This could be one of the best Kentucky Derbies ever because all three running styles are covered by first-class travelers -- The Factor's uncompromising speed that shakes off rabbits like flies, Uncle Mo's powerful stalking mode that's as reliable as the tide, and Dialed In's sweeping, swooping, deep-closing rush, the dramatic stuff of which paupers and the princely are often defined by an examination of a photograph.
Speed is under-bet.
Closers are over-bet.
Stalkers are bet just right.
It's never too early to talk about style.
Horse players come with built-in tendencies. You tend to bet what you have had the most success with. I lost a big Pick Six chance, clutching the only ticket in play on a good carryover, when a deep closer blew past cheap speed so fast at the wire, it seemed to turn the one being passed slightly sideways with the forceful blast of air. It was a photo, the picture in this instance having to be enlarged so much that two noses seemed to fill the replay screen. The deep closer closed a cobweb strand too late. The cheap speed running some letter S's down the lane held on as the favorite for the victory. The Pick Six consolation, with the odds-on favorite winning, paid several hot dogs. Ever since, I usually play speed and avoid deep closers like poison sumac. Nutty speed sets up closers. The problem with passing 19 horses at the Derby is that the stalking pack seldom runs too fast: deep closers are asked to get around too many good ones. Contested speed, forget it. The freer the speed, the more difficult it is to catch. To say that Uncle Mo is yawning up to the Derby is an understatement. At the Wood, they're giving away Uncle Mo party favors, bracelets, to make up for the competition that is better suited for crowd control duty.
The post positions and the weather will be major factors in determining how to line up the running styles at the Derby, the other Churchill tangible being Calvin Borel and whatever he blesses.
Many will be visiting the Kentucky Derby for the first time.
I have been twice and, on the first occasion, tied the record for the least amount of money won over a two-day period, none. I couldn't have picked a replay. Mercifully, the crowds were so large that I couldn't bet as much as the urge. Several times, I had to bet two races ahead, got lost in the mint juleps, and once actually wound up cheering for somebody else's numbers, as I was one race out of sync.
Buried in line at some summon to the post, I called out to the teller, "Give me $50 on anybody."
"Are you all right?" my wife at the time asked after I missed the Double by about a block.
"He's usually so much funnier," she said to our table guests upstairs, halfway through the card, all eight dozen of the people, or so it seemed.
Few solitary souls hang out at the Kentucky Derby. It's a social event, mixed doubles for the most part in the reserved seat sections, it's having to explain to a state senator's spouse what something meant on the program. I had the only Form at our table. People kept asking to borrow it and were continually getting the pages mixed up.
It can be like trying to handicap a debutant ball, too many clothes, too many people, too much talk. There was even one of those exit-level celebrities at our table, some former youthful star who had checked out of the mainstream entertainment circles decades ago.
The second trip to the Derby went much better because I didn't bet as much, and focused on exotic wagers; my ex-wife might have been proud.
Write to Jay at email@example.com.