On paper, California Chrome looks to be the easy winner of today's 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.
But they run the race on the sandy loam of Churchill Downs, not on paper, and it says here a bet on the heavy favourite today is a sucker bet.
We'll get to who I think is your winner today in a moment. But first, here's why you'd be wasting your money on California Chrome, who might go off at some of the shortest odds in Derby history if his 5-2 morning line holds up today:
-- You know when the last time a California-bred like California Chrome won the Derby? JFK was president -- 1962. Just as bad, today will be the first time California Chrome has ever raced outside of California.
Horses that fit this profile go home disappointed on the first Saturday in May.
-- Yes, California Chrome has the two best Beyer numbers in the field -- a 107 and a 108. That's compelling, particularly in that they came in succession and in his last two outings. But there's a reason horse people pay big bucks for pedigree and California Chrome's sire, Lucky Pulpit, stands in the breeding shed for a comical $2,500 because he never won a race beyond 51/2 furlongs.
Length counts in horse racing. And today's 1-1/4 mile test is simply too long for California Chrome.
-- Speed kills.
His form -- and with 10 lifetime starts, California Chrome has an unusual amount of it for a three-year-old -- suggests he needs to be on or near the lead today to be effective. And today's field has a ridiculous amount of what can only be termed "cheap speed." Horses like Chitu, General a Rod, Wildcat Red and Uncle Sigh will all be racing out to the lead today and setting a torrid pace that is going to serve California Chrome poorly when the horses turn for home and all that speed gets reeled in.
-- 5-2 in a 19-horse field is just a bad bet.
You know why the history of the Derby is littered with long shot winners like 50-1 underdogs Giacomo in 2005 and Mine that Bird in 2009? Because a 19-horse field is like running a race down Portage Avenue at rush hour -- it's crazy, frustrating and unexpected things happen.
California Chrome has a beautiful form chart. Brings a tear to my eye. But he's never before raced in conditions even remotely resembling what he'll see today.
OK, so that's who is not going to win. So who is going to win?
Well, I think all that crazy speed up front sets up perfectly for someone to come from off-the-pace today and pick up the pieces in late stretch.
Danza -- who is partly owned by four Winnipeggers -- certainly fits that bill. He stalked a two-horse duel in the Arkansas Derby and then took over in the final turn to win at odds of 41-1. But that came after an absolutely dream trip. A ground-saving run on the rail which opened up perfectly in the final turn was tailor made for Danza in the Arkansas Derby -- and it's very unlikely to be duplicated In Kentucky today.
Legendary Washington Post racing writer Andrew Beyer likes Wicked Strong today. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, who with a Derby win today would accomplish something his legendary father Allen famously couldn't, Wicked Strong rallied from sixth to win his last in the Wood Memorial. But I hate the post position -- the 19 hole might as well have Wicked Strong starting the race in Tennessee.
I'm going to take a flyer today in one of the longer shots on the board -- a deep closer named Dance With Fate, who came late from the back of the pack with a powerful sweeping move to reel in 10 horses and take down the Grade 1 Bluegrass Stakes in his last.
A 20-1 morning line will reward the bold today. And Dance With Fate's jockey, Corey Nakatani -- who is a record 0-16 in the Derby -- is due, to say the least.
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