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Kentucky Derby Predictions -- Anatomy of a Longshot Winner

   by Al McMordie - 05/12/2005

On Saturday, our selection is on Wilko to win the Kentucky Derby, and our bonus selection is for Giacomo to finish in the money (win, place, or show).

The 131st run for the Roses this Saturday has something for everyone with a full field of 20 horses going postward at Churchill Downs. As I look at the field, there are many quality horses who appear to have a chance to win so at first blush this looks like a wide open affair. However, process of elimination is a beautiful thing sometimes, as there are enough reasons for an educated handicapper to pare this field down to 5 or 6 horses and then pick their favorite from there. Thats how we're going to approach this one and see if we can come out a winner.

We'll start by looking at the post positions and taking out the 3 inside horses (Sort It Out, Andromeda's Hero, Sun King) and the 4 outside ones (Don't Get Mad, Closing Argument, Going Wild, Buzzards Bay). With the possible exception of Sun King, all of these could probably be eliminated anyway because they just don't appear to be good enough and their poor post draws make them no-brainers as the first to go. Next we'll take out Spanish Chestnut, who is nothing more than a speedball and could play a role of spoiler (more on that later) but has no chance. We'll take Greeley's Galaxy out because he did not race as a two-year-old and the last winner of the Derby to do that was back in 1882, a pretty safe trend I think. We'll eliminate Flower Alley and High Limit because they only raced 4 times in their careers and history also says that a horse needs at least 5 starts leading up to the Derby. Next, we'll get rid of Greater Good as, despite his name, he just simply is not good enough to hang with these guys and is clearly outclassed. The 20-1 morning line on this horse is a huge underlay in my opinion and I wouldn't be surprised if this horse goes off closer to 50-1.

Now we're down to eight and the eliminations get tougher as we have to throw out some pretty good horses. As much as I like Afleet Alex, I'm going to throw him out mainly because I don't think Jeremy Rose is in the same jockey class with most of the other riders (Smarty Jones fans will be quick to point out to me that you could have said the same thing about Stuart Elliott last year). Next to go is Coin Silver, who won the Lexington against very modest company on a very wet track (I was there that day and saw the race freezing my butt off in the rain) in slow time. Now for the speedball factor. Both High Fly and Bellamy Road are very talented horses with plenty of front end speed, but they have never been pressured on the front end like they're likely to be on Saturday. The likes of High Limit and Spanish Chestnut will likely set a blistering pace and if these two chase it, then they won't last. The other knock against Bellamy Road is that he is too lightly raced, only having two starts as a 3 year old and bounce players will also want to stay away from him. But if you live and die with Beyer speed figures, then clearly he's your horse. At a likely price of 2 - 1, I'm staying away. Besides, its fun to root against George Steinbrenner, even in horse racing.

So now we're down to just four horses, Noble Causeway, Giacomo, Wilko, and Bandini. Here's where I have to go with my gut. Bandini looks like a very talented horse who could sit just off the pace and then charge up to the front when asked, but something tells me he's not going to fire here. He's lightly raced and won the Blue Grass Stakes in unimpressive time, so I'll take a stand against him as another one who will probably go off at too short of odds. Can't blame anyone too much however if they go his way. So that leaves us with three horses, two of which are California invaders who battled each other in the same races out west. The third is Noble Causeway, and he is the biggest closer of the group. He has two strikes against him however. First, he is battling a historic trend that says that a horse should have a race within four weeks of the Derby. The last horse to win the Derby after a layoff of five weeks or more was Needles in 1955. Noble Causeway's last race was in the Florida Derby on April 2, exactly 5 weeks before Saturday's big race. Second, regular rider Edgar Prado is committed to ride another Nick Zito horse, Sun King, and therefore Gary Stevens will be aboard Noble Causeway. Stevens, star of the movie "Seabiscuit" is a very good rider but has never been aboard this horse, which I count as a negative going into the Derby. I'm also not crazy about Noble Causeway's #4 post position, although it seems Zito wanted this spot for his horse. I think it may cause him to have to drop back on the rail and then swing around the entire field if things stay bottled up. It is likely too much to ask, so he might get up for a share of the trifecta or superfecta, but I'm betting against him to finish first or second.

Which leaves us with two horses, Wilko and Giacomo. I have been going back and forth on these two and both should be very long odds. WIlko should be at least 20-1 and I wouldn't be surprised if Giacomo was at least 40-1. I'm going to take Wilko to Win. But I'm also going to have money on both of these horses to win, place, and show. If you like exotics, you should also consider a smaller exacta box wager with these two, and keying them both in your trifecta. Also try wheeling them with the field in the exacta. If either of these scenarios comes in, the payoffs should be huge. As always, good luck...Al McMordie.

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