Handicapping the Kentucky Derby
MAY 01, 2013 8:28p ET
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Mike Battaglia didn't want to dispute John Asher on stage at the draw party for the 139th Kentucky Derby, but Battaglia did think Asher got something wrong. Battaglia's been doing the morning line for the Derby for a long time but maybe not quite the 40 years Asher, the vice president of Racing Communications at Churchill Downs, told the audience.
"I think it might be my 38th, so it's close. It's been a lot," said Battaglia.
Battaglia's opening line forecast for Saturday's Kentucky Derby has Orb as the 7-2 favorite, followed by Verranzano at 4-1 and Goldencents at 5-1. Orb drew the No. 16 gate out of the 20-horse field, with Verranzano two spots inside of that at No. 14 and Goldencents, the horse owned by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, coming out of the No. 8 hole.
Battaglia didn't change his mind about the top five horses after the post-position draw, leaving Revolutionary with three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel the fourth choice at 10-1 and Normandy Invasion at 12-1.
Battaglia spends longer days and hours working on the lines for the Derby field than any other race.
"You don't just put it together," said Battaglia. "Handicapping is always tough. I don't care if it's a four-horse field, handicapping is tough. I've done a lot of jobs at the track and people ask me what's the toughest thing I've ever had to do at the track, and I've said 'gamble.' I'm telling you. You change your mind when you go to the window. That's tough. It's a very tough thing to do. Not many successful gamblers."
Battaglia said several factors go into making a morning line, including some that people wouldn't think about at first.
"Mylute, I probably would have made 30-1 in any other race," said Battaglia of the horse being ridden by jockey Rosie Napravnik. "But I made 15-1 because it's the Derby and Rosie was just on '60 Minutes' last week. All the women come and they bet on Rosie and all of a sudden a 30-1 shot is 12-1. It happens."
Pitino, who led Louisville to its first NCAA national title in 27 years less than one month ago, visited the track Wednesday morning for Goldencents' workout. Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby in his last start on April 6 and is trained by Doug O'Neill, who won last year's Derby with I'll Have Another.
"I've seen him on the West Coast work. I don't know what the hell I'm looking at so what do I know?" joked Pitino. "Obviously we're rooting for Goldencents but the Derby you never know traffic-wise... If we don't win it I'd like to see someone like Shug McGaughey win it. He's never won a Derby and he's been a great trainer and a friend of mine. Certainly I'd love to see a Goldencents-Orb exacta. That would be awesome but you never know. It's not like basketball where you can look at a team and say 'well they have a little more firepower.' You just don't know in the Derby because you don't know who is going to get into racing trouble."