The Kentucky Derby is Saturday and it’s always a challenge for the handicapper. That’s because the race’s distance of 1 ¼ miles is longer than any of the contestants has run and its big field of 19 or 20 rambunctious colts makes a lot of slamming around inevitable. That’s not good for the animals being slammed or the people who bet on them.
The Derby’s length makes many handicappers look especially for horses with “late” run but that can be a mistake, I think. The saying that the lead dog has the best view still applies; he also has the easiest trip. That’s why one of my go-to horses on Saturday will be the favorite NYQUIST, who likes to press the pace. Although his name suggests a cold remedy (he’s really named for a hockey player), he’s done nothing but win so far, having gone seven of seven, and hasn’t been cowed by large fields or big events. He’ll be in my tickets.
But Nyquist is 3-to-1 in the morning line so to make some money I’ll be pairing him with longer shots in combination bets. The horse I’ll really be rooting for is DESTIN, who is 15-to-1 in the morning line. He runs on the pace and has won three of five starts including the Tampa Bay Derby, where he beat a very good field. I’ll also include EXAGGERATOR. Although he’s a closer his winning run in the Santa Anita Derby was eye popping and his nine races to date (he’s won four) give him an experience edge on the field. His morning-line odds of 8-to-1 seem like a bargain. A Beyer Speed Rating of at least 100 is a usual prerequisite for Derby contention and each of those three horses has achieved it, as has only one other entry.
I’ll be betting two five-horse, $1 exacta boxes, which means my picks must come in 1-2. I’ll put Nyquist, Destin and Exaggerator in both boxes, barring late scratches, of course. In one box I’ll add the 12-to-1 MOR SPIRIT, who always runs well (three firsts and four seconds in seven starts) and MO TOM (20-to-1), who might have challenged in the Louisiana Derby if he didn’t have to be pulled up twice. That will be a 4-9-11-13-17 ticket by post position. In the other I’ll add the 15-to-1 OUTWORK, who has early speed, and MOHAYMEN (10-to-1), a winner of four of five. That’ll be 9-11-13-14-16.
My bets will cost me $40, which is more than I usually put on a race, but it’s the Derby, so what the heck.