LOUISVILLE — The Kentucky Derby is like no other race. Twenty immature 3-year-old thoroughbreds are asked to go 1¼ miles, an unfamiliar, grueling distance, over a quirky racetrack that some horses love and others hate, while a mob of 160,000 roars.
For most races, selections are made the night before, that day or even while standing in line, but the Derby is pondered, debated and overanalyzed for months. Try to handicap it like any other race. If you study too long, you study wrong. Don’t second-guess and third-guess your first impressions. Nothing feels worse than talking yourself off the eventual winner. Losing stings, but not cashing when you should have is agony.
I landed on Florida Derby winner Audible, who is 4-for-5 lifetime and 8-1 in the morning line. He has impressive speed figures, a strong finishing kick and can track the pace or come from far back.
His trainer, Todd Pletcher, also is running Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso and Noble Indy as he seeks a second consecutive Derby win. Pletcher’s take on Audible: “What I really like about his last two races is he showed diversity in his running style. I think that’s what you need in a race like this, a horse that can adapt to different scenarios. He also really finished and showed a turn of foot [quick acceleration], which is not always easy to do in dirt races.”
Joe Kristufek, Churchill Downs’ track handicapper, told me he’s picking Mendelssohn but will bet on Audible, too. No, diversifying your Derby portfolio isn’t cheating.
“Audible attacks the ground,” Kristufek said, “and I like the quality of the fields he’s beaten. He’s a known commodity. Audible has done it.”
My Derby vision: Audible sits in midpack off a strong pace set by Promises Fulfilled, with the favorite, Justify, a close second. Justify takes the lead entering the stretch, but Audible goes past him at the sixteenth pole. Good Magic edges Justify for second in the final 50 yards, with Hofburg rallying for fourth.
It almost sounds logical, so if I’m wrong, at least I will have lost intelligently.