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By Thomas Chambers
The Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports. And the longest two minutes without timeouts. As the field of 20 departs the starting gate, the competition gets sorted out at every furlong in a combination of survival and elan, raw speed and deceptive quickness, calm and drama.
And while every Derby presents the possibility of something special, this year's wide-open field almost guarantees an uncommon element: pleasant odds across the board.
I've been all over this race, and while I feel confident with the horses I am simply tossing out of the mix, the rest present a puzzling mix of styles and ability.
Yes, there are a few hotshots, like I Want Revenge, Dunkirk, and Pioneerof the Nile. But there are many others who have legitimate chances to win, including Desert Party, Friesan Fire, Musket Man, General Quarters and Chocolate Candy.
I contend a bomber has a chance this year and remember, that bomber doesn't have to win for you to cash a sweet exacta or trifecta.
One yardstick I use comes from a tip I picked up in a handicapping book; its inventor swears these numbers are more accurate than Beyer Speed Figures. It is calculated by adding up the Speed Ratings and Track Variants of a horse's last five races and dividing by five. The Speed Rating in the Daily Racing Form is the horse's performance against the track record for that distance. The benchmark is 100, meaning if the horse equals the track record, he gets 100. For every fifth of a second slower he is, a point is deducted.
And here is DRF's explanation of Track Variant: "Track Variant takes into consideration all races run on a particular day under the same conditions of distance and track surface. The Speed Ratings of all winners in each type of race are added together and an average is computed. This average is deducted from the par of 100 and the difference is the Track Variant. (Example: if the average Speed Rating of winners sprinting on the main track is 86, the Track Variant is 14 (par of 100 minus 86). The lower the Track Variant, the faster the track, or the better the overall quality of competition that day."
The calculation of averaging the the sum of the last five Ratings and Variants produces some interesting results. The tough one was for Regal Ransom and Desert Party, whose speed numbers are figured differently abroad. They are Racing Post figures. Here are the results:
|13||I Want Revenge||105|
|1||West Side Bernie||100.8|
|18||Nowhere to Hide||99.2|
|16||Pioneerof the Nile||97.6|
|8||Mine That Bird||97.4|
|9||Join in the Dance||96.8|
|5||Hold Me Back||96.6|
|3||Mr. Hot Stuff||95.8|
|19||Desert Party||110 ave. RP|
|10||Regal Ransom||104 ave. RP|
Sure, I Want Revenge is right up there, and so is Dunkirk. And Chocolate Candy is looking good to me. But look at Musket Man and Summer Bird! Even Advice is in the top half. Conversely, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem and Pioneerof the Nile do not really impress. Typically, there's West Side Bernie right in the middle.
This scale is by no means an end all/be all for shaping your bets, just another way to look at the numbers. You should also look at how a horse's Speed Rating does when placed against the Track Variant in any individual race. Added together, did the horse do well with the way the track was playing that day? (There's a good chance for rain, so look for those who have run in the mud before.)
Here's our TrackNotes rundown, in post position order, with my wagers following.
Horse: West Side Bernie
Trainer/Jockey: Kelly Breen/Stewart Elliott
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 101 in Wood Memorial.
Claim to Fame: Early Derby buzz horse based on Kentucky Cup Juvenile win in September.
Notes: Inconsistent runner has beaten nobody. Runs better on dirt. Stewart Elliott, who I still badmouth for his Belmont ride on Smarty Jones, is aboard and the one post will be difficult to overcome. Good foundation and is running well now, but probably fast enough. With the stress of running so deeply inside - which will probably eventually require a swing out to get open, it might just be too much to do. Grade I seems a bit too lofty.
Speed/Variant Rating: 100.8
Horse: Musket Man
Trainer/Jockey: Derek Ryan/Eibar Coa
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 98 in Illinois Derby.
Claim to Fame: He's the Illinois Derby winner!
Notes: 5 for 6 in career and the model of consistency in 2009, many dismiss this $15,000 horse, but nearly $573,000 in winnings later, you can't deny his pluck. He's punched the timeclock once a month all year, split two with General Quarters, and may have been responsible for messing with Giant Oak's head and knocking him out of the Derby. He ran his classic rate-off-the-lead race, and that's not easy to do at Hawthorne. He had to do a Tampa two-step to get in the clear to win the Tampa Bay Derby two back by a neck and that just might be the race that sets him up for this one. That said, it's possible he's already done the best work he will do for awhile. Word of a poor workout at Churchill makes you wonder if his last two preps ground him down. He doesn't have a triple-digit Beyer; in fact, with four 90s in his saddle bag, he might be just a mid-90s career runner. Not bad, but not Kentucky Derby material, and not against many of these. He might be able to get a piece.
Speed/Variant Rating: 105.2
Horse: Mr. Hot Stuff
Trainer/Jockey: Eoin Harty/John Velazquez
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 in Santa Anita Derby
Claim to Fame: You tell me
Notes: Full brother to Colonel John, but he's no Colonel John. Only victory in an all-synthetic career was three races ago at maiden special weight. If Hollywood Park's Cushion Track translates best to dirt, his surface analysis gets worse. He'll pass fading horses but can't seem to catch the leaders and will need a total implosion of this race to win. Lots not to like and probably should not be in this race. Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch reports some immaturity in this one at Camp Churchill.
Speed/Variant Rating: 95.8
Trainer/Jockey: Todd Pletcher/Rene Douglas
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 in Lexington.
Claim to Fame: Tough loss in Arlington Washington Futurity
Notes: Ran April 18 in last-chance attempt to get into Derby. Arlington standout gets the mount, which might be the tipoff, and not for the better. Did do a 17-point Beyer improvement in his last, but his best work has been on the plastic. They say he's looking spry, but this, one of the toughest races in the world, will be his third in 35 days. Worked well Monday. Just adding to the traffic.
Speed/Variant Rating: 99.8
Horse: Hold Me Back
Trainer/Jockey: Bill Mott/Kent Desormeaux
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 97, two back in Lanes End.
Claim to Fame: Gee, I dunno. He's got last year's Derby-winning jockey?
Notes: Another case where his best form is on synthetic. He's not particularly fast but can run a long way. He'll need race to fall apart in front of him to win. Scary in the exotics where he might have a chance to close into the money, and he could be a factor on a wet track. Most of his running lines say "wide," but he'll be inside with this post, at least at first. Desormeaux doesn't like the rail and a panicky wide move in the backstretch here could lose him the race, if you thought he was even going to win it. Works only so-so. I can spend my money more wisely elsewhere.
Speed/Variant Rating: 96.6
6. Friesan Fire
Trainer/Jockey: J. Larry Jones/Gabriel Saez
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 104, slop wrestling in the Louisiana Derby in last.
Claim to Fame: Acclaimed nice guy Jones also had Old Fashioned in Derby contention until a fracture retired him. So this is his lone, last shot as he says he's retiring at the end of the year. Eight Belles tragedy hit him hard. This is a classic case of good cop-bad cop. I said "this horse is for real," after 7+ win in La. Derby over Papa Clem. That was a step up into legitimate top-shelf Derby consideration in a 94 (15-point improvement over previous race!)-97-104 Beyer ladder climb, all under Saez. Now the question marks. Friesan's got excellent distance pedigree, but he's never run more than 8.5 furlongs and going 10 off of training is tough, I don't care what anybody says. This is where lots of people will put their faith in Jones. The La. Derby was in the slop, which can be inconclusive, unless Churchill comes up sloppy Saturday. All of his success has come at Fair Grounds, which makes you wonder if he's just an FG horse for the course. He beat a few wannabes who have long since fallen by the Derby wayside, except for Papa Clem. He hasn't raced in seven weeks, the longest break for a Derby win since well, the Great Depression. But Jones has been training him on supposedly easier-on-the-horse Polytrack at Keeneland, including a mile on April 19. He got in a very quick 57.86 drill at five furlongs Monday at Churchill. He's a driving tough guy. Hope that because he's been off the radar for 7 weeks, he flies out of the gate with a good price on his head. If it's good karma you want, this could be Jones' year.
Speed/Variant Rating: 99.6
Horse: Papa Clem
Trainer/Jockey: Gary Stute/Rafael Bejarano
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 101 in last race.
Claim to Fame: Broke through on the prep trail with Arkansas Derby win.
Notes:This one's been through the wringer and I wonder if he can do it here. He's had four tough, improving races and he might be ready for a bounce. He had to catch and then hold off Old Fashioned at Oaklawn. One of only 7 in the 3-digit Beyers club in this race means you have to look at him. But reports of a tired horse in a lackluster workout were contradicted by Stute, who said the exercise rider misjudged the finish line and pulled him up too early. He blew it out Thursday, running three furlongs in a sharp 34 seconds. His race M.O. has been to be right on the lead, but there are others in here who will be faster to the front. That's not a good setup for Clem. He does seem capable of closing from the front of the second pack, but he'll have to dig awfully deep to do it. Bejarano needs a good ride, which is not automatic.
Speed/Variant Rating: 9.6
Horse: Mine That Bird
Trainer/Jockey: Benny I. Woolley Jr./Calvin Borel
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 81
Claim to Fame: Had Chantal Sutherland on his back for several races in Canada.
Notes: No Beyers even close to 90. Should not be in this race.
Speed/Variant Rating: 97.4
Horse: Join in the Dance
Trainer/Jockey: Todd Pletcher/Chris DeCarlo
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90
Claim to Fame: NBA player Rashard Lewis a co-owner.
Notes: Pegged to be a pace leader Saturday, Join in the Dance has only run sprints except for the Blue Grass and Tampa Bay Derby where he was nipped at the wire. If he sets a hot pace as figured, some of the others will have to go with him lest he get away and wire the field, god forbid. Word is Pletcher is using him as a rabbit for Dunkirk. My guess is that he'll do his thing and then start going backwards on the turn.
Speed/Variant Rating: 96.8
Horse: Regal Ransom
Trainer/Jockey: Saeed bin Suroor/Alan Garcia
Best Beyer Speed Figure: Racing Post 112 (approx. 98 on Beyer scale)
Claim to Fame: Godolphin attempts to ship in from Dubai and win Kentucky Derby.
Notes: Won $2 mil. UAE Derby over stablemate Desert Party, who's also attending the Derby bash. He needs a slow pace to close in to, but so do some others and it may not happen anyway. Garcia is as good a young jockey as we have today and I'll slap down a couple of kopecs here just because of him. Desert Party is getting all kinds of kudos for the UAE Derby, where Regal Ransom beat him. No respect. The long journey from Dubai must also be considered. Until they win with the train in Dubai/ship to Louisville approach, it's still an experiment. If the stampede of 20 forces a slower pace for safety reasons, $2 on this one at 30-1 or better might not be a bad idea.
Speed/Variant Rating: 104 ave. RP
Horse: Chocolate Candy
Trainer/Jockey: Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 in Santa Anita Derby.
Claim to Fame: Caloric-named horse owned by Sid and Jenny Craig trust.
Notes: Son of Candy Ride and grandson of Seattle Slew on his all important dam's side, this horse should be able to run a long way. Northern California invader has plenty of foundation with 9 races on the odometer, yet he has run just once since Valentine's Day. Yet another twist on days off before the Derby. He's won on three different synthetics, but he also seems to be taking to the Churchill dirt as he posted the second-best 5-furlong workout Monday. His Beyers have improved in every race. He might be right in the middle of the toteboard Saturday, and that figures to be a very good place indeed. Speaking of money, he's got Mike Smith aboard--a kiss for luck from Chantal and he's on his way. But Candy will still have to take a large leap forward into a disintegrating pace to win. I liked Candy Ride and I like this guy.
Speed/Variant Rating: 100.8
Horse: General Quarters
Trainer/Jockey: Thomas McCarthy/Julien Leparoux
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 three races back
Claim to Fame: Give credit to filling-in Mark Miller for the Sam Davis win with GQ, but 75-year-old Tom McCarthy will get all the ESPN and NBC violins as it's also the only horse the old guy trains.
Notes: Lost some buzz with a fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby at the end of a four-race Tampa campaign. His 11 races give him the most in the field: it's either great foundation or he's gonna be tired. After the Tampa Derby disappointment, they tellingly brought him back a month later in the Blue Grass, which he won by 1.5. They could have rested him for 7 weeks, ala Friesan Fire. Reports are he's working inconsistently. I'm a big fan of Tampa foundation, but could GQ have gotten too much of a good thing? And if you're a fan of Beyer patterns, he usually fires in the third race from a Beyer dip and guess which one this is? Leparoux is also one of the hottest jockeys in the race. He can close and may just use all 10 furlongs to do it for the win. Should also be a price. Awfully tempting.
Speed/Variant Rating: 103
Horse: I Want Revenge
Trainer/Jockey: Jeff Mullins/Joe Talamo
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 113 two back (highest in the field)
Claim to Fame: Pulls a reverse Jed Clampett and leaves the sunny synthetics of California for the cold dirt of Aqueduct, Queens.
Notes: Former maiden winner responded with big wins in the Gotham and Wood Memorial after abandoning the synthetics. Probable Derby favorite. Despite brave and patient ride in Wood, Talamo still only 19-years-old and this isn't the Yellow Ribbon. But Revenge reared at the start of the Wood, got bottled up, fought for room and won by a length and a half. So maybe the horse does all the work here. Consecutive 113 and 103 Beyers say he's a possibility for a bounce, but he's been working very well with flashes of big speed. Likes to be just off the lead, but will he get used up if Kid Talamo impatiently chases Join in the Dance or Regal Ransom up front? You could also argue he's beaten nobody, losing to Pioneerof the Nile (twice) and Papa Clem. This horse is beatable, but you won't know that from listening to the TV minds. Bad trip makes everything moot and that might be Mullins' and IEAH Stables' karma this year after the Big Brown Triple Crown fiasco last year. Trainer Mullins starts suspension on Sunday but don't worry, he's been there before and won't let it get to him. Talamo also will be competing against the other jockeys, if you know what I mean. If you don't, think Toby Maguire as Red Pollard: "HE FOULED ME!" Revenge will be atop the vast majority of Derby pick lists, but remember, Pioneerof the Nile owns him and I don't care if it was on the synthetic. Include him, but write a ticket that doesn't include him too.
Speed/Variant Rating: 105
Horse: Atomic Rain
Trainer/Jockey: Kelly Breen/Joe Bravo
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95
Claim to Fame: None until he wins a stakes race.
Notes: This one might have die-uh-mund odds, 75-1 or higher. For cryin' out loud, he's only a maiden winner and that was last June. While his Beyer pattern shows improvement, he doesn't have much if any back class. Made the field through other defections. Tends to lose ground in the final furlong and that ain't right.
Speed/Variant Rating: 101
Trainer/Jockey: Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 108
Claim to Fame: Plenty of fame, now has to earn it.
Notes: Get your freak on. They say he's like an old 440cid Chrysler with the gear selector on the dashpanel. You know: pushbutton. He's got all Unbridled on pop's side and A.P. Indy on mum's side. That move he made in the Florida Derby from eight lengths back to just get beat by Quality Road, well . . . After analyzing the speed bias that day at Gulfstream, they increased his Beyer for the race! Now, the downside. He did not race as a 2-year-old and the last Derby winner to do that was Apollo in 1882. Curlin tried it two years ago. He's only raced three times. The last KD winner to do that was Big Brown last year - and before that the filly Regret in 1915. Yeah, he closed nice in the Florida Derby, but when he looked Quality Road in the eye, QR said "take that junk outta here!‚" and found a gear of his own. Sure, he might very well be able to lay off, way off, but if he doesn't get a quick, use-'em-up pace up front, which may very well happen, will he have enough stamina for the extra rundown? Prado's ridden him before; that helps. With such a wide open race, he may even go off 5-1 or higher (toteboard may be telltale in that regard). You can't toss him completely, but construct another ticket without him on it. Pletch, we're not at Gulfstream Park anymore.
Speed/Variant Rating: 104.3
Horse: Pioneerof the Nile
Trainer/Jockey: Bob Baffert/Garrett Gomez
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 in his last race
Claim to Fame: Win machine (won last 4) has already beaten Chocolate Candy (twice), Mr. Hot Stuff, I Want Revenge (twice) and Papa Clem.
Notes: Won Santa Anita Derby, albeit after The Pamplemousse scratched. Baffert, flirting with Dutrow-like braggadocio, says Pioneerof is ready for the grueling Triple Crown trail and only needs racing luck to win the Derby. First things first: Can he handle the Churchill dirt after racing only on turf and last six on synthetic? Many question his level of competition. Solid foundation with eight high-class races under his saddle. Top jock picks this one. Baffert has won three Derbies and railbirds at Churchill report Pioneerof is taking to the dirt quite nicely and looking ready for a monster race. This post position alleviates some measure of trouble. Distance? His first race was 8.5 furlongs. Visually not all that impressive in his last few, but maybe he's the type who does just what he has to. He might get some kind of a price with the hype I Want Revenge figures to get. 4-1? 5-1? If he wins this, he may stay back East for quite awhile.
Speed/Variant Rating: 97.6
Horse: Summer Bird
Trainer/Jockey: Tim Ice/Chris Rosier
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 99
Claim to Fame: I have him in a pool.
Notes: He's off just about everyone's radar, but when I went lookin', it's "why the hell not?" Pappy Birdstone won the Belmont and the Travers, the "Summer Derby." Grandpa Grindstone won this race. Other grandpa Summer Squall had a fine Derby prep season before finishing second and then went on to win the Preakness in 1990. Northern Dancer and Secretariat smile down from heaven at the family reunions. The Arkansas Derby replay will show a bad start, a check early, last by daylight and a wide trip to consume all but Old Fashioned and Papa Clem. Another furlong and he would have. The connections are green with a story. With trainer-jockey team at a $4.10 ROI on a dollar at a 13% win rate! Up the Beyer ladder with a 21-point improvement right up to the triple-digit threshold. Go Summer Bird!
Speed/Variant Rating: 104.6
Horse: Nowhere to Hide
Trainer/Jockey: Nick Zito/Shaun Bridgmohan
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90
Claim to Fame: Failed to make Sneed's column after being spied at Hawthorne in the Illinois Derby.
Notes: Two-time Derby winner Zito did the limbo rock with this horse, running an $18k maiden special weight at Calder just to get him a damn win. How low can you go? Now he accessorizes with blinkers. Give him Liberace's whole closet and he still wouldn't win. No published work since April 18. Nick, Nick, Nick - whaddya doin'?
Speed/Variant Rating: 99.2
Horse: Desert Party
Trainer/Jockey: Saeed bin Suroor/Ramon Dominguez
Best Beyer Speed Figure: Racing Post 97, 98 in lst two, including tough beat to Regal Ransom in UAE Derby.
Claim to Fame: Shared first class bunks on plane from Dubai with Regal Ransom.
Notes: Steve Haskin of BloodHorse.com reports Desert Party looked as good as can be in a Monday workout, itching for competition and getting it and blowing by West Side Bernie. He's apparently also mature enough to handle the bedlam of Derby Day, Haskin says. And if it's wet-fast, sticky or even muddy, he's been there, done that too. He's been highly touted since day one and if a price, too good to pass up. A definite candidate for the win, but will the long trip do him in?
Speed/Variant Rating: 110 ave. RP
Horse: Flying Private
Trainer/Jockey: D. Wayne Lukas/Robby Albarado
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 in Lanes End.
Claim to Fame: Because of Lukas nostalgia and Fusaichi Pegasus lineage, may become something of a wiseguy.
Notes: Or maybe not. Beyers are improving, but his best was on the polytrack at Turfway. Running regularly all year and yet to make a splash. Hasn't won since August. Is working well for this race. Will need a powerful dipsey-doodle that he probably doesn't possess. At post 20, he's certainly no Big Brown. I can't find the scenario.
Speed/Variant Rating: 100.8
My Betting Card
My best wagering successes on Derby Day go back to Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, and I didn't believe Barbaro could overcome such a light schedule. I believe it's easier to cover enough to get the winner, but more difficult to nail the underneaths on the exotics. Unlikely horses often get up and into the money. Here goes:
11,12,13,15,16,17 with 11,12,13,15,16,17,19 = $36
12,16,17 with 12,13,15,16,17 with 6,11,12,13,15,16,17 = $60
6 (12-1 or better), 10 (20-1 or better), 11 (15-1 or better), 12 (10-1 or better), 16 (5-1 or better), 17, 19 (10-1 or better) = $70
Have fun, and remember, just because mint juleps are a Kentucky Derby tradition, it doesn't mean they taste good.
Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday. He welcomes your comments.