Ignorance Is Bliss
To paraphrase an old Saturday Night Live routine, the Kentucky Derby has been berry berry good to me. At least it has the last few years, with overlays like War Emblem, Monarchos, Charismatic and Thunder Gulch in the winner�s circle. I'm a betting line handicapper, which means I'll bet any of my contenders if the value is there. The winners, while overlays, were usually the third or fourth pick in my betting line, so my bragging rights are dubious, but the payoffs were nice. My basic Derby strategy is this:
�Ignore it until the day
before the race.
As you can see, my Derby strategy is built almost completely on ignorance. But it�s worked for me, so here goes again.
First, I use my trusty mechanical contender-selection method. 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.
My contenders for the 2003 Kentucky Derby are:
I may well get burned right at the start with this contender selection. But, to repeat last year�s column, "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."
I played with the idea of including Ten Most Wanted because of the pre-race buzz and his impressive upward-moving speed figures ending in a 110 Beyer last race. Andy Beyer makes the case for Ten Most Wanted, but even he says he "had not distinguished himself before he ran in the Illinois Derby, which appeared to be the weakest of the prep races for the Kentucky Derby... he finished strongly to win by four lengths over a mediocre group... What gave Ten Most Wanted credibility was his speed figure."
But Jim Cramer�s speed figure for Ten Most Wanted�s performance at the Illinois Derby is not nearly as favorable as Beyer�s, and I trust Cramer�s numbers more (aside from the fact that they inherently contain better wager value). Also, The Capper�s Track/Surface/Distance adjustments weren�t impressed by Ten Most Wanted�s last race, either. Beyer may be trying to relive War Emblem�s path to victory, when he won the Illinois Derby before capturing the roses. I don�t know who made the 110 figure, but I don�t trust it. Throwing out Ten Most Wanted is a gamble, but that�s what we�re here for. So out he goes.
There aren�t any high need-to-lead horses in this race. There are a number of horses moderately fond of an early lead, such as Brancusi, Peace Rules, Indian Express, Scrimshaw and several others. But, unless a jockey tries to really force the pace, I don�t expect the pace to be the determining factor. As usual, a good trip in the Derby will probably be more important.
Now here�s a look at each of the contenders:
Atswhatimtalknbout: Seems like a borderline contender. He was well-regarded in the Santa Anita Derby and is in the same ballpark as the top contenders, so he must be considered.
Peace Rules: He�s won his last four races, not a shabby achievement � and is being overlooked because of his stablemate, which I always like. He�s being knocked for his slow finish in the Blue Grass, but if you�re winning by three lengths in a prep race a few weeks before the Derby, why push it? He�s also being knocked for his sire, but Frankel says he thinks he can get the distance, so who am I to argue? Finally, he�s criticized for his slow last work of 1:14. Frankel replied to this, "The kid got too nervous with it," referring to exercise-rider Nakauchida. "He went off a little fast and came home a little slow. But it's OK. It isn't anything I can't adjust for." The next morning Frankel said Peace Rules came out of it as he should. Also, Peace Rules is eligible for a $1 million bonus for winning the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby. And Frankel doesn�t bring horses to Louisville in May willy-nilly: he went 10 years without a Derby starter in the 90s, even though he had horses who could credibly have been entered.
Funny Cide: The gelding is right there ability-wise, but I�d normally be worried about a bounce after the Wood. However, his trainer, Barclay Tagg, said, "He bounced out of the Wood very well. All signs are perfect." If you believe what trainers say (I usually do � believe it or not, they tend to tell the truth to reporters.), then you have to respect Funny Cide.
Buddy Gil: Another competitive gelding and a winner of his last three. Clockers report that he is getting increasingly aggressive in his morning works. This is the type of horse I like to bet if I can get the odds.
Empire Maker: Appears to be the legitimate favorite. No way I�ll be betting him to win, though. At 6/5 or thereabouts, he�ll have to win without my money � which he may very well do.
After picking my pacelines and running the contenders through my super-duper handicapping computer, here�s my betting line:
Atswhatimtalknbout doesn�t make the final cut. So, if the track odds are anything like the morning line odds, I�ll be betting Peace Rules and Funny Cide to win. I�ll hope for 12/1 or up on Buddy Gil, because I want to bet him too. As usual, I�ll wheel my overlays top and bottom with the top two favorites, which will be Empire Maker and somebody else, plus I�ll box my overlays in the exacta.
Finally, the psychic network reason for betting the Derby: the horses� names. Last year it was War Emblem � very appropriate. Right now, what could be better than Peace Rules?
And now for the reprint of a perennial favorite:
"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
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