It was a little over 7 years ago when race supervisor Vic Vivio came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in doing a Kentucky Derby Seminar at Palace Station.
There were no seminars in Vegas at the time and I said it sounded like a great idea as did Ralph Siraco of “Race Day Las Vegas,” who joined us on that first day in May 2008. We had a packed house for that very first seminar and a great time.
Thanks to the vision of Vivio, whose passing was felt by all of us, we now have such seminars all over the city.
There will be 20 horses entering the starting gate again for this year’s edition of the Derby. If you listen to all the talking heads, including this talking (sometimes too much) machine, it’s all about what horse will draw the death sentence and get the 1 post.
My opinion is, if the 1 is impossible to win from, then it should be illegal to be there in a 20 horse field. Whoever makes a bet on that horse is just burning their hard earned cash.
If you have a field of 18 and they move the gate out from the rail, it gives the horse in that post an equal shot. Is that too hard to figure out, Churchill Downs?
Now let’s take a capsule look at some of the runners that may have a shot Saturday in this 20 horse field. We’ll go in order of point standings.
INTERNATIONAL STAR, the point leader, comes into this race off a sweep of the stakes at the Fair Grounds. Since the system was put in the top point getter has won both Kentucky Derby races with California Chrome last year and Orb the previous one. I guess if he gets the trip he is a must use.
DORTMUND is named after a German soccer team and brewery. He is undefeated, swept the Santa Anita 3yo stakes and is trained by Bob Baffert, who has kept his other runner and probable favorite away from this guy. He’s the biggest runner in the race, very fast and a huge horse. If Dortmund breaks good and is on or near the front end, the rest could be history. If you go back to his race with Firing Line when he was passed and came back on to win, that is the best race of the year in my eyes. We will be using first and second.
CARPE DIEM has the perfect Kentucky Derby name, seize the day. He has done almost everything trainer Todd Pletcher has asked, winning four of his five starts. His only loss came in the BC Juvenile when finishing second behind Texas Red. The only drawback is Pletcher has sent 40 runners to the Derby with just one win. Biggest reason: Pletcher runners do their best work when off six weeks. He’s coming off four weeks here but is a runner and we will be using.
AMERICAN PHAROAH, says Baffert, is the best horse he has ever trained. Is he right? We will find out but this bettor is very skeptical. He did beat Texas Red in the Front Runner but has won little since. A must use but I will be trying to beat him, especially if bet down.
FROSTED woke up big in the Wood Memorial when running a huge number. He has never run that fast and the ones behind him were given big numbers. We like the jockey and trainer. Will use, but not on the top end.
MUBTAAHIJ is in from Dubai off back-to-back wins, going 1-3/16. He is the first Kentucky Derby horse since 1971 winner Canonero to come into Louisville with two races longer than 1-1/8. In English his name means Elated and he has a top trainer and jockey. It is noted that he broke his maiden as a 2yo on dirt vs. 3yo and 4yo, which is unheard of here in the States. He has run 5 times in four months. Could this be the year of the big surprise? Will be using him and, if he does get home, there will be a lot of elation.
MATERIALITY is another Pletcher runner with a ton of talent. The other undefeated runner in here, winning all three of his starts this year including a huge victory over Upstart. He will need to break the curse of Apollo who won the Derby back in 1882 with no starts as a 2yo. For me that is just way too much to overcome. Will need to win without me.
EL KABEIR is a hard hitting colt with 9 starts, including 5 as a 2yo and 4 as a 3yo. Won the Gotham in the mud and the Jerome on a good track. Finished second in the Nashua in the mud. He gets Calvin Borel and that in itself says we must use, especially if the track comes up off.
UPSTART has been working well since his loss to Materiality as the even money favorite. Has never been off the board in his 7 starts and finds himself in a stalking position, which could play well with all the speed in here. Jose Ortiz has been on him for all his starts and we like that. Finished third in the BC Juvenile. We will be using.
FAR RIGHT gets big race Mike Smith. He was destroyed by American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. Will be trying to put in a late run. A must use in the trifecta and super, but not on the win end.
FIRING LINE has run 5 times with 2 wins and 3 seconds. Two of those runner-up finishes were narrow losses to Dortmund. His trainer said no more Dortmund and shipped him to Sunland Park where he won the Sunland Derby. Another big race rider, Gary Stevens, will ride. Just wish he had one more start this year. (Alydar had three shots at beating Affirmed in the Triple Crown but never could.) Don’t see Firing Line beating Dortmund this time around either.
Those are my top contenders but there could be some changes when we get the post position draw. That’s the reason you should take in a few seminars.
The first will be Thursday at Palace Station at 6 p.m. in the race book. Myself, Siraco and Professor Gordon Jones, who picked last year’s trifecta at this seminar, will be there along with free food and drinks and cocktail service.
Not to be outdone, Station Casinos is not only offering a $10k Twin Q on Friday, Kentucky Oaks day, and a $20k Twin Q on Kentucky Derby day but Bert Cirincione, who is the main man at the Green Valley Ranch race and sportsbook, will have legendary Hall of Fame jockey the great, and I mean great, Laffit Pincay Jr. this Saturday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in a meet and greet, photo and autograph session. This would be a perfect opportunity to get a past program signed and take a shot at that $20k Twin Q.
There will be no better place to be this weekend than here in Las Vegas with the big fight and the Kentucky Derby. My good friend Papa Loz tells me he thinks the fight will be a draw and Papa doesn’t even smoke that wacky tobacky.
Get out, attend some of those great seminars and make a bet, even if it’s two bucks. You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.
See you at Palace Station this Thursday at 6 p.m.
Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper. Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].