Going into Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, the numbers gurus say Bellamy Road has the best figure since Marilyn Monroe.
Whether it puts him in good enough shape to win remains to be seen. One thing for sure: coming off a 171/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial, Bellamy Road will be favored in the 131st Run for the Roses. He is the ace of spades in the Derby royal flush of Nick Zito, who holds the strongest hand of any trainer ever, with High Fly, Sun King, Noble Causeway and Andromeda’s Hero, each a bona fide contender behind Bellamy Road
"If Bellamy Road runs anything close to the race he ran in the Wood Memorial, you’re not going to get an argument from too many people that he will not lose this race," said professional clocker, handicapper and gambler Gary Young. "The Wood was unbelievable in my eyes. For a big horse he just floats over the ground. I know some people are concerned about the bounce theory (although) it didn’t look like he really ran that hard. Another consideration is a lot of his main pace rivals don’t appear to be coming into the Derby with the same luster they had a month, month and a half ago."
Still, Young expects a realistic and contested battle on the front end. Here’s how he sees it:
"No one’s going to rig the pace in this year’s Derby like they did in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. We’re not going to have any collusion between owners and trainers to get the pace fixed this year like we did in the Classic last year. There should be a very honest pace in the Derby.
"If you’re looking to beat Bellamy Road and looking for value, Bandini is one to consider. He’s a good-looking horse and finally might be getting his act together. But playing devil’s advocate, the final three-eighths of the Blue Grass was :39 and two.
"My buddy Andy Harrington, who times horses at Hollywood Park, said Wilko worked unbelievable the other day (seven furlongs in 1:26.80 under Corey Nakatani). I’m not in a big hurry to endorse any California horses, but Wilko supposedly did work very well.
"I didn’t think the Florida Derby was particularly weak or strong, but kind of in the middle of the road. High Fly (the winner) seems like a solid horse that runs his race every time and you have to run to beat him. Whether that’s good enough, only time will tell. I tend to think he’ll hit the board but probably won’t win.
"I don’t really care for (Santa Anita Derby winner) Buzzards Bay. Sun King is kind of an enigma. He’s going to get a great pace to run at. I know he didn’t do much running in the Blue Grass (a distant fourth) but as I said, I don’t put a whole lot of positive on a good effort at Keeneland or a whole lot of negative on a bad effort. I remember seeing Thunder Gulch run there and saying he was absolutely done and would have no chance in the Derby, and then he won the (1995) Derby.
"Afleet Alex worked (five furlongs in) :58 and three Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs and I don’t think that’s exactly what you want, but he was visually impressive winning the Arkansas Derby. He went the final three-eighths in :35 and two, sat off the pace and did everything you’d want a horse to do."
Drum roll, and the envelope, please.
"Hypothetically, if you said I’d get 10 grand if I picked the winner, I’m picking Bellamy Road, but from a wagering standpoint and with the history of favorites in the Derby, I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to bet on him.
"For a value play or longshot, I’d go with Noble Causeway, who was second to High Fly in the Florida Derby. He appears to have the stride and style that might have a chance of getting the job done. From a wagering standpoint I might look at him and I might look at Sun King, because I’m not going to hold his one bad race against him.
"My most likely winner would be one of Zito’s top three horses (Bellamy Road, High Fly or Sun King) and my two value plays would be Zito’s other two horses (Noble Causeway and Andromeda’s Hero). This year it’s Zito’s world and we’re just living in it until someone proves otherwise."
THE HOMESTRETCH: My Derby picks: Afleet Alex, Bellamy Road, Don’t Get Mad and High Limit. Longshot: Wilko. Despite coming back a week after winning the Derby Trial, Don’t Get Mad loves the Churchill course, as his perfect three-for-three record affirms. Afleet Alex looked like a million bucks winning the Arkansas Derby. He has the running style to win and is in peak form. All he needs is luck. Headline writers can resort to the obvious: "Rose (as in Jeremy Rose, who rides Afleet Alex) Wins the Roses"”¦ Bob Baffert on owner Marty Wygod being absolved by the California Horse Racing Board in the Sweet Catomine fiasco: "He was only guilty of one thing — instead of marching to the bar when he got beat, he marched to the press box and let his emotions out."”¦ I’m not worried if some unselectable sow like Giacomo, Sort It Out or Going Wild wins the Derby and sullies my reputation. I can always get a job holding the umbrella for Michael Jackson.