May 4, 2001

It's Here!

Welcome to Derby 127!

So, who do ya like?

You have 17 potential responses, but, based on exit polling, one of them isn't likely to be Ralph Nader.

While we've already dispensed via e-mail (by request only) the ALL-IN-ONE V5 outlook (translated to English) for the entire Derby Day card at Churchill Downs, you can animate its output only so much. As the late, great rock-'n'-roll artist Frank Zappa pointed out, "The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows."

(Of course, Mr. Zappa himself had the aforementioned eyebrows, so maybe we can alter his words of wisdom to accommodate the shock-white moptop of one Mr. Robert Baffert, or the sinewy, ageless persuasion of the biceps and triceps of Laffit Pincay Jr.)

Humorless mopes don't often appreciate the patterns of development or the sometimes difficult paths each of these Kentucky Derby runners had to take to get to the feature race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. In fact, many of those mopes would simply prefer to boil down these performances to a figure (accurate to two decimal places, of course), just like they would for the beasts in tomorrow's nightcap at Stampede Park.

The Derby's just another race, they bleat. The odds and percentages have to be evaluated same as always.

OK. Point taken. (Heh, heh.) However, these mopes are probably the same types who would fail to make the easy and natural distinction between a double cheeseburger at Carls Jr. or Hardee's and a 28-ounce prime sirloin steak from Arnie Morton's of Chicago.

You do have to open up every now and again, much the same way organizations and religions mark anniversaries and yearly observances. It's primal...and reassuring. It's the human element.

(Which is a sort of spooky thing to say, since tomorrow's Derby coincides with the Southern California celebration of Cinco de Mayo.)

That's as good a warmup as there is, and a much more artful defense than you hear elsewhere ("nyaaaaah; I'm right, you're wrong, I'm a guru, I get the last word! Always!")

That said, we now conclude (for two weeks, at least), with the highly acclaimed and patented, rail-out rundown, followed by a bottom-to-top predicted order of finish, which should come in handy if you're looking for assistance with Sam Houston's Million-Dollar Derby Challenge. And away they go...

Songandaprayer - Same old story for this guy -- when he's forced to rate, or get an early lead that's less than half a football field in length, he just doesn't put in anything closely resembling a final-time figure that could take this.

Millennium Wind - Last time, he finally got back to the impressive level of ability he displayed as a two-year-old. But only as a function of an uncontested lead against six sluggish horses. He did rally once, and on that come-from-behind score is probably better-suited than Balto Star & Co. to putting in an OK effort from off the pace. Nonetheless, his rallies have resulted in his two dullest efforts, and that's no kind of endorsement to have going a mile and a quarter against the fastest three-year-olds in the world. Laffit deserves one more; however, it's doubtful Millennium Wind will be able to give it to him. Too bad.

Balto Star - Your best hope for a frontrunning score, and while he's clearly the speed of the free-running speed, there are concerns. Yes, he did sit just off things on New Year's Day -- but against the maidens on the inner dirt track at the Big A! That's not the same as tracking this field, and the way he's been going lately, he's not going to let someone else dictate things on the front end. So he'll make the lead at the quarter and the half, and maybe six furlongs, but will it be by anything near the length-and-a-half he's gotten lately? If so, it could be all over. If not, he might be left wanting badly in the stretch.

Thunder Blitz - Here is another who might benefit, by default, from the fast pace and his own late-running style, but he so far has shown some of the most modest talent in this group. OK, so he's working well at Churchill in the mornings, but so are half a dozen others, all of whom have demonstrated bona fide Grade I ability before the first Saturday in May.

Fifty Stars - Much has been made of this race's abundance of early speed, but how about the opposite? There are a bunch of stone closers signed on, too! Unlike the speed horses (most of whom have thrown a stellar figure on a loose lead), most of the closers rally by default, earning final-time figures that aren't even within shouting distance of those of the legitimate threats. Fifty Stars, like Startac and others, falls into the category of the closer who might pass a bunch of horses against much weaker company, but will have a much harder time passing the tireds this time.

Express Tour - Godolphin has to rely on this guy, and not Street Cry, to bloom the roses in the desert. While Express Tour indeed beat his more-touted stablemate in the UAE Derby, Express Tour tends to lack that "Classic-looking" pedigree, given a dosage index exceeding 4.00. That's strike one, and he also swings and misses on the style factor, where it seems unlikely he'll want to pass more than one horse in the lane. Here, he'll need to pass four or five times that many on the way to the quarter pole, and that just doesn't look like it can happen.

Arctic Boy - For him, trying to win this is going to be like enduring Survivor: The Arctic Circle. At the very least, he won't spend himself early with the crazy speed, and maybe they'll come back to him somewhat at the end. Still, it's hard to see him having anything but a mathematical chance to win, and even if he hits the board anywhere, it'll be a big surprise.

Congaree - Damn straight he's good enough, so what's the problem? He's gotten to display his numerous gifts in total setup exhibitions. Will he take kindly to being worse than second after a half-mile, or even six furlongs? Will he glide effortlessly in a field of 17, which is six more than he got in each of his last two races combined? No gimmes here, and he will most certainly not be enjoying a two-and-a-half-length lead (let alone longer) with a furlong to go. Will he fight on, or flatten out? That's a whole lot of asking going one for a horse who's the second choice on the morning line.

A P Valentine - Sure he's a dual qualifier. But going two turns against the best of his generation, what has he been able to show? Not much, not much at all. Could it be that he needs one turn or much lesser competition, or both, in order to put in anything close to a number that could compete against this accomplished field? If it's any consolation, he does get a huge boost in terms of the fractions that will be carved out ahead of him, but that's the least of his concerns. It's almost like he's an equine Jekyll and You-Know-Who. But even if the Good Doctor reappears on the scene, it's hard to see him put his evil alter ego to bed once and for all, or at least in this race.

Dollar Bill - Amazingly enough, it is Dollar Bill and his hordes of Internet fans who have voted their pocketbooks early and often as of this writing. When betting opened for the Derby on Friday afternoon, it was Dollar Bill and not Point Given who emerged as a mild favorite, at 3-1, versus Point Given's 4-1. How do things like this happen in a society otherwise governed by reason and the rule of law? Strip away his nice win in the Risen Star, and Dollar Bill is really not much better than most of the horses in here. Sure, Pat Day explains some of it, but here's an animal who has disappointed as the favorite in both his last two, and even if he had come out of the Louisiana Derby with a win, the number going on in that race hardly captured the imagination. He'll be closing, which helps by definition, but does he really possess anything close to a 25 percent chance of winning? Even when he starts drifting up, he's still going to be around 8-1, and that's not fair (value, that is).

Talk Is Money - Reticence is impecuniosity, why not. This guy figures to be silenced when he isn't in his familiar position of being in the leading group going around the crowded clubhouse turn. He's run maiden-claiming-type numbers when denied the front, and is a huge candidate to be your 17th-place finisher.

Startac - This is no Turf Paradise, and what's gone on with this one is that he's faced legitimate company for a change in each of his last two. Another who'll rally, but the scope of that late-run appears limited.

Invisible Ink - Here's another horse whose closing kick appears better than it actually is. His numbers don't figure to get him close to the lead, and his so-called rally is not going to measure up to the late-running efforts of most of the others.

Keats - He freaked out last time, but wouldn't any of these guys against a watery Coolmore Lexington field? Could he have pulled the same heist going eyeball-to-eyeball against the horse of the moment, Balto Star? Probably not; however, he now introduces an element of doubt into Balto Star's chances. Had Keats broken alertly in the Spiral, would Balto Star even be in today's field? After all, a loss in the Spiral probably would have precluded a start in the Arkansas Derby. Timing is everything. Let's just say the early proceedings in the Kentucky Derby could serve as the prequel to what should have happened in the Spiral.

Jamaican Rum - Why is this guy 50-1 on the morning line? The public couldn't believe it, either, protesting with its righteous action and putting him at a more respectable 15-1 when the wagering opened this afternoon. He has closed consistently well behind runaway winners Balto Star and Point Given in each of his last two, and his final-time figures, while far away from those of that pair of winners, are on a similar plane as the figures earned by the other beaten finishers in this field. His dam was winless with slop runners prior to Jamaican Rum's own wet-track try in the Arkansas Derby, and even then, he performed creditably. We've been impressed with this one before, and we certainly hope that infectious outlook doesn't become fatal (as it did with poor Bonnie Scot in the Lexington two weeks ago; R.I.P., Bonnie Scot). Definitely worth another stab in the undersides of everything, and might end up being the Mane Minister of his generation here.

Monarchos - Though it doesn't look it on the outside, this guy might have gotten more from his chase of Congaree in the Wood than meets the naked eye. The figure was no disgrace, and he put in his usual final eighth in :12-and-change fashion, not a bad way to head into the spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby. We know he'll rally (a style of going that is a huge question mark attached to Congaree), and he definitely knows how to dismantle double-digit-sized fields one horse at a time. It's not hard to picture him here making amends big-time, if not totally knock the crowd off its feet.

Point Given - We know what he's capable of, so let's ask the other question: What, if anything, can't he do? He leads, he presses, he closes. He takes his race wherever he goes, regardless of track, distance or surface. He has connections who've accounted for five Derby winners between them. He loves this track, and has been able to maintain a ridiculous level of talent over the past six months. Run this race 100 times, and you know he'd win at least 30 of those trials. So the only thing, really, that's to be decided is whether tomorrow is one of those 30 (or so) or is it going to be the oddball (though "oddball" is really is the majority of the runs, though that majority would be won by a different horse every time). An early sign, the outside 17 post. That could have an effect, but it just seems like this behemoth can shake stuff like that off from his high and ample shoulder.

And now, your bottom-to-top rundown. (Again, any conflicts with ALL-IN-ONE V5 are the direct result of the mushy lobes competing against almost always infallible hard logic of a bunch of circuits and chips.)

17. Talk Is Money
16. Startac
15. Invisible Ink
14. Keats
13. Songandaprayer
12. Fifty Stars
11. Arctic Boy
10. Thunder Blitz
9. A P Valentine
8. Express Tour
7. Millennium Wind
6. Balto Star
5. Dollar Bill
4. Congaree
3. Jamaican Rum
2. Monarchos
1. Point Given

Regardless of what happens, enjoy the day -- a true holiday for horseplayers with any normal perspective of past, present and future.

This month's Big-Prize Handicapping Contest is a doozy.

It's called May Mayhem, and once again offers you a nice blend of cash, prizes and notoriety you can't get anywhere else. For details on this month's rules and prize schedule, check out the May Mayhem Edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest.

Congratulations to last month's winners, and for the excitement of contests that went right down to the wire. Not only do you win neat stuff, you get a little adrenaline flowing in your life you might not have expected.

Also, don't forget to check out the 2001 PARS PLUS, called an "indispensible" handicapping tool by Daily Racing Form's very own Dave Litfin. Click here for the full details. Don't forget that we're the only place you can get your 2001 PARS PLUS information, including up-to-date, improved par times, plus helpful information on pace characteristics of racetracks and how they behave. It's an exciting new dimension of par-time information.

And for other helpful handicapping ideas, please visit the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site.

As always, we appreciate your continued readership, and wish you a bountiful Kentucky Derby Day.

See you next time, with -- what else? -- a big Derby wrap-up, among other cool things!

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