The last major Kentucky Derby prep happens tomorrow at Oaklawn Park. It is also the last day of the Oaklawn meet.
Last weekend’s preps did little to clear up what right now is a very muddy picture. I do not believe I saw a Derby winner last weekend. (Or a profit. That was pretty much a disaster). But we are still well up for the year, and will try to make some back at Oaklawn, although this race is not all that easy. The good news is the Derby itself is shaping up as a wild, long-shot driven affair, which is how we like it.
The top five in the Daily Racing Form Derby Watch — Always Dreaming, Irish War Cry, McCracken, Classic Empire and Battalion Runner — are all seriously flawed horses. McCracken was a decent third last week and should improve, because he was not 100 percent cranked up, and Classic Empire could take a big step in the Arkansas Derby. Unbeaten Malagacy is another who could move forward today. The prep races help horses develop. Many of them simply have not become what they will be — good or bad. So there is more guesswork here than strong opinions.
As of today my top five would be Gunnevara, Classic Empire, McCracken, Practical Joke and Malagacy, but that will change after tomorrow.
Keep in mind these are just opinions. Use them to supplement your own handicapping. This analysis assumes some knowledge of the sport, or that you have listened to Acing Racing 2016.
The favorites: Classic Empire has only one start this year, a dull third at Gulfstream, but Gulfstream form is hardly trustworthy. Still, he is well behind, and might have peaked at 2. He might also be sitting on his best effort. Like a lot of these, this horse is pure guesswork. Malagacy is 3-for-3 and beat many of these in the Rebel, but benefitted from a favorable pace scenario and front-running biased track. Today he starts out of the 12 post, which is a serious disadvantage. But we might not have seen his best effort yet. So you can make a case for either horse running big, or either running out. Of the two I trust Malagacy more.
Live longhots: No. 1 Rockin Rudy is an intriguing long shot. He has raced just three times — only once on dirt — and has never been farther than 6 1/2 furlongs. By all accounts he looks like the classic fly and die. But California 3-year-olds have been very good when shipping (for the most part). Doug O’Neill trains and Paul Reddam owns, and those two have teamed up for a lot of big races. Plus, there just is not much pace in this race, so he should find himself on the lead. It’s a huge jump from down the hill at Santa Anita to a mile and an eighth on the dirt at Oaklawn. But you will be getting a nice price, and he’s worth an across the board bet, and worth tying in exactas to the favorites (2-12), and the 3-4-6-7-9-11 if you want to go for a kill shot. Lookin at Lee (No. 6) is another who might be worth a play. He’s been a purse nibbler throughout his career, but the 1 1/8 miles should hit him between the eyes. He is more likely to run second or third, so place and show bets are preferred. I also like a backwheel tri using the 6 in second and third, with the 1-2-3-11-12 with 6 with 1-2-3-4-7-9-11-12…and 1-2-3-11-12 with 1-2-3-4-7-9-11-12 with 6. Speaking of live long shots, the No. 3 Silver Dust might be sitting on a big race as well. If you don’t like the 1 or 6, take a long look at this horse.
As far as pick 3s, start with race 9 and use the 2-3 in the ninth, 2-4-7-9-11 in the tenth with 1-2-3-11-12 in the 11th.
I am not all that confident in these plays, but will be taking a swing at the big pools on Saturday. Hopefully this will give you some extra insight into your own plays.