has started six times on synthetic surfaces and twice on turf.
Dunkirk, at a morning line of 4-1, has the highest past speed figure of any horse in the race, but has very little experience having raced only three times. Also, Dunkirk did not race as a two year old and no horse without 2 YO experience has won the Derby in years.
Freisan Fire , at a morning line of 5-1, looks to be a solid pick here because he has won the Louisiana Derby in wet conditions and has raced exclusively on dirt. But, one thing about Friesan Fire concerns me. He has not raced since winning the La. Derby on March 14th.
So, where does that leave me, you ask? I'm going to look for value in today's race. And, I think that value comes in the form of Papa Clem, who is 20-1 in the morning line odds. Papa Clem won the Arkansas Derby his last time out on April 11th with a good speed number. Prior to that, he finished 2nd to Friesan Fire in the slop of the Louisiana Derby. In Feb., he finished ahead of I Want Revenge in a race at Santa Anita.
The official Shedd's Spot prediction:
1) Papa Clem
2) Friesan Fire
3) I Want Revenge
In the few minutes since I finalized this post, favorite I Want Revenge was scratched from the race!!!! Here is Shedd's Spot's revised prediction:
1) Papa Clem
2) Friesan Fire
4) West Side Bernie (morning line odds of 30-1)