Tuley's Takes: Lessons learned from Rich Strike's golden Derby


It’s always a letdown in the Tuley’s Takes home office after the Kentucky Derby, especially when we don’t cash a ticket after all that work.

We saw the same reaction from a lot of horseplayers after Rich Strike’s 80-1 upset on Saturday blew up the toteboard, but I was surprised at the vitriol being spewed. Many felt cheated because they thought Rich Strike either shouldn’t have been in the field or automatically assumed he was drugged.

You all know me as a long-shot bettor, and I’m the most forgiving handicapper I know when it comes to giving long shots a chance, but even I was unable to make a case for Rich Strike. However, while others were saying they were not going to bet the Derby anymore because it’s unbeatable, I see it as an opportunity to learn from what happened.

For one thing, even though I lost with what I felt were value plays on No. 8 Charge It and No. 13 Simplification, I feel vindicated with a long shot winning. It proves I’m handicapping and betting the right way as my upside was much better than all the people who lost with chalk. It’s proven successful over the years in racing’s biggest events, especially the Breeders’ Cup, because we get fair odds on horses the public overlooks.

If you listened to people break down this year’s Derby field, I’m sure you heard that certain horses “have no shot.” But one lesson to be learned from Rich Strike’s win is that (as Jimmy Vaccaro told me years ago) there’s a price for everything, whether it’s horse racing or sports betting. Vaccaro famously was the only bookmaker in Las Vegas to offer odds at the Mirage on the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo. All the other books in town were sick of getting beat up in fights by the undefeated Tyson, but Vaccaro knew people would bet on Tyson at any price and that he could get money on Douglas if offered high enough. (Note: I’ve always hated the name “42-1” that ESPN gave to the “30 for 30” film because Douglas was never 42-1 but topped out at 37-1 at the Mirage. You could have laid $42 to win $1 on Tyson, but those are really odds of 1-42 or -4200 as a money line. But never let facts get in the way of a good story.)

Anyway, the point remains that there’s a price for everything, and we all missed it on Rich Strike. Now, I know a ton of people will dispute that, saying he should have been 180-1 or 280-1, but we can agree to disagree. I’m sure many thought they had value on Epicenter at 4-1, while I say that was an underlay in a 20-horse field of 3-year-olds (all of which were pointed to the First Saturday in May for their peak performance).

I always look for a colt I feel is still on the improve and has the right to peak in the Derby. That’s why I liked Charge It; I just landed on the wrong closer. I also thought my underneath horses of Mo Donegal, Taiba and Simplification would benefit from a hot pace, and we got it with an opening quarter of 21.78 seconds, fastest in Derby history.

Another lesson to learn from Rich Strike’s upset, which he almost didn’t have a chance to pull off as he drew No. 21 in the 20-horse field after No. 20 Ethereal Road was scratched, is to not ignore horses on the “also-eligible list.” I learned that lesson early in my horse betting career in the early 1990s. It’s a rookie mistake I’m sure a lot of people made in this Derby (the funniest thing to come of this was the official Derby T-shirt that doesn’t even show the winner because it only listed the original 20-horse field … oops!).

There are times when one of the top contenders in a race is on the AE list for one reason or another, and when they draw into a field, most bettors will say “the connections really wanted in this race because they put it on the AE list,” but they don’t give the same benefit of the doubt when it’s a long shot. After the race, we heard trainer Eric Reid say they wouldn’t have entered their horse if they felt he didn’t have a shot, so drawing in should have been seen as a positive sign.

I didn’t make the mistake of not handicapping Rich Strike and No. 22 Rattle N Roll; my mistake was that I actually had a preference for the latter. In fact, I taped a radio spot for VSiN affiliate WIMA-AM 1150 in Lima, Ohio, last Wednesday and went out of my way to explain how the AE list works. I said not to ignore those horses and that I felt Rattle N Roll could finish in the money if he drew in. Now, why didn’t I say Rich Strike (in which case I would have been scrambling for a copy of that tape!)? After the race, I went back over my PPs and had Rich Strike’s closing kick highlighted in his last two races, but for some reason I sided more with Rattle N Roll’s win in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and his experience in the biggest prep races over Rich Strike’s more recent form. If I was going to rely on one of those colts to return to their form from the fall, what I should have put more stock in was Rich Strike’s 17-length win at Churchill Down in September. Talk about a horse for the course!

Anyway, we move on and hopefully learned some lessons moving forward.

Now, the most common thing I’ve heard in regards to the Preakness and the Triple Crown is that Rich Strike’s win was a fluke and he won’t hit the board. People also point to the fact the Preakness is a shorter race (1 3/16 miles versus 1 1/4 in the Derby) and that Pimlico isn’t as friendly to closers. Plus, there won’t be a shortage of owners/trainers willing to take a shot at the Derby winner.

However, I say we shouldn’t go with the so-called conventional wisdom out there. Yes, long-shot Derby winners often come back to earth in the Preakness, but not always. I remember 1999 when Charismatic won the Derby at 31-1 and everyone said it was a fluke. He went off at 8-1 in the Preakness and won. To a lesser extent, I’ll Have Another won the 2012 Derby at 15-1 and wasn’t the favorite in the Preakness as many considered his win a fluke, but he won the second leg of the Triple Crown at 3-1.

So, I’ll be interested to see what odds we get on Rich Strike, especially against colts he’s already beaten. Check back next week as we take a closer look after the Preakness field takes shape.

Tuley’s Takes on other spring sports

Let’s take our weekly look around the sports betting landscape, though we’ll update these “Takes” on the actual game days in the “Tuley’s Takes Today” version of this column each morning at VSiN.com.

NBA: We continue to be selective with the zig-zag (aka “loser of the last”) theory, but it came through in flying colors Monday. The Celtics beat the Bucks as 1.5-point road underdogs to even their series at 2, while the Grizzlies also covered even though they lost straight-up at the Warriors, who took a 3-1 series lead. I’m leaning toward taking both the Bucks + 5.5 at the Celtics in Game 5 — that series has been zig-zag gold with each team alternating wins so far — and the Grizzlies + 2.5 at home versus the Warriors with or without Ja Morant (note: the Grizzlies fell to 20-6 SU without Morant but still got us the cover in Game 4, so we’re counting on them to play even better at home as they try to send this series back to San Fran — and there’s also a chance to cover again in a loss if the game goes down to the final shot).

NHL: I’ve been writing about this a lot lately in my daily column: the zig-zag theory is actually faring better in the NHL than in the NBA this postseason, sitting at 15-9 (and this is SU, unlike the NBA where we track it ATS). In fact, if you toss out the Avalanche’s sweep of the Predators, the record is 15-6. Anyway, I think I’ll be on the Capitals + 190 at the Panthers in Game 5 on Wednesday. They’ve been able to slow down the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers (there also seems to be a playoff curse associated with teams winning that honor). More conservative bettors might opt for the Capitals + 1.5 -130 on the puck line.

MLB: Our swagger/anti-swagger plays have been faring well, and luckily we dodged one bullet when the Reds snapped their nine-game losing streak in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday and we missed betting them in the second game (they returned to their losing ways against the equally inept Pirates). Anyway, the Astros have MLB’s longest winning streak at seven games heading into Tuesday. For those who don’t know, we would then fade them in the next game after they lose as we say they’ve lost some swagger (note: there are other things that make this angle strong such as teams resting players after the pressure of keeping a long streak alive is gone). The longest losing streak entering Tuesday night (after the Tigers snapped their six-game skid in the first game of a doubleheader) was the Red Sox at five. We’ll be looking to back them as a swagger play after they get a win.

USFL: After going 8-4 in the first three weeks of the season, we’re proud of the fact that we backed off on playing all of the Unders in the USFL last weekend as Overs went 3-1. We did lose our one play on the Stars-Panthers Under 36.5 on Friday night but felt good about passing on the others. Oddsmakers have adjusted even more on Unders this week (especially after the league put in a new rule where the clock keeps running after incomplete passes in the first and third quarters, thus shortening the game) as all are between 33.5 and 36.5, so we’re almost considering flipping to Overs but will make our final decisions later in the week in “Tuley’s Takes Today.” I’ve only played one Week 5 underdog so far – the Generals + 3.5 versus the Breakers on Saturday.

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