Well, sportsfans, another year has passed, and here we are, approaching the first Saturday in May. Friends of The Weekly Meat know that I handicap the Kentucky Derby each year. Sometimes I'm right, sometimes, I'm wrong. But I like to think my on-base percentage would be high enough to make sabermetricians proud.
There are, of course, unshareable techniques to my handicapping process — some of which involve a highly flammable salve of bourbon and snake oil — but here are a few of the basics.
The Derby has grown with American waistlines to now pull in the maximum of 20 horses each year. And each year there is much fat among the substance. The first thing I do is to cut out the pretenders, and vanity entries of rich white and Arab guys attempting to add another inch to their peckers by paying the ~$30-grand entry fee to run their nags into glue.
You can find all of the information you need — and I recommend you check it out — in the Daily Racing Form's past performances (this year's here, in PDF format).
Next, pour yourself several fingers of medicinal-grade Kentucky bourbon and sit down with a pen and the mystic charts of the Racing Form (explanations here and here, for those of you novice at such things).
In this race, I look for five main things:
- Horses that have run Beyer speed figures over (or at least around) 100. (This year, CALIFORNIA CHROME has standout Beyers or 107 and 108 in his last two races.) If a horse hasn't reached or run consistently in the 90s, I toss them out of the mix and don't give them a second thought. Looking at you, HARRY's HOLIDAY, WE MISS ARTIE, VINCEREMOS, and COMMANDING CURVE.
- Horses with improving Beyers (trending up in recent races). See SAMRAAT, CHITU, and maybe WILDCAT RED.
- Horses that have had success at a mile or more.
- Horses that have been working out sharply. See CALIFORNIA CHROME, CHITU, maybe CANDY BOY and MEDAL COUNT.
- Horses with value. Yes, CALIFORNIA CHROME is a great horse, and is the clear favorite. But why bet a horse at near even money for a race in which the favorite rarely wins (because anything can, and does, happen in a field of 20) and horses at longer odds often pay off well?
So where does this all leave us this year? Again, pressed for time, but I spent a half hour with the Form, and for your parimutuel pleasure, I'll pick two that offer great mid-range odds for quality horses with a nose for winning:
Raced six times and lost only once (to WICKED STRONG in the Wood Memorial), his speed numbers have improved and been creeping up toward 100. He seems well-placed — next to CALIFORNIA CHROME in the 6 hole — and ready to run a strong race.
Lightly raced, with only four starts (3 wins and a place) — but again, shows improving speed (hitting 102 the last time out), and if he can avoid traffic and stay the distance, I like his odds and moxie.
There you go, folks. See how it all shakes out this Saturday on NBC (post time is ~6:20 EDT), and remember to make your simple syrup early enough to chill it before mixing those Mint Juleps!
Postscipt: Well, it turns out I picked the right horses. IF the race had been the length of the Preakness. But the Derby is all about the final furlong, and my two picks tired down the stretch against the beast that is CALIFORNIA CHROME, who is indeed a great horse. Possibly even a superhorse, and a genuine Triple Crown threat.