HORSE RACING

BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

BELMONT STAKES 2014

First Edition

 

When:  Saturday, June 7

Where:  Elmont, New York

TV:  NBC at about 4:30 with early coverage beginning on NBC Sports Network at 2:30.  The race is scheduled to go off at 6:52

The factual information contained herein is from The Daily Racing Form (drf.com), and bloodhorse.com.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted.

 

If you have read or heard anything about this year’s Belmont Stakes, you know California Chrome will be running to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history, and is the 12th to attempt the feat since it was last won by Affirmed in 1978.  The 36-year drought easily surpasses the 25-year gap between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973.

Chrome is clearly the fastest and most accomplished three-year old this year.  His ten opponents in Saturday’s race have won a combined one Grade I.  Chrome has now won three in a row, part of a six-race winning streak.  But there are plenty of good three-year olds who have failed in their attempt at the Triple Crown.

One of the biggest factors in why winning is so difficult is the track itself.  The Belmont oval is 1 ½ miles long.  By contrast, both Churchill Downs and Pimlico are only a mile.  Jockeys talk about how you can get “lost” out there.  It may sound improbable  -  and, of course, is not literally true  –  but the sweeping turn as you head into the stretch seems to go on forever.  Richard Migliore was quoted in Bloodhorse.com: “The problem is you’re not three furlongs from home at that point.  You’re probably four and a half furlongs from the wire.  And once you give the horse that cue, you can’t take it back.”

The cue to which Migliore refers is that signal the jockey gives the horse to pick up the pace.  If Victor Espinoza decides to move too soon, he will join a growing list of jockeys blamed for costing their horse the Triple Crown because of a premature move.

There was an interesting piece by Jay Hovdey in the Racing Form on Chrome’s exercise rider Willie Delgado.  The horse appears to be very intelligent.  It took him a couple of days to adjust to the track at Churchill Downs, leading to negative reports on how the colt appeared.  Delgado says, “It took us a good two days to figure out” Belmont.  “Me especially.  I was lost out there.”  But the rider says that Chrome now knows where the poles are.

Of course, he will have a rider on his back for whom it is even more important to know where he is.  Espinoza decided to stay in New York this week and get some experience on the oval.  But he only rode one race on Wednesday and Thursday, and is only scheduled on one for Friday.

Incidentally, the New York Racing Association has put together an outstanding undercard for this day, the best you’ll see between Dubai’s World Cup Day in March and the Breeders’ Cup in November.  There are ten stakes in all, nine of which are graded, including six Grade I’s.  The first post is 11:35.  For the earlier events, you will probably need a horse racing channel, but NBC Sports Network picks up coverage at 2:30 before switching over to NBC at 4;30.. Post time for the Belmont is 6:52.

 

THE FIELD

Here is the field in post-position order with trainers and jockeys.  The numbers in parentheses are Beyer speed figures where the higher the figure the better.  When there is more than one number in the parenthesis, the most recent comes first.

1)  Medal Count  (Dale Romans/Robby Albarado Jr.)  -  When you are owned by Spendthrift Farm and your debut is a $30K maiden claiming race at Ellis Park, it is safe to say your connections were not saying beforehand, “If we don’t win the Derby, we’ll get the Belmont.”  Correction:  According to the Daily Racing Form, his first start was in a Maiden Special Weight, not in a claiming race.  He has three wins in eight career starts, but one was on turf and the other two came off the turf.  In his first two races carded for dirt he lost by a combined 26 lengths (84, 59), but then ran a troubled trip at Churchill, finishing a respectable eight, 7 ½ behind.  He has been training spectacularly at Churchill since then, breezing bullets of 59.2 and 1:10.3 on May 31.

2)  California Chrome  -  (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza)  -  No one has been more impressive than this guy.  He has won his last six starts and has yet to be challenged seriously.  One of the biggest concerns going into the Derby was whether he would have bad luck or a horrendous trip.  He had neither, and won quite comfortably.  There has been some discussion about whether his winning Beyer of 97  -  the lowest since Andy Beyer began computing them for the Derby and a full 10 points under Untapable’s 107 in the Kentucky Oaks the day before  -  indicates he is not that good.  But his preceding two figs  -  107 in the Santa Anita Derby and 108 in the San Felipe, means he has easily been the fastest horse in this field.  His Preakness fig of 105 is in line with those two.  His 12 starts are more than anyone in the field, with ten coming in California.  On Saturday, he turned in a visually impressive breeze of 47.3 with a strong gallop-out.  His trainer became the oldest to win the Derby at 77, surpassing Charlie Whittingham’s victory as a 76-year old with Ferdinand.  The “feel good” narrative doesn’t stop there.  His owners declined $6 million for a share of the colt before the Derby, and the winning jockey donates ten per cent of his earnings to fight cancer in children.

3)  Matterhorn    (Todd Pletcher/Joe Bravo)  -  He is one of two in here with only four career starts, finishing fourth by 6 ¼ lengths to the other one, Tonalist, in the sloppy Peter Pan (92).  He has a single win, and there is little to suggest he can win this race.

4)  Commanding Curve  (Dallas Stewart/Shaun Bridgmohan)  -  I only know of two handicappers who liked this horse going into the Derby where he finished second (94).  Pro football player Wes Welker cashed $14,000 worth of tickets, and passed out $100 bills to strangers as he left the track.  This apparently caught the attention of Churchill Downs which then announced they had overpaid Welker and wanted their money back.  The other was my cat Barton, who had the colt in his top three picks along with California Chrome.  That exacta came back at $340, but all Barton got for it was some tuna fish.  Unlike Welker, he did not want to share his largesse with his brother.  As For Churchill, they engendered enough bad publicity before the Derby, so they should probably have just kept quiet.  So the second finisher in the Derby must be a logical choice for the Belmont, right?  Coincidentally, this trainer and jock partnered last year in bringing home another longshot to run second behind Orb.  Here is where Golden Soul, who is on the undercard, has finished since:  ninth (in the Belmont), seventh, eighth, ninth, fifth (losing by 24 lengths), and seventh.  This ridgling’s only win and best finishes all came at Churchill Downs.  He has shown a slowly increasing Beyer pattern, so maybe I should not be considering him the second-coming of Golden Soul.

5)  Ride On Curlin  (Billy Gowan/John Velazquez)  -  A trainer who has a mere 11 starts this year, with one win, puts Hall of Fame rider Johnny V on the colt, making him the fifth jockey in his last five starts.  The lone win this year for the trainer came with this guy, who scored in a six-furlong Gulfstream allowance (74).  That was followed by two third-place finishes, a 10-length defeat by Tapiture in the Southwest (80), but then missing by only a length to Hoppertunity in the Rebel (98).  He moved up to a second in the Arkansas Derby (94), 4 ¾ lengths behind Danza.  He had a difficult trip in the Derby (87), finishing seventh, 6 ¾ back.  He was moving at the end of the Preakness (103), but never threatened the winner, finishing a good second, 1 ½ back.

6)  Matuszak  (Bill Mott/Mike Smith)  -  You cannot ignore these connections in a big race.  That’s also the only reason to not immediately toss the horse.  He broke his maiden (71) by a neck at Churchill in September and has been winless in his last seven starts, with his best finishes being a third in the non-graded Private Terms (83) at Laurel, and then a second in the non-graded Tesio (83) at Pimlico.

7)  Samraat  (Rick Violette/Jose Ortiz)  -  This colt is New York’s entry for the Belmont,  with owner Leonard Riggio and trainer Violette being fixtures on the state’s racing scene, and the horse being the only NY-bred in the field.  He began his career with five wins, including gutsy efforts in the Withers (94) and Gotham (96) on Aqueduct’s inner track.  He then was bested by Wicked Strong in the Grade I Wood Memorial (89), finishing second by 3 ½.  Those two came back in the Derby (89), finishing together, 5 ¾ back with Strong being credited for fourth and this guy fifth.

8)  Commissioner  (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano)  -  He broke his maiden at Saratoga (78) going 1 1/8 miles, so I guess Pletcher thought the colt could handle a distance of ground.  His only subsequent win came in his next race (91), on January 3, at the same distance.  His best performance in three Derby preps was a seven-length defeat in the Sunland Derby (90), finishing a well-beaten third to Chitu and Midnight Hawk.  He hit his top Beyer of 96 in the sloppy Peter Pan, finishing second, four behind Tonalist.

9)   Wicked Strong  (Jimmy Jerkens/Rajiv Maragh)  -  He is being called the “Boston horse” because of his name and the fact that the office for the partnership that owns the horse is located there.  He has two career wins from seven starts, including an impressive score in the Grade I Wood Memorial (104).  He had a troubled trip in the Derby (89), but finished a decent fourth, 5 ¾ lengths back.  He had a very impressive work at Belmont on Sunday, breezing a 59 flat bullet.

10)  General a Rod  (Mike Maker/Rosie Napravnik)  -  He is one of only three horses to run in each leg of this year’s Triple Crown.  I did not like him in the Derby (85) or Preakness (92), and there is no reason to back him now.  He has two career wins, breaking his maiden at Keeneland (65) when Napravnik last rode him, and in a non-graded stake at Gulfstream (92) on New Year’s Day.  His owner for the two wins sold him immediately before the Derby without retaining a share, giving you an idea of what he thought the colt’s Derby prospects were.

11)  Tonalist  (Christophe Clement/Joel Rosario)  -    One of only three entrants with a win on Big Sandy, although his came on a surface better described as Big Sloppy.  His four-length score in the Peter Pan (103), Belmont’s traditional prep for the Belmont Stakes, put him into the picture.  He has only four career races under his girth (and only one since February 22), and projects to be seriously overbet given the Peter Pan.  Nonetheless, I never ignore horses trained by Clement.

 

THE WEATHER

The weather is unlikely to be a factor with the National Weather Service predicting a sunny day in the low 80’s.

 

ANALYSIS

 

$29.60, $7.50, $51.50, $28.00, $25.80, $79.00.  Those are the winning parimutuels for the last five runnings of this race, so a bomber has become the norm rather than the chalk.

Having said that, I do not like the chances of the following longshots (with their morning lines in parentheses):  Matterhorn (30-1), Commanding Curve (15-1), Matuszak (30-1), Commissioner (20-1) and General a Rod (20-1).

I don’t think either Samraat (20-1) or Tonalist (8-1) will win, the former because he is not fast enough and the latter because of his light racing history.  Either, however, can hit the board.

That leaves a foursome of Medal Count (20-1) California Chrome (3-5), Ride On Curlin (12-1) and Wicked Strong (6-1).  I think Chrome is the most likely winner, but cannot put a win bet on an odds-on favorite.  My longshot pick is Medal Count.

 

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

Barton missed picking the Preakness because we were apart for the week leading up to it, although he did watch the race intently.  As I worked on this analysis, he only demonstrated interest  -  getting up on my lap and purring loudly  -  as I wrote about Commissioner.  When I started writing about Matuszak, he suddenly stopped purring and got down.

©  Tom Noonan 2014

 

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BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

PREAKNESS STAKES 2014

Only Edition

 

When:  Saturday, May 17Where:  Baltimore, MarylandTV:  NBC at about 6:30 with early coverage beginning on NBC Sports Network

The factual information contained herein is from The Daily Racing Form (drf.com), and brisnet.com.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted.

 

The Preakness is always somewhat of an anticlimax.  After months of build-up for the Derby, the Preakness is all about whether we will have a horse going for the Triple Crown  -  at the Belmont Stakes.  Instead of the countless charts listing all the Derby possibilities, we are down to humdrum coverage focused only on whether California Chrome can get the second leg.

Even those who contested the Derby are mostly on the sidelines.  Twenty-one horses were entered, nineteen ran, but only two of them are showing up at Pimlico to challenge Chrome.  There is a filly entered, but not the star Untapable, but one whose chances of winning are only slightly better than mine.

 

THE FIELD

Here is the field in post-position order with trainers and jockeys.  The numbers in parentheses are Beyer speed figures where the higher the figure the better.  When there is more than one number in the parenthesis, the most recent comes first.

California Chrome  -  (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza)  -  No one has been more impressive than this guy.  He has won his last five starts and has yet to be challenged seriously.  One of the biggest concerns going into the Derby was whether he would have bad luck or a horrendous trip.  He had neither, and won quite comfortably.  There has been some discussion about whether his winning Beyer of 97  -  the lowest since Andy Beyer began computing them for the Derby and a full 10 points under Untapable’s 107 in the Kentucky Oaks the day before  -  indicates he is not that good.  But his preceding two figs  -  107 in tha Santa Anita Derby and 108 in the San Felipe, means he has easily been the fastest horse in this field.  His 11 starts are more than anyone in the field, with ten coming in California.  His trainer became the oldest to win the race at 77, surpassing Charlie Whittingham’s victory as a 76-year old with Ferdinand.  The “feel good” narrative doesn’t stop there.  His owners declined $6 million for a share of the colt before the Derby, and the winning jockey donates ten per cent of his earnings to fight cancer in children.

General a Rod  (Mike Maker/Joel Rosario)  -  If you thought you had the Derby winner, would you sell him Derby week without keeping a piece of the ownership?  Now that the colt is no longer owned by Armando Rodriguez, it will be even more important for commentators to say, “he’s not named after the baseball player,” an observation that is close to becoming part of his name.  He spent the winter dueling with Wildcat Red in Florida, besting him in the Gulfstream Park Derby (92) before falling a head short in the Fountain of Youth (101).  He was on the pace in the Florida Derby (96) before weakening and finishing third, 1 ½ behind Constitution and Wildcat Red.

Ride On Curlin  (Billy Gowan/Joel Rosario)  -  A trainer who has a mere eight starts this year, with one win, replaces Hall of Fame rider Calvin Borel, making the fourth jockey the colt has had this year.   At least his lone win came with this colt, who scored in a six-furlong Gulfstream allowance (74).  That was followed by two third-place finishes, a 10-length defeat by Tapiture in the Southwest (80), but then missing by only a length to Hoppertunity in the Rebel (98).  He moved up to a second in the Arkansas Derby (94), 4 ¾ lengths behind Danza.

Pablo Del Monte  (Wesley Ward/Jeffrey Sanchez)  -  The colt  loves Keeneland’s synthetic surface, twice winning impressively as a two-year old (90, no Beyer) and running 3rd in the Blue Grass where he hit his Beyer top of 91.  In two dirt starts at Gulfstream he didn’t embarrass himself, running 3 ½ lengths behind Wildcat Red and General a Rod in the Gulfstream Park Derby (85), and then 5 ¼ behind the former in the Hutcheson (84).  Nothing suggests this guy will be the Derby winner.

Bayern  (Bob Baffert/Rosie Napravnik)  -  The speedy colt was DQ’d in the one-mile Derby trial after drifting out and brushing his rival.  He won his first two races impressively, then led in the Arkansas Derby before fading to third, 5 ¼ lengths behind the winner, but only a half-length behind Ride On Curlin.  Given the way he has tired in his last two starts, I am not sure the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness is what he wants.  He is also getting his third blinker change in five starts (this time they are coming off), a sign that Baffert has yet to figure this guy out.

Dynamic Impact  (Mark Casse/Miguel Mena)  -  He took five starts to break his maiden, and then won the Grade III Illinois Derby by a nose.  Since that win came at odds of less than 10-1 after breaking his maiden by only a neck, it suggests we are not talking about a stellar group of three-year olds he beat.

Kid Cruz  (Linda Rice/Julian Pimentel)  -  He is the only entrant to race at Pimlico, where he won the traditional Preakness prep, the ungraded Federico B. Tesio as the even-money favorite in a six-horse field.  In November he was claimed from Bill Mott for $50,000, indicating that the Hall of Fame conditioner did not think he had a Classics winner on his hands.  The colt also won the ungraded Private Terms at Laurel, and this will be his first try in a graded event.

Ria Antonia  (Tom Amoss/Calvin Borel)  -  In a sport where there is no shortage of horse manure, excrement of the bovine variety is also in plentiful supply.  It is, however, going to be difficult to top Amoss’ statement prior to deciding to run this filly in the Preakness:  “I would not run a horse unless I thought we had a shot to win.  People who know me and know my reputation, know that’s the way I operate.”  Well I guess he is to be given some credit for providing cover to the filly’s owners, for whom Amoss will be their fourth trainer in her last seven starts.  And technically, she is one of only ten with a shot to win.  But here is her record.  After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on a DQ (81), she has not won in three starts, once losing by 14 (75) and, most recently, 15 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks (XX).  Her Beyer top is 85 when finishing second as the even-money favorite in the Santa Anita Oaks.  Admittedly the big losses were to Untapable, who just may be the best three-year old in the land, but she also finished behind other fillies.  Nonetheless, I will always have a sweet spot for her after a win bet in the Breeders’ Cup that paid $66.60.  It was particularly nice since my spouse had bad-mouthed the connections for even entering her in that race.  (My wife, by the way, is solely responsible for our only tax ticket last year, picking all six winners on a joint pick 6 ticket.)

Ring Weekend  (Graham Motion/Alan Garcia)  -  Another entrant who took five starts to break his maiden, and then went on to win a stakes, the Grade II Tampa Derby.  That was followed, however, by a big fade in the Calder Derby, losing by nine after being up on the pace.  While I have a lot of respect for the connections, it’s hard to make a case for this guy winning.

Social Inclusion  (Manuel Azpurua/Luis Contreras)  -  I suspect this will be the wise-guy horse, although picking one that was heavily favored in its last race is not exactly cutting-edge.  He was brilliant in his first two starts, winning by a combined 17 ½ lengths.  He went to the Wood Memorial for his third career start and was favored over an undefeated colt, as well as the winner, Wicked Strong.  After leading the entire way, he faded to third, 3 ½ back, behind the Derby’s fourth and fifth-paced horses.  He obviously has a lot of talent, but will have to contest with other front-running competitors.  His trainer, who refers to 77-year old Art Sherman as “Kid,” would be the oldest to ever win the Preakness at the age of 85.

 

THE WEATHER

The weather is unlikely to be a factor with the National Weather Service predicting a sunny day in the 70’s.

 

ANALYSIS

 

Chrome.

 

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

Barton is on holiday and will not be making a selection for this race.  This is particularly disappointing since he picked the Derby exacta, which came back at $340.  His third Derby selection, incidentally, was General a Rod, who is not named after the baseball player.

 

©  Tom Noonan 2014

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BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

KENTUCKY DERBY 2014

Final Edition

 

When:  Saturday, May 3Where:  Louisville, KentuckyTV:  NBC at about 6:30 with early coverage beginning on NBC Sports Network
  • “if you’re going to gamble on it,

                  you’re going to box a few horses” D. Wayne Lukas 

  The factual information contained herein is from a number of sources, including The Daily Racing Form (drf.com), BloodHorse.com, thoroughbreddailynews.com and links from the indispensable equidaily.com.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted. Wicked Strong profile updated with underlined material on Saturday morning. Tapiture, who as I finalize this, is worth a wager at 38-1. There is the traditional sense of great anticipation as we approach the 11th race on The First Saturday in May on the Churchill Downs card.  This year, however, the race is only partially responsible.  Most  -  if not all  – of the racing industry is waiting to see what Joe Drape of The New York Times will be dropping in what is becoming his standard negative article about horse racing during Derby week. But the Derby is the Derby  -  it is truly America’s race.  While I write about various racing issues on my blog, I am going to refrain this one time from describing some of the troubling things going on at Churchill Downs the company and save it for another time.  This day is for excitement, mint juleps and the greatest two-minutes in sports.   THE FIELD Here is the field in post-position order with trainers and jockeys.  The numbers in parentheses are Beyer speed figures where the higher the figure the better.  When there is more than one number in the parenthesis, the most recent comes first. 1)  Vicar’s in Trouble  (Mike Maker/Rosie Napravnik)  -  Rosie will be odds-on to win her second Kentucky Oaks  -  the only woman to win that race  -  and trying to become the first woman to win the Derby.  After breaking his maiden by 13 in a state-bred event at the Fairgrounds (98), he won the LeComte by 6 ¾ (97), ran third in the Risen Star (87) where he broke from post 13, and then wired the Louisiana Derby (97).   All three of the colt’s wins have come on the lead, which may not be the place to be in the Derby.  He is also breaking from The Dreaded One Hole, meaning that he has to get out real fast in order to avoid being lost in crush of horses moving toward the rail. 2)  Harry’s Holiday  (Michael Maker/Corey Lanerie)  –  Keeneland probably did not use the photo-finish camera to decide whether his 28-length defeat in the Blue Grass (48) warranted a 13th-place finish instead of the 14th of Vinceremos.  Since his three efforts prior to that were all on synthetic surfaces where he hit the board in each of them (85, 66, 85), it’s hard to blame the track.  In the four dirt track efforts beginning his career, he had two wins and a second (74, 73, 58).  This is Lanerie’s first Derby mount after 3500 career wins. 3)  Uncle Sigh  (Gary Contessa/Irad Ortiz Jr.)  -  He is one of two New York-breds in a race that has seen only one win in its first 139.  He had a nice run on Aqueduct’s inner, breaking his maiden by 14 ½ before running a close second to Samraat in two Grade III’s.  He then showed little, however, when finishing fifth, 8 lengths behind Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong. 4)  Danza  (Todd Pletcher/Joe Bravo)  -  His win in the Arkansas Derby (102) at 41-1 was easily the biggest upset of all the Derby preps.  In three career starts prior, his top Beyer was the 81 achieved when he finished a half-length behind the winner in the Saratoga Special.  His lone start after that was a 7 ½ length loss in an optional claimer at 7 furlongs at Gulfstream. 5)  California Chrome  -  (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza)  -  No one has been more impressive than this guy.  He has won his last four starts by a combined 24 lengths, including a 5 ¼ length score in the Santa Anita Derby (107) that he made look like a jog in the park.  Along with his San Felipe Beyer of 108, he owns the two best numbers in the field, and his Santa Anita Derby would have been considerably higher if he, you know, actually ran hard.  He has more starts than anyone in the field, with all ten coming in California, with six of his first seven starts on synthetic surfaces.  His trainer would become the oldest to win the race at 77, surpassing Charlie Whittingham’s victory as a 76-year old with Ferdinand.  Sherman’s last trip to the Derby was in 1955 when he came as the exercise rider for Swaps. 6)  Samraat  (Rick Violette Jr./Jose Ortiz)  -  He went into the Wood Memorial five-for-five, winning on every available dirt surface in New York (except for the Finger Lakes) since Labor Day and was not even favored.  While he earned his Beyer top of 98 in the Wood, he was no match for Wicked Strong, finishing 3 ½ in arrears. 7)  We Miss Artie  (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) – Owner Ken Ramsey is racing’s equivalent of Secretary of State John Kerry, once dubbed “Liveshot” because of his seemingly innate ability to find the nearest video camera.  That’s why this colt is here.  His three career wins came on either turf or a synthetic surface, and in his last dirt effort, he finished 17 lengths out of it in the Fountain of Youth.  He followed that with a win Turfway’s Spiral, ensuring him of sufficient points to get in the starting gate.  If that’s not enough to inform your decision, trainer Pletcher was quoted after his last work saying, “I’m not sure at all if he should be running in the Derby.”  That should get you to empty your wallet. 8)  General a Rod  (Mike Maker/Joel Rosario)  -  If you thought you had the Derby winner, would you sell him Derby week without keeping a piece of the ownership?  Now that the colt is no longer owned by Armando Rodriguez, it will be even more important for commentators to say, “he’s not named after the baseball player,” an observation that was close to becoming part of his name.  He spent the winter dueling with Wildcat Red in Florida, besting him in the Gulfstream Park Derby (92) before falling a head short in the Fountain of Youth (101).  He was on the pace in the Florida Derby (96) before weakening and finishing third, 1 ½ behind Constitution and Wildcat Red. 9)  Vinceremos  (Todd Pletcher/Joe Rocco, Jr.)  -  Nothing says “peaking at the right time” more than a last-place finish in your final prep, finishing 28 lengths behind the winner.  The good news is that was in the Blue Grass (48), on Keeneland’s synthetic, and not on dirt where he has a four-for-four record finishing in the exacta (90, 82, 73, 69). 10)  Wildcat Red  (Jose Garrofalo/Luis Saez)  -  He has compiled an impressive resumé at Gulfstream Park with four wins and three seconds, with two of the W’s coming in graded stakes this year (101, 96).  He dueled through the stretch with Constitution in the Florida Derby, coming up short by a head (99). 11)  Hoppertunity  (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith)  -  SCRATCHED  Every year there is an entrant who will try to break a curse even longer than that of the Chicago Cubs (says the Red Sox fan, smugly).  The last Derby winner who did not race at two was Apollo in 1882.  This colt, however, has five races this year, including four at a mile or longer.  He won Oaklawn’s Rebel (100) before running second in the Santa Anita Derby (98), 5 ¼ lengths in arrears to California Chrome.  I think there is a good reason why horses unraced at two do not win on the First Saturday in May (at least going 1 ¼ miles).  There is a saying among marathon runners  -  “you can’t fool the marathon.”  You need a solid base to run that far and young horses need a solid foundation to cover those ten furlongs. 12)  Dance With Fate  (Peter Eurton/Corey Nakatani)  -  Five of his eight career starts, including his win in the Blue Grass Stakes (97) have been on synthetic surfaces.  His two dirt starts were both in Grade I’s, finishing second in Santa Anita’s Front Runner (77) and eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (72), where he was 9 ¼ lengths back.  While I am having a difficult time seeing him wearing roses, I do not think a spot in the super is out of the question. 13)  Chitu  (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia)  -  He is a lightly-raced but solid performer.  He is a half-length away from being undefeated, having been bested by Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis.  He rebounded from that effort in the Sunland Derby, drawing away to win by 2 ¼ with a career best Beyer of 102. 14)  Medal Count  (Dale Romans/Robby Albarado Jr.)  -  When you are owned by Spendthrift Farm and your debut is a $30K maiden claiming race at Ellis Park, it is safe to say your connections were not saying beforehand, “This is our Derby horse.”  He has three wins in seven career starts, but one was on turf and the other two came off the turf.  In his two races carded for dirt he lost by a combined 26 lengths (84, 59).  It makes the decision to run in the Blue Grass (94) on a synthetic surface puzzling, unless the only purpose was to get points and into the Derby field, and not actually win it.  He did, however, finish second in that event, 1 ¾ lengths behind. 15)  Tapiture  (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr.)  – This guy was on the cusp of being a top choice for the Derby when he ran a dismal fourth, 7 ¼ back, at 2-1 in the Arkansas Derby (90).  He already had three decent efforts at Churchill, including a 4 ¼ length win in their Grade II Jockey Club (83).  He returned this year to win Oaklawn’s Southwest by 4 ¼ (98) before missing by a half-length in Hoppertunity’s Rebel (99).  While his effort was puzzling  -  on a track where he had run well  -  he was coming from a barn that was undoubtedly in a high state of turmoil following the PETA video and Joe Drape article. 16)  Intense Holiday  (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)  -  Every year there is a buzz horse who attracts considerable attention because of his appearance and the way he moves over the track.  Last year it was Orb;  another year it was Animal Kingdom.  This year, it’s this colt by Harlan’s Holiday.  He has two career wins in eight starts, one in the Risen Star (97).  He then had a troubled trip in a second-place finish 3 ½ lengths behind Vicar’s in Trouble in the Louisiana Derby (91). 17)  Commanding Curve  (Dallas Stewart/Shaun Bridgmohan)  -  Along with Tapiture, he has the most experience racing on the Churchill strip with three two-turn races as a two-year old in Maiden Special Weights.  This year he was sixth in the Risen Star (83) and third by 5 lengths in the Louisiana Derby, earning his top Beyer of 89.  There is no reason to think he will be the Derby winner. 18)  Candy Boy  (John Sadler/Gary Stevens)  -  It took four starts for him to break his maiden, but he has since placed in three graded stakes, including a win in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis (96).  He was sent off at 5-2 in the Santa Anita Derby (92), but finished 9 lengths behind California Chrome, barely holding on to the third-place finish he needed for sufficient points to get in the field. 19)  Ride on Curlin  (Billy Gowan/Calvin Borel)  -  Three-time Derby winner Calvin Bo-rail gets the mount for a trainer who has a mere seven starts this year.  At least his lone win came with this colt, who scored in a six-furlong Gulfstream allowance (74).  That was followed by two third-place finishes, a 10-length defeat by Tapiture in the Southwest (80), but then missing by only a length to Hoppertunity in the Rebel (98).  He moved up to a second in the Arkansas Derby (94), 4 ¾ lengths behind Danza. 20)  Wicked Strong  (Jimmy Jerkens/Rajiv Maragh)  -  This colt suddenly burst on the scene with an impressive win in the Wood Memorial (104), pulling away to win by 3 ½ lengths.  It was only his second career win, and followed unimpressive efforts this year at Gulfstream (87, 67).  While it would be nice to see the son of Allen Jerkens win with his first Derby horse, concerns have been raised about both his lack of focus while training, and possible gate problems.  Mike Welsch of The Daily Racing Form  said that in his first two days at Churchill he seemed preoccupied with the new enormous score board, but improved noticeably as the week went on, so that Welsch concluded he is coming into the race the right way.  If he was distracted by the scoreboard, however, how do you think he will handle the noise level at Churchill, both during the walk over from the barns beforehand and breaking right next to the grandstand? 21)  Pablo Del Monte  (Wesley Ward/J Sanchez)  –  SCRATCHED  The colt  loves Keeneland’s synthetic surface, twice winning impressively as a two-year old (90, no Beyer) and running 3rd in the Blue Grass where he hit his Beyer top of 91.  In two dirt starts at Gulfstream he didn’t embarrass himself, running 3 ½ lengths behind Wildcat Red and General a Rod in the Gulfstream Park Derby (85), and then 5 ¼ behind the former in the Hutcheson (84).  Nothing suggests this guy will be the Derby winner.   THE WEATHER The weather is unlikely to be a factor with the National Weather Service predicting a sunny day in the 70’s   ANALYSIS   When I first started writing this over 20 years ago, I had several absolute principles in picking the winner.  I’m down to three.  One  -  the need for a race at two  –  is not a factor this year with the scratch of Hoppertunity.  Another is the need for a good race in the final Derby prep.  It doesn’t have to be a win, but it does have to be a finish not more than four or five lengths behind the winner.  The final one is competitive Beyer figures  -  if not triple digits, then the high 90’s. The need for a good last race eliminates Harry’s Holiday, Uncle Sigh, Vinceremos, Tapiture, and Candy Boy.  The need for top Beyers eliminates We Miss Artie, Medal Count, Commanding Curve and Pablo Del Monte. That leaves us with a mere 11.  I won’t go with Vicar’s in Trouble because of the post.  Dance With Fate is out because of a campaign that does not look like prepping for a dirt race. We are down to a more manageable nine.  Six have run triple-digit Beyers, with only California Chrome doing it twice (in his last two races).  Samraat has put together four in the high 90’s, between 95 and 98.  I think that is a level of consistency that is admirable and portends what is referred to as a “useful” horse, but I think the consistency may mean he has reached his limit on the Beyer scale.  So I won’t be going with him. Wicked Strong is another home-town favorite because of the New York and Boston connections, but I am concerned that the Derby scene is going to take him out of his game, so he will not be my top pick. Chitu is a colt who is completely under the radar, partly because of a limited race record and partly because his big prep was the Sunland Derby (which, of course, did bring us bomber Mine That Bird).  I just cannot see a horse sired by Henny Hughes, even if Mom is by A.P. Indy, winning the Derby. The duo of General a Rod  -  who is not named for the baseball player  -  and Wildcat Red are practically inseparable, which makes it hard for me to take a firm position picking one of them to win. That leaves a quartet of Danza, California Chrome, Intense Holiday and Ride On Curlin.  Let’s face it, Chrome has been the most impressive three-year old who is not named Untapable.  I cannot blame anyone who does not want to pick the favorite in a 20-horse field with a win wager, but he is an absolute must-use in any of the exotic wagers. Danza is suspect because of his dramatic improvement in going from a 77 Beyer to win the Arkansas Derby with a 102.  But the same can be said for California Chrome,who went from an 88 to a 108 in winning the San Felipe  -  and then matched it in the Santa Anita Derby.  Incidentally, the same knock can be applied to Wicked Strong, the probable second choice, who improved by 17 points in winning the Wood. That possibility for a dramatic improvement brings us to Intense Holiday and Ride On Curlin.  Each ran a 97-98 in his penultimateprep before regressing a little when running second in the final prep.  That is a pattern I think can produce a big jump forward in the Derby. So I think California Chrome is the likely winner, and if I was to limit myself to one longshot, it is Intense Holiday.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

  This year, Barton got up on my neck, purring loudly, as I wrote about three entrants  -  California Chrome, Commanding Curves (for a cat, he is unusually fond of alliteration) and General a Rod.  (Barton, named after the first Triple Crown winner, does not follow baseball.)   ©  Tom Noonan 2014

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ANSWERS TO TRIVIA QUESTIONS

Day 15

          The anniversary marks the first race held in Saratoga Springs.  The track did not open until a year later.

Day 14

          Invasor, 2006

          Criminal Type, 1990

          Lady’s Secret, 1986

Day 12

          1)  Jim Bond with Tizway (2011) and Will’s Way (1997)

          2)  Wayne Lukas with Criminal Type (1990) and Lady’s Secret (1986)

          3)  Shug McGaughey with Easy Goer (1989) and Personal Ensign (1988)

          4)  Todd Pletcher with Lawyer Ron (2007) and Left Bank (2002)

          5)  Nick Zito with Commentator (2008 and 2005)

Day 11

          1)  Asmussen/Napravnik     32%

          2)  Pletcher/Velazquez          30%

          3)  Rodriguez/Velasquez       25%

          4)  Rodriguez/Rosario            13%

          5)  Levine/Rosario                    11%

Day 10  

          Two, one from post 10 (16 starts) and one from post 11 (12 starts).

Day 9

         Rosie Napravnik at 24 per cent.

Day 8

          1)  Affirmed in 1978;

          2)  Conquistador Cielo in 1982;

          3)  Favorite Trick who was Horse of the Year as a two-year old in 1997.

Day 7

          1)  Chad Brown (24 for 66), who has horses entered in three turf races today, the 5th, 6th and 9th.

          2)  Al Stall (4 for 11), who has nothing in today but won the Quick Call Stakes on the grass yesterday.

Day 6

          1)  16

          2)  One.  Chad Brown with 29.

Day 5

          One (from post 9).

Day 4

          3)  Javier Castellano, 199

          4)  Julien Leparoux, 128

          5)  Alan Garcia, 125

          6)  Rajiv Maragh, 107

          7)  Edgar Prado, 89

Day 3

          1)  Edgar Prado, admitted in 2008

          2)  John Velazquez, 2012

Day 2

Trainer and year of admission:

          1)  Allen Jerkens, 1975

          2)  Jonathan Sheppard, 1990

          3)  Bill Mott, 1998

          4)  Wayne Lukas, 1999

          5)  Shug McGaughey, 2004

          6)  Nick Zito, 2005

          7)  Bob Baffert, 2009

          8)  Janet Elliot, 2009

          9)  Roger Attfield, 2012

Day 1

          1)  Todd Pletcher, 144 wins

          2)  Chad Brown, 79

          3)  Linda Rice, 61

          4)  Steve Asmussen, 59

          5)  Hall-of-Famer Bill Mott, 59

BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

BELMONT STAKES 2013

First Edition

 

When:  Saturday, June 8

Where:  Elmont, New York

TV:  NBC at about 6:30 with early coverage beginning at 3:00 on NBC Sorts Network

The factual information contained herein is from Daily Racing Form (drf.com).  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted. It may be all you need to know about the state of racing today to learn that The New York Post laid off its three racing writers on the day before one of New York’s biggest races.  It was one thing when The Boston Globe stopped having a beat writer several years ago.  But we are talking about one of the three most important horse racing states, New York City and the Post. The sun will rise today, however, even if it cannot be seen and the races will go on.  In addition to the final jewel of the Triple Crown, Belmont Park will be running four other graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Manhattan and Grade 1 Just a Game, although it is not yet clear whether races scheduled for the turf will stay on.  The feature includes Orb, the impressive winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Oxbow, the Preakness winner who cruised to an unchallenged and easy lead and was never threatened in his excursion to the wire.  Each of these classic-winning colts has significant questions to answer, and we could be in for a highly entertaining edition of this year’s running.

THE FIELD

 

My single most important handicapping tool is the Beyer Speed Figures, published in the Daily Racing Form.  It is a method for comparing races at different tracks so as to achieve some equivalence.  If going with the top “fig” would lead you to the winner, it would be an easy game  -  although I have to say how remarkable it is that the best last race Beyer often does give us a decent-price mutual.  Orb’s best Beyer was exceed by four others in the Derby, but his last two races  -  97 and 97  -  clearly put him in the hunt, and young horses are capable of big jumps forward.  In the following, any number in parentheses is that race’s Beyer for that horse. 1)  Frac Daddy  (Ken McPeek/Alan Garcia)  -  By all accounts, Ken McPeek will be sending this guy to the front, hoping, I guess, to replicate Oxbow’s wire-to-wire score.  His only win, and top Beyer of 91, came when he sat off fractions of 24: and 49 1/5 to draw away to a 9-length win in November at Churchill.  While his best efforts have been with that style, his second highest Beyer of 81 is not the profile one would expect from a classic winner.  He was 16th in the Derby (68), 24 lengths back. 2)  Freedom Child  (Tom Albertrani/Luis Saez)  -  He will garner a lot of attention at the windows because of his impressive score four weeks ago in the Peter Pan on a sloppy Belmont track where he won by 13 and his Beyer of 99 exceeded his prior top by 16.  His two wins and one second came when he was able to get an early clear lead, a scenario I do not see unfolding here. 3)  Overanalyze  (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)  –  The first of five (sic) Pletcher entries and the first of three (sic again) by Mike Repole has four wins in eight starts, but only one Beyer exceeding 88.  That was his 99 in November’s Remsen at Aqueduct, where he beat the Derby’s fourth-place finisher Normandy Invasion.  If his pattern of winning every other race holds true, he will be getting the carnations.  He finished 11th in the Derby (84), 13 lengths back. 4)  Giant Finish  (Anthony Dutrow/Edgar Prado)  –  He will need it if he is going to capture this event.  He split the Derby field, 13 back with a Beyer of 85, and his two wins came in races restricted to New York-breds. 5)  Orb  (Shug McGaughey/Joel Rosario)  -  While it took this colt four tries to break his maiden, he then won five in a row before running an uninspired 4th in the Preakness (92), nine lengths behind the winner.  His Beyer top of 104 came in the Derby, run on a sloppy Churchill strip. 6)  Incognito  (Kiaran McLaughlin/Irad Ortiz, Jr.)  –  He broke his maiden on Aqueduct’s inner in March, following that with a win on their main track in April, earning his third consecutive Beyer of 86.  He went from there to the Peter Pan where he finished fifth, 16 lengths behind Freedom Child.  As much as I like McLaughlin as a long-shot trainer, it’s difficult to come up with a reason for this guy winning. 7)  Oxbow  (D. Wayne Lukas/Gary Stevens)  –  As one who has said too many times, the game appeared to have left The Coach behind.  At this point last year, he had just broken a lengthy streak of no graded stakes wins, and now he has the record for most Triple Crown wins by a trainer.  He also has what I think is a record that rivals the five consecutive Belmont wins of Woody Stephens.  Lukas once won six consecutive Triple Crown races with four different horses.  Lukas and his disciples are training no less than nine of today’s fourteen entrants.  This colt’s Preakness win is not one of those “where did that come from” happenings.  He was a solid graded stakes performer, and had one of the best Derbies for one who was up near the insane pace.  His Preakness pace was the opposite of insane.  As Gary Stevens strolled through the early going, he was thinking, “Are you kidding me?”  It’s unlikely he’ll be thinking the same thing on Saturday.  His Preakness Beyer of 106 is the field’s top.  8)  Midnight Taboo  (Todd Pletcher/Garrett Gomez)  –  You begin to appreciate how difficult it is for an owner to make a buck in this game when you learn of the outrage inflicted on owner Mike Repole  by the lords of Churchill Downs at this year’s Derby.  Churchill provides a complimentary six-seat box to owners on the third level of the club house.  Repole, however, was seeking accommodations for forty of his closest friends and family in Churchill’s new area called “The Mansion,” where seats go for a mere $12,500.  Churchill was not willing to accommodate him, however, causing the New York native to say, “They give you nothing.  It’s really embarrassing.  They are a public company and it’s all about the money.”  Repole sold his company Vitaminwater to Coca-Cola for $4 billion in 2007, and now appears to be stretched a little thin.  Perhaps it’s the desire for extra seats that caused him to enter this colt.  This will be his fourth career start and first in stakes company.  After breaking his maiden, he ran second in a first level allowance, earning his Beyer top of 85 on a sloppy Belmont surface.  (The information about Mike’s not-so-excellent Derby experience is from Jerry Bossert’s piece in the New York Daily News.) 9)  Revolutionary  (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano)  –  The third-place finisher in the Derby skipped the Preakness to await this spot.  After running third behind Orb and Freedom Child in a maiden event at Aqueduct in November, he won his next three, including the Withers (85) on the inner track and the Louisiana Derby (93) before coming up 3 ½ lengths short in the Derby (99).  (When people complain about the quality of New York racing, I think of events like that maiden at Aqueduct two days after Thanksgiving  –  six grades stakes wins, and perhaps not done yet.)  In his maiden win, he earned a Beyer of 102, a number exceeded only by the winners of the Derby and Preakness. 10)  Will Take Charge  (D. Wayne Lukas/Mike Smith)  -  He joins Orb and Oxbow as the only entrants to run in each of the Triple Crown races.  He finished a combined 28 lengths back in those affairs, finishing 8th in the Derby (86) and 7th in the Preakness (81).  He did win the Grade 2 Rebel on March 16, beating stable mate Oxbow by a head, earning a 95 Beyer, his only fig to exceed 87.  He also won Oaklawn’s ungraded Smarty Jones (87), but between those two wins he ran dismally on a sloppy track, finishing  6th  by 18 lengths in the Southwest. 11)  Vyjack  (Rudy Rodriguez/Julien Leparoux)  -  Going into the Derby, this gelding was a length away from being undefeated with two graded stakes win on his jacket.  He ran close to the pace in Louisville, but then faded waaay back.  Prior to that race, his five Beyers were between 89 and 96. 12)  Palace Malice  (Todd Pletcher/Mike Smith)  -  Adding blinkers to this colt for the Derby certainly sharpened his speed.  When you’re cutting fractions of 45 1/5 and 1:09 4/5 in a 10-furlong race, you are motoring.  Astute Preakness handicappers gave Oxbow a lot of credit for running near the hot pace and finishing only 9 ¾ lengths back.  Well, meet the hot pace setter who finished less than 4 lengths back of the Preakness winner.  He has only won once, his Beyer top is a 93 back in February, but he will be removing the shades. 13)  Unlimited Budget  (Todd Pletcher/Rosie Napravnik)  -  Do you think a filly being piloted by a woman will attract some attention at the betting windows?  I suspect that is why only three entrants have a shorter price on the morning line  -  and one of them is not the Derby’s second place finisher.  She won her first four starts, with her Beyers steadily increasing until she topped out with a 98 in the Fair Grounds Oaks.  She was not even favored in the Kentucky Oaks where she ran third.  I find this to be somewhat of a surprising spot, but I guess owner Repole needs those extra seats. 14)  Golden Soul  (Dallas Stewart/Robby Albarado)  -  So if the morning line holds up, the Derby’s second-place horse will be a longer price than two horses he beat at Churchill and two others making their debut on the Triple Crown trail.  It’s easy to dismiss his Derby finish where he hit 100 Beyer because of the sloppy track, particularly since that is his only fig exceeding 90, and he has a sole win to his credit.  But horses at this young age can show dramatic improvement.

THE WEATHER

As of Saturday morning, the National Weather Service is predicting a “mostly cloudy” day.  Track maintenance crews do an outstanding job of preparing the surface, and Belmont will undoubtedly be aided by Dr. Michael Peterson, the nation’s expert on track surfaces and moisture content.  If there is no more rain, I do not think the track will be muddy or sloppy, but a lot of moisture was added yesterday and this morning from the sky, so it is difficult to know what the surface will be like.

ANALYSIS

I continue to think that Orb has the potential to be a special horse, although that does not mean he is on the verge of being one of racing’s all-time greats.  It is just that he could dominate this group of three-year olds.  His Preakness performance remains a mystery, particularly since he gave every indication of being ready for another big effort according to his trainer Shug McGaughey.  I find it inconceivable that Oxbow will replicate his Preakness stroll by getting an early unchallenged lead.  There is other speed in this field  -  including the Derby’s burner Palace Malice  -  so it is more likely he will be sitting back of the front-runners. While the Belmont has had its recent share of bombers  -  from 2008 through 2011, the lowest-price winner returned $25.80  -  I do not see that happening this year.  While I think Orb is the most likely winner, I do not think his odds offer appropriate value given his Preakness.  I will go with Revolutionary, and also play exotics using Vyjack and Golden Soul along with the Derby and Preakness winners in the hope of getting some prices.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

Once again, he is exhibiting cat-like behavior, and has shown no interest in the Belmont. © Tom Noonan 2013  

BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

PREAKNESS STAKES 2013

First Edition

 

When:  Saturday, May 18

Where:  Baltimore, Maryland

TV:  NBC at about 6:20 with early coverage on NBCSN

The factual information contained herein is from Daily Racing Form (drf.com), both the print and on-line editions,                   BloodHorse.com.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted. Once again, we enter Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes with a possible Triple Crown on the line.  Actually, that would be the case every year that the Kentucky Derby winner enters the second leg.  But we have narrowed the universe of possible winners from the 30,000 or so foals born three years ago to the 20 who could have run in the Kentucky Derby to only one now.  In my Blue Ribbon Derby Analysis, I posited that only two of this year’s Louisville entrants could be “special”  -  Orb and the colt who finished 14th. Orb ran like he could be “The One,” although he benefitted from an insane early pace  -  1:09 4/5 through six furlongs  -  that resulted in the colts who were 16th, 15th, 17th and 18th after a half-mile finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th.  His winning Beyer of 104 does not recall Secretariat, but as they say, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.” In the Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher ran 5 of the 19 horses who started, once again coming up empty unless you count a third-place finish.  He has none of the Preakness starters.  Pletcher learned under “The Coach,”  Wayne Lukas, the trainer who began the trend of flooding the field with entrants.  He will have fully one-third of the Preakness field coming from his barn. Let’s briefly recap some of the roses and thorns from the Derby.  I think the television coverage by NBC and the NBCSportsNetwork was excellent for both Oaks Day and the Derby.  Randy Moss, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Jerry Bailey provide a lot of useful insight to both the experienced fan and, I think, to those new to the sport.  It’s a tough balance to achieve and I think they have done it.  I was less enthralled by some aspects of the sport’s Bible, the Daily Racing Form.  Unlike prior years, you could not get the Derby Past Performances in the Friday paper although, in candor, that may be an inconvenience only to those trying to write about it.  More puzzling was the lack of important breeding information such as dosage profiles.  That info is available elsewhere for free, but if you are paying $7.50 for the paper, why have to go elsewhere?

THE FIELD

 

My single most important handicapping tool is the Beyer Speed Figures, published in the Daily Racing Form.  It is a method for comparing races at different tracks so as to achieve some equivalence.  If going with the top “fig” would lead you to the winner, it would be an easy game  -  although I have to say how remarkable it is that the best last race Beyer often does give us a decent-price mutual.  Orb’s best Beyer was exceed by four others in the Derby, but his last two races  -  97 and 97  -  clearly put him in the hunt, and young horses are capable of big jumps forward.  In the following, any number in parentheses is that race’s Beyer for that horse. 1)  Orb  (Shug McGaughey/Joel Rosario)  -  While it took this colt four tries to break his maiden, he hasn’t lost since, including wins in the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby where he got matching 97 Beyers, and adding the Kentucky Derby for his 5th in a row.  He earned his career best Beyer of 104 in that event.  In the Derby Blue Ribbon, we observed that no one was training or looking better at Churchill.  How is he doing since?  After a :47 breeze at Belmont, the understated McGaughey said the work gave him “chills,” and that the colt is getting better. 2)  Goldencents  (Doug O’Neill/Kevin Krigger)  -  He chased the torrid pace being set by Palace Malice and quickly fell out of contention, being eased at the finish, almost 50 lengths behind the winner.  I suppose you could blame his inexperienced jockey, but what does that say of Mike Smith who was aboard the leader?  This colt’s last winning Beyer of 105 is a tick better than Orb’s Derby one.  The son of Into Mischief out of a Banker’s Gold mare won two of three starts at two, repeating those numbers this year before his dismal Derby.  His loss as a juvenile was in the Grade 1 Champagne, finishing 2nd, 5 back of Breeders’ Cup winner Shanghai Bobby.  As a sophomore, he won the Sham with a fig of 98 before running 4th, 2 lengths back in the San Felipe (90), and then the Santa Anita Derby.  His Churchill run has been his only bad race. 3)  Titletown Five  (Wayne Lukas/Julian Leparoux)  -  I wonder how they came up with the name for this colt owned, in part, by Paul Hornung.  The highpoint for this son of Tiznow came back in October when he broke his maiden by 9 lengths, earning a Beyer of 98.  This came one start after finishing a length in front of Orb in one of those Saratoga maiden races where several runners turn out to be stakes horses.  This guy has yet to actually win a stake, coming up short in an ungraded one at Oaklawn, finishing 9th in the Louisiana Derby (79) and then 4th in the Derby Trial (84).  He appears to be overmatched in this event. 4)  Departing (Al Stall, Jr./Brian Hernandez Jr.)  -  The connections of Blame, conqueror of Zenyatta, look to again break hearts by derailing a Triple Crown bid.  This is a very interesting colt, winner of four of five starts with his only loss being a third in the Louisiana Derby (88), finishing behind the Kentucky Derby’s third- and fifth-place finishers.  He followed that up with a comfortable win in the Illinois Derby (93).  His Beyer top of 97 was three starts back in the ungraded Texas Heritage in Houston. 5)  Mylute  (Tom Amoss/Rosie Napravnik)  -  He is the Derby’s top finisher behind Orb, finishing less than 4 lengths back in 5th place, with a Beyer of 99.  The grandson of Real Quiet has two wins from nine starts, breaking his maiden at Arlington in August and then a first level allowance at the Fair Grounds.  In two starts at three, he finished 3 lengths behind in the Risen Star (Beyer of 88) before running 2nd (93) to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. 6)  Oxbow  (D. Wayne Lukas/Gary Stevens)  –  You have Hall of Fame connections in Lukas and Stevens teaming up for Calumet Farm.  He had a pretty decent Derby, albeit finishing 6th, 10 lengths back.  He is one of the few to have run close to the blistering pace and not ending up in the rear.  One of his two wins came at Churchill, and he ran a 95 Beyer in missing by a head in Oaklawn’s Rebel.  He followed that up with a 5th, 5 lengths back in the Arkansas Derby, posting a Beyer of 80 7)  Will Take Charge  (D. Wayne Lukas/Mike Smith)  -   This colt won the Grade 2 Rebel on March 16, beating stable mate Oxbow by a head, earning a 95 Beyer, his only fig to exceed 87.  He also won Oaklawn’s ungraded Smarty Jones (87), but between those two wins he ran dismally on a sloppy track, finishing  6th  by 18 lengths in the Southwest.  In the Derby he finished 8th, 12 lengths behind.  According to the Racing Form’s comment line, he had begun a 5-wide move but had to check at the 3/16 pole.  He is picking up a Hall-of-Fame jockey to replace Jon Court. 8)  Govenor Charlie  (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia)  -  As we are well aware, Verrazano did not blemish the  131-year Kentucky Derby streak of no one winning that event without racing at two.  I have not seen a similar statistic for this race, but I would think it should be a relevant factor.  My theory is that the reason for the Derby record is that a young horse needs a lot of bottom  -  from training and racing at two  -  in order to handle going a mile and one-quarter on the First Saturday in May.  So why would that rationale not also apply on the Third Saturday in May for a horse going a mile and three-sixteenths?  This colt first raced on January 13, breaking his maiden a month later (94), and then winning the Sunland Derby on March 24 with a Beyer of 95.  He was being pointed for the Derby, but foot issues and lackluster training caused him to be declared from that event.  He has turned in three nice works since then (as do most Baffert horses), but one has to wonder how fit he is going to be for this race. 9)  Itsmyluckyday  (Eddie Plesa, Jr./John Velazquez)  -  No entrant has more starts (11) or wins (5) than this son of Lawyer Ron, and he is the only one with two triple digit Beyers.  His three wins at two included two ungraded stakes, one on a sloppy track at Calder.  He won the ungraded Gulfstream Park Derby by 7 lengths, earning a 102 Beyer, and followed that up with a 2-length win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, getting a 104 Beyer.  As the favorite in the Florida Derby, he finished almost 3 in arrears to Orb, picking up a 93.  In the Derby, he finished 15th, 22 behind the winner.  Since he had a win on a sloppy track and has a good pedigree for a wet track, it is hard to blame the surface at Churchill for his poor performance.  He is, however, getting a significant jockey upgrade, going to a Hall-of-Famer from Elvis Trujillo.

THE WEATHER

As of Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service is predicting a 30% chance of showers after 2:00.

ANALYSIS

One of the historical trends in the Preakness is that horses exiting the Derby usually win.  While there have been exceptions in recent years, it hardly ever is the out-of-the-clouds longshot that we often see winning the Derby.  The new shooters in this event are Titletown Five, Departing and Govenor Charlie.  While Departing is generating some buzz, he is the third choice on the Morning Line which I do not think represents value. Running well in one’s last Derby prep is a prerequisite for winning the Derby, but running well in the Derby is not a requirement for Preakness success.  I think the Derby runner with the best chance of upsetting Orb is Goldencents.  He was one of the most accomplished horses entering the Derby, and I doubt his lackluster run took much out of him.  I think Mylute is the next best choice, and would pick Oxbow as the best possibility from the Lukas trio. The bottom line, however, is that I cannot go against Orb.  I do not see a negative, and when the usually circumspect Shug McGaughey seems to have a difficult time controlling his enthusiasm, it is one more reason to go with the favorite.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

This is the 10th anniversary of Barton picking  longshot Funny Cide by repeatedly knocking our New York bred magnet off the refrigerator, behavior he has not replicated since that year’s Preakness.  This year, he got up on my lap and then my shoulder only once, when I was writing about an “intriguing longshot possibility” in the Derby  -  Java’s War.  For the Preakness, however, he has showed no interest, perhaps indicating that he can’t go with chalk. © Tom Noonan 2013

BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

KENTUCKY DERBY 2013

Final Edition

 

When:  Saturday, May 4

Where:  Louisville, Kentucky

TV:  NBC at about 6:20 with early coverage on NBCSN

The factual information contained herein is from Daily Racing Form (drf.com), both the print and on-line editions,                   BloodHorse.com and the Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted.

We once again have a Kentucky Derby field that looks wide open.  There isn’t the logical favorite and “big horse” we last saw in 2008 with Big Brown.  When the winner finally emerges, however, he will suddenly take on a special aura, even if he later turns out to be disappointing.  It’s kind of like selecting a Pope.

While there a two entrants who I think could truly be special, there are a lot more who, should they win, are more likely to be in the I’ll Have AnotherSuper SaverMine That Bird category of “not that special.”  While the best horse often does win this race, luck plays a major role in the running of it.  You just cannot have 19 horses break from a starting gate who immediately try to get closer to the rail without lots of shuffling and bumping.  Then, add to that inevitable chaos the reality of young horses with considerable potential to improve significantly, sometimes on just the right day.

THE FIELD

  1)  Black Onyx  (Kelly Breen/Joe Bravo)  -  It’s interesting how all of the commentary at the post-position draw centers on who is going to end up in the Dreaded One Hole.  (I’m surprised that Churchill hasn’t yet trademarked the phrase and sold it to a sponsor, much like Santa Anita’s Grey Goose Winner’s Circle.)  So it may come as a surprise that no post has produced more than the 12 winners coming from the one hole.  The last one, however, was Ferdinand in 1986.  I suspect the reason it has become so despised is that in these days of 20 horse fields, the ones on the inside are going to be squeezed, and the horse breaking from the one has nowhere to go, except into the rail.  If that isn’t enough bad karma for this guy, the only time he ran in a race carded for a dirt track, he lost by 19 lengths with a Beyer of 60.  He did, however, win his preceding race on Aqueduct’s main track after it came off the turf with a 75.  In his last two starts he won on the grass (81) and then the polytrack Spiral (90).  It is very difficult to come up with a rationale for this guy winning. 2)  Oxbow  (D. Wayne Lukas/Gary Stevens)  -  You have Hall of Fame connections in Lukas and Stevens teaming up for Calumet Farm.  If resumes won races, this colt would warrant serious consideration.  One of his two wins came at Churchill, and he ran a 95 Beyer in missing by a head in Oaklawn’s Rebel.  He followed that up with a 5th, 5 lengths back in the Arkansas Derby, posting a Beyer of 80.  It’s not the sort of performance that brings roses on the First Saturday in May. 3)  Revolutionary  (Todd Pletcher/Calvin Borel)  -  The Derby gods have smiled  -  once again  -  on Calvin Bo-rail.  Not only did he avoid drawing the dreaded one-hole in the gate, but he only has to move over one path two paths to get to his beloved rail.  I don’t think any other entrant benefited more from the post-position draw, and gives the War Pass colt from an A.P. Indy mare a major boost.  He has won three consecutive races including the Grade 3 Withers (85) and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby (93), each by a neck.  His Beyer top of 102 came in his maiden win on the Aqueduct inner track.  This is one of five Pletcher horses in the field, and you will hear much about how one of the game’s best conditioners is only 1-for-31 with his Derby starters.  Of course, should he win this year, next year he will only be 2-for-36. 4)  Golden Soul  (Dallas Stewart/Robby Albarado)  -  He was on no one’s Derby radar screen until early this week when it became clear that the field might not fill, and he had a few more points than another late entrant, Fear the Kitten.  Now that he is in, he is still on no one’s radar screen.  While he ran in the three preps at the Fair Grounds, his top Beyer was an 89 running 6th in the Risen Star, sandwiched by an 11-length loss (71) to Oxbow, and a 4th by 5 lengths (85) in the Louisiana Derby. 5)  Normandy Invasion  (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano)  -  Brown is one of the best young trainers in the game, something we used to say about Todd Pletcher as he embarked on his record of one Derby win from 31 starters.  The Tapit colt has had a solid record on Aqueduct’s main track, breaking his maiden by  9 lengths (Beyer of 82), a second by a nose in the Remsen (99), and another second by ¾ length (94) in the Wood Memorial.  He did not hit the board in his two starts away from the Big A. 6)  Mylute  (Tom Amoss/Rosie Napravnik)  -  The grandson of Real Quiet has two wins from nine starts, breaking his maiden at Arlington in August and then a first level allowance at the Fair Grounds.  In two starts at three, he finished 3 lengths behind in the Risen Star (Beyer of 88) before running 2nd (93) to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. 7)  Giant Finish  (Anthony Dutrow/Jose Espinoza)  -  This colt could be this year’s poster child for an owner’s Derby fever  -  not that there isn’t competition for that honor.  He earned his top Beyer on dirt of 73 in his first start at Aqueduct in November, and then lost a state-bred stake by 14 with a Beyer of 50 in his next outing.  While he ran a good 2nd (84) on Turfway’s synthetic in the Battaglia, and then a good 3rd (86) in that track’s Spiral to Black Onyx, there is no reason to see him as a factor this Saturday. 8)  Goldencents  (Doug O’Neill/Kevin Krigger)  -  Last year’s Derby-winning trainer returns again with the Santa Anita Derby winner ridden by an unknown (different) jockey.  This colt’s last winning Beyer of 105 is eight points better than Orb’s last of 97, and ten points better than any other contestant’s last race.  The son of Into Mischief out of a Banker’s Gold mare won two of three starts at two, repeating those numbers this year.  His loss as a juvenile was in the Grade 1 Champagne, finishing 2nd,   five back of Breeders’ Cup winner Shanghai Bobby.  As a sophomore, he won the Sham with a fig of 98 before running 4th, 2 lengths back in the San Felipe (90), and then the Santa Anita Derby.  He has yet to run a bad race.  Jockey Krigger is shooting for his own bit of history.  While black jockeys have won 15 Derbies, he would be the first since Jimmy Winkfield’s back-to-back wins in 1901 and 1902. 9)  Overanalyze  (Todd Pletcher/Rafael Bejarano)  -  Only one entrant (Itsmyluckyday) has more wins that this colt’s four.  He broke his maiden in his first start at Saratoga, won Belmont’s Futurity, Aqueduct’s Remsen and then the Arkansas Derby, giving him one of the more impressive resumes in the field.  His Arkansas Derby Beyer of 88 is remarkably low, and he has only surpassed that number once with a 99 in the Remsen. 10)  Palace Malice  (Todd Pletcher/Mike Smith)  -  It’s hard to get overly excited about a horse whose only win in six starts came in Saratoga, and has broken 90 on the Beyer scale just once with a 93 three starts back.  While he only lost the Blue Grass by a neck to Java’s War, I no longer consider the Blue Grass to be a major prep, and finishing a neck in front of Charming Kitten doesn’t exactly burnish one’s credentials.  He will be adding blinkers for the Derby. 11)  Lines of Battle  (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore)  -  He won Dubai’s UAE Derby and the winner’s share of the $2 million purse.  If he hits the board, he will become the first to exit that race having done so.  While his Racing Post Rating of 111 equates to a 99 Beyer in my calculation, he has never raced on dirt, and was quarantined at Churchill before being able to go to the track for the first time Friday, making it difficult to assess how he will handle the surface.  There is simply no reason to recommend him, even if he has one of the world’s best trainers. 12)  Itsmyluckyday  (Eddie Plesa, Jr./Elvis Trujillo)  -  No entrant has more starts (10) or wins (5) than this son of Lawyer Ron, and he is one of only two with two triple digit Beyers.  His three wins at two included two ungraded stakes, one on a sloppy track at Calder.  He won the ungraded Gulfstream Park Derby by 7 lengths, earning a 102 Beyer, and followed that up with a 2-length win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, getting a 104 Beyer.  As the favorite in the Florida Derby, he finished almost 3 in arrears to Orb, picking up a 93.  If his morning line of 15-1 holds up, he could represent one of the best betting values in this year’s race. 13)  Falling Sky  (John Terranova II/Luis Saez)  -  This colt is mentioned in most Derby conversations as a significant factor because he figures to be part of the early speed in the race.  He won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa by leading wire-to-wire, earning his top Beyer of 92.  When he ran identical fractions in the Tampa Bay Derby, but this time had to go head-to-head with Verrazano, he lost by 7 lengths.  In the slow Arkansas Derby, he again went to the front, this time fading to 4th, five in arrears to Overanalyze.  While his dam’s sire is Derby-winner Sea Hero, and he figures in the pace scenario, I haven’t heard anyone suggest he will be around at the end. 14)  Verrazano  (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)  -  The only undefeated entrant is looking to break an historical streak that has survived since 1882.  That was the last time an unraced two-year old won the Derby.  It is a factor that I think has a great deal of validity because I think a horse needs some bottom in order to travel 1 ¼ miles on the First Saturday in May.  Now if this colt had run December 31, he would satisfy the criterion;  however, he didn’t make his first race until January 1.  While I have always used the criterion in tossing promising horses in years gone by, I’m not using it for this guy for the one-day “delay.”  He broke his maiden by 8 (93 Beyer), won a first level allowance by 16 (105), the Tampa Bay Derby by 3 (103), and gutted out the Wood Memorial by ¾ length (95).  What I find more troublesome than his not racing at two is that he is a front-runner who will be confronting other early speed in Falling Sky, Goldencents, and possibly Oxbow who needs to use speed breaking from the one hole. 15)  Charming Kitten  (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado)  -  We’ve talked about how far Edgar Prado has fallen from his one-time position as a top jockey, and his having to take this mount is proof positive.  The only conceivable reason for this entry is to satisfy the apparently boundless ego of owner and breeder Ken Ramsey.  The colt has never raced on dirt, and his highest career Beyer, is the 88 earned when he finished 3rd, only a half-length behind the winner of the Blue Grass.  If you think that race is a serious prep, then this horse merits consideration. 16)  Orb  (Shug McGaughey/Joel Rosario)  -  Shug must really hope he gets his first Derby winner so that he has a chance of no longer hearing how much better Easy Goer was than Sunday Silence, to whom he lost three times.  While it took this colt four tries to break his maiden, he hasn’t lost since, including wins in the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby where he got matching 97 Beyers.  And, there is no one training or looking better at Churchill. 17)  Will Take Charge  (D. Wayne Lukas/Jon Court)  -  Lukas owes me big time.  I only had to say in last year’s Blue Ribbon that he had not won a graded stake in about two years, and that I considered any of his horses in such an event to be an automatic toss, for him to break the streak on Derby weekend.  This colt won the Grade 2 Rebel on March 16, beating stable mate Oxbow by a head, earning a 95 Beyer.  That Beyer, incidentally, has been exceeded by only two entrants in their last start.  He also won Oaklawn’s ungraded Smarty Jones (87), but between those two wins he ran dismally on a sloppy track, finishing  6th  by 18 lengths in the Southwest. 18)  Frac Daddy  (Ken McPeek/Victor Lebron) -  When your two-year old breaks his maiden by 9 lengths going two turns at Churchill in November, earning a 91 Beyer,  thoughts of the Derby start dancing in your head.  When he can’t come closer than 10 points to that fig in four subsequent graded stakes, one might think the fever would cool somewhat.  He hasn’t exactly embarrassed himself in the stakes competition, finishing 2nd (76) by a neck in Churchill’s Jockey Cup, and then second in the Arkansas Derby by 4 lengths (81).  While I can’t see him winning, I would not be shocked by a superfecta finish in what would be a juicy mutual. 19)  Java’s War  (Ken McPeek/Julian Leparoux)  -  This colt has yet to win on dirt, and two of his three wins have been on the weeds back in the summer.  He did run a decent 2nd to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby (Beyer of 96) before winning the Blue Grass on polytrack and achieving a Beyer of 89.  While I think the Blue Grass form is of little significance in picking a Derby winner, this guy’s 96 Beyer at Tampa Bay makes him an intriguing longshot possibility. 20)  Vyjack  (Rudy Rodriguez/Garrett Gomez)  -  In addition to the gelding’s connections, the happiest person about this entry has got to be Doug O’Neill, because Rodriguez will draw most of the attention on the issue of drugs.  The trainer’s recent suspension for a drug violation, and an ongoing investigation into another possible violation, resulted in his having to appear before the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in order to get a license.  The Commission granted an approval conditioned upon a surveillance camera being in the horse’s stall  -  as the trainer had offered.  For a horse that is one length away from being undefeated, he isn’t getting much respect, being installed on the morning line at 15-1.  He has two wins in graded stakes, the Jerome (90) and Gotham (93), both on Aqueduct’s inner track.  His career best Beyer is a 96 in the slop on Aqueduct’s main track  -  his career low, interestingly, is an 89, also on the main.  His only defeat came in the Wood, finishing 3rd with a 93 behind Verrazano.

THE WEATHER

As of Saturday morning, the National Weather Service is predicting an 60% chance of “showers” on Saturday after 3:00.  Horses with wet track experience include Revolutionary (win on a good track), Giant Finish (win on good, poor on sloppy), Palace Malice (2nd on sloppy), Itsmyluckyday (win on sloppy), Falling Sky (win on good), Will Take Charge (poor on sloppy), Frac Daddy (2nd on muddy), and Vyjack (win on sloppy).  Every track is, of course different, and no one has run on a Churchill surface that was not fast.  But Palace Malice, Itsmyluckyday, Frac Daddy and Vyjack would move up on a muddy or sloppy track.  Giant Finish and Will Take Charge would be downgraded. Based on breeding alone and relying on Tomlinson numbers (which are limited in that they are based only on the immediate parents), Oxbow, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, Overanalyze, Lines of Battle, Falling Sky, Verrazano, Charming Kitten, Orb, Will Take Charge and Java’s War move up.

ANALYSIS

I do not think there is a clear stand-out in this group, and would not be surprised if any of 10 horses would win.  That said, let’s begin by eliminating those I cannot see wearing the roses  -  perhaps I should say I would be shocked by a win.  That would be Golden Soul, Giant Finish, Falling Sky, Charming Kitten, and Frac Daddy.  There is a second group on whom I cannot conceive of making a win wager, and that includes Oxbow, Normandy Invasion, Mylute, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Lines of Battle, Will Take Charge and Vyjack.  While I think Revolutionary could win, I think Calvin Borel’s presence makes this a colt who will be colossally overbet, so I will avoid him. That gets us down to a mere five.  (Who said this was a tough game?)  I will take a flyer on Itsmyluckyday and Java’s War because I think they represent real value.  That gets us to the three morning line favorites.  I think Verrazano and Goldencents have those front-running styles that will compromise both of their chances.  But here is what I said about I’ll Have Another last year:  “I am leery of a speed horse in a field with lots of speed being ridden by a jockey in his first Derby.”  That does not apply, of course, to Verrazano’s pilot, the inestimable Johnny V. So that leaves Orb.  As much as I hate picking the chalk, I have also said I will give extra consideration to the horse described as looking and training great by knowledgeable horse people.  I also think he, along with Verrazano, has the potential to be that special horse we talked about earlier. For a different approach, based on names, check out Teresa Genaro’s Brooklyn Backstretch, an always interesting web site.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

This is the 10th anniversary of Barton picking  longshot Funny Cide by repeatedly knocking our New York-bred magnet off the refrigerator, behavior he has not replicated since that year’s Preakness.  This year, he got up on my lap and then my shoulder only once, when I was writing about an “intriguing longshot possibility”  -  Java’s War. ©  Tom Noonan 2013

BLUE RIBBON TRIPLE CROWN ANALYSIS

BELMONT STAKES 2012

Early Edition

I’ll Have Another scratches!

When:  Saturday, June 9 Where:  Belmont Park, Elmont, New York TV:  NBC at about 6:40 with early coverage beginning on NBCSN at 2:30

The factual information contained herein is from The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions, The Blood Horse.com, The New York Times, and the Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted.

 

They think we’re all crooks. -             Dale Romans,  trainer of Dullahan, discussing the security procedures put in place for horses running in the Belmont Stakes

 

One thing is certain about this year’s Belmont:  I’ll Have Another will be the twelfth one.  That’s either the twelfth Triple Crown winner, or the twelfth consecutive horse to not win after taking the first two legs.  So much for certainty in horse racing.  Minutes after writing this I learned that I’ll Have Another would be scratched with what could be a career ending tendon injury. Even when a Triple Crown was on the line, there was no shortage of negativity surrounding this year’s edition.  As we discussed in the Preakness Blue Ribbon, I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill has been the subject of countless news stories regarding past drug offenses as well as his recent suspension in California for a 2010 “milkshaking” of a horse.  In today’s Thoroughbred Times, there was a chart of each Belmont trainer’s rate of serious racing injuries, with O’Neill heading up that list as well  -  and not in a good way.  While these are all legitimate stories worthy of concern, there is no indication that I’ll Have Another ever received improper drugs or was milkshaked. That didn’t matter to New York’s Racing and Wagering Board which established unusual and severe restrictions on the horses and connections of those running in the Belmont Stakes.  Each horse had to be moved to a security barn that was guarded, humans had to sign entry and exit logs, and everything (including buckets of ice) was subject to search.  While the purported purpose of these restrictions was to ensure the integrity of this one race, the necessary implications were clear as trainer Romans so eloquently stated.  Without these restrictions, the fan and bettor could not trust the results of any race.  So don’t forget to make your plans for Saratoga! I have discussed the takeover of New York racing by the Cuomo administration in my blog.  The most recent entry can be found here.

THE FIELD

1Street Life  (Chad Brown/Jose Lezcano)  -  With the likely fast pace in this race, this colt figures to be running at the end.  He won twice on Aqueduct’s inner track before finishing 6th, 7 lengths back in the Wood Memorial.  He ran a good third in Belmont’s Peter Pan, earning his best Beyer of 93.  Trainer Chad Brown is one of the best young trainers in the game, winning at a Pletcher-like percentage of 27.  If you don’t want to go with one of the short-priced horses, this guy warrants a long look. 2)  Unstoppable U  (Ken McPeek/Junior Alvarado)  -  I guess this guy is in the field to soften up the other front runners for McPeek’s other entry Atigun.  Why else would you enter a colt with two lifetime starts that has never gone beyond a mile?  He did win both of those starts nicely, but with Beyers of 80 and 82, this is a pretty big jump. 3)  Union Rags  (Michael Matz/John Velazquez)  -  In the five races since his romp in the slop in the Saratoga Special, the colt has not surpassed his Beyer of 95 from that day.  Indeed, his Beyers have been on a downward trend this year, going from another 95 in the Fountain of Youth to a 90 for his 7th place finish in the Kentucky Derby.  While he has perhaps been the most highly regarded member of this generation of three-year olds  -  he was the Derby favorite until just before post time  -  he simply has not lived up to his promise from his juvenile year.  He figures to be a fairly low price (morning line of 6-1), but I don’t think it is warranted. 4)  Atigun  (Ken McPeek/Julian Leparoux)  -  He’s got a three-race winning streak if you don’t count the three graded stakes where he failed to hit the board, losing by a combined 26 lengths.  His high point is finishing less than two lengths behind the well-regarded second-place Secret Circle in Bodemeister’s romp in the Arkansas Derby.  Still, his Beyer top is an 89 in nine career starts and I do not see much of an upside here. 5)  Dullahan  (Dale Romans/Javier Castellano)  -  He is still looking for his first win on the dirt (and third overall), but his strong closing in the Kentucky Derby to finish third will attract a fair number of backers in this event.  His two wins have been on Keeneland’s synthetic surface, including the Grade I Blue Grass where he earned a 98 Beyer.  He matched that fig in the Derby. 6)  Ravelo’s Boy  (Manuel Azpurua/Alex Solis)  -  Thirteen career starts, two wins, Beyer top of 80. 7)  Five Sixteen  (Dominick Schettino/Rosie Napravnik)  -  Let’s see.  You finally break your maiden in your fifth career start on Aqueduct’s inner track.  You then take the next logical step by entering an allowance for non-winners of “one other than” where you finish fourth, 11 lengths behind the winner and two others, none of whom have come back to win a race.  Next step?  It’s gotta be the Belmont Stakes.  In a field loaded with horses who would be better off in an allowance race, let alone a minor stakes, this one is the most puzzling. 8)  Guyana Star Dweej  (Doodnauth Shivmangal/Kent Desormeaux)  -  There’s a name that rolls off the tongue.  He broke his maiden in his 8th career start, earning his Beyer top of 84.  In his next start he encountered Unstoppable U, finishing 6 lengths back.  The positives?  He only cost $5,500 as a yearling and earned twenty times that.  A lot of horse people would take that return. 9)  Paytner  (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) -  Apparently Baffert has no shortage of speed balls in his barn.  Bodemeister is getting a well-deserved break so Baffert is coming to the Apple with this colt by Awesome Again out of a Cee’s Tizzy mare.  In only his second career start, he finished a very decent 4th in I’ll Have Another’s Santa Anita Derby, finishing less than 4 lengths back.  He then ran second in a sloppy Derby Trial where he Beyered 100, and followed that up with a 5 length win in a Pimlico allowance, getting a 106 Beyer.  If you are looking for an upset possibility, this could be the one. 10)  Optimizer  (Wayne Lukas/Corey Nakatani)  –  I knew if we kept on talking about Wayne Lukas’ streak of not winning a graded stakes since 2009 we would eventually put him over the line.  He has now won two such events since our Blue Ribbon Preakness Analysis.  Only one other member of the field has run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but this colt has been beaten a combined 27 lengths by him.  In a field this bad, this guy could definitely get up for a piece. 11)  I’ll Have Another  (Doug O’Neill/Mario Gutierrez)  -    SCRATCHED   The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is undefeated as a three-year old, undefeated on fast dirt tracks and undefeated going two turns.  And, his two-turn fast track Beyers this year have been 109, 101, 95 and 96, with the highest number coming in the Preakness. 12)  My Adonis  (Kelly Breen/Ramon Dominguez)  -  H e was only a half-length away from winning on The First Saturday in May.  Unfortunately, the almost win came in the $51,000 Canonero II at Pimlico, and not in the Kentucky Derby.  His two career wins were in September and October, and his career best Beyer of 95 came on a sloppy track in January.  He has yet to demonstrate that he can run with the best of his generation.

ANALYSIS

Five of the horses in the field last started in an allowance race, and two of those could not even win at that level.  Only one member of the field has won a graded stake on the dirt, with Union Rags having three such victories, including the Champagne at Belmont.  With the scratch of I’ll Have Another, I think there are only four possible winners. Here are the ones I would not bet with your money:  Unstoppable U, Atigun, Ravelo’s Boy, Five Sixteen, Guyana Star Dweej, Optimizer and My Adonis. Of the remaining four, Union Rags and Dullahan are likely to be unacceptably short odds.  While I would have had no hesitancy in picking I’ll Have Another to win because he has clearly been the best three-year old this year, Rags and Dullahan have yet to demonstrate they are in that league.  I think it takes a very special horse to wire a 12 furlong race, and Paynter isn’t even the best speed horse in his barn.  So I’ll go with Street Life. Tomorrow I could change my mind.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

Barton, the handicapping cat, named after the first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, has been absent the entire time I have been working on this. © T.E. Noonan 2012

PREAKNESS STAKES 2012

Late Edition

 

When:  Saturday, May 19 Where:  Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, MY TV:  NBC at about 6:18 with early coverage beginning on NBCSN at 2:30

The factual information contained herein is from The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions, The Blood Horse.com, The New York Times, and the Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted.

 

After all the philosophical problems have been solved, nothing will have been accomplished, so we decided to get into horse racing. -             J. Paul Reddam, owner of I’ll Have Another, after winning the Kentucky Derby, paraphrasing philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

I am tempted to say that the Triple Crown races are the highpoint of any racing fan’s year.  The reality, however, is that for serious fans the Breeders’ Cup is much more interesting, and the Dubai World Cup Day presents a truly international racing experience.  For the casual fan or observer, though, this is the only racing they will watch.  That is why, I suspect, that when the national media hooks on to a story  -  inevitably a negative one  -  it is rolled out at this time.  So, we have had the first two chapters of a series by the New York Times on serious injuries to both jockeys and horses, and the role played by drugs administered to race horses.  Joe Drape and Walt Bogdanich, two of the authors, were just on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air talking about these issues and I found myself saying, “Why do I like this sport?”  Fortunately, in the last minute of the interview, Drape, the Times’ horse racing reporter, answered the question. It was not surprising, then, that the winning trainer of the Kentucky Derby has come under scrutiny for his record of drug violations.  Doug O’Neill, a California-based trainer who had an engaging interview in the famed walk to the paddock before the Derby, has had more than a dozen violations over 14 years in 4 states.  The article by Drape and Bogdanich also points out that O’Neill’s horses break down at twice the average of horses nationally.  O’Neill acknowledged “running horses more often than I should, … [but has become] more patient and more cautious.”  Among the interesting facts in the article is that only two trainers in the top 20 in earnings  -  Christophe Clement and Graham Motion  -  have never had a positive.  This, of course, has been and will be a major story going into Saturday’s race  -  as it should be. Not to be outdone, however, are the politicians in New York who are already in peak form three weeks out from the Belmont Stakes.  The controversy between the Cuomo Administration and the New York Racing Association is in high gear.  I have devoted a lengthy blog to this subject that you can read here.

THE FIELD

1Tiger Walk  (Ignacio Correas IV/Ramon Dominguez)  -  He exits an undistinguished 4th place finish in the Wood Memorial, finishing less than two lengths behind Teeth of the Dog.  While he hasn’t been embarrassed in the three graded stakes in which he has run, he also hasn’t been close to winning.  Other than his maiden, his only other win came in an optional claiming race at Laurel.  His Beyer top is the 90 from the Wood. 2)  Teeth of the Dog  (Michael Matz/Joe Bravo)  -  I guess the connections of this horse figured they had to go in the Preakness after the Derby success of the two colts who finished in front of him in the Wood Memorial.  The winner, Gemologist, was the 3rd betting choice but finished 16th;  place horse Alpha fared better, but was still 12th.  This guy, a Bluegrass Cat colt out of a Deputy Minister mare, has had an increasing set of Beyer figures over a four-race career, culminating in a 93 in the Wood.  While that last number puts him in the hunt with many of these, it would seem a lesser placing is the most he can hope for. 3)  Pretension  (Christopher Grove/Javier Santiago)  -  While Pimlico runs a Preakness prep the first Saturday in May, the real Preakness prep is the Kentucky Derby.  This race had been known as the Federico Tesio but now it is the Canonero II, an ungraded event with a $75K purse that this year attracted six entrants.  The winner, a Bluegrass Cat out of a Street Cry mare, had been dusted in his two previous starts by Done Talking, 14th in the Derby, and Hansen, 9th at Louisville.  Prior to those two races, he won a $75K stake for New York-breds where he earned his Beyer top of 83, a number matched in the Canonero II. 4)  Zetterholm  (Richard Dutrow, Jr./Junior Alvarado)  -  Speaking of trainers with numerous drug violations in their jacket, this guy would be the leader in the clubhouse except for the fact they cannot get him off the course.  New York suspended him for 10 years as a kind of lifetime achievement award  -  nearly 70 drug positives at 15 tracks in 9 states  -  but litigation keeps him in the barn.  The colt (Silver Train out of a Lord At War mare) has won his last three starts, all in races restricted to New York-breds.  With a Beyer top of 85, he seems a bit in over his head here. 5)  Went The Day Well  (Graham Motion/John Velazquez)  -  I am starting to think it is time to trim the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby.  You can no longer handicap the Derby assuming that it will be run as any other race in America.  The trouble lines from this year’s event encompass almost the entire field except for, notably, the winner and second-place horse.  This guy was bumped at the start, raced seven-wide and after a mile was 14th.  He made up a lot of ground before finishing 4th, 2 ½ lengths behind the winner and 3 ½ in front of the fifth-placed Creative Cause.  He is quite obviously a horse in good form, winning the Vinery with a Beyer of 93, and then a 97 in the Derby after an excuse-filled trip. 6)  Creative Cause  (Mike Harrington/Joel Rosario)  -  The 5th place finisher is another who had less than a dream trip in the Kentucky Derby.  You don’t win many races going 8-wide.  He lost the Santa Anita Derby to I’ll Have Another by a nose before finishing 3 back at Churchill Downs.  He is one of the most accomplished runners of his class, running in eight straight Grade I’s or II’s with the Derby finish being the only one more than a length behind the winner.  Despite the wide trip, his Derby Beyer of 97 is close to his career top of 102. 7)  Bodemeister  (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith)  -  Not surprisingly, he is the morning line favorite.  Had the Derby been the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, he likely would have worn the roses.  In this race, he faces a field bereft of quality speed.  I know Andy Beyer would throw me off the bus for comparing actual times on different tracks, here are the six furlong splits for Bodemeister, Teeth of the Dog and Pretension, respectively, for the last races in which they lead at that point:  1:09 4/5, 1:13 4/5, and 1:14 2/5.  I wish this guy were bypassing this race.  He did not race at two, had a grueling Derby as well as a lights out final prep and, I think, could use a break.  Baffert, however, has won more Preaknesses then I have, so I guess I’ll stop commenting on this point. 8)  Daddy Nose Best  (Steve Asmussen/Julian Leparoux)  -  He had to steady early and was bumped late en route to a 10th place Derby finish.  Leparoux, who has been aboard for this guy’s four wins, replaces Garrett Gomez.  This is a fortuitous development for the jock since I got the distinct impression he was being blamed for the defeat of his Derby mount, Union Rags, by the usually even-keeled trainer Michael Matz.  The colt last won the Sunland Derby with a career Beyer top of 100. 9)  I’ll Have Another  (Doug O’Neill/Mario Gutierrez)  -  The Kentucky Derby winner is undefeated as a three-year old, undefeated on fast dirt tracks and undefeated going two turns.  And, his two-turn fast track Beyers this year have been 101, 95 and 96, with the highest number coming in the Derby.  What’s not to like, and why isn’t he the morning line fav?  Well, the smart guys think Bodemeister had the more impressive Derby, and this guy did have the dream trip of all dream trips.  His Beyers, while not near the number one would expect the Preakness winner to have, are as good as anyone else’s with the sole exception of the 108 in Bodemeister’s Arkansas Derby.  As the joke goes, I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you. 10)  Optimizer  (Wayne Lukas/Corey Nakatani)  – Trainer Lukas kept his graded stakes winless streak alive after this colt ran 11th in the Derby.  The streak began in 2009 and spans over 100 races.  In the Derby analysis I said I viewed one of the most successful Triple Crown trainers ever as now an automatic throw-out when it came to any graded stake, let alone one of the classics.  I am not changing my mind here.  Lukas did, however, make some news as reported by AP at Kentucky.com.  He criticized some recent trainers of Derby winners for “not carrying the banner.”  I knew this could not have been a reference to the use of drugs since Lukas is rumored to have put a healthy dose of steroids in the “hay, oats and water” formula.  Yet it was.  He specifically mentioned both O’Neill and Richard Dutrow.  More interesting, however, he is upset that Chip Woolley, trainer of Mine That Bird, was escorted from a casino after urinating on a slot machine.  It must have been an effort to cool down one of those hot ones that slot players think exist. 11)  Cozzetti  (Dale Romans/Jose Lezcano)  -  If your claim to fame is a 4th place finish in the Arkansas Derby losing by 10 lengths to Bodemeister, I am not sure the Preakness should be your next stop.  While he was only a neck away from a second-place finish, Sabercat, the show horse, ran 15th in Kentucky.  Although he did hit his Beyer top of 92 in the Oaklawn feature, he has a single win to his credit.  I cannot see him making an impact here.

ANALYSIS

In the Blue Ribbon Derby Analysis we thought it was one of the most competitive fields in years with any one of 13 horses having a legitimate chance to win, while positing that if there were a super horse in the field, its name would be Bodemeister.  I don’t think anything has changed since the race was run.  As Bodemeister was carving out some of the fastest fractions in Derby history, I was convinced he would not be around at the end.  When he opened up a three-length lead at the top of the stretch, my thinking changed to “this could be one of the greatest Derby wins ever.”  Alas, it wasn’t to be as the enervating early pace caught up to him.  The crazy thing is, he didn’t have to go that fast.  Only Trinniberg was near him early on, and absolutely no one thought he was going to steal the race. Bodemeister figures to be the lone quality speed horse in the Preakness field, and there is no more dangerous commodity in horse racing than a fast horse loose on the lead.  Yet I remain unconvinced that his lack of racing as a two-year old, and a fairly rigorous (by today’s standards) schedule of 5 races as a three-year old, will not take its toll.  The Preakness winner, however, is almost certainly coming from one of the horses who ran in the Derby, although I do not consider Optimizer to be in that mix.  From the group of I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, Went the Day Well and Creative Cause we have four of the top five Derby finishers, who were separated by a total of only three lengths, and the winners of a combined eight graded stakes.  Daddy Nose Best, the Derby’s 10th place horse adds two more graded stakes wins to that total.  Four of the five have run a triple digit Beyer, with Went the Day Well coming close with his Derby 97. I think this group makes for, once again, a very competitive field.  If the morning lines hold up, I find it difficult to wager on the 9-5 Bodemeister or the 5-2 I’ll Have Another.  Value can be found in the 6-1 Went the Day Well and Creative Cause, in addition to the 12-1 Daddy Nose Best.  If I have to pick one, I’ll go with Creative Cause. Tomorrow I could change my mind.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

 

Barton, the handicapping cat has been absent the entire time I have been working on this, relaxing with his brother Fager.  Perhaps he is one of the wise guys who thinks Bodemeister, his Derby pick, was the real winner.  As we pointed out in the Derby analysis, Barton is the namesake of the first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, who stood at stud on the farm where Bodemeister was foaled and raised. © T.E. Noonan 2012

KENTUCKY DERBY 2012

Early Edition

When:  Saturday,     May 5 Where:      Louisville, Kentucky TV:  NBC at about     6:20 p.m.

 

The factual information contained herein is from The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions, The Blood Horse.com and the Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac.  The analysis, including even that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless otherwise noted. This year’s edition of the Kentucky Derby is one of the most intriguing in years.  Each year presents its unique challenges, but I find this one close to impossible to handicap.  At 6:30 p.m. on The First Saturday in May, we could be saying either:  (a) Is this at long last a superhorse?; (b) Where did he come from?;  or, (c) Both.  The most likely nominee for Superhorse status is the colt named after Bob Baffert’s son, Bodemeister (that’s the horse’s name, not the kid’s).  But in an age where the Derby winner is often the one stepping up at just the right time, there are any number who could wear that moniker, at least for two weeks. One of the big questions facing this running is the factor speed will play.  There seems little doubt that Trinniberg will be in front early, but I have seen no one who thinks he will be anywhere near the front at about the 2 minute point of the race.  But what about the other early speed?  Will Bodemeister, Hansen and/or I’ll Have Another have their chances compromised, leading to a result akin to what produced longshots Monarchos in 2001 or Giacomo in 2005.

THE FIELD

As prior readers know, I place a great deal of stock in Beyer speed figures.  These are numbers derived by Andy Beyers’ peeps and attempts to permit meaningful comparisons among horses that may have raced over different tracks at different times. 1)  Daddy Long Legs  (Aidan O’Brien/Colm O’Donoghue)  –  A horse from the UAE Derby will win the Kentucky Derby one of these years, and I had assumed it would be one from Sheik Mohammed’s Godolphin stable, particularly since the Sheik is committed to winning America’s premier race.  While he has Alpha in this year’s race, that colt has done all his racing on this side of the Atlantic.  It would thus be ironic if the first Derby winner from Dubai is the one trained by Ireland’s own Aidan O’Brien and ridden by a lad named O’Donoghue.  There is much to recommend this colt by Scat Daddy from a Meadowlake mare.  He is trained by one of the best in the world;  O’Brien’s Master of Hounds finished fifth in last year’s race.  This guy has one of the highest speed ratings in the field with his Dubai Racing Post Rating of 117 equating to a 105 Beyer by my calculation, and that earned going 1 3/16 miles.  On the down side, his only race on dirt was in the Juvenile where he finished a distant 12th in the 13-horse field.  O’Brien discounts that effort because of a bad start.  The Meydan race is his only one since that effort, but I think the European trainers are adept at getting a horse ready off such a light race schedule.  The biggest drawback is the post.  It is a universally-held belief among trainers that the one-hole means certain defeat. 2)  Optimizer  (Wayne Lukas/Jon Court)  -  One of the most impressive statistics for a trainer in the Triple Crown, right up there with five consecutive Belmont wins by Woody Stephens, is Wayne Lukas’ six straight in Triple Crown races  –  and he did it with four different horses.  If he wins this year, however, it will be his first graded stakes win since 2009.  As of April 12, according to The New York Times, his losing streak in such races is 109.  In what would have been inconceivable not that long ago, I consider him an automatic throw-out in a stakes event.  This colt, by English Channel from an A.P. Indy mare, hasn’t won since his first start on the weeds at Saratoga.  His only placing on the dirt was a good second in The Rebel, ½ length behind Secret Circle, where he earned his career best Beyer of 91, at odds of 28-1.  He followed up that effort with a distant 9th in the Arkansas Derby, 20 lengths behind Bodemeister. 3)  Take Charge Indy  (Pat Byrne/Calvin Borel)  -  While drawing the first post may mean a certain loss, how do you feel about Calvin Bo-rail breaking from the 3?  He is on board the Florida Derby winner, a colt by A.P. Indy out of a Dehere mare, who prevailed over the heavily favored Union Rags.  His winning Beyer of 95 was a click below his career best of 96.  He has run at Churchill, finishing 5th in the Juvenile.  Borel is seeking his fourth winner, which would tie him with Bill Shoemaker, one shy of Eddie Arcaro’s five. 4)  Union Rags  (Michael Matz/Julien Leparoux)  -  This guy became a leading Derby contender when he won Belmont’s Champagne by 5 lengths back in October, giving him an undefeated record in three races.  After a wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as the even money favorite, he missed beating Hansen by a head.  He returned as a three-year old with a convincing romp in the Fountain of Youth, but disappointed with another difficult trip (or ride) in the Florida Derby.  He has returned to Churchill looking outstanding and training to match his appearance.  He has been installed as the second choice by morning line odds maker Mike Battaglia at 9-2.  The big question about him is whether he has the ability to move forward, which he must do to win this race.  He ran his career top Beyer figure of 95 at Saratoga on August 15.  That’s an impressive fig for a juvenile, but not for a three-year old.  He matched that number in the Fountain of Youth, but the concern is that’s his top.  The colt is by Dixie Union from a Gone West mare. 5)  Dullahan  (Dale Romans/Kent Desormeaux)  -  He is one of the “now” horses following his closing kick to nip Hansen at the wire in the Blue Grass Stakes.  That gave him a perfect 2-for-2 on Keeneland’s polytrack, but a 0-for-6 elsewhere.  His Blue Grass Beyer of 98 topped his previous highs of 86 on the grass and an 85 running 4th in the Juvenile at Churchill Downs.  As I have noted in the past, I think the Blue Grass is losing its status as a major prep because it does not seem that horses can transfer good Lexington form to the track down the road.  The colt is by Even the Score from a Smart Strike mare, and is a half-brother to Mine That Bird. 6)  Bodemeister  (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith)  -  If you hear or read anything about this guy between now and 6:30 on Saturday, you will know one of two things:  (1) he has been the most impressive and talented member of this crop; and, (2) no horse has won the Derby without racing at two since Apollo in 1882.  I don’t know how horse owners could have been so prescient 130 years ago to name a horse after a space craft, but they must have known they had a good one.  The colt, by Empire Maker from a Storm Cat mare, won his second career start by 9 lengths prior to running second to Creative Cause, as the favorite in the Grade II San Felipe.  He followed that up with a devastating 9 ½ lengths win in the Arkansas Derby, earning his third consecutive triple digit Beyer with a 108.  Since arriving at Churchill Downs, he has made a striking appearance, in addition to having an outstanding work over the track.  What about that 1882 thing?  Not that long ago, there were a number of historical patterns that could be used to eliminate a large number of any field from contention.  Those have been falling by the wayside in recent years, but this one has been the most durable for what, in my opinion is a good reason.  A three-year old being asked to go a mile and one-quarter on the First Saturday in May must have a solid base.  Racing at two certainly builds that since the animal had to get in sufficient condition to race at a young age.  But there is a reason to think this guy may have overcome that shortcoming.  According to Steve Haskin writing in Blood-Horse.com, the Baffert trainee had 30 works before his first start.  That is a lot of conditioning. 7)  Rousing Sermon  (Jerry Hollendorfer/Jose Lezcano)  -  His only wins came as a two-year old in races restricted to California-breds, and his top dirt Beyer is 88 (his overall high is 91 on synthetic).  What’s not to like?  In his last start in the Louisiana Derby, he ran third (87) to 109-1?? shot Hero of Order.  He is, however, getting some buzz over his appearance and training at Churchill, often a significant sign. 8)  Creative Cause  (Mike Harrington/Joel Rosario)  –  After breaking his maiden with a 98 Beyer in July, this colt (Giant’s Causeway from Siberian Summer mare) ran in seven consecutive Grade I’s or Grade II’s, winning three of them and never failing to hit the board.  Despite that impressive resume, perhaps the most impressive of any entrant, he only matched or exceeded that opening Beyer once, a 102 in the San Felipe where he beat Bodemeister.  Most recently, he lost by a nose to I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby.  He raised some concerns with taking two days off this week to just walk the shed row instead of going to the track.  It was reported that he lost a shoe on the flight from California, but that would not seem be the sort of thing that would seem to necessitate a break.  His trainer has stated, however, that the two days of walking is the normal practice after one of his charges works.  Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form, who reports on works and general appearance wrote that he is getting mixed signals from the colt.  This is 71-year old trainer Mike Harrington’s first Derby horse. 9)  Trinniberg  (Bisnath Parboo/Willie Martinez)  -  The entry of this colt, by Teuflesberg from a Goldminers Gold mare, was quite a surprise.  In seven career starts he has never been beyond 7 furlongs, and will now be asked to tackle 10 against the best horses of his generation.  When he ran in the Breeders’ Cup, it was, significantly in the Juvenile Sprint, not the 1 1/16 mile Juvenile.  He is definitely fast, having easily won this year’s Swale (99) and Bay Shore (94) on the front end.  Those who wager on him will have about 80 seconds of excitement before he gets swallowed by the field. 10)  Daddy Nose Best  (Steve Asmussen/Garrett Gomez)  -  Every year there is a “wise guy” or “steam” horse, an entrant who is not among the top betting choices but whom all the smart guys think will win at a good price. This colt, by Scat Daddy out of a Thunder Gulch mare, is the 2012 nominee.  I have a hard time believing he will be anywhere near the morning line of 15-1 and is much more likely to go off at 10-1.  He is the most heavily raced of the field, with eight of his ten starts coming as a two-year old.  Six of those races last year were on grass, including a 6th place finish by 3 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.  He has won both starts this year in the El Camino Real Derby (93) on Golden Gate’s polytrack and the Sunland Park Derby where he earned a Beyer of 100. 11)  Alpha  (Kiaran McLaughlin/Rajiv Maragh)  -  Kiaran McLaughlin is one of those trainers who moves a horse up in my estimation because of his ability to win races at big prices.  This colt, sired by Bernardini out of a Nijinsky II mare and owned by Godolphin, would normally rate a long look in a race such as this.  He has, however, been suffering from a leg infection that has caused him to miss a work and, as it turns out, he will not work over the Churchill surface.  He ran a very game second to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial, earning a career Beyer top of 98, but his physical issue is a major red flag.  At two, he broke his maiden by 6 at the Spa, ran second to Union Rags in the Champagne and was not a factor in the Juvenile.  He was 2-for-2 at three before the Wood. 12)  Prospective  (Mark Casse/Luis Contreras)  -  He has four wins from eight starts, including two graded stakes (Tampa Bay Derby and Woodbine’s Grey Cup), but there is nothing that gets the pulse racing about him.  The Malibu Moon colt from an Awesome Again mare has a Beyer top of 90, and most recently finished sixth (87) in the Blue Grass Stakes, 6 ½ behind the winner. 13)  Went the Day Well  (Graham Motion/John Velazquez)  -  From the connections that brought us Animal Kingdom last year, we have this year’s winner of the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.  The colt, by Proud Citizen from a Tiznow mare began his career racing on grass in England where he had two seconds in as many starts.  He came to the States for his sophomore season where he needed two more starts to break his maiden on Gulfstream’s dirt, running Beyers of 80 and 76.  He picked up his second win on Turfway’s synthetic surface, receiving a 92 Beyer in his final prep.  Even though he is coming off two wins, trainer Motion persuaded Kentucky officials to allow him to add blinkers, resulting in what Motion called “his best work ever.” 14)  Hansen  (Mike Maker/Ramon Dominguez)  -  Every year we have the traditional “feel good” story, usually involving an elderly trainer, owner, or disabled child.  Just as traditionally, however, we have the “why can’t they just shut up and go away?” story.  The con artists who brought us Big Brown are typical of the latter category, and the owner of this colt is in that mold.  His name is Hansen  –  guess where the horse’s name came from.  In addition to the cringe-inducing egotism, the owner Hansen has been trying unsuccessfully to dye part of the horse Hansen’s hair blue to match the stable colors.  At least when he succeeded, temporarily, in achieving this questionable goal by dyeing the colt’s tail before the Blue Grass Stakes, he had at least made a correct match between his personality and the horse’s anatomy.  The colt, however, is a good one, sired by Tapit from a Sir Cat mare.  He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in which he topped no less than eight Derby entrants.  This followed winning his first two starts by a combined 25 ½ lengths, including a win over Turfway’s synthetic surface before the winning effort at CD.  It is a move he is hoping to replicate with his last start coming in Keeneland’s poly Blue Grass.  While he lost that one to Dullahan, losing your final prep in a good effort means nothing when the band finishes playing My Old Kentucky Home.  Two of the biggest concerns about him are that he is another front-running horse in a field with quality speed, as well as the fact that he has a number of Beyers in the 95 range, leading one to wonder if that is his peak. 15)  Gemologist  (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano)  -  An undefeated three-year old showing up at Churchill Downs would usually be the talk of the back stretch.  This colt (Tiznow out of Mr. Prospector mare) is only the third choice in the morning line at 6-1, even with the perfect slate and the trainer and jockey who each lead their peers in money won this year.  His Beyers have increased with every start, topping out at 98 in the Wood.  He also has two wins over the Churchill surface, including one in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club.  He is one who appears to have considerable upside potential. 16)  El Padrino  (Todd Pletcher/Rafael Bejarano)  -  This guy entered the starting gate for the Florida Derby carrying a ton of hype.  He won his first start at three earning a 100 Beyer and defeating Take Charge Indy in an optional claiming event.  He came back in the Fair Grounds’ Risen Star, beating the well-regarded Mark Valeski and earning a 98 Beyer.  He was a short price (5-2) in the Gulfstream race, but finished 4th, albeit by only 3 lengths, behind Take Charge Indy.  Because he did not have an excuse like the third-place finisher Union Rags, he is being dismissed at a morning line of 20-1 while the Rags projects to be 9-2.  The colt, who is by Pulpit out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, also has lost both of his prior riders (Velazquez and Castellano) to other entrants, but picking up Bejarano is not too shabby. 17)  Done Talking  (Hamilton Smith/Sheldon Russell)  -  If War Emblem had not won in 2002, we would not consider the Illinois Derby a prep race.  (Of course, if Mine That Bird had not won, the same could be said of the Sunland Derby although a major contender has emerged from this year’s race.)  Prior to hitting his Beyer top of 85 at Hawthorne’s main event, the colt by Broken Vow from a Dixieland Band mare had topped out at 78 finishing a decent 4th  in Aqueduct’s Remsen in November.  In his only other start this year, he finished 21 lengths behind Hansen in the Gotham.  There is simply nothing to suggest that this guy will be a factor, which is unfortunate since it is his 67-year old trainer’s first Derby horse. 18)  Sabercat  (Steve Asmussen/Corey Nakatani)  -  It is difficult to think that a loss by almost 10 lengths would cause you to believe that you have a Derby horse, but his third-place finish in Bodemeister’s Arkansas Derby has to be the only reason he is here.  While he won a minor stake at Monmouth, and then the Grade III Delta Jackpot as a juvenile, his two starts at three have resulted in finishing a combined 15 lengths behind the winner.  The Beyer top for this Bluegrass Cat colt from a Forty Niner mare is 92. 19)  I’ll Have Another  (Doug O’Neill/Mario Gutierrez)  -  This colt has come a long way since finishing 19 lengths behind the winner on Labor Day in Saratoga where his Beyer was a 40.  He took five months off and came back to win the Robert B. Lewis at 43-1, getting a 96 Beyer in the process.  Then he beat Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby, Beyering a 95.  Even though he is 2-for-2 this year, including winning one of the major preps, he is not getting much respect, with his morning line set at 12-1.  The colt is by Flower Alley from an Arch mare, and trained by one of California’s leading conditioners.  One note of caution is that he had shock wave therapy for tightness in his back, and stayed in California rather than coming to Louisville to get in a work over the surface. 20)  Liaison  (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia)  -  There is a handicapping angle in which you bet the less-regarded part of an uncoupled entry, in this case going with this guy over Bodemeister.  For some inexplicable reason, it is an approach that often works.  Baffert himself had a Derby winner using this tack when Real Quiet prevailed over the favorite Indian Charlie in 1998.  That, quite frankly, is about the only way you would come up with this colt by Indian Charlie (hmmm…) out of a Victory Gallop mare (double hmmmm….).  He started his three-year old career by losing his jockey after clipping heels in the Robert B. Lewis where he was favored.  He returned in the San Felipe (top Beyer of 92) finishing five behind Creative Cause and then nine in arrears to I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby.  He has, however, made a striking appearance since arriving in Louisville, and is adding the blinkers he wore during his two-year old season when he was 3-for-4 including a Grade I.  Hmmmm… higher price of uncoupled entry, sire lost as favorite to stable mate Real Quiet, dam’s sire denied Real Quiet’s bid to win Triple Crown.  

ANALYSIS

When I began working on this, I thought there were 11 three-year olds who had a legitimate shot on winning this.  After spending a lot of time on this, I eliminated one of those 11 and now think there are 13 with a shot.  While this may not prove to be an all-star cast, I think it is one of the most competitive ones in my memory.  In every year since the Breeders’ Cup began, one would expect, at most, a handful to make it to this race.  This year, nine of the thirteen Juvenile starters are in this field, including the top five.  Eight of those nine (Optimizer being the exception) returned to win a graded stake this year. There has not been a large number of triple digit Beyers.  If you don’t count the three run by Bodemeister, including a 108, there are only three others run by three different colts.  If you count Daddy Long Legs’ Racing Post Rating of 117, which I equate to a 105 Beyer, there are four.  There are entrants, however, who are capable of jumping up and running a Derby-worthy Beyer. A major factor in every Derby is the importance of how the horse handles the Churchill Downs surface, as well as the animal’s physical appearance.  Those considerations would have led one to Animal Kingdom last year who won convincingly at a long price.  I rely heavily on Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form, but will also listen to the televised commentary going up to the race. Here are the seven that I do not think can win:  Daddy Long Legs, because of drawing post position 1 and the fact that as of Friday morning had not been on the track;  Optimizer, nothing to recommend;  Rousing Sermon, low speed figures;  Trinniberg, never gone beyond 7 furlongs;  Prospective, low speed figures;  Done Talking, low speed figures;  and, Sabercat, also low speed figures. Having very adeptly eliminated almost a third of the field, there are several who could win but have serious enough questions that I do not think warrant a wager.  I do not like Dullahan because of my view that the Blue Grass Stakes is not a major prep, and when a horse’s best races have been on the Keeneland surface I will discount their chances.  I won’t go with Creative Cause because of the “mixed signals” Mike Welsch is getting from him during his stay at Churchill.  Alpha is off my list because of his physical problems going up to the race.  I will not be backing Hansen.  He is another that Mike Welsch reports as not looking all that great on the track, in the one time he came to it from the training center where he had been working.  His Beyer pattern this year  -  96, 95, 96  -  suggests a horse who has already peaked. Great!!!  Only 45 per cent of the field is left.  If I want to put my money where my mouth is and back up my view that this is the most competitive race in years, I cannot bet either of the two likely favorites, Bodemeister and Union Rags.  Each looks great and has trained exceptionally well.  I think Bodemeister, and I am not swayed by the fact that he would break a 130-year history of no horse winning the Derby without racing at two.  I am convinced he has a sufficient bottom based on the reported 30 works before his first race.  Union Rags is one I am less certain of.  His five-race Beyer pattern going back to August is 93, 95, 94, 92, 95.  I am not going to take a relatively short price with the hope that he is due for a breakout race. We’re getting there.  Here are two that my gut tells me won’t do it:  As much respect as I have for Graham Motion, I can’t see him replicating last year’s triumph with Went the Day WellI’ll Have Another is a colt who has improved big time this year, but I am leery of a speed horse in a field with lots of speed being ridden by a jockey in his first Derby. At this point I know you are saying, “Did Liaison scratch?”  Not of this writing, at least.  I recognize the tendency to get a little too caught up in one’s own words, but the more I looked at this colt the more I saw a potential for considerable upside.  He was a top-ranked two-year old who removed blinkers for his sophomore year.  He wasn’t embarrassed two races back in the San Felipe by Creative Cause and Bodemeister.  He is restoring the blinkers and has, at least according to some reports, looked good at Churchill.  At odds of 50-1, I think he warrants a flyer.  The other price horse I think warrants a good look is El Padrino.  He began the year running Beyers of 100 and 98 before disappointing with a 4th place finish in the Florida Derby, running a 90.  While he had no apparent excuse for that effort, he was less than two lengths back of Union Rags. We are down to three:  Take Charge Indy, Daddy Nose Best and Gemologist.  I’ll pick Gemologist.  But tomorrow I will probably change my mind.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

My hope is that adding his photo to the Blue Ribbon Analysis will increase the likelihood of Barton retaining interest in subsequent legs.  He has been sleeping in a chair next to me as I write this, but has climbed up in my lap for two entrants:  El Padrino and Bodemeister.  He may have a particular affinity for Bodemeister because the colt was foaled and raised on the farm where the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, stood at stud.  Barton the cat was named after the horse. ©  T. E. Noonan 2012

BELMONT STAKES 2011

Only Edition

When?  Saturday, June11

Where?  NBC-TV at 6:16 ET

We may not have much time to get this done.  Because of personal plans, I have to get this done quickly.  Unfortunately, the entirety of my first draft was not saved, for reasons I think I understand.  So, I will do as much as I can in limited time.  In case tou are wondering what Barton, the handicapping cat thinks, he is presently irritated with me.  Also, after the Preakness, he threw up on my notebook where I keep track of selections.  I do not know what I did to irritate him back ten, but he is not being helpful.

THE FIELD

1)  Master of Hounds  (Aidan O’Brien/Garret Gomez)  -  In what appeared to be a weak crop of three-year olds going in to theDerby, he looked like a live longshot.  In my earlyDerby analysis, I picked him to win.  When I read that he did not have a good appearance when he arrived at Churchill, I altered my opinion.  He ran a solid fifth in theDerby, 5+ lengths back of the winner, earning a Beyer of 95 in his first ever start on dirt. In two of his three prior starts, one on Meydan’s synthetic and one on the grass, he earned Racing Post Ratings of 115, which I think equates to a 102 Beyer.  At a morning line of 10-1 and a top American jockey, he has to be considered a possible upsetter. 2)  Stay Thirsty  (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano)  -  Although he won the Gotham on Aqueduct’s inner on March 5, (earning his top Beyer of 89), his subsequent distant seventh-place finish in the Florida Derby and distant twelfth in the Kentucky Derby do not suggest anything compelling a conclusion he could win theBelmont.  He has had a good string of works since theDerby, but had a similar pattern before theDerby, so I give little weight to that factor. 3) Ruler On Ice  (Kelly Breen/Jose Valdivia)  -  His two wins are in a maiden and NW1X allowance, but did get his Beyer top of 86 in the Grade III Sunland Derby, where he finished only a head behind the Preakness show horse, Astrology.  In his subsequent start, the ungraded Federico Tesio, he ran second as the favorite, with a Beyer of 83.  He is adding blinkers for this event, a tool his trainer has had a 30 per cent success rate with over the past 18 months, but I do not think this is sufficient to move him to the winner’s circle. 4)  Santiva  (Eddie Kenneally/Shaun Bridgmohan)  -  I find this colt intriguing even though he has only one win – in a Grade II stake last year at Churchill Downs.  In his first start this year, he ran second in Mucho Macho Man‘s Risen Star, finishing 1 1/2 back with a Beyer of 91.  He only beat three others in the polytrack Blue Grass as the favorite, and left theDerby starting gate at odds of 35-1.  He finished sixth, 5+ lengths back with a Beyer of 95.  He has run quite creditably in his last three dirt starts  -  all graded stakes  -  and I think he is an upset possibility. 5)  Brilliant Speed  (Tom Albertrani/Joel Rosario)  -  Although he won the Blue Grass Stakes on Keeneland’s polytrack in his finalDerby prep, he went of at odds of 28-1 at Churchill.  Part of this is attributable to the declining significance of Keeneland’s premier spring race as aDerby prep (or a race of significance for any reason), and part due to his losing his two dirt starts by 40 lengths in maiden events.  Nonetheless, he ran well in theDerby, finishing less than three lengths behind the place horse, Nehro, and earning a Beyer of 95. 6)  Nehro  (Steve Asmussen/Corey Nakatani)  -  There is a good chance he will be the most overbet horse in the race.  In three graded stakes this year, he finished a head behind in the Louisiana Derby and the Arkansas Derby, and completed his own version of a hat trick by running second at Churchill on the first Saturday in May.  His profile is one that will haveBelmont bettors  jumping all over him on the premise he will get better with more distance.  He certainly is a legitimate threat with his last three Beyers (in reverse chronological order) being 99, 98 and 94. 7)  Monzon  (Ignacio Correas IV/Jose Lezcano)  -  While no entrant has more wins than this guy’s three, it is hard to generate any enthusiasm for his chances.  After two wins by a combined 17 lengths last summer, his only subsequent victory was in the ungraded Count Fleet on the inner at  Aqueduct, where he earned his Beyer top of 90.  Since then he has run a 72 and 82 in two undistinguished performances in the Sam F. Davis and the Peter Pan. 8)  Prime Cut   (Neil Howard/Edgar Prado)  He has not finished off the board since his first start, and has run second (Lexington Stakes) and third (Peter Pan) in his last two starts in graded stakes.  With a Beyer top of 91, he appears to be a cut below many of the others. 9)  Animal Kingdom  (Graham Motion/John Velazquez)  -  The Derby winner has run matching 103 Beyers in the first two legs of the Triple Crown and has been training sharply.  Other than his low odds, there is a lot to like here. 10)  Mucho Macho Man  (Kathy Ritvo/Ramon Dominguez)  -  I’m off this decreasing bandwagon.  I liked him in the last two, but I think he has danced one too many to now win a mile and one-half race.  It will be his sixth start this year and eleventh career.  Twice he has had the excuse of losing a shoe, including in the Preakness, and now has both a new blacksmith and jockey.  His Derby Beyer of 99 tied his career top, but is his only one over 94 this year. 11)  Isn’t He Perfect  (Doodnauth Shivmangal/Rajiv Maragh)  -  The question mark may be missing from his name, but there is none with respect to his chances here.  Thirteen career starts, Beyer top of 87. 12)  Shackleford  (Dale Romans/Jesus Castanon)  -  We should have known The Rapture would not happen on May 21 when a jock named Jesus was on a live shot in the Preakness.  Many of the experts discount this guy’s chances because front-running horses cannot hold on in a race this long, but lone speed horses are great bets.  He is also drawn on the outside of other possible front-runners, giving him another advantage.  Possible challenges for the lead?  Prime Cut may go and Ruler On Ice is adding blinkers.  Interestingly, Mucho Macho Man has had some success running close.  Still, I think there is a good chance this colt could wire the field.

ANALYSIS

I’ll be brief.  I have so many technical issues with this that I just want to get it out.  I think both the Derbyand Preakness winners have legitimate shots here, but both will be a short price.  For a good price, I am going with Master of Hounds.  I think Santiva, Brilliant Speed and Nehro could fill superfecta slots.

PREAKNESS STAKES 2011

Final Edition

When?  Saturday, May 21

Where?  NBC-TV at 6:16 ET

                                “One of our beautiful Preakness fillies [will bring members of the media to the interview area.]”

                                                                                  –  Dave Rodham, Pimlico track announcer, at post-position draw for the Preakness

All of the factual information contained herein is from, primarily, The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions. Other sources include the print and on-line editions of The Blood Horse, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Times TODAY, Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac and The New York Times. The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted.

Presumably, Dave Rodham was not referring to Rachel Alexandra, but to females of the human persuasion.  This must be part of the effort to increase racing’s appeal to women.  On Friday, the day of the three-year old filly (equine) race, the Black-Eyed Susan, there will be a legends race featuring women jockeys.  It is now de rigueur for sporting events to pay lip service to breast cancer awareness and research, so the Maryland Jockey Club will contribute an amount equal to the win pool to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

If Friday is Women’s Day at the Races, there is no question Saturday is for the boys.  As I noted in a March 31 blog posting, the mascot for this year’s Preakness is “Kegasus,” a half-man, half-horse with a beer gut.  As part of the celebration, there will be a beer garden with $2 drafts starting at 8 a.m. (sic), an infield mug club where your souvenir mug entitles you to unlimited refills (sic), an oxygen bar area with beer pong, and the Jagermeister cornhole (sic) tournament.  Now, I enjoy a cold one as much as the next guy (although I have no idea what the last two events entail), but promoting drunken revelry at an event that has had its share of  -  frankly  -  scary moments in the past has to be the height of irresponsibility.  We have Frank Stronach of Magna Entertainment Corporation to thank for this.  It is yet another example of the taste and class he embodies that one wonders why he is not in the Republican presidential field.

Let’s get to the race.  It appears that weather will not be a factor.

THE FIELD

1)  Astrology  (Steve Asmussen/Mike Smith)  -  This is a well-regarded colt who, while only winning twice, has either won or placed second in four consecutive graded stakes going back to his win in Churchill’s Iroquois on Halloween, and has never been off the board.  In two starts this year, he has run second in the Sunland Derby (Beyer 87) and second in the sloppy Jerome where he hit his career Beyer top of 93.

2)  Norman Asbjornson (Chris Grove/Julian Pimentel) – If he starts, he will the only one of the first four finishers from the Wood Memorial who actually made it to a race.  Since two of those who finished in front of him – Toby’s Corner and Uncle Mo – projected to be short prices in the Derby, one might think this guy warrants a long look.  He will get one, since he figures to be on the track longer than most of his competitors.  His only wins came at Penn National and an allowance at the track formerly known as Philadelphia Park where his Beyers were 54 and 71.  His numbers have gone up, and he did run well in two graded stakes – a second in the Gotham (83) and fourth in the Wood (87).

3)   King Congie (Tom Albertrani/Robby Albarado) – His first two starts were on dirt and were miserable, beating only three horses and losing by a combined 31 lengths.  He switched to the grass and won three straight, including two ungraded stakes.  In his last start, on Keeneland’s polytrack, he ran a good third, losing only by a head.  He has a wonderful pattern of improving Beyers in every start, culminating with a 93 in the Blue Grass Stakes.  Even though his dirt form was poor, I will discount that factor when the races were the first of his career, and he has demonstrated a steadily improving career.

4Flashpoint (Wesley Ward/Cornelio Velasquez) – Visions of roses had to be dancing in the heads of Peachtree Stable when this guy won his first start by 6+, and then won the Grade II Hutcheson by 7+ with a Beyer of 102.  Maybe it is his breeding (sired by Pomeroy out of a Two Punch mare), or the fact that he only had two sprints on his resume, but he could not keep pace with Shackleford in the Florida Derby, finishing fourth, 8 lengths back.  He has since had an excellent series of 5-furlong works, but will once again have to confront Shackleford and other early speed in this event.

5)  Shackleford (Dale Romans/Jesus/Castanon) – He has run two good ones at odds of 69-1 and 23-1, but his Preakness price will be much lower given the view that the “shorter” and “tighter” track favors speed horses.  Of course, it is only 1/16 mile shorter than the Derby, and at 1 3/16 miles is farther than most of these horses will ever run again.  His Derby Beyer of 97 was a career best, but definitely in line with prior figs this year of 93 and 89.  He definitely projects to be in the early mix, but will offer far less parimutuel value.

6)  Sway Away (Jeff Bonde/Garrett Gomez) – He hasn’t won since his first start in June, but has run decently in four subsequent graded stakes, including a fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (93), only three lengths behind Nehro (second in Kentucky).  He added blinkers in his last start, and second-time blinkers is a useful angle, although with a comment line of “[r]ank, wide, lugged in,” one wonders how useful they were.

7)  Midnight Interlude (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia) – He is the only one of the five Derby horses who did not run a decent race at Churchill, beating only three horses and finishing 17+ in arrears.  He is getting the “Lookin At Lucky jockey switch,” with Baffert moving from Victor Espinoza to Garcia.  I am not sure that will be sufficient to overcome a Derby Beyer of 77, and only one career Beyer exceeding 85  -  his 97 in the Santa Anita Derby.  This is a colt who did not race at two, and has now had five races as a three-year old.  I am having a difficult time seeing an upside here.  Baffert may agree with me.  The Thoroughbred Times Today quoted him as saying, “I’ve always won it with the best horse of the crop.  I think I would feel better having The Factor in here.” 

8)  Dance City (Todd Pletcher/Ramon Dominguez) – Of all the “new shooters” (those who did not run in the Derby), this colt’s last race Beyer of 95 is the best, even if only by two ticks.  He has yet to finish off the board in four career starts, and has a steadily improving Beyer profile.  In his last race, he finished third in the Arkansas Derby, less than two lengths back.  Pletcher is another trainer who does not appear to be enthralled with his horse’s chances:  “I think most of the time all the best horses are running in the Derby.  You have the occasional Red Bullet who decides to pass, but for the most part, the best horses are in the Derby.”  (This quote is also from Thoroughbred Times Today.)

9)  Mucho Macho Man (Kathy Ritvo/Rajiv Maragh) – He is the baby of the field, having been born in June (of 2008, that is), but has accomplished a lot.  He has only been off-the-board once (a fourth) in nine career starts, has competed in six graded stakes, and was third in the Derby.  Pimlico will be the eighth track on which he will have raced.  His three consecutive Beyers in the 90′s, topped with a Derby 99, is only exceeded in this field by Dialed In‘s four straight.

10)  Dialed In (Nick Zito/Julien Leparoux) – I did not like him in the Derby, and even though he had a decent close, finishing eighth, 7+ back, I do not see any reason to like him here.  His last three Beyers have been in the low 90′s, and you have to go back to a January 97 in a one-turn mile to find a number that could win this.  A dissenting view can be found in the Daily Racing Form‘s Steven Crist who points out that this guy’s closing half-mile of under 47 seconds has been exceeded only by the 46 3/5 run by a horse called Secretariat.

11)  Animal Kingdom (Graham Motion/John Velazquez) – By all accounts he came out of the Derby in great shape, and has not missed an oat in his feed tub.  According to Horse Racing TV’s Richard Migliore, his appearance may be even more impressive than it was before the Derby.  His Derby win was quite impressive, and with only five lifetime races  -  and just one on dirt  -  there is no reason to think that he cannot improve.  No one in the field has run a higher Beyer than his Derby 103.

12)  Isn’t He Perfect (Doodnauth Shivmangal/Edgar Prado) – Actually, he is far from it.  In his debut at Saratoga he finished 47 lengths back and followed that effort up by being eased.  He moved to the claiming ranks and broke his maiden for $40K on the Aqueduct inner track.  His only other win in 12 career starts came in a race restricted to horses who had raced in a claiming event.  His last two starts have been in graded stakes where he, surprisingly, did not embarrass himself  – running fifths in the Wood (84) and Jerome (80)  -  but did little to lead one to think he will win the Preakness.  The Wood Beyer is his career top.  Nonetheless, this may be the happiest horse of this year’s field.  Trainer Shivmangal gives each of his charges a twice daily cocktail of Guinness and egg whites, according to Thoroughbred Times Today.

13)  Concealed Identity (Dean Gaudet/Sheldon Russell) – The Preakness will be his first try against graded company, although he does have two stakes wins among his four career wins (from eight starts).  His last two wins have come at Pimlico in the 65K Federico Tesio (86) and an optional claimer (83) – where he could have been acquired for $30,000.

14)  Mr. Commons (John Shirreffs/Victor Espinoza) -  At least he is not called “Mr. Common,” a sobriquet that is about as damning as you can get for a horse.  In the Santa Anita Derby, he finished a good third behind Kentucky Derby starters Midnight Interlude and Comma to the Top who finished 16th and 19th, respectively.  So as key races go, that one  -  at least so far  -  has been a big negative one.  His last race Beyer of 93 is equivalent to the final Derby preps of Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford, so he cannot be discounted in this spot.

ANALYSIS

The big question, of course, is whether Animal Kingdom is for real, or is he this year’s Super Saver?  Is he much better on dirt (see Cigar), or did he just like the Churchill strip, or just have one of those days?  I don’t have a clue.  All of the experts saw this Derby as being the most wide-open, if not mediocre fields in years.  Even I thought that.  At the risk of being overly self-laudatory, I had narrowed the field to eight possibles.  Two had physical problems (Archarcharch and Pants On Fire).  Of the remaining six, five ran one through five.  Now either I am a genius (unlikely, particularly since I did not win a dime), or the race was somewhat formful.

In the Derby Blue Ribbon, we discussed how historical trends have been falling by the wayside in picking the winner.  Animal Kingdom‘s win caused at least one more (and possibly two) to go.  One of the Preakness trends that has proven to be remarkably reliable is that the Preakness winner ran in the Derby.  It doesn’t mean he won the roses, but at least contested it.  Since 1983, only three who did not run at Churchill have won the Preakness:  Rachel Alexandra, Bernadini and Red Bullet.  One is a first ballot Hall of Famer, one was a brilliant horse of his generation, and Red Bullet was a highly touted three-year old who missed the Derby for reasons that escape me. 

The other trend  -  at least in my opinion  -  is that the Preakness is won by a good horse.  Admittedly, you have to put the likes of Funny Cide and War Emblem in that group  -  although each won the Derby.  However, when you go down the list of the Preakness winners, you are not asking yourself, “Where did he come from?”  The same is not true of either the Derby or the Belmont.  I give you Giacomo, Mine That Bird, and Da’Tara as just some of the most recent examples.  In fact, I would be willing to wager that many racing fans would not identify the last one as a Classic winner.

So, we need a horse who will not be a major surprise.  To me, that means one who has been competitive in graded stakes and has a Beyer number that either is near what it takes to win, or shows room for improvement.  Running in the Kentucky Derby is a major positive. 

Say goodbye to Norman Asbjornson, Isn’t He Perfect and Concealed Identity.  The top Beyer among the three is 87, and they have combined for only eight Beyers in the 80′s in 27 lifetime starts.  (That last calculation  -  combining their stats  -  is admittedly, as Tom and Ray would say, “Boooogus.”)

In looking at the ones who did not start in the Derby  -  the “non-shooters”  -  I want to see a potential champion.  Red Bullet is the least accomplished in recent years of those who won the Preakness but did not start on the First Saturday in May.  Among Astrology, King Congie, Flashpoint, Sway Away, Dance City and Mr. Commons, I do not see a Red Bullet, let alone a Rachel Alexandra.  This is not to say, however, that any of them could not wind up in exactas, trifectas or supers. Each of them, by the way, (except Flashpoint) has a last race Beyer comparable to Animal Kingdom‘s penultimate number.

Of the Derby runners, I cannot make a case for Midnight Interlude, even though he has Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia in his corner (although Baffert’s enthusiasm, shall we say, is somewhat tempered).  Each of them, by the way, loses more than 70 per cent of the time.  As noted earlier, I do not think Dialed In is that good, and he is a decidedly undesirable wagering prospect as the morning line second choice.  I think Shackleford‘s chances will be compromised by the likelihood that the Preakness projects to have a faster pace, decreasing the possibility that he will be first to the wire.

That leaves the winner and show horse from the Derby.  The only knock I have on Animal Kingdom is that he will be a very short price (his morning line is 2-1).  I am going with Mucho Macho Man.  Horses that I think can round out the superfecta are Shackleford, Dialed In, and non-Derby starters Astrology and Sway Away.

In addition, there are two handicapping tools worth noting.  The Daily Racing Form is providing frr Past Performances for the Preakness on its web site, and Thoroughbred Times Today has videos of all the preps, including the Kentucky Derby.  Go to the “links” page to access either of these sources.

WHO IS THE CAT GOING WITH?

Barton, the handicapping cat and I have been apart during the time I wrote this first edition.  We will be reunited on Friday night, and he may provide some of his feline insight at that point.  UPDATE:  He did jump up to my lap, purring loudly as I was finishing up with the Dialed In analysis.

© Singing Bridge Stables 2011

KENTUCKY DERBY 2011

Final Edition

When?  Saturday, May 7

Where?  NBC-TV at 6:24 ET

I’ve always wanted to be number one, just not in the Derby starting gate.”                                                                                    –  Jinks Fires on drawing the one hole All of the factual information contained herein is from, primarily, The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions. Other sources include the print and on-line editions of The Blood Horse, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac and The New York Times. The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted. Every Derby presents its unique challenges, but this year’s edition is one of the most unusual ones I have seen.  As hard as I try, it is often difficult to not like the favorite, if only just a little bit.  This year, I did not care for either the likely favorite or second-choice, whether it is Uncle Mo or Dialed In.  Then Mo scratched.  That left as the probable favorite a horse whose speed figures are not even among the best of a weak field.  That, of course, makes for the optimal wagering situation when you can toss the favorite and land on more appealing odds.  The problem is finding a landing site. Here are the winning prices for the last five major preps:  $52.20 (Arkansas Derby), $40.20 (Blue Grass), $29.80 (Santa Anita Derby), $19.40 (Wood) and $7.80 (Florida Derby).  If you want to add a couple of others to the mix, the Sunland Derby yielded a $53.20 payout and the Tampa Bay Derby produced an $89.40 winner.  If Dialed In did not catch Shackleford at the wire, the Florida Derby winner would have paid $139.80.  What this means is that there is not exactly a wealth of well-regarded horses waiting in the wings should the likely favorite falter.  In fact, the second betting choice may well be a horse with one career win  -  Nehro, whose claim to fame is that he almost won two of the major preps. As readers of past editions of The Blue Ribbon Analysis know, I am a strong believer in the value of Beyer speed figures in the handicapping process.  For the uninitiated, Beyer figures are developed by Andy Beyer and his colleagues, and assess the relative speed of a race by analyzing a number of factors.  This year’s field is noteworthy for the clustering of numbers across a narrow range.  Twelve of the entrants have run a last race Beyer between 93 and 98 (I am counting Master of Hounds‘ Racing Post Rating in that number).  Uncle Mo, who could’ve been the favorite, not only is not in that group, but does not have a three-year old Beyer that is in the top 18 run by this year’s crop.  There have been 11 numbers higher than Dialed In‘s last race 93 (although he did run a 97 this year).                                                                      THE FIELD

1)  Archarcharch  (William Fires/Jon Court) – This colt is, without question, one of the most interesting (and bettable) ones in the field.  In addition to being a genuine “feel good” story with a 70-year old trainer running his first Derby horse and a jock who is married to said trainer’s daughter, he owns the field’s best last-race Beyer with a 98.  He broke his maiden in a stakes at the Fair Grounds the week before Christmas, and won the Grade III Southwest and Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.  He has an interesting pattern of winning every other start.  Unfortunately, he needs to break that pattern to win the Derby, but watch for him in the Preakness.  He is also seeking to become the first horse since Ferdinand in 1986 to win from this post position.  Remarkably enough, no post position has produced more Derby winners since 1900, but with the advent of 20-horse fields it seems to be a more daunting task.

2)  Brilliant Speed  (Tom Albertrani/Joel Rosario)  -  He exhibited just that in winning the Blue Grass with a closing 3 furlongs of 34 and change, by far the fastest closing time of any entrant.  His Beyer was a 93.  The bad news for him, however, is that this year the Derby will be run on dirt, and not on grass or a synthetic track.  His connections wisely tried him on turf after his two dirt stars resulted in a combined 40 lengths worth of beating.  He broke his maiden three starts later on the weeds and ran well in two ungraded turf stakes before upsetting the Blue Grass at 19-1.

3) Twice the Appeal (Jeff Bonde/Calvin Borel) – Along with Rosie Napravnik’s mount, this colt figures to be the most over bet entrant for reasons having nothing to do with his perceived talent. When your jockey has won three of the last four Derbies, including on an absolute bomber exiting the same prep, that is all many people have to know. The colt  broke his maiden in a $30K claiming event on December 29, then won a race restricted to former claimers before winning a prep that now has more significance than Keeneland’s Blue Grass — the Grade III Sunland Derby. He has yet to hit 90 on the Beyer scale (Sunland was an 89), but the same can be said about Borel’s second Derby winner, Mine That Bird.

4)  Stay Thirsty (Todd Pletcher/Ramon Dominguez) – I don’t always bet on horses, but when I do I prefer ones other than this one. After breaking his maiden at Saratoga, he finished 1 3/4 lengths behind last year’s second-best juvenile, Boys At Toscanova, in the Hopeful. That made him an instant Derby contender even though he followed that up with a 14+ length loss to Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He opened his sophomore campaign with a win in the Gotham (Beyer 89) before flopping badly in the Florida Derby, finishing almost 17 lengths back.

5)  Decisive Moment  (Juan Arias/Kerwin Clark)  – I have never heard of the trainer or jock, and just learned of the horse when he ran second in the Spiral.  After breaking his maiden in his first start, he crossed the line first in one of seven subsequent races – the Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs where he picked up his career best Beyer of 91.  In his next two starts, he fell off to a 85 in the Risen Star and 88 in the Spiral.

6)  Comma to the Top (Peter Miller/Pat Valenzuela) – Nice investment. He cost $22,000 last year at an auction, and has gone on to earn $778K, including a Grade I and a second in the Santa Anita Derby. If he doesn’t add Derby purse money to that total, it will not be because he did not have a sufficient base. He raced ten times at two (sic) and three more this year, ending his two-year old campaign with five consecutive wins. At three, he disappointed twice with 4th place finishes before almost wiring the SA Derby field, losing by a head after drifting out, earning a 97 Beyer. I’d be tired too if I raced as often as he has.

7)  Pants On Fire (Kelly Breen/Rosie Napravnik) – If you like this colt, you will have to accept a lower price because I anticipate a lot of people will be betting on what would be the first woman jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.  Indeed, of the five women who have ridden in the Derby, none has finished better than 11th. (There are also two women trainers, seeking to become the first of their gender to win the Derby, but that will not capture the attention of most fans.) Napravnik won the riding title at the Fair Grounds with over 100 wins, and all I can say is that she must be one good rider to overcome all of the inside games that are endemic at the New Orleans track.  She also came a couple of steps from winning yesterday’s Oaks on an 16-1 shot with a ride that was reminiscent of Calvin Bo-rail.  How about the colt? He is definitely flying under the radar, even though he won the Louisiana Derby with a 94 Beyer, beating Nehro and Mucho Macho Man, each of whom is likely to be a shorter price. His only other win in eight starts was a romp in the slop at Delaware.

8)  Dialed In  (Nick Zito/Julien Leparoux)  -  He is the likely post-time favorites.  His role as possible favorite came when his furious finishing kick in the Florida Derby edged the 69-1 front running Shackleford.  He broke his maiden at Churchill in November in his first career start before winning the Holy Bull at Gulfstream.  His next start was in an unorthodox spot, running against an allowance field of some older horses, losing to his stable mate, the unremarkable Equestrio.  His Beyer top of 97 was achieved in the Holy Bull, following that up with a 90 and a 93 in the Florida Derby.  I simply am not willing to accept short odds on a horse who does not appear to be that fast, even if he has one of the best records in the field.

9)  Derby Kitten (Mike Maker/Javier Castellano) – So here’s my question: Why do you use “Derby” in a horse’s name and then not enter him in a single race carded for the dirt? It may be because the sole time he did race on the dirt (an event taken off the grass), he finished 27+ lengths back of the winner.  He became the last horse to qualify for the field when he won the Lexington at Keeneland on April 23 and Toby’s Corner was declared from the field on Tuesday. That first-time try on an artificial surface earned him his career top fig of 91, ten points better than his prior top.

10)  Twinspired (Mike Maker/Mike Smith) – He likes Keeneland’s polytrack surface, having broken his maiden in his first start and missing by a nose in the Blue Grass. As we have noted elsewhere, however, Keeneland form does not transfer to Churchill form. His only other victory in eight career starts came on Turfway’s artificial surface where he won a minor stake. In his lone dirt start, he ran the poorest race of his career, losing by almost 12 lengths with a Beyer of 58. His Beyer top is a 93 in the Blue Grass.

11)  Master of Hounds (Aidan O’Brien/Garrett Gomez) – This year’s European import will be making his first dirt start. He broke his maiden in his fourth career start in Ireland, but then ran third in a Grade I in the UK. He was favored (at 4-1) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill, but finished 6th by 3 lengths after having to steady early. In his only three-year old start, he switched to Dubai’s artificial surface at Meydan where he was nipped at the wire by the brilliant three-year old filly Khawlah. His Racing Post Ratings for the Group I turf race and the Group II UAE Derby were matching 115′s. I have found that subtracting 12 from those figures yields an approximate Beyer equivalent, meaning that he ran a 103 in each event.

12)  Santiva (Eddie Kenneally/Shaun Bridgmohan) – His sole win came in a two-turn graded stake at Churchill, the only time he was ridden by Bridgmohan. He then ran second to Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star, making him the favorite for the Blue Grass. He finished 9th in that event, with a Beyer of 82. His top fig is a 91 in the Risen Star.

13)  Mucho Macho Man  (Kathy Ritvo/Rajiv Maragh)  -  Trainer Ritvo will be giving Jinks Fires a run for his money to be this year’s “feel good” story.  The 42-year old Boston native (from the family of the racing Petros) had a heart transplant in 2008, saving her life.  While her horse has only two wins, he is not lacking for commercial appeal.  There was some talk with the Village People, and the 3M Corporation is also getting involved.  In eight career starts, he has only been off the board once, when he was bumped hard in the chute as the favorite in Dialed In‘s Holy Bull.  Since then, he won the Risen Star (Beyer 94) and finished 3rd in the Louisiana Derby by 3/4 length (93) after losing a shoe and grabbing a quarter.  His Beyer top is a 99 in Aqueduct’s Remsen on Thanksgiving weekend.  One negative about him is that he was foaled in June, an unusually late date for any thoroughbred, let alone one trying to run 10 furlongs on May 7.  He does, nonetheless, have 8 career starts, including two at 1 1/8 miles.

14) Shackleford (Dale Romans/Jesus Castanon) – This is an interesting horse. He has run three 1 1/8 mile races this year, and is a head away from winning two of them. His opening fractions in the Florida Derby were fast: 46 1/5 and 1:10 3/5, before being nailed at the wire by Dialed In. Despite that pace, he finished almost seven lengths in front of the third horse. He also broke his maiden at Churchill in November, running a 85 Beyer in the process. This year’s numbers have been 89, 58 and a 93 in the Florida Derby.

15)  Midnight Interlude (Bob Baffert/Victor Espinoza) – Only Archarcharch and Nehro have run a higher last race Beyer this year than this War Chant colt’s 97. He has four life time starts – all this year – with wins in the last two, including the Santa Anita Derby. As we will hear constantly, no horse in this century or the last has won the Derby without racing as a two-year old, and this guy waited until only three days were left in January to begin his path to Louisville.

16)  Animal Kingdom (Graham Motion/Robby John Velazquez) – Johnny V replaced Robby Albarado after the latter’s Derby week got off to an inauspicious start when he was thrown from a horse on Wednesday, and then had injury added to insult when the horse stepped on his face, fracturing his nose.  The Derby marks the first time the colt will race on dirt.  In four life-time starts, he has two W’s and two seconds, including a win in the Grade III Spiral at Turfway six weeks before the Derby. His career top Beyer of 93 fits in this field. One big question about him is his breeding, being by Leroidesanimaux out of a German mare, suggesting that turf would be his preferred surface.

17)  Soldat (Kiaran McLaughlin/Alan Garcia) – Only Uncle Mo has run a higher Beyer than this guy’s 103 in a Gulfstream allowance run on a sloppy track. He broke his maiden in a graded stake on the Saratoga lawn, and won the graded Fountain of Youth on Gulfstream’s dirt before failing miserably in the Florida Derby, finishing 5th, 10 lengths back. His fast track Beyer of 96 in the Fountain of Youth is one of the field’s best.

18)  Uncle Mo  (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)  -  SCRATCHED In case you haven’t heard, the reigning two-year old champion suffered his first defeat in the Wood Memorial, a loss that has been attributed to a gastrointestinal infection.  Since then, he has improved and is training well at Churchill.  He was truly brilliant as a two-year old, breaking his maiden by 14+ lengths at the Spa, and then easily winning two Grade I’s, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where he Beyered an eye-popping 108.  That is not only an exceptional number for a two-year old, but one that would win many Derbies.  He began his Derby campaign with an easy win over four over-matched rivals in an ungraded one-turn stake at Gulfstream.  His Beyer that day was the lowest of his career, an 89.  On the same day, he could have run in the more competitive Tampa Bay Derby, but his connections opted for the softer spot.  In the Wood, he “yielded” at the 1/16 pole, finishing behind Toby’s Corner and Arthur’s Tale, earning a Beyer of 92  -  the second poorest of his career.  There are increasing concerns about his three-year old year, although there is a good chance he will go to the post as the favorite.  At a Derby press conference, owner Mike Repole refused to answer a direct question about whether the colt was pin-fired, an indication that he has sore shins.  And on Wednesday, Repole announced that a five member panel, including three vets, would decide whether Mo should go.  I think there are too many questions about this guy, and would not bet on him to win.

19)  Nehro (Steve Asmussen/Corey Nakatani) – How does a horse with a single win project to be the third – and possibly second – betting choice in the Kentucky Derby? It’s the strong closing kicks he displayed in his last two starts, in which he finished a neck behind Pants on Fire in the Louisiana Derby and a neck in arrears to Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby. Many observers figure that if a horse just misses at 1 1/8 mile, the extra furlong can only help. They may be right, and this colt does have among the best last two races as anyone in the field, running Beyers of 98 and 94.

20)  Watch Me Go  (Kathleen O’Connell/Rafael Bejarano)  -  Only Comma to the Top has more wins than this guy’s four.  The first three came in the standard progression of maiden, allowance and optional claiming followed by many ordinary horses.  He became a Derby horse when he shocked the Tampa Bay Derby at 44-1, the longest shot of the many long shots who won preps.  He followed that victory with his first trip outside Florida, running 6th in the Illinois Derby, 17 lengths back as the favorite.  If you take out his less-than awesome Tampa Beyer of 84, his top is a 76.  This is clearly a horse that should return to the optional claiming ranks, not the Kentucky Derby.

ANALYSIS

“The prospective field for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby could be the worst in decades.  Except for Uncle Mo – the champion colt whose current form is suspect – not one of the other 19 entrants would rate as a serious contender in an average Derby.” –  Andy Beyer in the May 6 Daily Racing Form Thanks, Andy.  That makes everything easier.  Let’s narrow our choices by identifying those we cannot see winning.  In no particular order, I place Brilliant Speed, Twice the Appeal, Decisive Moment, Stay Thirsty, Watch Me Go, Twinspired and Derby Kitten on that list.  That gets us down to 12, and I have already said I do not like Dialed In even a little bit, particularly as the favorite.  That leaves eleven to deal with. In past Blue Ribbons, we have identified historical trends that have served to eliminate contenders.  As the years have gone by, however, many of those trends have become meaningless.  A Dosage Index over 4.00 was first to go, then no gelding has won since …, and the winner must have raced within the preceding four weeks.  I think there are two, however, worth adhering to.  The first is that the winner must have raced at two.  That one has held up since 1883.  This factor drops Midnight Interlude from consideration. The other is a little more subtle.  The winner must have had a good race in his last  start.  He (or she) need not have won, but cannot have had a poor effort.  The Daily Racing Form of April 30 pointed out that 14 of the 21 winners since 1990 did not win their final prep.  More significantly, I think, is that the poorest finish by any of those 21 was Thunder Gulch‘s 4th place finish by 4 1/2 lengths.  Mine That Bird and Giacomo are the only others who finished as low as 4th.  Applying this criterion, we can eliminate Soldat (5th, 10+ back) and Santiva (9th, 6+ back). We’re down to eight:  Archarcharch, Comma to the Top, Pants On Fire, Master of Hounds, Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Animal Kingdom and NehroArcharcharch was my top pick until the draw put him in post position 1.  Jon Court is going to have to use some speed to get out, and still run the risk of being bounced into the rail.  I do not see Comma to the Top getting 10 furlongs, particularly with breeding by Bwana Charlie and a Stormy Atlantic mare.  His drifting out in the Santa Anita Derby is not a positive sign.  His connections were not planning on the Derby until apparently being infused with Derby fever.  Shackleford‘s hope is to get loose on the lead.  But he will have to contend with several others with a similar mind set, and I cannot see him lasting. Of the five remaining, I do not think Animal Kingdom will win.  In the earlier editions of this publication, in fact, I had even listed him in the group that I could not see winning.  He has, however, received rave reviews for his general appearance and the way he has been training.  I, therefore, moved him to be in the mix at the end.  Physical appearance is the reason I removed Master of Hounds from the list of most serious contenders.  In the First Edition, I actually picked the him to win.  One of the most important factors for handicapping the Derby, however, is how the horse is taking to Churchill Downs.  Mike Welsch analyzes workouts for the Daily Racing Form and reports that Master of Hounds looked “dull…listless and stiff.” From the final three of Pants On Fire, Mucho Macho Man and Nehro, I am going with Mucho Macho Man. Be sure to check out my Triple Crown blog on the Blog page at tnoonan.com for post-Derby and pre-Preakness analysis.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

Barton, the handicapping cat is getting more difficult to read.  As I was writing this, he climbed up on my lap and purred loudly for only one entrant, Mucho Macho Man.  This is unusual because one of his favorite activities in sleeping on me while I work at the computer. © Singing Bridge Stables 2011    

BELMONT STAKES 2010

Final Edition

When?  Saturday, June 5

Where?  ABC-TV at 6:32 ET

“If they have vomit on the tips of their shoes, I know I’m in trouble.”

–  Bob Baffert, on NBC-TV, explaining how he knows if a jockey is nervous

*****

“the future of England’s dwindling pub industry rests with Wayne Rooney’s groin”

–  New York Times, quoting Bloomberg News, on the UK’s hopes in the World Cup

*****

All of the factual information contained herein is from, primarily, The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions. Other sources include The Blood Horse, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac and The New York Times. The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted.

It is perhaps a measure of my anticipation of this Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown that I have to turn to soccer for interesting quotes – not that there is anything wrong with soccer since I hope to see as many games as I can.  But the unbridled anticipation of seeing springtime in bloom at Keeneland’s race track, and the hope for another Triple Crown run before the Preakness, has yielded to the heat and thunderstorms over Long Island Sound for the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes.

While much commentary has been devoted to the absence of the Derby and Preakness winners, I think the real problem is that we are looking at a particularly uninspiring crop of three-year olds – and I am including Super Saver and Lookin At Lucky in that assessment.  The Belmont has two Grade I winners – even though there are a number of two-year old and Derby prep Grade I’s – and only three others who have won a stake race of any grade.  Four of the entrants have a single career win, and 8 starters have never exceeded a 95 on the Beyer scale.  The most roubling aspect of that last fact is that this race could well be won with a 97 or 98.

But the Belmont appears to be an excellent betting race (i.e., wide open), and we should not lose sight of the fact that Belmont is offering a card that includes six Grade I or Grade II stakes.  (Don’t spend a lot of time hoping to see the Grade I Manhattan, however, since it cannot be shown on either TVG or HRTV and the national networks would prefer to show an endless amount of nonsense rather than a truly interesting race on the undercard.)

THE FIELD

1)  Dave in Dixie (John Sadler/Calvin Borel) – He must be running because owners Ike and Dawn Thrash knew Calvin Borel was available.  There is little else to suggest this could be the winner of the Belmont Stakes.  He won his first race on Del Mar’s poly, ran a decent second in the Robert B. Lewis to begin this year, but since then has been undistinguished, to put it mildly.  He followed a 6th place finish in the San Felipe (beating one horse) before finishing 16 lengths back in the Illinois Derby in his only dirt start, achieving a Beyer of 72.

2)  Spangled Star (Richard Dutrow/Garrett Gomez) – The owners could certainly use the $600k share of the winner’s purse since this guy has earned only $50K in his first eight starts.  He broke his maiden in his sixth start, although – to be fair – only his third on dirt.  He ran third in his only start in over three months in the one-mile Grade III Withers.  While his Beyer in that race of 87 puts him in a group with many of these, I have to assume Dutrow will not fool with the New York drug testers by loading this guy up (at least any more than he already has).

3)  Uptowncharlybrown  (Kiaran McLaughlin/Rajiv Maragh) – He was highly regarded after winning his first two races at Tampa Bay by a combined 15 lengths.  Things have not been so great since then, although he was in the hunt in the three Grade II or III stakes in which he has run.  His four Beyers this year have been between 88 and 91, a pattern that does not suggest the jump needed to win this race (which I think is a 98).

4)  Make Music for Me (Alexis Barba/Joel Rosario) – He ran 4th in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 30-1.  Still looking for his second career win, he does have the distinction (along with the Derby’s show horse) of having his only win be in a stakes (on the grass).  He is clearly a good horse.  In nine career starts, seven have been in stakes (5 Grade I’s), and two of his three poorest efforts have been in his only maiden races.  Were it not for his breeding (Bernstein, out of a Carson City mare), he would be an intriguing long shot.

5)  Fly Down (Nick Zito/John Velazquez) – Only the Derby and Preakness second-place horses have a career Beyer higher than the 99 this colt earned in his dominating Withers performance.  But for stable-mate Ice Box‘s scintillating work three days earlier, his 47 2/5 on the Oklahoma training track would stand out.  There is a lot to like about this clearly improving horse.

6)  Ice Box (Nick Zito/Jose Lezcano) – The likely favorite tore up the usually slow Saratoga training track with a 46 3/5 work on May 27.  Many think he was clearly the best horse in the Derby, finishing second only because of the mountain of trouble he encountered.  He won the Florida Derby with an imposing closing kick, and is the only entrant with two Beyers of 99 or higher (the other being a century).

7)  Drosselmeyer (Bill Mott/Mike Smith) – He has been favored in six of eight life-time starts, being odds-on in three of them.  That would make him an imposing presence here, except for the minor fact that he only won two of those – back-to-back maiden and allowance wins.  His shortest price was in his last, losing to Fly Down by six in the Dwyer at 7-10.  His last five Beyers have congregated in the range of 85 to 92, and it is hard to see a sufficient jump in his numbers needed for the W.

8)  Game on Dude (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia) – Who says the Derby winner isn’t here?  This gelding won the Lone Star Derby, a more recent win than the one accomplished in Loiusville.  His preceding start on the muddy Churchill surface was less than auspcious, finishing almost 20 behind the winner.  That start, by the way, was in the Derby trial.  Nonetheless, he improved big time after switching trainers to Bob Baffert and adding blinkers.  His win at Lone Star resulted in his career high Beyer of 95.

9)  Stately Victor (Mike Maker/Alan Garcia) – The easy winner of Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes ran eighth in the Derby, albeit it with the almost universal trouble encountered once the gates opened.  His best race was the Blue Grass, where he earned a 94 Beyer;  his Derby fig was 91.  In four lifetime starts on dirt, his only finish on the board was a second in a Saratoga maiden race.

10)  Stay Put (Steve Margolis/Jamie Theriot) -  While no one in the field has more wins, two of his came in optional claiming races. He did not embarass himself in his two stakes appearances, finishing a combined five lengths back in the Derby preps run at the Fairgrounds.  His last three Beters have been 90, 90 and 89, suggesting he has hit his peak.

11)  First Dude (Dale Romans/Ramon Dominguez) - He figures to be the second betting choice based on his second-place finish in the Preakness where he was 24-1.  His lone win came at Gulfstream in a maiden, but he followed that up with a half-length loss to Fly Down in an allowance.  Then came losses to Ice Box and Stately Victor before tiring in the late stages of the Preakness as the front-runner.  That resulted in his Beyer top of 101, an 11-point jump over his previous best.

12)  Interactif(Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) – He is making his first dirt start since Saratoga’s opening weekend, and his first start overall in almost two months.  His Beyers improved by 20 points when he moved from dirt to grass as a two-year old, but it is difficult to make too much of that for a colt running fairly well in stakes, although his last win came in October.

ANALYSIS

Although Ice Box is the most accomplished of the entrants to date with his Florida Derby victory and second in the Kentucky Derby, this looks like a wide-open race that anyone could win.  There is simply not a great deal of separation on the Beyer scale between the lowest and highest figs, particularly when one considers how a three-year old can progress – and, conversely, regress – from one race to another.  As a deep closer, Ice Box is vulnerable to those in front of him who get the first jump on the final turn.

The Preakness place horse, First Dude, figures to go to the front early, but I think he will be pressured by both Game On Dude and Interactif.  So, if this pace analysis turns out to be accurate, and the front runners wear each other down and Ice Box is left with too much to do, who will benefit?  I think Fly Down.  Possible price play?  Stately Victor.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

Barton the handicapping cat has demonstrated as much interest in the Belmont as, unfortunately, most of the sporting world and many in the horse racing community.  He did nothing to express a view, and is out of sorts on Belmont morning having just returned from a visit to the vet.

© Singing Bridge Stables 2010

PREAKNESS STAKES 2010

Final Edition

When?  Saturday, May 15

Where?  NBC-TV at 6:10 ET

  “We wanted to give everyone a chance to bet on the Kentucky Derby.”

–  Joe Donahue, on WAMC, explaining why the calling hours for his 90-year old aunt were suspended between 4:00 and 7:00

All of the factual information contained herein is from, primarily, The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions. Other sources include The Blood Horse, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac and The New York Times. The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted.

If you would like to own a Kentucky Derby winner, there is one for sale.  WinStar Farm, not to be confused with those lovable and elderly winners of Derbies past, has stated their willingness to part with Super Saver.  As a friend once said to me, “you don’t go broke making a profit.”  While that is certainly my goal in the thoroughbred racing and breeding business, one would like to think there is some room for sentiment with the winner of the race that every owner, trainer and jockey says they would most like to win.

Now, winning the Derby may becoming old hat for Calvin Borel who once again entered the record books with his third win in four years.  While there are eight others with at least three wins, no one has ever done it in such a compressed time frame. The prior king of Churchill Downs racing, Pat Day, was only able to manage 1 win in 22 tries.  It may be my imagination, but I think Borel, who was unknown outside the racing community before his win on Street Sense in 2007, has so taken to the public attention that I think even he is starting to pronounce his name “Bo-rail.”

Let us not leave the Derby without a negative shout-out for the coverage of the Kentucky Oaks by Bravo (the network not the jockey).  I understand you cannot expect too much from a network that appears to be on a 24/7 diet of the “Housewives of” foolishness, but does it have to be inflicted on those who simply want to see a horse race?  The Oaks is the second biggest race on dirt for fillies in this country, and we have to be subjected to embarrassing and cringe-inducing “features” during Bravo’s coverage.

So what are the big stories going into this year’s Preakness?  One has to do with the advertising slogan, “Get Your Preak On,” that apparently has more than a few folks upset.  The other, however, is a continuation of last year’s controversy concerning the consumption – or non-consumption – of alcohol in the Pimlico infield. As we recounted last year, Pimlico officials banned the bringing of alcohol to the infield because they were upset that You Tubes of inebriates racing along the tops of port-o-johns upset them.  The ban worked.  There was considerably less drunkenness in last year’s crowd.  There were also considerably less crowd in last year’s crowd.  After achieving an average attendance of 117,000 in the two preceding years, last year’s tally dropped to 71,768.  The solution, of course, is obvious – sell a $20 ticket that allows one to consume all the beer one can drink.  That’s right – the solution to rampant drunkenness is to adopt the time-tested policies of fraternities across the nation and allow patrons to drink all they can without having to worry about running out of money.

Let’s move on to the race.  Here is the expected field for this year’s Preakness Stakes, with post positions, trainers and jockeys:

1)  Aikenite (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) – This colt has not won since breaking his maiden at Saratoga in early August, although he is placed in three graded stakes on the dirt since then.  Most recently, he ran 2nd in the Derby Trial on a muddy track, earning his career best Beyer of 96, a last race number exceeded only by the real Derby’s winner and 3rd place finisher.  His company lines include several of the entrants here, including Pleasant Prince, Paddy O’Prado, Dublin, Jackson Bend, First Dude and Lookin At LuckyPleasant Prince is the only one he has finished in front of, although he was in the neighborhood of the others at the finish line with the exception of a poor finish in the Blue Grass Stakes.

2)  Schoolyard Dreams (Derek Ryan/Eibar Coa) – This is the only entrant who has ever finished in front of Super Saver, by a half-length (with a 6-pound weight break), in the Tampa Bay Derby.  Although that is probably his career highlight to date, he finished less than two lengths behind Jackson Bend – a horse who will attract betting interest – in Eskendereya’s Wood Memorial.  His Tampa Bay Derby Beyer of 94 is his career high. 

3)  Pleasant Prince (Wesley Ward/Julian Leparoux) – If you toss his loss by a nose to Derby second-place finisher Ice Box  in the Florida Derby, he has never run a Beyer higher than 89.  He ran 99 in the Gulstream event, but followed that performance with a 78 on Keeneland’s synthetic surface and 83 in the muddy Derby Trial where he finished almost 7 lengths behind Aikenite.  He is one of the five horses in this field who have only won one race.  That’s right, almost half the field in a American classic race have only won once.

4)  Northern Giant (Wayne Lukas/Terry Thompson) – This is the third one we have looked at with only a maiden win to his credit. It took this colt two years and six starts to cross the finish line first and earn his career best Beyer of 92.  While he did place in two subsequent graded stakes, he was a distant 14 lengths behind Super Saver and Dublin in the Arkansas Derby.  It turns out that he had a medical condition that would have interfered with his performance.

5)  Yawanna Twist (Richard Dutrow/Edgar Prado) – After bolting through his first two races restricted to New York-breds, he ran a decent second to Awesome Act, the fifth betting choice in a race called the Kentucky Derby.  He followed that performance with a second as the favorite in the Illinois Derby.  His Beyer top is a 96 in the Gotham.  He is trained by Richard Dutrow of Big Brown “fame,” and is ridden by a jock who used to be one of the nation’s best.  I do not know what has happened to Edgar Prado, who has become a 12% rider, but it is no longer a positive to see him on a horse.

6)  Jackson Bend (Nick Zito/Mike Smith) – Can you say “wise guy” horse?  As is the case with the Derby, he is one of only three entrants with a triple digit Beyer, although he acquired his last year and the other two ran one-three at Churchill, while he was finishing 19 in arrears.  His top fig this year is a 93.  Trainer Zito is not running the fast closing Ice Box here because he does not like to run one back so close to a big effort.  Because this guy’s Derby could not be classified as big, he is a natural fit.  As we pointed out in the Derby analysis, you ignore high-priced Zito horses in major races at your peril.  Hence the “wise guy” designation.

7)  Lookin At Lucky (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia) – I made all my comments about bad luck last time, so you will have to get your fill on NBC-TV.  Baffert decided a change was in order given that things were not going as well as anticipated, so took someone who may be the best jockey in the country off, and replaced him with Martin Garcia.  It is hard to fault the decision – sometimes a change is needed to try for a different karma.  Despite a horrible post and trip in the Derby, he finished well, barely 2 lengths from finishing on the board, his only off-the-board result in his career.  He is the two year-old champ, 6 for 9 lifetime, and a Beyer high of 98 (on a dirt track).  I think he is the one to beat.

8)  Super Saver (Todd Pletcher/Calvin Borel) – Although many have said he got the perfect trip in the Derby, trainer Pletcher also thinks the colt’s tactical speed is what gave him the perfect trip.  He apparently came out of the Derby in good order, and has the highest career Beyer in the field at 104.  His win was not a fluke.  While he may not be the second coming of Secretariat, his only race where he finished more than 2 lengths back was his maiden effort at Saratoga – and he was still second.  If you want a negative, he has never won on a fast track that is not Churchill Downs.

9)  Caracortado (Mike Machowsky/Paul Atkinson) – He began his career five-for-five with the first win coming on a dirt track – for a claiming price of $40K – on the California fair ground circuit.  The California fairs should not be mistaken for Northampton or Marshfield, but they are also not Saratoga, or even Del Mar.  He culminated the winnning streak with a win in one of Santa Anita’s Derby preps, the Robert Lewis, where he hit his career best Beyer of 98.  He lost as the favorite to Derby morning line second-choice Sidney’s Candy, before finishing a little over a length behind Lookin At Lucky in that one’s 3rd place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.

10)  Paddy O’Prado (Dale Romans/Kent Desormeaux) – One of the five with a single lifetime win, although his came in a graded stake, and he did run third in the Derby.  He is, obviously, a talented colt who has demonstrated proficiency on turf, sythetics and a sloppy Churchill Downs (his only two dirt starts).  I can’t wait to see how he handles fast dirt as we anticipate the Pimlico strip will be.

11)  First Dude (Dale Romans/Ramon Dominguez) – Although it is the best name based on breeding in the field – the dam is Run Sarah Run – his Beyer top is a 90, earned in an allowance race that he didn’t even win. Although he finished only a length behind Paddy O’Prado in the Blue Grass, it is difficult to rely on the form from that race.

12)  Dublin(Wayne Lukas/Garrett Gomez) – Lookin At Lucky‘s former rider will be this guy’s seventh jockey in 10 starts.  I continue to think he will win a good race one of these days, but the patience of the punting public may be running out.  Despite going off at odds of 7-2 or lower in five consecutive starts since his last win, his Derby price of 20-1 was one of the highest on the board.  Do not forget, however, that in his final Derby prep he finished only a neck behind Super Saver.

ANALYSIS

One of the more interesting trends in handicapping the Preakness is the importance of the winner having started in the Kentucky Derby.  It is not always the case that the winner exited the Derby since in two of the past four years, neither Rachel Alexandra nor Bernardini started in the first jewel.  I think the liklihood of this year’s winner emerging from among the seven non-Derby starters in large part depends on whether you think one of those seven is of the calibre of the 2006 or 2009 winner.

Even if you do not think there is a Horse of the Year among the seven non-Derby starters, you may think this is a suspect group of three-year olds, so you do not need a great horse to bring home the Woodlawn Vase.  That was my view going into the Derby, where I speculated that that field looked more like a Grade III contest than a Grade I.  (Incidentally, in the Derby Analysis, I cited Andy Beyer for the proposition that only three runners from the 2009 event went on to win another race.  As I handicapped the Oaks and Derby cards, I noticed that all three of them were, coincidentally, running on those two days.  I went back and checked his article, and what he said was that only three won a race later in 2009.  My apologies if you lost any wagers relying on that bit of trivia.)  The Derby results did not present any shocks, but when you think a race is completely wide-open and almost anyone could win, it is hard to have a surprising outcome.

I think the two best horses in the Preakness field are Super Saver and Lookin  At Lucky.  They have each been consistently good over their two year careers, and have now banked over $3 million between them.  There is an additional group to whom the phrase “promising” might apply, but not “good.”  Aikenite, Pleasant Prince, Northern Giant and First Dude each have only a maiden win to their credit, and the latter two would need a big jump in their Beyers (10 points or more) to be a factor here.  Paddy O’Prado also has only one win to his credit, but that was in a graded stake on the weeds, and he did finish third in the Derby with a Beyer of 100.  Jackson Bend is not only trained by a trainer who may have one of the best ROI’s for three-year old stake races, but has only once not run in the exacta – that being his 12th place finish in the Derby.  Nonetheless, he is a horse who seemed better at two than three.  There are also questions on whether his pedigree indicates suitability to run classic distances.

The biggest question marks are the quartet of Schoolyard Dreams, Yawanna Twist, Caracortado and, once again, Dublin.  As noted in the analysis, Schoolyard Dreams is the only entrant to have ever finished in front of the Derby winner.  Although I do not put any stock in the type of analysis “Horse A beat Horse B three races back, so Horse A is better,” because it ignores the reality that young horses change as they age, sometimes for better, sometimes not.  In this case, I think Schoolyard Dreams has the potential to move forward.  Yawanna Twist is a lightly-raced horse who also has the potential to move forward.  Caracortado had demonstrated proficiency in the first five races of his career – being undefeated will do that – before seeming to regress as the races got tougher although still running creditably against good animals.  Finally, there is Dublin.  He hasn’t won since Labor Day, but ran well in his first three graded stakes this year before finishing 7th in the Derby, 1/2 length behind the favored – and possible Preakness favorite – Lookin At Lucky.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

I have been having difficulty adding photos to my web site – i.e., I have not been able to do it.  For some reason, there is a large photo of our two cats on the home page, with Barton, the handicapping cat being the one peering around the edge of the cat toy.  This is by way of saying that I have figured out the problem with photos, and will soon have additional ones up of our 3-month old filly Kima.  And, yes I do have three grandchildren, so that will be rectified soon as well.

Barton climbed on me, purring loudly and digging his face in to my neck, for one entrant – Pleasant Prince.  When I started writing about Northern Giant, he got down and left.  In what may be a Freudian handicapping angle, I have several times entered “Pleasant Price” instead of “Pleasant Prince.”

WHO DO I LIKE?

I think the two most likely winners are either Super Saver or Lookin At Lucky.  I do not think either are so solid, however, as to offer any betting value at what may be odds of 2-1 or less.  At what figures to be a square price, I would pick Dublin.  He ran OK in the Derby, 1/2 length behind Lookin At Lucky, and also has the important factor of having raced in the Derby, and is getting a major positive jockey switch.  One who did not race in the Derby, but who I find intriguing, is Caracortado.  In addition to his merits, he is making that switch from a synthetic surface to dirt.  This has been a successful move by several California horses this year in prep races, and he also figures to be a price.

  

© Singing Bridge Stables 2010

KENTUCKY DERBY 2010

Final Edition

When?  Saturday, May 1

Where?  NBC-TV at 6:25 ET

WEATHER ALERT:  TORRENTIAL RAIN IS FALLING ON CHURCHILL DOWNS SATURDAY MORNING

All of the factual information contained herein is from, primarily, The Daily Racing Form, both the print and on-line editions. Other sources include The Blood Horse and Thoroughbred Tmes. The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted.

Not to overstate the obvious, but this year’s race took a big hit when unquestionable favorite Eskendereya was declared because of filling in a leg.  We are deprived not only of the numerous mispronunciations of his name, but the only three-year that appeared to be a special one.  Then we witnessed the new favorite and second choice draw the two worse post positions for their styles in the post position draw, making this race even more wide-open than it had been on Wednesday morning.  Not that every Derby field is loaded with future Grade I winners, but this group looks suspiciously like a Grade III event.  Of course, when one of them jumps up to win impressively, we may change our opinion, notwithstanding that last year’s impressive winner started looking like a Grade III horse after his two weeks of fame.

Before looking at this year’s field, The Blue Ribbon, which does not accept advertising, would like to point out an extraordinary opportunity.  Borders is offering a 50 percent discount on the memoirs of George W. Bush.  While it will not be ready until, remarkably, after the election, you can get the big discount now without having to wait for it to hit the remainder bins, probably in January.  I know I can’t wait to read a book by the president who in 8 years displayed not a shred of introspection or intellectual curiosity as the most powerful person in the world.  Be sure to order it now!!

1) Lookin At Lucky  (Bob Baffert/Garrett Gomez)(removing blinkers) – Reading his trouble lines indicates this is either one very unlucky horse or a very talented one.  His last four trouble lines include  “bumped late,” “jumped heels” and a “steadied.”  Despite that, he is a head away from winning 7 of 8, including four Grade Is.  His most impressive effort – and his biggest losing margin – came in the Santa Anita Derby where he looked like he might have to be eased after running into a world of trouble, but ended up running like gangbusters to finish third behind Sidney’s Candy.  What could possibly be the knock on a multiple graded stakes winner in what appears to be an undistinguished field?  He doesn’t appear to be any faster than any other entrant.  His Beyer top – earned, significantly, on dirt – is a 98 in Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes which certainly puts him in the mix with the rest of these, but is shy of the 109 and 106 run by Eskendereya.  It is also difficult to take a short price on a colt who can get into a mess o’ troublein smaller fields  without wondering what can befall him in the 20-horse roller derby run at Churchill.  Drawing the one hole for the Derby may prove to be the unluckiest development yet for this guy.  Over the past 12 years, the Derby draw had trainers drawing a number and then picking their post in order.  The inside position was always the last one selected.  Any inclination I had to pick this one on top dissipated with the draw.

2) Ice Box (Nick Zito/Jose Lezcano) – He is one of my nominees for this year’s wise guy horse.  In a field full of speed, he will be running late as he did in winning the Florida Derby.  His Beyer top of 99 was earned in that race, putting him a point under the number run by the filly Devil May Care four races earlier on the card.  His two-year old career was undistinguished, losing three times in New York before breaking his maiden at the Meadowlands.  He returned at Gulfstream before being dusted by Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth (as was everyone else), and then winning the Florida Derby.  He was as fortunate in the post position draw as Lucky was not.  His closing style allows him to save ground all the way.

3) Noble’s Promise (Ken McPeek/Willie Martinez) – If you like Lookin At Lucky, be sure to give this one a close look, particularly at what will be a considerably more appealing mutuel.  In three starts against the favorite, he finished less than two lengths total behind, including a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and second in the  Grade I Hollywood Futurity.  He missed by a head to the chalk in the Rebel (Beyer top of 98) before running into a world of trouble on his own when finishing 5th as the fav in the Arkansas Derby.

4) Super Saver (Todd Pletcher/Calvin Borel) - Let’s see.  He is one of only two entrants with a win at Churchill and will get the services of one Calvin Bo-rail.  If he wasn’t trained by a trainer who is 0 for 24 at the Derby, he could be the favorite.  In all seriousness, this is a serious contender.  Not only does he have a five-length win in Churchill’s juvenile Jockey Cup, but he ran creditably in the Tampa Bay Derby and Arkansas Derby where he got his career best Beyer of 98.  Pletcher’s Derby woes will be discussed elsewhere, but we are talking someone who kicked some serious butt in Derby preps and has a 28 percent winning percentge this year.  (I must say I feel foolish trying to justify his record as a trainer.)

5) Line of David (John Sadler/Rafael Bejarano) – He is undefeated in three starts since adding blinkers, including the Grade I Arkansas Derby where he ran a 98 in his first start on dirt and in a stake (at odds of 17-1).  He is another of the early speed times along with stable mate Sidney’s Candy, although he may be the quickest of the group.  He reached the half-mile pole in the Arkansas Derby in 1:10 3/5 before holding on to win, running the last 3/8 in 38 3/5.  One word of caution regarding this colt comes from Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch who reported that the colt had to struggle to complete a six furlong work on Monday, although the wet track may have been a factor in his performance.  One of the key factors in analyzing Derby entrants is how they work and handle the track.  While most of the starters will look good, those who do not get marked down.

6) Stately Victor (Mike Maker/Alan Garcia) –   There’s a good reason he was 40-1 winning the Blue Grass at Keeneland.  After breaking his maiden on Saratoga’s lawn, he could finish no better than 5th in five subsequent races with a best Beyer of 81.  The Blue Grass 94 is his career best, which does not place him far behind the others.  The Blue Grass’ value as a Derby prep is becoming a subject of considerable discussion.  Although Street Sense was able to parlay a decent run into the roses, few others have come out of this race in recent years and had any impact on the outcome on May’s First Saturday.  The colt’s owners are Kentucky’s Attorney General and his father.  The younger Conway is running to replace one of the US Senate’s reigning clowns in Jim Bunning (who pitched in the first major league game I ever attended).  I think the horse’s victory would be a greater upset than that of the AG in Massachusetts losing to someone whose main accomplishment had been appearing in Cosmopolitan sans visible clothing.

7)  American Lion (Eoin Harty/David Flores) – His wire-to-wire win in the Ilinois Derby – his first start on dirt – resulted in a career best Beyer of 98.  While he runs near the front, he does not appear to need the lead, but may not be fast enough to stay close to the real burners in here – chasing Sidney’s Candy in Santa Anita’s San Felipe resulted in his only off-the-board finish, a fourth.

8) Dean’s Kitten (Mike Maker/Robby Albarado) – It’s one thing for a California horse to try dirt for the first time in America’s most prestigious race, but why would owners who have raced only in Kentucky, New York and Florida do it?  Let me modify that.  They did run in an off-the-turf Pilgrim at Belmont in the colt’s only dirt start, finishing last by 33 lengths to a colt named Eskendereya.  Even though he won the Lane’s End (on a synthetic track) with a Beyer best of 93, there is simply nothing to recommend this one.

9) Make Music for Me (Alexis Barba/Joel Rosario) – He is the middle of the sandwich in the starting gate of horses with no or poor dirt performances trying to win the most demanding race this country has to offer.  He also shares the distiction with Paddy O’Prado of having only one life-time win, and that being a stakes on the grass, where he ran his Beyer top of 93 – his best figure by 10 points.  I have a hard time distinguishing among these three and cannot see any of them winning.

10) Paddy O’Prado (Dale Romans/Kent Desormeaux) – I know you “can’t win it if you’re not in it,” but is that a reason to run in the Kentucky Derby?  Along with Dean’s Kitten, this is an East Coast horse who has ample opportunity to run on God’s good real dirt but has spent his career since his debut on grass or phony surfaces.  That first start on dirt?  Seventh by 11 lengths with a Beyer of 46.  He ran second in the Blue Grass which I guess is sufficient reason to come back for this one.  His best fig is a 93 on the weeds.

11) Devil May Care (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)(adding blinkers) – The notion of entering the filly became public so late that she was not included as a possibility in the Racing Form’s Saturday edition of Weekend.  We can surmise that the reason for the late decision was the declaring of Pletcher’s Eskendereya from the field.  She broke her maiden in Saratoga’s slop and won Belmont’s Grade I Frizette before joining a long list of equines who did not transfer dirt form to the fake surface at Santa Anita.  Her return to the races as a sophomore did not exactly scream out “Kentucky Derby” after she finished fifth, 13 lengths in arrears as the odds-on choice.  She rebounded nicely in the Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream, winning and running a faster time (with a 100 Beyer) than Ice Box‘s Florida Derby on the same card.  As many learned last year, “running like a girl” can mean finishing in front of the best boys in the world.  It happens all the time in Europe.

12) Conveyance (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia) – Will this colt be going to the lead?  Is the Pope in serious denial?  In five career starts, he has trailed only one horse, that being Endorsement who finished in front of him in the Sunland Park Derby.  This guy is going to be a serious player, even if it is limited to setting a torrid pace setting up the late runners.  No one – not Lookin At Lucky or Sidney’s Candy (or even Eskendereya) – has three Beyers 96 or higher.

13) Jackson Bend (Nick Zito/Mike Smith) – Can you guess who is one of only three entrants with a triple digit Beyer and the only one to do it at two?  That’s right, it is this one.  He was a highly regarded two-year old, if your circle of regard was limited to Florida-breds in restricted stakes.  In truth, he has not been that bad facing open company, running second in three graded stakes this year, most recently a 10-length defeat to Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial.  His top fig this year is only a 93, the second-lowest of the field, and he is another who likes to run near the front.  Neither his figs nor his running style are ones likely to be felicitious in this year’s edition.  One should never discount, however, trainer Zito’s ability to get horses to run big in major races.

14) Mission Impazible (Todd Pletcher/Rajev Maragh) – It is hard to get overly excited about this one, although he can also not be ruled out.  After twice racing in April as a juvenile, including a third in a graded stake, he took the rest of the year off to come back in January at Gulfstream.  He followed that effort up with a decent 4th in Oaklawn’s Southwest before winning the Louisiana Derby at the Fairgrounds, achieving his Beyer top of 94.

15) Discreetly Mine (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) – Yet another that does not get the blood flowing, but who cannot be tossed as an impossibility.  He had a decent juvenile campaign, breaking his maiden at the Spa (beating Super Saver) before finishing second in Belmont’s Futurity and Champagne.  He won the Risen Star at the Fairgrounds before faltering as the favorite in the Louisiana Derby, finishing 4th by 1 1/4 lengths to Mission Impazible.  His Beyer top is a 94 in the Risen Star.

16) Awesome Act (Jeremy Noseda/Julian Leparoux) – The other nominee, along with Ice Box, for this year’s wise guy horse.  He began his career across the pond where he was so undistinguished he went off at 32 to 1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf for God’s sake.  He did finish a close fourth but then began a dirt career.  He won Aqueduct’s inner turf Gotham before joining the list of Eskendereya’s distanced opponents.  His Beyer top is a 98 in the Gotham.  Trainer Noseda has had a difficult job training the horse, having been stranded in Europe because of the Eyjafjallajỗỗkul volcano.

17) Dublin (Wayne Lukas/Terry Thompson) – His career has been marked by constant hype since winning Saratoga’s Hopeful as the favorite, making him the traditional “Derby favorite” off a 7 furlong race in September.  Since then, here have been his trouble lines:  “drifted wide no bid,” “no response,” “rank early” and “weakened” until he achieved a “not enuf” in just missing in the Arkansas Derby.  I had dismissed him initially, but the more I look at his past performances, the more I think he is capable of springing the upset.  He has hit the board in all three Derby preps this year, running Beyers of 97, 93, 96.

18) Backtalk (Tom Amoss/Miguel Mena) -  He not only has not hit a triple digit Beyer, he hasn’t met the double digit 88 for a speed figure.  Although he won Saratoga’s Sanford Stakes – as the favorite, no less – and ran a decent 4th in the Hopeful, he simply has not progressed as a three-year old.  His career best fig of 87 was run in the slop in a minor stake at Delta Downs.  Most recently, he ran a 75 in finishing 14 lengths behind American Lion in the Illinois Derby.  He is, however, the only entrant beside Super Saver with a win at CD, and this guy has two.

19) Homeboykris (Rick Dutrow/Ramon Dominguez) – How good are my prognostication skills?  I used to hope every year that the Yankees would fire Joe Torre who is one of the owners of this colt.  Why did I want Torre fired?  I figured it would screw up the Yankees.  Back to the matter at hand.  This entrant has even less chance at winning than the Sox did in the 2004 ALCS when Mariano was on the mound, three outs away from a sweep.  He does have a Grade I win to his credit, but it was the October 10 Champagne where he got his Beyer top of 89.  Since then, he has been winless, most recently in a February 27 allowance.  Are there any positives?  Of course.  Trainer Dutrow – he of Big Brown fame – said that all the horse “needs is hands.”  While that seems unlikely – or not particularly useful for a horse – Dutrow was referring to those on the arms of Dominguez.

20)  Sidney’s Candy (John Sadler/Joe Talamo) – He swept Santa Anita’s Derby preps, finishing with an impressive front-running score in the Santa Anita Derby in which he beat the much-troubled Lookin At Lucky by 6.  As one of only three entrants with a triple digit Beyer – albeit a “scraping the paint” 100 – he must be considered a top challenger.  He does, however, possess two big negatives – never having run on the dirt, and being part of what figures to be a hot pace along with a slew of other speed types.  I tend to discount the former.  Just as happened last year, horses leaving California for the first time ran well on dirt surfaces in preps.  A bigger concern from my perspective is that a passel o’ speed is going to enervate them all, setting the race up for someone coming frm off the pace.  This is not the post position one would hope for with a front running horse.  If Talamo has to use too much of his horse in clearing the field, that could seal this one’s fate.  Along with the post drawn by Lookin At Lucky, my inclination to wager on him has been tempered by the post.

ANALYSIS

Beyer Speed Figures

For regular readers of this publication (at least those who do not limit themselves to the cat’s selections), you know I place a high value on Beyer speed figures in assessing the relative merits of participants in a race.  The distribution of top Beyers in this year’s field constitutes a remarkable statistical convergence.  I looked at the best Beyers earned on dirt in an entrant’s last two races.  Eleven of the sixteen who have raced on dirt had figures between 97 and 100.  Over half the field have numbers that are practically identical.  Three more have a top fig that is either 93 or 94, and two have 87 or 88.  The four non-dirt horses have top figs of 93 or 94 on a synthetic surface or grass.  Since a young horse approaching a top effort can increase a Beyer top by 10 or more points, I do not think Beyers are an important consideration this year.  As I noted at the outset, this looks much more like a Grade III event than America’s premier race.  I am not sure how different that is than any other year.  As Andy Beyer pointed out in the Wednesday Racing Form, only three of the 19 starters in last year’s event won a race after the Derby – and that three does not include the winner.

Dirt versus synthetics 

As noted in the discussion of Sidney’s Candy, I am not sure the transfer of a horse with only synthetic form going to dirt is as significant as going the other way.  If the last two Breeders’ Cup taught us anything, you cannot assume that dirt form will carry over to a synthetic.  This year alone, however, American Lion, Conveyance, Line Of David and Lookin At Lucky (with Noble’s Promise a head back) each won a Derby prep in their first start ever on dirt.  Last year, Pioneerof the Nile would have been the winner but for 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, and he had never raced on dirt. Although I have learned (the hard way) not to bet dirt form on a synthethic surface, I am starting to believe the obverse is not the case.

Todd Pletcher

Had Eskendereya made it to the starting gate, the amount of type spilled on Todd Pletcher’s 0 for 24 record in the Derby would have filled a lake.  Guess what?  If he wins this year, his number of “losers” will still increase to 27.  The simple fact is that of those 24 who did not win, there were several years when he had multiple entries (as with this year’s four).  Rarely did he have a highly regarded horse, and I do not think he ever had the favorite.  Two of those non-winners, by the way, ran second at huge odds.  In other words, I do not think his record in the Derby should be a negative handicapping factor.  Indeed, his overall record, including those in Derby preps, should be given positive consideration.  Perhaps an even more remarkable statistic is that of Bob Baffert.  According to Horse Racing TV (HRTV), Bob Baffert’s poorest finish from seven starters is a fifth.  Who was that off-the-board runner?  Point Given.

The uncoupled entry

One of the more unusual handicapping theories is picking the more lightly regarded part of a trainer’s entries.  Since coupling horses has been significantly diminished, if not eliminated, in stakes races, it is remarkable how often the higher priced part of the uncoupled entry wins.  Real Quiet would be one example of this in the Derby – I think Baffert had the favorite that year.  Another example would be Grindstone – although in that year he was coupled with Wayne Lukas’ more highly regarded entrant.  This year, we have several possibilities to apply this theory.  For Baffert, we have Conveyance uncoupled with Lookin At Lucky.  Nick Zito has Jackson Bend going with Ice Box.  John Sadler is also in the act with Line of David running with second morning line choice Sidney’s Candy.  Even Mike Maker has two, although it would be hard to identify the less regarded part of the Dean’s Kitten/Stately Victor combo.  Finally, Todd Pletcher has co-third choice Devil May Care entered along with Super Saver (15-1 morning line), Mission Impazible (20-1) and Discreetly Mine (30-1).

Likely pace scenario

There has already been much discussion of the probability of a furious pace scenario, with several out there winging on the front end.  This normally means that the race is set up for a horse coming from off the pace or a deep closer.  Sometimes the expected speed duel does not materialize because one of the projected participants runs into difficulty, or one of the expected pace setters proves to be the speed-of-the-speed and gets an uncontested lead.  Before the gate is even loaded, we have already had the former, with Sydney’s Candy drawing post position 20.  I have long maintained that a superior jockey or horse (see Big Brown) can overcome this problem, but here we have the inexperienced Joe Talamo and a horse who is not a certainty for the Hall of Fame.  It is impossible to appreciate the scene at Churchil for the Derby if you have not been there, but when you have more than 100,000 fans ginned up – in a manner of speaking – after the playing of My Old Kentucky Home screaming, one has to wonder how Talamo doesn’t try to capture the moment by gunning his mount to the lead, seriously compromising his chances.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

For first-time readers, I have a cat, Barton – named after the first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton – who has demonstrated some success in picking winners of Triple Crown races, particularly the Derby.  Recently he has not been successful or interested – not that I am one to throw stones.

Since I departed the ranks of those gainfully employed, Barton and his brother Fager (yes, named after that one) have viewed my constant presence around the house as a much more effective means of catering to their particular needs which, after all, are not that complicated.  One of those needs is a convenient lap in which to sleep or receive the deference due.  Even though I have been working on this for the better part of two days, Barton only climbed on to my lap once and purred loudly as I wrote about one entrant.  OK, enough drama – who was it?  Line of David, whose sire is by Tale of the Cat.

WHO DO I LIKE?

I realize fully there is considerably less interest in my pick than Barton’s.  I wish I could be as definitive as a cat, but I think this year is incredibly competitive.  Adhering to the adage “make wagers, not picks,”  I cannot go with any of the five projected in the morning line to be Lookin At Lucky, Sidney’s Candy, Awesome Act, Devil May Care and Ice Box.  I am not saying they cannot win, but we should be able to get a good price in this year’s field, although the three co-choice prices of 10-1 are not too shabby.  If I could only bet one, I would go with Super Saver.

I wrote the preceding paragraph on Wednesday.  Since then, there have been two significant developments.  The first is that heavy rain is falling at Churchill Downs as of 8:00 a.m. on the First Saturday in May.  The second is the absolutely whacko betting (from my perspective) that has already occurred.  The favorite is Super Saver (sic) at 7-1.  Lookin At Lucky is 9-1 and four others are 11-1:  Ice Box, Devil May Care, Sidney’s Candy and Paddy O’Prado (sic again).  The longest shot on the board?  Discreetly Mine at  41-1.

The odds are easier to deal with than the weather.  The weather throws the entire situation into a state approaching chaos.  While some entrants have experience on a sloppy or muddy track, most do not, and many of the West Coast runners may never have even trained on such a surface (except at CD this week).  Another analytical method are Tomlinson mud ratings published by The Daily Racing Form.  Although I think Tomlinson ratings are suspect, they tend to be more reliable when the number is high, indicating that the horse’s pedigree indicates an affinity for wet tracks.  Those with particularly high numbers (over 400 on a scale going to 500) are Noble’s Promise, Super Saver, Line Of David, Awesome Act and American Lion.  Those with past wins on sloppy tracks include Super Saver, Devil May Care and BacktalkPaddy O’Prado, who is being widely touted for his outstanding work on the sloppy Churchill Down surface last week, actually ran poorly in an actual race on the surface, running a 46 Beyer in his first career race.

The surprising tote board, at least early Saturday morning, also must alter one’s judgment.  Lookin At Lucky and Sidney’s Candy become much more appealing, while Super Saver becomes considerably less so.  While the latter’s favoritism may be a tribute to the influence of The Blue Ribbon Analysis, it more likely reflects the presence of Calvin Bo-rail.   Paddy O’Prado’s relatively short price is likely a reflection of that great work on a sloppy track.  I haven’t seen prices on those not mentioned above, but among the group that may warrant a wager are Noble’s Promise, American Lion, Conveyance, Awesome Act and Dublin

© Singing Bridge Stables 2010

 

BELMONT STAKES 2009

Final

When?  Saturday, June 6

Where?  ABC-TV at 6:27 ET

“No comment.”

                -  Calvin Borel

All of the factual information contained herein is from other sources:  Daily Racing Form, The New York Times, and The Saratogian. The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted.

How jacked is New York for the Belmont Stakes?  On the day before the race, The New York Times had no articles on it.  The Times does a very good job in covering horse racing, yet on the day before downstate New York’s biggest race, they had no coverage – none, zero, nada, zip, nil.  (Interesting how all of these words begin with “n” or “z.”)  In the days leading up to the Derby and the Preakness, they often had two – and sometimes three – pieces.  For the Apple’s big event (horse racing wise) – none.  On a day they did cover the race, the paper-of-record predicted that attendance would be down between 30,000 to 40,000 from the originally anticipated crowd.  That would be even more than the fall-off in the Preakness caused by Pimlico’s decision to bar the BYOB tradition of prior runnings.

Why the drop?  In case you haven’t heard, there is neither a Triple Crown on the line, nor is Rachel Alexandra, the Preakness winner, appearing to challenge Mine That Bird.  Now, I personally think a crowd of 50,000 for a race at Belmont for a not particularly inspiring edition of the Third Jewel is not all that bad, particularly when one considers that the typical Belmont Saturday crowd is lucky to hit five figures.  There is a tremendous card, although we can assume that ABC will emulate NBC and not televise the Manhattan, a Grade I race that drew a field of 13.  For my rant on this topic, see my blog entry for May 17.

Here is the field:

1)  Chocolate Candy (Jerry Hollendorfer/Garrett Gomez) – In his lone start on a dirt track – albeit the sloppy Churchill surface (we need an acronym for this observation since it will come up again, so let’s use the snappy ATSCS – he ran his lowest Beyer this year (86) after performing decently on California’s synthetic surfaces.  So his fast dirt form is still unknown, making him a not unattractive pick if his morning line of 10-1 holds up.

2)  Dunkirk  (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) – He was well-fancied in the Derby going off at 5-1, but had a fair amount of trouble (“stumbled, steadied”) in finishing 11th, 19 lengths back.  His prior dirt Beyers (108, 98) are ones that warrant serious consideration, but he will be an unattractive 4-1, if not lower.

3)  Mr. Hot Stuff  (Eoin Harty/Edgar Prado) -  He is very similar in his Beyer profile to Chocolate Candy, including the designation of ATSCS, with decent performances in California, but a 15th at Churchill.  I find it odd that he continued to work on Keeneland’s polytrack rather than take a spin at Belmont.  His connections are top-notch, but it is hard to pick him to win.

4)  Summer Bird  (Tim Ice/Kent Desormeaux) – I started to like this one a little bit for the Derby, where he ran 6th, after a nice finish in the Arkansas Derby.  He is sired by the Belmont bomber Birdstone, so his pedigree may not be an obstacle for this event.

5)  Luv Gov  (Wayne Lukas/Miguel Mena) – A maiden winner who was not embarrassed in his 8th place Preakness finish (of 13 entrants), he appears to be an unlikely winner.  D. Wayne said that was his Belmont prep. Even though Lukas is one of the most successful trainers in history, his next graded stakes winner will be his first since 2007.

6)  Charitable Man  (Kiaran McLaughlin/Alan Garcia) – I am developing a very bad habit of betting any horse with this trainer/rider combo, no matter how much they appear not to fit.  In fact, the more unlikely the fit, the better I like it.  This guy (the colt, that is) definitely fits.  He is 3-for-3 on dirt, including two graded stakes wins at Belmont.  His distance breeding is impeccable (Lemon Drop Kid/Saint Ballado mare), and has trained nicely since his May 9 win in the Peter Pan.

7)  Mine That Bird  (Chip Woolley/Calvin Bo-rail) – He proved he was for real with his dramatic Preakness finish.  Borel’s “no comment” was in response to whether the gelding would have passed Rachel if the Preakness were a little bit longer.  My guess is that his response would have been “No!!” were the filly entered.  Borel is trying to make history – again – by becoming the first jock ever to win a year’s Triple Crown races riding different animals.

8)  Flying Private (Wayne Lukas/Julien Leparoux) – He followed his last-place Derby finish with a decent 4th in the Preakness.  He is one of two Lukas entrants and, if there is going to be a major upset, this colt could be the one.

9)  Miner’s Escape  (Nick Zito/Jose Lezcano) – One of three entrants making their Triple Crown debut (Charitable Man and the next guy are the others), he appears to be clearly overmatched. That is exactly what one would have said (and I did) about Nick Zito’s two recent Belmont winners.

10)  Brave Victory  (Nick Zito/Rajiv Maragh) – Ditto, and this one doesn’t have the breeding.

SELECTIONS

You have two horses with good form on synthetic surfaces and unimpressive races on a sloppy track – Chocolate Candy and Mr. Hot Stuff – who appear to be indistinguishable, and it is difficult to make a case for either.  There is the seemingly overmatched group, each of whom is trained by Hall of Famers Lukas and Zito – Luv Gov, Flying Private, Miner’s Escape and Brave Victory.  Then there is the group that has shown definite promise on dirt – Dunkirk, Summer Bird and Charitable Man, any one of whom could win and not be a shocker.  Finally, there is a classic winner and an excellent second in a second one – Mine That Bird.  I’ll be rooting for him and picking him.  I think Charitable Man is the most likely upsetter, with Summer Bird a minor bomber and Flying Private a major one.

WHO DOES THE CAT LIKE?

Barton, the handicapping cat, has shown no interest in this year’s Triple Crown races.  He cannot stand going to the vet, and I am beginning to suspect that he is expressing an aversion to the drug use in thoroughbred racing.  We can hope there will be improvements in this area for next year’s Crown, but I am not holding my breath.

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PREAKNESS STAKES 2009

Final

When?  Saturday at about 6:00

Where?  NBC-TV

“Usually the police are chasing me, not escorting me. The last time I ended up in jail.”

-Chip Woolley on his escort to Pimlico

All of the factual information contained herein is from other sources:  Daily Racing Form, New York Times, Saratogian, Thoroughbred Times, and Blood Horse.  The analytical material, including that which turns out to be correct, is mine unless otherwise noted.

This year’s Preakness has been filled with controversy.  Is it whether a filly should challenge the boys?  Is it appropriate for the connections of some boys to play games to keep the girl out of the clubhouse?  No, it was Pimlico’s decision to prevent patrons from BYOBing to the infield.  Interestingly, they did not do so the year following one customer’s decision to run out on to the track during the running of a race and get in with the ones who were supposed to be there.  Nor did they do so because of the widespread knowledge that the Preakness infield behavior could rival that of both the Derby and the Indy 500 (is there an infield at Indy?)  No, it was because video of said conduct was being circulated on YouTube. 

One of the more interesting events is the Porta-John racing.  Now as my mind went wild with how one would race a portable toilet, it appears that the race takes place on top of a row of the structures, with other patrons either spraying beer on the contestants or throwing full cans of beer at them.  The ban has inspired an effort to boycott the Preakness, and as one young man said, “It used to be our thing, and now it has a more corporate feel to it.”  He is absolutely right.  Who among us has not come upon a line of porta-johns and not wanted to climb up on the first one to challenge the times of some of the great ones of the sport?  If the attitude of Pimlico existed in Greece in the 19th century, we would not have the Olympic Games.  OK, enough of this nonsense, what about the race?

The match-up between the filly and the “unexpected” Derby winner has me pretty excited.  The filly is a great story in her own right – she was 27-1 in her first race where she beat only three others – but the gelding is the stuff of movies.  The trainer is walking around on crutches because of a motorcycle accident that has also interfered with his bareback riding.  The trainer and owner “met” at a bar fight where they seemed to be more than disinterested observers.  Their post-Derby press conference is one of the most interesting I have ever seen.  The trainer and owners came across as surly, although I suspected there was a reason.  I think they were so shocked that they won, they could not deal with it.  They had that “deer in the headlight look” that often accompanies unexpected newsmakers.  Their stated objective in coming to Churchill was the dream of a 6th place [sic] finish.  I am happy to note that the initial impression they left does not appear to reflect the reality.  First of all, trainer Woolley made a big point of thanking the gelding’s trainer in Canada for the horse’s success.  It may not seem like a big deal, but it is a graciousness you do not often see in any endeavor, let alone horse racing. The day after the race, the connections went out to the statue of Barbaro and spent 90 minutes giving those waiting in line roses from the garland that Mine That Bird wore. That brought a tear to my eye.  So I understand the desire for Rachel to put on a show, but I think the Derby winner coming through in the Preakness would also be a great moment.

We also have the added feature of the Derby-winning jockey getting off the horse to move to another in the field.  There are a lot of events that haven’t happened in a long time – no unraced two-year old has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882, no filly has won the Preakness since 1924, etc.  But this is the first time the Derby winner’s jock moved to a competitor.  After he won the Oaks, Calvin Borel said that Rachel Alexandra was the best horse he had ever been on.  Since he had ridden Street Sense to his Derby win two years earlier, I was kind of surprised.  But he repeated it the day after this year’s Derby.  OK, I believe him.

THE FIELD

1)  Big Drama  (David Fawkes/John Velazquez) – Only Rachel Alexandra has matched this colt’s Beyer of 108, although she ran hers going a route of ground.  He is a very intriguing possibility, being a disqualification away from entering this event with a six-race winning streak.  Said disqual came in his only start as a three-year old, the 7-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream in March, where he set the track record and did not win.  He twice won stakes at 1 1/16 miles as a juvenile, including the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot.  He has an ascending Beyer pattern over seven lifetime starts, culminating in the 108.  The biggest question, of course, is whether a single start as a three-year old – and that one at 7 furlongs – gives him a sufficient base to compete here.

2)  Mine That Bird  (Chip Woolley/Mike Smith) – While I am not going to say this gelding’s Derby win was as impressive as the effort turned in by Rachel Alexandra the day before, it sure as hell was impressive.  This guy was waaaay back for a good part of the race.  When he finally kicked in, he left his competitors looking like they were in quicksand, not mud, drawing off to a 6 3/4 length win, the biggest winning margin since Assault in his 1946 Triple Crown year.  How does a horse that sold for $9,500 as a yearling, finish last in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, and 4th in the ungraded Sunland Derby, rock the racing world with such a dominating performance?  You got me.  It could be mediocre competition, but no one looked more mediocre than he going in.  It could have been the track condition – a sealed sloppy track – but why did no other entrant handle it as well.  It could have been a pronounced rail bias, something known to everyone watching the telecast, but apparently not to the jockeys of Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem who were treating the inside as though it were saturated with the swine flu virus.  The other possibility is that is an animal who came into his true form at the absolute perfect time, particularly if you bet on him.  He was the Canadian two-year old champion, and was purchased for the Derby after that season for $400K.  His new owners were not pointing for the one in Kentucky, but the Sunland Derby in racing hotbed New Mexico. One suspects they are not unhappy with the outcome.

3)  Musket Man  (Derek Ryan/Eibar Coa) – The third-place Derby horse has shown that he is – as they say in the business – a “useful” horse.   He is now 5 for 7 lifetime, with wins in the Tampa Bay (Grade 3) and Illinois Derby (Grade 2).  If you believe, as I do, that the healthy 3-year old boys are a mediocre lot – with the possible exception of the Derby winner – there is no reason this one cannot carry his mediocrity to a win in the Preakness. 

4)  Luv Gov  (D. Wayne Lukas/Jamie Theriot) – There is a man in America praying quite heavily that this bomber does not do what Mine That Bird did in the Derby.  If you are Elliott Spitzer, you are having nightmares about waking up Sunday morning and seeing the headlines in the Post and Daily News.  His prayers should be answered, however, because this race is being used – and I am not making this up – as a Belmont Stakes prep.  Had the Barbaro Stakes not been discontinued, he would have gone there.  (Speaking of the Barbaro Stakes, this formerly was known as the Sir Barton Stakes.  I will have to go back and check to see if Barton (the cat) felt so dissed after his namesake’s losing the stake in his honor that his handicapping prowess has tailed off.  I have yet to work on my excuse.)  But, back to the race.  Trainer Lukas has one of the most remarkable streaks in Triple Crown history.  He trained six consecutive winners over three years – with four different horses.  I put that up there with Woody Stephens’ five consecutive Belmonts, but you never see it mentioned. Now?  He has not won any of the 48 graded stakes he entered over the last two years.  The colt required 10 starts to break his maiden (on Derby Day at Churchill, no less) and appears to be quite overmatched. 

5)  Friesan Fire  (Larry Jones/Gabriel Saez) -  Going in to the Derby, I thought he was one of the three best colts in the division.  When two of them declared from the field because of injury, he seemed to be the most likely winner.  His chances were compromised when his departure from the gate resulted in cuts on his legs and a trail of blood over Churchill Downs.  His Louisiana Derby Beyer of 104 on a sloppy track represents the third highest in the field.  Nonetheless, there are legitimate questions about his quality, even if he did have a Derby excuse.  I am also concerned about his level of fitness since he came into the Derby off a seven-week break, and could not have gotten much from his Derby run when his jockey refused to push him when it became clear he was going nowhere.

6)  Terrain  (Albert Stall/Jeremy Rose) – I could not figure out why he was here.  But, he did run 4th in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, ahead of the last place finisher, Mine That Bird, a head behind Papa Clem in the Louisiana Derby, and a good 4th in the Blue Grass Stakes.  I’ve learned my lesson (for now) – I am not saying he cannot win.

7)  Papa Clem  (Gary Stute/Rafael Bejarano) -  This is another colt who has demonstrated his honesty.  After second-place finishes to Pioneerof the Nile and Friesan Fire, he won the Arkansas Derby (Beyer 101), before finishing fourth in the Derby, not far behind Pioneerof the Nile and Musket Man.

8)  General Quarters  (Tom McCarthy/Julien Leparoux) -  Little did we know that the Derby’s feel good story of an improbable dream would be upstaged by one wildly more improbable.  At least this colt came to Churchill after a win in one of the major Derby preps, Keeneland’s Blue Grass.  His 10th place Derby finish, 17 1/2 lengths back of the winner, did little to inspire one to think that the Preakness will be his race.  Keep in mind, however, that he does own one of the field’s highest Beyers on a fast dirt track, a 102 in the  1 1/16 mile Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay.

9)  Pioneerof the Nile  (Bob Baffert/Garrett Gomez) – The big question about him going to the Derby still is there.  Can a colt with demonstrated proficiency on a synthetic track carry that form to a conventional dirt surface?  We do not know unless a sloppy sealed track at Churchill Downs is your definition of conventional.  Had Mine That Bird been blocked instead of squeezing through on the rail, this would have been the Derby winner with the lowest Beyer ever recorded (95) for America’s greatest race.  He figures to be a low price – perhaps even favored over the Derby winner – and I am still not willing to get on board.

10)  Flying Private  (Wayne Lukas/Alan Garcia) – After finishing last in the Derby at odds of 47-1, why not go to the Preakness?  His Racing Form commentary reads thusly:  “five wide into the first turn when within striking distance, held on well for five furlongs and stopped.”  Since the Preakness is run at 9 1/2 furlongs, his Derby effort is not suggesting he will be wearing the Black-Eyed Susans.  The only reason to select him is if you think this is the year for absolute bombers winning each of the Triple Crown races.

11)  Take the Points  (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado) – He should be a factor in this race, possibly compromising the chances of Rachel Alexandra. He figures to be going for the early lead, along with Big Drama, bringing the filly along in their wake.  I had started to write that it is hard to see him as a serious contender, until I noticed that his Beyer top of 99 was earned on a dirt track.  His declining figs since were two races on Santa Anita’s poly, including a good 4th in the Santa Anita Derby.

12)  Tone It Down  (William Komlo/Mario Pino) -  His claim to fame is finishing third in the Preakness prep, the $75,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico.  To say that field was nondescript would be charitable.  No one had ever won a stakes race of any caliber, and the one that had participated in a graded stakes lost by 26 lengths.

13)  Rachel Alexandra (Steve Asmussen/Calvin Borel) -  That was one jaw dropping win in the Kentucky Oaks.  At the quarter pole she was in second.  A half-mile later she was in front by more than 20, running as if she were out for a morning gallop.  Her Beyer of 108 – and, again, she was not running hard – has not been exceeded by any of the boys she will be facing on Saturday.  Only five of her Preakness competitors have run a triple-digit Beyer, and each has only done it once.  She has done it in her last four races, all stakes (three graded), with a combined margin of victory of almost 40 lengths.  So no filly of her generation is going to beat her now, and now we will learn if colt or gelding can do it.  I do not think any colt can, but maybe the gelding will.  The one possible chink in her armor is that her two career losses each occurred when she was coming into a race after a 15-day break, the same gap she will be facing here.  Those two losses came as a two-year old, and she is clearly a much better three-year old.

SELECTIONS

I am looking forward to this race as much as any in recent years.  The Mine That Bird/Rachel Alexandra match-up is tantalizing in so many ways.  Even if that duel does not materialize, will the filly enter the stratosphere with a performance like her Oaks?  Or, is Mine That Bird going to captivate the nation at a time we could use some escapism?  If neither is the winner, I think almost anyone could win this event – but that just adds to the intrigue. 

Quite frankly, I have a difficult, if not impossible, task of separating Musket Man, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem, General Quarters, and Pioneerof the Nile.  I honestly do not see how one could make a strong case for any one of them over the other.

Of the non-Derby entrants that do not have the first name of a woman, I think the most intriguing one is Take the Points.  I look past those two synthetic Beyers to a 99 on fast dirt and think this is one who could make a move forward.  I can see Big Drama holding on for a piece, but not the W.

I am going with the adage “pick bets, not horses.”  If Mine That Bird is near his morning line of 6-1, I will bet him to win.

WHO IS THE CAT GOING WITH?

For first-time readers, I have a cat named Barton, who was named after the first Triple Crown winner.  Early on, he demonstrated an interest in handicapping.  He once took a stack of losing parimutuel tickets from my dresser and spread them on my half of the bed, in what I construed to be either a taunting gesture or a remonstrance.  Next he started sitting on the monitor while I worked on the Blue Ribbon Analysis.  Before the 2003 Derby, he started jumping up and knocking down the refrigerator magnet for the New York-bred program.  He was telling me to pay attention to Funny Cide.  Although his method of making selections changed, he started a streak of successfully picking winners.  Lately, he has been off (although I am not one to cast stones in this area).  For this year’s Preakness, he has displayed little interest, and I would not be surprised if he does not even watch the race.

So, you are really on your own now.

KENTUCKY DERBY 2009

Final Edition

The storied Blue Ribbon Analysis is inching towards the 21st century by posting its content on-line for the first time.  My hope was to be doing a regular blog during the prep season, but I have too much going on this year to do it.  Perhaps it will happen after the Derby.  I also hope to do regular blog postings about horse racing, as well as other matters, so check back to see if I succeed. At the outset, let me identify the sources of the factual information contained here.  The Daily Racing Form is my primary source, and I have also used material from The New York Times, Albany’s Times Union, a Derby seminar hosted by the National Museum of Horse Racing, and the Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac.  All of the analytical material, including that which turns out to be accurate, is mine unless noted otherwise. I have had mixed feelings about this year’s version of the race.  Initially, I thought there were only three realistic possibilities for winning.  There are, however, a number of interesting stories – many more than in recent years – making for intriguing possibilities. We have Sheik ‘Mo from Dubai sending over two entrants, each of whom has already experienced success stateside.  Will Pioneerof the Nile emulate the West Coast colts he has beaten and achieve success running on dirt for the first time? Is Dunkirk a special animal who can become the first horse in two centuries to win without having raced at two?  Will Larry Jones and Gabriel Saez recover from last year’s traumatic Derby and win with a colt who has not raced in seven weeks?  And last, but certainly not least, will the retired school principal from Louisville, of all places, win the Kentucky Derby with the only horse he trains?  I think I know what the post-race buzz will be, however, no matter who wins the Derby.  Will Rachel Alexandra take on the boys in the Preakness?  I just witnessed one of those rare jaw-dropping experiences – a filly who won the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths as if she were out for a pleasant gallop.  Even as I write this, the HRTV commentators are discussing the fact that she is not nominated to the Triple Crown and would have to be supplemented.  But, no matter what happens on Saturday, that winner will be immediately confronting the question of whether he is better than she. And, in late breaking news – I have always wanted to write that – the morning line favorite and my pick to win, I Want Revenge, has been scratched because he jogged sore this morning.  He now joins A.P. Indy and Buddha as morning line favorites scratching the morning of the race. There is a lot going on in the sport of thoroughbred racing, almost all of it negative.  I will save those rants and raves on the state of the game for the Preakness Analysis, although I may also start to blog it.  This is a new medium for me, and I hope to get the hang of it quickly enough. Here is this year’s likely field, with trainer and jockey: 1)  West Side Bernie  (Kelly Breen/Stewart Elliott) – His claim to fame is running 2nd in I Want Revenge‘s Wood, missing by 1  1/2 lengths with a Beyer of 101.  He has not crossed the finish line first in the 7 months since his victory in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile on Turfway’s synthetic surface.  Although his best Beyers have been on dirt, he does not appear to have the class to win this. 2)  Musket Man  (Derek Ryan/Eibar Coa) – His only loss in six career starts was by 6 1/2 to General Quarters in Tampa Bay’s Sam F. Davis.  He came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby, making him the only two-time Derby winner in the field, not all that bad for a colt who brought only $15,000 at the Keeneland September yearlings sale.  While his last Beyer improved to a 98, it is hard to see a son of Yonaguska out of a Fortunate Prospect mare relishing a mile and one-quarter. 3)  Mr. Hot Stuff  (Eoin Harty/John Velazquez) – He needed five starts to break his maiden, where he also ran his Beyer top of 96.  In his last two starts, he ran 3rd on Santa Anita’s synthetic in the Sham and Santa Anita Derby where he finished only 2 lengths in arrears to Pioneerof the Nile.  The only reason to pick him for the win is the hope that he will improve significantly on dirt, a surface he has never tried. 4)  Advice  (Todd Pletcher/Rene Douglas) – It was a big deal not that long ago when Trainer Todd had five entrants in this race.  This year he has three, and it is perhaps a measure of his chances to break an 0 for 21 Derby schneid that he is not getting much buzz.  Not only that, but his main man, John Velazquez, is not even riding for him.  It is unlikely this colt will be his ticket to the winner’s circle.  His only dirt start was a 5th in the Sunland Park Derby (77 Beyer), albeit with a troubled start, and his breeding of Chapel Road by a Hennessy mare is not exactly screaming, “give me 10 furlongs.” 5)  Hold Me Back  (Bill Mott/Kent Desormeaux) – Every negative I just noted about the preceding entrant’s race record applies to this  guy.  His only dirt start, in the Remsen, resulted in a fifth place finish and a 77 Beyer.  His breeding, however, is of a different sort, being by Giant’s Causeway from an Unbridled Song mare.  I must be candid that I love Bill Mott as a trainer, and this entrant is not harmed my Desormeaux in the irons.  A win would be a major upset, but a finish on the board is not out of the question. 6)  Friesan Fire  (Larry Jones/Gabriel Saez) – I had kind of forgotten about this one.  He last ran March 14 in a dominating win on a sloppy Fair Grounds race track.  Trainer Jones apparently intended that this would be his last race before the big one, even though it is seven weeks out.  He does have four excellent works since then, including a blistering 57 4/5 at Churchill. Trainer Jones does know how to get a horse ready for the Derby, having finished second in the last two runnings, including the ill-fated Eight Belles.  While that fast work on April 27 was reminiscent of the much criticized fast one put in by Hard Spun, keep in mind that that entrant beat them all, except, of course, for one.  One interesting negative I heard – and this is why horse racing is so infinitely fascinating – was advanced by Jean Wood, a commentator at the National Museum of Racing’s Derby seminar.  She had spoken with a trainer who thought that A.P. Indy‘s run well at the Fair Grounds, but often do not replicate that form elsewhere.  (Speaking of fascinating, Saratoga Springs, which regularly has snow on the ground well into April, was experiencing the most beautiful day of the year this past Saturday.  Nonetheless, 210 people from a small town showed up to hear about the Derby.)  The colt has steadily increasing Beyers this year, culminating with a 104 on the Fair Grounds slop.  It is a pattern I like to see with a Derby contender, making this guy one of my real strong possibilities.  His biggest negative is not having yet run beyond 1 1/6 miles, but I am letting the trainer’s recent Derby experience offset that factor. 7)  Papa Clem  (Gary Stute/Rafael Bejarano) – This is an interesting animal.  He has been running competitively with the best of this year’s sophomore crop, running second in the Robert Lewis, splitting Pioneerof the Nile and I Want Revenge, being second best to Friesan Fire‘s Louisiana Derby romp, and then winning the Arkansas Derby where he beat one-time Derby fave Old Fashioned (who came out of the race with an injury).  His best Beyer is on the dirt, a 101 in the Hot Springs event, and he has the breeding (Smart Strike, Belong to Me mare) to suggest he could be a significant factor in this race.  One troubling consideration, however, is his training at Churchill.  He apparently worked a very disappointing 7 furlongs and had to come back the Thursday before the main event to breeze an even 34 seconds.  If you think Friesan Fire‘s 57 and change on Monday is a cause for concern, you cannot like this guy’s effort. 8)  Mine That Bird  (Bennie Wooley/Calvin Bo-rail) -  How the mighty have fallen.  I don’t mean this gelding who has yet to run a Beyer exceeding 81, but jockey Borel, who was the toast of Louisville a mere two years ago with his paint-skimming victory on Street Sense.  The jock is the only reason to like this one.  I have never heard of the trainer ( a robust 1 for 32 this year), and a horse whose best fig is an 81 is not going to win the Kentucky Derby. 9)  Join in the Dance  (Todd Pletcher/Chris DeCarlo) – He will be a prominent player in this year’s race.  Not because you will hear his name mentioned in the stretch call, but because he figures to be flying early.  He only lost by a neck to Musket Man in the Tampa Bay Derby (best Beyer of 90), but this colt has no chance to win, or even hit the board.  Indeed, he has a good chance to lengthen Pletcher’s streak of last place finishes to five. 10)  Regal Ransom  (Saeed bin Suroor/Alan Garcia) – This son of Distorted Humor is a mortal lock to win money for you in this year’s race.  Go to Louisville bars on Friday night and bet all comers they cannot identify the top earner in this year’s field.  While knowledgeable fans will figure the winner of the UAE Derby is the one, most imbibing wagerers will focus on his 30-1 morning line.  Can you make money if you bet on him to win?  It is not out of the question.  The Sheik of Dubai has vowed he will win America’s most prestigious race.  His earlier attempts have not resulted in a finish on the board, but this year could be different.  He was the even-money winner in his first start at Saratoga (93 Beyer), beating at least two next-out winners.  He went off as the favorite in the Grade 1 Norfolk on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface.  After moving his tack to Dubai, he ran 2nd to Desert Party twice before besting him in that Derby.  In that last race he earned a Racing Post rating of 112, which I translate to a 100 Beyer. 11)  Chocolate Candy  (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith) – He will get some wise guy play.  He not only finished in front of probable favorite I Want Revenge, but closed well to lose by only a length to Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby.  He has never raced on dirt and, similar to Pioneerof the Nile, one can only play him if one assumes he will improve his best synthetic Beyer (94) by at least 10 points when he makes the surface switch. 12)  General Quarters  (Thomas McCarthy/Julien Leparoux) – There is one certainty about this team – they will be this year’s “feel good” story.  The horse was a Keeneland yearling purchase for only $20,000, and then was claimed in his first start for $20K – from an owner who is a major player and, apparently, one of the least likeable individuals in thoroughbred racing.  The colt has gone on to win over $600,000, including W’s in the Sam F. Davis and Keeneland’s Grade 1 Blue Grass.  The owner is a retired school principal from – of all places – Louisville, KY.  This is not only the only horse he trains, but the colt’s earnings have surpassed the trainer’s combined earnings over the last 19 years.  Before acquiring his Derby hopeful, trainer McCarthy had been in the winner’s circle only 13 times in the preceding18 years.  It is hard not to root for someone who so loves this sport and has persevered all this time.  Can he win and bring a tear to every eye not already moist from the playing of My Old Kentucky Home?  No.  Winning the synthetic Blue Grass almost guarantees an up-the-track finish in the Derby.  The colt’s breeding – sired by Sky Mesa – is likely to come up short over 10 furlongs. 13) I Want Revenge  (Jeff Mullins/Joe Talamo) -   SCRATCHED  In my opinion, no entrant had a more impressive race than this colt’s Wood Memorial.  He broke poorly, taking him out of his normal running style, ran into serious traffic as he was about to make his move, and still won easily.  His first six races were on southern California artificial surfaces where he demonstrated competence, but had no one saying probable Derby winner.  He was twice beaten by Pioneerof the Nile, albeit by small margins.  When he headed to New York to run on real dirt, he became a different – dominating – race horse.  He won the Gotham by 8 1/2, earning a 113 Beyer.  His eventful trip in the Wood resulted in a 103, a remarkable number considering all the trouble he seen.  There is nothing not to like about this horse.  His jockey, Joe Talamo, on the other hand, has less Kentucky Derby experience than I do.  His only exposure was as a one-time race goer, and I have been over 15 times.  He does, however, have a considerable weight advantage.  As a 19-year old making his first Derby start, one has to be somewhat concerned that the circus atmosphere on Churchill could unnerve him.  Trainer Mullins also has some negatives as well, although not of the sort that could harm his colt’s performance.  On Wood Memorial day, he was observed injecting another of his horses with a drug, causing the horse to be scratched from the race and Mullins being hit with a suspension.  Nothing like yet another drug incident after last year’s steroid controversy to drum up interest in the sport.  There is another major negative.  One of the owners is IEAH, the oleaginous owners of Big Brown.  Last year, I discussed how these guys gave Wall Street a bad name because of their apparent shenanigans when that was their day-time job.  That was back in the day, however, before Wall Street gave itself a bad name and, as is now apparent, these clowns were typical of that “profession,” not outliers. 14)  Atomic Rain  (Kelly Breen/Joe Bravo) – Kelly Breen has one less entrant than Bob Baffert, Nick Zito and Wayne Lukas combined?  If the race were at Monmouth Park, he might be the post-time favorite, since every horse ridden by Joe Bravo at the Jersey shore is.  Ironically, this colt’s only win came at Monmouth in his first career start.  He has since been winless, twice losing first level allowance races.  He is a great bet to run last. 15)  Dunkirk  (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado) – I love this talented colt.  Not because I think he will win, but because he will attract a lot of the wise guy money, driving up the price on other more likely winners.  He is undefeated, with all three wins coming this year.  Let me be the first to tell you – no horse has won the Derby without racing as a two-year old since Apollo in 1882.  (Apollo, incidentally, is also one of the few geldings to win America’s race.)  I used to be a big believer in historical trends being an excellent indicator of Derby success.  But the traditional standards have been falling by the wayside – say hello to Strike the Gold (dosage), Funny Cide (gelding and New York bred), Barbaro (no race within four weeks), and Street Sense (only two races as a three-year old). So, I am no longer trapped by history, but I do not think this guy is ready to win this one.  From my perspective, he was one very tired animal after making an impressive move in the Florida Derby that fell short of catching Quality Road.  He is not one who looked like he was hoping for another furlong.  I think another consideration – mentioned by my spouse and breeding expert – is that when owners spend $3.7 mil for a yearling, they are probably thinking Derby, not the Mass Cap, and will enter no matter what. 16)  Pioneerof the Nile  (Bob Baffert/Garrett Gomez) – Let me get something out of the way right off the bat.  Is this name so great that you would run two words together to stay within The Jockey Club’s lmit of 18 characters (including spaces)?  I find running all the words together tacky enough, but this?  The one thing that would salvage this name is if they brought jockey R.L. Ffrench from overseas to ride him.  Having said that, your success in betting this race depends on how you assess his chances. He wil be the second or third choice, but has never run on dirt.  Among his five synthetic wins are four consecutive ones in either Grade I or Grade 2 events.  After the Robert Lewis, where he beat both Papa Clem and I Want Revenge, he was my Derby pick.  But then his next two, I thought, were not impressive even though he won both.  Much is made of the fact that horses losing to this colt went on to win the two major Derby preps on dirt.  I Want Revenge moved east after two losses to Pioneerof the Nile and became a seeming monster.  Papa Clem followed the same eastern trek, taking down the Arkansas Derby in the process.  Can this colt so the same?  Quite frankly, no one knows, least of all me.  His top Beyer has been a 96.  While I Want Revenge upgraded 21 points to a 113 and then a 103 in his trouble trip Wood, Papa Clem improved ten points to a 101.  If you like Pioneerof the Nile, you have to project an improvement of 15 points or more. 17)  Summer Bird  (Tim Ice/C.R. Rosier) – This colt makes Dunkirk look like a grizzled veteran.  While each has only three career starts, this guy didn’t make it to the starting line until March 1.  Should he win, you can expect to see half of next year’s field coming into the Derby with only two months of experience.  He did run impressively in the Arkansas Derby, closing well to finish 1 1/4 lengths back of Papa Clem, earning a 99 Beyer.  Nonetheless, I cannot see such a lightly raced horse wearing roses. 18)  Nowhere to Hide  (Nick Zito/Shaun Bridgmohan) – Unfortunately for his connections, there will be nowhere to hide when you appear before 150,000 fans at the scene and millions more on TV and computer monitors around the world.  He took five starts to break his maiden and he has since finished fourth in three straight stakes races.  His Beyer top of 90 has been followed with two successive declining numbers. This is not the direction to be moving in for the biggest race in this country. 19)  Desert Party  (Saeed bin Suroor/Ramon Dominguez) – He is the other part of the uncoupled entry from the  sands of Dubai.  Purchased as a two-year old for $2.1 million, he won Saratoga’s Sanford as the odds-on choice on a muddy track.  After experiencing trouble in the Hopeful, finishing 6th, he moved to Dubai where he twice beat  Regal Ransom in preps for the UAE Derby before losing to his stable mate by 1/2 length in the Run for the Oil, earning the equivalent of a 99 Beyer.  I think he has a definite shot to make an impression in the Derby and is a threat to hit the board at a square price. 20)  Flying Private  (Wayne Lukas/Robby Albarado) -  There was a time when Wayne Lukas was criticized for running horses in the Derby with the apparent sole intent of keeping his string of consecutive Derby starts intact.  He stopped doing it after the immortal Deeds Not  Words finished last about 10 years ago.  This colt appears to be in that not-so-proud tradition since he appears to have a much better shot of finishing last than first.  He hasn’t won in seven starts since breaking his maiden at Saratoga.  While he did run a good second in Hold Me Back‘s Lane’s End on polytrack, earning his Beyer top of 94, he was not impressive in a 5th place finish in the Arkansas Derby. SELECTIONS There are two very important factors in arriving at a selection, neither one of which lends itself to analysis until the week of the race.  The first is the track condition.  As I write this, I am watching the Oaks card where the track is sloppy, with more rain in the forecast.  Who will benefit from an off track?  We saw what Friesan Fire is capable of when the dirt turns to mud.  Others who have run well on an off surface include Nowhere to Hide (at Belmont) and Desert Party (stakes win at the Spa).  Those who have displayed a negative affinity are Flying Private (Saratoga) and Join in the Dance (Monmouth and Churchill where he did run 2nd, but with a 51 Beyer).  Keep in mind also, that those who have only run on a synthetic surface have not had the opportunity to display form on a wet track.  A second measure of likely wet track affinity is in the Tomlinson number, a numerical ranking published in the Daily Racing Form that attempts to predict performance based on pedigree.  I have a significant problem with the Tomlinsons because they are based only on the first generation of parents.  While they can be accurate when the number is high (indicating possible proficiency on the surface), they often are horrible when the number is low.  That, of course, is good if one is looking for a wagering angle if one hopes others are following the low number and discounting a horse’s chances. The only two entrants with comparatively low numbers are Chocolate Candy and Summer Bird, neither of whom I would discount if the track is wet. In other words, I will not be using the Tomlinsons in my handicapping. The second factor that is of crucial importance is how horses are training over the Churchill Downs strip.  Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form has shown himself to be a knowledgeable observer over the years. Based on his reporting, I would be concerned about Desert Party, General Quarters, Musket Man, and Summer Bird.  Those he found impressive include Advice, Hold Me Back, I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile, Regal Ransom and West Side Bernie. With I Want Revenge out of the race, I think this becomes a much more wide-open event.  I was hoping to get a better price on Friesan Fire, but the possibility of a wet track will probably dash those hopes. I think that Regal Ransom is a very live long shot, and that Hold Me Back could be a nice-priced factor in the exotic wagers, and I think either could win at juicy mutuels. Horses that are likely to be short prices that I do not like include Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk and Papa Clem.  I think it will be very difficult to leave Pioneer out of the exotics, but will not have that problem with the other two. WHO IS THE CAT GOING WITH? I know most of you scroll immediately to this section, even if I put it last in the hope you read my stuff.  Even though I did not put in the time I have in other years because of time constraints, Barton showed no interest at all until I was writing about one of the entrants.  He circled around me, brushing his tail against my legs, then jumping into my lap, purring loudly and nuzzling me as I wrote about one horse.  That one is Desert Party.  Is it because he is out of a Tabasco Cat mare?  How do I know?  I do know that when I started writing about the next one on the list – Flying Private – he jumped down as if someone had just opened a can of tuna.

One comment on “HORSE RACING

  1. Enjoying your analyses. I hope that I’m correct that Chrome is the real deal in the Preakness (then again I thought Orb was a sure for the Triple after last year’s Derby). My gut tells me that he destroys this field.

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