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Making Derby score all about beating chalk

The power of the Kentucky Derby is such that for one day everyone becomes a horse racing fan. And for those who follow the sport more closely, the Derby and its supporting races offer the best betting opportunities of the year.

Picking the Derby winner is for bragging rights. Making a profit on Derby day is what playing the horses is about. To make money in betting, you need to beat the chalk. In that vein, I’m handicapping the Derby with the hope of beating two vulnerable morning-line favorites, Curlin and Street Sense.

For Curlin to win the Derby off only three career starts, all wins, and a claustrophobic post 2, he will need to be a freak. A super horse. Maybe he is. But I’ll try to beat him at 7-2 odds.

As for Street Sense, I don’t hold it against him that he has to overcome the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile jinx. He has the best chance of any Juvenile champ to win the Derby.

Trainer Carl Nafzger has Street Sense primed for a top try. I don’t doubt that. However, in watching Street Sense’s races, his three wins came when he sat on the rail or in the two path. In other starts, in which he raced in the three path or wider, Street Sense lacked the closing kick to win.

In my March 16 column, I picked Any Given Saturday from trainer Todd Pletcher as my Derby horse. Now eight weeks later, that has not changed. He lost to Street Sense by a nose in the Tampa Bay Derby. Street Sense had a perfect trip, never leaving the rail. Any Given Saturday raced very wide on both turns and lost by a head bob. He’s fast enough to win, and he’s 12-1 in the morning line.

My second choice is Nobiz Like Shobiz, who beat Any Given Saturday in the Wood Memorial. Trainer Barclay Tagg won the 2003 Derby with Funny Cide, and he openly believes this is a much more talented horse.

One negative — he has yet to run a triple-digit Beyer rating. However, the Derby winner typically breaks through and runs the best race of his life. That can happen with Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Hard Spun is my third pick. Trainer Larry Jones is being criticized for a quick 57 3/5 second five-furlong blowout last Tuesday. But as trainer Bob Baffert once said, good horses are supposed to run fast. I would not be surprised to see Hard Spun, at 15-1 odds, gunning for the early lead.

My final horse to complete the superfecta is Tiago. If the Derby race falls apart, Tiago will be running late just like his brother, 2005 Derby winner Giacomo.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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