To accessorize my favorite topic, Kentucky Derby pretenders, I’ve created categories named after songs by The Pretenders. Unknowingly back in the early 1980s, lead singer Chrissie Hynde spun a credo gamblers would be wise to follow:

It’s hard to live by rules
I never could, and still never do

To find value, handicappers need to embrace the unconventional. Question authority. Break the rules. Of course, knowing which rules to break really helps. To save you time and effort, I lay out a statistical case for breaking with conventional wisdom in my book, The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby: 3 Easy Angles. The following opinions are based on research and discoveries in that book.

It’s an annual tradition for me to climb aboard my soapbox and rail against the late-April Derby favorites. Last year I titled my Derby blog “Don’t Jump Off the Verrazano Bridge.” Prior to that Union Rags and Uncle Mo received scathing reviews from me. Occasionally I tar and feather a horse I shouldn’t, but I shed no tears over missing a crowded bandwagon. The larger tragedy is letting vulnerable favorites scare you away from the less frilly bandwagons of winning longshots.

For now, I’ll leave California Chrome out of the discussion and focus on other short-priced and mid-priced horses I see as unlikely Derby winners.

The Talk of the Town

You arrived like a day
Passed like a cloud
I made a wish, I said it out loud…
It was the talk of the town

Wicked Strong. His thrilling late run in Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial made him the talk of the big town in April. His winning time registers as faster than average for the Wood in the past decade. Most analysts see his running style as perfect for the Derby. History shows his style is well-suited for running 2nd or 3rd at best.

Hoppertunity. He emerged as Bob Baffert’s top Derby prospect after winning the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Buzz about him increased when he rallied late to finish 2nd behind California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby. But his winning Rebel time was slow, and in the SA Derby, he simply passed a tired Candy Boy who assumed the tough task of applying early pace pressure on the favorite. He was unraced at 2 and is improving,  but he runs slow early and not much better than average late.

Danza. No discussion of overbet and overhyped horses would be complete without a Todd Pletcher prospect or two. Danza shocked the racing world by winning the Arkansas Derby at 41-1. It was the talk of the town! Now for the trash talk: the pace was slow in the Arkansas Derby, and still the frontrunners fell apart. Bayern, the pacesetter, was worn down by 55-1 longshot Thundergram, and neither goes on to the Kentucky Derby or anything remotely that good. After jogging behind these mediocre rivals through easy fractions, Danza seized control of the Arkansas Derby through the stretch. But, as they say down on the Panhandle, the Kentucky Derby is a different kettle of fish.

Back on the Chain Gang

The phone, TV and news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies
Now we’re back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

Samraat. He’s the leader of the “hard labor” division. This overachieving NY-bred continues to improve and impress after stepping out of restricted state-bred stakes and into the graded stakes world. He’s a real fighter, but ultimately he runs best when contending for the lead, and he’s just not fast enough to survive a Grade 1 pace. Although he might put in a decent effort in Kentucky, getting back on the train right now might be better for him.

General A Rod and Wildcat Red. These two treated us to several thrilling battles in Florida. Their gutsy front-running feud spans 3 races, and they left several future stakes winners in their wake. Unfortunately, neither has shown a talent for relaxing early. Their running style will sink them badly in the Derby. But thanks for the memories, boys!

Ride On Curlin. After running in 3 stakes races as a 2-year-old, he showed up for 3 Derby preps at Oaklawn Park and hit the board every time. Too bad he does his best running when contending for the lead and that he needs a slow pace to be in contention. He’s now 0 for 6 in stakes races. His ability to stay in the thick of things this year shines a bright light on the weakness of the Oaklawn preps.

To learn more and then judge for yourself who is a worthy recipient of your Derby wagers this year and in years ahead, pick up a copy of The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby.

—Roger LeBlanc