The Emperor Is Naked
Lynn McDowell


The emperor is wearing nothing at all, but no one wants to acknowledge the fact, especially those with a vested interest in perpetuating the illusion of silks spun of gold. Everyone in the horseracing and handicapping industries loses if the emperor exposes himself. It would be indecent. Sure, you can talk dosage indexes, pedigrees, the Myth of Tamtulia, track records, shadow rolls and blinkers, trainers, jockeys and Lasix all you want. But the bottom line is: with an infinite number of variables ever-present, including post position drawn and mood of the horse, winning the "run for the roses" all comes down to chance and luck. Dan Fogelburg sang it eloquently: "It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance..."

I've eaten the Daily Racing Form for breakfast, read all the books, tried the methods of the professional handicappers and blown wads of cash at Gulfstream and Calder. (But hey, I got Jerry Bailey's autograph.) And guess what? I won as often as when I went with my intuition, or "hunch." Let's face it: if stats, dosage profiles, centers of distribution, etc. told the whole story, Favorite Trick should definitely not be among the elite. His DI is a whopping 4.6. (The only horse in history with a DI over 4.0 to win the Derby was Strike the Gold, and his was, egads, 9.) FT's CD is an embarrassing presumptuous of him to think he can run with the big boys!

Thus, I'd like to share my ideas on existential handicapping with you. We'll compare notes later and see how we fared. Then you can send me half your winnings.

First of all, let's define "hunch." It is my personal acronym for : the Horse is Usually in the Numbers, so take a Chance on Him/Her. And by the time a horse gets to Louisville, he's obviously been in the money, so for the Triple Crown, you just have to go with your gut. Which means, basically, that Helen the Psychic or my dog could pick a winner as accurately as Andrew Beyer. (OK, OK...Beyer was one of the few pros last year to finger Silver Charm for the Kentucky Derby.)

Now let's talk seriously about the upcoming Derby. Forget that dreadful Saturday April the 14th when Favorite Trick was beaten and Lil's Lad was taken out of the game. Let's just blow that whole day off as a bad forelock day. And remember: historically, the winner of the Arkansas Derby does not win the Big D. So...if Favorite Trick had won that on-the-edge-of-your-seat race, or if Mott had decided NOT to run him on May 2nd, we could pretty much count ole Tricky out. But neigh, he's still a contender in my book. (If anyone from the IRS is reading this, I do not mean "book" literally.)

Alright...time to show you my picks. Actually, I have several ideas on who will win the Derby, and they're all based on that maxim: "If horses were wishes, riders would beg." Something to that effect.

So...who do I hope will win? Indian Charlie, of course. Why?? Not because he's a great horse - he's not - but because of the story behind his name. For those unenlightened, I'll explain. There is a backstretch sort of gossip rag / tipsheet written by Eddie Musselman, entitled "Indian Charlie." It pokes fun at (OK, it slams, often crudely) many a stuffed shirt in racing's haberdashery of stuffed shirts. The president of Churchill Downs, (and here I won't mention any names) is oft the target of such irreverent barbs and has banned the paper from the grounds, but alas, it keeps showing up. Now, wouldn't that be a hoot to watch TM get the thorn in his side officially moved to his hands from draping Indian Charlie with the roses?! On national TV, he'll either have to laugh at himself, or show his horse's ass. Though Indian Charlie has stamina; strong bones aren't In Excess with this line...remember the broken promise of Inexcessivelygood?? 'Charlie's dosage profile is fairly good though, and with Gary Stevens riding, we can't discount him yet.

But who do I want to win? Well Event of the Year, of course. We've had a deaf Miss America, so why not a sight-impaired-at-birth Kentucky Derby winner? It's the decade of the politically correct and physically challenged. Come on...where's your affirmative action spirit?? (Now wouldn't that be a super name for a racehorse...Affirmative Action...colt out of Class Act, owned by the EEOC.) Besides, Lil ET had surgery for a twisted gut (technical term - look it up) when he was a wee lad and he won the Derby in '92. Maybe we could even handicap the handicap.....maybe waive the nomination fee if the horse has a disability. (Nah...doubt the NTRA would go for that.) No, seriously...this contender is said to be looking FINE in his early-morning workouts at Churchill these days.

Now...who do I wish would win? I'd like a photo finish between Lil's Lad and Coronado's Quest and a date with Gary Stevens, please. But alas, neither will happen, which will take a lot of the fun out of the 124th Derby. No doubt the professional handicappers are crying in their tea leaves, (due to the horses being pulled, not me and Gary) The dosage indexes and other stats on these two horses are enough to fire the imagination. They also happen to be the only Dual Qualifiers with any promise of smelling the roses. But if numbers don't do it for you...did you see Coronado's Quest in the Wood Memorial?? Mon Dieu! What a ball of fire! But only tragedy could come of forcing him to run the Derby, so Shug has wisely spared us and the beautiful-but-psycho horse that. Watch for him in the Belmont, though, and for the 'Lad next Fall.

Who am I betting on to win? Well, since I've been promoting Favorite Trick for so long now and declaring that he WILL win the first jewel in the crown, and because the guy sure does have a big heart, of course I'll put money on him. You gotta admit, Pat Day and this horse are a dream team. So, what the heck. If he wins (which he won't; Mott's delusional) it might elevate my status to the handicapping elite. I don't mind nudity one bit. And if he loses, well...paddock boots don't taste too bad after a few Mint Juleps.

Who do I just adore but doubt will win? Any parent who has sat through 48 viewings of THE NEVERENDING STORY with their 6 year old child knows the saga of the horse named Artax. How could you NOT love a colt by that name? And with Chris McCarron on board, who knows? Unfortunately...Artax in the movie drowned in the swamps of sadness, which does not bode well for the real life Artax.. Sure hope it's not a muddy track.

Who am I dubious about winning? I still have box-seat reservations about Halory Hunter, even though I am Irish. The sound of his hooves just doesn't have the ring of greatness. He's a big galoot (another technical term -- look it up), and although a fast galoot, not a star-quality one. If he wins it'll be the luck of the Irish. I also think Real Quiet will be Real Far Behind at the finish line, (his DI and CD are worse than Favorite Trick's) and that Old Trieste will be old news on May 3nd.

Don't be too surprised if we get a relatively unknown like Basic Trainee taking the lead after the pacesetters have tired. He's got pretty good numbers, if you can believe the numbers. His jockey has never won a big D, but there's a first time for everything, right?

Who do I not want to win? Cape Town, definitely. (Sorry Jerry.) I get colicky watching a trainer kiss the trophy instead of the horse and jockey. It just rots my socks. So while not mentioning any names, I sure hope this colt is not in May 2nd's money. Or that someone tells DWL how embarrassingly ungracious it is to not kiss your gift horse on the mouth.'s the deal: I'll get my dog's opinion. (Numbered slips of paper in the food bowl.) Then I'll take the list of Derby contenders to Helen and get her pick. Then we'll take a closer look at the DRF, the DPs, the IRS, the FCC, the ATF and the CIA. And of course we'll see what color silks the emperor is wearing.

Then I'll go with my hunch. I think I still have some bourbon left from last year.


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Ó 1998 First Electronics Rights


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