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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

JB: Dialing It In

JB from smallbany is dialing in his Derby selections in tonight's guest post. I want to thank him for spending the time and filling in during the last few weeks of tax season while I was under the gun...he continues to share some of his handicapping prowess, sit back and take a quick Derbyism 101 course from my main man:

When it comes to trying to pick a winner in America's biggest race there are a many factors racetrackers from across the country must consider. Here are JB's top 10 Derbyisms for the 135th edition of the Run for the Roses:

Derbyism #1 - Consider only the fastest horses. Look at past performances on dirt with particular attention to triple digit beyer figures. Horses to watch: Friesan Fire (104), Dunkirk (108), I Want Revenge (113 and 103), West Side Bernie (101), Win Willy (102).

Derbyism #2 - Consider horses who have trained well, exceptionally well, over the Churchill surface. Mike Welsch of the DRF does a superb job watching horses hit the track and analyzing workouts. He is worth a read. Horses to watch: Friesan Fire (57.4 5F), Pioneerof the Nile (101 flat 5f easy).

Derbyism #3 - Consider horses peaking at the right time. Even if a colt didn't win his last prep, watch the replays. If you did in 2005 you would have seen a very game Giacomo run fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. Horses to watch: Hold Me Back (2nd), Dunkirk (2nd), West Side Bernie (2nd), Chocolate Candy (2nd), Desert Party (2nd).

Derbyism #4 - Consider the size of previous fields horses have run in. Analyze whether they raced inside, outside or needed the lead. The Derby field is 20 horses. Some racers just don't like getting dirt kicked in their face, being covered up or waiting in the gate. Friesan Fire's Louisiana Derby and I Want Revenge's Wood stand out the most.

Derbyism #5 - Consider jockey changes. Jockeys tend to stay on horses who have it figured out. Trainers making jockey changes might be looking for something that isn't there.
Pioneerof the Nile (Gomez), Friesan Fire (Saez), Papa Clem (Bejarano), Hold Me Back (Desormeaux) all retained their mounts.

Derbyism #6 - Consider post position. For some horses it doesn't matter (see Big Brown) but for others (like Funny Cide) it can put them in a nice spot to run a big race. See Geno's spreadsheet for where winners have won from over the past 39 years and what posts have been ITM the most and which ones have been the dead positions on the board.

Derbyism #7 - Pace makes the race. This is more true this year than in past years, as there is little separating the top tier horses, and with a fast pace, the four second tier horses. Fractions like 23.4/5 +, 47. 2/5 +, favor I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire, Desert Party and Pioneerof the Nile. Faster pace helps Dunkirk, Hold Me Back, West Side Bernie and Win Willy. [EquiSpace comment: Check out Louisiana racecaller Travis Stone's pace analysis post which confirms JB's pace thoughts]

Derbyism #8 - Horses don't talk but trainers do. Dunkirk - Pletcher: "gives me my best chance to win my first Derby." Pioneerof the Nile - Baffert: "After watching [his last workout] I am confident he is going to show up and run the race of his life on Saturday." Friesan Fire - Jones: "if he wins the Derby we're in great shape for the Triple Crown."

Derbyism #9 - Consider horse maturity and experience. To win the Derby a horse must run his race, meaning he must break well, use tactical speed to get to where he wants to be, RELAX i.e., get his stride and breathing rhythm going without working too hard and start moving forward near the top of the stretch without having to change course or back off. Obviously, the jockey will have a lot to do with all of these things. Seasoned horses seem to do all these things best.

Derbyism #10 - Track condition or track bias that day. Churchill on the day of the 2007 Breeder's Cup was an inside biased track. Watch the races leading up to post. Is the track favoring speed or closers? Examine whether winners on the undercard make sense.

Derbyism #11 - Poly preps. Commenter FriarCat emailed and asked about California's Derby contenders running on dirt. This year, California horses' form has held up well when shipping and running on dirt. Papa Clem won the Arkansas Derby and I Want Revenge was a monster winning the Gotham and Wood in New York. Colonel John's performance in last year's Travers showed that a polytrack player with a dirt pedigree can win on dirt against top tier stakes competition Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) - Beat every California horse running in this year's Derby. Hold Me Back (Giant's Causeway -- ran second to Tiznow on the BC Classic), Mr. Hot Stuff (Tiznow)

JB's Derby Picks
Top three
1. Friesan Fire - "With this horse we're following the steps of Hard Spun," Trainer Larry Jones. Fortunately there is no Street Sense in the race. Jockey Saez ran 2nd last year on Eight Belles. Larry Jones goes into retirement with a Derby champion.
2. Pioneerof the Nile - Baffert is a great trainer on his way to being inducted in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame this coming August in Saratoga. It's a pretty nice story. Pioneer's sire Empire Maker should have won in 2003, but for a foot injury that threw off his training. Gomez is the nation's hottest jockey.
3. Dunkirk - A victory by Dunkirk would be a surprise because he didn't race as a 2YO. He might be a freak, but I don't think he's as good as Curlin was at the same point in his 3YO campaign. His lack of seasoning in a 20 horse field makes him hard to love.

Next two
4. I Want Revenge - His Wood performance was visibly awesome. Maybe too awesome. Talamo has never ridden in the Derby. Mullins is not your typical derby trainer. He still hasn't beaten Pioneer of the Nile.
5. Desert Party - bin Suroor horses always seem to run really well in the big races. He had a solid final prep and looks to be sitting on a career performance. He is good enough to win it.

Outside chance
6. Chocolate Candy - A hot pace and Mike Smith bring him to the leaders at the 1/8th pole.
7. Hold Me Back - Liked the way he ran in his last prep. Kent will be picking off horses late. Plus Tug likes him.

Big surprise
8. Win Willy - Triple digit beyer on dirt beating Old Fashioned. Sired by Derby champion Monarchos.

Bigger surprise
9. West Side Bernie - Triple digit beyer in the Wood, but not sure if his pedigree holds up.

Biggest surprise
10. Mr. Hot Stuff - Eoin Harty is great. Tiznow was great. This horse is improving and under the radar.

So those are my picks for the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby. Like many of you, I'll be glued to a TV set when the flag drops this Saturday. My version of the Space Gal is reminding me to remind you to "box it." I think I'll take her advice. [EquiSpace comment: Yeah she's the same gal that preached "gray skies, gray horse," back on the Spa's opening day last year, four grays won that day, so she knows what she's talkin' bout]

In closing, I like to think I handicap a little bit like Seve Ballesteros played golf -- with a lot of imagination, a little flair for the dramatic, an appreciation of being in the battle and most of all, a love of the game. Good luck everyone.



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