The Search for the
I like Joe Hirsch�s headline in the Kentucky Derby-day Racing Form: "It takes talent and luck." (I�m not sure about his conclusion: "It takes Saarland.") But talent and luck � that pretty well sums up the Derby. If you start reading the expert analysis of the Derby, the variety of opinions will amaze you. Few of them will be worth the paper or electrons they�re written on the minute after the race � most of them aren�t worth it before the race. But if we take the Derby as an intriguing puzzle, an American icon, a chance to wear funny hats and drink too much (and we don�t overbet it) it�s a great day at the track.
I use my standard mechanical contender-selection method in the Derby. I take the highest two of each horse�s last three Beyer figures and average them. That gives me a contender figure for each horse. (If there are only two races available in the pps, I average them. If there is only one race available, I use that as the number.) I then take the top five horses as my contenders. If anybody is tied for fifth, I include them. In this year�s Derby, that leaves me with eight contenders because four horses are tied for fifth with a 99 contender rating:
This first decision � the choosing of contenders � may already put me out of the running. But recent high Beyers have been a good predictor of the Derby winner � not necessarily in the last race, but sometime in the recent past. The horse generally needs to have flashed ability sometime in its three-year-old season. Those who haven�t are usually pretenders to the throne. So I�ll stick with my contenders.
I generally don�t care much about the pace scenario of the Derby. If the horse can get a clean trip, that�s the most important thing. But you do need to look out for early speed duels among high need-to-lead horses. And four of my eight contenders � War Emblem, Request For Parole, Medaglia d�Oro, and Came Home � are high need-to-lead horses. In a pace duel, I look for "need-to-lead-but-can�t" horses. These are puppies who want the lead, will fight for the lead, but don�t have the ability to finish when they are pressed to the extent that they figure to be in today�s race. The need-to-lead-but-can�t Derby horse is probably War Emblem. His gate-to-wire victories in a classified allowance and the Illinois Derby at Sportsman were accomplished at relatively soft fractions that don�t figure to occur on Derby Day with the other three speedsters in the field. On the other hand, War Emblem sports morning line odds of 20/1. So he�ll stay in.
Johannesburg faces the BC Juvenile winner�s curse, a dearth of prep races, and a suspect pedigree for the distance. But he has a stellar record and a crafty trainer in Aidan O�Brien, so I�m not willing to throw him out. Despite the press, he might even be an overlay.
I will now throw my eight contenders in my handy-dandy beta-test Windows handicapping program and let it come up with my betting line. Here it is:
Assuming the track odds approximate the morning line odds (which is not a very safe assumption), I�ll probably end up betting Medaglia d�Oro, Johannesburg and War Emblem to win. The Max Place% and Max Show% columns display the maximum percentage I would allow a given horse to have in the respective pool and still make a bet on it. Using a calculator, if I have access to toteboard information, I can easily look for a place or show overlay on either Medaglia or Johannesburg. This place/show method comes from Barry Meadow�s fine book, Money Secrets at the Racetrack.
My typical exacta strategy is to wheel the overlays top-and-bottom to the top two favorites, and also to box the overlays. So in this situation, since Harlan�s Holiday is likely to be a favorite, I�d probably end up boxing my four top horses in the exacta. Yes, a four-horse box. In a contentious 19-horse race, it�s a reasonable strategy.
Good luck to all and thanks for listening. Now go do your own handicapping.
"Question: What do you call a mint julep? Answer: A waste of good whiskey."
Question: What do you call a mint julep? Answer: A waste of good whiskey. Being too poor to do much to improve the breed of the horses in the Kentucky Derby, I will instead concentrate on improving the breed of drinks served there. Have any of you tried a mint julep recently? Truth is, they suck. Especially when served warm, in a cheap plastic cup, with imitation mint, as they do at most tracks. Hey, I�m actually a stickler for tradition. The dulcet tones of My Old Kentucky Home tug my heartstrings. But when the tradition sucks, let�s move on. I want to explore the mysteries of the cocktail and find a julep that amuses the modern palate.
A julep is basically a whisky drink with some kind of syrup or sugar-water, crushed ice, and a sprig of mint. Pondering this weighty subject, I asked my wife Tracey, what goes with mint? Her answer: chocolate. That opened the door to inspiration. Presenting the extremely unofficial drink of the Kentucky Derby for the 21st century, kudos to Tracey:
The Chocolate Mint Julep
Place some fresh mint in the bottom of a tall pre-chilled glass. Add one scant ounce of Creme de Cacao. Crush the mint lightly. Add crushed ice to about halfway up the glass. Then add two ounces whiskey and stir. Place in freezer for a few minutes. Add a few fresh sprigs of mint and serve.
If you�re one of those who thinks that chocolate goes with everything, try it! Even if you�re not a chocolate-lover, you may like it. I think it�s a big improvement over the standard mint julep. Even if you don�t like the Chocolate Mint Julep, at least you now have some good whiskey in the house.NC
Copyright �2002 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.
Track Tracts Archive
the Wheat from the Chaff: Semi-Mechanical Contender Selection by