At Derby betting window, it's Nehro
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Amid the semi-controlled chaos of 19 thoroughbreds thundering toward the first turn, Saturday's Kentucky Derby will take shape like an amoeba devouring itself. Traffic problems will eliminate many in the quarter-mile rodeo drive before a screaming mob of 150,000 or so. In the next seven-eighths of a mile, others will fade because they lack speed and/or stamina. At the eighth pole, only a few contenders will remain. So, can you guess who they will be?
Bear with me. I'm as confused as everybody else. But my Derby record in Newsday the past five years has been pretty good. I selected winners Street Sense ($11.80) and Big Brown ($6.20) in 2007 and 2008, and two horses I picked for second also won -- Barbaro ($14) in 2006 and Super Saver ($18) last year. As for 50-1 Mine That Bird (2009), I dismissed him as an automatic throwout.
Unfortunately, there haven't been many Derby fields as confusing as this year's. My fellow alleged experts in the Churchill Downs press box have been waffling and flip-flopping all week, stabbing around for angles, hunches and omens.
Don't make the Derby more complicated than it already is. Start by weeding out horses who have no chance. I'll be amazed if Brilliant Speed, Twice the Appeal, Decisive Moment, Derby Kitten, Twinspired, Santiva or Watch Me Go make any impact.
In the unknown zone are Animal Kingdom and Master of Hounds, who have potential but have never run on conventional dirt. Stay Thirsty plodded home seventh in the Florida Derby, and not since Iron Liege in 1957 has a Derby winner been worse than fourth in his final prep.
That leaves nine horses, many of them speed types likely to be cooked by a strong, crowded pace. Soldat, Comma to the Top, Pants on Fire, Shackleford and Mucho Macho Man should be near the front and may be drained before the real running begins. Now we're down to four horses, and I think the winner will come from this group.
Three-time Derby hero Bob Baffert trains Midnight Interlude, who makes his fifth start after making his career debut Jan. 29. That's a lot of racing in three-plus months, and every Derby winner since 1882 raced as a 2-year-old. Eventually, this ancient rule will be broken, and maybe this is the year.
Deep closer Dialed In is the 4-1 morning-line favorite by default, mainly because he was the only well-bet winner of the final nine Derby preps. Going from last to first always is a tricky business, especially when you have to weave past 18 rivals. If he pulls that off, then hurray for him, but at that price, I can't take Dialed In.
My gut feeling is the Arkansas Derby was the best prep. Before its 1-2 finishers, Archarcharch and Nehro, drew post 1 and 19, respectively, I loved their chances. No horse has won from the rail since 1986, and no winner has come from there in a field this big since 1937. With Uncle Mo scratching, Nehro now moves to post 18, which is 1-for-29, still no bargain. Well, you could argue that maybe they're due. Well, I say they're overdue. Just think of all those negative stats as numbers in your head.
So I'll pick Nehro first, Archarcharch second, with Mucho Macho Man third and Irish invader Master of Hounds completing a five-figure superfecta.
If I'm wrong, as I assume I will be, I'm battle-hardened when it comes to public humiliation. After 31 years as a horseplayer and 11 as the former Gridiron Guide, I know there's no future in the prediction business.