Imagine waking up in early summer of 1978. As a fan of sport, you just witnessed a thrilling three-race rumble between Affirmed and Alydar, with the former getting the best of his rival all three times to win the Triple Crown. It was the third Triple Crown winner in six years, so who was to think another super horse wouldn’t arrive on the scene in 1979 for another thrill ride.
By 1980? Sure. By 1985? Of course. Well, here we are in 2015, and after numerous roller-coaster rides that rumble on in our soul for a month, we’re still waiting for the one.
1978 also has significance for me: It was the year I was born. Ever since I became a fan of horse racing, I’ve felt a tie to this Triple Crown drought. I’ve become emotionally invested in several horses over the years: Smarty Jones in 2004, when I was in a jammed-packed OTB in Boise that went from cheers to silence in less than 30 seconds when Birdstone rumbled home; Big Brown in 2008, when excitement turned to worry when he was pulled up before the end of the race; I’ll Have Another in 2012, when he was oddly scratched the day before the race; and of course, Valley horse California Chrome last year, when I was face down on my living room floor, trying with all of my being to get him to pass the horses down the sandy Belmont stretch. The endings were all too familiar.
I bring this up because for the casual race fan or simply a sports fan, the Kentucky Derby is the one race they anticipate the most. Beautiful horses, warm weather, the roses, the pageantry, the spectacle of it all is purely American. For one day, a nation cares about horse racing. Not only do we want to pick the right horse and make some money, but we want to be wowed. We hope to see the horse that will end this drawn-out, 37-year conversation. With such a loaded field of talent entering the gate on Saturday, this is the year. The horse that comes out on top will be primed to do something I’ve never witnessed in my lifetime. That horse is American Pharoah.
The High Five
•1. American Pharoah (post 18, 5-2):
The Arkansas Derby winner and 2-year-old champ has wowed people for the past few weeks at Churchill, so much so that one veteran clocker said he may be the best horse he’s ever seen. The first time I saw him race last September, I told myself that could be my Derby horse. All week I’ve tried to talk myself off putting him on top as he almost appears too good to be true and has yet to be truly tested, but ultimately, I just think he’s special. Great outside post, third start of the year, all systems go.
•2. Frosted (post 15, 15-1):
I’ve really warmed up to this horse (no pun intended). I was originally against the horses out of the New York preps, but the more I dug into his Wood Memorial victory, the more I Iiked him. His trainer made several changes going into that race, and he ran huge despite very little pace in front of him. There’s plenty of pace in this race, and I know he’ll be running late and may just get there at a nice price.
•3. Firing Line (post 10, 12-1):
The Sunland Derby champion has gone to battle twice with Dortmund, putting up game efforts in losing both by a head. Veteran jockey Gary Stevens, who has battled knee surgeries and came out of retirement finally healthy, has heaped plenty of praise on this colt. I think he’s sitting on a big one.
This colt is impossible to knock — 6 for 6, has a win at Churchill, has been in a dogfight with Firing Line and prevailed, and is the most physically-imposing horse in the field. He’s a brawler, but my gut just says he’s not going to win. I’m going to use him in all my exotic tickets, but I’m going to try to beat him on the win end. If he wins, I’ll tip my cap and root for him to go 9 for 9.
•5. Upstart (post 19, 15-1):
This was a tough call, but with Todd Pletcher’s top two colts drawn poorly inside, I went outside here. This colt shined all winter long in the Florida preps, had a slight training hiccup but has two strong recent workouts and has made good appearances on the Churchill strip. He has tactical speed and drawn just to the outside of the favorite, he should sit off him the whole way around. Not sure he’s quite good enough, but could get the dream trip.
I’m not a fan of betting favorites in a 20-horse field on the win end, so I’ll try to make some value on American Pharoah by keying him on top of trifectas and superfectas. I’ll also play win-place-show bets on Frosted and Firing Line at healthy prices. Here are some specific plays:
•Ice-cold Exacta Kenny special:
18 over 8-10-15-19 over 8-10-15-19
8-10-15-19 over 18 over 8-10-15-19
18 over 8-10-15-19 over 8-10-15-19 over 2-3-5-6-8-10-12-15-19-21
On Friday, 14 of the top 3-year-old fillies line up in the Kentucky Oaks. One of my favorite wagers is the Oaks-Derby double, which combines the two big races. I’m going to take a swing on a long shot in the Oaks, No. 4 Eskenformoney at 20-1. That price will go down, but if I can get 10-1 or better, I’m playing a healthy WPS bet.
3/4/7/12/13 with 15/18
Good luck! Let’s enjoy the next month and hope we see history.