LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- All week, one name keeps coming up when you ask the required "Who's your Kentucky Derby pick?"
Given that he was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite, that isn't overly surprising. Still, usually a few other names get thrown around, too. Of course, my polling was informal and maybe I asked the exact right/wrong people, but still there is a lot to like about the colt.
Orb comes in riding a four-race win streak, including victories in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. He's looked good every time he's set foot on the Churchill Downs track, and it is hard to knock him.
The classy runner also sports a pedigree that suggests 1¼ miles should be no issue. One of his grandfathers, Unbridled, took the 1990 Kentucky Derby, while the other, A.P. Indy, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic.
"I'd love to be the favorite because the favorite's going to have something under his name that makes him the favorite," Orb's Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey, said. "I wish every one of my horses was favorite. They're not all going to win, I understand that, but I'm on board with that."
In short, Orb would be a deserving Derby favorite, and few would bat an eye if he crosses the wire in front.
However, from a betting standpoint, that's not much fun.
Itsmyluckyday is one horse that's caught my eye every morning this week. In his last start, he was outraced to the wire by Orb in the Florida Derby and finished second. That is probably the reason he was installed at 15-1 here.
History is littered with horses that didn't do their best in the race directly prior to the Derby and then ended up in the winner's circle on the first Saturday of May.
Ten years ago, Empire Maker was the horse with the regal pedigree from the power stable. In his final race before the Derby, Empire Maker defeated Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial, and he went off as the Derby favorite at 2-1. Meanwhile, Funny Cide went off at 12-1.
When they hit the wire, Funny Cide had reversed his fortunes and walked away with the roses. Empire Maker had to settle for second.
Could Itsmyluckyday do the same thing on Saturday? Maybe. He has won five of his 10 starts, and his pedigree implies that the Derby distance should be attainable for him. Nice horses get overlooked every year simply because of the size of the Derby field. Plus, Itsmyluckyday has won on an off track, but more on that later.
Incidentally, the horse that won this year's Wood Memorial, Verrazano, will likely go off as the second choice and had his odds set at 4-1. The horse that ran second to him at Aqueduct, Normandy Invasion, was marked down at 12-1.
Orb and Verrazano have long been at the head of their class and deserve the accolades they are receiving. That said, so many horses are progressing at this point in the spring, the true value might be found in those that have kept up with but not been able to beat the big boys. Yet.
One other word that has come up repeatedly this week is a dreaded one for any outdoor sporting event: rain. This seemingly is an issue every year just by the nature of the Derby being run in early May.
Until a horse is asked to run on a sloppy track, you don't really know how he will take to it, although Vyjack and Itsmyluckyday have posted stakes victories on off tracks.
I have two additional thoughts on the possibility of an off track. First, Palace Malice might be one to look to. He's run a good second on a sloppy track and was sired by Curlin, whose Breeders' Cup Classic win at Monmouth Park in 2007 came over the sloppiest of sloppy tracks.
Also, Calvin Borel has ridden three Derby winners. Two of them were over sloppy tracks. His mount this year is Revolutionary.
For those without the time or desire to do hard-core studying, the most fun I think you can have is by picking a long shot. A $2 win bet on a 50-1 shot goes a long way when the horse wins.
(If you are wondering who my long shot is this year, I still don't have one. I will keep an eye on the tote board and make that decision sometime Saturday afternoon.)
If you are picking a long shot, sound betting strategy usually has to be put aside. Year in and year out, the Derby can make even the experts look a bit foolish. Unless you make your living from gambling, the best suggestion I can give is to have fun with it.
Pick a horse that you like. Favorite number? Sure. Has a cool name? Why not. Reminds you of your crazy Uncle Sal somehow? Do it.
In the end, it is a much better story if you pick the 47-1 shot that wins rather than the 2-1 horse that does the same. Even if you did like him for a reason you don't really want to tell people about.