Derby a tough call? You bet

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:16 AM ET

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It may be as good as any option going, as accurate as even the most astute handicapper.

If you want to nail the triactor for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, why not do what you do at the lottery kiosk — make it a quick pick? Seriously, it has come to that — and, yes, at most racetracks, the random pick is an option.

Whether for horses or horse players, winning the Derby is as daunting and near impossible task as there is in horse racing for all sorts of reasons.

There is the huge field, in this case 20. Still improving and growing 3-year-olds are asked to go a distance (11/4 miles) that they have never previously run and must do so in front of the riot and colour that 150,000 fans can generate.

The running itself is part rodeo, part horse race, often with more hip checks than a hockey game.

“It’s very, very tough because everything has to go just perfect, every single thing,” said trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Derby winner who will try again with Ice Box and Jackson Bend. “You’ve got to have a great week, the (final) workout has got to be perfect, the horse has to be perfect, the trip has to be perfect, everything has to be perfect.

“And you’ve got to have the horse.”

Even with that, there is no guarantee. Betting tickets from badly beaten favourites, including horses who have gone on to do great things later in their career, litter the grandstand almost every Derby night.

This year’s top pick is as vulnerable as they come and it has nothing to do with lack of talent. Lookin at Lucky was anything but when he drew Post 1.

Why is the rail such a death sentence? Shouldn’t it be the shortest way around American racing’s most famous dirt oval? Not when there is a cavalry charge to the first turn and the inside horses often get buried along the rail.

“Once you get in there, if you are shuffled back one time, then you’ll get shuffled a second, a third, a fourth as the race goes on,” said Bob Baffert, trainer of the 3-1 morning-line choice, Lookin at Lucky. “We’re going to find out how good this horse is. If he’s that good, he’ll win it.”

Perhaps. He might also get blocked or trapped or have trouble with an off-track or any number of things that can arise in what is invariably a wildly run affair.

The more that long bombs convert, the more brazen the jockeys get. You see a horse such as Mine That Bird win at odds of 50-1 last year, why not take a shot? Just as bettors dream of hitting it big, the riders want to win the Derby for the fame and fortune that comes with it, even if it can lead to some crazy developments in the race itself.

“There are 20 of them out there,” Lookin At Lucky’s jockey, Garrett Gomez, said. “I learned last year that anybody can win. Hopefully, this year, we’ll be able to get it done.”

Did we mention the weather? Torrential rains are supposed to whip into the Louisville region overnight turning the Downs dirt into a quagmire. If that happens, a new reality of North American racing comes into play. Because so many tracks have converted to synthetic surfaces — which never get sloppy — some horses have never seen mud.

And even if they have, some will slip and slide like they are on a skating rink.

“We know we can get over it and I’m not sure all the others can say that,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will start a foursome, including filly Devil May Care. “You’ve got the California horses that don’t see wet tracks. It’s hard to know how they might react to such a situation.”

None of this ever leads to a slowdown at the betting windows, of course. More than $100 million US will be wagered in the hope of the big score. That and fresh memories of a year ago when Mine That Bird paid $103 to win and topped a $2,074 exactor and $41,500.60 triactor.

All for a $2 ticket. Forget the quick pick, though. What fun is that?

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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