Picking Mo in a Wide Open Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby week is almost here and it’s time to start thinking seriously about picking your horse.  All indications are that there will be a full 20-horse field of three-year-olds starting in Derby 137 on Saturday, May 7, in Louisville (Live on NBC starting at 4 p.m.).  There could be fewer in the race if one or more horses are scratched after the field is drawn on Wednesday, but it’s going to be a big field for sure.  

Virtually anyone who has ever owned a horse has dreamed of winning the Kentucky Derby.  But it takes a lot, including a great horse and maybe a little bit of luck to actually win this race.  

First, owners have to pay $25,000 just to enter their horse.  They then must pay another $25,000 to actually run in the Derby.   But there is more. Only those horses that make the cut are even allowed to enter.  That’s because the Derby is capped at 20 runners.  Who is allowed to enter is determined by the amount of accumulated graded stakes purse money that each horse has earned during its lifetime.  Click here for a current list of potential starters and their graded stakes earnings.

The Kentucky Derby post position draw will be held at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, May 4, at 5 p.m. EDT (Live on VERSUS).   This is a tradition “pill pull” used to determine starting gate number and thus the position in the starting gate for each horse.  In the Derby, “luck of the draw” is a reality.  Post position can make a difference in the outcome of the race.  

Picking a winner in the Derby is never easy.  And this year it’s even more difficult because the race is wide open.  That’s because there are no standouts or clear favorites.  Everybody has a theory.  Serious handicappers analyze a lot of variables like past performance information, workouts, breeding, jockey statistics, track condition, weather and even observation of the horse warming up before the race.   Others rely on more personal, less objective elements like the name of the horse, the color of the silks or post position number.

Personally, I like to make lots of bets on Derby Day.  Some I make on the basis of hard information, like how the horse performed in one or more of the Derby prep races.  On this basis, I like Uncle Mo.   I know that he didn’t run particularly well in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.  But he seems to be responding well to treatment and should be in top form next Saturday.

Trainers also tend to get my attention.  Who can resist a bet on the Nick Zito-trained Dialed In, who will very likely be the morning line favorite?  Nick is a Hall of Fame trainer who has won the Kentucky Derby twice, once with Strike the Gold in 1991 and again in 1994 with Go For Gin.  He knows how to get horses ready for this unique race.  

Some bets I make based on the stories surrounding the horse.  Each year there are great stories about owners, trainers or jockeys that make them sentimental favorites.  This year’s story about trainer Kathy Ritvo and her comeback from heart transplant surgery makes Mucho Macho Man a likely bet for me.

You can’t forget jockey Calvin Borel who is on something of a roll, having ridden three of the past four Kentucky Derby winners – Street Sense in 2007, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver last year. I will have to put a few bucks on longshot Twice the Appeal given that Calvin will be aboard him this year.

One great thing about the large Derby field is that every horse will go off at a good price (odds of 4 to 1 or better in all likelihood).  That’s excellent value when you are a serious horseplayer.  That’s why the Derby is so heavily bet each year.  Last year, a near-record $112.7 million was bet worldwide on the Run for the Roses alone.  

I remember the first time in Derby history that all horses ran uncoupled with no entries or mutuel fields as betting interests.  It was 2001, and I was running the track at that time.  I am embarrassed to admit that we actually worried that the elimination of the mutuel field – an old bet necessitated by 20 horse fields and antiquated wagering technology that only allowed for 14 betting interests – might hurt handle.  The common belief was that people liked being able to make one bet and get as many as seven horses with high odds.  We were dead wrong.  Players loved having the additional combinations made possible by the change and wagering on the Derby actually skyrocketed that year.  Once again, we learned the lesson that players can’t get enough of large, competitive fields.

If you want to do some serious handicapping, forget my advice.  You can check out the NTRA Live! Kentucky Derby preview webcast, hosted by Randy Moss, who will be part of the NBC Derby telecast. And also be sure to tune in this Monday night at 8:30 p.m. (EDT) and participate in the 11th edition of “Night School”, a live online chat that will focus on “Handicapping the Kentucky Derby.”  Jeremy Plonk, Joe Kristufek and their team of experts are sure to give you advice that will get you closer to a score on Derby Day.

Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?  What are the stories that most interest you?  Let me hear from you.


Leave a Comment:

Zen's Auntie

So many good stories this year so many heart breakers too.  The KD is always a gut wrencher for me and the heart is always so involved. So from my heart here's my "loves"-

I have to say that I love Dialed In - I made an effort back in March to meet him in person (in his only loss) and I knew even in defeat, I liked the horse - like he was something special - I am jacked up about how exited Zito is about him and how he just gushes when he speaks of him. After traingin for so many years and having so many great horsed to see nick this enthusiastic is just plain FUN. So I have to say he is not only a hearts pick but a legit contender - he is used to dirt in the face and that late rally just gives me chills. Closers are my FAVORITES.

Mucho Macho Man is HUGE and game critter with a teriffic human interest story going on. I love him too especially at the distance. He ran a gutsy 3rd after ripping off that shoe and sold me on toughness. Just wait till he is actually 3 he really looks like he has more growing to do! Kathy R and his owners are just fine folks and if he wins it would be so COOL.

Archarcharch, (there out of respect I spelled it out) this horse has guts guts guts and although he makes a better grinder than Dewalt he has a snappy little turn of foot and may just surprize us all. Well not me and some others cuz we can see it clearly... Honestly nothing would make me smile more than Jinx and John and the Arkansas crew pulling it off with this Gritty tested never quit trier. I have been on his bandbandband wagon since he broke his maiden. I felt so bad for him losing in the fog - like he was saying "what the heck John, we can run full out there could be DANGER...." Anthropromorphic as it is he just seems smart and smart is where its at.

And last but not least - Mo. I would love to see him reach back into the Arch and In Excess pocket and find 10 F to his liking.  He's Handsome and feeling better but still really unproven at 3 but is harboring SO MUCH potentail.

So there is my 4 biggest heart throbs, but I think Toby's Corner, Nehro and Midnight Interlude could all play a part.  We will all know more after Wednesday.

Good luck and God Bless all the horses and riders - Bring em round safe ya'll!!!

29 Apr 2011 1:36 AM

Uncle Mo is your winner here.  He likes Churchill and has performed well here before.  Is he healthy enough to win?  That is the only question so I will have a Uncle Mo/Nehro exacta box.  In my Tri I will box 5 horses MMM, Santiva, UM. Soldat, and Nehro. Good Luck

29 Apr 2011 11:47 AM

I like Archarcharch.  I remember when I first saw his name, I laughed and thought "what a hilarious name!".  Then the first time I saw him in the post parade for the Southwest, I was floored and thought "Wow!  What a beautiful horse!"  And when he made that big move out of the final turn, I knew I'd be following him.  Each step since then has only made me like him more (especially the score I made off him at 25-1 in the Ark. Derby).  I like other horses a little for various reasons, but I keep coming back to AAA.

29 Apr 2011 9:47 PM

I still am liking Mo and Thirsty.  I know Stay Thirsty is sort of a longshot but anything can happen in a horse race.  I had a dream about Dialed In last night -- suppose that means anything??? :)

30 Apr 2011 8:58 AM

I love Archarcharch as well.  He is really gutsy and it would be so nice for his jockey Jon Court to win the Derby!  Go Jon!

01 May 2011 8:19 AM

The heart wants what it wants. For me that would be - Mo to win, Thirsty to place and Mucho Macho Man to show.

01 May 2011 8:30 AM

I am going with Shackleford here. He is coming off the Florida Derby in sharp form and his current workouts show that. He will be forwardly placed, not necessarily on the lead. He should have first jump when the running begins and could possibly grind it out. However, I will have to see what post he gets before I make any final decision on him.

01 May 2011 8:40 AM

My top 5...Pants On Fire, Archx3, (even with Gate 1), Dialed In, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man.  Lacking experience, but in my sights is Midnight Interlude (it's Baffert afterall) Stay Thirsty may be the Sleeper, and you can't ever discount Calvin Borel from Gate 3...that a dangerous combination...and unless Archx3 gets a jump, Borel's move to the rail could push Archarcharch back.

Then there is my dream which proclaimed Shackleford as the winner, and he was not even in my consideration.

This is a really tough year!  Go Rosie!

05 May 2011 8:31 AM

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