Okay, so maybe my Derby analysis wasn’t so great. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. While I thought one of the four favorites (three after the early morning scratch of I Want Revenge) would win, I had picked Mine That Bird to finish last. Like someone said to me later, “Turn the paper upside down and you had the winner.” At least the Derby wasn’t one of those heartbreaking photo-finish losses or won by a horse that I had considered and crossed out to save money. I could not have picked this year’s romping winner in 100 runnings. In fact, I would pick him last every time, unless I knew the track was going to come up wet again. I truly believe he “freaked” in the mud, probably improving his form 15-20 lengths.

And I will be extremely surprised if Mine That Bird wins again in Saturday’s Preakness. Like many of of those bands from the 70′s and 80′s, I think he might be a one-hit wonder. This race features one potential superstar against the remainder of what appeared to be an excellent 3-year-old crop. But with the two most talented members of this class (Quality Road and I Want Revenge) on the sidelines, this group suddenly isn’t looking all that great.

Pioneerof the Nile is a nice, hard-knocking colt that gamely held second in the Derby despite drifting out and somewhat impeding Musket Man and Papa Clem. Those three were part of a good battle for second and third as ‘Bird splashed away by nearly seven lengths. Friesan Fire deserves a chance to snap back in the Preakness, ala Snow Chief and some others who didn’t fire at Churchill Downs but came back with top efforts two weeks later. New shooters traditionally have not fared all that well in the Preakness, but I do believe Big Drama is a major player in here. Fast early, drawn inside and freshened off his monster effort (DQ’d out of track record-breaking win in the Swale), ‘Drama looks very dangerous.

But if Rachel Alexandra runs back to any of her last four performances, this race is history. She’s won those four races by a combined total of nearly 40 lengths while never being asked for her best. Yes, she wheels back in 15 days (which gives her one day more than her Derby counterparts), drew the 13-post and faces a quicker pace scenario. But, in horse racing, the best horse wins most of the time. And there is no question in my mind that she is the best horse.

Prediction: Rachel Alexandra, Big Drama, Pioneerof the Nile. And since I can’t imagine her new connections wanting to run back in the Belmont three weeks from now, we’ll very likely have three different winners in this year’s Triple Crown series.

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My Saturday Premium Play selection sheet for Hollywood Park will be available late Friday night and will include Preakness selections and betting strategy.

Last year’s Derby was easy. Big Brown stood out a mile over 19 overmatched 3-year-olds. This year’s Derby, however, is another story altogether. Whether you’re betting at a racetrack, simulcast facility or online, true horseplayers are playing the Derby. Even the most casual racing fan puts at least a few bucks down on Derby Day—it’s almost un-American not to.

So here is how I see this year’s running. It may be a bit chalky and lacking in creativity but I believe one of the top four morning line favorites will win: I Want Revenge (3-1), Dunkirk (4-1), Pioneerof the Nile (4-1) or Friesan Fire (5-1).

I was all set to pick Dunkirk, believing he might be this year’s edition of Curlin—lightly raced but the most talented of the bunch. However, I’m hearing that the $3.7 million colt is not handling his Churchill Downs surroundings all that well. If you’re washing out in the morning and in a paddock schooling session, what happens on Saturday in front of 150,000 rabid rans? I still have to respect him, however. His three races have been too good (backed up by a big speed figure in the Florida Derby) to deny that this is one talented runner.

 I Want Revenge doesn’t have any holes. Everyone saw his monster effort in the Wood, he has trained forwardly and is great hands. My one concern is that young jockey Joe Talamo might get the jitters and make a mistake. However, with ‘Revenge’s tactical speed and outside post, I think he might get the “Big Brown trip”, stalking the leaders while outside in the clear. He’s fast and consistent, so he should run his race.

Pioneerof the Nile has not blown me away despite winning four straight in Southern California. However, my gut feeling is that we haven’t seen his best yet. He will get more pace at which to run, might move up on a traditional dirt track and is trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. Whatever is he is capable of, he will show it on Saturday.

Finally, Friesan Fire. To me he’s a bit of an X-factor. The king of Louisiana swept the Fair Grounds series, topped off by a romping 7-length win over a muddy track in the Louisiana Derby. He has tactical speed, tries hard every time out, probably moves way up over a wet track and is trained by one of the best in the business, Larry Jones. How fitting would it be to see Jones win this year after all he endured last year with the breakdown of Eight Belles?

There are some longshot fringe players that I think could impact the trifecta and superfecta, including my preferred longshot Hold Me Back (15-1). Others with a chance at a price include Papa Clem (20-1), West Side Bernie (30-1), Chocolate Candy (20-1), Summer Bird (50-1) and General Quarters (20-1). I will try to devise some betting strategy that will use these bombers in the “underneath” slots for the exotics. Here is a listing of more Kentucky Derby Odds.

Or I may just resort to a self-serving hunch play. I am one of two managing partners (along with Brett Lindenbaum) in a new racing syndicate called Summit Racing. We currently have three horses in training with three different trainers: Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer and Jeff Mullins. It just so happens that each has a horse in this year’s Derby. How can I not key my plays around Pioneerof the Nile, Chocolate Candy and I Want Revenge?

However you play it, this year’s Derby features a very talented group while offering up the chance for a big-time score. Good luck on Saturday.

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My Saturday Premium Play selection sheet ($10) for Hollywood Park will be available by 10:00 p.m. (Pacific) on Friday night and will include Kentucky Derby selections and betting strategy.

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