The Kentucky Derby almost always provides generous rewards for handicappers who can sort through a field of 20 young horses coming from all around the country and trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time in their lives.
Granted, there's a good deal of luck involved since the best horse easily can be compromised by a bad post position, a stumble at the start, traffic issues or the condition of the track. Still, there's a lot of "silly" money in the betting pools on this big day -- "I love the grey one," or "Oooh, isn't that jockey cute!" -- and it's well worth a shot to try to grab some of it with rational analysis.
Saturday's 143rd Run for the Roses features the winners of the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, Sunland Park Derby and Spiral Stakes as well as the second- and third-place finishers from many of those.
In an effort to score some cash, let's set those aside for a moment and instead look at the UAE Derby -- the Dubai race that guarantees the winner a place in the Run for the Roses. This year, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum has decided to send his UAE Derby winner, Thunder Snow, to take on America's best 3-year-olds.
Under his Godolphin Racing banner, the ruler of Dubai has been trying to win this race for many years. This year could be different, for many reasons, but primarily because Thunder Snow has shown himself to be a really good horse. Sheik Mohammed had the option to send Thunder Snow to the English or French classic races but opted for Louisville.
So, I'll go out on a fairly long limb and include Thunder Snow in a $1 trifecta box with three other horses -- a $24 investment. To cash, I'll need three of the four to finish in the top three on Saturday.
There's gold in them thar hills. Last year, with the favorites finishing 1-2, that bet paid $86.70. But in 2009, when jockey Calvin Borel steered 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird up the rail to victory, the winning $1 tri ticket paid $20,750.30. And, no. That is not a typo.
So, what other three horses go on Saturday's ticket?
Always Dreaming was jet propelled in the stretch run of the Florida Derby and jockey John Velazquez, starting from gate No. 5, should have him near the front of the field by they time they hit the first turn.
Irish War Cry has had only one bad race and bounced back to win the Wood Memorial quite nicely. He drew No. 17 and rider Rajiv Maragh might have to ask him from some early run to establish position but he is the only horse in the field with two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.
So: Ask the teller for a $1 trifecta box, 2, 5, 14 and 17. And think about $5 to win and $10 to place on No. 2, Thunder Snow. If you hit, it won't pay $20,000. But if Thunder Snow sneaks into the picture, it will be a fun ticket to cash.
Whatever you do, have fun and don't bet more than you can afford to lose. Anything can happen.