Betting a Longshot in the Derby
by Trevor Whenham - 04/25/2007
When you're looking at the Derby it is easy to put on the blinkers and look only at the elite horses. Is Curlin better than Street Sense? Is Any Given Saturday good enough to beat Circular Quay? Will Hard Spun pass Nobiz Like Shobiz? Those are all valid questions, but you also need to make sure that you don't forget the rest of the field. It's not always one of the elite horses that crosses the line first. In the last 10 years alone there have been three significant upsets. Giacomo was 50/1 when he won. War Emblem Paid more than $43.00 to win. Charismatic was 31/1. In each case those horses were getting very little public attention before the race. War Emblem and Charismatic were both good enough to overcome the oversight and win the Preakness as well.
The pursuit of a Derby longshot may be even more important in 2007 than it is in most years. Few horses have really proven themselves this year. All of the major contenders have either a glaring fault or a sub-standard performance on their record that makes their potential success questionable. In a parity-filled class it seems very possible that a longshot could come right up the middle to wear the roses. Here's a first attempt at making a case for some of those longshots that could pull it off:
Zanjero - This is the forgotten horse in the Steve Asmussen stable thanks to his colleague Curlin. Most recently he was third in the Blue Grass, though the first four horses in that race were all separated by less than half a length. He was also third in the Risen Star to Notional, and third in the Louisiana Derby to Circular Quay. At least he's consistent.
He made his stakes debut when he finished second in the Remsen to Nobiz Like Shobiz as a two-year-old. Critics will point out that his only two wins came in a maiden race and an allowance, and both were as a two-year-old. Despite that he's been solid this year, and his pedigree sets him up well to handle the distance of the Derby. You could also make an argument that his Blue Grass was better than it appeared. He got stuck on the rail that had been running dead, so he was strong at the end despite having to overcome that problem. He's a big horse that has been improving and looks to be growing into himself. His workout on Monday at Keeneland received favorable reviews. He could be ready, and he'll be at the right price.
Teuflesberg - The first challenge this horse will have to overcome is actually making the field. He's currently 21st in graded earnings, and there is only room for 20 in the Derby, so a contender will have to drop out for him to make it. Longshot hunters may want to hope that he does. Teuflesberg's big win was in the Southwest at Oaklawn in February, though that achievement has been dimmed somewhat by the subsequent disappointment of second and third places horses Officer Rocket and Forty Grams. He was also third in the LeComte to Hard Spun and third in the Rebel to Curlin. His Blue Grass appearance was an absolute disaster, but the lead-up to that race was so bizarre that you have to throw the race out. He fired a bullet at three furlongs just two days before the Blue Grass. That's so unusual that it seems almost impossible that his connections were viewing the race as anything more than a timed prep in company for the Derby. Despite the bad race, the horse appears to be very fit, and his front-running style can be effective to stay out of trouble in the giant Derby field. The Southwest was his only race this year that has gone off without incident for him, and he responded brilliantly. A smooth trip is a lot to ask for in the Derby, but Teuflesberg could certainly surprise if he gets one.
Cowtown Cat - In a field that will seemingly be made up entirely of horses trained by Todd Pletcher, Cowtown Cat may be the one at the highest price, but he may also be the one that crosses the line first. This horse is proof that sometimes there is nothing you can do to please the critics. He's won his last two races, the Illinois Derby and the Gotham, but some people actually hold that against him. Neither race was packed with top competition, and in both races Cowtown Cat benefited from glacially slow early paces. The Illinois Derby set up particularly well. The front running horse set a slow pace (49 2/5 for the half) on the speed favoring Hawthorne track and then pulled away easily down the stretch when no one, including the disappointing favorite Cobalt Blue who finished seventh, mounted a serious challenge. Though it wasn't a tough race, there is one thing that sticks out for me - the horse looked extremely relaxed throughout, and he definitely had an extra, powerful gear to shift into when Fernando Jara asked him for it. The chestnut colt is working very well and looks physically impressive. I won't make the argument that he is a certain winner by any means, but given his resume and the ability he has displayed he will almost certainly be a significant overlay on Derby Day. That's never a bad thing from a betting perspective.