Everyone in the mainstream media, horse racing media, blogosphere, and in the state of Kentucky spends countless time looking at the Derby, breaking down the races, looking for that goofy angle, or just enjoying the pageantry of the race. It's without a question the most over-analyzed race of the year.
What is also undisputed is that the most under-analyzed races of the year are those on the Derby undercard. Before the Run for the Roses, Churchill Downs hosts a veritable feast of good horse races, consisting of horses that are older, younger, male, female, on dirt, on dirt, and at myriad distances. It's a fun series of races that would make up a notable card without the presence of the Kentucky Derby.
More to the point: the same drunken throngs of 140,000 people at Churchill Downs that will be millions of dollars on Stay Thirsty because they like Dos Equis or bet their birthdays are also betting on these undercard races. It's a ton of uninformed money in the pool that inflates the odds for those who know racing and is there for the taking.
So as part of our duty to educate the public on horse racing in general and how to make money gambling, let's do a brief analysis of the undercard on Derby Day. Dazzle everyone at your party with your knowledge of the Woodford Reserve Turf Stakes, then demand that the bourbon they're using in the mint julep is actually Woodford Reserve.
Twin Spires Turf Sprint: 5 furlongs on the turf, 3yo and up.
Ah, turf sprints. Our old buddy Chamberlain Bridge of BC Turf Sprint fame is back on the track where he won the Breeders Cup, off a close-up 4th in the Shakertown. With the amount of speed in the race, we think he sits a perfect trip and takes it. We'll go against that obvious chalk for the other slots on the theory that they'll get fried in the early pace chase, and instead take shots underneath with Early Return, whose turf start three back was pretty good, and Bergerac, who is an insane 50-1 on the morning line for no discernible reason.
1st: Chamberlain Bridge 2nd: Early Return 3rd: Bergerac
Humana Distaff: Fillies and Mares, 7 furlongs on the dirt.
Historically, strange things happen in this race. Hall of Famer Azeri lost this race to the immortal Mayo on the Side in 2004. Heavy favorite Madcap Escapade lost to My Trusty Cat in 2005. Intangaroo sprung an upset and paid $30 in 2008. Mona de Monna knocked off Eclipse winner Informed Decision last year.
Given this, do you think we're going anywhere near Hilda's Passion, who's 6-5 on the morning line? Didn't think so. There looks like a fair amount of speed in the race, so we'll go with closer Evening Jewel, who likes the track, ran a nice 3rd in the BC Filly Sprint last year, and had a better-than-it-looked comeback in her last race. Amen Hallelujah has been working up a storm for the race and has been 2nd in 3 straight races. Make it 4.
1st: Evening Jewel 2nd: Amen Hallelujah 3rd: Hilda's Passion
Distaff Turf Mile: 1 mile on the turf for fillies and mares.
Simple theory: the Europeans are better at turf racing than we are. There's three ex-pats from across the pond here: Aruna, who's done nothing wrong for Graham Motion and Flaxman Stables in her three starts so far, and may be something good; Fantasia, who knocked around in the division for Jonathan Sheppard last year with decent results; and Aviate, a beautifully bred Juddmonte horse who just missed 2nd in her first start here in March. Their main competition is Never Retreat, who we're not wild about in the 11 post and stepping up a little in class here. Euros take the triple.
1st: Aviate 2nd: Aruna 3rd: Fantasia
Churchill Downs Handicap: 7 furlongs on dirt, 3yo and up
The best sprint race we're going to see for a while. A good friend of the blog repeatedly has said that there's no bigger difference in racing than 6 furlongs and 7 furlongs, and he's 100% right. We like to look for distance specialists at this trip, and lo and behold, Capt. Candyman Can is a perfect 5-for-5 at the distance and should be on the improve after recovering from a serious injury. The others who perpetually fire at the distance are Smiling Tiger and Here Comes Ben, and we'll lean towards the former because he's run recently.
1st: Capt. Candyman Can 2nd: Smiling Tiger 3rd: Here Comes Ben
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic: 1 1/8 miles on the turf, 3yo and up
Arguably the best race on the card, including the Kentucky Derby. We think the distance is too short for Prince Will I Am and Al Khali, and too long for miler Little Mike and speedster Get Stormy. But it looks just right for Doubles Partner, who's perfect at the distance and at Churchill Downs for Todd Pletcher, and exits an excellent performance at Tampa. We think he'll sit off a real pace and come flying late, once again beating Rahystrada. For the show slot, it's tough to argue with the excellent form that Expansion is in with two stellar starts at the distance, even with the 14 post.
1. Doubles Partner 2. Rahystrada 3. Expansion