(Bloomberg) -- “The horse is training really well.”
This is classic trainer-speak.
When asked before a big race how their horses are doing, they trot out this line, or some iteration thereof, almost without exception. And so as a young handicapper, I quickly learned to take these rosy report cards for what they are: stock answers designed mostly to help keep the horse’s owners -- the folks who pay the bills -- happy.
But when Chad Brown used those exact words the other day to describe Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic, they felt different, more genuine. Brown, you must first know, is an intense, hard-charging, young man who seems to permanently wear a stern, poker face as his horses rack up one victory after another at racing’s biggest venues.
At the mere mention of his star colt’s name, though, he couldn’t contain his emotions. His eyes lit up and the corner of his mouth formed a sly smile despite his intentions to squelch it. He oozed confidence: “I’ve been very, very pleased how he came out of the Derby.”
So pleased, in fact, that Brown put the horse on a van and sent him to Baltimore for a rematch against the undefeated Derby winner Justify in the Preakness Stakes.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into all of this. And perhaps even if Good Magic is doing as well as Brown’s indicating, it still won’t be enough. Justify is a freakish talent. Clearly, he is the most likely winner of the race on Saturday. And so for those of you who don’t care about odds or about potential financial returns and just want the satisfaction of picking the winner, he’s the horse for you.
But as a gambler, what I see is this: the favorite, Justify, will go off at odds of about 1-5 while his top rival, Good Magic, will go off at around 3-1. Now, 1-5 implies the gambling public is assigning the horse a 68 percent chance of winning (after the racetrack’s cut is factored in); 3-1 implies a 21 percent chance. That 47 percentage-point gap is too fat in my opinion. The two horses aren’t necessarily that far apart. Justify only won the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths, after all.
And remember, Good Magic is training really well. The trainer himself said so. I’m betting the horse to win. (Last note: For the more adventurous types out there, consider sprinkling a 30-1 shot named Diamond King into your exotic bets; he can run a little.)
David Papadopoulos, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, is a voter in the thoroughbred industry’s annual Eclipse Awards. He has been publishing his Triple Crown picks since 2012.
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