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Countdown to Kentucky Derby begins in earnest

Saturday, April 12, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM

It's three weeks before the big day for thoroughbred racing on the big stage, the Kentucky Derby. The last two major prep races are this weekend, including my current favorite for this year's Run for the Roses and a big field prep which will be contested the final time on Polytrack.

At Keeneland Racetrack in Kentucky, the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes gets a full field of 14 runners, even with one also eligible runner. This will be the final running of this event on a synthetic surface, since Keeneland will be going back to real dirt this fall. It remains to be seen if any of this field has a legitimate shot in the Kentucky Derby on dirt. But, from a wagering standpoint, this race could give you a nice bankroll for the First Saturday in May.

The 3-1 morning line favorite is Bobby's Kitten (#5), trying the polytrack surface for the first time in his career. This speedy Ramsey/Brown turf runner will most likely go to the Derby with a victory today. I'll definitely go against him here at those odds with my top selection Asserting Bear (#1), who in his last start closed in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, going this same distance on polytrack. With several speedsters entered here, his late closing kick might just work today at his 15-1 morning line odds. For second, I'll go with a recent winner here last week in the off-the-turf Transylvania Stakes, Medal Count (#13). He looked sharp and drew off to win going 1/16 of a mile shorter in only his second synthetic track start. Coastline (#11) will round out my trifecta after just missing in the above mention Spiral Stakes.

At Oaklawn Park, they are running their marquee race of the meet -- the Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles. Here, I'm going with my top Kentucky Derby prospect at press time, Tapiture (#3). This consistent runner trained by Steve Asmussen has been in the money in all his six lifetime starts. He got out-kicked in his last start by Hoppertunity in the Rebel Stakes, but had a sharp victory coming off a layoff in the Southwest Stakes here at Oaklawn.

In the runner-up spot, I'm going with the other horse who was in that photo with the two previously-mentioned horses, Ride on Curlin (#4). Another consistent 3-year-old, he was game on the inside in the Rebel and should be a price again. Commissioner (#6) gets one more chance today as my third selection. He has disappointed in his last two stakes starts and races at his fifth track in six lifetime starts.

On a personal note, tomorrow is the birthday of my best friend, the late Frank Colvin. Frank past away last December after a long illness and our friendship spanned nearly 40 years. Whether it was Cub Scouts or Little League in our youth or our love of collecting baseball cards and going to concerts later in life, Frank was a good friend to me throughout the years. We spent a lot of good times together in the 80s and began a partnership as DJs in the 90s.

Like myself, Frank enjoyed wagering on the ponies and going to the races. We took many trips to Saratoga and in 2000 made a trek to Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and Finger Lakes on our way back to the Mohawk Valley. Frank also ran a few good handicapping tournaments which were very popular with our friends in the Fort Plain/Canajoharie area. He would be the first to bust my chop if my selections didn't win and would call me the king of favorites with some of my picks. But, he would also be the first to give me credit with a big score, especially the day I won the Funny Cide wager in the 2003 Preakness. I wanted to mention him in my column and stress that friends last forever, even though they aren't with us in body anymore. Happy birthday Frank, I miss you.


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