For your Kentucky Derby wagering and viewing consideration, if not pleasure, I have called together a round table featuring a group of the worst handicappers, ever.
After this piece, I'll send along some picks Wednesday, then a blog during Derby Day. A live horse race blog can be like performance art, prayers and outrage, interwoven.
Getting back to the group discussion of this race: The emergence of fake dirt as an essential element in the Derby mix is enough to make a person look for information anywhere he can get it. Whereas almost anybody can win the Derby, absolutely anybody can run second. The tote board defines a tough race. The second choice in the Derby will be what, 6-1? Excuse me, could I get a couple dozen more dime supers over here please.
Between now and the Derby post, most horseplayers will concern themselves with expert opinion, with inside information taken straight from the horse trainer's hot walker's spouse's friend's mouth; and with beautiful stats like the fact that no Derby winner in the last 20 years has come off a prep race worse than fourth.
Here's the thing about experts. They know so much. The top horse racing experts are so good that they frequently come close -- the majority of their picks are not quite bad enough so that you can toss them automatically. But what we don't need here is a game handicapping effort, a pick that is apt to run a solid sixth. One of the questions we must ask ourselves in our Derby preparation is: What good is an expert in a race where exacta numbers could just as well come from bingo balls popping up in a machine?
Anymore, so much expert information comes so early, as though weather and posts are irrelevant, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it.
To my way of thinking, what this Derby situation calls for is some pitiful pickers, handicappers who might isolate winners by completely avoiding them.
I don't think that any of the handicappers at this round table know they're fairly bad. And we didn't meet at an actual table. We talked on the phone, over a beer, or in a betting line. How can a lousy handicapper frequent the races on a regular basis? Here's how. Most below average handicappers are pretty good bettors. Sorry handicappers love favorites. Six-to-five on top choice in the $4,000 claiming race, coming right back after a DQ victory? Looks good, looks very good. Chalky handicappers can find the "All" button in their sleep. The below average handicapper has become a race track regular with this basic strategy: You hook a favorite to all the rest of those rascals and get lucky. Good betting can overcome creative drawbacks. Good handicappers don't mind looking bad on long shots. Bad handicappers are easily embarrassed.
My group put together a consensus of opinion on the following Derby matters.
The members of the group love Big Brown and Col. John and plan to put both atop their exotic tickets and fill in the rest of the wagers with closers. They are all aware that the running styles of horses that have been winning on fake dirt fit the successful Derby stencil as well, stalkers sweeping toward the money.
Almost to a person, they are willing to write off Pyro's recent walkabout to unnatural causes; everybody believes the pace will be sufficient to enable Pyro to close to second, third or fourth.
They love betting on jockeys who pick one horse over another.
They love rocket works, recalling how Hard Spun went airborne around the practice track and then ran second for fat money.
They will seasonally adjust their picks if weather mandates, and pay close attention to the post position draw Wednesday.
So there it is, a Classic example of a tough pick. The suckers and the experts have come to sound alike.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.