Kentucky Derby: Of Rabbits and Roses

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Wednesday night, I started to write my Kentucky Derby analysis for this site. It centered on Bob Baffert’s likely use of Chitu as a rabbit for Hoppertunity. With Chitu blasting from the starting gate and other speedsters (including the likely favorite California Chrome) forced to overexert themselves to keep up, Hoppertunity’s task of running past horses late would be easier.

Derby Stat Blast #3, which lists early pace figures for this year’s entrants, points to a fast Derby pace this year. A rabbit is a redundancy here. But less than 24 hours later Hoppertunity was scratched and the point was moot. So much for getting a story in well ahead of deadline!

Whether Baffert entered Chitu as a rabbit or as a stand-in for a horse he suspected might be scratched, you should disregard Chitu. In my book I define keen-to-lead (KTL) types and list their success rate in the Kentucky Derby. Only 1 of 91 KTL horses emerged as a winner: War Emblem, who went unchallenged on the lead in 2002. Unless you get 100-1 on Chitu, you better look elsewhere for your winner.

As for where to look, I recommend looking in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby: 3 Easy Angles to determine who will wear the roses. Because you’ll want to use this guide every year, I don’t mind lising this year’s qualifiers under the 3 angles:

Gold Standard: No qualifiers

Silver Standard: California Chrome (3-1)

“Fab Four” Method: Dance With Fate (15-1), Medal Count (20-1), We Miss Artie (50-1), Tapiture (15-1)

California Chrome stands out. His failure to meet the Gold Standard seems a technicality. He checks every box on the LazyBettor list except for early speed at 9 furlongs. In the 9-furlong Santa Anita Derby, California Chrome faced weak competition, especially with regard to pace. He had no need to run fast early, and his patience while stalking the slow pace actually can be viewed as a plus. His explosive burst through the stretch is exactly what a great horse does after being held in reserve. But what about the all-important early-speed factor? The tremendous speed he displayed in the San Felipe removes all my worries about whether he can handle a fast pace.

One other trend in Chrome’s favor is that the field keeps getting weaker. Earlier in April, both Constitution (winner of the Florida Derby) and Cairo Prince (winner of the Holy Bull Stakes) were scratched from the Derby field. Both were also Silver Standard qualifiers. Now Hoppertunity, who finished closest to Chrome in his past two races, has been withdrawn from the race. Three of his strongest rivals will not show up for the Derby.

With California Chrome, the only remaining question is whether he will offer wagering value. Odds of 2-1 or lower in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby can’t be considered a value proposition. I need at least 7-2 to bet him to win. Those odds put my return at 33% higher than the return for Big Brown and Fusaichi Pegasus, two similar standouts from past runnings. I would be shocked if he drifted that high on the toteboard.

For that reason, I will key Chrome in the Oaks/Derby double. In today’s Kentucky Oaks, favored Untapable has yet to face a fast pace. As impressive as she looked in her most recent victory (pulling away strongly late like California Chrome did in the Santa Anita Derby), serious questions remain about her ability to handle an honest pace. I’ll tie 3 longshots to Chrome in the Derby: Rosalind, Fashion Plate and Aurelia’s Belle.

If I don’t find acceptable odds on California Chrome on Derby day, I will place small wagers on the “Fab Four” qualifiers, all of whom figure to be long odds. I’ll also box them in exotics with California Chrome. If I end up betting California Chrome to win, I’ll need to limit my action on these other qualifiers.

Of the Fab Fours, I prefer We Miss Artie and Medal Count. The prevailing wisdom says they prefer polytracks. However, We Miss Artie makes the top 10 pace list twice, both times in dirt races. In the Fountain of Youth, he actually ran faster than the two blazing pace duelers (Wildcat Red and General A Rod) from the 2-furlong mark to the 4-furlong mark. Medal Count owns similar early fractions on dirt. If these two “don’t like dirt,” they would be incapable of running that fast on it (twice in the case of We Miss Artie).

Want an inexpensive shot at a huge payday? Use all 4 Fab Fours in a Pick 3 with Wise Dan as your key in the Woodford Reserve (the race prior to the Derby). A $1 Pick 3 of WISE DAN to FAB FOURS to ALL costs $36. A ticket starting in the 9th race of ALL to WISE DAN to FAB FOURS costs $44. Either way, if your ticket is alive when the Derby comes up (that is, if Wise Dan wins), you can hedge with a win bet on California Chrome to at least cover the cost of your exotics. With so much of the exotics pools likely keyed to California Chrome, a key to the heavily favored Wise Dan might yield more than typical.

Good luck, everyone. And enjoy the race!

—Roger LeBlanc


  • Krudler
    Posted at 02:09h, 04 May Reply

    One Down…

    So the Lazy method hit the 2014 Derby. When does the Preakness book come out?!


    • Roger LeBlanc
      Posted at 18:21h, 04 May Reply

      My Preakness book contains only two words: “California Chrome”

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