2016 Kentucky Derby

I met Doug O’Neill under trying circumstances. (See the article, Three Days with Doug O’Neill, http://halveyonhorseracing.com/?p=1412). He had recently been suspended by California and would not be able to see one of his best runners, Goldencents, defend his title in the BC Mile. He had been the subject of numerous disparaging remarks in the public media and was perhaps at the lowest point in his career.

I didn’t know quite what to expect, but what I found was a man who was anything but down. I liked him immediately. A lot of trainers might have carried around anger and bitterness given the treatment by both California and New York, but O’Neill focused on the future, a future he believed would be bright.

Turns out he was far more blessed that he could have anticipated in those down days. Some people spend a lifetime trying to find that one great horse. O’Neill has found a few – Lava Man, Goldencents, and I’ll Have Another were all horses of a lifetime – including the horse that might be the best of them all, Nyquist.

There is one thing about O’Neill that convinced me he was an A+ human being. The loyalty of his clients and his friends. You don’t keep owners like Paul Reddam or Glen Sorgenstein, or first rate horsemen like Jack Sisterson and Leandro Mora, or the Santa Monica crew who have stuck by him through all the ups and downs without being a first class guy. He gave his brother Dennis deserved credit for selecting the horse out of the 2015 Florida sale, and the underrated Mario Guttierez recognition for giving the horse the perfect ride. But while he seems to give everyone else credit for his successes, make no mistake. He is the leader of Team O’Neill and he inspires his team to bring out the best in the horses under their care. He makes it all work.

Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, gave the world the phrase Don’t Panic, a phrase Isaac Asimov called perhaps the best advice humanity was ever given. Steve Rothblum, one  of the core members of Team O’Neill, may not have been thinking of Hitchiker’s at the time, but he recognized O’Neill’s best characteristics – “He delegates authority and he never panics.” No wonder his owners and employees alike think the world of him. Count me among the fans of Doug O’Neill, both as a trainer and as a human being.

O’Neill and his team executed their plan with Nyquist to perfection. For all the doubters who thought Nyquist wasn’t bred to get the Derby distance, or who thought O’Neill was crazy to bring the horse to the Derby off a sprint in California and one two-turn race in Florida five weeks before the big race, Team O’Neill has proved them all wrong. If anyone doubted the true ability of O’Neill as a trainer, Nyquist should have put those doubts to rest.

Much like the time Team O’Neill puts into getting their horses ready to run, many of us spend a lot of time handicapping the Derby. I spent dozens of hours reviewing race videos, checking out pedigrees, analyzing running times, looking at the workouts and reading as much pre-race news as I can.

I divided my Derby horses into three categories. “A” horses were those I believed could win the race. “B” horses were those I thought could be part of the verticals. “C” horses were those I believed had no chance to win the race or be part of the combination bets.

My “A” horses were Nyquist, Exaggerator, Gun Runner and Creator. They finished 1,2,3 and 13th. My “B” horses were Mohaymen, Destin, Brody’s Cause, Lani, Mor Spirit, and Outwork. They finished 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 14th.

That was the exacta and trifecta with my “A” horses, the superfecta with one of my “B” horses, and only two of 10 identified horses that didn’t finish in one of the top 10 slots.

Now, some people might say this was an easy Derby. After all, the first four choices finished in exact order. But I won’t make any apologies. The handicapping turned up what it turned up. All you can ask of a public handicapper is that he give you the horses that give you an opportunity to collect. And in reality, the prices were pretty damn good considering which runners came in. You could have aggressively bet the exacta, turning 2/1 and 5/1 shots into a $30 payoff. You could have aggressively bet a trifecta that paid $173 dollars. It wasn’t that far to catch a Superfecta that paid $542. If you bet a mere $100 into the race keying Nyquist and spreading your money intelligently, it would have been hard not to collect $2,000.

I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I gave you the information you needed to make money in the race. I didn’t guess. I made a confident decision based on sound handicapping and research. As I often say, if the exacta pays $30, the most you can collect is $30 on each ticket. Every other bet is just a losing ticket.