Needing Some Space to Pick Derby Winner



ReadingtheDailyRacingForm? Throwingdarts? Goingbylooksorbycolor?




Pick a Derby winner, the editor said. Analyze the field. Have a little fun.

But you can’t do all three. It’s no fun to analyze the field. All those numbers, fractions even. My SAT math scores earned me a trip to the counselor’s office for hearty congratulations on having the biggest difference between math and verbal scores he had ever seen.

Why would someone name a horse Atswhatimtalknbout? Or Funny Cide? Offlee Wild?

That’s how I see the Daily Racing Form. A jumble of numbers and a bunch of funny names. That’s no way to pick a winner.

So it’s the horses I want to see. Looking at them before dawn, standing so still but so alert, so hopeful, so eager. They’d like to tell me, I’m sure, who will win. But they don’t. They squirm a little. They lift an ear, flick a tail, snort in anticipation for what is ahead. But that is no help.

Not to be rude, but there isn’t much point in paying close attention to some of these Derby hopefuls. Ten Cents A Shine’s last three racing efforts have been described as “dull.” What is Wayne Lukas thinking, entering this horse? Outta Here -- the name says it all. Supah Blitz is being ridden by Rosemary Homeister Jr., and maybe women should stick together, but not when it comes to putting down hard-earned money. Brancusi, Offlee Wild, Lone Star Sky, Domestic Dispute, Eye Of The Tiger -- no, no, no, no and no. When the odds are 30-1 or higher, what’s the point?

But then, what’s the point of betting the favorite?.


That’s Empire Maker, the horse with the best pedigree, the best results. His trainer, Bobby Frankel, says, “Bet against Empire Maker at your own risk,” and smiles.

But what fun is it to pick the favorite? You don’t make the big money picking the favorite. So you could support Peace Rules. That’s Frankel’s other horse, the one with the four-race winning streak. Did Peace Rules just wink? I think he winked! Is that a sign?

Buddy Gil is cool. Buddy is from the wrong side of the tracks. That would be Idaho. And Buddy is a gelding. He’s not all boy and breeder Donnie McFadden says that’s a good thing.

“He’s able to think about one thing, the race,” McFadden says. “Not the girls across the stable.”


Did McFadden just wink? Is that a sign? And Buddy Gil won the Santa Anita Derby, a very big race. McFadden calls Buddy “blue collar.”

Idaho is an unexpected place for a Derby horse to train. Utah is an unexpected place for a horse to have been born. But that’s where Indian Express is from. He’s trained by Bob Baffert, though, and that’s not an unexpected man to train a Derby winner. Indian Express finished a head behind Buddy Gil at Santa Anita, and if you want to stick up for California racing, Buddy Gil and Indian Express aren’t bad choices.

Ten Most Wanted is trendy. His jockey, Pat Day, is beloved here and respected almost anywhere. Ten Most Wanted won the Illinois Derby. So did last year’s Derby winner, War Emblem. It’s crowded around Ten Most Wanted’s barn. There are lots of whispers. But being trendy is so, so, untrendy.

Lukas, the man with the cowboy hat and the record of four Derby victories, is hard to ignore. Ten Cents A Shine might be a loser, but Lukas also has Scrimshaw. Scrimshaw wears the colors of Bob and Beverly Lewis, the Newport Beach owners whose colors usually signify “winner.” The Lewises are classy and likable, and sometimes that’s reason enough to give your support to a horse.


The more you read, the more you look and listen, the more you watch workouts and hear the “experts” and hang around the betting windows, the more confusing this all gets.



Pick the horse with the nicest owner. That’s what the lady who runs the concierge level of the local Marriott says. B. Wayne Hughes is the principal owner of Atswhatimtalknbout.


“He is the nicest man you’ll ever meet,” the concierge lady says. “He comes up here. Not everybody treats me well. Mr. Hughes treats me well.”

Hughes also sold part of his interest to Hollywood types -- to director Steven Spielberg and to Gary Ross, writer and director of “Seabiscuit,” which is predicted to be a summer hit. A little Hollywood glamour can’t hurt.

And Atswhatimtalknbout was hot. Once. Until he finished second to Buddy Gil in the San Felipe Stakes and fourth in Santa Anita Derby. Get beat twice by blue collar Buddy, that’ll cause your stock to drop.

But Atswhatimtalknbout had a rash right before Santa Anita. He was on antibiotics. He has been looking good at workouts this week. He winked.


I’m sure of it this time.

Atswhatimtalknbout. Atswhereimputtnmymoney.

Diane Pucin can be reached at