U nlike last year, most 2014 Derby prep races at 1-1/8th miles sported final times faster than this decade’s average for each contest. Only the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (won by Vicar’s In Trouble and Dance With Fate, respectively) registered slower-than-average times. Many bettors might conclude from these brisk clockings that a standout 3-year-old champ awaits coronation.

To that I say, “Whoa! Don’t dump logic from the saddle and run off with nothing but a faulty premise as your guide.” Although this class of 3-year-olds is faster than average, no member of the class qualifies for the Gold Standard I describe in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby.

(See Stat Blast Chart #1 for the nitty-gritty details of final times and historical comparisons.)

Experienced handicappers know not to rave about superb final times earned on turf or synthetic surfaces. They’re well aware that the easy early fractions horses run on these surfaces often produce outsized rallying efforts and artificially inflated final times.

Dirt races, conversely, extract more early energy from contestants, produce slower final furlongs, and result in slower final times on average. But here’s the crazy part: experienced handicappers DO rave about outsized final times earned by horses who win turf-style races on dirt. And that describes nearly every 9-furlong prep winner this year, including the likely Derby favorite California Chrome.

In The Lazy Bettor’s Guide, I apply 22 years of Derby prep race results to define the pace scenario that Derby prospects must prove capable of handling. Only Bob Baffert’s lightly raced Chitu hit that mark in a 9-furlong prep race (the Sunland Derby). However, Chitu’s final-furlong time of :13.30 registers as painfully slow. My research suggests that his well-farriered hooves will turn to equine anchors and Chitu will clumsily clank through the final furlong of the Kentucky Derby.

These pace-related realities shove all the top 2014 horses out of my Gold Standard. My last remaining hope for a Gold Standard qualifier, Bobby’s Kitten, stubbornly fought the well-intentioned restraint of Javier Castellano early in the Blue Grass Stakes and faded badly through the stretch.

A few of this year’s prep-season stars earned admission into the less reliable (but still highly profitable) Silver Standard, though. And one horse who falls short of all these parameters fits the spirit of my approaches and offers a better return than the letter-of-the-law qualifiers.

I wrote The Lazy Bettor’s Guide for beginners as well as experienced handicappers. You still have plenty of time to read the breezy text and determine quickly and easily who this year’s standouts really are. I think you’ll find the book enlightening and enriching. And it will steer you away from betting on the strong-but-wrong contenders on the first Saturday in May.

—Roger LeBlanc