Friday, May 02, 2008

The Colonel Isn't Just KFC

You can put me in the same bucket as everyone else. The Kentucky Derby doesn’t produce handicappers anymore- only complainers. Frankly, it was hard enough before simply doping out twenty horses, all in a desperate need to get in one another’s way- shipping in from all over the country having faced utterly disparate conditions and competition.

But now they run on rubber, and that makes it all the more discombobulating. If you thought the grass-to-dirt angle was bad, now we have synthetic-to-dirt, and no one knows who will make the transition from the increasing number of synthetic surfaces to the regular old dirt at Churchill Downs. As Andy Beyer writes in the Washington Post:
Of the 20 Derby entrants, nine made their last starts on synthetic tracks. Two have not raced on anything but synthetics. What should handicappers make of horses such as Monba and Adriano, who won important stakes on Polytrack after poor performances on dirt? What do we do with Pyro, who ran terribly on Keeneland's Polytrack after looking like a potential star on dirt? What do we do with Colonel John, regarded as the West's top 3-year-old, who has not run on anything but the synthetic surfaces in California?
As any good Wall Street pro knows- as uncertainty goes up, so does the need for value versus obvious merit. Fortunately, the enormous field means just about any choices outside of the immediate chalk spells value. Only two horses figure to go off at less than 5-to-1. And fortunately, I’m down on the favorite.

Down might not be the right world. But Big Brown is parked in post twenty. That auxiliary gate is bad news- even for the horse who has shown the most ability in the field. Let’s save the big boy- and his small risk/reward ratio- for Baltimore. Again, I’m looking for a price- a boxcar score for a small investment to compensate for the risk and the fact no one knows what is going to happen.

I’ve got good feelings about a few contenders with decent figures. Colonel John was fast in traffic- seems quick and interested. If he had earned his figs on the dirt, he’s be the chalk here. And he might be lightly prepped- but he fires.

Gayego and Smooth Air can run- but figure to be hurt by post and health (a mysterious fever)- so I’ll use’em as savers. Tales of Ekati can slug. Recapturetheglory gives you much of the speed of Big Brown- with a slightly better post and much better price. Z Fortune can run in traffic. All five should give better than 15 to 1 value. I’d have saved the filly Eight Belles for Baltimore- let her run fresh versus the boys rather than slug it out with them here.

So that is the play: we’re going to box $4 exactas with Gayego, Smooth Air, Tales of Ekati, Recapturetheglory and Z Fortune- $40 to try and win something like a thousand. And we’ll play $2 exactas on Colonel John with those five- $10 to squeeze out a $100 and give us mad money for Preakness.

A fortune was garnered at the Belmont with the filly last year here. And missed on the Derby here.