Horse Tack Review

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A Horse, of Course

Don Blazer

I trained racehorses for a lot of years, and while I had a lot of “winners,” I never owned or trained, The Winner! The Winner was officially named, The Winner, but didn’t exactly run like the winner in the big race. The Winner raced in the 1896 Kentucky Derby and finished seventh in a field of eight horses.

Now there are a lot of ways to pick the winner of a horse race. Some people study the past performances, some like to the select their champion by looking at the colors of the silks, some handicappers close their eyes and stab their finger at the program. One of the owners I trained for played two numbers and only two numbers—3 and 9. Unless her horse was 3 or 9 she wouldn’t place a bet. When her horse was 3 or 9, everyone bet on the filly; she had a habit of winning.

The horse’s name can be a pretty good indication of just how well or how poorly the horse will run.

Lost Cause ran 13th in the 1882 Kentucky Derby, and Linger ran last in the Derby of 1893. In 1928 Strolling Player strolled along and finished last in a field of 22 horses.

Picking a name associated with money would seem like a good bet, but not when selecting a Kentucky Derby horse. Goldmine ran in the very first Derby in 1875 and finished last in a field of 15 horses. Bullion was 9th in 1976, beating only two horses. One Dime was 6th, Goldseeker was 9th, Money Broker 8th, Gold Bay 11th and Billionaire a dismal 20th.

The only two horses with “money names” to win the Kentucky Derby were Twenty Grand in 1931 and Black Gold in 1924. A hunch player might have played Black Metal in 1954, but Black Metal is not Black Gold and finished 13th.

If you were a big hunch player, the 1892 Derby would have been to your liking. There were only three horses in the race, and the way to pick them was in alphabetical order---Azra, Huron and Phil Dwyer.

Twenty per cent of the time you can pick the Kentucky Derby winner by selecting a very simple man’s name.

Joe Cotton won in 1885 and Ben Ali won in 1886; Ben Brush and Ben Elder finished one, two in the 1896 Derby. Manuel won in the 1899, as did George Smith in 1916, Omar Khayyam in 1917, Paul Jones in 1920, Zev in 1923 Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, Tim Tam in 1958 and Tommy Lee in 1959. Then, of course, there was Smarty Jones in 2004.

There were three horses with people’s names in the Derby of 1910. Of course they finished one, two, three—Donau was the winner, Joe Morris placed and Fighting Bob picked up the show dough. Unfortunately there wasn’t trifecta wagering in those days.

Doctors are really bad finishers. Not a single doctor has won the Kentucky Derby. Dr. Catlett was third in 1897, and Dr. Shepard was 4th in the same race. Dr. Barkley was third in 1909, but Dr. Behrman finished 12ht and Dr. Neale finished 15th in their Derby appearances.

Gallant horses started well, but finished poorly. Gallant Fox won the Derby in 1930, with Gallant Knight a close second. Gallant Sir did not live up to the standard, finishing 8th in 1932 and Gallant Man was upset by Iron Liege in 1957.

The name system seems like a sure thing, until…..

I couldn’t pass on a horse named “Blazes.” But I should have; Blazes finished 6th in 1920. Luckily I wasn’t around in 1920, so I didn’t lose any money.

By name, there is only one horse for me in the Kentucky Derby. “Don B” looked like a cinch to win the Derby in 1968. I did bet on him!

I did lose! Don B ran seventh.

And that’s when I knew the name system wasn’t going to make me rich. Maybe it’s better for you.

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Reprinted with permission from Don Blazer.