Kentucky Derby Coming Into Focus

12 Apr

By Lucky Kalanges

The combination of the Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes this Saturday, as the final two races offering qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, officially marks the end of the Derby Prep season. When the weekend is over we should have a very good idea of which 20 horses will be heading to the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

There’s a lot of intrigue, especially for the California-based barns of Bob Baffert (Improbable), Richard Mandella (Omaha Beach), and Blaine Wright (Anothertwistafate). With only 20 points awarded to first place in the Lexington Stakes, Anothertwistafate is almost in a must-win situation to qualify for the Derby. As a huge fan of the race he ran in the Sunland Derby, I’ll be pulling for him and his Northern California connections. I think he could offer a lot of value on Derby day if he makes the field.

Speaking of Derby Day, we’ll have the usual festivities planned at Pleasanton OTB, including a BBQ Buffet for $17, Mint Juleps and Bloody Marys for $10, and a bucket of four Corona’s for $20 a pop. We’ll be kicking the doors open early, at 7 a.m. for both Kentucky Oaks and Derby Day, May 3 and 4, respectively. If you’re a Turf Club denizen, be sure to secure your table as early as possible, as it is by far our busiest day of the year.

Wood No Good

Looking back at last week’s prep races, it was mostly a weekend to forget for Yours Truly. Like I wrote about last week’s Wood Memorial, I chose to back Tax when he went off at higher odds than Outshine. I was a bit surprised so many people had taken a shine to Outshine, betting him down as low as 5/2 early in the betting, that I immediately turned my attention to Tax. And even though I wanted 6/1 or better, I ended up getting 5.5-to-1 and he ran a strong second to the 5/2 favorite Tacitus.

My hard stand against the Bill Mott trainee killed all my bets in the Wood. While Tacitus has shown the ability to win consistently from off the pace at route distances, the final time of 1:51 1/5 leaves plenty to be desired and I am fairly confident in saying I don’t think the Derby winner is coming out of this race.

Blue Grass Blues

Much like the Wood, I met the same fate the Blue Grass Stakes, when Somelikeithotbrown faded to fourth in the stretch at odds of nearly 10/1. I couldn’t resist the price, bet him to Win, keyed him on top in exotics and was routed again by the favorite, this time Vekoma, who drew off to win impressively by 3 1/2 lengths at 7/5 odds.

There was just no way I was swallowing 7/5 on Vekoma in a full field of 14, so I’ll turn the page and forget about this one as quickly as possible. Sometimes you just pick the wrong races to play beat the favorite, and one of the keys to betting is knowing when to just hold onto your money and watch them run. Saturday was one of those days for me.

Among the most challenging aspects of handicapping races is seeing what’s there as opposed to seeing what you want to see. Let the opportunity grab you by the collar and drag you to the windows. If you don’t feel that pull, it’s time to think twice about getting up at all.

I’ll be back a little later with a look at the Arkansas Derby and the Lexington Stakes.

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