Archive for April, 2009

Thursday: Was his father a ‘mudder’?

April 30, 2009

As the day wore on this afternoon the weather forecast for Louisville over the next 48 hours rapidly deteriorated, and it follows according to accuweather.com:

Friday, May 1, 2009:

High: 74
Low: 59

Chance of Rain: 40%

Saturday, May 2, 2009

High: 69
Low: 51

Chance of Rain: 80%

Based on those numbers, the chaos and confusion that goes into handicapping races on wet tracks has begun with punters digging for the Sire Stats book, watching videos and delving into pedigree handicapping.  When it comes to proven wet track form, this race starts and stops with Friesan Fire, who cruised away from the opposition in the Louisiana Derby, drawing off late.  He is bred to handle the slop beautifully, as evidenced by his 446 Tomlinson for wet tracks.  Here are the rest of the Tomlinson numbers for the field, in descending order:

18 Nowhere to Hide (Vindication) 480
2 General Quarters (Sky Mesa) 452
6 Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy) 446
9 Join in the Dance (Sky Mesa) 429 
5 Dunkirk (Unbridled’s Song) 427
20 Flying Private (Fusaichi Pegasus) 420
3 Mr. Hot Stuff (Tiznow) 406
5 Hold Me Back (Giant’s Causeway) 403
19 Desert Party (Street Cry) 398
7 Papa Clem (Smart Strike) 397 
10 Regal Ransom (Distorted Humor) 387
14 Atomic Rain (Smart Strike) 382
13 I Want Revenge (Stephen Got Even) 381
16 Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) 379
2 Musket Man (Yonaguska) 378

1. West Side Bernie (Bernstein)
356
8 Mine That Bird (Birdstone) 341
4 Advice (Chapel Royal) 339
11 Chocolate Candy (Candy Ride) 314
17 Summer Bird (Birdstone) 316*

It goes without saying that these numbers are meant to be a guideline because I wouldn’t back Nowhere to Hide for the win spot with your money.  However, some of the more interesting conclusions were the poor wet track ratings of Stephen Got Even and Empire Maker, the sires of the projected two favorites, I Want Revenge and Pioneerof the Nile.  In fact, Empire Maker is rated a ‘D’ by the TSN Sire Stats for 2009. 

The best way to approach the weather situation is certainly to monitor the forecast but note what happens at Churchill on both Friday and on the undercard Saturday.

We’ll leave you with the last Derby to be run on a wet track, the 2004 running:

Wednesday: The Morning Line Overlay/Underlays

April 30, 2009

The draw is done and the field for the Kentucky Derby is set despite one more defection on Wednesday morning.  Rebel winner Win Willy is unable to go but he was replaced immediately by Nothing to Hide, a Nick Zito trainee who has done little to lead you to think he can contend here. 

The draw being finished means we were all privy to the morning line as compiled by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.  For those of you, like myself, who participated in a bit of line making, it is interesting to see another opinion put forth in a formal fashion.  Battaglia has had the unenviable task of creating the morning line for the Derby for many years and it is certainly not a facile task.  Here’s the field with morning line odds:

1 West Side Bernie (Kelly Breen/Stewart Elliott) 30-1
2 Musket Man (Derek Ryan/Eibar Coa) 20-1
3 Mr. Hot Stuff (Eoin Harty/John Velazquez) 30-1
4 Advice (Todd Pletcher/Rene Douglas) 30-1
5 Hold Me Back (Bill Mott/Kent Desormeaux) 15-1
6 Friesan Fire (Larry Jones/Gabriel Saez) 5-1
7 Papa Clem (Gary Stute/Rafael Bejarano) 20-1
8 Mine That Bird (Bennie Woolley/Calvin Borel) 50-1
9 Join in the Dance (Todd Pletcher/Chris DeCarlo) 50-1
10 Regal Ransom (Saeed bin Suroor/Alan Garcia) 30-1
11 Chocolate Candy (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith) 20-1
12 General Quarters (Tom McCarthy/Julien Leparoux) 20-1
13 I Want Revenge (Jeff Mullins/Joe Talamo) 3-1
14 Atomic Rain (Kelly Breen/Joe Bravo) 50-1
15 Dunkirk (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado) 4-1
16 Pioneerof the Nile (Bob Baffert/Garrett Gomez) 4-1
17 Summer Bird (Tim Ice/Chris Rosier) 50-1
18 Nowhere to Hide (Nick Zito/Shaun Bridgmohan) 50-1
19 Desert Party (Saeed bin Suroor/Ramon Dominguez) 15-1
20 Flying Private (D. Wayne Lukas/Robby Albarado) 50-1

For those of you who were eyeing a couple of longshots and wanted to see maybe what price they’d start at, the morning line is a great jumping off point.  The following stuck out to me:

1. Dunkirk is a terrible play at 4-1: He is certainly among the contenders but I can’t see a valid reason to take him at such a price.  He has been overbet in each of his first three starts, partially because of his connections or just the general hype that has surrounded him.  Are his credentials respectable?  Sure, but he has done NOTHING that would make me interested in him at 4-1. 

2. Hold Me Back at 15-1: I’ll admit, I’m slowly crawling onto this guy’s bandwagon.  He is making his 3rd start off a 90+ day layoff and exits a strong finish in the Blue Grass in a race that was slow to develop.   A set of nice workouts and an accomplished trainer-jockey combo further add to his intrigue.  That being said, I was excited about the prospects of him being 25-1 or more.  He is hardly more than a fringe player, so I’m looking for a bit better price.

3. Arm yourself with Musket Man at 20-1: Is he a serious win candidate?  Not really, but isn’t 20-1, or even a bit more given the clogged section of horses at 20-1 enticing on this guy?  He basically shows up every time and is the only participant in this event to have posted Beyer figures of 90 or more in four consecutive starts.  He’s been trained to get the added ground with long, slow gallops in the morning, which give way to sips of Guinness in the afternoon.  If Musket Man leaves the gate at 30-1, you might find yourself in the midst of Happy Hour.

4. Feast on Chocolate Candy at 20-1: The pride of Sid and Jenny Craig has been installed at 20-1 and his past performances beg the following question: if you like Pioneerof the Nile at 4-1, shouldn’t you love this guy at 20-1?  I’d say the answer is yes, as this guy had a much tougher trip last time out racing wide and off a very slow pace.  He is moving forward as the races get longer and should appreciate the added ground today.  His Hall of Fame jockey knows how to navigate a late runner through the Churchill Downs stretch to boot.

Hopefully you’re reaching the culmination of your handicapping for the Derby and are now onto the undercard, which came up quite strong.  Remember that there are three multi-race wagers linking the Kentucky Oaks and Derby.  The following is taken from Jay Privman’s article in the DRF:

“Churchill be offering more than the usual wagering fare on its Friday and Saturday programs.  The 12-race Friday card will include three pick four wagers (50-cent minimum), beginning on races 2, 4, and 8. Also, the Oaks-Derby double ($1 minimum), standard fare since 1996, is being joined for the first time this year by the Oaks-Woodford-Derby pick three (minimum $1).

The 13-race Saturday card will include four pick fours, beginning on races 2, 4, 8, and 10.  The pick six ($2 minimum) runs from races 6-11 both days, with the Oaks and Derby serving as the final pick six races.

Rolling daily doubles and pick threes will be available whenever possible both days. Also, the super high five ($1 minimum) will be offered on the Oaks, Woodford Reserve, and Derby, along with other selected races.  There are no minimum pool guarantees in effect for multi-race wagers either day. And although Churchill normally offers 10-cent superfectas, the minimum reverts to $1 for both the Oaks and Derby cards because of crowd considerations.”

We’ll see you Thursday to analyze the Derby a bit more.  Until then, we’ll leave you with the 2008 Kentucky Derby.  Good luck!

Tuesday: Is the “Dubai curse” a myth?

April 28, 2009

The collective groans among racing fans after Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing, Inc. purchased Vineyard Haven late last year were boisterous as it seemed like now the two best juveniles of 2008 were headed for a winter in Dubai.  The concern was that making the long trip had done in many good horses over the years as Godolphin’s quest to win the Kentucky Derby has seemingly never reached the planning stages.

Of course, it is perfectly ironic that Vineyard Haven and Midshipman had horrible winters, even if they only made one start collectively.  The former started in the UAE 2000 Guineas and was well-beaten by Godolphin’s new Derby hopeful Desert Party.  The latter never made a start and came down with a bad case of what racing manager Simon Crisford called “Dubai flu.”  It is further ironic that the blue will still be represented by two top prospects in the Run for the Roses.

The aforementioned Desert Party will be joined in the starting gate by Regal Ransom, who scored in the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night in wire-to-wire fashion.  His critics chalk up his last victory to a heavily speed-biased track at Nad Al Sheba on World Cup night.  However, both have trained brilliantly since coming over and their preparation leads one  to believe the Godolphin team may be approaching this Derby in a bit of a different way.

Godolphin has started five horses in the Derby and none since 2002.  Let’s take a look individually at the five:

1999- WORLDLY MANNER

The first of the five is  shown here winning the 1998 Del Mar Futurity.  After spending a winter in Dubai where he didn’t have an official start, this son of Riverman arrived at Churchill Downs on April 21, only 10 days before the Derby.  He had time to work twice but was clearly unfit to run his best race with only an unofficial trial against his stablemates as his three year-old foundation.  He ran a very game race, looking like he might do the unthinkable as the field turned for home.

2000- CHINA VISIT & CURULE

The winner of the inaugural running of the UAE Derby, China Visit, showed up in America on April 25th for the Derby on May 6th.  That gave him enough time to work out once and with his regular rider Frankie Dettori on board he finished sixth.  His stablemate, Curule, didn’t arrive in America until April 30th, exactly one week before the Derby and never worked over the Churchill strip.  Click here for a replay of the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

2001- EXPRESS TOUR

Even though Godolphin’s best Derby hope, Street Cry, was injured after the UAE Derby, they still had the UAE Derby victor himself.  This son of Tour d’Or showed up in America a bit early because of a hoof-and-mouth outbreak in Europe.  He suffered a bruised hoof of his own once in the States which forced him to miss 4 days of training.  He was back in ship shape early enough to record three workouts and his 8th place finish left him no worse for wear as he later won the Jerome Handicap in September 2001.  Click here to watch the 2001 Kentucky Derby.

2002- ESSENCE OF DUBAI

This son of Pulpit out of the mare Epitome came into the Ky Derby with the best credentials of any Godolphin participant as he had won the 2002 UAE Derby and 2000 Guineas.  He arrived in America on April 19 for the May 4th Derby and worked out twice.  Like many of his rivals he was left in the wake of a wire-to-wire win by War Emblem in the Derby that mirrored a merry-go-round.  Click here to watch the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

Thus, what conclusions can be made about Desert Party and Regal Ransom?  Both have good two year-old foundations as they each appeared at Saratoga last summer with the former winning the Sanford in late July.  They’ve each made three starts this year, which further gives them three year-old foundation in such a deep Derby field.  They arrived in America on April 9th and have each posted two sharp workouts while making numerous excellent appearances in the morning.  There clearly seems to have been a revision to the prior plan to win the Derby for Godolphin and maybe this is the year, their first appearance in seven years where the “curse” will be proven a myth.

Weekly Recap: A crop rich with sprinters

April 27, 2009

Heading into this weekend it was quite clear heading into this weekend that there are some talented three year-olds in this crop.  We’ve seen sensational performances going long (I Want Revenge, Quality Road), going short (This Ones For Phil, Notonthesamepage) and on synthetics (Pioneerof the Nile).  The featured event of the weekend was the Derby Trial (G3), the highlight of the opening week at Churchill Downs.  However, it was a three year-old earlier on the card that garnered the most attention under the Twin Spires.  Let’s take a look at some of the best performances of the weekend:

Withers:

Prudence is a very underrated aspect of horse ownership and when West Point Thoroughbreds announced that Mr. Fantasy was off the Derby trail it was clear they were making a prudent move.  They were rewarded with a nifty victory by their son of E Dubai in the Withers as he rode the rails while a rival lost his way on the backstretch.  He was quite game in the stretch drive and held off the aforementioned This Ones For Phil, who encountered some trouble at the quarter pole.  The preliminary plans for Mr. Fantasy are to go to the Preakness, which could be a poor decision given this guy’s seeming disinterest in going long.

Click here to watch the Withers.

Derby Trial

The Derby Trial looked like Silver City’s turn to vindicate himself for two poor efforts going long at Oaklawn Park.  The 7.5 furlongs seemed to be right up his alley and his inside post made saving some ground simple.  Unfortunately, races aren’t run on paper and Silver City did very little running in actuality.  He was with the pace for some time but when it came to crunch time Hull was there to take over and he finished gamely to score.  He’s now 3 for 3 and has won sprinting on dirt at Fair Grounds, on the Polytrack at Turfway and on the dirt at Churchill.  Like Mr. Fantasy, they’re looking to send this guy to the Preakness, which would be a regrettable decision given that he looks like  a promising sprinter.

Click here to watch the Derby Trial.

Churchill Allowance

Yes, we’re going to take a look at an allowance race from Saturday at Churchill.  It was the performance of Cash Refund, a  son of Petionville out of the talented mare Swept Away, that had everyone talking on Sunday morning. (http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-raci…urchill-opener)  He contested very fast fractions, took over when ready and drew off powerfully through the Churchill stretch to win by seven lengths.  He beat a decent field and did it with such dominance that he is clearly ready to try stakes company.  Early reports are that his Beyer figure was 110.  Look for him in the Matt Winn on May 16 where he may run into recent Bay Shore winner Capt. Candyman Can. 

Click here to watch the Cash Refund annihilation of an allowance field

Still to come this week in our little piece of cybserspace is a preview of the opening week at Belmont which begins Wednesday.  As far as Derby coverage, keep an eye out for our 2nd annual Contender Profiles, which will offer detailed descriptions of every contender.  Enjoy your Derby week and to get the juices flowing we’ll leave you with a montage of Derby stretch runs from 1987 to 2006.  See you Tuesday!

The Week Ahead: Big A giving way to Twin Spires

April 22, 2009

The final week of the Aqueduct meet means a few different things in the world of racing.  Most importantly, it means that the summer at Belmont is coming up and that the Kentucky Derby is days away.  There’s no doubt that Aqueduct has a great deal of character, but turf racing at varying distances, wide sweeping turns, and 9 furlong one-turn races always get you a bit excited.

The centerpiece of the final week at the Big A is the $150,000 Withers (G3) on Saturday afternoon.  Mr. Fantasy, the fleet-footed NY bred who was well backed in the Gotham, should receive plenty of support as will This One’s For Phil, who earned the highest Beyer figure of 2009 when he won the Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream in January.  Another interesting entrant will be Gone Astray, a well-bred son of Illicit who scored handily against a terrible allowance field on the Wood Memorial undercard. 

Closing day at Keeneland is Friday and the headliner is the $200,000 Fifth Third Elkhorn (G2) which drew a full field including the venerable old warrior Better Talk Now.  He’ll be joined in the starting gate by graded stakes winners Tranduction Gold, Spice Route, Champs Elysees and a number of others.  Saturday is opening day at Churchill Downs and the featured event is the Derby Trial, which is a Grade III once again after being run as a listed stake in 2008.  Silver City, the speedy pacesetter in the Southwest and Rebel at Oaklawn, will be very dangerous on the cutback.

Hollywood Park opens on Wednesday and money will be thrown around on Saturday during their Gold Rush Festival.  The Cal-bred staple usually offers bulky fields and great wagering opportunities.  All night owls should remember that Hollywood will run on Friday nights throughout the meet (with the exception of May 1).  First post is at 10:05 PM EDT.

We’ll see you back Friday night for stakes picks!  Considering the old man Better Talk Now is running on Friday, here’s his finest performance in an illustrious career.

Weekly Recap: The 20 at this moment

April 20, 2009

The Coolmore Lexington has come and gone with Advice scoring a decisive off the pace win for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Garrett Gomez, which preceded Gomez opting against Pletcher’s best 3YO to ride Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile.  Interestingly, Advice could give WinStar Farm (certainly still grinning from Well Armed’s triumph in Dubai) three horses in the Kentucky Derby.  They have three different trainers, have run their final preps in three different races but all have a similar running style. 

As far as the Kentucky Derby field, here’s how it would look pending withdrawals by some connections over the next ten days (in order of graded earnings):

1   Regal Ransom   $1,250,000
2   Pioneerof the Nile   $1,193,250
3   Square Eddie   $804,981   
4   I Want Revenge   $774,000
5   Papa Clem   $760,000
6   Desert Party  $641,667 
7   Quality Road   $600,000
8   General Quarters   $595,645 
9   Friesan Fire   $570,465   
10   Musket Man   $485,000 
11   Hold Me Back   $438,000
12   West Side Bernie   $385,160 
13   Chocolate Candy   $370,000 
14   Win Willy   $230,000 
15   Advice   $206,845 
16   Giant Oak   $169,256 
17   Dunkirk   $150,000 
18   Mine That Bird   $138,705 
19   Flying Private   $124,000 
20   Mr. Hot Stuff   $114,000 
21   Summer Bird  $100,000 
22   Join in the Dance $90,000
23   Take the Points   $85,000   
24   Atomic Rain   $77,500       
25   Just a Coincidence $75,000   

Of the top 10, the only runner who is not a confirmed starter is Regal Ransom, who worked sharply on Saturday at Churchill Downs.  His owner, the Godolphin Stable, has not made a final decision on whether both of their accomplished colts will go to the Derby.  Of the horses in positions in 11-20, Win Willy and Giant Oak are still unconfirmed and the colts in positions 21 and 22 are apparently ready to go if they can make the field.  The 20 that will enter the gate on May 2 are coming together and even with some defections, this is an absolutely stellar group.

Let’s take a look at some of the graded stakes of the weekend.

Lexington (G2)

The good folks at TVG refer to the Lexington as the “Last Chance Texaco” as it has become the final spot on the road to the Derby to grab some graded earnings.  It has lost a great deal of significance in terms of producing Derby caliber horses but usually draws a bulky field and sets up as a terrific betting race.  This year was no exception as there was at least one proven heavy, Square Eddie, who was back at the races after suffering a minor leg fracture in January.  He was sent off as the 7/5 favorite and started poorly in the large field, which left him at the back of the pack in the early stages.  He launched a premature and wide move on the far turn and for a second looked as if he was going to win by open lengths.  He flattened out noticeably in the stretch and that’s when Advice was in high gear under Gomez.  He quickly gathered in the pacesetters, took the lead and scored by a comfortable length. 

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5QgNTgxuoE to watch the Lexington

Bed O’ Roses (G2)

Three scratches reduced the septet entered to a quartet, which didn’t exactly make for a great wagering scenario, but this race yielded the most impressive performance of the weekend without question.  Seattle Smooth, who closed out her 2008 campaign with wins in the Go For Wand at Delaware and the Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park, over Eclipse winner Proud Spell, was back with a vengeance.  She was co-favored with Distorted Passion, who received a great deal of support based on an iffy pace situation.  Leading rider Ramon Dominguez never let Distorted Passion get far away as he kept Seattle Smooth just off the pace, asked her to confront the leaders turning for home and when given her cue she responded willingly.  She drew off through the stretch with authority and earned a 95 Beyer figure, a career high for her, and a solid figure in her first start off a long layoff.  She will be very tough in the Shuvee on May 16 at Belmont Park, which is her next stop according to trainer Tony Dutrow.

Click here http://207.232.119.242/nyra/2009/hi.cfm?racename=20090418bedoroseshi to watch the Bed O’ Roses

There are only five racing days left at the Big A and no Kentucky Derby preps between now and May 2.  We’ll see you Tuesday to preview the final week at Aqueduct.

The Week Ahead: Last Chance in Lexington

April 15, 2009

The $300,000 Coolmore Lexington (G2) has become the proverbial “play-in game” for the Derby trail as the winner is guaranteed a spot in the Run for the Roses.  A field of 12 is expected for the signature stakes race of the 3rd weekend of the spring at Keeneland.  Here’s a bit more about some of the unfamiliar names:

Advice– A son of first-crop sire Chapel Royal, this Todd Pletcher trainee is fresh off a 5th place finish in the Sunland Derby, which was his first start on conventional dirt.  In four tries on synthetics his best effort was a 3rd place finish in the Arlington-Washington Futurity where he was disqualified from second.
Brave Victory– It took this son of Lion Heart three tries to break his maiden and once he had earned his first victory trainer Nick Zito threw him to the wolves.  He was given a rest after off the board finishes in the Champagne and Iroquois.  A sharp allowance win at Gulfstream prompted Zito to enter him in a stake once again but he was overmatched in the Swale, finishing 4th beaten over 8 lengths.
Conservative– A half to stakes placed turfer Pick Six, this son of Unbridled’s Song was last seen winning a N1X allowance at Gulfstream that had been taken off the turf.  He’s now a winner of two in a row and like most Shug McGaughey trainers he has no early speed.  Thus, teh Polytrack may suit his style perfectly.
El Crespo– One of the few graded stakes winners set to spar here, this son of A.P. Indy just scored in the Palm Beach over the Gulfstream lawn.  His lone dirt try was quite poor as he finished 9th of 10 in the Holy Bull.  He debuted on the Polytrack and finished 9th, so the jury is still out on his ability on non-turf surfaces.
His Greatness– A winner at first asking, this son of Honour and Glory has run against good company as he showed up in the Arlington-Washington Futurityand Breeders’ Futurity as a two year-old.  In his first start as a three year-old he scored in a first-level optional claimer and was last seen running a game 3rd in the Illinois Derby at 51-1. 
Jeranimo– After breaking his maiden in career start #2, this guy ran well in his first try against winners in late February.  He came back to run 3rd in the San Felipe behind Pioneerof the Nile and is clearly improving as he gains experience.
Masala–   After breaking his maiden in November at Aqueduct, this Todd Pletcher trainee was given some time off before returning in an allowance race on Donn day at Gulfstream.  He ran a game second to Take the Points on a track that favored speed and that prompted Pletcher to try him in the Gotham at Aqueduct.  He was no factor that afternoon and will now show up here as they attempt to regroup. 
Mythical Power– After breaking his maiden in career start #3 trainer Bob Baffert tried this guy in the rich Sunland Derby.  He finished second beaten only by the heavily seasoned Kelly Leak and showed he is a very game horse.  Baffert plans to fly across country to saddle this son of Congaree and he’ll retain the riding services of Garrett Gomez.
Omniscient- The familiar colors of the Stonestreet Stables will be worn by Robby Albarado on this son of Pulpit who is gradually improving for Steve Asmussen.  He is untested on synthetic surfaces as his three career starts have all come on the dirt.  Asmussen has nary a Derby contender, so don’t be surprised if this guy runs a big one.
Parade Clown– A stakes winner over the Polytrack at Turfway, this guy exits a respectable 4th place finish in the Lane’s End.  He was relatively close to a hot early pace that day and still fought on well in the lane.  He rates a big chance based on his ability to handle synthetics and favorable running style.
Pitched Perfectly– Son of first-crop sire Pleasantly Perfect, this guy hasn’t been out since late January when he scored at Aqueduct over subsequent stakes winner Cliffy’s Future.  He ran a truly remarkable race in that N1X  event as he set a viciously hot pace but still finished well enough to get the job done.  He has been privately purchased by the Lael Stables and clearly can run a bit, so give him a look.
Santana Six– Zito trainee debuted in the Dunkirk Derby on Sunshine Millions day and he ran very well that afternoon.  He came back to break his maiden in start #2 as he was stretched out to a mile.  He came back with a win in his first try against winners and seems poised to make the jump into stakes company.
Square Eddie- Easily the most accomplished member of this group as this guy scored handily over this track in the Breeders’ Futurity last October.  He’s had some health problems since his 2nd place finish in the San Rafael but trainer Doug O’Neill says he’s ready to roll.

That’s the expected field for the Lexington and it is shaping up as a great betting race.  The featured event at Aqueduct on Saturday is the Bed O’ Roses (G2) for older fillies and mares going 7 furlongs.  It might be the 2009 debut of Seattle Smooth, who closed her 2008 campaign with a win in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion Handicap.

See you Friday night for a weekend stakes preview!

Weekly Recap: Things starting to take shape

April 13, 2009

There is basically only one Derby prep left and you’re being generous if you call the Coolmore Lexington (G2) a prep as it has had little significance on the trail in the 21st century.  The two major preps of the weekend, the Blue Grass (G1) and Arkansas Derby (G2) were won by horses who put in solid efforts but left you few reasons to think they could be draped in roses in less than three weeks.  Let’s take a look at some of the graded races from the weekend:

Blue Grass:

What looked like 11 fringe players on the Derby trail went to the post and after the field had finished the 9 furlong journey, they still looked like fringe players.  General Quarters bounced back from a poor effort in the Tampa Bay Derby where he encountered some trouble along the way.  He is a versatile animal in that he has run well on conventional dirt and synthetics and seems to have developed some tactical speed.  He allowed Eibar Coa to put him just off the pace and that enabled him to capitalize when the other pacesetters faltered. 

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIuy-uS2gxo to watch the Blue Grass

Arkansas Derby:

The most significant question that had to be answered in the Arkansas Derby was whether Old Fashioned could relax in the early stages and get the distance of 9 furlongs.  He was taken straight to the front by Oaklawn riding champion Terry Thompson and he set fast fractions while free-wheeling up the backstretch.  When he was confronted at the top of the stretch by eventual winner Papa Clem the gray son of Unbridled’s Song dug in gamely and fought all the way to the wire.  Unfortunately, we’ve likely seen the last of Old Fashioned as he was injured during the Ark Derby and underwent surgery on Sunday.  As for the winner, Papa Clem is clearly a useful horse and it seems in the end that his trainer’s decision to send him to Oaklawn right after the Louisiana Derby to get acclimated was a great one.  He posted  fast final time but was clearly helped by a good trip behind the hot early pace.  He will likely be overbet in the Ky Derby a la Lawyer Ron and Gayego, recent Ark Derby winners. 

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne85UqwB7vU to watch the Arkansas Derby

Jenny Wiley:

The highlight of the Blue Grass undercard was undoubtedly the $200,000 Jenny Wiley (G2) which featured the return of 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf champion Forever Together.  She failed to disappoint as even a glacial early pace couldn’t derail the fleet-footed gray mare.  She rocketed down the center of the turf course and made a clear statement that she is still at the top of her game and is the overwhelming leader of the division.  The performance of Rutherienne was quite encouraging as she fought on gamely and was narrowly defeated.  She would be best served by trainer Christophe Clement choosing a campaign that avoids Forever Together, at least until a potential date in November.

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU7_9k4f6kg to watch the Jenny Wiley

When sitting back and reflecting on the weekend, while dabbling in the Sunday Santa Anita card, it was easy to partake in a bit of California dreaming.  I’ve been quick to dismiss Pioneerof the Nile as a synthetic wonder-horse, however, even the harshest of critics would have to be a bit moved by the efforts of I Want Revenge and Papa Clem on conventional dirt.  Clearly the surface questions abound, and that puts bettors in a tough position as the ‘Pioneer may only have one spin over the CD oval prior to May 2.

We’ll know more a week from now regarding whether Dunkirk will get into the Derby and his chances at the moment look strong.  There will be a few announcements this week regarding who’s in and who’s out but if I had to bet on it, Dunkirk is likely in the gate.

I’ll be back Tuesday to preview what looks like it might be a rain-free week in NY that should feature uninterrupted turf racing.  That plus the Lexington, Bed O’ Roses, and the Charles Town Classic will highlight next weekend’s racing.

Commentator is expected to make his 2009 debut in the Charles Town Classic, so let’s take a look at his greatest performance:

See you Tuesday!

Weekend Stakes: Will a Contender Stand Up?

April 11, 2009

Heading into last Saturday it was easy to be certain that I Want Revenge was going to run a solid race in the Wood Memorial.  It seemed safe to assume Pioneerof the Nile would be in the mix in the Santa Anita Derby.  It might not have been as clear that Musket Man would win the Illinois Derby, but it was quite conceivable.  That was then and this is now.

The two major Derby preps this weekend, the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G1) and the #1,000,000 (G2) feature bulky fields.  However, there seem to be few serious Derby contenders in either of those headliners.  Old Fashioned will have to erase the bad memories of a subpar stretch run in the Rebel Stakes last time out when Win Willy ran right by him at 55-1.  Win Willy will have to prove that he is not a one-hit wonder who capitalized on an incredible pace setup and belongs in the Kentucky Derby rather than the Lone Star or Iowa Derbies.  Papa Clem will have to find a way to hang around a bit when confronted as he had no answer for Friesan Fire in the Lousiana Derby after setting very slow fractions.  Any of those three have proven they’re capable of winning a race like this while the balance of the field will have to move forward in a big way.

In the Blue Grass Hold Me Back is clearly the horse to beat as he exits a terrific performance in the Lane’s End (G2) but he benefited from a perfect setup that day as the pace developed quickly in front of him.  That might not be the case today and the expected dull pace will hinder his ability to rally in the late stages.  Patena was considered by many, including yours truly, to be a serious Derby player but he was creamed in the Louisiana Derby.  He seems to like synthetic surfaces, so there are reasons to be excited.  The big unknown in this spot is Mafaaz, who recently scored in the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton.  He has to prove he’s capable of competing against graded stakes animals in America, so I’ll pass on him as a win candidate.  For those of you who haven’t seen his one, take a look:

Join in the Dance recently ran a strong race in the Tampa Bay Derby as he cut out all the pace and was nailed in the final stages.  He should get a very nice trip on the front end this afternoon and if Charitable Man is taken back off the lead, Johnny V could find himself alone at the top.  Undoubtedly, the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby will be terrific betting races, so get your pencils handy and take a crack at the two biggest Derby preps left on the slate.

Here’s who I like on Saturday:

Blue Grass: Patena
Ark Derby: Old Fashioned
Commonwealth: Ravalo
Jenny Wiley: Backseat Rhythm
Shakertown: Fort Prado
Comely: Don’t Forget Gil

Who do you like?  Good luck!

The Week Ahead: Old Fashioned Redemption

April 8, 2009

If you liken the run-up to the Kentucky Derby to a horse race itself then we are in the stretch with just three weekends between now and the Run for the Roses.  The last two “big” preps are slated for this Saturday as the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G1) will be contested over Keeneland’s Polytrack while the $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby (G2) will be run at Oaklawn Park. 

After seeing numerous impressive performances by Derby bound three year-olds over the last two weekends it almost seems imprudent to think we might be in store for another strong effort this weekend.  This is, however, a very strong group of three year-olds and it seems like they have incredible potential.

Who has the most to prove this weekend?  Without question, Old Fashioned, who graced the top of nearly everyone’s Derby lists coming into 2009, has the most to prove.  He scored in his ’09 debut at Oaklawn but didn’t quite show the same finishing kick that he did last year in the Remsen.  He then suffered a bad case of wobbly legs in the Rebel after chasing extremely fast fractions and was passed by the longshot Win Willy.  It looks like he will not have to deal with a one-way speedster like Silver City in the upcoming Ark Derby and that should help his chances significantly.

In the Blue Grass, Patena will be given an opportunity to erase the horrible memories of his 1st start in the IEAH colors when he was never involved in the sloppy Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds.  He’ll face Hold Me Back, the impressive winner of the Lane’s End (G2) at Turfway along with Charitable Man, the Futurity (G2) winner from last year who has not started in 2009.  Here’s a look at Charitable Man’s victory in the Futurity and take note of the eventual 4th place finisher:

In New York the racing week is headlined by the $150,000 Comely (G2) which will feature Laragh, a promising filly who finished 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and subsequently scored in the Hollywood Starlet (G1).  Her main rival looks to be Don’t Forget Gil, who recently scored in the Florida Oaks (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

Just a reminder that there will be no live racing at Aqueduct on Sunday in observance of Easter.

 

 

Keeneland will offer three graded stakes in addition to the Blue Grass, including the Jenny Wiley (G2) which is scheduled to be the 2009 unveiling of Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf heroine Forever Together.  The four graded stakes will be bundled together in a Pick 4 with a guaranteed pool of $200,000.