Kentucky Derby is hard to handicap

The computer program came up with Hansen as the winner of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, and he certainly has a shot. However, Hansen’s last prep race was very telling, and not in ways that suggest he can win. Many observers felt that his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory last fall demonstrated some distance limitations, and those concerns seem to have been validated in the Blue Grass Stakes, where he gave up the lead in the stretch. Additionally, his owner suggested that he would not go to the lead in the Blue Grass, but he surged to the lead and carved out fairly solid fractions. If he can rate, he is talented enough to have a shot, but there is little to suggest he can or will rate.

Union Rags comes in as the computer’s second choice as well as the morning line second choice at 9-2. Union Rags is a visually impressive animal who is bred for the distance, but he is already a twice beaten favorite in his short career. And Derby horses should not have used up all their excuses in their prep races. Despite troubled trips, he had a shot to run down Hansen in the Juvenile last year and Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby this year. In neither case did he demonstrate the bold late kick of a horse that wants the roses badly. He will benefit from a quick pace on Saturday. He has never missed the board in his career and he likely will be no worse than third on Saturday. Despite his flattering odds of 9-2, he will need to be better on Saturday to hit the line first.

Gemologist, despite a Barbaro-esque perfect five for five, gets shuffled back to third choice in the morning line. His Wood Memorial win was deceptively strong. He overcame severe traffic trouble in the first turn and then found another gear when challenged late in the stretch by a hard charging Alpha. It appeared that he was just getting lazy on the lead in the stretch but was never seriously challenged. Gemologist is a versatile runner and can concede the early pace. There is nothing not to like about Gemologist so his fans are likely drooling at the prospect of getting him at 6-1. He will likely be shorter odds than that by post time, but still a value for a horse this good.

Bodemeister shows up as third choice in the computer rankings but morning line favorite. His nine-length margin of victory in the Arkansas Derby was impressive. But he does have some question marks. Specifically, he just just four starts lifetime, all of them as a three year old, he has never faced a field bigger than eleven, and he likes to run on the lead. His post position draw could not have been much better so he will have no excuses. If he is the freak he appeared to be in the Arkansas Derby, he should get to the lead early and hit the turn in front with gas in the tank. If he is not that good, he will fade to the back of the back, fried by a hot pace. At 4-1, there is better value in the race.

Others with a shot include Take Charge Indy, Dullahan, Creative Cause, Daddy Nose Best, Went the Day Well, I’ll Have Another and Done Talking who all won their final prep. Of these, the two that stand out are Dullahan and Done Talking, both for their late running style. And in the case of Done Talking, his 50-1 odds are curiously, tantalizingly high.

This year’s pace should be very contentious, so the front runners will be heavily burdened to endure and the eventual winner should come from off the pace. Trinninberg is this year’s silly speed. He has no chance but he will blaze hot fractions for six furlongs and get his name called at least twice. The anticipated pace collapse brings Dullahan into the picture because he is one of the most consistent late running horses in the field. Expect him to trail comfortably for the first six furlongs. His post position is perfect for a rail-hugging trip, so if he can avoid trouble should be firing late.

Dullahan is a solid win bet at 8-1. Use Union Rags and Gemologist to complete an exacta box. Add Done Talking for value to complete a trifecta box. With a field this strong, boxing wagers is the best bet.