In a field of twenty young horses, running further than they ever have before, over a new surface or race track, it's a difficult thing to pick the winner. The Grade 1 Kentucky Derby is one race in which no amount of handicapping prowess will direct bettors to the likely winner. Calvin Borel said it best when he said something like, "if you've got a horse, you've got a shot." This was in response to a reporter asking him how he thought his longshot, Mine That Bird, would fare in the Derby.
The Kentucky Derby field is comprised of the top twenty horses with the most graded stakes earnings. For a horse to even be in a stakes race shows the caliber of its ability. In order to earn enough graded stakes money to make the top twenty means that it has fared well in at least a few of those races. These horses are the upper echelon of this year's three-year-olds.
If every horse is great, how do you pick the winner? This is one race in which I'd suggest you combine your skills with your hunch. The only people that walked away winners the day 50-1 Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby were going off a hunch--they always bet Calvin Borel at Churchill; they liked his post position number; they were a bird owner. If ever there were a Kentucky Derby in which to listen to your gut, this is it. This year's crop of three-year-olds has been inconsistent and random. It certainly seems that more upsets by longshots have occurred in this prep season than in any other in recent memory.
For my money, I'm going to use a dash of handicapping with a cup of emotion. Mucho Macho Man is my top selection. If he wins, heart transplant recipient Kathy Ritvo will be the first female trainer to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Throw in the generosity she has shown by accepting all interview requests in order to aim her Derby spotlight on organ donation, Mucho Macho Man's Risen Star victory, and his 1/2 length defeat in the Louisiana Derby after tossing a shoe at the start, and it's clear that there's not only a good backstory here, but there's a really good colt.
Pants On Fire will be ridden by female jockey Rosie Napravnik, who would, should she win, become the first female jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Pants On Fire won the Louisiana Derby, but was only entered to provide a rabbit at which his stablemate, Nacho Business, could run. His owners also owned the early standout Sweet Ducky before selling him to foreign interests. Another highly anticipated yet uneventful three-year-old owned by Pants On Fire's owners, George and Lori Hall, was Nacho Saint. Pants On Fire was the least regarded of the four, but the only one starting in the Kentucky Derby.
Lastly, if Archarcharch wins he will give his trainer William "Jinks" Fires and jockey Jon Court their first Derby win. This is the first Derby appearance for the two. Jinks Fires is Jon Court's father-in-law, so this win would bless the entire Fires-Court clan. Archarcharch won the Southwest Stakes and the Arkansas Derby and finished third in the Rebel Stakes. He also fired a bullet work last week and his gallop this week was so fast that the clockers thought it was a breeze and recorded it.
Whether you're betting Twice the Appeal because Calvin Borel has won three of the last four Kentucky Derbies or Stay Thirsty because your drink of choice is Dos Equis, claim your pick proudly because as long as you've got a horse in the race, you've got a shot!
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby