Derby proves once again that Pace Makes the Race!

May 8, 2001 9:16 AM

For the past half-century, that phrase has become a major tool in a handicapper’s kit. And it all started in the late ’40s and early ’50s when a group of handicappers known as the "Baltimore Speed Boys" began picking winners with regularity using their ability to analyze speed factors in upcoming races.

Such racetrack characters as "King Dave," "The Gipper," and Mickey "Master of Malapropisms" Brooks, moved to different parts of the country to apply their speed handicapping theories. Brooks had the toughest job of all. Each winter he made his way to Florida and took up residence in the press boxes of beautiful Hialeah, when that was the winter haven of racing’s elite, and Gulfstream Park. In between malapropisms, Brooks made his daily overnight line on horses that had competed at racetracks from California to New England.

The speed boys were amazingly successful, betting winners for themselves and for their clients. They would have had a ball with Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Since post mortems can sometime be helpful, we thought we’d review the race and, especially, our picks.

Entered in the mile and one-quarter event were four speed balls, 10 late runners, and three horses whose style could be characterized as "stalking." In the first category were: Songandaprayer (1), Millenium Wind (2), Balto Star (3) and Keats (14). Making up the second group were: Thunder Blitz (4), Fifty Stars (5), Arctic Boy (7), A P Valentine (9), Dollar Bill (10), Startac (12), Invisible Ink (13), Jamaican Rum (15), Monarchos (16), and Point Given (17). The stalkers were: Express Tour (6), Congaree (8), Talk Is Money (11).

Our selections were Point Given and Dollar Bill to be making a late surge in the stretch while Congaree, an unknown factor because of having raced only four times, we felt would be in the hunt at least until the turn for home.

To accommodate the speed horses, the "souped up" track made for some sizzling early fractions. Proof of the lightning fast conditions was established when three of the first four races were run in track record time.

Our evaluation of the race had the early speed stopping on the backstretch; the stalkers moving to the front and the late runners wearing them down in the stretch.

Right strategy, wrong horses.

For the speedsters, it meant leaving fast, establishing an early position and going as far as their stamina would carry them. A quick beginning was especially important for Bobby Hurley’s Songandaprayer since he had the dreaded rail position with 16 horses on his outside ready to push him into the fence.

Jockey Aaron Gryder did what he was supposed to do”¦go to the front and improve his position. And, yes, he was pushed by Balto Star, Keats and Millenium Wind. And, yes, they all packed it in on the backstretch. A half-mile in:44 and change was their undoing.

Unfortunately, it was the undoing of Point Given as well. Apparently, Trainer Bob Baffert and Jockey Gary Stevens had chosen the outside post to insure that Point Given would avoid traffic problems. He did. However, he went five wide on the backstretch, picking up the early leaders who were setting a Derby record for the first half-mile.

Monarchos and Jockey Jorge Chavez followed the strategy that had brought them into the winner’s circle in the Florida Derby. That was to go to the inside, let the horse gather momentum down the backstretch and unleash a powerful burst of speed in the stretch.

Result: Victory. Once again, pace made the race.

Immediately after the race, talk began that Monarchos might be the Triple Crown winner the industry has been seeking since Affirmed kept Alydar at bay in 1978.

Maybe so, but you can expect Bob Baffert, who went into hiding following the Derby, to move on to Pimlico a lot smarter than he was in Louisville, where he was victimized by the Kentucky hardboots.

In the Preakness, once again it will be "pace makes the race."

Next week, when the lineup is better defined, we’ll have a better idea just what impact the pace will have.