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Ace trainer takes his hat off to his Derby betting strategy

04/30/2014, 12:00am EDT
By RICK BOZICH BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

LOUISVILLE — Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he has a winning strategy for betting on the Kentucky Derby: boxing seven horses in a superfecta wager.

Lukas isn’t ready to give me the names of the seven horses that he believes can run 1-2-3-4 in Derby 140 Saturday at Churchill Downs. He told me he needs two more days to observe the Derby contenders on the track and to study their past performances.

Paul Hornung, Lukas’ long-time buddy, said the trainer is as good at handicapping the Derby as he has been at winning the race — and Lukas has four Derby victories, tied for second all-time, as well as one second and five thirds.

“He’s a lucky son of a gun,” Hornung said.

“That’s how I bet it all the time, and Paul will tell you I get along really well,” Lukas said.

Please note that this is not an inexpensive betting proposition. Boxing seven horses in a $1 superfecta would be an $840 wager. Reducing your wager to a 10-cent superfecta still would require an $84 wager. Proceed with care.

One horse that Lukas definitely will include in his seven-horse wager will be Derby favorite California Chrome. Lukas likes the Santa Anita Derby winner. Strike that comment. He loves California Chrome.

“He’s looked very impressive to me,” Lukas said. “Beautiful mover. Very, very efficient. He’s looked like the real deal. I don’t care how his pedigree is. Don’t underestimate his connections either.

“Victor Espinoza is a good rider. [Trainer Art] Sherman has been around long enough that he knows what to do. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating his connections.”

Lukas said that he moved onto the California Chrome bandwagon after the colt cruised to a 7 ¼-length victory in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes March 8 at Santa Anita.

“When he waltzed around there and ran the mile in 1:33, two things came to mind,” Lukas said. “I’ve got Will Take Charge coming three races later, and this track is seriously fast.

“But I don’t care if they pave it, when you run 1:33 with a 3-year-old that early in the year, you’ve got something to work with. I like everything about him.

“If another horse has a special day, he can get beat. I think the 20-horse field can beat him. I don’t see the mile-and-a-quarter beating him. I think he’s OK there. I’m just guessing.”

What about the critics who are chirping that Sherman erred by not working California Chrome at least once on the Churchill Downs racing surface before the Derby?

“That’s way overrated,” Lukas said. “Waaaaaay overrated. I won all of my major races in America, whatever I’ve got trophies to represent, I’ve won them coming in on Wednesday and Thursday. Working over the racetrack is way overrated.

“Not a factor at all. In fact, it’s a negative, but I don’t want to get into that.”

Lukas also didn’t want to get into the names of the six other horses he will include in his seven-horse Derby superfecta wager. He does like Ride On Curlin and Wicked Strong.

But he was not ready to commit to them. I’ll check with him again and try to share his picks on Friday.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and WDRB-TV Louisville. Rick Bozich is a columnist for WDRB.

Twitter @rickbozich.

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