March 10, 2014

Derby Top 10 - March update

Not the hot start I was looking for having to toss a couple of my top choices so early. But rather than simply add all the round 1 winners, I'm passing on many of these front-running types since that seldom works out at Churchill Downs in a 20 horse field.  I'd rather give another try to those horses that couldn't make up the ground on several speed bias tracks (i.e. Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Tampa Bay).

Commissioner - failed to finish ahead of a 73-1 and 43-1 shot in the FOY with no real excuse.

Top Billing - broken cannon bone in training  and off trail.
Conquest Titan - failed to threaten at Tampa Bay on a speed favoring track, prefer Vinceremos.
My updated ranking (in order of preference) follows...
1. Candy Boy – Candy Ride/In Excess
John Sadler is trying to dethrone Bob Baffert as the west coast Derby trainer with his deep bench this year, led by Candy Boy. As I stated last month, Candy Ride could be the next Malibu Moon of sires to break out with a quality crop this year.  As increasingly likely that Shared Belief will not make the Derby parade, he appears to be the best of the west. I will take my chances that California Chrome is a speed-only type of horse with his freakish San Felipe romp -- similar fractions to Game on Dude's record breaking performance the following day on the same Santa Anita strip in the Big Cap.

2. Intense Holiday - Perhaps I found his gutsy Risen Star win so impressive since it helped fuel a nice trifecta ticket for me, but he appears to have taken that step against top company he has been holding for so long. Albano was tough as nails in defeat, but like brother Mark Valeski he may prove to be not quite on the same level of top national Derby horses as they stretch out in distance. Frankie Brothers went over budget bidding for this guy for Starlight Stables and said he had a hunch he could be a top flight colt, so this former top conditioner's (and husband of Donna Barton-Brothers) intuition is good enough for me.
3. Strong Mandate – Tiznow/Deputy Minister
I'm moving him up based on the wilting of my other top picks and the fact that his bad trips are consistently keeping him slightly under the radar. Sure, it looked like he was soundly defeated by Tapizar last out but he never quit churning and will be that much tighter off a fairly lengthy layoff (by D. Wayne Lukas standards, anyway). I like his tactical speed and ability to stay close to fast splits and still have some punch left, as he showed in Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He will be my top choice in the Rebel Stakes on Saturday.
 4. Cairo Prince – Pioneerof the Nile/Holy Bull
There is not one horse on this list that I am more impressed with at the moment. However, sitting on the bench until the Florida Derby for his final prep seems a bit absurd to me. I’ve already mentioned the Dosage jinx with his numbers so you would think his team would want to build some foundation through an extra start against fresh faces. Palace Malice tried the LA Derby route last year for more points/experience and even though he was totally stymied on the turn and missed the board look how the rest of his year turned out. Still waiting on Florida Derby or Wood Memorial in April to see if he's still got it.

5. Vinceremos - Pioneerof the Nile/More Than Ready

I guess I failed to learn my lesson with Verrazano last year, as I like another horse with miler More Than Ready in the breeding. But Pioneerof the Nile came out swinging with his first crop, similar to Into Mischief last year who had multiple offspring in The Derby starting gate. I like the grit these horses tend to have and he was second best out of a better than average Tampa Bay Derby, where he took a step forward in defeat over several other that regressed from the Sam Davis prep. Owners WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing (of Louisiana/Florida) have pledged a portion of his earnings to a therapeutic riding center in Florida named in Vinceremos' honor, so this is my special interest story of all the Derby horses thus far. (Remember Afleet Alex and Alex's lemonade stand in 2005?)

6. Tapiture - Tapit/Olympio 

Southwest Stakes win at Oaklawn was moi impressivo, but he did have the perfect ground-saving trip along the rail and spurted away from Strong Mandate on the turn to put the race out of touch. Of the many standout performances of Winchell-Asmussen led runners, I prefer the filly Untapable who smashed in the Fair Ground Rachel Alexandra Stakes under Rosie Napravnik. Of couse, with the new points system for Derby qualifying I doubt she attempts, or makes, the field. Still a very professional effort at Oaklawn with some back-class at Churchill Downs and you would expect another move forward in his second start off layoff.
7. Midnight Hawk – Midnight Lute/Wolf Power
Bob Baffert trainee has a lovely motion with his head very low (ala A.P. Indy) and great extension. He was a one-pace horse in the San Felipe, and that was chasing California Chrome all the way around the track. He'll need to find another gear in the SA Derby and I'm not sure if that means going straight to the front or settling off the pace for a new look.  But if Baffert can't figure it out, nobody can. This could be the first horse I ever saw with a Dosage Index under 1.0 – it’s a scant 0.71. Compare that to Derby futures individual favorite Cairo Prince of 7.0 and we’ll see if this Dosage index is invalidated this year!

8. Ride on Curlin – Curlin/Storm Cat
Calvin Borel decided to push him early in the Southwest due to his outside post and he never really got a breather because of hustling early and being very wide around the first turn. He still fought hard in the stretch to keep the show spot after running a lot further than his peers, so I think he'll be fine in the Rebel this Saturday as long as Borel lets him relax early and comes with one big run. People forget he was a solid 3rd in the Grade I Champagne behind Havana and Honor Code last fall. Speaking of which, I’ve left both of these big names out due to their late starts back on the trail. They will have to earn their way back onto my list, as many top juveniles fizzle out before the Derby arrives (Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo, etc.).

9. Tonalist– Tapit/Pleasant Colony
If super-sire Tapit is going to find success on the Derby trail it should very well be this year with all his bullets. This guy is the best of the bunch bred for the 10 furlong Derby distance being thrown from a Pleasant Colony mare. He is still eligible for a NX2 allowance race after running behind free-running Constitution (another Tapit up and comer), but his lone win came easily at 9 furlongs two races back and next start likely the Florida Derby at 9 furlongs. He must run first or second to make the starting gate at Louisville but I think he'll get to those speedy sorts down at Hallandale Beach next time around.
10. Kristo-- Distorted Humor/Capote

He needs to get his head straight in a hurry. All that misbehaving in the stretch for that size of a horse is awkward to watch - drifting out on the turn and pulling Joel Rosario repeatedly towards the rail. Has not threatened the winner in his last two starts now at Santa Anita but generally the SA Derby brings out a larger field where the front-runners are pressured between calls and he could possibly pick up the pieces. Not sure he's best suited for 10 furlongs, but I'd rather give this physical standout one more chance to put it together late than to jump on the bandwagon of one of these speed demons.
Good luck with your picks along the Derby trail!

February 7, 2014

Kentucky Derby 140 Top 10 list

Commissioner -- A.P. Indy/Touch Gold
Over the past few years I have pointed out my favorite breeding nick of the crop and that often comes through on the first Saturday in May (see Super Saver). Not only does this guy look as good as his breeding, but he returned from a 4 month layoff to beat a solid field at Gulfstream Park and has already won 2 races at 9 furlongs.  “The Commish” will be going postward in the Fountain of Youth Stakes down at Gulfstream Park for team Pletcher and WinStar Farm. When I first saw Honor Code last fall, I had hoped he would bring A.P. Indy a much deserved Derby winner in his final foal crop. But at this point my money is on Commissioner to fill that role.

Kristo -- Distorted Humor/Capote
This colt has run well twice since stretching out to two turns for under-rated west coast conditioner John Sadler. Bejarano had ridden him in every start and appeared to be race-riding against the heavy favorite Midnight Hawk in the Sham Stakes. With a normal size field he should be able to get a better stalking trip. I loved Funny Cide the year he brought home the roses and Distorted Humor is capable of siring another Derby winner. For those bettors out there, Kristo is #11 in the current Derby futures pool at a whopping 99-1!

Top Billing – Curlin/A.P. Indy  
My 2nd favorite breeding in this year’s crop will tackle Commissioner again in the Fountain of Youth. Last year there were clear “key races” on the Derby trail (such as LA Derby) and the FOY should go a long way to sort out the wheat from the chaff in this crop. Not much separated him and Commissioner when they squared off recently and they appear to be the class of a very deep Gulfstream contingent. It looks as if California is also coming up strong this year – not so much New York (recent state bred winners of Withers) or Louisiana. Too early to tell with the Oaklawn horses.

Midnight Hawk – Midnight Lute/Wolf Power  
Bob Baffert trainee has a lovely motion with his head very low (ala A.P. Indy) and great extension. He will attempt to keep his hot streak going in the Bob Lewis (Silver Charm fame).  Speaking of streaks, owner Mike Pegram is on fire with his homebred stallion Midnight Lute (Mylute 3rd in last year’s Derby and Shakin It Up - Govenor Charlie just ran 1-2 in the Grade 2 Strub stakes). This could be the first horse I ever saw with a Dosage Index under one – it’s a scant 0.71. Compare that to Derby futures individual favorite Cairo Prince of 7.0 and we’ll see if this Dosage index is invalidated this year!

Strong Mandate – Tiznow/Deputy Minister   
D. Wayne Lukas stormed back onto the Triple Crown scene in 2013 and looks capable of backing that up with another victory this season with one of his typical speed-oriented types. The Champagne flop was awful but his BC Juvenile show spot was great considering his suicidal pace (think Palace Malice in last year’s Derby). Tiznow has not had a lot of success on the Derby Trail so generally I discard his progeny but leave out a live D. Wayne Lukas horse at your own peril. He will try to add points to the Derby qualifying board in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on President’s Day.

Ride on Curlin – Curlin/Storm Cat 
Time to throw a sleeper pick in and who better than a proven classic distance sire.  I was in attendance at Oaklawn to see ROC’s return sprint victory and his versatile form reminds me a great deal of a past Oaklawn great, Afleet Alex. I’ve heard reports from Billy Gowan that he hasn’t missed a beat since shipping south and he has already proven he’s very competitive with stiff company up north.  Not sure why a horse like Rise Up is in the individual Derby futures pool when ROC finished 4 lengths ahead of him in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill last fall and also 3rd in the Grade I Champagne behind Havana and Honor Code. Speaking of which, I’m leaving both of these big names out due to their late starts back on the trail. They will have to earn their way back onto my list, as many top juveniles fizzle out before the Derby arrives (Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo, etc.).

Cairo Prince – Pioneerof the Nile/Holy Bull  
There is not one horse on this list that I am more impressed with at the moment.  However, sitting on the bench until the Florida Derby for his final prep seems a bit absurd to me. I’ve already mentioned the Dosage jinx with his numbers so you would think his team would want to build some foundation through an extra start against fresh faces.  Palace Malice tried the LA Derby route last year for more points/experience and even though he was totally stymied on the turn and missed the board look how the rest of his year turned out.

Conquest Titan – Birdstone/Mineshaft  
Closed from the clouds to finish a distant second behind Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull, but has also thrown in a couple of clunkers showing speed earlier in his career.  Without a doubt his daddy and paternal grandpa made their way from the back of the pack, as he is getting accustomed to. Certain breeding lines (namely, Unbridled and other Mr. Prospector lines) have a way to throw out classic winners, so if his older brother Mine That Bird can win the Derby, certainly he has a shot!

Candy Boy – Candy Ride/In Excess  
My first winning horse as an owner was from the In Excess male line, so this one caught my eye.  Due to the hoof abscess issue with Shared Belief, this is my favorite candy in this year’s sophomore crop, also a personal favorite sire of mine.   Another from the stable of California based John Sadler that could keep improving. For some reason, Candy Ride reminds me a lot of Malibu Moon, who threw out quality runners year after year but finally broke through with his first Derby winner last year in Orb. Perhaps 2014 will be “Year of Candy” as well as year of the Horse (recent lunar new year).

Tonalist – Tapit/Pleasant Colony 
If super-sire Tapit is going to find success on the Derby trail it should very well be this year with all his bullets. And since Hansen proved that Tapit can get a great 8-9 furlong horse but probably not 10 furlongs, what a better nick than with stamina-laden Pleasant Colony. I am curious as to the training pattern by veteran turf horseman Christophe Clement alternating 5 furlong with 3 furlong breezes. In only two races, he has an obvious style of lagging well behind at the break so perhaps he is trying to put more speed into this well bred colt. Regardless, I wanted to throw another off the radar horse in my inaugural Top 10 and he fits the bill.


Bubble horse:  Vicar’s in Trouble – Into Mischief/Vicar

July 22, 2013

Saturday Racing Stable LLC enjoys first victory

Saturday Racing Stable LLC experienced their inaugural victory at Louisiana Downs on July 4th with IGETSOENOTIONAL. Although it was the third horse campaigned by the purple and green silks stable based in Dallas, TX, the 3YO gelding affectionately known as "Whitney" won at first asking over 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf course in an impressive 1:31.1.  Follow this link and scroll to bottom and select "Track" tab, July 4, Race 7...

Whitney had a bit of trouble being fanned five wide on the first turn, but a patient Kevin Smith allowed his charge to regroup and by the top of the stretch the track announcer declared "And here comes I-get-so-enotion-al rocketing by them" as he won by 2 1/2 lengths going away. Trainer Brian House reported that the chestnut son of Notional out of Macellya (FR) came out of the race in fine order and will be pointed to a return on the turf at one mile or greater towards the end of July.

The naming of this horse reflects the camaraderie among the partners of this two year old stable consisting primarily of friends and co-workers of managing member Eric Kordsmeier from his investment background. Eric wanted to get partner feedback before naming the colt acquired from the Fasig-Tipton Texas two year old in training sale in April 2012 while keeping with tradition by using part of the sire or dam's name. After "Ace" Bernstein submitted "Dontgetsoenotional" that gave Eric the idea of naming their recent addition as a posthumous honor to Whitney Houston, who tragically died just weeks prior to SRS acquiring this horse. Putting the sire's name together with Ms. Houston's most iconic song, the result was "Igetsoenotional." Partners Matt and Rocco immediately had visions of a Derby caliber horse that would bring in Whitney Houston look-a-like performers in sequenced dresses to sing after his victories.  But after months over months of shin splints and being a late maturing horse, Whitney was patiently trained up to his first race in winning form by Brian House. It was a fitting victory considering one of the key reasons Eric identified Mr. House as a top trainer candidate was his high win percentage developing young horses, particularly distance horses.

Saturday Racing Stable LLC currently has two horses in training - the other being Hollywood Hughes, who has been sidelined with various ailments since an off-the-board finish at Fair Grounds this spring. In addition, they own a Kentucky bred yearling filly by first crop sire Afleet Express as well as a retired race mare by Posse that is now a broodmare in Louisiana. SRS plans to add one additional runner at the upcoming Fasig-Tipton Texas yearling sale to race on the Arkansas - Kentucky circuit.

May 7, 2013

Derby 139 Wrap - Pace makes the race

You've heard me say it at least once each year in a post, "pace makes the race." You correctly guess the pace scenario and you have a huge advantage in cashing tickets at the window. I could not have been further off from my pace analysis than this year's Derby since I expected a moderate to slow pace based on previous split times. And my early bias against Orb's pre-Florida Derby races also cost me from having him in my win spot in exotic bets, but I would never have included Golden Soul for second so I don't feel so bad. The excuses (err... explanations) are as follows;

1) Rogue speed - Palace Malice. Todd Pletcher will tell you it was the addition of blinkers that caused PM to run away from Mike Smith with suicidal fractions. Mike Smith will tell you he broke on a flyer and couldn't restrain him. Conspiracy bloggers will tell you it was Pletcher instructing Smith to be the rabbit to set up Revolutionary's late run. But this would compromise Verrazano's chances and would mean pissing off (and possibly being fired by) his best clients, Dogwood Stable and Lets Go Racing Stable. So that is not plausible either. Perhaps it is a little of each of the above that sent Palace Malice on a suicide mission but the fact that he still finished mid-pack beaten "only" 13 lengths back (Falling Sky was officially 53 lengths behind) tells me that somebody screwed this horse out of a top 3 finish with those insane fractions. And it also depleted his racing tank such that he will not run back in the Preakness in two weeks, which could have been his best spot.

2) Sealed "sloppy" track. If any of you have ever been down near the track when it is sealed you will recall the dense packing and thud of hooves when horses travel over the off track. It actually allows for quicker foot action and speed in the short-run. Think of running across a grassy field versus track - no give in the track allows for quicker times whereas your foot sinks into the ground when running cross country. But in the long-run it creates more fatigue on a horse. I would say the 10 furlong distance of The Derby qualifies as long-run having a detrimental effect on any horse close to the front on Saturday. Bottom line is that 4 of the top 5 placed-horses only had one horse beat after 6 furlongs, and that was Java's War who missed the break and was out of contention from the start. The lone exception was Normandy Invasion, who was in 6th place only 5 lengths off the pace. Look at his DRF chart and you will note that any typical year he is in the winning position at that point of the race but instead he finishes a tiring 4th. But certainly this was an atypically run Derby.

3) Palace Malice's breakaway speed caused a chain reaction of the other speed-oriented horses (Goldencents, Falling Sky, Verrazano, Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday) chasing him down and kept the swift fractions going each successive quarter mile until the race unraveled at the mile point and final 10 furlong time. 22.2, 22.3, 24.2, 26.1, 26.3 split times for a moderate final time of 2:02.89. Historical relevance; In 2001 Point Given was also 3 1/2 lengths behind a wicked 1:09.25 six furlong pace that watched him labor home in 5th position in the 2nd fastest Kentucky Derby in history, only behind "Big Red" in 1973. Point Given was clearly superior in this group and proved it by winning each Grade I race before and after the Derby (including an easy Preakness score and 12 length Belmont romp over Derby winner Monarchos) before being injured later in the year and retired to stud duty. I'm not saying Normandy is in the same league as this horse but it proves how significant the pace can factor into an outcome.

4) Trip line. While Orb was officially 6 wide into the stretch, the replay showed that he came away from the gates clean and was never impeded while racing on the outside (even though his head looked like the grill of a 4X4 Jeep after going muddin'). Compare that to Revolutionary, "bumped, waited 1/4 pole," Normandy Invasion, "steadied start, weakened" and my long-shot pick Will Take Charge, "5 wide run, checked 3/16 pole" who certainly got the worst trip of all as he was traveling in stride with Orb on the turn until that damn Verrazano drifted into his path as he was tiring. Now I'm not implying that Orb is not a worthy winner by any means and I am very pleased that "Shug" won his elusive Derby, being a Kentuckian. I am just stating that he got the winning trip and it may not come as easy in Baltimore on May 18th, which makes it an intriguing betting race - albeit nowhere near the odds of Kentucky. So if you are like me in trying to get back a little dough, this is NOT the race to "double down!"

Fortunately, many of the also-rans (Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday, Vyjack, Will Take Charge) along with 4 of the top 6 finishers at Churchill Downs will get one more chance in the Preakness and hope for better conditions. And there are two new shooters that will come into the Preakness a bit fresh in Govenor Charlie (Bob Baffert) and Departing (Al Stall). Speaking of which, if you believe in "key races" as I do and is particularly useful among early 3YO races, the one thing I was right about is how good the crop in Louisiana was this year (in spite of slower speed figures). Four of the top six Derby finishers came out of a Louisiana prep race and another went on to win the Illinois Derby! And if you think this trend holds up, you've got to look at Departing, who finished just 3 lengths behind Revolutionary and Mylute in the LA Derby and in front of Golden Soul, who shredded a lot of Derby exacta, trifecta and superfecta tickets when he rolled home second at 35-1.

I will have another post out just prior to the Preakness, but I felt I needed to "explain myself" after my disappointing predictions. After hitting all top five finishers last year (though not in exact order) I felt my 3 for 5 this year left a little to be desired. I hope to fare better at Pimlico and feel good about a couple of price horses.

Hope you enjoyed Kentucky Derby 139, truly a race unlike any other!

May 4, 2013

Derby Day hunches, that damn Bob Costas and E's final Top 10 list

What a delightful Derby morning in Dallas, TX!  Had a nice 5 furlong (err, 5 mile) gallop with my Tawny dog who has a stride similar to Itsmyluckyday - she likes to go to the front!  Too bad the Louisville weather is much worse with rain about 80% likely throughout the late afternoon hours. Although, unless the track gets one good downpour it could still be listed as "fast" since that Churchill sand and clay base track can absorb a good amount of water. The only horse of mine that would definitely be affected is long-shot Will Take Charge, who ran a dull race in the sloppy Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in February. On the flip-side, Itsmyluckyday, Revolutionary and Vyjack have had victories with higher than average speed times on "off" tracks. Now on to the picks!

My last and "official" Derby Top 10 shakes out as follows, with post positions and day 1 closing odds;

1) #14 Verrazano 11-1 

2) #3 Revolutionary 5-1

3) #5 Normandy Invasion 8-1

4) #10 Palace Malice 25-1

5) #16 Orb 6-1

6) #17 Will Take Charge 31-1

7) #12 Itsmyluckyday 11-1

8) #19 Java's War 22-1

9) #8 Goldencents 5-1

10) #9 Overanalyze 14-1

I see some major odds discrepancies, such as the obvious- #14 being totally disrespected at 11-1!  In addition to juicy win odds, those who like this horse should top him in a $1 exacta wheel and pray for a long-shot. That bet costs $18 with the defection of Black Onyx and if he truly goes off as the 5th choice would pay a $200 minimum (same 11-1 range return) and could pay closer to $1,000 if a 25-1 shot or greater rolls in for second.

So my famous "toss" horse this year is #8 Goldencents. First a little history, as hard as it is to pick a winner from a 20ish horse field, I've been singling out a short horse each year. Granted, some years I have been aided by  bad trips (Gemologist was my short last year at 9-1, 16th place finish), but the only horse who has burned me was Ice Box when he flew up for 2nd place to Super Saver (my #2 pick) over the slop in 2010. Earlier in the week, I was hoping to short Orb (as M-L favorite, this would be the equivalent of having shorted sub-prime mortgages in 2008 if he runs poorly!). But as much as I was unimpressed with his slower win times at Gulfstream Park (these horses disappoint more than the Wood Memorial), he has a few things going for him. He reminds me of Fu-Peg in 2000 in that he is the most gorgeous horse in the field and he has made a swooping closing move into a slow pace - a big plus for a closer that they CAN do more. I am encouraged that he seems to spook easily, so I'll put him in 2nd - 4th in my big superfecta bet but hope he melts in the paddock with 150,000 screaming drunk Kentuckians.

I'm shorting Goldencents this year, even though if I am wrong I can see him actually winning the dang race due to his whopping 105 Beyer speed figure in the Santa Anita Derby. He is a true speed horse with the fastest split times by far, so I can't see him rating effectively (although IHA burned me last year by coming further back in Derby). Further, some of you may have heard of the "bounce" theory where a horse runs a much faster than typical race and his next start is flat - also known as Ragozin # progression. I just can't see him duplicate that last race and actually those horses were nothing like the best from the Wood or Louisiana Derbies this year. That's it folks, take it to the bank! 

Other observations; Mylute and Frac Daddy seem to be way overbet due to their Kentucky connections and 60 minutes Rosie - ugghhh!  Whereas, Palace Malice with Hall of Famer Mike Smith are getting no respect at 25-1. Did anyone notice what Mikey did yesterday in the Oaks?  Exactly, rang the damn bell with Princess of Sylmar at 38-1. He is the best big money rider in the country, bar none, period, exclamation point!!! My goal is to have a good enough horse for him to ride before he retires - he's getting up there. No disrespect to Calvin "Boo Boo" Borel, but I'd take Smith at 25-1 over Calvin at 5-1 in some backup bets to exploit these odds.

Kids, I hope you have a Fantabulous Derby now. Now that my "official" work is done, I can sit back, relax and enjoy the greatest 6 hours of pre-Derby coverage (other than that damn Bob Costas - he and Rosie Napravnik in the same interview may make me puke!). But then we will get to experience the truly greatest two minutes in sports.  Whoooooo, brother (shout out to Ronaldo and Rick Flair)!

Let's Roll....

May 3, 2013

Memorial to Storm Cat - influential U.S. sire who died at age 30 last week

Sad news came out last Wednesday that leading U.S. sire of sires Storm Cat was euthanized due to debilitating effects of old age at 30 (approximately 90 in human terms). The grandson of the immortal Northern Dancer out of a Secretariat mare (hence, "Big Red" was known as a top broodmare sire) had been pensioned from stud duty (i.e. retired from the "strenuous" life of sex and leisure) for the last several years at the original owner's farm - William Young (Overbrook Farm). I have copied the incredible stats below, but most impressive is how he infused additional speed and juvenile success into American breeding through sons Hennessy and Stormy Atlantic yet also passed along some stamina through sons Giant's Causeway, Harlan and Tale of the Cat. Not only the impressive sire line, but he is becoming quite the broodmare sire with top sires Speightstown and Bodemeister - last year's top classics performer, to his credit.  Speaking of Classics, Storm Cat will be represented in tomorrow's Derby by five contenders, most notably by his great-grandson Into Mischief with #8 Goldencents and #20 Vyjack.

Storm Cat was a relatively small stallion who produced medium build foals but they were/are known to be feisty S.O.B.'s. I know - my Stable bought a son of Henny Hughes who is a cross to Storm Cat at the third generation. One other special note is that as good as Storm Cat proved to be in the end, he was doubted when his first crop of foals came through the auction ring much smaller than average for top sires. There was one Texas cowgirl in the Keeneland sales pavilion back in 1990 who liked what she saw - offset knees and all - and ended up buying a filly to be named Joy's Baby and recorded the very first of 180 stakes winners for the sire, over 100 of those in Graded company! That cowgirl is Diamond D Ranch's very own (and current Saturday Racing Stable bloodstock advisor) Caroline Dodwell. Please note the amazing stats below and follow the link to read more about his stellar stud career and lasting impressions.        

Storm Cat facts 1983, dk. b. or br. h., Storm Bird—Terlingua, by Secretariat
Breeder: W. T. Young Storage, Inc.
Owner: W. T. Young
Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard
Race record: 8-4-3-0, $570,610
Stakes wins: 1985 Young America S. (G1)
Stakes placings: 2nd in 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1)
Honors at stud: Leading sire (1999, 2000); leading broodmare sire (2012); 
leading juvenile sire(1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004)
Foals: 1,452 Starters: 1,110 Winners: 807 Wins: 2,340
Stakes winners: 180 (12%)
Graded/group stakes winners: 108
Earnings: $128,085,381
Average earnings per starter: $115,392

May 1, 2013

Wednesday means 2 things; post position draw and mint julep recipe

Perhaps rivaled only by Monday of Derby week, Wednesday is very popular in my household. There are two things that happen late every afternoon of this day each year - Post positions are drawn in a commercialized one hour process and that evening I stew my select batch of mint julep syrup. There is nothing simple about the equal parts water-sugar base.  It begins with bountiful leaves of legitimate Bluegrass mint (complements of the Houston's who transported the original strand from Paducah, KY) which gives the base a nice hue of green after the syrup comes to a boil. After cooling for approximately one hour, the mixologist is allowed ONE mint julep sample before placing the seal of approval on Batch 139. The pewter julep chalice is cleaned with care in hopes that Derby Day will be here. The sampling is occurring precisely as I pen this handicapping commentary, so let's get on with it before I start missing my keys...

Nothing spectacular came out of the post positions and odds announcement and the only adverse impact for legitimate threats would be Vyjack (15-1) #20 far outside post and Oxbow (30-1) down in the #2 hole, which should prompt Gary Stevens to show more speed (which Lukas had intended to do regardless). The top contenders drew anywhere between the prime 8 to 16 posts with the exception of Revolutionary towards the rail in #3. But with his lagging running style and agile maneuvering, this will enable him to save ground early and weave through tiring horses on the far turn. So what about the speed scenario that I promised yesterday?  Here goes...

My estimate of the likely pacesetters based on their recent preps split times (nothing at a mile or under would be relevant at this distance) are as follows, in order; Goldencents, Falling Sky, Giant Finish, Lines of Battle, Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday. This is a very rare year in that I can't point to a single "junk" speed horse - a horse that is wicked fast but only entered in The Derby because they were a legit sprinter and the owners had Derby fever (ala Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Trinniberg last year). This is likely due to the new point system created by Churchill Downs this season to ensure that legitimate two-turn horses in top form close to Derby day get in. What this means is that even though some horses will try to grab a few seconds of fame (perhaps Giant Finish and Falling Sky fall into this category), they have not shown the type of speed that would prompt the half mile time to be sub :47 flat. In contrast, last year when Trinniberg pushed the speedy Bodemeister early the half went in :45.39 and 6 panels in 1:09.80. I'll Have Another was about 8 lengths off this suicidal pace at the half mile point and the 3rd and 4th placer finishers were 13 and 18 lengths back.

This year I want to use more speed oriented horses in the top slots of my trifecta/superfecta bets and I will get odds since many of the top candidates are deep closers (i.e. Orb, Revolutionary, Java's War, Normandy Invasion, Mylute). Thus, my official WIN pick will be the horse some are doubting because of his natural speed, Verrazano (4-1). The misconception could be that he was only 2nd at the 4 furlong mark in the Wood Memorial due to the c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g pace of :49.62 seconds and he was still 2 lengths back, meaning he ran his first 4 furlongs in about 50 seconds. Does this sound like a speed only horse to you? Absolutely not!

Todd Pletcher has been brutally criticized by the media (namely Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post and of Beyer speed figure fame) for having only one winner in 30+ Derby starters and that was when Super Saver came further off the pace in 2010 to win than he had in previous races. Even if Todd Pletcher can't recall this simple fact I guarantee you that Johnny V. doesn't want to jeopardize his 10% cut of the $2MM purse by using up his horse early. Especially since his other mount option in this race was the actual morning line favorite and closer, Orb (7-2). Along with Itsmyluckyday (who I believe to have distance limitations), these two horses seem to have the best tactical speed and if they choose to rate off the pace on Saturday they can be wearing the blanket of Kroger roses (which they will begin tomorrow stitching together the 554 red roses).

Finally, while still trying to whittle down my large exotic tickets, one horse that I like more each time I scan the charts in #5 Normandy Invasion (12-1).  Not only would this guy be the patriotic choice with that special name, how wild is it that both his dam and damsire carry the name "Boston" (Boston Lady and Boston Harbor) and we are just over one week removed from the tragedies of their marathon race?! Tapit is known more as a miler sire but his speed figures are higher in his two 9 furlong races and his running style could help him last in that final furlong. I know who you Red Sox fans will be rooting for on Saturday!

Good luck!

April 30, 2013

Handicapping Lessons from recent Derbies

Mark Twain was credited with the expression, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” But let’s not draw back to 100+ year-old statistics when refreshing our views leading into this year’s Derby (no winner failed to run as a 2YO since Apollo, must have three Derby preps, prep race needs to be within 4 weeks of Derby, dosage index must be under 4.0, yadda, yadda.). Rather, let’s reflect on the “new normal” of the last few years and try to find the Orb, Verrazano, Goldencents and Revolutionary of previous years and see how that race turned out for similar horses (somewhat of a misnomer since horses are “wild creatures” as my wife reminds me when ours do not win!).

IMHO, the 2013 Derby is shaping up much like 2009, 2010 and 2011, when there was debate as to the superior horse (which Bodemeister clearly was leading into last year’s Derby). Strangely enough, the ’09 and ’10 editions of The Derby were run over a sloppy (sealed) track, which possibly could have distorted the outcomes although the results seem plausible based on the respective pace scenarios. Though a slight chance of rain is in store for Friday's Kentucky Oaks, it is very likely to be a fast track come late Saturday afternoon. The favorites in those three years were Friesan Fire at 4-1 (speed), Lookin at Lucky at 6-1 (stalker) and Dialed In at 5-1 (closer), respectively.  None of these favorites came close to hitting the board, although Lucky was most compromised by his #1 post position and rough trip. Conclusion; betting AGAINST the favorite generally works in the 20 horse field.

All you will hear about the next few days leading up to the race is which horses seemed to "move well over the track" by a few bonehead clockers who have prejudices in which horses they favor just like you and I and tend to wrap their influence around the logical top choices.  Let’s review final workouts from previous years: Friesan Fire had a freaky 57.4 second five furlong tuneup but was bumped at the start and never seemed to get in rhythm in a stalking trip, only beating one horse at the finish. That year’s unlucky loser, Pioneerof the Nile had a final work of 1:01 “average” work.  In 2010 Lookin at Lucky had a 1:00.4 “average” work and also was jostled at the start to trail early and lost all chance even though he finished 6th.  That year’s winner Super Saver was reported to be the best mover over the Churchill surface shooting four furlongs in 47.2, which led to this speedball going off as the 2nd choice even though he hadn’t won in two starts before.  Finally, in 2011 Dialed In turned in most of his timed works in Florida before shipping to Louisville but was reported to gallop strong leading into the race (similar to Itsmyluckyday this year). Meanwhile, Animal Kingdom had one of the fastest 6 panel workouts in 1:13 flat to prove he could handle a dirt surface in his first attempt.  Conclusion; workouts are INCONCLUSIVE since most horses are said to work “great” and half of these run well and the others do not. My opinion is that workouts are most important for maiden races, not graded stakes races!

Looking over recent Derby outcomes, the best place to be after a half mile (4 furlongs) is between the coveted 3rd to 7th positions in the second flight of horses, preferably on the outside to avoid kick-back and traffic. This stalking position is exactly where 6 of the most recent 10 Derby winners came from. Because of this relatively open field (even the top jocks had trouble deciding on their Derby mount – more on that later in the week), it should set up the odds for lukewarm favorites (5-1 range) and cause more wagering dispersion which leads to monster payoffs - assuming one of the superfecta horses are greater than 25-1. Many horses could be considered adaptable enough to fit this profile, depending on post positions and how the field settles into the first turn. I will point out that in 2010 Super Saver had shown much more speed in his Derby preps but was able to lay 6th in The Derby thanks to the skilled hands of pilot Calvin Borel. But based on past performances alone the most likely stalkers would be Overanalyze, Vyjack, Will Take Charge, Itsmyluckyday, Frac Daddy, Palace Malice, Oxbow and Charming Kitten. Conclusion; be sure to play whichever horse you THINK will be in this sweet spot when the dust settles. Look to jockey and trainer quotes for clues, but avoid the analysts "predictions" as even savvy guys like Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss get it wrong quite often.

Finally, last year I learned a painful (and expensive) lesson that there is no substitute for winning.  I really liked both Santa Anita Derby colts but preferred Creative Cause in my tickets (behind my top pick Bodemeister) since he was getting to I'll Have Another down the stretch and I though the extra furlong would aid his "cause." But jockeys set up their timing in moves much differently from race to race and a typical mistake is to simply play the horses closing the best at the very end. Conclusion; I prefer Verrazano over Normandy Invasion and Vyjack, Revolutionary over Mylute, Overanalyze over the entire Ark. Derby field.

I will save my speed scenario until after I can evaluate the post position draw, which will be held Wednesday afternoon. Good luck with your picks!

Taking a stand against...

I am going to put this out there early in the week so that in the event my horse savvy friends think I am throwing my money away, they will have time to convince me otherwise.  

It is hard to pick one winner from a field of 20 horses. I mean, it is real hard when it comes down to it. Based on these young horses past performances and the fact many are still going through growth spurts and learning pains, it's damn near impossible to settle on one. So often in years past, I have an easier time whittling down the list before I can ultimately settle on a winner. Perhaps it is due to my "against the grain" mentality, but I really like finding flaws in a horse as more and more people jump on the bandwagon. And this year I have already reached my tipping point with Orb.

Yes, Orb, the closer who looks and acts and smells (presumably) like a stone cold race horse. I'm tossing him.  You are what?  That's right -- he's out, Jerry!  Why in the hell would you be throwing out the most blue-blooded, consistent closer in the field when he's gobbling up the Churchill Downs track like a fat man at a Cici's pizza buffet, you ask?  Let me use as exhibits A, B, C and D the damning quotes from his alleged "supporters";

A) Orb's trainer, Shug McGaughey on his recent stellar workout in company (where do all these nicknames for trainers come from, anyway? Shug, Chip, Rudy...): "He has a tendency to make the lead and then think he's done enough, so we wanted him to finish on by that horse." 

B) Orb's jockey, Joel Rosario: "He can get a little nervous in the gate but he's getting better each time." Is this what you want to see from the likely 5-1 2nd choice - "nervous... improvement."  If I wanted to bet on a nut-case at the starting gate we should bring back Quality Road or Coronado's Quest (another McGaughey trained horse who couldn't even run in the Derby because he was too flaky - can we see a pattern here?!) 

C) Orb's previous jockey John Velazquez: "This horse sucks, I'd rather ride Verrazano so I can actually win the Derby instead of being an also-ran." Okay, Johnny did not actually SAY this, but you know he meant it but just didn't want to hurt the owners feelings.

D) Orb's majority owner Stuart Janney, III (spoken with my bottom jaw pushed out like a Family Guy character): "Is there a horse race this Saturday? I haven't even paid attention since I'm the big-shot chairman of Bessemer Trust Company and the federal stock market is higher than it's ever been. Why wait for two minutes to collect the measly $2 million purse money when I made more than that every second last Friday when the club boys and I were shorting gold. Ha ha ha ha ha ha, now where is my mint julep?"

Okay, so quotes C and D were make-believe, but you get the point. Back to the facts, two of Orb's three Gulfstream Park wins in 2013 were less than spectacular at 9 furlongs posting BRIS speed figures of 89 and 97. His best effort came in the 1 1/16th miles Fountain of Youth where he closed off a blistering early pace (45.2 half mile) en route to passing Violence by a half length while recording his career best speed figure of 102. If he is actually improving from each start as everyone gushes, why did his BRIS # drop 5 points in his last race against better competition as the distance increased? It was a very mediocre time which can be deceiving when a horse wins easily against weak competition, which I believe that was. 

Finally, Florida horses have disappointed in Kentucky over the last five years with the exceptions of Ice Box closing in the slop for 2nd in 2010 and Big Brown's PED year of 2008. Personally, I was burned by Dialed In two years ago - another false closer. I'll watch all this money of the so-called experts flow to Orb and follow the true expert (Johnny V.) with my money towards Verrazano. Everyone wants to bet a closer yet fewer true closers win that stalking horses, due to the jostling for position, kick-back, blocked paths, etc. So why accept a closer that is likely to be co-favorite in the 5-1 range when so many others could just as easily run into the exotics? May not happen, but that's how I see it.

Talk Derby to Me,

April 28, 2013

Derby Week 139 Willkommen!

Since I have just returned from a North Texas German Fest, I want to welcome you to Kentucky Derby Week hundertneununddrei├čig (better known as #139 to non-Deutschlanders)!  This year's bunch of sophomores have seemed to morph into a group of "haves" and "have-nots."  A lofty few are repeat winners this winter/spring; Orb, Verrazano, Revolutionary and Goldencents. But the majority have seemed to play supporting actor roles to the aforementioned headliners. This long list includes Vyjack, Itsmyluckyday, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Frac Daddy, Falling Sky, Mylute, Charming Kitten, Normandy Invasion and Java's War (although a recent win over a synthetic track). The final group has been lightly raced and unproven against top competition; Overanalyze, Black Onyx, Will Take Charge, Governor Charlie, Lines of Battle, Winning Cause.

Fortunately, I zeroed in on the right two horses early in the spring and have watched both Verrazano and Revolutionary make me look like an experienced "railbird" race after race. The tough part now is deciding on only one for my official pick since they could not have more opposite running styles leading into the 10 furlong affair. And while conventional wisdom would point to the closer, my methods are anything but conventional. I will wait and share my picks late in the week as I would hate to be accused of corrupting any of your personal choices!

I have also come across a true sleeper pick that I will share after the post position draw that could really fuel a monster exotics ticket. Man, there's nothing like the anticipation of Kentucky Derby week so let's make the most of each day this week!  Check back tomorrow for more Derby history and later in the week for a tribute to recently deceased sire, Storm Cat.

To help find YOUR Derby horse, I am attaching a couple of my favorite references...