Monday, April 28, 2008

Derby Pitfalls

Tons of focus is placed on picking the right horse for the Derby but here are some helpful pitfalls to avoid when parsing through the contenders.

Don't bank on any statistical factor that supposedly suggest that a horse can't win the Derby. A statistic doesn't have the power to identify reasons why a horse can't win. At best they can explain why certain horses won't win. There is a difference. Any horse can win the Derby with the right mixture of elements as we saw with Giacomo.

Be very wary of the wiseguy horse. Big Brown and Colonel John will be the two favorites. Big Brown will likely be slightly favored over the Californian but everyone loves a longshot or in this case a horse who is just a bit under the radar. The problem is that every year one of those under the radar types gets the momentum of the press behind it and the odds plummet. Keep an eye out for the horse whose post time odds have shortened the most from their morning line price. The wise guy horses rarely pan out as well as they're expected to and they always offer poor value. Prefer instead a horse who virtually no one has mentioned but has a similar sort of record. You can always find a few of those in the Derby.

Comparing current Derby contenders with past ones is a pretty natural thing to do but it's a dangerous pitfall because our belief that a current horse is just like a past Derby horse will bias our interpretation of that horse's real form. Here are some comparisons I'm seeing made this year.

Eight Belles - Winning Colors
Smooth Air - Funny Cide
Z Fortune - Real Quiet
Gayego - Came Home
Court Vision - Saarland
Big Brown - Curlin

While some of these do seem to fit nicely don't fall into the trap of thinking that because Came Home ran poorly Gayego will run poorly of that because Winning Colors won the Derby Eight Belles can also win the Derby. If Gayego does badly it will be because of himself, if Eight Belles does well it will be on her own merit.

Take a quick peek back through most of the past Derby winners, most of them bore no similarity to a Derby winner that preceded them. Smooth Air may seem like this year's "Funny Cide" but who was Funny Cide like? Some people are keeping their eye out for a pace meltdown and the possibility of a "Giacomo" winning the race but who was the last Giacomo? I believe in Derby trends and statistics but comparisons like these are dangerous.

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