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April 30, 2015

A beginner's guide to the Kentucky Derby, part 3

In today's final installment of this series I will handicap the field for this year's running of the Kentucky Derby and give you my selections to win, place and show and my longshot bet. If you are interested in making a wager on the race you can bet on it at a nearby casino (the area inside the casino for betting on horses is called the "racebook"), a racetrack or an off-track betting parlor. It is also possible to bet using an online account but this takes some time and effort to set up. If you will be attending a Kentucky Derby party the chances are good that someone there will already have an online wagering account and can bet for you (called "booking" your bet).

The post positions for the race were drawn Wednesday and the big news is that the pre-race favorite, American Pharoah, drew post 18 -- way on the outside of the starting gate. It's generally considered to be an unfavorable post position draw to be so far out from the rail because the horse is forced to either run too fast in the beginning of the race to clear the horses inside of him and get to the rail before the first turn or to take back at the start of the race and tuck in behind the "wall of horses" running for the first turn.

While it's not impossible to win the race from this far out (Big Brown won from post 20 in 2008 and I'll Have Another won from post 19 in 2012), it's a tall order to ask a wire to wire-style runner like American Pharoah to win from this post position. Because his post position does not favor his running style and his odds will be too low for my taste, I will not be betting on American Pharoah.

Post position 1 is also considered to be unfavorable because the horse gets squeezed along the rail as the horses to his outside try and cut in front of him to get over to the rail before the first turn. Longshot Ocho Ocho Ocho drew post position 1. I won't be betting on him either, and it's not just because of his unfavorable post position.

My picks for the Derby are, in order of preference, Materiality (post position 3) , Carpe Diem (post position 2), Dortmund (post position 8) and Firing Line (post position 12).

Materiality is the son of Afleet Alex, who finished second in the 2005 Kentucky Derby and then won the Preakness Stakes (in dramatic fashion after falling to his knees leaving the far turn) and the Belmont Stakes (by a country mile). Although he did not win the Triple Crown, Afleet Alex is considered by many racing fans to be the best racehorse of the last 10 years and it would be fun to see him make his Daddy (called the "sire") proud.

There is also a Philly connection with Materiaility because Afleet Alex was owned by Philadelphia-based Cash is King Stables. In addition to these sentimental reasons, Materiality is undefeated in three lifetime starts, his human connections (trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano) are among the best in the business and he has a stalking-style of running that is well-suited to winning the Derby. I will be betting Materiality to win and also using him in first and second position in my exacta bets.

Carpe Diem is my choice to come in second. His pedigree says he can handle the demanding Derby distance, he has won four of five lifetime starts and his human connections are top notch (trainer Todd Pletcher and Jockey John Velazquez have each won previous runnings of the Derby). The reasons I put him second rather than first are because his prior races are all a step slower than Materiality's, his odds will probably be lower than Materiality's and he will have to alter his wire to wire-style of running to win the Derby. I will be betting Carpe Diem in first and second position in my exacta bets.

Dortmund is my choice to come in third. He is the "California horse" who is undefeated in six lifetime starts. He is the son of Big Brown, who won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes but faltered in his bid to win the Triple Crown by finishing last in the Belmont Stakes after losing a horseshoe during the running of the race. His human connections are first rate (trainer Bob Baffert - the guy with the white hair and the sunglasses - and jockey Martin Garcia). The reasons I put him third, rather than first or second are because his odds will probably be lower than Materiality's and he will also have to alter his wire to wire-style of running to win the Derby. I will be betting Dortmund in first and second position in my exacta bets.

Firing Line is my long shot horse. He has two firsts and three seconds from five lifetime starts, so he knows how to "hit the board." His jockey, Gary Stevens, is the primary reason I am attracted to this horse. Gary has won the Kentucky Derby three times and is the oldest jockey in the race at age 52 (old enough to be the father of most of the other jockeys riding in the race). He is still an elite race rider and he is also a movie star, having play the role of jockey George Woolf in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit (during one of his earlier "retirements" from racing). For sentimental reasons, I will be rooting for Gary and Firing Line and will bet a small amount on him across the board and in first and second position in my exacta bets.

The other horses in the field could certainly win, but they don't appeal to me as much as my selections. In making your own selections don't be afraid to swing for the fences in terms of odds (Giacomo won in 2005 and Mine That Bird won in 2009 at odds of 50 to 1 each). The Kentucky Derby is all about sentiment and hunch bets (made on the basis of saddle cloth numbers, horse names, horse colors - the two gray horses are El Kabeir and Frosted - the Irish-bred horse is Mubtaahij, etc.). There are no wrong bets and as long as you have a thrill watching your horse compete you will have gotten your money's worth from your bets, even if you don't win.

Good luck.