They say to err is human; to forgive, divine. Well, why can’t that apply to horses as well? Here we have a field of Derby horses that as a whole is so baffling, with so many twists, turns, and angles, it can drive you batty.
We have a plethora of horses, 16 to be exact, who are coming off a first, second, or third-place finish in their final prep. We have horses coming off a victory in all nine of the major preps, and if they all make it to the race it will be a rarity. And from a speed standpoint, the vast majority of the horses have registered slow speed figures. It seems every major prep has been fast early, slow late.
So, do you go with the speed horses and stalkers, the midpack horses, or the abundance of deep closers?
Somewhere in that morass of horseflesh, one would think there is a huge overlay. What better way to ferret out that overlay than to look for a horse who at one time appeared to be one of the Derby favorites, but was now looked upon with disfavor after suffering the first defeat of his career. If you draw a line through Mohaymen’s race in the Florida Derby and Shagaf’s race in the Wood Memorial and chalk it up to a dislike of the track, a troubled trip, or simply a rare bad day, what you wind up with in the Derby is a previously undefeated horse and one of the leading Derby contenders who now will be triple or quadruple his expected odds, or even higher.
Mohaymen has been the favorite in all six of his races, going off at 4-5, 2-5, 1-5, 3-2, even money, and 9-5, and after one off day on an off track will now be around 10-1 or 15-1. Shagaf has been the favorite in all four of his races, going off at 5-2, 4-5, 6-5, and 9-5, and after one off day on a quagmire and having trouble twice in the race will now be around 20-1 or higher. If either one of these gifted colts, who have both worked brilliantly at Churchill Downs, bounces back and returns to his previous form and pays some outrageous price, he will prove to be one of the great overlays in Derby history. Having a winning ticket on him would be major coup and give one true bragging rights for the next year.
Of course, if they both run poorly again, you can smack yourself in the head for passing up all the in-form horses and going with a horse who had taken such a big step backwards when he was supposed to move forward. But that’s the gamble you take in a race like the Derby. There is a fine line between goat and hero, and you have to realize ahead of time that you are going to be either one. But the vast majority of bettors are going to lose or feel like they made a stupid selection after the “obvious” horse comes in. In this case, you make up your mind to take a shot and live with your decision with the hope that the decision will prove to be an inspired one.
Both Mohaymen and Shagaf have been giving off signs that they are back on the road to prosperity. Mohaymen has turned in two super works at Churchill Downs, and because he hadn’t worked since the Florida Derby fiasco he was full of spit and vinegar, which is why he galloped to the pole before his most recent workout jumping invisible hurdles and did so again in his subsequent gallop. But his two works were fast, smooth, and appeared to take nothing out of him. So, who knows? Right now he is showing the kind of high energy you want to see from a horse coming off such a disappointing effort. Of course, you want to see him settle down come race day.
Shagaf ran into trouble in the Wood right from the start, dropping far back off the pace after being bothered by another horse, which is not where he wants to be. He made a strong move to reach contention, but had to steady and lost all momentum. And a horse his size cannot afford to stop his move, even briefly, especially a horse his size. He tried to mount another challenge, but coming down the stretch his entire face and body were covered in mud, while the victorious Outwork, who set the early pace, was spotless, as were most of the others who had a clear path. He eventually tired and was passed late, yet still was only beaten four lengths. You have to remember that Shagaf’s maternal great-grandsire, Tabasco Cat, hated the slop in the Derby, then came back to win the Preakness and Belmont on a fast track. Shagaf worked brilliantly and has made quite an imposing appearance in his gallops.
Look, they are a gamble, but they are also an angle and will save you from pulling your hair out trying to figure out the rest of the field. Just picture it – the previously undefeated, regally bred early Derby favorite paying $20 to $25 to win or the previously undefeated, regally bred Gotham winner paying $35 to $40. You have to admit, it does make your mouth water.