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Wagstaff’s Picks: Kentucky Derby 2017 May 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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This year’s Derby gives us one of the most open fields in years. Add to that the weather conditions – 3 straight days of likely rain – and we get the random factor of sloppy track conditions to make it all the more unpredictable.

So I’ll go ahead and make some predictions. It’s the rebel in me.

After going through the past performances, I looked at speed, condition, jockey and trainer records… the usual sort of thing. I looked at which horses like to close, which like to lead, and which ones like stouts and porters as opposed to pale ales.

Twenty horses running on a sloppy track means a lot of mud kicked up in the faces of the horses off the lead. The majority of the horses running have no racing experience with that. How will they react?

Some horses have run in the mud before. Some of ’em did pretty well, too. Some of ’em came from behind to win, telling us that the mud-in-the-face factor only makes ’em MAD!

When I put it all together, I’d lean towards the following. I don’t have a definite winner like I did with American Pharoah & The Belmont, or like I did with the pasta I made last night. But I think I’ve got some good prospects here with some good odds to use in various combo bets that might pay well.

#8 Hence at 15-1 (!) looks fast, well conditioned and ready to go. He closes well, and has closed well in sloppy track conditions.

#5 Always Dreaming at 5-1 hasn’t run in the mud, but his overall speed is near the top, and he’s in great shape right now. If (and it’s always a big if) he can handle the mud, he should do fine.

#14 Classic Empire is the current favorite at 4-1, and usually when an opening line favorite is that high, it means there’ll be a lot of changing of that particular status come post time. He’s got the best speed of the bunch, but the only time he ran in mud was for a 4 1/2 furlong low-level race…. but he came from behind and won. I wouldn’t count him out here, not at all.

#2 Thunder Snow at a big 20-1 is my wildcard. He’s only been races overseas, I have no fraction times for him… but he wins. And he wins at decent times, and at least from the reports, he comes from behind and closes. No mud, but he’s one of the few horses who have run on turf, and he’s run & won on soft turf. That tells me the feel of a muddy track won’t bother him at all – it’s only the mud-in-the-face factor that might come into play. Still, I’ll have him in my combo bets, and 50 cent trifecta combos might be the way I go overall.

I had two other horses as possibles before cutting them on a second go-round, and they were #16 Tapcrit and #18 Gormley. I just don’t think the speed is there in either case, and I think trainer Todd Pletcher has a better shot with Always Dreaming than he does with Tapcrit. Could they finish 3rd or 4th for a trifecta or superfecta? Maybe, but I’m thinking my top 4 picks will out run them.

Will I bet a lot under these conditions? Probably not. But with the odds where they are, the idea of hitting a trifecta could potentially mean a big payoff for a small bet, my favorite score at the track every time.

It’s also supposed to rain here in sunny southern California on Saturday, a rarity for May. Maybe I’ll take that as a sign to stay indoors & gamble.

And on other days, I’ll remind myself that it’s probably raining somewhere.

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