October 8, 2014

CIGAR - farewell to a legend

Cigar was my favorite race horse of all time, along with so many other racing fans in their 30's and 40's. He epitomized the tough race horses from decades long ago, running 10 times in his first Championship season of 1995, winning all ten under the conditioning of Bill Mott. Coincidentally, he was post #10 in the season finale Breeders' Cup over a sloppy Belmont Park where Tom Durkin proclaimed "He beat the best the world could offer, and mother nature too!"  He was voted horse of the decade of the 1990s and 18th best horse of the 20th century and was a first ballot 2002 Hall of Fame inductee for owners Allen and Madeleine Paulson. He retired with career earnings just a shade under $10 million.
Today's owners and trainers who want to bitch and complain about their "star" horse being treated unfairly need to go back and watch some of Cigar's 1996 race replays. Cigar routinely carried 128 and 130 pounds in handicap races (spotting up to 20 lbs to opponents) and was pressed and baited repeatedly in the Pacific Classic by the duo from Dick Mandella's barn (Siphon and winner Dare and Go). I am often asked by friends attending horse races with me if horses know if they won or lost. Well, it was reported that Cigar would not eat for three days after his loss in what would have been his record breaking 17th consecutive win (since passed by Zenyatta at 19). 

Cigar ran into some tough 3 year-olds (Skip Away and Louis Quatorze) getting weight breaks late in his career but still brought his best effort near the finish line each race. After getting an extremely wide trip under his regular pilot Jerry Bailey in the Woodbine hosted Breeders' Cup Classic of 1996, he still finished a charging 3rd to Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze in a three-way photo. Cigar set a track record that day with his effort despite the wide trip, but the top two ran a split second faster. After that defeat, the much anticipated match race with l'Arc de Triomphe winner Helissio fell apart with concerns Cigar was no longer performing at his best and needed a break.
Ironically, the last of the modern day "iron horse" competing at the highest level was a horse Cigar passed the baton to in the 1996 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Skip Away. "Skippy" made a dozen starts at 3, eleven starts at 4 and nine starts at 5, winning divisional Eclipse Award honors each year.  By comparison, the reigning back to back Horse of the Year Wise Dan only started six and seven times in his last two championship seasons and will only have five starts after the Breeders' Cup due to a mid-season injury.
One of the highlights of my year since his retirement to the Kentucky Horse Park was visiting the incomparable Cigar annually at the Lexington horse haven. A few years ago upon an early morning visit I caught Cigar having a bad day and not responding to visitors near his stall. I was so upset leaving the horse park to see him in that sunken state that I could not leave that way. After driving around viewing area farms and having lunch, I drove back to the Horse Park before my departing flight in hopes of seeing the real Cigar. Fortunately, he was moving around much better and I was able to coax him to the stall gate to share a peppermint and a pet for a final goodbye.

Now we are learning that Cigar had been suffering spinal debilitation in his lower neck for a while. That same massive, regal neck that was once his hallmark was now causing him increased pain. He recently underwent an advanced surgery to attempt to relieve his spinal cord compression which led to a fracture that took his life. I can't help but think of his long-time caregiver at the Hall of Champions, Cathy Roby, who passed away in 2011 upon this news today. For a special glimpse into the bond these two shared, see the video below where Cigar learns to paint...

Commenting after his final start in that Breeders' Cup, owner Allen Paulson said it best...
"He didn't disgrace himself; he tried damn hard," Paulson said. "He's one of the greatest ever. But the horse can't go on forever."
Nor can horses live forever, which makes this gray October day a somber one. I can only hope Cigar is ushered into the animal section of the pearly gates by St. Francis of Assisi himself.  Maybe then Cigar and Citation can share some stories from their gloried past and take a stroll around the pasture to settle the long-debated argument of who would have won if they faced each other going for that 17th victory.  My ten bucks would be on Cigar.

May 7, 2014

Chrome is the new Gold

As Bill Murray (another horse racing fan) stated in Ghostbusters, "He came, he saw, he kicked their ass!" http://www.barntowire.com/smf/index.php?topic=41622.0

California Chrome did what he was supposed to do "on paper" by getting a clean break, perfect stalking trip with mild fractions (some idiot analyst opined the first half would go in :44 change, when it instead went in :47.37) and spurted clear on the turn where 80% of winners already have the lead (sorry, Normandy Invasion). Based on Victor Espinoza gearing Chrome down in deep stretch and the furious rally by deep closer Commanding Curve (I did not bet the CC-CC exacta), the winning margin appeared closer than it probably was in reality. Much has been made about the slow time (both final time of 2:03.66 and closing quarter-mile over 26 seconds) being the 2nd slowest Derby running on a fast track in over 30 years. Whereas, the previous day Untapable and Rosie Napravnik damn near bested the KY Oaks stakes record with a zippy 9 furlongs in 1:48.68. But let's reserve judgement until after the Preakness, as most people had anointed ORB the 12th Triple Crown champion after his last to first flourish in last year's Derby but then missed the board in the Preakness and checked in a well-beaten 3rd in the Belmont Stakes.

There is another expression, "the bigger they come, the harder they fall."  That is certainly true of the poor rides by some of the world's greatest jockeys. This list starts with John Velazquez aboard 4th choice in the wagering and one of my top win candidates, Intense Holiday. Breaking from the 16 post, I expected him to be 3-4 wide with a post that has claimed a couple of Derby trophies in recent memory.  Rather, he pressed the pace 6 wide on the first turn to stay near the lead pack while he had plenty of room to "tuck in" had he chosen to take back.  In a 10 furlong race, being caught that wide is the kiss of death and Johnny took away any chance of his horse hitting the board in that first furlong.  Next on the list is Gary Stevens, who claimed his problem of clipping heels and severely "checking" on the first turn was due to rogue riding by Wicked Strong's jock, Rajiv Maragh.  But again, why are you wanting to be in the top tier of horses when your trainer/owner has already stated they want to take him further off the pace this race?  Laying back early and rallying late worked out much better for Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong and Dance with Fate.

That leads us to my love-hate jockey, Calvin "Boo-Boo" Borel. I started by hating him as a 16 Y-O lad for screwing me out of a pick 6 ticket at Louisiana Downs by getting blocked on the rail and rallying late to just miss the win (and my perfect pick 6 bet!). But after Arkansas Derby day 3 weeks ago when he romped home on our Sammy's Bandit by 12 lenghts, I've finally released my previous resentment towards the Hall of Fame jockey. Trainer Billy Gowan was very critical of him lagging the field to dart directly to the rail, running sideways instead of forward. Then turning for home he tried to stay on the rail until he steadied due to Vicar's In Trouble rapid retreat and then wasted ground having to swing 9 wide. Several of my esteemed colleagues expect Ride On Curlin to hit the board in Pimlico at a square price if you are so inclined to test California Chrome again. Finally, Rosie Napravnik and her mount, Vicar's In Trouble, looked uncomfortable from the break from #2 post and Vicar was very headstrong early, fighting the bit and basically was pulled up in the stretch for the last place finish. Be careful what you wish for Mr. Ramsey! On a positive note, I was impressed with my long-shot Chitu's effort after setting the pace and only fading to 9th very late in the race. If they would have skipped the Derby for next Saturday's 1 3/16th mile Preakness he could have proved more effective on that speed favoring strip. And while I would have been very wealthy had Danza won The Derby due to my $20 futures bet last November in Vegas, the toughness he displayed getting bounced around twice in the stretch and still finishing strongly may set him up nicely for the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles.

Major congratulations are in order for one of SRS' founding members. Matt Lasko's lovely bride delivered the couple's first child, a "healthy foal" on May 5th - Evelyn Anne Lasko. Taking the best qualities from Matt and Ellie, I would say this filly is a lock to be a future superstar # LASKO STRONG!!

May 3, 2014

Intense Holiday over Danza, Chitu, Candy Boy

My official pick for Derby 140 will be Intense Holiday. I expect Johnny V. to revert to coming from further off the pace with the high number of front-runners expected today. This horse reminds me of Revolutionary last year who didn't get the best trip in Kentucky but finished 3rd under Borel.  If California Chrome breaks alert and able to stalk a couple of others in the first part of the race they'll all be running for 20% 2nd place money, but the best horses certainly do not always claim the roses. 

Danza could be tough if he's able to back up his huge effort in the Ark. Derby in a 3 week turnaround.  Samraat and Candy Boy seem to be flying under the radar and could run well at a nice price.  If the wicked pace doesn't materialize, look out for Rosie on Vicar's In Trouble, who is all heart!  She's on a roll this weekend under the TwinSpires. Also, Baffert's lone entry, Chitu, looks to be coming up to this race with a solid numbers progression and if he's able to lay off the leaders early could get the jump on them turning for home.   I wish them all a safe trip most importantly! 

Best of luck with your bets,

Toss the Florida horses!

While it is true I've only had a couple of winners since I began with my official picks back in 1997 (Silver Charm), I have had much more success choosing a 10-1 range horse to toss completely from all bets (Goldencents last year, finished 17th at 8-1).  My lone miss was with Ice Box, who rallied strongly for 2nd place in the slop to Super Saver in 2010, but never threatened again in another graded stakes race.

With California Chrome being a heavy morning line favorite and clearly the best horse "on paper" and 2nd choice Hoppertunity scratching, the odds are not dispersed typical this year. IF CHROME LOSES, THIS MEANS PAYOUTS WILL BE HUGE!! So while I can't toss Danza or Wicked Strong (only other single digit odds) I will give you a pair of 15-1 horses to short, Wildcat Red and General a Rod (Florida Derby toss). Gulfstream Park has developed a worsening reputation each year for its speed-favoring track (sans Orb last year) and this pair has taken turns beating each other with very slow times aided by this bias. Wildcat Red being sired by D'wildcat is probably the least bred horse in this race to win at 10 furlongs and 'a Rod also has a similar running style as many sophomores in here with better chances to fight on for a top 4 finish (Vicar's In Trouble, California Chrome, Chitu). So short these Florida horses and use other 15, 20 and 30-1 horses on the bottom of your exotic tickets. 

Two long-shots I will be using prominently include #13 Chitu (Baffert's "other" horse) and #18 Candy Boy (hoping Gary Stevens keeps him covered up until the far turn).

Best of luck with your bets today - HAPPY DERBY DAY 2014!!!

April 30, 2014

Eight Thousand Bucks = Derby glory?

An eight thousand dollar ($8,000.00) check is all it took for the two top Derby horses by qualifying earnings to get to the big dance. Quite a contrast from last year's Derby winner, when blue-blooded ORB was a product of generations of breeding the best to the best by two royal families of American racing - Phipps and Janney.

Vicar's in Trouble was a small chubby yearling when the Louisiana auctioneer hammered down hip 158 at only $8,000 to Clyde Taylor in September of 2012.  There were 20 horses sold in that sale for greater than 20K, and another couple dozen hips exchanged hands (mostly to pinhookers) before Clyde Taylor secured the winning $8,000 bid on hip 158. Spendthrift Farm recently created a Louisiana division and for the last few years has sent many of their young unproven mares in foal to moderately priced Kentucky stallions to cajun' country in hopes of boosting their produce earnings in the rich Louisiana restricted purse structure to be more marketable in Kentucky. I know first-hand because my stable has purchased two similar Louisiana bred colts from Spendthrift Farm in the Fasig-Tipton Texas sale. I should clarify - similar in that they were from young Kentucky sires (Henny Hughes and Notional), not that they were multiple graded stakes winners with earnings in the $1 million range! (An important clarification in case any of my stable partners are reading this.)

As any horseman who has been in the business more than a few years will tell you, when you can make a tidy profit you sell and move on to the next one. That's exactly what Clyde did when he made a 10-bagger by flipping hip 158 in the Maryland 2YO training sell in spring of 2013 to Ken and Sarah Ramsey, recently flush with cash from all their Kitten's Joy progeny earnings and stud fees. Of all the horses they purchased in the last couple of years, my guess is this guy with a Dosage index of 5.00 was the last one they would have expected to bring them to the first Saturday in May.

California Chrome is the first foal out of a Maryland bred mare who only hit the board once in 6 lifetime starts - all for a claiming tag. Love the Chase was bought for $8,000 as a broodmare prospect by two of her original partners (each owned only 5% in original syndicate) in California based Blinkers On Racing after her brief and unspectacular racing career ended at Golden Gate Park with a last place effort in an $8,000 claiming race. Steven Coburn and Perry Martin must have had a gut instinct about the mare they had raced when they bought her back to breed in California to a young sire who had shown promise getting a classic horse earlier with Rousing Sermon.

When you see the striking presence of CC, you wouldn't know he is of humble lineage. Sire Lucky Pulpit is from the immediate family of top class sire Unbridled's Song via second dam Lucky Spell. Chrome's damside includes Dance Number, who has produced top runners such as Juvenile Champion Rhythm and Get Lucky. Get Lucky further produced the dams (both by A.P. Indy) of such classic runners as Super Saver and Bluegrass Cat. So this would be the category where greatness may have skipped a generation or two.

As of today, these sophomores have earned $788,900 and $1,134,850, respectively, and are Kentucky bound. So whether it be a Maryland, Louisiana, Texas or California sale, bring along about ten grand and take a good long look at the yearlings this summer at a sale near you. Or you can wait until the Keeneland September sale and bring a quarter million or more in hopes to find your "big horse!"

Happy Derby Week!

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... http://www.harrahslouisianadowns.com/racing/Live-Racing.html#.Ue2_co2Tia8

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....