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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Kentucky Derby: Getting to the point

By Paul Moran
Special to ESPN.com

The point system that now determines admission to the Kentucky Derby's field of 20, while not immune to criticism, appears to have served its purpose. True, there is a modicum of sex discrimination in the requirement that points are earned only in unrestricted races, but the argument can be made that the connections of a filly under consideration for the Derby might test her against males before arrival at Churchill Downs. Otherwise, the system has resulted in preliminary races becoming more than preps and the competition has been quite good.

Building a superfecta ticket approaches quantum physics but you can win if your top pick finishes fourth.

There is no serendipitous benefit, however. This Kentucky Derby, the preliminary dust now settled, is every bit the puzzle that has marked the last decade or two of springtimes in America. Now, we are faced with the critical question -- how to bet the Derby.

For a bettor without a future-book position, this and any Derby can be viewed from at least two perspectives -- an impossible pot luck at 10 furlongs or an opportunity to profit from the presence of overlooked but nevertheless capable animals that often inflate the prices of the various available vertical wagers. Correctly identifying the winner is difficult in the extreme. Building a superfecta ticket approaches quantum physics but you can win if your top pick finishes fourth.

So, who do you like?

The winner or runner-up in the Florida Derby have been impressive in all their 2013 races with both major objectives in Miami going to Orb.

Cases can be made for any of the first three finishers in the Wood Memorial and the undefeated winner, Verrazano, may well be the betting favorite on May 4. Vyjack is legitimate. Normandy Invasion is a developing work in progress.

Revolutionary, winner of the Louisiana Derby, will be an inviting betting prospect for many. He too keeps winning.

It is difficult to view the Blue Grass with any real conviction since the main track at Keeneland has continually if not alarmingly taken the legs from beneath speed horses, some of whom have turned into the stretch with long leads and faded abruptly. Last to first and drawing away on Polytrack, Java's War, on dirt, could be a completely different animal. What kind of animal is a question impossible to answer at this point.

Overanalyze was very impressive while winning the Arkansas Derby on Saturday but will be viewed dimly by proponents of the "bounce" since it was just his second start of the season.

Further confusion: Most of these horses have big late moves, which suggests the promise of a wild finish in this Derby, a race that almost invariably beings with a strong early pace.

… This may not be the fastest group of 3-year-olds ever assembled for a Derby but this is one deep in quality and distinguished by consistency …

Point to point and first to last, this may not be the fastest group of 3-year-olds ever assembled for a Derby but this is one deep in quality and distinguished by consistency -- the things that make a classic race and drive handicappers to distraction.

From a bettor's standpoint it is every bit the typical Kentucky Derby brain-bender.

A highly respected Hall of Fame trainer who will likely have a horse in this Derby is famous for cashing huge superfecta tickets. His method, leaked by a mutual clerk plied with vodka, is the eight-horse box in a wide-open field. Surely, every Derby qualifies. The key: picking the right races and eliminating the right horses, which can be tricky when every horse in the race has earned his way into the field, the rule employed notwithstanding.

There is a group of horseplayers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., that pools money and boxes eight horses in the Derby determined by a consensus of all the participants' top six individual selections. This is a marriage of good opinion and many based on whim. Two years ago, they won more than $24,000. Last year, they lost a photo for fourth. Apparently, there is some merit to this approach, though it defies definition.

A $1, eight-horse box requires $1,680, a sum beyond the means or comfort level of many bettors. Clearly, this is not a play for the $2 punter who may be better served by an office or neighborhood saloon pool.

But there is one thing than picking the winner of a Derby and that is cashing a ticket that comes with an IRS Form 1099-G -- better still when it is past the withholding threshold.