Why My 2017 Kentucky Derby Preview Will Be My Last as a Public Handicapper

If one really wants to make a killing wagering on the Kentucky Derby, I’ll have the perfect horse to bet in just a few days’ time.

You won’t want to bet the horse to win, or even to place. My “Derby Horse” has a propensity to finish third, no matter the odds.

So, when my selection to win the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is published on USRacing.com next week, bet the mortgage on my pick to SHOW (don’t really do that — I’m kidding).

This year’s Run for the Roses will be my last as a “public handicapper”. I’m hanging up the ol’ past performances and will be riding off into the sunset to join the other former public prognosticators who just couldn’t hack it any more.

This was my decision and it’s a bit overdue.

In this social media-driven world, few public handicappers last months or years, and my four years in the business isn’t close to being the longest run, but it is far from being the shortest.

My first published selections were for the 139th Derby in 2013. The article, “The Derby as I see It” ran on Dan Tordjman’s website and I’ll forever be indebted to Dan for allowing me to proffer my opinion on every horse that ran in the biggest race on that first Saturday in May.

My choice that year was Revolutionary, who finished third.

But to this day, I can never understand how I didn’t hit the $1 Superfecta that paid $28,542.00 when I read the conclusion of my article:

“I am placing Orb and Verrazano on top of my superfecta tickets.  I feel those two deserve to be the favorites.  But the horse that I am fully backing in the 139th Kentucky Derby is REVOLUTIONARY.  I will play him across the board.  I will play him in a 3/ALL exacta.  I will key him on top of trifectas with 8 other horses.  I will put him in exactas and trifectas under Orb and Verrazano.  The other horses finding themselves on my tickets will be: Golden Soul, Normandy Invasion, Palace Malice, Will Take Charge, and Frac Daddy.”

The order of finish was Orb, Golden Soul, Revolutionary, and Normandy Invasion.

Orb won the Fountain of Youth Stakes en route to winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby (photo via NPR.org).

Orb won the Fountain of Youth Stakes en route to winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby (photo via NPR.org).

Dan allowed me to publish my thoughts on the Preakness and Belmont that year, as well as some full-card selections on a Wednesday at Saratoga.

In 2014, Molly Jo Rosen was the content marketing manager at a wagering website and she asked me if I would be willing to write for it, offering selections. Since I would be paid for doing so, I swiftly agreed.

Molly Jo was, and is still to this day, my much younger and more vibrant mentor in all aspects of horse racing. Even though I’ve been chasing this game for over twenty years, Molly Jo has forgotten more about horse racing than I’ve ever known. Whenever I have a question, she’s always the first person I think to ask.

My first “Player Quick Pick” for the 2014 Rebel Stakes was published on March 15. I tabbed Tapiture as the “most probable winner, Ride on Curlin as the “value horse”, and Hoppertunity and Strong Mandate as “others to consider”.

In those quick picks, I offered wagering options for $20 players and $50 players. For each bettor, I suggested playing a trifecta box of Tapiture, Ride on Curlin, and Hoppertunity.

Hoppertunity won the race, followed by Tapiture, then Ride on Curlin. The $1 trifecta paid $155.10 (I suggested $50 players bet a $2 trifecta box). I was a winner in my first article as a paid public handicapper.

In April of that year, I hit another decent trifecta with my selections when Myositis Dan won an allowance race at Keeneland over Sorpresa d’Oro and Rockford, paying $177 for a $2 bet.

I had some pretty decent success in early 2014 as a public handicapper, but, privately, the year was a disaster for me. I’ve never had such a horrible year picking winners as I did in 2014. I was in a year-long funk.

In the Derby that year, I had my selections again published on Dan’s website and my pick to win it all was Danza. Any guess where Danza finished that year? If you guessed third, you’ve clearly been paying attention.

I was all-in on Danza, as I played him over Medal Count in exactas, and over a slew of horses in trifectas, including California Chrome, the eventual winner.

I would pen a total of 36 player quick picks before giving up the whole endeavor because I could never replicate the early success I had shown. By the time I was finished, it had become a chore for me to handicap the race that I was assigned (I didn’t pick the races, they were picked for me), and submitting picks that I had little confidence in just for the sake of a few dollars didn’t please me much.

And there’s the problem: I care about my public plays. I feel as though I’m a good handicapper, but like most of us who’ve enjoyed this game for decades, I’m a bad bettor.

I have enough self-awareness to know the problem, and grasp the solution, but I also know I lack the self-discipline and self-control to pick the best spots and bet accordingly. I like the action and I’d rather lose money having fun than meticulously and strategically only making a few plays where I have a better chance at the slightest profit.

I’m a “go big or go home” player. That’s not exactly the best thing to be as a public handicapper. I can handle my ups and downs, but the thought that someone might actually read my articles, and lose money based upon my suggestions is something I can no longer accept.

In May of 2015, I wrote that since I had picked the third-place finisher in each of the two previous editions of the Kentucky Derby that if I didn’t pick the winner of the 141st running of the race, I would never again have my Derby pick on the site.

American Pharoah would go on to win the Triple Crown in 2015, and even won the Breeders’ Cup Classic to complete the Grand Slam… but I didn’t pick him to win the Derby. I chose Dortmund.

Dortmund finished third.

Since I’m a man of my word, I didn’t offer my Derby picks to Dan in 2016. I had them published on Scott Shapiro’s now-defunct website. Scott allowed me to publish 28 articles on his site from January 2015 through the 2016 Breeders’ Cup — and I thank him for the opportunity.

This time, my Derby horse didn’t finish third, or help anyone in a superfecta, or the super high-five. I chose Mor Spirit, who finished a disappointing tenth.

In my final article on Scott’s website, I hit the first three races of the late pick-4 that culminated with the Classic. I was singled to California Chrome. In my write-up, I stressed that there was no need to add Arrogate to the ticket, that California Chrome would be the easiest winner of the Breeders’ Cup that weekend.

The pick-4 paid $1,003.25 for a fifty cent bet.

I’ve been giving out bad advice like that ever since.

In February of last year, I started writing for USRacing.com. To date, I’ve had 40 articles published, but not all of them have been as a handicapper. I’ve written some feature articles and, honestly, this is what I want to do from here on out.

I wrote a “Derby rewind” article about 2006 winner Barbaro that was painful to write. I had real emotion researching it, and re-watching his Preakness mishap was just as bad as it had seemed ten years prior.

I wrote an article about the many annual stakes races for the Saratoga meets, and my new-found fascination with the Spa was born. I’m making my first trip to the Spa this August.

Last August, I wrote “The Hidden Hurt: Depression in Jockeys” following the depression-induced retirement of Irish rider Kieren Fallon. For that article, I interviewed a former Chicago-area jockey named Stephanie Slinger, who shared her chilling story about her battle with depression after suffering another in a long line of injuries that are part of a jockey’s reality. She’s doing well now and I’m glad to say that we have become friends.

The best part of writing that particular article wasn’t the fact that it is my most-viewed work to date, but that my editor at USRacing, Derek Simon, told me he was proud of me for the job I had done.

I interviewed up and coming jockey Nik Juarez in February of this year. I’ve enjoyed watching him progress. I interviewed one of my favorite trainers, Tim Glyshaw, at my favorite place on earth — Keeneland.

For Thoroughbred Times magazine, I got to interview Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, as we talked about the twenty-year anniversary of Silver Charm (my all-time favorite race horse) winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1997.

These are the kinds of things I want to write.

So, my 2017 Kentucky Derby preview will be my last as a public handicapper. But that doesn’t mean I’m done writing about horse racing — it’s my passion, and something I plan on doing for a long, long time.

I’ll be concentrating on writing more feature articles and look forward to interviewing the movers and shakers in the industry for many years to come.

But first things first — I need to find my “Derby Horse”.

Ryan Dickey
Ryan Dickey is a full-time firefighter in Dearborn, MI, and a life-long horse racing fan. He is a handicapper and contributor to prominent horse racing Websites as well as a freelance sportswriter/photojournalist. He covers local high school sports and community events for multiple outlets, including bi-weekly newspapers and has over 200 works published to date.

Once again the owner of a race horse, Ryan is president (and currently sole member!) of Firehouse Racing Stables, LLC. This year @FirehouseRacing plans to send its first thoroughbred, That Is So Right (a 4 year old chestnut gelding), to run at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, possibly, Indiana.

Having lived in Las Vegas for six years and working in the sports gaming industry, Ryan knows sports handicapping from “both sides of the counter.” Feel free to contact him on Twitter (@rdickey249) for questions, comments, criticisms, or critiques.

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