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Don't Bet the House in This Old Kentucky Home
The Los Angeles Times (Pre-1997 Fulltext); Los Angeles, Calif.; May 2, 1995; JIM MURRAY;

(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1995 all Rights reserved)

A Kentucky Derby is an American tribal rite. It's as American as pumpkin pie. It celebrates, in order, the coming of spring, Stephen Foster, bluegrass, mint juleps, and fast horses. And some slow ones.

"My Old Kentucky Home" might be a brick rooming house where you'd better shower with your wallet in your hand. And don't get in any card games if you don't know the dealer. Count your change, keep your money in a breast pocket and never fade the shooter.

There are some other caveats you will want to observe on Derby Day. Remember, this is the one race a year in which you're sure all the trainers are trying, the horses are ready and the jockeys are leveling. A punter's paradise? Not exactly. Sometimes, dead honest races are the hardest to handicap.

If you're going to Kentucky the first Saturday in May to play the Derby, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Never play the favorite. A favorite hasn't won this thing since Spectacular Bid in 1979. Only 48 favorites have won. And this is the 121st Derby.

2. Never bet an odds-on horse or an entry. Arazi went off at 9-10 in 1992 and finished eighth. Easy Goer was 4-5 in 1989 but Sunday Silence won at 3-1. Even Native Dancer, who went off at 7-10 in 1953, got beaten by 25-1 Dark Star. Olympia, 4-5 in 1949, finished sixth. Bimelech was 2-5 in 1940 but lost. Honest Pleasure was the first horse to take over a million dollars down with him when he lost at 4-5 odds in 1976.

3. This doesn't mean you can shop for a price. Since 1967, since Proud Clarion paid $62.20, no winner has paid 20-1 or more. And there was only one of those.

4. Don't bet any horse in an outside post. Clyde Van Dusen won from Post No. 20 in 1929 and Gato Del Sol won from No. 18 in 1982 but only 14 horses in Derby history have finished first from a post position higher than 10. And 47 winners have come from Post Nos. 1 through 5.

5. Don't bet any undefeated horses in here. Only four have won it. And 14 tried.

6. Don't bet any maidens either. Only three previous non-winners won the Derby, the last in 1933. Fortunately, that problem is pretty much solved for you if a big field applies. The Derby restricts the field to 20 horses now and money won determines the admission if more than 20 apply. But if fewer than 20 want to go, you can, presumably, enter a burro.

7. Don't bet any geldings. The last gelding to win was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. And 69 have tried it without success since then. Only three-Best Pal, Prairie Bayou and Staretor-finished second.

8. I wouldn't throw out the fillies although only three have won it. But only five have tried it since 1980, and two of them won.

9. Don't bet the rider. The greatest jockey who ever rode, Bill Shoemaker, won only four Derbies. And he rode in 26. The great Laffit Pincay is one for 18. When Earl Sande was three for eight, they wrote a poem about him-"Give me a handy guy like Sande." Nobody wrote any poems about Manny Ycaza. He never won it. In nine tries. Neither did the famous "Iceman," Georgie Woolf.

10. Somebody bet on the bay. Bays have won the Derby 55 times. Chestnuts have won it 39 times.

11. Nobody bet on the gray. A gray horse didn't win until Determine in 1954-and only three have won since. Only one roan, the filly Winning Colors, has won the Derby.

12. Don't put your hopes on a foul claim in the Kentucky Derby. In the 121-year history of the Derby, they've taken only one number down on a foul-Gate Dancer in 1984. And he wasn't a winner. He was moved back from fourth to fifth. In the Derby, you have to shoot another rider to have your number taken down. Even that's no cinch. The stewards might decide it wasn't the horse's fault.

13. You might sit in on the fastest Derby ever run. But you won't see the slowest. That honor belongs to the 1968 Derby. That Derby was not declared official for three years and nine months. That's how long it took the courts to declare Forward Pass the winner and disqualify the Derby Day winner, Dancer's Image, for substance misuse. If that was the slowest, Secretariat's Derby in 1973 was the fastest, 1 minute 59 2/5 seconds.

14. Don't drink the water. Without Bourbon in it, that is. Above all, don't ask for Scotch. You're in sour mash country.

15. Bring money. The Kentucky Derby is as important economically to Louisville as the distilleries. Not only do the pickpockets rely on it, so do the cabdrivers, room clerks, hotel chains and strip joints.

16. Bet to win. Who wants a place ticket on the Kentucky Derby? Forward Pass is the only horse who ever finished second that anybody remembers.

17. Wear a hat, drink a julep, and cry when they play "My Old Kentucky Home." And call everybody Colonel.

Sub Title: [Home Edition]
Column Name: JIM MURRAY
Start Page: 1
ISSN: 04583035
Dateline: LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.