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There are a few horse players left in the world and I’m trying to be one as well. My Derby Pick is #5 California Chrome winning with #1 Vicar’s in Trouble, #6 Samraat boxed behind. Here is my detailed 2014 Kentucky Derby handicapping analysis.
The case for #20, Wicked Strong and #6 Samraat. Listed at 8-1 on the morning line, Wicked Strong won the Wood Memorial, closing strong in the last 1/4 and winning by 3 1/2 over a tiring and poorly placed, and fading Samraat. #3 Uncle Sigh was also in the field, but I don’t see him contending for the Derby. See it for yourself:
Did you notice Samraat started well and broke for the rail at the lead, then slowed down and got mixed up behind the 2 leaders? It’s as if Jose Ortiz couldn’t get the horse to follow his commands, and that makes no sense since Jose Ortiz is a top jockey in 2014 placing 7th out of 1,169 jockeys in earnings this year. I’m guessing that the horse was used to being a front runner and having nothing blocking his view. Ortiz had 2 horses pinch him behind them and tried to maneuver Samraat out of trouble, but the horse was fighting this move and got tired from this effort. In the end he wasn’t far enough in front once the homestretch started and had nothing left to fight his way home for the W.
In the Derby, the tendency is for speed horses to go out early and then they end up running too fast and they burn out and fade. I think if Samraat gets clear from the 6 post, he could lead and he might go wire to wire. It is equally likely he gets caught in a duel up front and fades, or something similar to the Wood happens and he’s boxed in and has nothing left for a late move. It’ll be an interesting race, and it falls on Ortiz to ride Samraat well.
In the Wood Memorial Wicked Strong was placed well in the back to avoid being pinned or pushed, but was still being let run by the jockey Rajiv Maragh. That ability of Maragh, to avoid trouble but still keep your horses in the race is key in a 19 horse fistfight like the Derby. Recent Derby fields have had a ridiculous race for the front, killing all or at least most speed horses with 22 second opening 1/4 mile times. It’s helpful to have your horse stay back, get a clear trip around the track and make a strong move late. This is exactly what Wicked Strong does well.
All of that considered, I’m still picking Samraat over Wicked Strong, mostly because of the history Samraat has had. He was unbeaten before the Wood and had performed well when he had no horses blocking his view in front of him during the previous race. Pushed 3 wide the entire race, Samraat still had enough at the end, I think that shows strength and if Ortiz can keep him 3 wide or less and let him stay clear, he has a shot to win and pay a decent price.
The case for #1 Vicar’s in Trouble, #16 Intense Holiday and #17 Commanding Curve.
Vicar is 30-1 on the opening line and I’m not 100% sure why. Take a look at the Louisiana Derby:
Commanding Curve gets pinched in the start and seemed to never recover to get into position to close at the end. Vicar started well, ran to the front and stayed there wire to wire W. Intense Holiday was close to the lead, but seemed to run out of steam in the homestretch.
In their previous race, the Risen Star Stakes, the order was reversed with Intense with the W and Vicar with the Show, Commanding Curve was a non factor. Vicar got run 4 wide at the final turn and faded, to make up for this, in the LA Derby, Vicar went out faster at the start, got the lead and kept it.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik knows to do this now, and starting from 1, she’ll be able to just run straight away and have the shortest trip. Vicar will battle with the speed horses and similar to Samraat could handle the pace or not. I think it’ll be a top 3 finish for Vicar in the Derby. Intense could figure if the pace is slow enough for him to get into position and there are no bumps at the start, but that seems unlikely.
The case for #5 California Chrome and #18 Candy Boy. Last starting in the Santa Anita Derby, take a look:
Chrome gets bumped at the start and the pace is fast. Candy is also bumped a bit. They both ran 2 and 3 wide respectively around the first turn and they continued that way side by side until the last turn when Chrome decided to just run away with it. I see no reason why this won’t happen again. Chrome has the ability to handle the early speed and the start contact. He’s a well deserved favorite.