Is Super Saver going to win the Triple Crown? If you think he is then you can get odds ranging from +450 to +700 depending upon your book. That sounds attractive, but only if he stands a good chance of winning it all. So does he? In a word, no. It obviously could happen of course, but most smart bettors would happily bet against it. There are a lot of reasons I am so bearish on Super Saver, but here are six of the stronger arguments:
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The big day is here. I can’t wait. For fun, I’m going to work with a mythical bankroll of $500 and construct a number of tickets that will hopefully leave me with more than that in the end. Without further ado:
This is a very strange Kentucky Derby field. Most years there are several top level contenders, and the challenge is to figure out which one is going to rise to the occasion. This year there are just three horses that seem to be elite – Eskendereya being the best by far, with Lookin at Lucky and Sidney’s Candy, a couple of California invaders, close behind. The rest of the field is full of horses that have shown promise at times but have done more things to raise doubts than to create confidence. More than most years, then, looking for a longshot takes a massive leap of faith. Here’s a look at five of those longshots that you could make a case for – though it’s hard to believe that any of them are better than the best here:
Awesome Act – This is by far my favorite of the horses beyond the top three. He’ll likely go off at 15/1 or so, so the price is attractive. He’s coming off a dismal third place showing behind Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial, but he’s still moving in the right direction. He wasn’t allowed to run at all in that last race, and still had the heart to close reasonably strong. It looks like he has lots of room to improve off of that race, and he’s bred to run forever. He also has Julien Leparoux, one of the better jockeys out there and an experienced Kentucky rider, on board. He’s a live one.
Ice Box – I expect him to be in about the 15/1 range as well. He won the Florida Derby last time out – the same race that Barbaro won before his Derby win. I’m not saying that this horse is Barbaro, though. The Florida Derby was by far his best race ever, though, so it is hard to believe that he can replicate it. The best thing going for him, though, is his running style. He’s a closer, and that sets up well if the pace is as fast as it could be given the amount of early speed in the field. He could be ready to pick up the pieces.
The jockeys are a huge factor in the Derby – more than almost any other race. With the field so large, the crowd massive and loud, and the horses young an relatively inexperienced, a jockey can make the difference between a winning effort and a disappointing one. That means that jockeys, and their match to their horses, is a crucial and often underutilized handicapping angle. Here’s a look at four jockeys that need to be considered because they could be difference makers here:
Garrett Gomez, Lookin at Lucky – Gomez is the best jockey in North America, yet he has never won the Derby. That’s a clear sign of just how tough this race is. He’s on a live one here in Lookin at Lucky, the likely second choice in the field. Gomez will have an added motivation to put forth a big effort here because his last ride on this horse, in the Santa Anita Derby, was one of the worst of his entire career and a big reason that the horse was only third. Gomez is too good to be that bad twice in a row, so this horse will be even better than it is because of his presence.
Calvin Borel, Super Saver – Borel has ridden this horse twice and they were two of his best performances. The jockey from Louisiana is the king of Churchill right now. He won the Derby in 2007 aboard Street Sense, and then did it again last year on Mine That Bird with perhaps the most incredible ride in the history of the sport. This horse will be near the front and that might not be Borel’s best spot, but there’s no arguing with his success.
Joe Talamo, Sidney’s Candy – Talamo, a 20 year old who races in Southern California is making his Derby debut, though that shouldn’t be the case. Last year he was aboard I Want Revenge, the likely favorite who was scratched on the morning of the race. Talamo is obviously an enormously talented rider, and he has won many big races including his first Breeders’ Cup event last year. He has a horse with heart to burn as well. I’m just a little concerned about him in this spot, though. He’s so young and new to this stage that the spectacle of the Derby could be too much for him and force him into a bad decision. That’s especially important with the horse he has – Sidney’s Candy wants to be on or near the lead, so it would be very easy to burn him out if Talamo isn’t sharp.
John Velazquez, Eskendereya – Velazquez is, like Gomez, a top jockey who has never won the Derby. He won the Belmont in 2007 aboard Rags to Riches, and his trophy case is packed with an impressive assortment of other hardware – seven Breeders’ Cup wins, a Dubai World Cup and two Eclipse Awards. Johnny V is, at his best, an immensely talented rider who is more than capable of piloting this favorite home. He has an incredibly annoying habit, though – he can turn his brain off and ride a race like he has never been on a horse before. He’s getting older and hasn’t been as sharp over the last couple of years, so his presence is definitely a strike against the favorite in my eyes.
Over the next few days I’ll be traveling to watch the Derby, so I won’t be around to update each day. Up until the big race goes on Saturday, then, I have prepared a few previews to get you ready for the greatest two minutes in sports. I’m doing this a few days in advance, so I have had to make some guesses about the field, and there is a chance that I will be writing about horses that won’t make the field for some reason, but I’ve made my best guesses so forgive me.
Tomorrow and Wednesday we’ll be taking a closer look at the brackets region-by-region, and one Thursday and Friday we’ll check in throughout the day with observations from the games. Today, though, we’ll just hit a few notes from around the sporting world before we forget that all other sports exist for a couple of days:
I thought it was the Pro Bowl that was cursed with a ridiculous number of injuries, but now it seems as if it is just all-star games in general this year. The Pro Bowl had more than 30 players who were chosen but didn’t show up, and most were due to real or fake injuries. Now the NBA All-Star game seems to have almost as many. Today, both Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant informed the league that they would be unable to play (incidentally, the loss of Bryant caused the line to move half a point – the West is now favored by 1.5). They join an impressive list of players on the sidelines, including two other Western guards besides Bryant – Brandon Roy and Chris Paul. Monta Ellis was originally going to replace Bryant, but he’s out with a leg injury as well. On the Eastern side Derrick Rose is questionable. It’s a curse, I tell you.
It was a great day at the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday. Zenyatta’s win in the Classic was, without exaggeration, one of the top five racing moments of my life – and I have seen a lot of them. She is truly an all-time great. She should be the horse of the year in my book without question – and that’s no insult to Rachel Alexandra. Rachel won a Triple Crown race and beat older horses, but Zenyatta’s win over older horses was far more impressive, and it came in the richest race in North America – one a female horse had never won. The field in Zenyatta’s race was far deeper than Rachel’s as well. I’d be fine with a split award this year, but if there is one winner it has to be Zenyatta.
There are few things harder in gambling to win than a pick six. It costs a fortune to play it properly, and it all can be derailed too easily. I haven’t done any Breeders’ Cup content this year because I don’t get the sense that most people here care about the ponies as much as I do. For kicks now, though, I’m going to try to put together a winning pick six ticket. It’s play money, so I plan to spend a lot of it. I can afford to, though – the pick six paid more than $155,000 today, and should be much bigger tomorrow. Here we go:
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a truly awful team right now. Incomprehensibly bad. Like Oakland Raiders bad. They are theoretically rebuilding, but the signs of progress are slim right now. Their top two goalies are hurt, most of their offense is either hurt or benched, and coach Ron Wilson seems to have a tenuous grasp on the team. Incredibly ugly.