Betting ‘chalk’ is dangerous; Point Given an exception

May 1, 2001 10:33 AM

WHO DO YOU LIKE IN THE DERBY? That’s the question on the lips of horseplayers and many others as the First Saturday in May draws near.

In my days on the track, I was known as a player who always had a chance. I took my horses seriously. Times change. Las Vegas - with around-the-clock action - came between me and the windows. The Sport of Kings faded for me with a few exceptions: Summers at Del Mar and the Kentucky Derby run 1 and 1A. The seaside track just north of San Diego reminds me of my youth spent at Atlantic City Race Course and Monmouth Park in their heydays.

The Derby was the heavyweight in the entry. I never thought much of Churchill Downs, but it sure put on the best show the First Saturday in May. Across the years and across the board I’ve had a thing with picking Derby winners. It probably began with Tim Tam in 1958. I backed Venetian Way, Carry Back, Lucky Debonair, Majestic Prince, Riva Ridge, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Gato Del Sol, Ferdinand, Sunday Silence, Lil E. Tee, Strike the Gold and Go For Gin. My biggest scores - perhaps the winners I remember best - were Carry Back, Ferdinand (I was out of my seat and in the air when he won.), Lil E. Tee and Go For Gin. I began backing Go For Gin the previous winter in the Future Book when trainer Nick Zito called my attention to him.

If you count all of the above, it highlights 43 years of playing the Derby.

Only once did I get high on a favorite. It was in 1973 when the great Secretariat won the Triple Crown, the first to do so since 1948 when Citation pulled off the coup. Although I never believed that horses could read the odds board, it seems that way in the Kentucky Derby.

Alas, this year could be an exception. I think Point Given is a monster horse. To me he looks like something good to eat. He’ll be the favorite, but it won’t be quite as severe since this year’s Derby has no couplings or field.

Before singing the praise of Point Given, let me tell you about two other Derby hopefuls who would make a lot of sense being hooked up into exactas and quinellas with Point Given. I refer to Dollar Bill and Balto Star. Dollar Bill has my attention. I watched the reruns of his race in the Blue Grass. Although he was not a threat to the winner, the manner in which he made up ground in closing was most impressive. You can bet he’ll be all fired up for Saturday’s classic.

By the same token, I can’t overlook Balto Star. He is the speed in the race. If he goes to the front (he will) and has everything his way (?), he’ll be tough.

But, they have Point Given to beat. Why?

Trainer Bob Baffert sends a powerful twosome - Point Given and Congaree - to Saturday’s classic. As explained, for the first time all horses will be separate betting interests. I don’t know what Churchill Downs was thinking with this scheme. Maybe they think horseplayers don’t like bargains such as betting on entries or field horses. At any rate, I usually avoid chalk. I always look for value. But, I have to eat my words this year as I give my top figure to Point Given. The chestnut colt is a notch behind long shot hopeful Express Tour in graded earnings. Point Given has won $1,180,900. A few dimes away in the lead is Express Tour with $1,200,000.

Don’t be swayed by Baffert betting $100 on Congaree in the Future Book at a Strip sports book. As I understand it, he placed the bet back in January when Congaree had not yet showed his oats. Point Given, the likely favorite and the other Baffert horse, was a much shorter price at the time. Why not take 150-1 in January if you think your horse can run big in May? The $15,000 to be won on the Future bet is a small bagatelle . . . this is the Kentucky Derby.

Who do you like in the Derby? I like Point Given, Dollar Bill and Balto Star.