I am getting in full-swing with looking over works, and listening to all of the connections as we head toward the first Saturday in May. Every year I have to dig up my list of handicapping nuggets that hopefully will allow me to gain any edge under the sun. This week will be important for all that are going to place a wager. It never fails that we will hear of a big name runner who defects, and a wiseguy runner who is blowing red-hot works in the morning. Here are some of my personal notes for finding your group of runners to whittle down.
- Make sure there is a 1 1/8th race under your runners’ belt this year. I have always felt that it is important to test the waters, and find out what you have in your barn. Take a peak at runners who did not meet this note, and toss them out now. Thank yourself later, as that last quarter of a mile is awfully tough.
- I have never been a big fan of horses who are trying new equipment this late in the game. I am not second guessing any of the professionals, but if they are still trying to find that “magic potion” to the winner’s circle, go ahead and toss them now. Every trainer worth their weight knows what they have.
- A Kentucky Derby horse must have had a 1-2-3 finish in their last effort in a graded event. I feel it shows readiness, and gives a glimpse of what to expect. I am sure that the world is aware that Union Rags had a tough trip; Gemologist has done nothing wrong to date, and Mario Gutierrez is a long way from Hastings Park. But just make sure they have faced quality competition, and have not peaked too soon.
- Watch for when runners ship to Churchill, and carefully look over the final works. Was it a blowout, or just a two-minute clip? Do some homework on trainers, and their patterns of how they ready runners. Stay away from the really late arrivals, as sometimes they can be a head case. I like to see my list horses get there early this week, or stay close at Keeneland to train. It is a must to get a work over the track, and get in the Derby groove.
- You can root for the late blooming runners who did not race at two-years-of-age, but please keep your money in pocket. It was 1882 with Apollo who last pulled off this task. I don’t discount them down the road, but this race is something that is targeted for quite a long time. Bodemeister has me wondering if this can be the first in a long time. How many runners have been named after Bob Baffert’s son? I’ll be happy if he pulls this off, but I won’t be cashing a win ticket on this late bloomer.
I guess we all have a little bag of tricks that we employ every year. I would not get too caught up in what prep is the latest springboard to the Derby. There is mucho money at some smaller tracks, and some races are so purse heavy that they have to send a money truck to carry home the winnings. Don’t get overheated with small field blowouts that may have taken place in New York. The inner-track plays heavily toward speed and close stalkers, and this may be an illusion. Don’t start thinking that one runner will dominate the pace and trounce the field. I guess my only exception would be if the track comes up sloppy, and speed rules the day. There is plenty of pace this year, right behind them are a bevy of stalkers. Look for the bigger name riders who have been there before. They are less likely to make the little mistakes that can cost you three lengths, or get you trapped on the rail. This is a day where a $5 bettor becomes a $10 player. Not to go against the old saying of “the pigs fatter, and the hogs get slaughtered,” but this is a day where you could easily get 5-1 on runner who should be 2-1. The field is shaping up to offer value, and as usual I will be searching for a price to go with my runner for super value.
Watch the races before the big day to get a feel. Check your weather report on the WinningPonies site, and as always get your E-Z Win™ forms as early as you can. They have pulled out some runners that light up the board on the big day! My last nugget to pass along is to not overthink the race. I have had friends who jump off of runners for the feel good story of the trainer with one horse, the pretty grey, and the gelding trying his luck. Do your homework, and pay attention to the last minute details. The media does an incredible job of keeping us informed, and the notes team is second to none. As my good friend John Engelhardt has said to me many times, “just stick to your knitting” and you’ll be fine…