Favored Orb can take all in Kentucky Derby, but if it rains . . .
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tomorrow's forecast is calling for a 70-percent chance of rain, although how much, when it will hit and how long it will last are unknown. As always, handicapping the Kentucky Derby is all about uncertainty and confusion, part of its enduring charm. The iffy weather just adds to the fun, and Churchill Downs' quick-drying surface creates another twist. If it's pouring at noon and the track is a sea of muck, don't assume it won't be rated fast by 6:24, post time.
No horse race is obsessed over more than the Derby, and appropriately a colt named Overanalyze is in this one. So, after relentlessly reviewing tapes of prep races and workouts and parsing the past performances of 20 3-year-olds, it's time to ask: Who do you like?
To boost my shaky confidence, I'll review my greatest hits. I've cashed Derby tickets on Unbridled (10-1, 1990), Lil E.Tee (16-1, 1992) and Monarchos (10-1, 2001), yet the last two times I got it right was with favorites Street Sense (9-2, 2007) and Big Brown (2-1, 2008). I've liked 7-2 morning-line choice Orb for many reasons since he won the Florida Derby on March 30. So he's my pick, even if his price will be lower than I'd like.
Trainer Shug McGaughey, a Hall of Famer, is 0-for-6 in the Derby, and I think his time has finally come. Orb is training brilliantly, with four straight wins, the pedigree to handle 1 1/4 miles and the world's hottest rider, Joel Rosario.
Verrazano is 4-for-4 for trainer Todd Pletcher without ever being extended. "Verrazano is very, very talented," McGaughey said. Yet his workouts have been solid, but not terrific, and lack of seasoning could catch up to him. Can he overcome the 131-year-old jinx of Apollo? Not the Greek god, but the last Derby winner who didn't run as a 2-year-old.
All right, alleged expert, how will the race play out? Here's my best guess. I see Falling Sky first and Goldencents second in the wild surge to the first turn, with Verrazano fourth or fifth and Orb a bit farther back. The pace won't be too hot, and at the top of the stretch Goldencents will take the lead as Falling Sky fades and Orb, Verrazano, Revolutionary and Overanalyze move up. Orb will go past Goldencents, who will hold gamely for second. Stablemates Overanalyze and Revolutionary will battle for third, with Overanalyze completing a 16-8-9 trifecta, Revolutionary fourth and Verrazano fifth.
That's assuming the track will be fast. If it isn't, embrace chaos, so you're on your own. Only eight horses have run on an off track, with Revolutionary, Giant Finish, Itsmyluckyday, Falling Sky and Vyjack winning. Revolutionary broke his maiden by 8 1/2 lengths for a 102 Beyer Speed Figure on a "good" track. "I think of our five," Pletcher said, "Revolutionary would like a wet track the most."
So if the track is sloppy and your horse can't handle it, look on the sunny side. You'll have an excuse. You weren't wrong, just unlucky.