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Sportsbook.com: Handicapping 135th Kentucky Derby


A key factor when studying the form for any big race is to evaluate how horses have fared racing against fellow competitors in previous starts. Such an analytical tool is particularly relevant when handicapping Saturday’s 135th Kentucky Derby. Read on for more about this subject then head over to the HORSES section for more about the sport’s biggest event of the year, scheduled for a little after 6 PM ET on NBC.

Since late December, the leading California-based 3-year-olds ran against each other on several occasions at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Pioneerof the Nile won each of these encounters, and the horses he defeated have since shipped out of town and run well or won major Derby preps in Arkansas, Louisiana and New York, further boosting the credence and quality of those California races.

Papa Clem finished second to Friesan Fire in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, then went on to beat the early Kentucky Derby favorite, Old Fashioned, in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

I Want Revenge twice fought out close finishes with Pioneerof the Nile in California, then shipped to New York to demolish the 3-year-olds in Aqueduct’s Gotham and Wood Memorial.

With so many collateral form lines to take into account, it seems a logical assumption that Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile are the two best horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

This pair holds multiple winning decisions against most of the other leading contenders, with the exception of Florida Derby runner-up Dunkirk.

So leave it at that; box Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile in the exacta and be done with it? No, that would take half the fun and much of the profit out of handicapping the Derby, so let’s look at how the race will be run.

One striking aspect of Saturday’s race is the lack of pace. Join in the Dance, breaking from post 9, will make the running, closely followed by Friesan Fire.

There is little doubt that Friesan Fire, a son of A.P. Indy, has the pedigree and stamina to last the Derby’s 11/4-mile distance, even if pressing or setting the pace. This could provide jockey Gabriel Saez with a tactical advantage over the rest of the field.

Should the other jockeys let Saez open a lead into the far turn, Friesan Fire could be tough to run down in the final furlong.

Regal Ransom, General Quarters and I Want Revenge have a pace profile that should see them closest to the leaders. Traffic, luck and timing could be the difference in their chances for success.

Pioneerof the Nile will be midpack but has a vicious turn of foot. This son of Belmont winner Empire Maker actually might be better closing into a decent pace rather than fighting the bit and pulling for the lead, as was the case in the Santa Anita Derby.

Trainer Bob Baffert has prepped his charge over the Churchill Downs dirt with two excellent workouts in the last nine days. Garrett Gomez is undefeated on the horse and had his choice of riding Pioneerof the Nile or Dunkirk. He chose the former.

The dark horses of Derby 135 are Dunkirk and the Godolphin-owned pair of Regal Ransom and Desert Party. The former has tremendous potential, but three lifetime starts. A moderate second to Quality Road in a suspect Florida Derby is not the ideal preparation to make the Derby winner’s circle. Dunkirk has place prospects at best.

Regal Ransom is better drawn (post 10) than his stablemate in post 19. Regal Ransom’s tenacious defeat of Desert Party in Dubai’s UAE Derby points this one out as the better of the Godolphin team. Give Alan Garcia’s mount a good chance to hit the board at long odds (30-1).Horse Betting at sportsbook.com

For wagering value, Friesan Fire (5-1) and Pioneerof the Nile (4-1) will go off at decent odds. It might be wise to bet both to win and place, although the latter is preferred to get the win.

The exacta has been forecast already, so for trifecta and superfecta players, key the above two with Papa Clem, I Want Revenge and Dunkirk.

Finley has been handicapping the Triple Crown races for more than 25 years

Computer analysis

Liam Durbin, owner and handicapper at E-ponies.com, has correctly picked the Derby winner the last three years in a row. Speed score is based on early speed and total speed. Class score evaluates the quality of competition the horse has faced and how he performed in those races. Form measures consistency. Last is a composite of the first three, but only considers the last 50 days. The computer picked Pioneer of the Nile to win by a slight margin over I Want Revenge. Last three categories show changes in jockeys, equipment and weight.

Here are the odds by post position for the race as of Friday. Get current prices on the LIVE ODDS page.

1. West Side Bernie: 30-1
2. Musket Man: 20-1
3. Mr. Hot Stuff: 30-1
4. Advice: 30-1
5. Hold Me Back: 15-1
6. Friesan Fire: 6-1
7. Papa Clem: 20-1
8. Mine That Bird: 50-1
9. Join in the Dance: 50-1
10. Regal Ransom: 30-1
11. Chocolate Candy: 20-1
12. General Quarters: 20-1
13. I Want Revenge: 3-1
14. Atomic Rain: 50-1
15. Dunkirk: 4-1
16. Pioneer of the Nile: 4-1
17. Summer Bird: 50-1
18. Nowhere to Hide: 50-1
19. Desert Party: 15-1
20. Flying Private: 50-1

  • Weights: 126 pounds.
  • Distance: 1 1/4 miles.
  • Purse: $2,202,200 if 20 start.
  • First place: $1,442,200.
  • Second place: $400,000.
  • Third place: $200,000.
  • Fourth place: $100,000.
  • Fifth place: $60,000.
  • Post time: 6:24 p.m. EDT.
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    1. If I were strictly betting favorites I agree that Pioneer of the Nile paired with Friesan Fire in a boxed exacta would be the smartest bet.

      Look for someone like Chocolate Candy or Hold Me Back to stick their nose in there to break this pairing up.