5-1-09: Derby 135 Pick; DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Sorry this is getting up late, but I got so excited about getting set for a Twins game on Friday, I didn't get to the blog like I'd promised.

So now I'm furiously typing away at 10:30pm trying to make sure I get this thing up before the stroke of midnight, so I can at least say I posted at some point on Friday!

Not buying it? I don't blame you. But it is what it is.

So today's column is a double header. Tomorrow is the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby. I'm working on a streak of 3-straight winning picks. Can I make it 4? We'll see! Plus it's Friday, so that means it's DFTU time.

Let's ring the bell and get this race under way!

"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
- Rene Descartes (1596- 1650), French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and writer

You doubt I can pick four Derby winners in a row?! You could be right.

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I say that because this year's Derby is perhaps the most muddled field I've seen since I started playing the Run for the Roses.

The horse that would've been the odds-on favorite, Quality Road, had to be scratched after developing a hoof problem.

In fact, horses dropping out of the Derby may be this year's theme. I can think of at least 4 equine athletes that qualified for the Derby, but wont be running due to various health issues. After last year's tragic loss of Eight Belles, it seems like caution is at a premium. That's not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it's not taken too far. Horse racing needs it's stars, and the Derby isn't quite the same if the best horses aren't there.

But never fear, a full 20 horse will enter the gate come tomorrow afternoon, and it's up to me to pick one.

So in my initial handicapping I was able to narrow it down to 5 candidates to win:

I Want Revenge: This horse is the winner of two straight - the Gotham Stakes and the Wood Memorial. He's also the horse with the fastest speed figure in the race: a 113 at the Gotham. The downside is after running the 113, he ran a 103 in the Wood which could indicate that he's due for a let down. And given his track record against Pioneer of the Nile (see below), I can't pick him to win. He's been installed as the 3-1 Morning Line favorite.

Dunkirk: Trained by Todd Pletcher (who's never won a Derby), this may be his best shot. Dunkirk's inexperienced, having only run 3 races, but he's gotten progressively better every time he's run. He finished 2nd to Quality Road in the only race he hasn't won, and posted a 108 speed figure. Dunkirk would be my second pick, but his inexperience prevents me from taking him to win. He's a co-second-favorite at 4-1.

Pioneer of the Nile: This is an interesting horse. He's won four straight races, all of which have been Grade 1 or 2's (the highest levels in horse racing). But he's done so without a triple-digit speed figure. He's also beaten the favorite, I Want Revenge, twice. Being trained by Bob Baffert is a plus in his column as well. Unfortunately, the Derby is about speed, and when the highest number he's run is a 96, I can't pick him. He's also co-second-favorite with Dunkirk at 4-1

Musket Man: Here's my long shot. Musket Man's not getting a lot of respect, but all he's done is win. In his 6 career races, he's won 5 of them and finished 3rd in the other. Not a bad resume. Like Pioneer of the Nile, he doesn't have tremendous speed numbers, but he's run 1 1/8 mile which is as close as Derby horses get to the 1 1/4 mile trip they'll have to run tomorrow. And unlike PoN, he's won on dirt. I won't pick him to win, but he'll be in my exactas and trifectas for sure. He's 20-1 on the Morning Line.

And then there's my pick to win the race:

Friesan Fire: Pronounced FREE-zhun Fire. He's the winner of three straight races, including the Louisiana Derby. And in each win, he was putting more distance between himself and his nearest competitor as he crossed the finish line. Translation: this horse finishes well. Plus there's a 50/50 shot for rain tomorrow, and this horse runs well on a wet track. Detractors will point out that FF's 7-week layoff between his last race and the Derby might be too long. But his trainer, Larry Jones, worked the same pattern with a horse called Hard Spun, who was beaten by a nose in the Derby 2 years ago. FF has gotten progressively better in each race he's run, and seems primed for a big effort on Saturday. He's 5-1 on the morning line, but I'm guessing those odds will drop. If I can get him at 3-1 I'd be thrilled.

So there you have it. Bet the college fund on Friesan Fire to win the Derby. If he wins, you can thank me after. If not, well as soon as you bet him, he's your horse! Good luck.

Now, to put a bow on another week, it's time for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 12-11, 1/2 game behind the Chicago White Sox and tied for 2nd place in the AL Central.

As I said earlier, the reason for today's column delay was my excitement over heading to another ball game. And once again, the Twins came out victorious with me in attendance! Can I take credit? Of course not. But that doesn't mean I won't try!

Their 12-11 record makes them 5-2 since the last DFTU. Have things turned around for the club? Well, sort of.

The bullpen has certainly made enormous strides. And a good chunk of that can be credited to one Jose Mijares. Since Mijares has come up and taken over the 8th inning role, the rest of the bullpen has calmed down.

Take tonight for example. Kevin Slowey had a rough start and came out after giving up 5 runs through 5 innings. But Matt Guerrier was able to come in at the start of the 6th and pitch 2 scoreless innings, which is what he does well. He doesn't excel when asked to come on in situations with runners on. But if you let him start an inning or two with a lead, he's generally solid. So Guerrier blanks the Royals in the 6th and 7th. Mijares does the job in the 8th. And Joe Nathan puts the baby to sleep in the 9th. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

That's the kind of pattern the Twins want to get into, and so far, the result's been good.

Hopefully, things will continue to improve now that Baby Jesus has returned to the Twins line up.

(Aside: Once again, for those of you not aware of the explanation, it goes like this: everybody loves the Baby Jesus, and everybody loves Joe Mauer. I didn't invent it. I just think it's brilliant.)

After spending the entire pregame telling my friends that Mauer shouldn't be expected to do much after coming back from back troubles, I closed that rant with, "But watch, he'll hit a home run in his first at bat." Which, of course, is precisely what he did. The lesson? NEVER doubt the Baby Jesus.

The Twins have two more against Kansas City this weekend, then they hit the road for 2 in Motown, and 3 in Baltimore.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 10-13, 5 games behind the Dodgers and in 4th place in the NL West.

Did I mention the Twins are playing well?


Arizona's 10-13 record makes them 4-4 since the last DFTU. Not the improvement I was hoping for, but they haven't fallen off the map yet either.

P Dan Haren is still the star of this team. I mentioned last time the dismal run support he was getting. Well he's still not getting a ton, but his numbers are crazy good. After his complete game win against the Cubs this past Monday, his ERA is 1.54. He's struck out 36 batters, while only giving up 5 walks. That's just gaudy. His 2-3 record isn't Cy Young worthy yet, but if he keeps pitching this way, he'll be in the conversation sooner than later.

Unfortunately for the Snakes, there's still injury trouble. P Brandon Webb had a setback during his rehab and won't likely pitch another game til Memorial Day at the earliest. SS Stephen Drew also has hit the DL again with his balky hamstring. D'backs fans will recall last year when OF Eric Byrnes had a "lost season" thanks to hamstrings that never fully healed. If that's the case with Drew, the D'backs just lost their most consistent hitter and a fairly solid defensive player. Not good news for a team struggling in both those areas.

What is good news for Arizona? Well, their bullpen has started to calm down somewhat. Chad Qualls is hanging in there as the closer. Tony Pena works a solid 8th inning (note to manager Bob Melvin: ONE INNING. Do NOT pitch this kid more than ONE INNING. Thank you.). And Tom "Flash" Gordon has joined the club and will hopefully hold down the 7th inning role. That allows John Rauch to pitch in less pressure-filled situations, where hopefully he can get his mojo back.

Arizona has split the first two games of their 4-gamer in Milwaukee, and will finish that series over the weekend. Then it's back to the West Coast. 2 games in LA, 2 in San Diego, then back home for a weekend series against the Nationals.

So there you have it. Do you feel fully updated? I sure do!

That's all for today. I hope you all have a fun and safe weekend. I'll be cheering on Friesan Fire tomorrow and either bragging, or Mea Culpa-ing on Monday.

Until then, thanks for reading!

(Oh, and I finished writing at 11:30. A little editing, a little spell checking. Check the time-stamp. I got it up on Friday as promised!)

1 comment:

  1. Good thing I didn't bet the college fund - but how many folks would have picked a 50-1 long shot? There's a (very) few extremely happy people out there, somewhere...