A ‘Rocket’ shot in the Kentucky Derby


LAS VEGAS – I crept into the semi-circular blue vinyl stand at the South Point bookie, with friends John Murges and Sean Alvarez, to watch the Army-Navy football game.

The Kentucky Derby was nowhere on my radar.

That changed at half-time.

Murges, 58, a Chicago native and professional punter, is a longtime resident of Sarasota, Fla., Who was visiting Alvarez this second weekend in December. We had coordinated this meeting for months.

Alvarez, 38, is from San Diego, a Del Mar track veteran with a wealth of thoroughbred knowledge and connections. He had moved to Vegas in early 2021 to get closer to the action and betting options.

I’m checking out the equine rumors of Alvarez and Ron Flatter, a former colleague and longtime friend who edits and writes for Horse Racing Nation.

Murges, Alvarez, and I yelped over the recent betting conquests, the perks of upcoming college basketball games, the in-game shenanigans of the Middies and Black Knights playing on the big screen.

I would introduce both legendary punter Jimmy Vaccaro and NHL handicapper ace John “The Barber” Taddio to passers-by.

So Alvarez lowered his voice.

Dawg rocket.


It happened on the # 27 bus on the way to school. Fourth year. A buddy had scrawled the 13 participants – including Shecky Greene, named after the famous Chicago-born comic – of the 1973 Derby on strips of paper, putting them in a cap.

For a dollar, fish a strip into a ball. The winner takes it all. I picked up Secretariat. Mighty Bay, led by jockey Ron Turcotte, became the first horse to complete the famous 1¼ mile Churchill Downs race in under two minutes.

Twelve dollars in profit. Jackpot. The horses entered my radar. At the San Diego State Brotherhood, a group of us reduced to ponies, turning Cappers Corner in Del Mar into home port.

Ralph has already paid a price for picks including “Five Diamond Game of the Year” Jamoke, which won Race 3 on August 16, 1987. To his detriment, Steve forgot to box an exacta. Sean W. has often benefited from the wonderful career of John Henry.

For me, Deshawn L. Parker has earned the status of Favorite Jockey for his consistent dividends over the years. I’ve written about races, including Cigar’s first loss, in 17 trips, to Del Mar in 1994 in Dare And Go.

Director Joe Pytka’s 1989 film “Let It Ride” might better encapsulate the sport of kings when Trotter, played by Richard Dreyfuss, meets the coach whose advice leads to a win and “a very good day” for Trotter .

“You never know,” says the coach. Trotter replies: “I agree. Even when you know, you never know!


Next is Rocket Dawg.

Alvarez rarely dabbles in such future lottery-type games, but it was different. He liked Rocket Dawg because TVG broadcaster Caleb Keller liked him.

Rocket Dawg is coached by Brad Cox, who taught the essential quality, winner of the Belmont Stakes last year. The Dawg won its first race, at Churchill Downs, on November 19. Jockey Florent Geroux brought the colt home in a 5½ length triumph.

In mid-December, Flatter said that Rocket Dawg – a son of Classic Empire, the 2-year-old male horse of the year in 2016 – “ticks a lot of boxes.”

On December 1, Circa Sports opened the odds for the Rocket Dawg Derby at 100-1. He was 70-1 when Alvarez hit, after Army-Navy, so someone else knew that too. I also have 70-1. An acquaintance of the Murges risked $ 200 at 35-1. Murges caught 25-1.

Rocket Dawg odds fell to 15-1. It was becoming a household name. He left the gate on Sunday as the Gun Runner Stakes 4-5 favorite at the New Orleans Fair Grounds.

He started off miserably. “Rank,” wrote a scribe. Rocket Dawg didn’t even end up in the money. Alvarez saw him rush to sprint with the early leaders.

Geroux, who had passed everyone else in Churchill in November, wanted to “pick up” or hold back, Alvarez says, to forge a similar route.

“He wanted to replicate the first effort,” Alvarez said of Geroux. “And if he did, he wins this race, in my opinion. Rocket Dawg wanted to run earlier in the race and used up his energy, before he could run, fighting Florent.

Flatter adds: “It was spent halfway. It is a worry and an alibi. If Brad cures him of this, there is cause for optimism. “


Rocket Dawg is now 35-1 at Circa, 45-1 at Caesars Sportsbook in William Hill. Alvarez will invest more if he hits 60-1.

A path to Louisville, where the next Derby is scheduled for May 7, 2022, is certainly more complicated for Rocket Dawg.

“I guess Cox will work on his traffic [issues], and we’ll see where he points Rocket Dawg next, ”Alvarez said. “Everything makes sense with this horse. I liked having the [original] bet before everyone else.

“I would expect most people to wait at least two to three weeks to see how he fares and come out of this race, as well as to make sure Brad always points him to the Derby.”

It’s time, says Alvarez, for Cox to fix what went wrong in Louisiana.

Alvarez laughs when I ask him if I hexed Rocket Dawg.

“No. I don’t believe in spells, unless you count the money before you get it.

I do not. But if Rocket Dawg spirals, I’ll go back to my patented method of picking ponies.

Pull a piece of paper out of a hat.


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