Handicapping for Derby Dummies

This could be a book: Handicapping the Kentucky Derby for Dummies Who Make the Same Mistakes Year After Year.

Regional slants
Now that Triple Crown winners have begun coming out of Arkansas with as much regularity as you are apt to see in this game, it's as though the coastal and bluegrass racing elite are concerned that Li'l Abner will saddle the Oaklawn horse in this year's Derby.

If a Derby horse runs at your track, you tend to adopt him, it's part of the spectacle of a major event.

I'm half a day by the speed limit from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. Still, people in my simulcast joint sometimes get misty when speaking of our horse in this year's Derby.

The timing of the Arkansas Derby, coming three weeks before the Kentucky Derby, obviously has more to do with recent major successes than the national mineral water baths flowing from beneath Hot Springs, the smallest of our national parks. Still, horses that don't race in New York or California in the spring get these looks: You cannot be remotely serious. My racing friends in the Sunshine and Defibrillator State have fallen in love with Barbaro, even though the intense stretch-plus run in Florida left me gasping and wondering what a proper recovery pace might be, six months? Think the Nick Lacheys of the LA world might bet a dollar or two on Santa Anita Derby winner Bro Derek?

The Derby is a little like New Year's Eve. The fans are out and about. The gamblers are at home watching the race on television.

Beyer brethren
To many, handicapping begins and ends with the bold-faced number representing the Beyer figure, a process that hopes to create a level racing field, Dubai to Finger Lakes, one grade fits all.

A Big Beyer makes a big favorite.

The problem with a monster Beyer is that it can come from a four-and-a-half horse field like the recent Santa Anita Derby.

So few horses run in the big three-year old races out west, you halfway expect the announcer to say at the start: "He's off."

Take a big Beyer from a four-and-a-half horse race (a maiden ran in the Santa Anita Derby), and place it in post position 18 in a 20-horse field, the big Beyer and a quarter will get you a flip and that's about it.

Closers going longer
The other day a friend called and said he had his Derby horse, the one that made up half a football field in the watered-down Wood, Jazil.

Closers going longer next time are like intoxicants. It's like Happy Hour logic: If something closes hard at a mile, then he has to be a play at a mile and a quarter.

Off the paper and on the track, closers are usually much less effective when extending their range.

Is a horse that runs behind a quitter a closer?

The Derby winner figures to be somebody who sits fourth or fifth and is fixing to improve big-time.

Expert pickers
There could be no better advertisement for horse racing than picks by experts on television.

The industry should package them on a highlight reel, the antipathy to college basketball's "One Shining Moment."

Some expert pickers have seen it all, and have shaken hands with some of it, and they still couldn't hit their backsides with a rolled-up Racing Form when it comes to picking winners. People watching the best pickers the business has to offer should rush to the betting windows, thinking, "This is all I have to beat?"

One expert picker to another expert picker after the cameras fade to black: "How'd you do?"

"Pretty good. Had the favorite that ran fourth."

Kentucky Derby television coverage begins Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.