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By Mark Vocca

Once again the turf writers are hedging their bylines and carping about the lack of talent entering the 2011 Kentucky Derby. The fact is the field is lousy every year.

Make no mistake, this is a crop of amazingly undeserving entries, but there aren't three great horses in the world, let alone enough 3-year-old colts to muster a compelling Derby. Do you want a sure thing? Twenty are running and one of them will win.

Let's get the wannabes out of the way.

Michael Maker's Twinspired has eight starts, an advantage in conditioning, but runs best on the wimpy rubber tracks.He was walloped in his only start on dirt, and his daddy, Harlan's Holiday, is not regarded as a dirt sire. Twinspired did run gamely in a dull and meaningless Bluegrass. Nonetheless, I'm passing.

Decisive Moment is a grapefruit-bred that has the earnings to run, however has less form than a bowl of grits. Unless your Derby Pool offers a bonus to the colt that finishes last, ignore this Floridian.

Soldat is a need-to-lead type that was among several favorites in Derby preps that threw a dud. If you're inclined to support a wire-to-wire runner, this is your kid. He's not mine though.

Stay Thirsty is the "other" Todd Pletcher with bloodlines indicating the colt that can run forever, but aside from that there isn't much else. The colt is a turtle, and even though the most interesting man in the world may have penned his name, this dude's 50-1 odds won't be enough to interest me.

Brilliant Speed ran his final prep, the dull and meaningless Bluegrass, in exactly the fashion I look for when narrowing my Derby picks. But he's another with no dirt form at all. Relative to his closing kick, I'd endorse the Dynaformer colt at 25-1, but he'll be pounded to 10-1 on Saturday. No way am I investing in that.

Master of Hounds is a European invader conditioned by Aidan O'Brien. Why is he running? Say you're at Threadgills in Austin drinking a Shiner Bock and you look down the bar and see Elizabeth Cook sipping a vodka lemonade. You think, "Not in a million years would she be interested in me." But you scan the crowd and notice that every cowpoke in the place looks like a Carney, so you roll the dice. I'm certain this is what Aidan is thinking. The Hound may prove to be a good horse, but even against this crop he's in too deep.

Bob Baffert's Midnight Interlude won the Santa Anita Derby besting an awful batch of colts. He enters the Derby because he has to, not because he has a chance. If his lack of ability doesn't scare you off, this boy didn't race as a sophomore and there hasn't been a Derby winner in 130 years with that on his resume. The smug Baffert has won this before, so the Cali will be backed on the tote, but not by me.

Comma to the Top is another bad Cali that will run on Saturday. Corey Nakatani has defected, leaving the Peter Miller barn scrambling for a pilot, and though they'll find one, he won't be wearing roses. This year will prove yet again that California Racing is of no consequence to the rest of the sport. Fret not, Cali, you gave us Bakersfield and Buck Owens! C'mon, sing with me, "There's a place down the street we call Sam's Place ..."

There will be three faves this year, and at their projected short odds I'm passing.

For most of the Florida Derby, Nick Zito's Dialed In was cantering somewhere near Key Largo, but coming out of the turn he pounced on the rail, darted to an outside lane and flew home, edging Shackleford by a head. I love closers in the Derby, and he can win it. He'll be shorter than the imp who plays Harry Potter, likely 6-1, and though I love Zito, at that price, I can't support this colt.

The Wood Memorial was to be the coronation of Uncle Mo. The Todd Pletcher colt entered the gate at odds of 1 to Oprah's net worth, and was schooled finishing third. The Whitestone Bridge was packed with jumpers holding $5,000 win tickets, and the stunned racing world compared this unthinkable outcome to the great Secretariat's Wood loss nearly 40 years ago.

First, only an idiot would bet a 3-year old at 1-9 odds. A colt that had distance issues, to boot! What's more is that the Wood is no longer televised nationally, and since casual fans do not visit Aqueduct, how does a colt go off at 1-9 when the wagering pool is seemingly comprised of handicappers?

Regardless, I'm not biting at any odds and I'll let this thing beat me in the Derby. By the way, Big Red could kick this pig's arse with three hooves tied behind his withers and me in the irons.

Rounding out the chalk is Nehro, from the vast empire of Steve Asmussen. He's out of Mineshaft, which means he's a one-run monster. In his final prep at Oaklawn, Nehro proved his late-run 36-1 second in the Louisiana Derby was no fluke, as he came from Texarkana to nearly win the Arkansas Derby. Boy oh boy, are the turf writing dolts lining up now. Thanks to their witless hype, Nehro is already the wiseguy pick on Saturday and will be pounded at the tote. There is no way I can endorse a colt in the Derby that was a maiden 10 weeks ago. I do dig his running style, Asmussen is more than due, and against this bunch the deft Nakatani can pilot him to the win. But 5-1? Get real.

Now let's look at the bombs-away types that I'll use underneath on my exotics.

Santiva represents the Eddie Kenneally barn, with Eddie being the third conditioner in the colt's short, yet admirable career. In the dull and meaningless Bluegrass, he was a beaten, rather trounced favorite, but note that the kid was in it until the final eighth, when Julian Leparoux decided to steer the colt as if he had just left happy hour. I'm tossing the last and at 25-1 will bite.

Animal Kingdom is a lightly raced turf colt with a huge pedigree for stamina. Graham Motion conditions this runner, and though the colt has never touched the dirt, he just ran a very nice six-furlong drill on the Churchill strip. Graham saying go and Robbie Albarado staying on board tells me something. He'll be at least 30-1.

Twice the Appeal is a stalker that is capable of rating smartly and making a move as the others collapse down the stretch. His recent racing form is as good as any of the other runners, though to be fair he did just mail in a stinker workout. His work tabs aren't historically consistent, so I'm not terribly concerned. Jeff Bonde can sure get them ready, and I won't ignore a Cal Borel mount in the Derby. Because he's a relative unknown this Westerner will get monster odds. I'm using him underneath and will toss a hedge 10 on his nose for a Win.

Shackleford is a Dale Romans colt that was ignored in the Florida Derby by the retired old men with the shinola hair and huge shades, and took his 60-1 odds right to the front and nearly won. Although the shinola crowd didn't cash in, it was bombs away for bluehaired ladies wearing their Rockports as they cashed a $339 Exacta. That's a ton of Lime Rickeys!

The Shack has a solid race foundation, has won on the Churchill surface, and will be somewhere in the 30-1 range on Saturday. Here's the bad news: His distance breeding is suspect and he finished his final furlong in Florida in just about an hour, as if the Shack was carrying the Shaq. But the likely Derby fave Dialed In only beat him by a head, and at long odds he's on my ticket.

Pants On Fire comes to Louisville on the heels of winning all the all gumbo at the Louisiana Derby in late March. The Kelly Breen trainee is piloted by a very capable Rosie Napravnik, who takes a stab at becoming the first female jockey to win the Derby. I've invested enough time watching the toothless Borel and his mind-numbing winner's circle interviews, chewing his gums like Grandpa Jones and making Keith Urban fans look smart. Call me a pig, but Rosie is so damn cute it hurts, with that red hair, a little dirt under her brow, the pink silks, man -- this kind of visual pedigree is usually reserved for the Equestrian team at Miss Porter's.

Oh yeah, the colt. He's got plenty of run, but a fast pace will be his undoing, unless Rosie is supremely patient. Breen knows what he's doing, and if you back the Pants, you'd better have faith in Kelly, because not many colts can overcome a six-week layoff and show up at 10 panels. If I wager on him at less than 25-1, it will be a bet for Rosie. Oink, oink. Now for the colts that have the best chance to wear the roses.

Archarcharch is a multiple graded winner that has more stamina than a blue movie gin-boy. I've never been a fan of journeyman Jon Court, but he piloted the son of Arch flawlessly to a nose victory over Nehro in what was the toughest of all the preps, the Arkansas Derby. Since he's out of the little-known William Fires barn, my guess is Archarcharch sneaks off at more than 15-1. This colt is on a nice roll, so ignore him at your own risk.

Toby's Corner is another from the Graham Motion barn, and this one is live. At Aqueduct, Graham put the hood on this dude, and Toby flourished, going all KMAG YoYo on old Uncle Mo Mo. He'll have Eddie Castro in the irons, not one of the glamour jocks, and if Eddie keeps this kid out of trouble early, watch out. His daddy, Bellamy Road, finished seventh as the chalk in the 2005 Derby, but the Tob-man is sure to be 10-1 or higher. You can't pass that up.

At the Louisiana Derby, the Cajuns were all over Kathy Ritvo's Mucho Mach Man and pounded the colt to near even odds. Coming out of the gate, this boy lost his shoe, but Rajiv Maragh admirably controlled the colt and the Macho Man gutted it out and finished third, losing only by a neck. Macho has a ton of experience and has run against larger than average fields in most of his starts, but the knock is that Kate has rested this dude for six weeks, and that is anti-profile for a Derby winner. He will enter the gate in the 15 to 20-1 range, and that is a very appetizing price for a colt of this nature. So I've narrowed it down to eight colts and will use various combinations to catch a bomb. In closing, though, understand

that when I toss the chalk in this race, it's relative to the odds of the other colts. Odds of 5 or 6-1 are in most races quite generous, and if you nail two of the three faves in an Exacta, you'll cash a $100 ticket, and that's not shabby at all. Five of the last 10 Derby winners were the chalk, so wager in your comfort zone, not mine. Bon Chance.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 3, 2011