Lion Heart will win the Kentucky Derby | NevadaAppeal.com
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Lion Heart will win the Kentucky Derby

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Saturday features the 130th version of the most exciting two minutes in all of sports, the running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

A full field of 20 3-year-old horses are entered to go a mile and a quarter carrying 126 pounds 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 more than $1.2 million purse and the opportunity to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Sport of Kings is in dire need of a Triple Crown champ, as this current 26-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 nearly unpredictable. The large 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 don’t win very often, but the last two years 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 eight winners have come from the auxiliary gate, and in one of those three other years the auxiliary gate wasn’t used. If all 20 horses go, 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 wide open one, and they can probably throw most factors out the window, but 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.

Predictions: I don’t profess to know much about horse racing, but after talking to some friends of mine, I have some picks.

Win – Lion Heart. Starting from the 3 hole and being the only inside speed horse, Lion Heart should be in front in the first turn, and like War Emblem and Funny Cide, should be able to set the pace and control the race. The only knock on Lion Heart is that he has raced only twice this year.

Place – Castledale. The outside post is not a problem for this stretch-runner that won the Santa Anita Derby and recorded the fastest mile-and-an-eighth time in the field. A horse that raced in the Santa Anita Derby has won three of the last seven Kentucky Derbies.

Show – Tapit. This come-from-behind gray horse won the Wood Memorial and has posted great workouts. This is jockey Ramon Dominguez’ first Derby, but he proved his talent by winning nearly 500 races last year.

Fourth – Master David. To round out the superfecta, this horse has been the most consistent of them all. Having run only twice on dirt keeps him from being a stronger choice.

– In the NBA, I would have loved to make my second round predictions this week, but the first round continues at a snail’s pace. Television is to blame for this painfully drawn-out opening round system that was increased to seven-game series last year. There is absolutely no way the first round should take 17 days, which is one more day than the entire upcoming Summer Olympics.

One series that is set, however, is the Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio. The winner of this battle is the pick to win the championship, and I am taking Los Angeles.

As of Wednesday evening, I am picking Indiana over the Miami-New Orleans winner, and leaning towards taking Minnesota over Sacramento and New Jersey over Detroit.

– I was deeply saddened by the news last week of the death of Pat Tillman. As most everyone knows by now, Tillman passed up a $3.6 million contract with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in order to join the Army, where he was killed in action in Afghanistan. Tillman’s unbelievably selfless sacrifice will probably never again be matched by any professional athlete of his stature. Tillman’s memory definitely deserves a spot somewhere in football’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.