From a sure Hall of Famer to rode “like a bug boy.” America turns its back on Borel after he loses Belmont

Kent Desormeaux celebrates winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird

Kent Desormeaux celebrates winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird

What a difference a race makes.

Leading up to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the racing world spent five weeks genuflecting before the great Calvin Borel. Racing observers loved the way he captured the Kentucky Derby with his rail ride on 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird, and they also admired his savvy decision to jump off the Derby champion and onto Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra.

Borel’s fame skyrocketed, as trainers and analysts heaped credit on him for his outstanding Triple Crown rides. Writers called for the jockey to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the rider entertained America with stints on the “Tonight Show” and the “Late Show with Dave Letterman.”

But fame is fleeting.

In Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, Borel made a huge move from the backstretch to the top of the lane aboard Mine That Bird. He was poised to become the first jockey ever to win all three Triple Crown races riding two different horses.

But at the quarter pole it seemed that the grueling three-race Derby-Preakness-Belmont schedule caught up with Mine That Bird. Or maybe, running the 1-1/2 mile-Belmont distance was just not this gelding’s thing.

In any event, Mine That Bird was gassed.

As Borel pleaded with the Bird to pass tiring pace setter Durkirk, anybody watching the stretch run could see that the other Bird — Summer Bird — was the only horse left with any legs. Desormeaux had Summer Bird rolling. He blew by both Dunkirk and Mine That Bird with 100 yards to go and crossed the wire 2 -3/4 lengths in front.

Right afterward, television analysts, and even trainer Chip Woolley, pointed fingers at Calvin Borel. They said he moved Mine That Bird too early and that’s why the 6-to-5 favorite lost the race.

In the New York Post, writer Ed Fountaine summed it up this way: “Did Calvin’s sudden celebrity, his guest spots on Jay Leno and David Letterman, go to his head? Renowned for his work ethic, Borel spent Belmont week sightseeing in Manhattan, not taking a single mount to get acquainted with Belmont Park, a track he had just ridden over seven times before.

“Then, after guaranteeing victory all week, he rode 6-5 favorite Mine That Bird like a bug boy. Abandoning the golden rail, he launched a premature move wide around the far turn and ran out of gas in the final furlong.”

Rode like a bug boy? Ouch. And just last week Borel was a sure Hall of Famer.

Yep, it looks like America’s short love affair with Borel is over. Put a fork in it. It’s done.

When gamblers lose big money at short odds — especially when the rider guarantees victory — they will turn on that jockey. Horseplayers can be unforgiving, and some are downright nasty. Just ask any jockey about the crude language they hear when unsaddling losing favorites at any race track in America, and they’ll tell you.

When I looked at the Belmont, Mine That Bird didn’t look much better than some of the other horses and, at 2-to-1 on the morning line, he offered absolutely no value. The 1-1/2 mile Belmont is a tricky distance because the pace is so slow and in the recent past this race has ended with many unforeseen outcomes.

I spread my bets out over four horses at good prices that appeared to have the sustained running style that would work at 1-1/2 miles. And my runners had some of the best jockey talent in the country aboard: Chocolate Candy, 9/1, Garrett Gomez; Dunkirk, 9/2, John Velazquez; Mr. Hot Stuff, 22/1, Edgar Prado; and Flying Private, 17/1, Julien Leparoux.

At 11/1, Summer Bird looked OK too. When looking at his past performances, I added a few points to the 99 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in the Kentucky Derby to account for his wide trip, but my mistake was not giving Summer Bird enough weight for his potential to improve in just his fifth start.

I think spreading out my wagers against Mine That Bird was the right thing to do. But the one problem with betting four horses in a race, is that when they all lose you need to think up nasty things to shout at four jockeys in the unsaddling area instead of only one.

And that’s the real challenge.

© Copyright Maiden King, 2009. Written exclusively for Not to be duplicated or reprinted.

Saturday, Belmont Stakes — 3:27 pm post time

Maiden King conquers the Belmont Stakes

Maiden King conquers the Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes, 1-1/2 miles, 3-year-olds

Possible overlays                            Morning line

#1 Chocolate Candy                             10/1
#2 Dunkirk                                          4/1
#3 Mr. Hot Stuff                                  15/1
#8 Flying Private                                  12/1

 The Belmont Stakes is an intriguing race because 3-year-olds are tackling a mile-and-a-half distance for the first time and almost certainly will never race this far again.

Over the years, longshots have popped that were real head-scratchers when looking at their past performances, and I think it’s because of the slow early pace.  The pace is much quicker at shorter distances than the Belmont Stakes, which leads some talented horses to tire badly in the stretch. But if the early pace is slowed to a crawl — like is often the case in the Belmont —  then some horses can sustain their runs for much longer distances. 

For example, when Commendable won the 2000 Belmont Stakes, somebody asked trainer D. Wayne Lukas how he got a sprinter to win a 12-furlong race. And Lukas said that Commendable galloped the first six furlongs, then it became a six furlong race.

Therefore, I expect the jockeys in this race to come out of the gate with their mounts in a hammerlock and their feet on the dashboard. Also, a slow pace would be disadvantageous to the 2-to-1 betting favorite Mine That Bird, who runs his best races closing from the clouds. That style works best with heated pace battles that burn out the early pace setters in the stretch.

Mine That Bird is a good horse, but I can’t take 2-to-1 at this crazy distance.

The best early speed looks like #6 Charitable Man, who won the Peter Pan while pressing the leader on May 9. However, if Dunkirk runs his best then he should be close to the front on the far turn.

Between these two, Durkirk is the better bet to win at this distance based on the sustained pace rating he earned in the Florida Derby. Two California-based horses — #1 Chocolate Candy and #3 Mr. Hot Stuff — have been running on synthetic surfaces where they have shown that they can run on if the early pace is slow enough.

Finally, D. Wayne Lukas saddles #8 Flying Private, who is improving and must be respected off is 102 Beyer Speed Figure earned in the Preakness Stakes.

At the window, I will bet $250 to win on #2 Dunkirk at 3/1 or better;  $150 on #3 Mr. Hot Stuff and $100 on Chocolate Candy, both at 6/1 or more; and $100 on #8 Flying Private at odds of at least 8/1.

Rachel Alexandra may be great, but her win payoff was not

In the days after Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness Stakes on May 16, several friends and acquaintances wondered how it was humanly possible for me not to bet this sensational filly to win the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

One insinuated to me that I must be humbled by selecting against Rachel Alexandra. But I told him that I am proud of myself for developing the discipline to lay off the best horse in the race because her price was too low.

Not many of the horseplayers that I know would do that.

Another critic claimed that I wasn’t giving Rachel Alexandra enough credit. He said she was an obvious standout based on her 20-plus length victory in the May 1 Kentucky Oaks, the subsequent purchase by owner Jess Jackson for $10 million, and jockey Calvin Borel’s decision — made without hesitation — to jump off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird to ride her.

All over the TV, newspapers and the Internet, horse racing analysts spent the days leading up to the Preakness touting Rachel Alexandra as something special. So, why, why, why, didn’t you bet her, people asked me.

It’s true that Rachel Alexandra looked formidable coming into the race. She had tactical speed, the best last race Beyer Speed Figure, she was working out superbly and was ranked first out of 13 horses on my pace handicapping software printout. Pundits and horseplayers alike were raving about her from Suffolk Downs to Emerald Downs.

But in a post on this site, I took a stance against Rachel Alexandra. I wrote that she was coming back on short rest, she was acclaimating to a new training team, and most importantly that the other jockeys were likely to box her in, keep her wide or bump her around with their mounts to make  her trip a miserably difficult one.

It made sense. If owners and trainers were focused on keeping her out of the race by using the underhanded tactics of filling the gate with bad horses, then why wouldn’t jockeys be focused on making Rachel Alexandra lose by “race riding?” Do riders have stronger ethics than trainers or owners?

So, instead of betting Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, I opted for $200 to win on these three runners #3 Musket Man — who finished third at 11/1, #7 Papa Clem at 14/1, and #9 Pioneerof the Nile at 6/1. Then I put $100 on #11 Take the Points at 18/1.

“I don’t understand,” wrote Jimmy in a comment to this site. “The obvious choices were the top two finishers. It just seemed like a safer investment of $700, instead of a stab to strike it rich. 

He went on: “Can you explain why you would not bet the exacta: Rachel Alexandra-Mine That Bird or (to) win on Rachel Alexandra.”

Well, my main reason for not betting Rachel Alexandra was that at 9-to-5 her price had no value. And I almost never bet exactas because the takeout is some 30 percent higher than the win pool and, besides, I’m not that good at figuring out who will finish second.

But what I do have are lots of statistics on Southern California maiden races and I’ve uncovered plenty of money-making angles over the years. Some return $1.50 for every $1 bet, and others more than $2.

However, even when examining the greatest of handicapping angles, whenever I enter <2/1 into the data base filter, the analysis almost always shows the bet to be a money loser.  About the only way I would consider betting a horse at less than 2-to-1 is if it’s a Mike Mitchell-trained maiden claimer.

As post time for the Preakness was closing in, I looked up at the tote board and was surprised to see Rachel Alexandra, the 8-to-5 morning line favorite, at 2-to-1. And I started asking myself at what price would I abandon the long shots and put all of my money on her.

I decided that at 3-to-1, I was going to rearrange my bets so I’d have enough on her to break even, but if she clicked up to 7-to-2 or better then I would unload everything on Rachel and forget the others. Instead of drifting up though, her odds dropped to 9-to-5 with a couple of minutes to post and that’s where they stayed. 

One of Rachel Alexandra’s backers told me that she was a good bet because he believed she had a 65 percent chance to win the Preakness. But it is very difficult for me to give any horse more than a 40 percent chance to win a race.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I was among the 44,186 at Del Mar’s Pacific Classic in 1996 who watched 39-to-1 shot Dare and Go stop Cigar’s record-tying winning streak at 16.

Cigar hadn’t lost a race in two straight years and, of course, like Rachel Alexandra Cigar had a great chance to win his race. But I wasn’t going to take short odds on Cigar either. Instead, Dare and Go looked OK, so I put a few dollars on him and was rewarded with a win payoff of more than $80.

During big racing days like the Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Breeders’ Cup, the racing press greatly influences betting patterns of casual fans who show up in droves. In the recent past, racing writers compared colts like War Emblem, Smarty Jones  and Big Brown to Secretariat in the same way that NBA scribes compare Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to Michael Jordan.

But dominating championship athletes like Jordan and Secretariat come around about once in a lifetime, so comparisons seem to always end in disappointment. And even Secretariat, generally considered the greatest modern racehorse of them all, didn’t go undeafeated as you can see by watching the 1973 Whitney Stakes below.

If you’re a horseplayer, what’s bad for the dramatic story line, is good for the wallet. That’s because when War Emblem, Smarty Jones and Big Brown all lost the Belmont Stakes at minuscule odds, whoever had the winner was  rewarded with payoffs ranging from $74 to $142.50. Last year, I played three horses against standout Big Brown in the Belmont and cashed for $79 when D’Tara hit the wire first. So, when a celebrity horse looks like it can’t lose, it pays to take a dissenting view then try to beat it with multiple horses. 

In the running of the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra was carried wide by Big Drama on the first turn, but got a much better trip than I thought she would. However, she paid just $5.60, which I believe was a fair price, but was in no way an overlay.

In fact, jockey Mike Smith said second-place finisher Mine That Bird, who Smith rode, would have likely won the Preakness had he stayed out of trouble and gotten a clean trip.

So, saying Rachel Alexandra had a 65 percent chance to win sounds extremely optimistic to me.

Furthermore, because Rachel Alexandra paid so little, most of the bettors who cashed tickets on her probably lost all of their Preakness winnings after betting the next two races.  So, seriously, is a horse like Rachel Alexandra going to help you make a profit for the month, or the year? It’s doubtful.

Sure, the people who bet Rachel Alexandra say how great she looked and how obvious it was that she’d win the race. But almost all favorites look good, or else they wouldn’t be the favorite.

And if the obvious horse won every race, we’d all be calling our bets in from our boats at the Newport Beach Yacht Club.   

Yes, Rachel Alexandra had a great chance to win the Preakness, and she  paid a fair price. But I am looking to bet great horses at great prices. And if I can’t find one, then I’ll bet several runners against any type of short-priced horse, even if that means wagering against a great horse.

Because that’s the only way I’ve found to make long-run profits in this game.

© Copyright Maiden King, 2009. Written exclusively for Not to be duplicated or reprinted, especially by a website called Our Blogs Kentucky Derby Everything You Need To Know.

Racing finally has something genuine to sell in ‘Rachel’

Thoroughbred racing needed this. Really, it did.

It’s been a tough couple of years for the battered-and-bruised sport of kings and finally — finally — in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes filly Rachel Alexandra provided the feel-good story the industry needs to sell racing to mainstream America.

Every year during the 3-year-old classics, industry insiders promote some promising young colt as the next big thing. But not only has no horse won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, but in 2006 — and again in 2008 —  prominent horses were seriously injured on national television during classic races.

Sadly, the injures suffered by Barbaro in the 2006 Preakness Stakes and by Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby led to their deaths. And racing people spent months trying to articulate to the press the dangers of racing horses without being accused of animal cruelty.

Then on Saturday, along came Rachel Alexandra. She beat America’s best colts after some owners schemed against her Preakness entry and some horseplayers thought she couldn’t get the job done. In doing so, she became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years.

The wheels were set in motion on May 1 when she romped home in the Kentucky Oaks by 20-1/4 lengths. Current owner Jess Jackson saw the race on TV and two weeks ago paid $10 million for Rachel Alexandra and pointed her to the Preakness Stakes amid much criticism.

But Jackson is a sportsman who relishes a challenge. America yearns for greatness and this filly appears to be the real deal.

In the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra broke from the far outside post #13 and shot straight to the lead. However, Big Drama in post position #1 also ran early and floated Rachel Alexandra out four paths wide on the first turn.

Using the filly’s speed early turned out to be another masterful decision by jockey Calvin Borel, who was the same rider that scooted Mine That Bird up the rail to take the Kentucky Derby from far off the pace.

“I had to let her go,” Borel told the Washington Post. “If I didn’t do that, I’m going to get hung eight or nine [horses] wide.”

Rachel Alexandra, who Borel said did not seem to like the Pimlico surface, took over the lead on the backstretch and never gave it up. At the top of the lane, she was ahead by three lengths, but Mine That Bird, with new jockey Mike Smith aboard, came surging  at the wire. However, Mine That Bird’s rally fell a length short.

With the hype that came along with Rachel Alexandra’s huge Oaks victory, the betting public made her the 9-to-5 Preakness favorite, almost expecting to see a tremendous performance. And they were not disappointed.

Personally, I could not wager on her at less than 2-to-1. But then again, I don’t think I’d bet on Secretariat if he was that low either. Hey, you’ve got to have rules in this game or you’ll go broke quickly. Right?

Instead, on this site, I wagered $200 on #3 Musket Man at 11/1, #7 Papa Clem at 14/1 and #9 Pioneer of the Nile at 6/1. Then I bet another $100 on Take the Points at 18/1. The best finisher was Musket Man who missed by 1-1/2 lengths while placing third.

So, now Thoroughbred racing has something genuine to sell America. But just imagine how sweet it would have been if Rachel Alexandra had won the Derby and a filly was going for the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 6.

Now, that really would have been a captivating story.

Bad bets: Super filly Rachel and ‘That (lucky) Bird’

In the May 1 Kentucky Oaks, Rachel Alexandra’s dominating 20-1/4 length victory brought back memories of Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont win.

Being a filly who was training well, she would have been a great value bet at about 6-to-1 had she run in the Kentucky Derby. But the secret is out and at less than 2-to-1 today, she will offer absolutely no value and cannot be bet in the Preakness Stakes.

For the past 15 days, all of the pundits have been raving about Rachel Alexandra’s Oaks. Many dismiss Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird at Pimlico because, they say, he was extremely fortunate to ride the golden rail without being blocked. And he’s unlikely to get a trip as favorable in The Preakness.

Furthermore, experts say that Rachel Alexandra is a special filly who should be able to whip this weak group of 3-year-old colts. But these are the same horse racing pundits that tried to tell us that War Emblem, Smarty Jones and Big Brown were all-time great horses before they earned their stripes by winning the Triple Crown.

The problem with many of these newspaper and television analysts is that they want to be a part of greatness the same way that hometown baseball writers want to see their teams win the World Series. Therefore, they write stories about what they want to see happen and use superlatives to get people excited about the possibilities.

Usually, racing writers are too quick to jump to conclusions. From a betting perspective, it’s great because casual race fans believe they’re betting the second coming of Secretariat, so the money pours in and a horse that should be 5-to-2 goes off at 3-to-5.

This leads to monster payoffs like the 2002 Belmont Stakes when Sarava defeated War Emblem paying a whopping $142.50, and again in the 2004 Belmont when Birdstone outran Smarty Jones to pay $74. In last year’s Belmont, another anointed superhorse named Big Brown succumbed to the unheralded D’Tara,  whose backers were rewarded with $79. 

But, you say, Rachel Alexandra won the Oaks in a gallop, so how could she possibly lose today? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, she has undergone many changes since the Oaks. She was bought by Stonestreet Stables and transferred from trainer Hal Wiggins to Steve Asmussen. That means she needs to acclimate to a new trainer, groom and new surroundings at Old Hilltop. Also, her recent races have been spaced out by a minimum of 22 days, but now she’s coming back on just 15 days of rest. The one time she ran with only 14 days rest, she suffered one of her three losses.

In the Oaks, Rachel Alexandra did not face much competition and she had one of racing’s easiest trips. She stalked the leader from second place, then pulled away in the stretch.

The tour around Pimlico doesn’t figure to be quite as easy. First, she’s breaking from post number 13, which may cause a wide trip that’s made worse by the track’s tight turns.

And the other riders are likely to make her life difficult by trying to intimidate her. Jockeys may intentionally push her wide on the first turn or box her in at any point in the race. She may get bumped hard by other horses or blocked as she’s looking for running room.

Rachel Alexandra may lose because Borel moves her too quickly into a hot pace or she may finish second because Borel loses too much ground by keeping her wide to avoid trouble.

If handicappers think these scenarios are far fetched, then think back to War Emblem’s loss in the 2002 Belmont shown below. A confirmed front runner, War Emblem got off a bit slowly, was shuffled around, then a wall of horses pinned him on the rail on the backstretch, so he never made the lead until the far turn.

And in the 1997 Santa Anita Derby, Bob Baffert’s Silver Charm gunned to the lead with the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly Sharp Cat. Silver Charm ran 6 furlongs in 1:09 while running head-to-head with Sharp Cat until she could not take anymore and tired in the stretch. According to my pace software, Silver Charm’s Santa Anita Derby was the fastest run 6 furlongs of any Kentucky Derby prep race in 12 years. I believe Baffert ordered the tactics intentionally to compromise Sharp Cat’s chances.

My opinion of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is that his win can be attributed to the rail-skimming ride that Borel gave him. The rail was faster than other parts of the track and he saved tons of ground the whole way. He ran a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, which I reduced to 95 because he’s not likely to have the advantages he enjoyed at Churchill Downs.

Watch the overhead video below and you’ll be amazed how Borel slips through tightest of cracks with Mine That Bird while never being blocked.

In the Derby, Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem all ran decent races while either being wide or bumped around. All three should be in the 5/1 to 10/1 range and they may get better trips, which will give them the necessary energy to pounce on the pace setters in the stretch.

At the window, I will put $200 on Pioneerof the Nile at 4/1 or more; and $200 on both #3 Musket Man and #7 Papa Clem at 7/1 or better. Also, as a long shot, I’ll put $100 on #11 Take the Points at 12/1 or better.

NBC Ky Derby telecast needs pro horse betting insights

Andrew Beyer, Mike Watchmaker, Steve Haskin and other lesser know pundits across the country spent this week trying to make sense of Mine That Bird’s mind-blowing win in the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

They cite jockey Calvin Borel, the rail bias, the sloppy track and Mine That Bird’s new running style where he drops far back early and makes one big run. Haskin even surmises that the gelding had a competitive advantage because he trained in the high altitude at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

But of all the theories out there, the most logical one is that the rail at Churchill Downs was much faster than the rest of the racetrack.

One reason Mine That Bird’s win was such a shock, is that almost all of the horse selectors in the Daily Racing Form and on NBC television pick their horses the same way. Predominately, they look at Beyer Speed Figures, class and connections — and Mine The Bird scored absurdly low in all three.

Newspaper and television analysts influence the public, especially on Derby Day. I have often wondered if any of these analyst make serious money betting horses over the long term. In the past, I assumed that they did, but now I think they are simply authors and personalities who talk about racing.

It was widely reported that track maintenance sealed the track and it was causing the inside part to play quicker than other parts of the running surface.

Alexandra Pitts, a Virginia breeder and owner who I talked with on Twitter, told me that she attended the Derby and walked on the backstretch of the Churchill Downs track during the week, and the only part her feet didn’t sink into was near the rail.

Overall, most handicappers put little weight into new information, like the changing conditions that the rain caused on Derby Day. But I am sure that successful horseplayers are out there that took the sealed track into serious consideration and made huge profits.

I am not one of them.

In the future, it will be helpful to Kentucky Derby viewers if NBC Sports broadens its Kentucky Derby telecasting crew to include proven successful horse bettors who are more qualified to analyze late-breaking information from a wagering perspective.

In the same way CNBC talks to stock traders throughout the day, NBC Sports could challenge these winning bettors to point out important wagering information  — preferably not pulled from the pages of the Daily Racing Form — that viewers might be overlooking. 

On NBC’s telecast, Hank Goldberg, Randy Moss and Gary Stevens provided horse racing commentary. Goldberg is OK, but nobody can convince me that he makes money betting horses. His strength is that he’s an experienced on-air personality. And Gary Stevens is an ex-jockey who is an informative, insightful host, but again, not a winning horseplayer.

Finally, Randy Moss is a former newspaper reporter and ESPN host who is now making Moss Pace Figures for the Daily Racing Form. Maybe he wins money on horses and maybe he doesn’t.

What the Kentucky Derby pre-race telecast needs is some fresh blood and new ideas, so that a racing result like Mine That Bird’s does not come as such a shock. Maybe cut to professional bettors like Jimmy “The Hat” Allard of Los Angeles, Ca. or Mike Maloney of  Lexington, Ky. for five minutes. These guys bet millions of dollars a year on horses and I’m sure they’d provide insights based on sound logic that others ignored.

For instance, the Kentucky Derby telecast could have gone more like this:  Goldberg runs down the race and gives out his usual low-priced runner. Then the telecast cuts to three different professional horse bettors on a split screen who are challenged to come up with logically-based opinions.

About 20 minutes before the Derby, a handicapper might have said something like this.

“Folks, the track maintenance crew has had the track sealed up all week, which is common practice to allow the water to drain off quicker. Sometimes, this causes the inside portion of the running surface to become much firmer, while the outside lanes remain soft.

“If this is the case today, horses on the inside will run without their feet sinking in the mud while the others on the outside could be bogged down in the slower going. This would be like running a race for human milers with the inside portion of the track being made of concrete, while the rest is a sandy beach.

“Today, if the rail is the place to be. We should ask ourselves which horses and jockeys are most likely to take advantage of it, and what odds do we need to compensate for the risk of being wrong?”

Of course, any speed horse breaking from the inside would have been one possibility, and another would have been any jockey who seemed to notice the bias and steered his mounts toward the rail during earlier races on the Churchill card.

But one obvious horse would have been whoever jockey Calvin Borel was riding. He, of course, has made his living on the rail. He feeds his family by riding the rail, makes his car payment that way, and pays his mortgage on only one part of the track — the rail. He always has. And whether there is a bias or not Borel looks to come up the fence first, and goes outside second.

If Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby teaches us anything about betting the horses, it should be this: that past performances are simply a blueprint and to cash big tickets bettors need to open their minds  to see the race differently than almost everyone else sees it.

© Maiden King, 2009.

Lucky numbers reap rich rewards on Derby Day in Vegas

After 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird crossed the finish line first to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, horseplayers took a second look at his past performances and were perplexed at how such a lowly-looking beast could win America’s greatest horse race.

Many bettors have been wondering ever since how anybody could wager on a runner who looked like Mine That Bird.

Yes, Mine That Bird had decent enough breeding being out of Birdstone, who was a Belmont Stakes winner and is the son of Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone. But his Beyer Speed Figures were extremely low, his trainer won only one race for the year and the gelding broke his maiden in a $62,500 claiming race.

For some, it’s a real head scratcher. But for others — those who really hit it big — Mine That Bird’s win was one of the best things that every happened to them.

Two players at Station Casinos reaped rich rewards by doing no handicapping at all. Instead, they played lucky numbers and made spontaneous wagers using their intuition. 

At the Green Valley Ranch casino just outside of Las Vegas, a guy in his 30’s made bets minutes before the race and cashed out for $57,030, and at Santa Fe Station a Las Vegas car salesman turned a five-horse $1 superfecta box, which totaled of $120, into a $278,500 payday.

On Tuesday, a race & sports book employee at Green Valley Ranch told me  that a bettor came up to the counter with his girlfriend just before post time for the Kentucky Derby. With an overflow crowd in the book and excitement in the air, he asked what was going on.

“The Kentucky Derby’s about ready to start,” the employee said.

“Can I still bet it?” the man asked.

He was told that he could, and as the horses approached the gate, the bettor looked up at the odds board and said he wanted $100 to win on both #8 (Mine That Bird) and #15 (Dunkirk). Then he said he wanted a $50 exacta #8 with #16 (Pioneerof the Nile).

He was asked if he was sure he didn’t mean 8-15  and not 8-16 because he bet both #8 and #15 to win. The bettor said to just leave it 8-16.

Mine That Bird shot up the rail to dominate the Derby and Pioneerof the Nile won a three-way photo for second. The winner paid $103.20 and the $2 exacta was $2,074.80.

After the race, GVR’s staff told the player that he just won big. He was asking how much, but they really didn’t want to speculate. The writer ran the tickets through the betting machine and the winner was dumbfounded when the number $57,030 lit up on the screen.

“When he found out he just won $55,000 he dropped to his knees in front of the counter,” the GVR worker told me.

At Santa Fe Station, the bettor who won the $278,500 jackpot told Gaming Today that he just bet on lucky numbers, was not a regular horseplayer and spent no time handicapping the race.

© Maiden King, 2009.

Lowly Mine That Bird takes inside track to Ky Derby win

home3He was bought  for just $9,500 as a yearling back in 2007 and he broke his maiden in a claiming race. This gelding never ran better than an 81 Beyer Speed Figure and his trainer had just one victory all year. 

But 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird shocked the world by riding a likely biased rail on the rain soaked Churchill Downs track to a 6-3/4-length victory in the Kentucky Derby. He paid $103.20.

Jockey Calvin Borel took Mine That Bird some 20 lengths off the pace and came up the fence, which is the riding style the jockey is noted for. In the stretch, Mine That Bird shot through a hole on the inside just as announcer Tom Durkin was strongly calling out that one of the favorites was now leading the pack. “Pioneerof the Nile strikes the front just outside of the eighth pole,” Durkin said as pace setter Join in the Dance was fading.

As Mine that Bird was expanding his three length lead over 18 others in midstretch, Durkin paused momentarily — probably to figure out exactly what was going on and to look twice at this unexpected longshot that was dominating the Kentucky Derby.

As Mine The Bird crossed the finish line Durkin seemed to be laughing in disbelief. “A spectacular, spectacular upset. Mine That Bird has won the Kentucky Derby — an impossible result here,” Durkin called to the world as Borel began his celebration.

In second was Pioneerof the Nile who nosed out Musket Man in a three-way photo finish that also included Papa Clem.

The Derby winner was making his third start off a four-month layoff and maybe he matured during that period. But he showed no hint of it during his two most recent races at Sunland Park where he finished second in a $100,000 stakes race on Feb. 28 and fourth in the March 29 $900,000 Sunland Park Derby.

Many of the other Derby horses ran Beyer Speed Figures in the low 100s and mid-to-upper 90’s in their prep races. Mine That Bird looked so inferior that the Daily Racing Form’s Kenny Peck wrote, in essence, that the gelding had no shot and Peck didn’t like Mine That Bird at any price.

 “He’s very unlikely to find his way into the trifecta, ” Peck wrote in his analysis, which was an opinion likely shared by many. “Longshot players and those looking to juice up the superfecta will, of course, consider him based solely on the huge price, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he plays a major part in the outcome of this race.”

Mine That Bird’s first five races were at Woodbine in Toronto where he was trained by David Cotely and mostly ridden by Chantal Sutherland. He debuted in a maiden special weight sprint then won second time out in a $62,500 claiming race, which was a decent accomplishment for a horse bought as a yearling for less than $10,000.

After breaking his maiden, Mine That Bird rattled off three straight Woodbine stakes wins, two of which were in sprints. For his sixth lifetime start, he was sent to trainer Richard Mandella at Santa Anita for the Breeders Cup where he finished dead last in the Juvenile after never getting within three lenghs of the lead.

Bennie Woolley took over the training after the Breeders’ Cup. Coming into the Derby, Woolley won just one time in 32 starts this year and his operation is so low-profile that Woolley himself drove the pickup truck that hauled the trailer transporting Mine That Bird to the track on the morning of the Derby.

At the betting window, I lost $580 by putting $250 on both #16 Pioneerof the Nile at 6/1 and #15 Dunkirk at 5/1 while also taking $40 stabs with #1 West Side Bernie at 32/1 and #4 Advice at 49/1.

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