LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – I’ve never been much for hunch betting while playing the horses.
I usually stick to the numbers, the past performances. I stay away from lucky colors, betting a horse because it's gray, or heaven forbid, if I just like the name.
But then something happens like Saturday and I begin to wonder if I'm missing an important handicapping tool, "dumb luck."
I first noticed Hoppertunity when somebody posted a picture of the horse on Twitter taking a bath. Then I looked at a history of the Rebel Stakes and noted that Bob Baffert had shipped in horses to win three of the last four runnings.
Then there was MIke Smith, the jockey who I had seen bare his bald head after so many big races, and look toward the heavens with a thankful expression.
Even though the numbers were pretty similar, I took Hoppertunity as my choice in the Rebel. I admit, maybe I even liked the name a little. And after he won, I began to do some more work on his pedigree.
The pedigree page solidified my thought that Hoppertunity is a legitimate Derby contender. His sire is Any Given Saturday, who is by Distorted Humor. That not only means Derby distance it means Derby in the mud.
And finally I saw it. At the top of the page was the foal date for Hoppertunity. He was born May 7, 2011, my birthday.
Sometimes, my birthday even falls on Derby day. Would I choose a horse or bet a horse, because we share a birthday?
This week on Great Day Live I discussed Hoppertunity's birthday with Terry and Rachel and we wondered, "Is it some sort of omen or sign?" And this "twilight zone" preface gets you ready for my new Top Twenty and Hoppertunity in the top ten.
He was foaled on April 18, so I feel no special kinship to the New York bred, but he's is undefeated and will be one of the favorites for the Derby if he does well in the Wood Memorial coming up April 5.
2. Candy Boy
It's a bit of a gamble, waiting for the Santa Anita Derby to re-establish that this is the best three- year-old on the West Coast. That race is also April 5th and it's still not certain that California Chrome will show up to challenge.
3. California Chrome
Trainer Art Sherman can probably make the Kentucky Derby on points without running before May 3. But that would mean almost a two month layoff before the big race. And it would mean that Chrome's longest race before Louisville would be a mile and 1 /16th. Decision pending.
What would a Derby be without Bob Baffert and this may not be his only starter? If Topper had been taken, this would have been a great name for Hopalong Cassidy's horse.
5. General A Rod
The General ranks this high mostly on the promise of his second place in the Fountain of Youth. And there's also the pedigree that promises he will run farther while his competition might hit the wall. The Florida Derby with a ton of speed horses will tell a lot.
6. Intense Holiday
The son of Harlan's Holiday returns to the Fairgrounds hoping to win two in a row in New Orleans. He worked four furlongs in :48 flat should be gobbling up front runners in the long Fairgrounds stretch.
7. Uncle Sigh
If he could shake Samraat, he could probably win a race. But it appears that a re-match is likely in the Wood Memorial. They will change to the outer track at Aqueduct and more challengers will be getting off the van.
The Rebel run was not that bad and who knows how the sealed muddy track affected the runners. Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. had to create his own hole to find running room at the top of the stretch. The big question: How good is this bunch in Arkansas?
9. Ride on Curlin
He doesn't get much respect but he always hits the board. That said, third place has not produced much in the way of Derby points. He'll be back for the Arkansas Derby and new rider Kent Desormeaux seemed to fit just fine.
He got passed at the wire in the Risen Star and it looks like trainer Larry Jones is trying to put some more speed into this one. Albano worked 5 furlongs in :59.6 on St. Patrick's Day. He's a serious challenger in the Louisiana Derby.
11. Ring Weekend
Most people want to see another race because everything went his way in the Tampa Bay Derby. Ring Weekend got the inside post and an easy lead. And Graham Motion could take an interesting approach to the next race. He may run in the Calder Derby on April 5, a non-points race, because the 50 Tampa points are enough to qualify.
12. Cairo Prince
This is pretty much everybody's choice to win the Kentucky Derby but mine.
If Pioneer of the Nile colts can run a mile and a quarter on May 3, Cairo Prince will win or Social Inclusion will win or Vinceremos will wear the Roses.
He's the likely favorite to win the Florida Derby and could be the favorite on May 3.
13. Social Inclusion
And speaking of Pioneer of the Nile colts, this is the new buzz horse.
In a March 12 allowance race, Social Inclusion beat Honor Code by 10 lengths and set a new track record for a mile and 1/16th. That set off a round of million dollar bids for the horse. He's on the Derby trail and could make the Florida Derby a real speed duel.
14. Wildcat Red
And here's the probable speed in the Florida Derby. He's by champion sprinter, D'Wildcat but how far can he stretch the speed. So far, so good. Working strongly for the Derby start.
15. Midnight Hawk
Midnight Hawk is another good but not yet spectacular horse from the Baffert barn. He has 32 Derby points from California stakes races and is being sent the Sunland Derby. If he hits the board, he's in the Derby. But I'm not sure he has the speed to compete.
This is Baffert Number 3 also headed to the Sunland Derby in search of points and dollars. He was a solid second in the Bob Lewis Stakes and actually beat Midnight Hawk in that race. He just worked 7 furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:24:80.
17. Honor Code
The comeback race wasn't bad but the winner, Social Inclusion, was in another zip code. Honor Code has a great record as a two year old but this year he's been slowed by injuries. Shug may try the Florida Derby, the Wood, the Preakness or just pass.
Tamarando will be one to watch this weekend as the Derby trail, Polytrack division, comes to Turfway Park. The Spiral Stakes will be forever remembered as the race that produced Animal Kingdom. So, everybody will pay some attention to the Northern Kentucky race.
19. Strong Mandate
I'm not giving up on Lukas' horse because he was not that far behind the top three in the Rebel. In fact, he seemed to get the worst of the bumping. This time, he may have been too close to the lead. For D. Wayne, the secret may be finding the right pace scenario.
20. In Trouble
And let's not forget the third place horse in the Gotham Stakes. In trouble was coming off a long lay-off when he chased Samraat and Uncle Sigh to the finish line. If he improves in the Wood, it may be the other horses who are In Trouble.
The Derby preps coming up this weekend are the races most likely to produce Derby starters that come from out of the blue.
The Sunland Derby will be a combination of local horses and shippers from big barns. And Turfway will see those horses with grass pedigrees hoping to qualify for the Derby and then hoping for a miracle transition to dirt.
The Spiral is Saturday. The Sunland is Sunday, of all things.
Best of luck and if a horse is born on your birthday, BET IT.