Thursday, May 01, 2008

The 134th Kentucky Derby—Can Big Brown Deliver?

By Steve Brady

The first Saturday in May is upon us, and once again I attempt to untangle the mysteries of the Kentucky Derby, once and always a chaotic race. There are a couple of stories to keep an eye on in this year’s Run for the Roses.

The story off the track is the same one taking place in every other aspect of modern life—the availability of free information provided on the web. Horseplayers no longer have to buy solely into the opinions and perceptions of racing analysts and clockers. For any of the significant races leading up to the Derby, there is easily accessible video evidence you can peruse with your own eyes. Seeing is truly believing.

Didn’t catch Big Brown (left) demolishing the field in the Florida Derby on March 29? No problem. Go to YouTube and watch it to your heart’s content. You were busy taking a box of old flannel shirts to Goodwill on April 12, and didn’t see Gayego hang on to win the Arkansas Derby? No sweat. A couple of quick clicks, and it’s right there on your laptop. Having a hard time believing that Bob Black Jack really set a world record on January 26 in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita (6 furlongs in 1:06.53)? Well, what are you waiting for? Click fer chissakes!!!

In fact, between YouTube,, and, you can watch videos of almost any race you want—and it’s all completely free. The Derby site (see link, below) has videos of all the major prep races. It’s absolutely invaluable. They even have video footage of all the contenders going through their morning workouts at Churchill Downs, so you can see how they handle the new surface.

On the track, the big story is the post positions of the major players. The Derby has an extremely large field, with a two-tiered method for determining starting positions. They first draw a number for order of selection, then choose a post position from the available slots. Colonel John (pictured above, the 4-1 second favorite) had an early selection, and got a nice, comfortable spot at post 10. Big Brown (the 3-1 morning line favorite) was one of the last to pick and—given his limited options—chose the far outside post (#20).

The outside is where all the speed is. In posts 17-20, you’ve got Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory, Gayego and Big Brown. A little closer in (at 11 and 13) are two more speedsters, Z Humor and Bob Black Jack.

I am wondering if that is why Dick Dutrow, Big Brown’s trainer, chose the outside post. Jockey Kent Desormeaux does not like going to the lead, and he may want Big Brown to sit off the pace until after the speed battle has been determined. If he can do that, he’s got a good chance to win, but if he gets caught up in a pace battle, or if he is forced into a wide trip outside of the other speedsters, it might open the door for one of the closers.

Inside of Z Humor, there is no blazing speed, so the break should be very interesting on Derby Day. While all the horses on the outside are bolting toward the front, look for horses on the inside—Pyro, Colonel John, Court Vision (pictured, left)—to try to settle into a nice position and wait for their stretch run.

Interestingly, there is no real “cold closer” in this race. The closest we have is Court Vision, which is why I’m giving him a chance at long odds (20-1) to finish in the money.

[Quick trivia: There are only seven active jockeys who have won a Kentucky Derby, and four of them are in this race. Desormeaux is one. The other three are Mike Smith (on Gayego, 15-1), Calvin (“Bo-rail”) Borel (Denis of Cork, 20-1), and Edgar Prado (Adriano, 30-1).]

The Picks (with odds and post position)

1. Big Brown (3-1, #20) is the morning line favorite and difficult to ignore. BB’s had only three races, but he demolished the competition every time (by 11-1/4, 12-3/4, and 5 lengths), and his times at a mile and 1/16th and a mile and 1/8th are the fastest in this field.

2. Colonel John (4-1, #10) After his recent blistering workout at Churchill, he may eclipse BB as the favorite. But is he the best horse in the field? I’m not convinced, but he does seem to be the most dependable in-the-money finisher.

3. Court Vision (20-1, #4) is a pure pace play. If BB and Gayego get hooked up with Bob Black Jack and Recapturetheglory, he could take advantage of the situation.

4. Pyro (6-1, #9) was second in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and the favorite earlier in the season until a disappointing finish on April 12 at Keeneland in the Bluegrass Stakes on Polytrack. Can you throw that race out now that he’s back on dirt?

5. Gayego (15-1, #19) is coming up as the wiseguy choice. He might be for real. Still, he didn’t look completely comfortable working out on the Churchill dirt.

The Plays

  • A show bet on Colonel John
  • A three-horse boxed exacta using Big Brown, Colonel John, and Court Vision
  • If you want to get fancy, you can play a $1 trifecta bet:
    4, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 19, 20 = $27
  • If you want to get even fancier, you can try a $1 superfecta bet:
    4, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 19, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 19, 20 = $54 (If this one comes in, you can buy me dinner—in Monaco!)

For a rundown of the complete Derby field, plus related video features on the horses, visit

Steve Brady is Sports Media America’s Los Angeles-based handicapper.

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