Afleet Alex will win derby |

Afleet Alex will win derby

Joe Ellison
Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist

Saturday features the 131st version of the most exciting two minutes in all of sports, the running of the Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s Churchill Downs.

A full field of 20 3-year-old horses are entered to go a mile and a quarter in order to determine the winner of racing’s most prestigious and heavily wagered event. To the champion of the first jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown goes a large portion of the $2 million purse, plus the opportunity to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978. The Sport of Kings is in dire need of a Triple Crown champ, as this current 27-year drought is the longest in history.

The horse racing community’s anticipation of this race is matched only by the difficulty involved in trying to handicap it. The Kentucky Derby is the hardest race to win. The big field multiplies the amount of possible outcomes as well as troubling traffic, and none of these horses has ever traveled the mile and a quarter distance.

In the Kentucky Derby, front runners and late closers haven’t won very often, but in 2002 and 2003, War Emblem and Funny Cide became the first wire-to-wire winners since Winning Colors in 1988. Most of the winners were horses that stayed close to the lead throughout the race and finished strong.

Interestingly, five of the last 10 winners (including 2004’s Smarty Jones) have come from the auxiliary gate (posts 15-20), and in one of those other five years the auxiliary gate wasn’t used. If all 20 horses go off, it will be the first full field since 1984 when the top four finishers all came from the auxiliary gate.

Handicappers will find this Derby to be an especially solid and wide open one. Still, history says to look for certain variables. When picking the winner, that horse should already have 1) raced as a 2-year-old, 2) raced in April, 3) won a stakes race, 4) had at least three starts this year and five or more total, 5) finished at least a decent fourth or better in its last start and 6) achieved a Beyer rating of 100 or more in at least one race.

Here’s a look at some of the morning line favorites:

Bellamy Road (5/2) – Winning the esteemed Wood Memorial by 17 1/2 lengths while equaling a track record earns this horse the favorite’s role. Trainer Nick Zito, and starting from the auxiliary gate are positives. But Bellamy Road would be the first since Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and the second since Jet Pilot in 1947 to win the Derby after only two 3-year-old starts, plus, nobody wants to see owner George Steinbrenner win.

Afleet Alex (9/2) – After almost dying at birth, and with his breeder suffering from terminal cancer, Afleet Alex is this year’s Smarty Jones-like saga. This colt’s only bad race in the Rebel Stakes was due to a lung infection.

Bandini (6/1) – The winner of the tough Bluegrass Stakes could close strongly.

High Fly (8/1) – This might be two-time winning jockey Jerry Bailey’s last Derby.

Noble Causeway (12/1) – This up-and-coming closer has Zito and jock Gary Stevens in his corner, but a second-place finish in the Florida Derby is his only stakes race.

High Limit (12/1) – This colt must get to the lead to hopefully make it three out of four wire-to-wire Derby winners.

Greeley’s Galaxy (15/1) – The Illinois Derby champ and $200,000 supplement is the sentimental choice because of trainer Warren Stute; 1967 was the year of Stute’s last Kentucky Derby horse, and at 83 he would be the oldest ever winner.

Wilko (20/1) and Buzzard’s Bay (20/1) – Should the West horses really be such longshots? No Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner like Wilko has ever won the Derby.

Predictions: Win – Afleet Alex; Place – Wilko; Show – Noble Causeway and Fourth – High Fly

• As of Wednesday evening in the snail-paced NBA playoffs, only one second-round series was set. San Antonio’s size, defense and experience give the Spurs the advantage over Seattle in six games.

In fact, higher-seeded San Antonio, Miami, Detroit and Phoenix all look like they should advance to the Conference Finals. If there was to be one upset, it would appear to be coming from the Dallas/Houston winner over Phoenix.