Look on Positive Side When Handicapping the Derby
by Greg Melikov - 05/01/2007
I like to concentrate on the can dos instead of the can nots when handicapping the Kentucky Derby. So I'm going to accentuate the positive, reminiscent of the hit song in 1944.
So here I ago with some key tools to help you figure out what 3-year-olds are worth considering on Saturday:
Since a good foundation is most helpful, look for horses that ran at least once as a 2-year-old and had good speed figures, plus those that won at a mile or longer.
The top contenders, in alphabetical order, fit all three horseshoes: Any Given Saturday, Domincan, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Scat Daddy, Stormello and Street Sense.
Thoroughbreds with at least one stakes victory under their saddle, no matter how brief their career, do significantly better in the Run for the Roses. In fact, 48 of the last 50 winners demonstrate that. And 45 that hit the board in their final prep also won.
Since a majority of those that scored on the first Saturday in May visited the winner's circle in their last outing, watch out for Circular Quay, Cowtown Cat, Domincan, Hard Spun, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Scat Daddy and Tiago.
The norm for the number of preps that have produced winners since the mid-1980s has been three or four races. So pay special attention to Cowtown Cat, Hard Spun, Nobiz Like Shobiz and Tiago.
My recipe for success includes good tactical speed with the ability to stalk over pure speed or those that rally from back of the pack. Add pinches of handling bad traffic situations and pedigrees that display stamina. Stir in hunches and viola - you have my formula for success.
All my chief contenders have several other things in common, including being lightly raced with no more than seven career starts. In addition, I'm throwing in some criticism now that we're down to the nitty-gritty.
Without further fanfare, here are my selections for the 133rd edition of America's Race starting with those that have the best chance of hitting the board:
Curlin: The good: Son of Smart Strike won three straight by a total 28 ½ lengths. The bad: If he emerges as post time favorite, he'd become only the third since Spectacular Bid in '79 to smell the roses. The ugly: He must overcome historic barriers like no unraced 2-year-old has scored in 115 years and the last to succeed off three career starts came 92 years ago.
Great Hunter: He could recover from the horrible, fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass and his pedigree indicates he can run all day. But no horse that finished that far off the board in Derby preps has scored in a half-century.
Scat Daddy: Son of Joannesberg is the only horse to post two graded stakes wins at 1 1/8 miles. Although taking a five-week break since winning the Florida Derby, he did capture the Grade 1 Champagne off a nearly six-week layoff last year. Edgar Prado seeks to repeat his winning ride on Barbaro for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Domincan: Son of El Corredor must prove he can step up on the dirt after going 3-for-3 on synthetic surfaces. His workout at Churchill Downs on Sunday was fast, but a bit jerky, according to one observer. He did race twice last year at Louisville, but previous experience on the main track hasn't assured victory on the first Saturday in May.
Street Sense: Son of Street Cry has looked great working at Churchill Downs where he ran away with last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, whipping four current Derby contenders. However, the average finish in the big race of more than four-dozen runners, including nearly half that triumphed, was well off the board.
While he only has two preps like Dominican, he is bred to run all day. Trainer Carl Nafzger hopes to saddle his second Derby winner since Unbridled in '90.
Hard Spun: His successful formula of speed and stamina produced a notable record of 5 for 6, with four stakes triumphs. The son of Danzig not only led in the stretch of all five wins but also increased the margins the wire. However, he does come off a six-week layoff.
And now, drum roll please, the winner will come from this pair that will hit the board:
Cowtown Cat: His Illinois Derby victory reminds me of War Emblem, who romped in '02, last of three Derby winners saddled by Bob Baffert. One of five Pletcher trainees, the son of Distorted Humor goes for his third straight stakes victory and has been working well.
Nobiz Like Shobiz: The son of Albert the Great, with a pedigree that screams stamina, has the winning profile that includes four victories, including two in graded stakes at 1 1/8 miles this spring with blinkers added and last fall, plus three Derby preps. In addition, the colt is trained by Barclay Tagg, who saddled '03 Derby winner Funny Cide.