Friday, May 5, 2017

Gonna Be Gunnevera

The Kentucky Derby is a completely unique exercise where handicappers spend too much time prospecting a 20-horse field where more than half generally do not stand a chance, and the racing gods need to be on any winner's side. 

You've got tons of interesting stories, and horses such as Sonneteer, who has yet to win a race -- or "break his maiden" in industry parlance -- but has accrued enough points from his prep races to qualify to run for the roses. To be sure, his 50-to-1 odds speak volumes of his chances. 

I focus annually in this situation on watching replays on the horses' prior efforts rather than poring over the past performances. 

Visually, there are three horses that can win the 2017 Kentucky Derby: #7 Girvin (15-to-1), #10 Gunnevera (15-to-1) and #14 Classic Empire, the morning-line favorite at 4-to-1. 

Gunnevera is my top selection. 

Little-known Florida-based trainer Antonio Sono paid a mere $16,000 for this son of Dialed In, who has already won three graded stakes and nearly $1.2 million in nine lifetime starts.

I'm not entirely sure he tried that hard in his last race, the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1. Having locked up enough Derby points beforehand, he finished third that day, but there are two efforts prior that inspire confidence in my call -- the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 at Gulfstream Park, and of all places, the Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs in Louisiana last November.

In my opinion, Delta Downs is perceived as a sub-par "racino" bull-ring track, so bettors may be quick to dismiss the quality. Yet its Delta Jackpot, run on November 19 last year, has an egregiously long run into the first turn, akin to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. The short and tight turns make it even more impressive when horses can win with wide trips around the track.

Such was the case for Gunnevera, who launched from dead last halfway through the race and swallowed up the rest of his competitors that day 3-4 paths wide. The turn of foot was impressive, and seen again when he won the Fountain of Youth two months ago against Practical Joke, a useful horse in exotics wagering on Saturday from post 19.

Gunnevera may have to come from the clouds to win, which is often difficult if past Kentucky Derby races are a guide, but with top rider Javier Castellano staying aboard for a lower-profile trainer, I sense that he feels he's got a live horse. I'm not sure we'll get 15-to-1, but we'll see.

Classic Empire and Girvin are two others I respect in the field.

Installed as the morning-line favorite, Classic Empire's legit -- winner of the Breeders Cup Juvenile last November, as well as the Arkansas Derby. The only concern I have is the somewhat quick turnaround off of that April 15 win at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It's a race that has offered productive Derby horses and has a long stretch that's similar to Churchill's, though the horse isn't as rested as some of the others here who've had 4-6 weeks to prepare.

Girvin, with a good post position, should get a nice stalking position behind the leaders, similar to his dominant wins at New Orleans-based Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby. I was leaning toward taking him as my top pick despite recent concerns about a quarter crack on one of his hooves, but concerns about his level of competition gave me slight pause, and I think he's perhaps more grinder than top-notch. Still, I think he can win.

First I'll list the horses, by number, that I think can finish in the top 4, and others to toss. Then I'll offer my annual $100 bankroll's worth of plays that I'm making.

Good luck to all and everyone enjoy the wet track!

1st: 7, 10*, 14
2nd: 7, 10, 14
3rd: 5, 7, 10, 14, 15, 19
4th: 1, 5, 7, 10, 14, 15, 19
Toss: 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11-13, 16-18, 20

NJ Horseplayer's Bets on a $96 Budget
$10 Win-Place 10 ($20)
$10 Exacta Key Box 10 with 7, 14 ($40)
$1 Trifecta Key Box 10 with 7, 14, 19 ($18)
$2 Exacta Key Box 10 with 5, 15, 19 ($12)
$1 Exacta Key Box 14 with 7, 15, 19 ($6)

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