“Nothing Ventured…..Nothing Ventured.”
In 2004, a horse named Smarty Jones swept the Derby and Preakness. As he then went for the Triple Crown in the Belmont, everybody seemed positive he was going to win. His “inevitable” win was so strongly supported that the early odds of 2 to 5 held right through post time. Unfortunately, Smarty Jones did not win the Belmont and now only has the distinction of being just one of the 13 horses to win both the Derby and Preakness, without taking the Triple Crown. Of course, last year we had to endure the California Chrome Triple Crown hype from all those folks who desperately want to see another Triple Crown winner. California Chrome was made the big favorite in the Belmont, near 4 to 5 odds, only to be beaten by Tonalist.
The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed, taking home that title in 1978. That means that no one under age 37 could have seen a Triple Crown winner and you would have to be over 40 to remember it! In fact the last living horse to win a Triple Crown, Seattle Slew, died in 2002, 13 years ago! Is it any wonder that a nation of casual observers, when it comes to racing, want to make sure their ticket is on the next Triple crown winner?
As I look at the 2015 Derby entries, my Smarty Jones memory is rather vivid. It doesn’t stand out because I thought Smarty Jones was any better than the other 12 horses that “almost” won a Triple Crown. It’s also not particularly significant because I had the winner of the 2004 Belmont, Birdstone, at 36 to 1 odds! It’s burned into the recesses of my mind because of a “know it all” young executive.
This now former CEO of a Fortune 100 company told a room full of other executives that there was no way Smarty Jones could lose the Belmont. After he dared everyone to bet against him at an executive dinner, being the ass that I am, I took him on saying I didn’t think Smarty Jones could possibly win at the 1 ½ mile Belmont. I didn’t think this just because Smarty had fairly grueling wins in the Derby and Preakness, but I said it because he didn’t have the breeding to make that distance. Anyway my argument with the young hotshot, who thought he knew everything just because he could do debits and credits on spreadsheets, continued until he asked, “Wanna bet?”
Now that’s a big mistake with me so of course I said “Yes.” He said “How much?” This was, of course, another mistake on his part. I said “Name it, ‘five thousand, ten thousand, one thousand, five hundred……whatever you want.” As with most false gamblers, he was flabbergasted by the amounts I threw out as if I was buying gum at a vending machine. Now embarrassed in front of all the other executives he was mouthing off to, he sheepishly said, “How about two hundred dollars because I don’t want to take all your money?” I laughed and said, “Well, if that’s what you think is a big gamble fine, I’ll take it.” So I got the field and he got Smarty Jones for $200.
Now, I’ve collected some pretty big bets in my life, and that Belmont Saturday was sweet. As I told my wife on the phone, “we are having a very good day,” which is my favorite Richard Dreyfuss line from the great horse race gambling movie, Let It Ride. Even though I made much more money on that Belmont Saturday, I never had more fun than collecting my $200 bet from that young know it all at our Monday morning executive meeting.
So what does this story have to do with the Derby? Maybe nothing. Today I see both Dortmund and American Pharaoh as possibly special horses. Carpe Diem and Frosted also have some real potential. On the other hand, I had a friend point out Mubtaahij, and I’m glad he did. He suggested I watch his last race and I was as blown away by his win in the $2,000,000 U. A. E. Derby. That win rivaled the wins by American Pharaoh and Dortmund in their last races. Over the years, I have also learned that dosage can be valuable in determining whether horse can get a certain distance, however late fractional times and the Average Winning Distance of the sire and dam’s sire tell a better story. Mubtaahij has a sire with an 8.6 furlong AWD and an 8.8 furlong AWD for the dam. American Pharaoh, by comparison, has a 7.4 and 6.3 respectively.
With all this said I’ll be looking for the best overlays in the Derby, and I assume Dortmund and American Pharaoh will get the biggest money at the betting window. However, any of the 5 horses mentioned may be my bet. I think all of these top horses can get the Derby distance including American Pharaoh, based on the fractions seen in their prior race. Nevertheless, my handicapping friend and I agree that Mubtaahij will likely be a solid overlay in the Derby. Oh, and regardless of what smart young “know it alls” say, BREEDING MATTERS.
Of course, my greatest hope is that Triple Crown hysteria occurs again to create easy money overlays in the Belmont. Whether it’s Dortmund, American Pharaoh, Frosted or Carpe Diem, I’m thinking Mubtaahij may be another good bet in the Belmont, if he doesn’t win the Derby. Oh by the way, I picked Tonalist via our Facebook page at 9 to 1 to beat California Chrome last year in the Belmont. Like I said, BREEDING MATTERS.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.