Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Faculty Voices: Ron Koertge

Writing Isn’t Everything. There’s Also Handicapping.

The Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, and almost everybody watches. It’s the World Series of thoroughbred racing and it takes about two minutes.

Ron Koertge
Every colt (and it’s almost always colts) is three years old and he’s been pointed toward this race for a long time. Young horses are nominated and fees are paid to keep them eligible. As hopes flicker and die, most are taken off the Derby Wish list and become simply race horses, the ones who fill the starting gate at tracks all over the country day after day.

For the twenty who step into the starting gate early in May they have qualified by earning points in prep races and have avoided injury. Few if any have run a mile and a quarter. It’s uncharted territory.  The crowd will bet the most on someone and he’ll be the favorite. But long shots are common. California Chrome, for example, is a likely and deserving favorite based on what he’s done so far. But will he like the dirt track at Churchill Downs? What if he gets in behind horses and can’t find a way through? What if it rains?

The Derby is boiling with potential. Will the winner go on and also win the Preakness and the Belmont? Will he sire terrific sons and daughters? Some Derby runners never race at anywhere near Derby-level again. Many are simply good horses. Some, however, are so roguish and obstreperous that they’re gelded. This tends to make them much more cooperative as they start musing about shopping at IKEA, and not the cute filly in Barn 14.

I’m writing this just about a week before the Derby, so here are the top contenders: California Chrome, as I said, looks very good. His prep races were strong and he seems adaptable. Wicked Strong would be my bet at 4-to-1 or more. (A lot of amateurs bet on the Derby, and they tend to go for the marquee horse.) Hoppertunity is peaking at just the right time. Danza surprised bettors recently with a very impressive race, but can he do that again? Candy Boy was terrific earlier in the year, but lately not so much. Tapiture had a surprisingly poor prep race but if he snaps back should run big.

Favorites have won three of the last twenty runnings of the Derby. Not my kind of bet, but I’ve been wrong before so if it’s yours, good luck! It’s always a great race to watch.




  1. I am going to have Tramp win a Derby bet in his next book.

  2. But what about Wildcat Red? Has he got a chance?