There were several outstanding performances in Kentucky Derby prep races this year to suggest a highly contentious race in the annual cavalry charge at Churchill Downs.
It all started with Monarchos' sweeping move to win the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 13 and concluded with Congaree's speedy victory over Monarchos in the Wood Memorial on April 14.
During the month in between, Express Tour took the lead, lost it and then defeated the highly rated Street Cry to win the United Arab Emerites Derby in Dubai; Balto Star coasted to fast wire-to-wire wins in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn; Fifty Stars rallied to win the Louisiana Derby at the Fairgrounds while favored Dollar Bill endured a hellish trip to finish fourth in the same race. Meanwhile, Thunder Blitz looked fresh in winning the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah; Millennium Wind never stopped running to win the Blue Grass Stakes and Point Given drew away from a fast rival to win the 1 1/8 -mile Santa Anita Derby.
With so many high-class performers in this year's Derby, along with several intriguing long-shot possibilities, the 1 1/4 -mile classic seems easy to plot in advance: Balto Star on the lead with Keats, Songandaprayer, Congaree, Millennium Wind and Express Tour in the next flight; Point Given, Thunder Blitz, Monarchos, Invisible Ink, Talk is Money in mid-pack and the rest biding their time, hoping for a pace meltdown.
Of the long shots, I am tempted to play Express Tour and Thunder Blitz, both of whom have trained superbly at Churchill Downs, and should be in a good stalking position to make their runs entering the far turn. Yet, Point Given has impressed in all races and I can find no fault with any part of his game, especially his versatility, the training he has received from Bob Baffert, or his Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, who specializes in getting safe running positions from outer post positions.
Point Given simply is the best horse in the field and the 17 betting interests could create inflated payoff possibilities in the Exactas and Trifectas. So, using a hypothetical $100 for each Triple Crown race, I will play the 127th Derby as follows:
$10 Exactas: No. 17 Point Given over No. 6 Express Tour, No. 4 Thunder Blitz, No. 3 Balto Star and No. 16 Monarchos. (Four combinations/total $40).
Here are two more exactas to play with Point Given in the second finishing position:
$6 Exactas. No. 6 and No. 4; over No. 17. (Two combinations/total $12).
$4 Exactas. No. 3 and No. 16; over No. 17. (Two combinations/total $8.).
$1 Trifectas. (When you go to the betting window say you want to place a trifecta part-wheel) No. 17; with these four horses in the second position - No. 6, No. 4, No. 3, No. 16; and with these 11 in the third finishing position - No. 6 No. 4, No. 3, No. 16 (except in the bets where each is picked second) and No. 5 Fifty Stars, No. 10 Dollar Bill, No. 8 Congaree, No. 13 Invisible Ink, No. 2 Millennium Wind, No. 7 Arctic Boy, No. 15 Jamaica Rum. (40 combinations at $1 each/total $40).
Steve Davidowitz is author of Betting Thoroughbreds and editor of the American Racing Manual.