Friday, May 2, 2008

Churchill Downs, 10th Race, 5/3/08

Trainer Steve Asmussen (left, wearing grey clown wig) and Pyro (right, wearing horse stuff).

The Kentucky Derby is a notoriously difficult race to handicap, but this year, the usual questions are made more complex by two additional X-factors. First, many of the current crop of three-year-olds have had all or nearly all of their races on polytrack, which makes their dirt form difficult to predict. And clouding this issue even further is X-factor number two: Mother Nature's impending wrath. This morning, I went to weather.com, typed in "Louisville 40208," and got this:

"Thunderstorms... some strong, especially early. Damaging winds, large hail, and possibly a tornado with some storms."

The pollen count is unusually high as well, but I'm not going to worry about that too much. Track concerns aside, here's the Really Big Question for tomorrow's Derby: Is the inexperienced and tender-footed Big Brown actually the reincarnation Big Red? He's a hell of a horse to be sure, but can he win from the far outside post position, which hasn't been done since Clyde Van Dusen did it in 1929? And can he win with only three career starts, which hasn't been done since Regret did it in 1915? The experts are lining up on both sides.

Pace makes the race, and few races are more exemplary of this than the Derby. When the pace melts down, long shots come home - remember Giacomo? Big Brown, marooned in the 20 slot, has three speed horses to his left (Gayego, Recapturetheglory, and Cowboy Cal). He's certainly faster than all three - with War Pass out, BB is the clearly the best speedball in the bunch. But this doesn't change the fact that he's going to have to come out of the gate like a rocket, blast by three horses who are trying to crowd him out for the early lead, and find a path all the way over to the rail before hitting the first turn.

If he can do all this and lead the pack all the way home, I'll bow down in reverence. But I'm betting that he can't, and I don't even think he'll crack the superfecta.

After his dreadful 10th place finish in the Bluegrass Stakes, the prognosticators dropped Pyro like a bad habit. The race was so awful, though, that I think there had to be a mitigating factor; polytrack, bellyache, or otherwise. I'm willing to draw a line through that race and assume he's still the same horse that he was in the Risen Star. I'd like Pyro's chances even more if War Pass were still in, because he and Big Brown would have certainly run each other into the ground, but there's still enough speed in the race to set up a big late run. Pyro is my pick to win.

But I'm the greedy type, and planning to play some exactas, trifectas, and maybe some supers (the Giacomo superfecta paid $1.7 million on a $2 bet). So who do I see rounding out the top four? As I said earlier, I think that running styles and pace are going to dictate the outcome, so with that in mind, here's Professor Paulie's Kentucky Derby Superfecta (play at your own risk):

9 - Pyro
6 - Z Fortune
8- Visionaire
10 - Colonel John

Tune in tomorrow night either for some gloating and bragging, or for some particularly lame excuses.