The post positions are drawn and the run for the roses is only two days away. I’ve spent the past two weeks dissecting pretty much every element of a race that I know full-well to be impossible to handicap. There are just too many elements that override normal handicapping. The insanely packed field of 20 horses creates a wide array of unpredictable traffic trouble, and if a horse gets boxed in at the wrong time, the race can be over for him pretty quickly regardless of how much of a world-beater he is (Empire Maker, Point Given and even Afleet Alex come to mind in recent runnings). The most intriguing aspect of the Kentucky Derby, though, is the fact that you have 20 young horses (equivalent to about 16-year-old human beings) prepared to try their hand at a distance that they have never attempted in their young lives. Most have gone 9 furlongs by now on at least one occasion, but the mystery of what will transpire in that final furlong is anyone’s guess. In some years the horses that run close to the pace are able to keep their stride and hold on for the win (War Emblem in 2002, Smarty Jones in 2004); in others, the pace melts, chaos ensues and unlikely winners emerge (Giacomo in 2005).

I am in a serious slump in this race that goes back to 2001, when I nailed the winner Monarchos at better than 10-1 odds. Point Given was the huge favorite that year, and he went on to win Horse of the Year honors despite the loss, and I loved the value that Monarchos offered with the strong closing style he demonstrated in his Wood Memorial loss. Some may recall that I proceeded to name my gray car after him in homage. Since then though, I’ve made some picks that weren’t as well advised as they could have been. Starting from 2002, my “official” picks have been: Perfect Drift, Empire Maker, The Cliff’s Edge, Bandini, and Point Determined. The first three ran strong races and made me look intelligent in my loss, while the last two threw in real clunkers and were probably ill-advised picks in retrospect.

I am bound and determined to improve this year. However, it should be noted that the increasing size of the field makes the Derby less of a race in which you should be dead set on one winner, but rather one where you should try to narrow the field down to a few horses that have a real chance to hit the board, and to box those horses in exotic bets. In 2007, I really, really like four horses and consider them to be virtually inseparable despite two of them running to some bad luck at the post position draw. I’ll be using these in my exotic bets. After those four, there are about eight more that still scare me, making this a Derby of unusual depth, but you can’t bet on everybody to win, and boxing 12 horses in exactas and trifectas sure gets expensive.

When handicapping the Derby (or any race), I feel it is important and beneficial to break the horses down based on the likely pace scenario. What follows is a brief analysis on each contender within each of five self-explanatory pace “categories”- Pace, Just off the pace, Stalkers, Closers and Deep Closers. This should give you and idea of where I expect these horses to be, and when. The Beyers listed are top speed figures on the year and the distance at which they were run. If I don’t list a speed figure, that means the horse hasn’t topped 90, which isn’t a good thing. Only one of the last 13 Derby winners has won without running at least a 100 Beyer or better in a prep race, and the one that didn’t (Giacomo) won thanks to the most insane pace breakdown of any race I’ve ever witnessed.


Liquidity, #9 PP, 30-1 Morning Line, 102 Beyer (9f)

This running of the Kentucky Derby doesn’t figure to be loaded with speed, which actually ensures a more honest race that is a bit more easily handicapped. Still, I expect this horse to battle for the lead early. He has great tactical speed but has had a lot of trouble holding his steam in 9 furlong races, and for that reason I think he will be really up against it in this one, although his daddy (Tiznow) certainly didn’t have any trouble winning 10 furlong races. It’s possible that he throws in a career best or that he’s just been slacking, but horses that tire after a mile and can’t even get to the wire in 9f races don’t generally peak my interest in this race, which is a massive test.

Stormello, #17 PP, 30-1 Morning Line, 96 Beyer (9f)

This is a perplexing colt, who seems to scream towards the lead but still hold well down the stretch. His connections have said that they plan to teach him how to rate before the Derby, although I still expect him to be on or near the pace, and was pretty shocked that his connections opted for this post when the three inside posts were still open. I think that he of all horses will have the most to overcome from his post based on his running style, as he’s certain to lose a lot of ground getting near the pace on the first turn. He nearly won the Fountain of Youth wire to wire, but then set a hot pace and tired to a 4th place Florida Derby finish. That sounds like the opposite of progress to me, and speed figures this low at a distance a furlong shorter than this one don’t bode well for a horse that needs to be close to the pace. I’m passing on him.

Cowtown Cat, #6 PP, 20-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer (9f)

I generally prefer stalkers and closers in this race as they have been much more successful than front-runners over time. However, if I had to pick one, this horse may be my longshot hedge of the pace horses, because he’s shown versatility in that he can rate and win like he did in the Gotham Stakes, while he can also win races wire to wire like he proved in the Illinois Derby. Some argue that he got ideal trips and pace set-ups in both races (Beyer absolutely hates him), but it is what it is. He’s turned in some fantastic 5f workouts recently (sub :59.0), and if this race turns out to be even slower than expected, his pedigree (Distorted Humor out of a Storm Cat mare) suggests he could have the gas left to get it done. Don’t dismiss at 30-1 or higher, but don’t get too excited either, as he’s likely been made to look a lot better than he really is.


Nobiz Like Showbiz, #12 PP, 8-1 Morning Line, 99 Beyer (9f)

I think that this Derby potentially sets up very well for this running style in the event that the pace is slow and the stalkers, closers and deep closers have too much ground to make up. I’m still going to play the closers as always, but if this scenario plays out, this will likely be the horse to beat. He showed determination to run near the lead in his Wood Memorial win and if he can sit back just a bit he may very well have plenty of juice to get the job done. His only loss this year was a three wide trip in which he was bumped and lost momentum down the stretch. This is a big, strong colt. My only concern is that he hasn’t exactly shown either blazing speed or strong closing punch, failing to to top a 100 Beyer in all three starts this year. I won’t bet him to win as he’s likely to be in the top three betting favorites and I don’t see enough value there, but he’ll be in my 5 horse exacta box for sure. His connections have to be very happy about his post draw. He could be ready for a big one, and that would be no surprise.

Hard Spun, #8 PP, 15-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (9f)

Oh dear. This seems to be the trendy pick this year, which from a value perspective gives me yet another reason to play against him. I’ll give some more shortly. On the positive side, he’s won 5 out of 6 lifetime races and posted a 101 speed figure his last time out at a respectable distance. Although, given the competition he’s faced, one has to wonder why he isn’t perfect on the career. If I’m being honest, he still scares the daylights out of me, because the way he likes to stay just off the pace and then decimate horses reminds me of how Smarty Jones killed me a few years back. The word from my sources last week was that he wasn’t training or working well (his last hard workout at 8f definitely left something to be desired, and sources lose to the track said he was “sore and stiff”- yikes!!) Then he ripped off a 5 furlong workout in :57.3 Monday morning, easily the fastest work of any of the contenders and the fastest such work in recent memory. This makes me think several things, including my original thoughts that he’ll try to go as hard as he can early and probably won’t have the stamina for the whole 10 furlongs. I also question why on earth his trainer chose to blow the horse out five days before the race. I can’t imagine that the workout didn’t take a lot out of him so close to the race while other horses were breezing along similar works a full four seconds slower, but we will see; it’s always possible that he is a monster waiting to emerge. For what it’s worth, 6 of the last 11 Derby winners threw in bullet workouts on their last serious prep, but I still have my worries that this one in particular was just too much and that it will show up in that valuable final furlong. Aside from the kamakaze workout, his owners and trainers couldn’t have handled his situation any more strangely. The six week layoff poses concern, as does his seemingly picky track taste that nearly led his connections to opt against running him here if he didn’t like the track. If they knew they had the next Seattle Slew, why would they even be considering not running? Nevertheless, now that he drew a basically ideal post and figures to go hard early (which basically ensures a close to perfect trip), he’s definitely not one to overlook. I’m planning to try to beat him, but since he’s probably the one that scares me the most, if he’s anywhere near the morning line odds, it would be tough not to play him small as a hedge.

Sam P, #13 PP 20-1 Morning Line, 99 Beyer (9f)

This is a colt that remains interesting at his odds for no apparent reason. I expect his odds at post time to be much more generous than 20-1, and while I don’t think there’s any way he’ll actually win the race, he’s the kind of horse that sticks around at a steady pace and sneaks in to hit the board. His pedigree says he can get the distance (by Cat Thief, 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner), although he was not match for fellow rivals Great Hunter and Tiago in 9f meetings earlier this year. Was he hustling? We’ll see. Certainly not a throw out, but I still think there are better horses to put onto the bottom of your exotics.

Tueflesberg, #10 PP, 30-1 Morning Line, 92 Beyer (9f)

I am still irate at this horse for basically destroying the Blue Grass, and therefore preventing handicappers such as myself from drawing any meaningful conclusions from the race. But perhaps in actuality the stunt that this horse pulled in that race will contribute both value and intrigue to this race. This horse is a fighter and one of the race’s enigmas of this race, but I don’t think he’ll even know what to do with himself once he is in it. Dude is crazy! He scares me for that reason, but I’m banking on the fact that he has a psychotic breakdown midway through. In any event, Hard Spun nailed him hard in the LeCompte Stakes, so if I’m playing against that one, I’ll have to play against this one too. Teuflesberg doesn’t look like he’ll handle 10f too well either, and the pace scenario I expect combined with the distance will probably leave him far behind the leaders at the wire.

Sedgefield, #1 PP, 50-1 Morning Line

Here is a horse that I would prefer to see out of this race. The last time I said that about a horse in the Derby he won the race (Giacomo) so take that for what it’s worth. But, if my reasoning is worth anything, this horse loves to stick near the pace and then get caught in 8.5 furlong races, so I can only imagine what is going to happen to him here. He’s never won a Grade II or better and has lost to some of these, most of whom I don’t like. He’ll have to go early to avoid being boxed in and run over by the rest of the field, and he’ll never make it 10f after that. He’s my longest shot on the board, so maybe that’s a good thing for him.

Storm In May,#4 PP, 30-1

There isn’t much to like about this one if you’re planning to bet against Curlin, as he was no match for that one in the Arkansas Derby, although he did seem to close well, albeit more than ten lengths from the winner. Earlier races this year were even more unsuccessful, so I suppose if you’re looking for a positive, he did improve in his last prep. One of the more surprising moments of today was the decision by his connections to select this post with the first pick. I figured he’d try to stalk, but it seems pretty clear that he’ll try to go as close as he can to lead early- if not why not take the 9 or 10 post? And I suppose that makes sense, as he’s been most successful in shorter races on the turf. Overall, he seems seriously outclassed here and he is one of my throwouts.


Any Given Saturday, #18 PP, 12-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (8.5f)

For some reason, I just have a feeling that we haven’t yet seen what this colt is capable of. Going back to his photo-2nd place finish to Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby, I immediately thought that these would be the two horses I would be deciding between on Derby Day. And so it is. In that race, he had a bit of a rough trip before giving Street Sense all he could handle down the stretch in a finish that could have gone either way. In the Wood Memorial, he ran the whole race four wide of the rail, made a game move down the stretch, but it wasn’t quite enough- although one has to wonder if after the rough trip his jockey decided to reserve some energy. He didn’t need to overexert himself to get in to the Derby, and the Wood was still in my opinion exactly what he needed- a good, solid prep (Derby winners Monarchos (2001) and Funny Cide (2003) both fell short in the Wood and then improved on the the first Saturday in May to win the roses). His pedigree might be the best in the entire field and it suggests he’ll love the distance (by Distorted Humor, who sired Derby winner Funny side and out of an AP Indy mare) and he’s been working well. If he is able to scrap his way through another trip that will be very much less than ideal coming out of the 18 post, he has a really big shot here at a respectable price. He’ll be in all my exotics, and amazingly, I see less negatives for him than any other horse in the race. At least he’s not accustomed to easy trips like some of these, and if he can slice his way into the second or third pack of horses early without losing too much ground on the turns, he could be in position to steal the race at double digit odds. Unfortunately, getting the trip he needs is a very big if in a field even more crowded than he is accustomed to (especially from the auxillary gate), but I’m going to take a shot on him. Remember, 6 of the last 12 Derby WINNERS have come from post 15 or beyond, and in a race this long, talented horses with strong kicks still find their way.

Curlin, #2 PP, 7-2 Morning Line Favorite, 103 Beyer (9f),

There is certainly a lot of buzz about Curlin, the morning line favorite for the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby. His victories have been visually impressive, but I am very doubtful that his accomplishments merit the hype, and I’m honestly very surprised that he’s the morning line favorite, especially after drawing such a tough inside post. He won’t be 7-2 on Saturday morning, mark my words. Smart money will recognize that in his three lifetime races (all victories), he failed to beat a single horse that would be considered a serious contender here. His runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby (where he posted a Beyer of 103, the best of the bunch but certainly not a figure that separates him from the rest of the field) reminded me a lot of Bellamy Road’s Wood Memorial win a couple years back, except that one ran much faster and still couldn’t live up to the declarations that he was unbeatable. Curlin’s stalking style should work well for him in this race based on the way the pace scenario sets up, but without really ever having been challenged head to head and lacking the seasoning and experience as most of these, it will be very interesting to see how he handles the intensity of trying to knock off 19 other world class horses. That is not to mention that his post is less than ideal, and he may be forced to go a little earlier than he wants to– a possible death sentence for an unseasoned colt facing real competition packed with stone-cold closers for the first time. No horse has won the Derby without racing as a two year old since 1882, and nothing Curlin has done has been impressive enough to endorse him as the one to topple that piece of history. I will grant that the sample size for that stat is small, and it’s certainly not impossible for him to win, but at the odds he’s likely to offer, I’m going to try to beat him.

Scat Daddy, #14 PP, 10-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer (9f)

He’s been somewhat of an overachiever, winning the Fountain of Youth in a tight finish and then stalking and closing impressively to steal the Florida Derby. He’s been training extremely well, and his post looks pretty solid for the race he needs to run to get the job done, but I have my questions as to how well he’ll handle the distance. He’s also failed to top a 100 Beyer yet in his career, so he’ll need to take a big step forward to win this one. With a good trip, he should be in position to make his move, but I think there are better horses here, and that his two big wins were largely due to circumstance. He held off Nobiz Like Showbiz in the Fountain of Youth, but got a perfect trip while Nobiz was bumped in the lane after a wide trip. Some feel that those two are separated by less than a length on their best day, but I think Nobiz is very much the better horse. Scat Daddy sneaked in late to win the Florida Derby, but needed every ounce of steam to hold off Notional, and the overall quality of that race is suddenly looking a bit less than originally thought. It’s also interesting to recall his fourth place finish on this same track last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and all three horses that beat him rather handily are here and all look like they will benefit from the extra furlong and a half more than he will. He’ll probably be the third of fourth betting favorite, so his odds won’t entice me at all, and with at least four horses ahead of him on my list, I’ll have to pass.

Bwana Bull, #11 PP, 50-1 Morning Line

Hitting the board would be a big surprise for this longshot, who threw in a real clunker in the Santa Anita Derby after winning his first two starts this year. It’s tough to tell how he’ll race, but given the result of his front-running effort at Santa Anita, I’m guessing he’ll try to hang back a bit and try to pick off fading pace horses rather than go straight to the lead. He doesn’t have the speed of the better stalking horses, and a 5th place finish in an incredibly weak Santa Anita Derby field doesn’t bode well against the likes of these. Nothing is impossible, but I can’t come up with any reason to support him.

Imawildandcrazyguy, #5 PP, 50-1 Morning Line

The last entry into the field has perhaps the stupidest name in the history of horse racing, so that alone ensures that the gods of Churchill Downs won’t let him hit the board. If you’re not into superstition, he wasn’t able to make up much ground in out-of-the-money efforts in the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby. I try to provide a positive about every horse, so I guess I’ll mention that he did finish ahead of Zanjero in the Risen Star after closing strongly. Only two problems with that: he’s raced twice since then and failed to hit the board, and those races were both a furlong longer. Enough said.

Street Sense, #7 PP, 4-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (8.5f)
Juvenile jinx aside, there isn’t much to dislike about this horse. First of all, consider the dominating manner in which he won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on this very track over some of the favorites here. He clearly loves Churchill and appears to be coming into the race in absolutely perfect form. He threw in a killer work in his last serious effort, and his 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass last time out wasn’t a bad prep, and had it not been for the collision between Teuflesberg and Great Hunter in the stretch he would have been in strong position to wax the field. It’s also possible that he wasn’t all out in that race, and he’ll certainly like the dirt track at Churchill better than the Polytrack at Keeneland. It is interesting to note that he also failed to win his BC Juvenile prep, which was also on Polytrack, and then improved massively at Churchill to destroy a talented field. His win earlier this year over Any Given Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby was spectacular, hard fought and enticing. I’m not as worried as some are about his only having two preps before the Derby. I think he’ll get the distance, and if I have one concern it’s only that his wins have all seem to have come from especially good trips, where he is able to get to the rail on the final turn and shoot through the traffic, and he may not be so lucky in the Derby. On the strongly positive side, he got a great slot in the #7 post, so he very well may be able to shoot up the rail, as he seems to be as comfortable with handling these turns as any horse here. In any event, as long as he doesn’t sit too far off he pace he should be in solid position as the pace horses fade, and if he has a clear path he’ll likely dust the field, as he has an ability to change gears quickly that is superior to the rest of these. The juvenile jinx is a fluke, and it is about time that it was ended once and for all. This horse may be the one to break the curse, and I think he’s the winner on Saturday.
Great Hunter, #20 PP, 15-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (8.5f)

I really like this horse’s chances at the odds he is likely to offer, especially after drawing the dreaded far outside post. In my opinion, this post, while certainly not ideal, won’t hurt him as much it would hurt some, as he’ll plan to sit way back off the pace anyway and shouldn’t lose much ground. Watch his fifth place finish in the Blue Grass closely: he had an engine full of steam coming down the stretch before he collided with a fading Teuflesberg and lost his momentum. Otherwise, he could have easily won the race and been the morning line favorite here. He possesses a dramatic turn of foot, which has been a successful running style in the Derby over time, and his pedigree suggests he will love the distance (sired by Aptitude, Derby runner-up and Belmont winner). He looks primed for a big effort, and he’s my top value play, as his meaningless Blue Grass race will be inaccurately analyzed by some and overlooked by many and his outside post surely won’t attract very much interest. He showed his stuff earlier this year in his Robert B. Lewis Stakes win, as he sat off the pace and exploded down the stretch to win the race in hand. I’m looking for him to improve upon that effort, while also keeping in mind that he ran well in last year’s Juvenile to hit the board. I wouldn’t be surprised if his outside post pushes his odds above the morning line estimate, and he’s worth a shot for sure.

Circular Quay, #16 PP, 8-1 Morning Line, 102 Beyer (8.5f)

The son of 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch is perhaps the race’s biggest enigma, and how wonderfully ironic is it that he will start from the same post that his daddy did when he won this race 12 years ago? (Yes, I had Thunder Gulch that year. I wish it was still that easy). There are certainly knocks against him, such as the unusually long eight week layoff since his impressive Louisiana Derby win, the fact that he’s never even gone 9 furlongs before trying his hand at 10 (that’s a big one) and his tendency to sit WAY off of what will likely be a slower pace than would be to his liking. As he showed in the aforementioned win, he likes to come from far off the pace, a style that generally works in this race, but many feel that the lack of strong pace will hurt his chances. Remember that he was second on this track in last year’s Juvenile, and that his only loss this year resulted from a severe collision in which a jockey was actually thrown from an adjacent horse. His pedigree puts him in position for a win here, and the layoff doesn’t bother me as much as some, although there is a difference between being fresh and being rusty. Trainer Todd Pletcher seems to think that this is his top colt, which is no small feat among the likes of Any Given Saturday, Scat Daddy, Cowtown Cat and Sam P. Barbaro proved last year that a long layoff is easily overcome, and that a fresh horse in competent hands can be tough to beat. He’s certainly in the mix and I won’t be leaving him out of my exotics. Despite pace scenarios, horses that come from off the pace have won 7 of the last 10 Derbys.


Tiago, #15 PP, 15-1 Morning Line, 100 Beyer (9f)

This is probably my favorite of the three horses I have associated with this style, although I still think that they are all up against it as a pace breakdown a la his half-brother Giacomo’s 2005 victory seems unlikely, and they’ll probably all have a lot of ground to make up behind horses of superior talent. Tiago’s win in the Santa Anita Derby probably looked better than it really was as he benefited from a complete breakdown of pace. Nevertheless, he gained ground with authority, and if an unforeseen hot pace forces some of the serious contenders to go earlier than they would like, he certainly has the turn of foot to be there at the end. Great Hunter dusted him earlier this year and he didn’t seem to have the same closing kick we saw in the Santa Anita Derby, which means either is is improving incredibly quickly or his last race was a fluke. I’m going to go with something in the middle and probably stay away, although if you like deep closers, it isn’t unthinkable for him to repeat his brother’s upset. His lack of experience (only four career races) is also somewhat of a cause for concern, unless you’re going in to play Curlin.

Dominican, #19 PP, 20-1 Morning Line, 93 Beyer (9f)

This colt made a name for himself after closing strongly to win the Blue Grass by a hair. He’s demonstrated a strong closing kick in both starts this year, although his speed figures pose some serious concern against horses of this caliber. He also seems to love Polytrack surfaces, although he has been working very well up to this race and has shown a lot of improvement. I still think the deep closers will have trouble unless the pace is hotter than expected, and duplicating a career effort that benefited greatly from the traffic troubles of superior horses will be asking a lot for this one. I’m going to respectfully pass, although he scares me more than most of the ones I am dismissing. Blue Grass winners have bounced in recent years (my The Cliff’s Edge pick comes immediately to mind), so I’m going to hopefully learn my lesson this time and stay away, as I see too many question marks.

Zanjero, #3 PP, 30-1, 93 Beyer (9f)

In three starts this year, Zanjero hasn’t finished better or worse than third place, either closing strongly or holding position through the finish. I don’t personally think he’s fast enough to get the job done, as he had a complete rail trip in the Blue Grass while the rest of the field endured utter chaos and still couldn’t quite get into the top two, and if Great Hunter hadn’t been bumped he would have missed the board. A lot of people love him as a value play, probably because his profile and racing style remind some of the aforementioned Giacomo. His pedigree is an interesting blend of speed and stamina (by Sprint champion Cherokee Run out of and AP Indy mare) which doesn’t sound too bad for a race like this. He could be ready for a big step up, and I’m looking really hard, but I can’t quite see it. Coming out of such a far inside post won’t help his chances either. In fact, in the last 8 years, only 3 horses inside of post #10 have won the Derby (which seems astonishingly low), and they’ve all been on the pace or near the pace (War Emblem- wire to wire, Funny Cide- stalked/ just off the pace, Barbaro- stalked/just off the pace).


($1) 5-Horse Exacta Box: Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, Circular Quay, Nobiz Like Showbiz = $20

($1) 4-Horse Exacta Box: Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, Circular Quay =$12

($1) 4-Horse Trifecta Box: Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, Circular Quay= $24

$6 on Street Sense to win, $9 on Street Sense to place =$15

$5 on Any Given Saturday to place, $5 on Any Given Saturday to show= $10

$5 on Great Hunter to place, $5 on Great Hunter to show= $10

$5 on Circular Quay to place, $4 on Circular Quay to show =$9


  9. TIAGO
  13. SAM P

Hope this helps. It’s Wednesday night and I’m off to bed now feeling fairly content with my picks. I’m praying for sweet dreams that don’t involve a Curlin-Hard Spun-Scat Daddy trifecta. Oh the horrors!

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