The Schmuck Stops Here Peter Schmuck's musings on the local and national sports scene

Schmuck Stops Here: Some Kentucky Derby wagering wisdom and notes from the wider world of sports

Well, it’s about time for the annual stampede known as the Kentucky Derby, which pits about 20 of the most valuable thoroughbreds in the world against each other in a contest to see which one can run 1¼ miles without tripping over anyone else.

It’s both a dream and a nightmare for seasoned horse players, because the crowded field creates a layer of uncertainty that makes it tough to handicap but also tends to reward successful exotic bets with outsized payoffs.

I know this because I annually head to Pimlico or Laurel to bet off-track and try to win $200,000 by picking the first four finishers in order (superfecta) or, failing that, sneaking away with a four-figure trifecta. The fact that I have won both exactly zero times should disqualify me from giving betting tips to others, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this year’s Derby wired.

The sad news that morning-line favorite Omaha Beach had to be withdrawn from the race because of a throat problem has thrown the door wide open to the high probability of another Derby win by superstar trainer Bob Baffert. But you have to figure out which of the three horses he entered will bring him to Baltimore with hope alive for his third Triple Crown in five years.

So, I’ll make that easy for you. My complex handicapping system — which involves picking a good-odds horse with a catchy name and pairing it with a longer-odds horse or two recommended by the guy in the simulcast area who most looks like he has been sleeping at the track since Christmas — should finally produce the riches we all covet.

The horse with the catchy name that you’ll be hearing a lot about around here in a couple of weeks is Improbable, who many bettors will package with Baffert’s other two entries — Game Winner and Roadster — because it’ll just seem like the thing to do. The better bet is to pair Improbable in an exacta box with Maximum Security, another fine horse that might be the favorite if not for Baffert’s amazing track record in Triple Crown races.

That won’t break the bank, but if you insert one of those “underrated” horses chosen by the track bum of your choice and box the trifecta, it could make your day.

Why the Orioles didn’t double up

It had to be frustrating for Orioles fans to watch the possibility of an uplifting doubleheader sweep slip away in the last inning Wednesday night, but you could almost see that Chicago White Sox rally coming.

Manager Brandon Hyde has continued to laud his team for playing hard and playing solid defense through a tough first five weeks, but the Orioles were outhustled by the White Sox and seemed tentative on defense all day long.

Considering the number of errors and misplays in both games, the Orioles probably should feel fortunate to have won one of them.

Ravens rookies arrive

Didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the Ravens’ incoming freshman class, which is getting acquainted at the team’s rookie minicamp at the Under Armour Performance Center this weekend.

Like everybody else, I was impressed with the emphasis on speed guys at running back and wide receiver and intrigued by some of the players general manager Eric DeCosta picked up as undrafted free agents. But I’m both excited and apprehensive about the electrifying offensive attack the team is hoping to feature this year.

Everyone saw what quarterback Lamar Jackson could do during the second half of last season, but the way the Los Angeles Chargers kept him under wraps in the playoffs leaves room to wonder whether the league is already starting to catch up to him. We’ll find out soon enough.

Keuchel still out there

Premier free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel remains unsigned and probably will stay that way until after the draft in early June. Then he’s expected to sign a one-year deal to try to pitch his way back into next year’s free-agent market to get the megadeal he was denied this past winter.

Buyer beware. The Alex Cobb experience last year should be a cautionary tale for a team that spends $8 million or so to get Keuchel for the final three or four months of the season. When you take a pitcher out of his comfort zone, it can take a long time for him get back in it. Still, there will be a large-market team willing to take that chance.

Strasburg’s K-ration

Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg set a major league record Thursday for reaching 1,500 strikeouts in the fewest number of innings pitched (1,272 1/3). It’s a testament to his great stuff and high strikeout rate per nine innings. But it’s a quirky record because Strasburg — with his checkered injury history — needed parts of 10 major league seasons to get there.

Attendance blues

USA Today examined the March/April attendance figures for Major League Baseball and pointed out that 12 of 30 teams experienced a decline at the gate from the same period last year, and 2018 was no treat.

The Orioles suffered the lowest single-game attendance in the American League (6,585) in April, but not the lowest in the majors. That dishonor went to the Miami Marlins, who drew 5,934 to their lowest-attended game.

My take

News item: The wise guys in Las Vegas have essentially listed the Cleveland Browns as the most likely AFC North team to make the playoffs this year. The Browns are posted as an even-money proposition bet, while the Pittsburgh Steelers (+110), Ravens (+180) and Cincinnati Bengals (+700) are all considered to have less than a 50-50 chance to play in the postseason.

My take: So, let me get this straight. You can double your money by betting against the Browns to make the playoffs? Is Delaware open?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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