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2012 Kentucky Derby Preview, Part 1
by Eddie Keen

The Run for the Roses is a thorny mess if you are a sports handicapper because of the depth and talent of this yearís Kentucky Derby field.

You have to go back quite a few years to find a crop of 3-year old thoroughbreds this strong to make it to the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, which makes picking a winner a difficult exercise for veteran railbirds and novices alike.

However, if you are a good handicapper and can weed through some of the misleading prep efforts over the past few months, a major reward awaits at the end of the 1 ľ-mile classic on May 5.

The bottom line is you will get value on elite horses you may never see again and you could see prices on exotic wagers like exactas and trifectas that light up the tote board at Churchill like it is the Vegas strip.

Of the 20 three-year olds that have earned enough graded stakes earnings to start in the Derby, it could be argued that more than half the field has a legitimate chance to not only run well, but win. That should be reflected in the odds, which will benefit the shrewd touts who can piece together a winning trifecta or superfecta ticket.

Consider a few angles on the upcoming race:

In late March, Union Rags - trained by Michael Matz of Barbaro fame - was most expertsí clear-cut Kentucky Derby favorite. At that same time, three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffertís up-and-coming star Bodemeister was questioned for not racing as a 2-year old and was somewhat unproven.

Oh, how things changed for those two prime contenders.

Union Rags ran a troubling third in the Florida Derby behind front-running winner Take Charge Indy and jockey Calvin Borel to slow the buzz around his candidacy as an easy choice as morning-line favorite. Later in the prep season, Bodemeister decimated the field at the Arkansas Derby, winning by more than 9 lengths. The 108 Beyer speed figure was the highest number for a Kentucky Derby prep race this year and it was his third consecutive triple-digit Beyer while no other contender has more than one such speed figure.

Bodemeister has rocketed up most Internet betting sites to the top of the probable favorites at odds of 9-2 or 5-1. If you are in love with his latest effort at Oaklawn and that is the case, getting 5-1 in a 20-horse field on a thoroughbred who might end up being a superstar for the ages is an absolute steal. If you have questions on Bodemeister, look at it as you will never see 5-1 on this horse again if he keeps running this well. So it is a win-win Ö unless he doesnít win!

Union Rags has a lot of people making excuses - and rightfully so - for being put in racing jail during the Florida Derby and he canít possibly get a ride that poor again in Kentucky. However, with 19 rivals over an untested distance, nothing is for sure for Union Rags. What is for certain, is the horse is trained by a man who knows how to get his contender to the gate in top shape (see the 2006 romp by Barbaro) and Union Rags has wins in the Champagne and the Fountain of Youth to highlight an impressive resume.

So, letís assume Bodemeister and Union Rags are 1 and 2 on the morning line at 9-2 and 5-1 or something close to that. If that is what transpires, WOW! That leaves a big group of talented 3-year olds primed to go off at very enticing odds.

Gemologist is unbeaten and just won the Wood Memorial - a major prep race each Kentucky Derby season. Could you really get an undefeated Todd Pletcher-trained horse off a big-time victory at 8-1? Sounds too good to be true.

Dullahan seems to have the perfect stalking style and late kick to win the 1 ľ-mile challenge, and he is coming off a rally in the Blue Grass Stakes to knock off BC Juvenile champ Hansen. But Dullahan could go off at double-digit odds of 10-1? Really?

The Santa Anita Derby winner Iíll Have Another should be somewhere in the 15-1 range. Went the Day Well is taking the exact same path as 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom with the same connections and he might bring back value of more than 20-1!

Horses of tremendous ability that on any given day with the right racing luck, post position and trip could win this race like Alpha, Creative Cause and Hansen will bring back huge prices.

Folks, if you like gambling even if you donít like horse racing, this is the year for you.

A major ticket is waiting the winner of this race. Even if three ďfavoritesĒ finish 1-2-3, remember, that is possibly two horses with double-digit odds on a trifecta ticket in a 20-horse field. There are hundreds - no, wait - thousands of dollars just waiting for you to head to the window and cash.

What are you prepared to do?

Things should clear up the next two weeks with workouts and the post-position draw on May 2.

Start doing your homework now - it could pay off on the first Saturday in May.

If youíre looking for winning picks, be sure to hop on board Eddie Keen!

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