Keeping Score: Tempting fate
When nominations to this year’s Triple Crown series closed on Jan. 25, the owners of 413 3-year-old thoroughbreds had dished out $600 per horse thinking theirs might be the colt to wear the blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May.
Prep races and veterinarian visits culled the number to what are arguably the top 19 standing and shortly after 6:24 p.m. today those horses will break from the starting gate for what’s popularly called “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.”
Among the 100,000 spectators at today’s 140th Kentucky Derby is Deerfield’s Allison Belanger, who was awarded an all-expense paid trip by the surgical device company she works for in Burlington.
Although they paid for her airfare, two nights at the Ramada Plaza and track admission, she’ll be on her own at the betting window.
“Who’s going to win?” she asked.
We reached out to our regular handicapper John Dobrydnio and newcomer Paul Matties, a professional gambler and numbers cruncher who breaks down Beyer speed figures for Daily Racing Form.
Separate and apart from each other, they both picked the same horse — a 20-to-1 longshot named Dance with Fate.
“I like Dance with Fate more than I thought I was going to,” said Matties, who lives in Ballston Spa, N.Y. “I like Wicked Strong to go with him and I like Tapiture, Medal Count and probably California Chrome on the bottom (in exactas, trifectas and superfectas.)”
Dobrydnio had the winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in this newspaper, and he wants to keep the streak going. “This is what I’m doing,” he said from near his fertile tomato patch on Colrain Road. “I like Dance with Fate, and if the track turns up fast I’m using Wildcat Red and General a Rod underneath.”
Dance With Fate Has three wins and three seconds in eight starts and won the Blue Grass Stakes in true Derby style by closing from 10th on the backstretch and won at 6-to-1 odds. He paid $14.80 to win, front-ended a $127.60 exacta and keyed a $1,488.80 trifecta.
He owns the fastest final furlong time of any horse in the field, and also the fastest final three-furlong time.
“Why they made him 20-1, they’re scared he’s a synthetic horse,” said Dobrydnio, referring to Fate’s two wins and two second-place finishes in five starts on artificial surfaces.
“I think he likes dirt just as much,” countered Matteis. “It’s not the surface, it’s that he’s improved. Every year what I’m looking for in the Kentucky Derby is the 3-year-olds that have already matured. Sometimes it’s in the Derby that they mature, like Animal Kingdom and Mine That Bird, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I think Dance with Fate has already made his big maturity jump and it was in the Blue Grass.”
Dance with Fate is trained by Californian Peter Eurton and jockey Corey Nakatani will be seeking his first Kentucky Derby win in 17 rides.
“If he rates the horse he’ll make a good account of himself in the stretch,” said Dorbydnio, meaning that Nakatani must conserve the horse’s energy for the long stretch run. “If he can do that, then this race sets up wonderfully for him.”
Matteis’ scouts at Churchill Downs say that Medal Count and Intense Holiday have trained the best, and that 5/2 morning line favorite California Chrome has struggled since shipping in from the West Coast.
“California Chrome hasn’t looked good (at Churchill),” said Matteis. “I got a report he didn’t ship good and he didn’t eat and he’s not training good. If I throw him out, I’ll use Intense Holiday. I don’t think he’s good enough to win and that’s my feeling with Tapiture, but they can both hit the board and I think the New York breds (Samraat and Uncle Sigh) will make a good account of themselves.”
“Of course,” warned Dobrydnio, “one little bump and it’s over.”
Indeed, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas put it best this week when he told reporters, “You can look at them and say they’re doing well, but you really don’t know until they hit the quarter pole.”
(On Page B8 is a closer look at the Kentucky Derby field — the horses together with their betting number, post position, morning line odds, best Beyer speed figure and career earnings.)
Derby Notes: Twelve of the last 15 Derby winners either won or finished second by a length or less in their final Derby prep. That includes Vicar’s in Trouble, WildcatRed, Dance with Fate, Chitu, Wicked Strong, and Danza. ... “Paula loves that horse Danza,” said Dobrydnio, referring to the Todd Pletcher trainee. “She said he looked beautiful in his workout.”... California Chrome has four white socks, long considered a bad omen. Changing a horse’s name, as Donald Little Jr. did with Wicked Strong, is also considered bad luck. ... Last year’s two top 2-year-olds, 2013 B.C. Juvenile winner New Year’s Day and runner-up Havana, are out of the Derby. The former was injured and retired; the latter finished sixth in an Australian stakes race two weeks ago. ... Ring Weekend, mentioned in last week’s column as a possible Derby starter and part-owned by Northampton’s Scott King, was withdrawn from the Derby after it spiked a fever. ... Odds are that no matter what horse wins today, this year’s 3-year-old crop won’t produce a Triple Crown winner. On Bovada.com, the odds of it happening are 12-1, or, you could wager it won’t happen: $120 to win $10. The last to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978.
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.