Haskin's Derby Report: The Picks
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 5/1/2009 2:36:56 PM
Last Updated: 5/7/2009 1:54:30 PM

I Want Revenge
Photo: Mathea Kelley

To start, this is as tough a Derby as I have ever had to decipher, with a case to be made for at least dozen of the horses. I will break the race down in several categories and then put it all together and come up with something that resembles a wagering strategy.

 

I cannot remember a Derby where the morning line favorite has received so little buzz. I have had I Want Revenge   as my No. 1 pick for a couple of months and I’m not going to desert him now. He looks great, he’s been acting great and cleaning his feed tub every day, he’s had one of the more impressive works, and he’s bred to run 1 1/4 miles, so what’s not to like?

 

But you don’t hear his name mentioned much, and very few handicappers and media members are picking him. As I mentioned in a previous column, I do not pick favorites in the Derby when it comes to actual betting. The potential overlays are too enticing, especially this year with the prospect of a sloppy track and the uncertainty of the synthetic track horses switching to dirt.

 

From a looks standpoint, no one is thriving here more than Pioneerof the Nile, and Friesan Fire   looks dead fit, with his pronounced muscle tone. But these are all short-priced horses, with Friesan Fire the buzz horse. Don’t be surprised to see him get a ton of action, despite his seven-week layoff and never having been farther than 1 1/16 miles. And if the track does come up sloppy, which is a good possibility, he could very well go off as the favorite after his seven-length romp in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) in the slop.

 

Going by their potential odds, I would bet Pioneerof the Nile as my value horse, based on what I’ve observed over the past eight days. I have not seen a single negative, and you can’t ask a horse to be doing any better. From a handicapping angle, he still has to answer the synthetic to dirt question, and a number of speed handicappers feel he’s not fast enough, but he gets my vote for best work and overall physical appearance. If he should win the Derby, then my colleague Jon White could be right; this horse is more than capable of sweeping the Triple Crown. He would then meet my criteria of what it takes to accomplish racing’s most difficult feat. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

 

The horse I’m really struggling with is Dunkirk  , who I believe to be the most naturally gifted horse in the field, and who turned in the most memorable prep race of the year – his second-place finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I), a performance I was crazy about. Strictly based on those factors he would be my selection. But I just haven’t seen enough of him in the mornings to pick him based on looks and training, which is the intent of this column. I did, however, pick him on our Bloodhorse.com video “And They’re Off.” The final good sign with him was Warrior’s Reward, who he crushed in a Gulfstream allowance race, winning a seven-furlong allowance race impressively at Churchill Downs on Friday

 

That pretty much is where I stand with the horses who likely will go off at lower single-digit odds.

 

Now, let’s get to the real business at hand. I admit to being a hopeless romantic who cannot resist the lure of a great story. But I never allow that cloud my judgment when it comes to observing a horse. In the case of this year’s Cinderella horse General Quarters  , however, I am seeing a horse who is primed for a big effort, both physically and mentally. He is galloping out of his skin and is getting tough. He is bright and alert and appears to be in the zone. He just needs it all to come together on Saturday. I have no idea how good this horse is or if he’s fast enough; I’m just getting the signs he is sitting on a big race. And remember, he did turn in a sensational work over this track before the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (I can’t believe I’m liking another horse coming off the Blue Grass). There is no guarantee he’ll handle a sloppy track, but he has enough slop influences (A.P. Indy, Unbridled's Song, Danzig, Affirmed, and Round Table) to suggest it won’t be a problem. His third dam, Royal Honoree, is a half-sister to Dona Ysidra, the dam of Hall of Fame turf horse Manila.

 

As shocked as I am about liking the winner of the Blue Grass, I am doubly shocked that I also like the runner-up Hold Me Back  , who is another who has been tearing around the track in the mornings as if he means business, and I loved his most recent work in company. I normally wouldn’t like a big, long-striding horse like him in the slop, but I think he’s getting good right now and he’s coming off an excellent prep that should set him up for a big effort. If he doesn’t win I still think he’ll be flying late, as long as we don’t have a pronounced speed-biased track.  

 

The third horse at a price I like is Chocolate Candy, even though I wasn’t crazy about his getting hot and bothered when Jerry Hollendorfer changed his schedule and brought him later in the morning when there was more acitvity. This is one of the most easy-going horses in the field, so that was surprising. He’s done well since, so you just have to hope whatever was bugging him won’t be an issue on Derby Day. What I really like about this colt is the way he has improved physically since he arrived here. And one of his best mornings was when he galloped over a sloppy track and was loving it, according to his exercise rider Lindsey Molina. Also, if you like Pioneerof the Nile and I Want Revenge at 3-1 and 5-1, then you should like him at 20-1 or higher. Finally, Hollendorfer has had so much bad luck at Churchill he certainly is due to have some good luck come his way.

 

The other horse I am struggling with is Desert Party  , who I was all set to pick as my best bet at a price. I still will bet this horse to win, because he’s had a number of terrific mornings, including an eventful, but overly impressive work. He is all class with an air of nobility about him, and he will be Godolphin’s best chance to win the Derby by far. His stablemate Regal Ransom is very strong on the Thoro-Graph sheets, and has done nothing wrong here, but he’ll likely have to overcome pace pressure. Drawing post 19 is not going to help Desert Party, as he’s more than likely going to get parked wide, but there is no way of knowing if it’s going to hurt him.

 

For a 50-1 shot who could hit the board, Flying Private has been looking and training super.

 

So, in a nutshell, my main win bet will be General Quarters, with possible savers on Desert Party, Chocolate Candy, and Hold Me Back, depending on their odds.

 

My exotics would be to box General Quarters and Desert Party in exactas and trifectas with the favorite or favorites of your choice (I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile or Dunkirk); General Quarters and Hold Me Back with one or more of the four favorites, and General Quarters and Chocolate Candy with one or more of the four favorites.

 

If you want to try for a monster score and toss the favorites altogether, how about a four-horse exacta or trifecta box of General Quarters, Desert Party, Hold Me Back, and Chocolate Candy?

 

Friday Odds

 

There are some surprises in the odds as of 2 o’clock Friday, as this is being completed, such as Chocolate Candy at an unappealing 8-1 and Hold Me Back at a so-so 11-1. I am hoping those odds go up. Dunkirk is an enticing 8-1, as is Pioneerof the Nile. General Quarters also is 8-1. So far, I’m not crazy about the odds. If Dunkirk is 8-1 tomorrow, you can be sure I’ll be betting him. Also, Desert Party is a surprising 26-1 (you have to love those odds), as bettors apparently are not crazy about his post. As expected, Friesan Fire is the 4-1 favorite over I Want Revenge at 5-1. Also getting some play is Papa Clem   at 14-1.

 

Watch tomorrow for any updates in the column, as we get a better idea who the best bargains will be. But right now I’m still sticking with General Quarters, despite his sentiment-driven odds, and Desert Party as the best overlay at 26-1, despite his post.

 

Whether or not you pay any attention to these ramblings, don't forget about the best work/overall appearance (Pioneerof the Nile and I Want Revenge) and the slop and fitness factor (Friesan Fire) to include in any exotics, but you don't need me to tell you that.

Comment on this Column on Steve Haskin's Blog: Hangin' With Haskin.


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