Smart money leans toward replay of Derby

Whether track's wet or dry, winning pattern appears set

Betting analysis

May 15, 2004|By Steve Davidowitz | Steve Davidowitz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Before a near monsoon hit Churchill Downs, it seemed reasonable to believe that the "most wide-open Kentucky Derby in years" would produce a wild and woolly race.

Instead, lukewarm betting favorite Smarty Jones chased down front-running Lion Heart, while most of the rest of the field was left in his wake.

Lion Heart sped through sharp fractional splits and put in a strong bid to win, but the race was over when the unbeaten "Smarty" responded instantly to jockey Stewart Elliott's command to go after Lion Heart in the run around the final bend.

Smarty Jones became the new folk hero of racing, drawing clear from Lion Heart while finishing just as fast as stretch-running Imperialism, who ran an adventurous third. Any horse who can chase down a fit, front-running rival and finish as well as the strongest stretch runners behind him is a hard horse to beat.

A wet-track wonder? Obviously, Smarty Jones relished the slick footing on Derby Day, but he also won the first five of his seven-race career on dry tracks in three states. He does not need to bring his racetrack with him to fire a top effort.

The same seems true for front-running Lion Heart, who again looms as the one to catch in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, a race 110 yards shorter than the Derby. Barring unforeseen miscues or interference, the Preakness might develop into a replay of the Derby, even on a fast track.

Stretch-running Imperialism (No. 8) could upset, given the way jockey Kent Desormeaux had to check him and alter course to the extreme outside in his spirited late run in Louisville.

Deep-closing Borrego (No. 2) floundered in the wet footing after making a move on the turn, but he did finish second to Smarty Jones in two previous stakes and has worked sharply for this race.

The new shooters - Eddington (No. 9) and Rock Hard Ten (No. 10) - are promising, well-bred colts who are light on seasoning. Rock Hard Ten, in particular, flashed significant talent in the Santa Anita Derby and is a tempting upset candidate, but no horse has won the Preakness with only three previous starts.

Realistically, a good performance by either colt would be a strong sign for the Belmont.

Even 30-1 shot Song of the Sword (No. 5) never ran a bad race until the Derby and could crack the trifecta, while Bowie-based Water Cannon (No. 11), a winner of his past five outings over much weaker, might beat some of these.

But, on the bottom line, it is difficult to make a strong case for anything other than Smarty Jones (No. 7) running down Lion Heart (No. 1) again. Horses are not robots, but all other scenarios include hints of wishful thinking.

In the Derby, "Smarty" looked like Webster's definition of a professional racehorse. He made his own good trip and stepped up in class and distance without missing a beat. He deserves to be the favorite to repeat if not improve another notch in the Preakness, just as Funny Cide did last year.

For my usual $100 hypothetical play, I will use Smarty Jones as a win key in a handful of trifecta spreads accenting horses who could catch Lion Heart for second for a shot at a respectable payoff. (No. 4 The Cliff's Edge has been scratched due to a foot bruise.) The object is to respect the probable outcome and get lucky at the same time.

$2 trifecta ticket A: 7 in the win position; with 2, 8, 9, 10 in the second position; with 1, 2, 8, 9, 10 in third. (16 combos, $32)

$2 trifecta ticket B: 7; with 2, 8; with 1, 2, 8, 9, 10 (8 cominations, $16)

$1 trifecta ticket D: 7; with; 2, 8, 9,10; with all (32 combinations, $32)

$1 trifecta ticket E: 7; with 1; with 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 (six combinations, $6)

$1 trifecta ticket F: 1, 8; with 7; with; 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 (12 combinations, $12)

Plus: $2 souvenir win ticket on Smarty Jones.

Total: $100.

Steve Davidowitz is a freelance columnist for the Daily Racing Form and the author of "Betting Thoroughbreds."

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