[Editor's note: Liam Durbin is owner/handicapper of e-ponies.com and creator of the One Click Pony, Pro Picks Mobile and Exacta Max apps. He shares his Triple Crown picks and betting tips with The Baltimore Sun each year.]
California Chrome hardly broke a sweat in his last four races, despite being in increasingly competitive fields. He appears to have push-button acceleration and is a man amongst boys on the west coast. One could argue that he has yet to show what he can do if really tested. So, anyone putting money on him, even at relatively low odds for a Derby favorite, should do so without a lot of buyer’s remorse – at least not at the moment.
His one knock is that he has not raced east of the Mississippi, and is thus untested against the best of the east coast crowd, and he has not raced over the Churchill surface. He should be forwardly placed enough on Saturday to avoid traffic jams, but he will certainly have to pass a few horses to win.
Most of those looking to bet around California Chrome will gravitate toward Wicked Strong, Samraat and Intense Holiday. Wicked Strong and Intense come off strong efforts.
Wicked Strong, in particular, looked great in winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Prior to that win, he had found some trouble, or disadvantageous pace scenarios, that allowed him to come up short. But in the Wood, he put it all together, and got the pace he needed, to show what he can do. The Boston connections will also depress his odds a bit.
Intense Holiday also has some excuses for the misses in his racing history but should get the pace he needs on Saturday to be running late.
Samraat has only been beaten once, and even that effort was a forgivable second in the Wood. He has shown a lot of heart in his races and will likely do so again in the Derby.
A bit of a sleeper is the Blue Grass winner, Dance With Fate. Despite winning the Blue Grass at Keeneland with a bold, sweeping move befitting of a serious Derby contender, he gets no better than 20-1 morning-line odds.
His one trip to the East Coast turned out to be very telling: He went off at 6-1 in the Blue Grass, but ran like he should have been much lower. He will likely be underbet come post time. The Blue Grass used to be a major Derby indicator, but it has not produced that many Derby winners in the past decade. Maybe this is the year the Blue Grass becomes highly relevant again.
A win bet on California Chrome is logical, but for value, Dance With Fate is more tantalizing. For exactas and trifectas, Wicked Strong, Intense Holiday and Samraat should be included.