My Final Derby Weekend Selections as a Public Handicapper

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Practical Joke (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Last week, I revealed that this Kentucky Derby preview would be my last selections as a public handicapper and I’ve been looking forward to writing it ever since.

I’ve had a few people contact me and ask me why, but the reasons were spelled-out in the article pretty well — I’m (hopefully) moving on to bigger and better things. I’ll still be playing the ponies and will still be writing about horse racing (it’s my passion and the yin to my yang as a career firefighter).

So, I’m going to go out with the proverbial “bang” and put my spin on the major races of the Oaks card and the Derby card.

First of all, the rain is going to be a problem. Handicapping races and writing about them days in advance is already a tough proposition, but anticipating the amount of rain that is going to fall and the subsequent decisions to take races off the turf or scratch horses from races left on the turf is a proverbial crap shoot.

That being said, my following selections at Churchill Downs are for their intended surfaces, no matter the condition of the main track or the grass. As a bettor, one needs to be flexible to these things. As a public handicapper, that luxury barely exists. There will be no “amended picks” posted later.

Friday’s plays

Churchill Downs (race 8): In the Grade 2 Eight Belles, we’ll play an 8-1 morning line shot in 4-PRETTY CITY DANCER, ridden by Julien Leparoux and trained by Mark Casse. This seven-furlong sprint for three-year-old fillies sports some decent talent, but Pretty City Dancer has been training lights-out after her second straight dud in the Ashland at Keeneland. She’s way better than that, and all signs point to her getting back to form. Let’s hope she’s at least 5-1 come post-time.

Churchill Downs (race 10): In the Grade 3 Edgewood Stakes, slated for one and one-sixteenth miles on the turf for three-year-old fillies, multi-race bettors have three choices to back. Chad Brown’s 4-INDIA MANTUANA has a fun name to say, but more importantly, she’s my top-choice to score here. At 5-1 on the morning line, expect her to be closer to 5/2 come post-time. 6-STALLION HEIRESS will be bet heavily, due to her running lines. Take a look at them — pretty impressive. She’s my second-choice. 11-EMPHATICALLY for trainer Tom Proctor and ridden by Flavien Prat rounds-out my top three choices in what should be a pretty wide-open race.

Churchill Downs (race 11): The biggest race on Friday is obviously the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and although I’d love to give three or four good reasons not to single the favorite 4-PARADISE WOODS, I’m only going to give one — you don’t want the lowest paying horse in your will-pays for multi-race bets on big wagering days like Oaks day. Go for the gusto — try to make a killing the day before the Derby and fire away on Saturday.

While it’s fine to have the most probable favorite on your pick-6 or pick-4 tickets (or your Oaks/Derby double of Oaks/Woodford/Derby pick-3) these three fillies will have plenty of value and have a chance to knock off Paradise Woods (who’s arguably only had one good career race): 2-LOCKDOWN (20-1) is my top choice to spring the upset, followed by 13-ABEL TASMAN (5-1) and 14-SALTY (5-1). I’m playing against 7-FARRELL (5-1) as well.

Saturday’s Pre-Derby Plays

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Thunder Snow (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Churchill Downs (race 5): I’ll be playing a $0.50 pick-4, singling 5-SIR DUDLEY DIGGES in the first leg. If anyone will beat this one, it’ll be 1-FORGE (GB).

In race 6, I landed on 2-PAULASSILVERLINING (who I think is the top choice) and 7-CARINA MIA. I’ll be playing against heavy favorite 5-FINEST CITY, trying to build a large payoff.

The third leg will be the pay-off leg, as I’ll be hitting the “all” button in race 8 to finish off the pick-4. Again, I’m playing against a possible odds-on favorite in 2-MISS TEMPLE CITY, hoping the (projected) soft turf is not to her liking. I’ll use 1-LINDA, 4-BELIEVE IN BERTIE and 6-ROCA ROJO (IRE) — who I feel is the top choice for the upset. Since I’ll have all of the horses in race 8 and I’ve played against two projected heavy favorites, this pick-4 is a high-risk/high-reward wager at $39. 

Bet: $0.50 pick-4 on 5 with 2,7 with 1,4,6 with ALL ($39).

Churchill Downs (race 7): This race starts the pick-6 culminating with the Derby. Hitting this wager would be a score of a lifetime. I’ll play what basically equates to a $30 lottery ticket. Again, I’ll be betting against Miss Temple City. Instead, I’ll single my top-choice 6-ROCA ROJO (IRE) in the first leg. In race 8 — the Pat Day Mile — I have to go three deep, using 5-NO DOZING, 11-SONIC MULE, and 12-BOBBY ON FLEEK. Although that race is one of the more wide-open races of the card, going three deep in a pick-6 is about my limit (except for a twenty horse field, as we shall see).

It’s “single city” in races 9-11, as I’m singling 11-LA CORONEL in the American Turf Sprint (race 9), 2-MASOCHISTIC in the Churchill Downs Stakes (race 10), and 2-DIVISIDERO in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (race 11). I think Divisidero is the most clear-cut single in the sequence and I’m using him alone in my Oaks/Woodford/Derby pick-3, as well as my pick-6 and Derby pick-4 tickets. My day will be golden if he wins the race prior to the Derby.

In the final leg of the pick-6, the 143rd running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, I’m using my top five choices: 2, 10, 14, 17 and 19.

Bet: $2.00 pick-6 on 6 with 5,11,12 with 11 with 2 with 2 with 2,10,14,17,19 ($30).

The Kentucky Derby

Over the years, I’ve learned what works best for me in handicapping the Kentucky Derby. There are some things I do just like every other race I handicap… and there are things I do differently. It’s a very unique race that lends itself to exciting betting propositions that can pay handsomely. Scores of a lifetime are hit every first Saturday of May.

I put ZERO credence on social media mentions of horses “looking good” on the track at Churchill Downs. It’s all fluff and very few people are good enough at rating workouts to post something that will catch my eye. It seems as though every Derby contender “loves” the track, and each work was “impressive.” They aren’t all good works and they are never as terrible as they are reported. Don’t pay attention to social media workout reports.

Also, ignore every trainer interview. You’ll never get a “scoop” straight from a trainer’s mouth into a microphone. Every trainer likes their horse’s chance — publicly. The ones who say they don’t are playing a game — the “sly trainer the week of the Derby” game. Don’t pay attention to trainer interviews.

DO use these things: Jon White’s “Derby Strike System”, Thoro-Graph ratings, the old-school Dosage Index and the Timeform US pace projector. All of these things have been helpful to me over the years. Yes, my “Derby Horse” almost always finishes in third, but I’m either cashing tickets or lamenting a “bad beat” right after The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.

Let’s get into the Derby!

I like 19-PRACTICAL JOKE (20-1) as my top choice. But it’s a close call over 10-GUNNEVERA (15-1), who I’ll call my Top Pick 1A.

Both of these choices check off most of the boxes on my Derby Horse checklist. First of all, they have zero strikes in Jon White’s Derby Strike System — meaning they are among the most accomplished colts heading into the Run for the Roses. The most likely winners of the Derby have zero or just one strike in his system.

Secondly, Practical Joke and Gunnevera have already run Thoro-Graph numbers that could win this race, and my top pick has a 64% chance to either set a new top or pair his best effort. Gunnevera can even regress and win this edition of the Derby.

Both horses are defined as “dual qualifiers” in the old dosage index — the mathematical formula that used to be an almost foolproof predictor of Derby winners. Few horses with a dosage index over 4.00 have won the Derby, but some relatively recent outliers have skewed the results. According to the index, BOTH should be able to “get” the Derby distance of one and one quarter miles (10 furlongs).

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Irish War Cry (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

For a month now, I’ve heard, ad nauseum, that Practical Joke is a one-turn horse who is distance-limited. He’s not. He’ll be just as tired in the final furlong as every other horse on Saturday, with the exception of 2-THUNDER SNOW (IRE) — who is a top-5 pick because he’s bred to run forever and should have a ground-saving trip from a post near the rail.

The pace is projected to be fast, which sets up for closers. I use the Timeform US Pace Predictor for the Derby (although I can read a form well enough to project my own pace scenario). This sets up well for Gunnevera, and to a lesser extent, Practical Joke. I think Gunnevera got a great boost in value with his post position, and Practical Joke was hurt with his. If the two swapped gates, I’d bet the house on Practical Joke.

Aside from Practical Joke, Gunnevera, and Thunder Snow, I’m using the favorite 14-CLASSIC EMPIRE heavily. He’s the favorite for a reason, was obviously the best two year old in North America last year — and the fact that he won the Arkansas Derby off the training regimen he had after his flop in the Holy Bull Stakes does nothing but confirm his class and stature in his crop. He’s the best of the bunch when healthy and his head is in the game. He has one strike in White’s system, has won three Grade 1 stakes, and has hit a Thoro-Graph number that could win the Derby easily. His knock (other than his three-year-old foundation and headiness) is that his pedigree isn’t for Classic distances — he’s got a high Dosage Index. I still can’t leave him off the top of my Derby tickets.

I’m going to be honest and admit that I’ve let others that I know and trust talk me into my last top-five pick — 17-IRISH WAR CRY. There’s no shame in taking advice. If you’re reading this, that’s exactly what you are doing right now, whether you agree or not. Irish War Cry doesn’t really fit in my checklist for Derby Horses, but he’s fast, he’s a multiple graded stakes winner, and his sire was pretty decent. His speed figures are the best of the bunch, in terms of hitting big numbers often. I can’t let him beat me.

Horses that I will let beat me in this Derby are: 5-ALWAYS DREAMING, 8-HENCE and 15-McCRAKEN — although I’ll use the latter two in my superfectas.

With this Derby being so wide-open, hitting the exacta should be enough to have a nice payday. But, since this is my last article doling out selections as a public handicapper, I’ll stick to my roots and shoot for the moon:

My Derby plays

$2 exacta box 2,10,14,17,19 ($40).
$1 trifecta box 2,10,14,17,19 ($60).
$1 superfecta: 2,10,14,17,19 with 2,10,14,17,19 with 2,10,14,17,19 with 2,8,10,14,15,16,17,19 ($300).
$1 pick-4 (starting in race 8): 2,4,7,11 with 2,4,9 with 2 with ALL ($120).

BEST OF LUCK TO ALL, AND THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THE KIND WORDS OVER THE LAST WEEK — THEY HAVE MEANT A LOT TO ME. LET’S MAKE SOME MONEY!

Ryan Dickey
Ryan Dickey is a full-time firefighter in Dearborn, MI, and a life-long horse racing fan. He is a handicapper and contributor to prominent horse racing Websites as well as a freelance sportswriter/photojournalist. He covers local high school sports and community events for multiple outlets, including bi-weekly newspapers and has over 200 works published to date.

Once again the owner of a race horse, Ryan is president (and currently sole member!) of Firehouse Racing Stables, LLC. This year @FirehouseRacing plans to send its first thoroughbred, That Is So Right (a 4 year old chestnut gelding), to run at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, possibly, Indiana.

Having lived in Las Vegas for six years and working in the sports gaming industry, Ryan knows sports handicapping from “both sides of the counter.” Feel free to contact him on Twitter (@rdickey249) for questions, comments, criticisms, or critiques.