EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 3, 2013

A bettor's guide to the Derby

At the Races
Tony Palmisano

---- — This year’s Kentucky Derby victor may be Wood Memorial winner Verrazano, but history is not on his side. Winning New York’s prestigious Wood Memorial has not proven to be a recipe for victory in America’s most important horse race.

Considered by many America’s best trainer, Todd Pletcher will saddle five horses in the field; Verrazano, Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten.

They are talented but there are statistics to question the Pletcher contingent. The trainer’s previous runners in the Derby have compiled a collective 1-for-31 record, with two seconds and one third. His lone winner came in 2010 with Super Saver.

The Derby is the single most difficult race to win in the World. Ask the oil men from the Middle East. They, despite their billion dollar bank rolls, have not been able to buy a win at Churchill.

In 2007, Pletcher fielded five horses in the Run for the Roses and not one finished in the money.

The Wood Memorial is turning out to be like the Masters Par 3 Challenge ... a kiss of death. No winner of the Par 3 has won the Masters. You’d have to go back to Pleasant Colony in 1981 to find a winner of the Wood holding down his end of the bargain.

The past few Wood winners were also-rans: I Want Revenge, Gemololgist, Eskendreya, Toby’s Corner. The Wood’s a nice way to collect a paycheck, but an awful way to win roses. It’s more a curse than a harbinger of good fortune.

There are basically three groups in this year’s 20-horse field. The West coast horses are inferior this year. I’m looking to those coming out of Florida and New York prep races.

The first group of 12 horses is comprised of total throw outs, either because they are too slow, or because of surface consideration. They are Black Onyx, Golden Soul, Giant Finish, Palace Malice, Lines of Battle, Charming Kitten. Oxbow, Falling Sky, Will Take Charge, Frac Daddy, MyLute and Vyjack.

The second group consists of four borderline contenders; Revolutionary, Overanalyzed, Java’s War and Goldencents.

In an interesting side note, former Celtic Coach Rick Pitino, fresh off a national title with the Louisville Cardinals, is a part owner of Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents.

This leaves my four primary contenders: Verrazano, Normandy Invasion, Itsmyluckyday and Orb.

I like Verrazano the least, because of reasons mentioned earlier.

Of the three that remain, Normandy Invasion appears ready to run a career best. The talented colt is training lights out and will be making his third start off a layoff for trainer Chad Brown.

He’s peaking and retains jockey JJ Castellano.

Orb and Itsmyluckyday ran 1-2 in the Florida Derby.

Both are really fast on their best, relatively fresh, and training well.

Orb has made monumental strides in his transition from 2 to 3, winning all three Derby preps. This coincides with his introduction to two turn racing at added distances and the addition of Lasix. Orb owns an excellent turn of foot but loses jockey John Velazquez to Verrazano. Orb reunites with Joel Rosario and is trained by the crafty Shug McGaughey.

Itsmyluckyday ran a two-turn division’s best to win the Gulfstream Derby and Holy Bull Stakes in Florida before a 62-day layoff.

Trainer Eddie Plesa called him “95 percent fit.” That assessment rang true when he offered no resistance as Orb ranged up to challenge.

“He’ll have no excuses Saturday,” Plesa said.

I can see any of my top three horses winning, but I’ll take the value at 12-1 and select Normandy Invasion to win; Orb to be a fast closing second and Itsmyluckyday to round out the top three spots.

Handicapping the Derby

Post position Odds Jockey

1. Onyx 50-1 Joe Bravo

2. Oxbow 33-1 Gary Stevens

3. Revolutionary 9-1 Calvin Borel

4. Golden Soul 50-1 Rosie Napravnik

5. Normandy Invasion 9-1 Javier Castellano

6. Mylute 16-1 Rosie Napravnik

7. Giant Finish 50-1 Jose L. Espinoza

8. Goldencents 11-2 Kevin Krigger

9. Overanalyze 14-1 Rafael Bejarano

10. Palace Malice 25-1 Mike Smith

11. Lines of Battle 33-1 Ryan Moore

12. Itsmyluckyday 12-1 Elvis Trujillo

13. Falling Sky 50-1 Luis Saez

14. Verrazano 4-1 John R. Velazquez

15. Charming Kitten 25-1 Edgar Prado

16. Orb 4-1 Joel Rosario

17. Will Take Charge 20-1 Jon Court

18. Frac Daddy 40-1 Victor Lebron

19. Java’s War 16-1 Julien Leparoux

20. Vyjack 14-1 Garrett Gomez

Note: Odds are by OddsShark as of Wednesday