Saturday, May 3, 2014

Intriguing Stories at Kentucky Derby

The 2014 edition of the Kentucky Derby will be run in a few hours, and there are some interesting story lines to follow. Of course, part of that is due to the pressure on sportswriters to produce compelling copy in the days before the big race (when the only newsworthy developments are likely to be bad).

Somewhere out there someone must have written a piece that lays out all the reasons why the longest longshot on the board (and, currently, that is 48–to–1 pick Vinceremos) is the smart pick.

That doesn't mean the stories aren't good — but take it from an ex–sports copy editor. Take each with as many grains of salt as you need.

Joe Drape of the New York Times reports that the Kentucky Derby is an opportunity for two sons to do something their fathers weren't able to do.

Allen Jerkens is a Hall of Fame trainer. He trained horses that beat Secretariat and Kelso (who did not win the Triple Crown because his 3–year–old season began after the Triple Crown had been decided) — but his horses never won the Kentucky Derby. His son Jimmy is the trainer of Wicked Strong, a 7–to–1 shot as of 2 p.m. Central time today — second only to prerace favorite California Chrome (2–1 after opening at 5–to–2).

Similarly, Don Little Jr., the owner of Wicked Strong, comes from old thoroughbred racing stock. In the 1980s, his father (now deceased) founded Centennial Farms, which has produced some pretty good horses (including a Belmont Stakes winner), but none of them has ever won the Run for the Roses.

Today may be their best chance, but Danza, a 9–to–1 shot after opening at 10–1, could have something to say about it. Named for actor Tony Danza (who once played a part–time boxer on TV's Taxi), the Arkansas Derby winner seems to be a legitimate contender. His jockey, Joe Bravo, is the latest branch in a family tree full of jockeys and has won quite a few major races, but he has yet to win a Kentucky Derby.

Still, California Chrome appears to be everyone's pick.

(Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form writes that California Chrome is a working–class–hero in the sport of kings. He definitely has been working more than the other horses. He has started more races than any of his rivals.)

Cindy Boren claims in the Washington Post to provide everything you need to know about betting on the race — and she does ... except for how to pick the winner.

That, my friends, is why they call it gambling.

At the moment, 19 horses are in the race. Twenty–one were entered originally, but two have been scratched. The Derby field is always like that; the field is less crowded for the other two races in the Triple Crown. But at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, every contender and pretender is on the track.

(Sometimes, it seems to me, a bet in the Kentucky Derby would be just as likely to produce a winner if the pick was made by throwing a dart at a dartboard in which the horses' names replaced numbers.)

Handicapper Liam Durbin writes in the Chicago Tribune that he can save you all the trouble of wading through each horse's track record.

California Chrome is probably the logical choice, he writes, but the best value might be — and here we introduce a fourth horse to watch — Dance With Fate.

Dance With Fate is something of a sleeper, currently 14–1 after opening at 20–1. Corey Nakatani will be riding Dance With Fate, and he, too, is looking for his first Kentucky Derby victory.

Teresa Genaro of Forbes has tips for gamblers as well.

And she actually does pick the winner — Ride On Curlin, a 15–to–1 pick.

USA Today reports that the experts' picks are all over the place.

So who will win? You can see the race for yourself on NBC in less than two hours — at 5:32 p.m. (Central).

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