Friday, May 01, 2009

Derby Pick--Friesan Fire

Disclaimer: This post displays next to zero intellectual rigor. It is not intended as serious analysis. Predictions are always at least 75% BS, and even more so when the predictor makes no claim of having any special knowledge about the subject at hand. I am by no means a thoroughbred racing analyst.

Disclaimer aside, though, the economic foundation of horse racing is largely based on the desire of people with no particular insight to demonstrate how smart they are by placing wagers on races. This is true in horse racing to an extent unrivaled by any other major American spectator sports, and so to let mere obstacles like ignorance stop one from giving an opinion on the Kentucky Derby would be bad form.

Unfortunately, the horse I and the rest of the world considered the favorite, Quality Road, was forced out with a quarter crack. Quality Road has been my Derby horse since his second-to-last start in the Fountain of Youth, and so I am left scrambling to find a new favorite.

This strikes me as an odd year--there are five colts that really stand out, and the rest of the field doesn't feature much to get me excited. The usual pattern is that there are two or three horses I really like, and then a group of about ten that I can easily see winning if things break their way.

TOSS (7)
Flying Private (50-1)
Nowhere to Hide (50-1)
Summer Bird (50-1)
Atomic Rain (50-1)
Join in the Dance (50-1)
Mine that Bird (50-1)
Advice (30-1)

West Side Bernie (30-1)
Mr. Hot Stuff (30-1)
Chocolate Candy (20-1)
Hold Me Back (15-1)

Regal Ransom (30-1)
Musket Man (20-1)
Papa Clem (20-1)
General Quarters (20-1)

Desert Party (15-1)
Friesan Fire (5-1)
Dunkirk (4-1)
Pioneerof the Nile (4-1)
I Want Revenge (3-1)

As you can see, I'm in general agreement with the morning line odds, and those odds back up what I said a field with several elite horses and everyone else.

Some longer comments on the big five:
Desert Party--had this horse prepped anywhere other than Dubai, he'd be getting a lot more attention. If I was going to place a win bet, he'd be my horse due to the price.

Friesan Fire--my pick to win. He is coming off a long layoff, but Larry Jones has had the second-place runner in each of the last two Derbys (Hard Spun and the late Eight Belles) and knows what he's doing. Looked great in the slop in the Louisiana Derby, and it looks as if it may be rainy in Louisville on Saturday.

Dunkirk--this year's Curlin or Big Brown; brilliant, but without a lot of seasoning. He was impressive in the Florida Derby; as he made his move on the turn, I really thought he was going to pull away for the win, but Quality Road fended him off. Quality Road isn't here, and thus I would pick Dunkirk as the most talented colt in this field
Pioneerof the Nile--I like this horse a lot; he would be my pick except for two things. One is that he has been forced to make the pace against slower horses in his last two preps; he is extremely unlikely to win the Derby in that manner. He also will be making his first start on dirt after running on synthetics in California.

Neither of those things really bothers me; he shouldn’t have any problem coming from off the pace as that seems to be his natural style, and not prepping on dirt could well develop into one of those silly "rules" that people live by (not racing at two, winning the Breeder's Cup Juvenile, etc.). Trivial matters that are transformed into hard and fast rules, until a Barbaro or a Street Sense comes along and blows them all away. That being said, though, it is more comforting to have seen the horse succeed on the dirt, and if it's a close call, I'll certainly use it as a tiebreaker. And that's about what it is for me between Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile.

Also, if one wants to see a Triple Crown winner, those two would appear to be the best bet, as they are both sons of Belmont winners (AP Indy and Empire Maker, respectively). As an aside, I have always wondered why media coverage doesn't emphasize the sire of the horses more. Horses have short careers, and it's hard for a casual fan who may watch only the Triple Crown and the Breeder's Cup to grow attached to any horse as a rooting interest. I think that getting people interested in the offspring of an old favorite would be a good way to build an emotional connection. All things being equal, I certainly prefer to root for a son of Tiznow or Thunder Gulch or another horse that I really enjoyed watching during their careers.

I Want Revenge--the favorite is certainly a very impressive colt, but he had to work hard to win in the Wood. I'm agnostic on the matter of "bouncing", but if any of the top horses are going to bounce, he's the best bet.

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