Place Your Bets

But whatever you do, don't place them on the favorite in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Late last month, though, Arapahoe Park and the horsemen finally agreed to a 37-day 2000 meet, and the out-of-state TV feeds were suddenly back in business -- just in time for the Kentucky Derby. But no one expects Colorado horse racing's political and financial problems to vanish. Live racing has become a marginal proposition in many states because of competition from state lotteries, casino gambling and other forms of entertainment. Colorado, never a strong racing venue, continues to backslide in terms of live "handle" (money wagered), attendance and racing quality. A few more wrangles like the punch-up between Arapahoe and the horsemen, and thoroughbred action here could canter off into the sunset.

For now, the happiest fellas in town have to be the founders of Colorado Private Reserve, the upscale Cherry Creek betting-parlor-cum-social-club that's due to open soon. Memberships in the posh club, which boasts a first-class restaurant, are going for $4,000 to $25,000, and they might have looked a lot less attractive without a piece of this spring's Triple Crown action. Less well-heeled Denver-area OTBs include Red & Jerry's in suburban Sheridan, Havana Park in Aurora, the Mile High Turf Club next to Mile High Kennel Club (now called Wembley Park), the dog track itself and Arapahoe Park.

So. Who will win the 126th Kentucky Derby? Your handicapping (and your guess) is as good as mine, for in the last five years, I've developed a nagging case of "seconditis." In 1995 I picked Tejano Run in these pages at 8-1, and he ran second to Thunder Gulch. In 1996 our pick was 10-1 Cavonnier, who lost by half a nostril to Grindstone. I did come up with $10 winner Silver Charm in 1997, then ran way out of the money in Real Quiet's 1998 Derby. Last year we finished second again with fifth-choice Menifee.

That said, we're taking a flyer Saturday on the aforementioned Aptitude, who will likely go off at odds of 15-1 or more. This is not just a contrarian's bid to beat the favorites. A son of A.P. Indy and Dokki, Aptitude is bred for the distance, as evidenced by his driving third-place finish behind Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial and an acceptable Dosage Index (don't even ask) of 2.58. With one win, a place (in the Grade III Gotham) and a show (in the Grade II Wood) to his credit in 2000, he's drilling well at Churchill and seems to be coming to hand for capable trainer Bobby Frankel. A likely rider change to Santa Anita star Alex Solis won't hurt a thing, and if Aptitude can get a clear run at the leaders in the long home stretch at Churchill Downs, he just might get under the wire first. In the exacta and trifecta betting, we're hooking him up, first and second place, with The Deputy, War Chant, Captain Steve and, inevitably, Fusaichi Pegasus.

Looking for another dark horse? Take a long look at Unshaded, the surprise winner of April 22's telling prep, the Lexington Stakes. If that race didn't take everything out of him and he gets into the Derby, he could be the fittest of the fit.

On the other hand, if Fuse-Peg, the $4 million dollar man, wins the thing, guess I'll have to eat sushi for a week. From a styrofoam bowl. In the darkest corner of the OTB parlor. With empty pockets for company.

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