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Best of John G. Brokopp

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America's Greatest Horse Race Also the Toughest to Handicap

15 June 2005

It's rather unfortunate that for a sport desperately seeking to build a new base of fans, the one horse race that everybody pays attention to also happens to be the most difficult of all to predict the winner.

That point was driven home again this year at historic Churchill Downs when 50-1 longshot Giacomo stunned 19 opponents and the entire racing world by winning the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby.

The frustrations experienced by Derby bettors do not necessarily translate to the day-in, day-out races held at tracks around the country. Bettors who take their handicapping seriously often reap the fruits of their labors. Handicapping the races is not as difficult as the Kentucky Derby makes it look.

When it comes to creating new fans, thoroughbred racing's fabled "Run for the Roses" is often the great sport's own worst enemy. Only two post time betting favorites have won the race in the last 20 runnings.

There are many factors which make the Kentucky Derby virtually impossible to predict using statistical data and past performance:

  1. None of the horses has ever run as far as the 1-1/4 mile distance of the Kentucky Derby.
  2. The electric-charged atmosphere, the crowd in excess of 150,000 people, the band and the pageantry can affect a high-strung thoroughbred like no other race in which he'll ever compete.
  3. The unusually large number of horses which compete (20 for this year's running) creates "traffic jams" like no other a horse will ever experience.
  4. The horses are 3-year-olds in various stages of development and very difficult to measure.

What's more, a horse has only one chance in his entire life to win the Kentucky Derby, and he has to be at his finest fettle at approximately 5:35 pm CST on the first Saturday in May. A minor ache or pain, or one missed day of training, and that window of opportunity for sports immortality slams shut forever.

Not a single horse-racing expert predicted that Giacomo would muster a challenge in the race, let alone win. Based strictly on statistics, that certainly appeared to be the case.

Giacomo had won only one of seven starts, and that lone win was his maiden victory at Santa Anita in Arcadia, California last October. When his connections entered him in the Kentucky Derby, he was still eligible to compete in races of far less stature against horses that had no where near the credentials of most of the opponents he faced Saturday.

His opponents in the Derby included a collection of major Grade I stakes winners of the most prestigious 3-year-old stakes run in North America so far this year.

All of the pre-race Derby hype belonged to a colt named Bellamy Road, owned by George Steinbrenner of New York Yankees fame. Many said he would be unstoppable, especially in light of the way he demolished his rivals in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, New York in his previous outing.

So much for pre-race hype. Bellamy Road finished a lack-luster seventh.

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John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp