The Bomb-Sniffing Handicapper: Derby Day
On Kentucky Oaks day, instead of pink, I saw mostly red.
Sniffing out longshots can be a perilous business, and the bomb-sniffer was in a great deal of peril Friday, with none of my finds making a significant impact and missing the 38-1 bomb in the Oaks. Last year however, I did well on Oaks day and misfired on Derby day, so I'm going to chalk it up to rust and maintain an optimistic attitude for a significant rebound on Saturday.
The Derby is obviously a treasure trove of longshots, but let's begin elsewhere and work our way to the big race.
Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint, Race 6, 5 Furlongs, Turf
#1 Southern Dude (10-1): These days, it seems fashionable to start a Pick 6 on big days with a turf sprint. It's like making the first tee the hardest hole on the golf course. But I suppose there's some handicapping value in that, and for that reason, I'm drawn immediately inside to Southern Dude. He's making his 3rd start off a layoff for trainer Tom Amoss, who is 30% in that category. He breaks from the rail with probably the fastest gate speed in this race, and on the Churchill turf course at 5 furlongs, that's a significant advantage. While he's stepping up from state-bred company in Louisiana to a Grade 3 on Derby day against salty veterans like Regally Ready and Chamberlain Bridge, I believe he'll prove tough to catch as he seeks his fourth consecutive win.
Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf, Race 8, 1 Mile, Turf
#10 Stopshoppingmaria (10-1): Always interesting when a runner stretches out after a long string of sprints, but her resume also includes a pair of 2nd-place finishes the last two times she ran a mile. Oh, by the way, they came behind Stephanie's Kitten and My Miss Aurelia. Although those races happened in late 2011, this daughter of More Than Ready has also hit the board in nine of 10 starts. Hard to ignore a Todd Pletcher runner with that kind of track record and Johnny V. on board.
#2 Channel Lady (12-1): There are some classier fillies and mares in this one, but this daughter of English Channel, also trained by Pletcher, has been very consistent, hitting the board in six of eight starts, including a couple of Grade 3's. She gets a new jockey in Rafael Bejarano, and change is usually a positive when they're knocking on the door.
Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes, Race 9, 7 Furlongs
#6 Pass the Dice (12-1): Despite the presence of sprint champion Trinniberg, probably can't toss too much in this race, especially not a Wayne Catalano runner who is five for eight lifetime. Julien Leparoux, two-for-two on this guy (both at Churchill), gets back in the saddle. This race could be a bit short for a Lemon Drop Kid, but the name after all, is Pass the Dice.
#7 Politicallycorrect (15-1): Sure, the graded stakes form doesn't shine but he's two for four at the distance with a second, too. Not sure why his name diverges from the normal kitten protocol, but he is a Kitten's Joy owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Trainer Wesley Ward, known to have one ready off the layoff, puts him in this spot after a four-month respite. Oh, and Joel Rosario has the mount. He's only shooting 48% so far at Churchill.
Need I say more? This is always a race teeming with longshot potential – the question is, which longshots to back? Since it's the Derby, I'll tune the bomb-sniffing equipment to 15-1 or higher.
#10 Palace Malice (20-1): Ran an oh-so-close second in the Blue Grass when the trifecta was filled out by deep closers, and he ran close to the pace. Looked like he was still learning and gets clutch rider Mike Smith. Love the balanced pedigree of this colt, which combines dirt-loving Curlin with a dam side heavy on turf. Several recent Derby winners have had turfy pedigrees, and he shouldn't mind if it rains.
#11 Itsmyluckyday (15-1): While he was clearly bested by Orb in the Florida Derby, this Lawyer Ron colt was also coming off his first start since late January. If he can handle the distance, which is questionable, his previous races, experience and tactical speed make him a likely candidate to be the one to run down late.
#18 Frac Daddy (50-1): He's displayed his penchant for Churchill with two striking juvenile runs over the surface, but he also showed in the Arkansas Derby that he might be rounding back into his promising 2-year-old form after some physical issues. His owners stunned the Travers last year at 33-1 with Golden Ticket, so I wouldn't sleep on this one at long odds. I also get the feeling, like Daddy Nose Best last year, he's become a bit of a wise guy pick.
#20 Vyjack (15-1): The 20 hole definitely makes him less attractive, but he didn't seem 100% in the Wood when called on for his best, and a lung infection may have been a reasonable excuse. If he can overcome the wide draw, Garrett Gomez could have more horse to work with when it counts this time, and perhaps his turn of foot might return at just the right moment.