LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Remember when picking the Kentucky Derby winner was somewhere between difficult and impossible? For most of the 1990s, the Derby winner seemed random. In the last 5 years, it has been quite predictable.
Those were my words in this very prediction story a year ago.
The story clearly did not account for Mine That Bird. Did anything? Or anyone?
Well, Smarty Jones, Barbaro, Street Sense and Big Brown were quite predictable. Mine That Bird was not.
So what does Mine That Bird have to do with this Derby? I would submit nothing, but that result is going to scare players.
Frankly, I am more scared by how alike so many of these horses appear. Once Eskendereya was injured, the only horse with impeccable credentials was removed from the equation. So many of these horses are in same speed figure range that the past performances are becoming blurred.
Here is what I know. This race is loaded with quality speed horses. There is almost no chance the pace will not be very quick and contested. So, I do not think any of the speed horses can win. In fact, I am not sure any of them can last for the superfecta.
Now, some of those horses could be ridden differently and last longer, but I would include Super Saver, Line of David, American Lion, Conveyance, Discreetly Mine and Sidney's Candy among the speed horses. That list includes the winners of 10 graded stakes so you know they can all run. But if they run too fast too soon, there is a reasonable chance all of them could head toward the back in the stretch.
So I am looking for a consistent closer with enough ability to win this race. Unfortunately, that is also a large list. There are Lookin At Lucky, Ice Box, Noble's Promise, Make Music for Me, Devil May Care, Jackson Bend, Mission Impazible, Awesome Act and Dublin.
I was really confident when I picked Barbaro and Big Brown. Each horse was unbeaten. Each horse had the acceleration that wins the Derby. Neither horse was facing a particularly good field. And both won with ease.
I don't see a horse that is going to win this race easily. Obviously, it could happen. The spring is when 3-year-olds blossom and some horse that has hinted at an explosion may deliver.
But I am not real good at hints. I like to see something concrete.
Which is why I am picking Lookin At Lucky. The colt has raced eight times and won six. In his losses, he ran a winning race in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and got a ridiculous ride in the Santa Anita Derby.
If you asked me if there is one horse that I am almost certain will give his best effort, it is Lookin At Lucky. I could have done without the No. 1 post, but Garrett Gomez, his ride in the S.A. Derby aside, is one of the best. His job will be to find openings and make sure his horse takes advantage of them.
If the race is run on a sloppy track, Lookin At Lucky's bloodlines suggest he will handle it. He is a grandson of Mr. Prospector whose offspring love off tracks. His sire, Smart Strike, is also the sire of Curlin. Remember Curlin's tour de force in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic over the slop at Monmouth Park?
What I don't like about Lookin At Lucky is that he is a grinder, not a horse with that eye-catching acceleration. I am also not thrilled that he is the likely favorite. But I have no confidence in any of these other 19 horses so Lookin At Lucky, it is.
So, what about some long shots for the superfecta? Glad you asked.
If the pace is as fast as I think it may be and if speed horses really do start retreating in the stretch, I am looking at some deep closers to round out my superfecta.
Ice Box qualifies. So do Noble's Promise, Make Music for Me, Devil May Care and Awesome Act.
I have been here every year since 1987. For years, I just relied on my ability to read past performances to try to pick the Derby winner. And failed miserably.
I did not listen to anybody or pay attention to what I heard about how horses were training. That was a big mistake.
But you learn over time. I listen now. I pay attention.
That is what led me to Barbaro. It should have led me to Street Sense, but I thought I knew more than I was hearing. I was wrong.
I know what I don't know and listen closely to those few people whose eyes I really trust. And they are telling me the following horses have really flourished in the final days leading up to the race - Super Saver, American Lion and Paddy O'Prado.
Now, the first two are speed horses, which complicates an equation that needs no more complexity. On paper, Paddy O'Prado is ridiculous. You can't use this horse. His only win in six starts was on grass. His only dirt race was actually in the slop and it was at Churchill Downs. The colt ran terribly, finishing seventh at 19-1.
But I am being told this colt has blown up in the last few weeks. By the wonderful sire, El Prado, the bloodlines are there. The price is going to be enormous. There are no guarantees here, but I am definitely using Paddy O'Prado.
This isn't like 2 years ago when Big Brown was a free space and the superfecta was actually disguised as a trifecta.
Lookin At Lucky isn't a free space. The colt is likely to hit the super somewhere. I am going to use him on top some, second, third and fourth a little. Then, I am going to try to fill in the spaces around him and hope for the best.
I would explain what I am going to do, but I don't know yet. In fact, it may take me the next 24 hours to figure out the best structure for the bet and how much to spend. There are no free spaces in this Kentucky Derby.