Underdog role suits Wes Welker's horse
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Bill Finley has seen enough, and on May 4 he will stick with the horse he picked Nov. 24 to win the Derby. Story »
A small chestnut son of Purim was hardly considered one of the top picks at the Keeneland September yearling sale when he went for $50,000 in 2011. In the high-dollar world of thoroughbred auctions, people pay hundreds of thousands, into the millions, for young horses that have never run -- their willingness to spend based on strong physical characteristics and solid bloodlines signs that this one could be a winner.
But for Wes Welker, the standout receiver who recently signed with the Denver Broncos, that $50,000 yearling purchase turned out to be a steady player -- now a 3-year-old runner named Undrafted who, in six starts, has never been out of the money. He is an undersized but feisty competitor -- or, as trainer Wesley Ward puts it, "He's a good-feelin' guy." That's something the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Welker knows plenty about; the horse's name refers to his early days trying to make it as a pro, when he went undrafted out of Texas Tech.
"He's just a hard-working horse," Welker said. "He's consistent and it's kind of funny to watch him run -- it definitely is kind of a take on what my career has been like."
The horse runs Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a Grade 1 event with a purse of $750,000 and 100 points on the line for the winner toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. Heading to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May is a dream of every owner, one Welker is still chasing with this contender. Undrafted was a late nominee to the Triple Crown, and a first or second (worth 40 points) in the Blue Grass could punch his Derby ticket.
"He's run so well in the graded races down in Florida," Ward said. "We know he likes the Polytrack and we're hoping a lot of the horses he's running against don't."
Welker has owned thoroughbreds for about the past five years. He got involved in that aspect of the sport through bloodstock agent Gatewood Bell, with whom he also owns six other runners, including a filly named Gypsy Robin who won the Beaumont Stakes and the Lexus Raven Run at Keeneland last year. Welker compares the feeling of racehorse ownership to that of competing and winning a game; athletes definitely understand the training regimens and rigors these horses go through en route to victory.
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Traditional methods of little use in betting Derby
To some, the 139th Kentucky Derby means one thing, maybe two: Box the 9 and the 13 in the exactas, and box the 1, the 3 and the 9 in the trifectas. Others might make a single win bet on the 13, because that's the sum of the three numbers represented in 139, added together.
For those to whom a Derby horse's name is more relevant than a number, please keep reading for advice.
One storyline for the first Saturday in May is that this race usually leaves traditional handicappers talking to themselves.
Here's something that even the best handicappers should think: I'm not sure I can do this.
There's nothing in sport that is more difficult to predict than the Kentucky Derby.
Here's why: Twenty horses run in the race. That's at least a half-dozen too many. The start of the Kentucky Derby looks like the last day of school. Beyond a dozen horses, 14 at the outside, the opportunity for experiencing trouble during the race seems to increase exponentially with each entry beyond a baker's dozen. The run to the first turn resembles the 405 freeway in Los Angeles at any time except for the unrushed hour of 3-4 a.m.
Twenty horses is about what you expect to see after the fox. Drawing the rail is like spending the night in the Bates Motel. When the door opens, there's trouble everywhere.
More problematic still is the fact that all Derby horses are healthy and eager and young and inexperienced. The new points system that qualifies entries for the Kentucky Derby has helped to eliminate five-horse prep races that used to bore fans on the coasts. This year's Derby horses are probably more prepared to deal with the bumper-car antics that could at any time cause a solid favorite to disappear in a swarm of legs and rumps.
But if it can seem almost impossible to pick the winner of a football or a basketball game involving two contestants, try picking one of 20.
It's about like making a futures wager on the Super Bowl winner.
Then, for the real money, you have to pick who will finish second. And third. And forth.
For the Kentucky Derby, traditional handicapping technique is to be assisted by the methods employed by those trying to pick winners off the program alone, by numerologists, by those tipsy and by hunch players alike; by whimsy.
Skillful handicapping will sometimes lead you to the Derby winner. Then you hit the "All" button for the exacta, and pray.
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Countdown To The Derby
UNTIL THEY'RE OFF AND RUNNING
The Derby Trail
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a 34-race series, introduced last year, in which points are awarded to the top four finishers each race.
|Feb. 22||Risen Star||1 1/16 mls|
|Feb. 22||Fountain of Youth||1 1/16 mls|
|Mar. 1||Gotham Stakes||1 1/16 mls|
|Mar. 8||TB Derby||1 1/16 mls|
Derby Points Leaders
The top 20 points-earners qualify for berths in the field for the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Earnings in non-restricted stakes races will serve as tiebreakers.
|Cairo Prince||Kiaran McLaughlin||14|
|Honor Code||Shug McGaughey||14|
|Midnight Hawk||Bob Baffert||12|
|Bond Holder||Doug O'Neill||11|
|Rise Up||Tom Amoss||10|
|We Miss Artie||Todd Pletcher||10|
|Samraat||Rick Violette Jr.||10|
Derby Trail Video Channel
In The Gate Podcast
Mike Smith - April 11
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith rides highly-regarded War Academy in Saturday's Arkansas Derby. Gary West analyzes Arkansas & Blue Grass Stakes, plus a Barry Abrams commentary.