Feb 16, 2007
By: SPORTS NETWORK By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It’s not too early to make your wagers on the Kentucky Derby. In fact, the first of three betting pools was released last week and the final odds have been set for Pool 1.
The Field, which is a conglomeration of all three-year-olds nominated to the race that are not included in the top 23, is favored at 5-2. Nobiz Like Shobiz, the likely favorite on Derby Day, is the second choice at 8-1.
Three times in the last eight years, the Kentucky Derby winner came from the Field and all three horses -- Smarty Jones, War Emblem and Charismatic -- paid more on the day of the race than in the first pool. Last February, however, a two-dollar wager on Barbaro returned $40.20, a much larger bargain than the $14.20 he paid on Derby Day!
So how does one conquer the pool? The key is to find a quality-laden horse that most of the public hasn't tapped into yet. This exercise can be a bit tricky since quality two-year-old form quickly can go awry early in the following year
Nonetheless, Nobiz Like Shobiz looks to be the real deal. He was most impressive in 2006 despite only racing three times. The son of Albert the Great rolled by 10 3/4 lengths in his maiden win back in September, but was squeezed severely at the start of the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. Still, he showed signs of greatness by grabbing the lead down the stretch before finishing second to Scat Daddy in his second career start.
The Remsen was next, and the 1 1/8-mile distance proved not to be much of a factor as he exploded down the stretch for a 6 1/4-length victory in 1:48 4/5. After a brief freshening, Nobiz Like Shobiz displayed what his handlers were expecting in his three-year-old debut: A win in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. His workman-like performance gives him a leg up on the competition.
Nobiz like Shobiz can win on the front end as he did in the Holy Bull, but he also can rate as well, coming from fourth at the half-mile pole in the Remsen. It’s extremely tough to go with the horse everybody is talking about so early in the season, but he’s got a chance to become racing’s next superstar.
Street Sense was sensational in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, winning by 10 lengths in 1:42 2/5. However, no Juvenile winner has won the Derby since its inception back in 1984. That’s a ton of history to overcome. I am a bit partial to the son of Street Cry since I tabbed him at 15-1 that day, but he enjoyed a dream trip on a golden rail and the jury definitely still is out on him.
Nevertheless, trainer Carl Nafzger is extremely confident, and since the horse ran five times in 2006, Nafzger will give him only two prep races prior to the big dance. Only six horses have won the Derby in the past 70 years under that strategy. The last was Sunny’s Halo in 1983, so it’s hard to tell if Street Sense will be ready. The three-year-old can't be overlooked, but it’s best to pass him by at 10-1.
Pennsylvania has become the hotbed of Kentucky Derby winners as of late, with Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Barbaro all having PA connections. The latest contender is a bay colt by Danzig named Hard Spun. He’s undefeated at 4-0 and has a lot of Smarty Jones in him.
His first race in 2007 came in the LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. He won authoritatively by 6 1/2 lengths over questionable competition. Hard Spun likes to race on the lead, which isn't the best place to be on Derby Day. If he doesn't show any ability to retract, stay away from him at the low odds of 10-1.
Ravel is a fast-improving colt who won the Sham Stakes off a maiden score out west. The son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus prevailed by one length over Liquidity and received a Beyer number of 102, his first race on dirt after two straight on Polytrack. Eleven-to-1 seems about right, but wait to see how he progresses in his next start before spending the cash.
Circular Quay stands at 12-1, down from the 15-1 opening odds. The favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile returned in the Risen Star Stakes last Saturday and got in all kinds of trouble around the turn. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt was taken up veering away from a fallen horse and ended up finishing fifth. His 12-1 odds are too low to take, especially since he could be last down the backstretch on Derby Day due to his come-from-behind style.
Notional won the Risen Star but dropped from 15-1 to 27-1 after four days of wagering. The bay colt won his second straight stakes but appears to be a bit behind the rest of the bunch in terms of speed.
In fact, he’s not even the top horse in his own barn, as that honor goes to Great Hunter. The third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile never has been worse than third in seven career starts and defeated Street Sense in the Breeders’ Futurity. Still, he’s won a mere two races and might not make his three-year-old debut until March. Those are the two main reasons he is listed at 24-1.
Any Given Saturday was purchased as a yearling for over one million dollars and has not disappointed. The January foal won his first two starts in impressive fashion then battled unbeaten (and injured) Tiz Wonderful to the wire in the Kentucky Jockey Club back in November. Any Given Saturday lost by a half length that day, and that race plus the winter break, will set him up nicely for the spring campaign. With more races comes more maturity, something this horse will gain a lot of in 2007. The colt by Distorted Humor (Funny Cide’s sire) opened at 20-1 but has gotten most of the Pool 1 money and currently stands at 14-1.
THREE OTHER HOPEFULS
Exhale is a highly-regarded colt with only two races under his belt, and the John Sadler-trainee broke slowly from the gate both times, showing his greenness. In his debut, he rebounded from the poor start to lead at the 1/8- pole, only to get run down by Notional. It didn't take him that long to break his maiden, getting the job done in his next start by five lengths, running the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15 4/5 for a 104 Beyer. Exhale still needs to catch up to the rest of the field in terms of experience, but once he does, the sky is the limit. He’s definitely worth a few bucks at 27-1.
Belgravia is 29-1 and fits the mold of an up-and-comer. Like Any Given Saturday, he only has raced three times with two victories. The chestnut colt won the Hollywood Prevue and then finished a well-closing fourth to Stormello in the Hollywood Futurity. He could be intriguing in 2007.
Finally, Zanjero must be given some consideration at 56-1. He ran second to Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Remsen last November after having posted two straight victories, the latter coming at Churchill Downs. Zanjero lagged behind the pack with Circular Quay early in the Risen Star, but unlike the "Quay," he went outside avoiding the fall. Unfortunately he was taken about six wide around the turn, but then exploded down the stretch to gain the lead for a short moment before fading to third.
The Kentucky Derby Top 10 (regardless of odds) as of February 12, 2007:
1) Nobiz Like Shobiz; 2) Any Given Saturday; 3) Exhale; 4) Street Sense; 5) Ravel; 6) Hard Spun; 7) Belgravia; 8) Zanjero; 9) Great Hunter; 10) Notional; 10) Circular Quay.
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