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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, May 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM



Derby Day is the proverbial long day’s journey into night for the media hordes Saturday at Churchill (first post 10:30 a.m, final post 7:50 p.m.), without simulcast races no less, so the press corps needs to find ways to occupy the time.

One of the most popular ways is to play the "last place pool" -- which obviously requires the contestant’s horse to finish last.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Four years back, for instance, a horse named Mine That Bird was the choice on 90 per cent of the ballots in the last-place pool, and we saw what happened. Even Animal Kingdom two years back garnered a lot more last-place votes than first-place votes.

Hey, there wasn’t all that much buzz about I’ll Have Another either.

This year’s Derby is stranger than fiction. Yes, we’ve got the winners of all the major Derby preps -- the Wood, the Florida Derby, the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby, Blue Grass, Spiral -- in the field -- and any one of them is as likely to finish last as first.

What boggles the mind (at least my mind) is that two major players have been abandoned by their world-class riders. Johnny V takes off Orb, who will go favored, to ride Verrazano, and Castellano takes off Revolutionary to ride Normandy Invasion.

Yes, I know the old bromide about the best deal at the racetrack is to have the betting concession in the jocks’ room, but you would think these two guys, who live and breathe Derby 24/7, would have an idea what they’re doing.

Imagine the second-guessing if Orb or Revolutionary should win.

Personally, I have had Orb on top in my Derby Top Ten on this venue for months, but that doesn’t mean I’m picking him on-line or on my red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). Hint, I will have him in my top four.

But if you look at the run-up to the Derby, you would think Orb is a cinch. The buzz on Orb in Louisville is so strong this week that the Churchill oddsmaker called an audible, and switched from Verrazano to Orb as his morning-line favorite. That’s heresy in his business...but great for headline writers.

Orb will make a great story if he should win. After all, he will be flying the same cherry red and white colors that the tragic Ruffian, one-two with Zenyatta as the greatest filly/mare of all time, flew a generation back .

Janney III, Orb’s owner/breeder, is the son of Janney Jr., who owned Ruffian.

Even if we concede that Orb is the best horse going in, that doesn’t make him a winner. Derby history is loaded with tales of the best horse getting beat.

And before you go crazy over Orb, consider that, besides his jock deserting him, his sire (Malibu Moon) did his best work sprinting, and he faces the great unknown -- the legit prospect of moisture on the track.

Only two horses in the field of 20 -- Vyjack and Itsmyluckyday -- have won on a sloppy track, begging the question: wouldn’t Midnight Lucky and Itsmyluckyday make a hunch Oaks/Derby daily double?

That hunch pales in comparison to this one.

Did you realize that five of the Derby 20 have war-related names -- Revolutionary, Lines of Battle, Java’s War, Normandy Invasion and Oxbow? How’s that for a five-horse box?

And, speaking of five-horse boxes, why not spend a few bucks and box the five Pletcher horses -- Verrazano, Revolutionary, Palace Malice, Overanalyze and Charming Kitten?

Clearly, Todd is determined to improve on his 1-for-31 Derby record. He has had barricades surrounding his Churchill barn all week, with 24-hour security to keep those pesky reporters and cell cameras at a respectful distance.

The last time a Derby trainer employed such security was in 2005 when Zito built a fortress around his barn -- and none of his five horses (including the favored Bellamy Road) wound up hitting the board.

So contrary to what colleague Beyer writes in Saturday’s Form, who knows? Here’s saving you the seven and a half bucks. Andy says Goldencents is a cinch. But I fear that, as usual in the Derby, Andy will be a dollar short and a year late.

On the other hand, my Derby record is beyond belief, and beyond reproach. You can look it up -- especially the part about eight winners (none of them favored) in a span of 12 years.

Which is why, of course, the Hot Line is such a valuable handicapping commodity at Derby time.

I’m asked all the time what is my secret to my Derby success.

My answer is very simple. I’m looking for the horse (horses) peaking on Derby Day. This year is no exception. None of my top three picks won one of those big-time races mentioned above.

With few exceptions, most horses don’t maintain their form for long periods. I want the horse who is prepared to run the race of his life in the 11th at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong. But I’m right a lot more often than the next guy...or doll.

This year, like every other year, Derby trainers love their posts. In fact, the Toddster went a step further. He loves all five posts (and I’m sure all four of his posts in the 10-filly Oaks).

And trainer McPeek was equally happy with his posts -- Frac Daddy (18) and Java’s War (19).

It’s impossible to predict what will happen at the break, but it’s safe to say that jockey Gomez, riding Vyjack from the 20-hole, will do his best to muscle his way toward the inside, and thus inflict permanent damage on the two McPeek horses. Maybe 18 and 19 won’t be so great after all.

Then there is Mylute.

His daddy, Midnight Lute, was a champion sprinter (owned by the same folks who have Midnight Lucky in the Oaks), but trainer Amoss tried taking him back in the Louisiana Derby, and -- from post 11 -- he closed widest to miss by a neck to Revolutionary, who saved all the ground.

And in the Derby, Mylute will be at least twice the price as Revolutionary.

Roses for Rosie, Mylute’s rider?

Not impossible.

And it’s not impossible that trainer Lukas will be there somewhere. Which is more than you can say for his buddy Baffert. Oxbow and Will Take Charge, who cost a combined 675K, both have shown flashes.

Yes, it’s that kind of Derby. A Derby where you are just likely to finish first or last. No superstars in the bunch, but a lot of nice horses, most of whom can win

Amd what a day for sports!

The Kenticky Derby, Nets-Bulls Game 7, a full MLB slate, and a championship fight in Vegas.

A sports fan’s dream. And a sports bettor’s dream.

Let’s knock ’em dead.

Starting with the 11th at Churchill.

Again, thanks for checking in. Don’t forget this is a special time for the JP Hot Line, and see you back here next Friday.

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