Patch – The One-Eyed Horse. What are his chances in the Kentucky Derby?

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Patch on the cover of Thoroughbred Today

April 27th 2016

In the immortal words of thoroughbred owner Charles Howard in the movie Seabiscuit:  “You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little bit.” Youtube clip of this scene shown below.

The quote was in reference to Seabiscuit’s jockey Red Pollard, who was blind in one eye, but it also applies to horses.

The one-eyed Todd Pletcher-trained horse named Patch, who finished 2nd in this year’s Louisiana Derby, will be the 3-year-old colt who most will be pulling for on Derby Day. Really, is there a better story, more endearing horse than Patch in this year’s Kentucky Derby?

Oddly enough, he was named “Patch” before he lost his right eye due to an ulcer that initially responded to treatment but went sour to the point that the eye had to be removed. Despite his slight handicap, the reports are he is a good-natured horse with a somewhat mischievous personality.

Todd Pletcher is no stranger to one-eyed horses. He trained “Pollard’s Vision” who was blind in one-eye and named after—guess who—Red Pollard, Seabiscuit’s blind in one-eye jockey.

In 2004, Pollard’s Vision won the Grade 2 Illinois Derby, finished 3rd in the Louisiana Derby and 17th in the Kentucky Derby. Pollard’s Vision went on to finish 2nd in the Ohio Derby, 2nd in the West Virginia Derby and 2nd in Penn Derby. He also won three other Grade 3 races: the Leonard Richard’s Stakes at Delaware Park, the Lone Star Derby and the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne.

So what are Patch’s chances in the Derby?

Well, for starters, no one-eyed horse or blind in one eye horse, has ever won the Kentucky Derby in 142 runnings. But Patch has a better pedigree than Pollard’s Vision and he checks out in many of my necessary Derby analytics with the exception of having raced as a 2-year-old (which he failed to do). No horse has won the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882 (known as the Curse of Apollo).

Patch ran his final prep race, the Louisiana Derby (shown below), in less the 1:50 and had roughly a 38 second final 3 furlong fraction. This is good.

Patch is a talented horse who I project as an above average Derby finisher despite his slight handicap. He has a chance to win the Derby but his odds will likely be in the 15/1 to 20/1 range. His real value though may come in another Triple Crown race.

At this time of year, my blog gets mind-boggling views clear up until the Kentucky Derby but frustrating in that it dies out soon after the Derby. And that’s even if we have a Triple Crown contender entering the Belmont Stakes. I don’t understand it, the sport of horse racing is so much more than the Kentucky Derby.

Well, even if Patch doesn’t do something spectacular in this year’s Run for the Roses, something to watch for is the rest of the Triple Crown races. Note that Patch’s sire, Union Rags, finished seventh in the 2012 Kentucky Derby but went on to win the Belmont Stakes that year.

Patch may be hampered a bit due to partial vision in a 20 horse field in the Kentucky Derby. This may render him primarily as a rail-runner but that worked perfectly for Mine That Bird in 2009. At any rate, Patch will have plenty of space to work with in smaller fields and especially an endurance race like the Belmont Stakes. And his trainer Todd Pletcher has won two Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice.

Is it too early to have a Belmont Stakes favorite? Keep one eye on this horse. No pun intended.


Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

Below are my early projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds that Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia will set.  It has been confirmed that Todd Pletcher will not enter Malagacy in the Kentucky Derby and they will focus the colt on the Preakness Stakes.

Classic Empire (4/1), Always Dreaming (5/1), Irish War Cry (10/1), Girvin (10/1), Irap (12/1), Gormley (12/1), Gunnevera (12/1), McCraken (15/1), Hence (15/1), Patch (20/1), State of Honor (20/1), Thunder Snow (20/1), Practical Joke (20/1), Lookin At Lee (20/1), Sonneteer (30/1), Battle of Midway (30/1), Tapwrit (30/1), J Boys Echo (30/1), Untrapped (30/1) and Fast and Accurate (50/1).


On the docket…

My next blog will provide a more in-depth look at the projected Kentucky Derby field.

My next contribution to the Cyberworld is going to be a food, wine and cooking blog. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and my travels to Italy left me with a desire to recreate the same awesome dishes I had there but can’t get here in the US in Italian restaurants. Stay tuned!

–Michael

The Kentucky Derby Points System – Does it provide us a clue who the Derby winner will be? Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 25th 2017

The Kentucky Derby points system for entry into the Derby was created in 2012 and first used for the 2013 Derby trail season. Although we have a small of sample size with just four Derby prep seasons where this has been used, I thought it would be interesting to see if this points system is beginning to give us analytics that can be used to predict future Kentucky Derby winners.

Below are the top 3 finishers in the Kentucky Derby from 2013 through 2016 and where they ranked in the final Kentucky Derby points system along with the number of points they earned.

2013 – 1st – Orb (1st with 150 pts),  2nd – Golden Soul (39th with 14 pts), 3rd – Revolutionary (6th with 110 pts).

2014 – 1st – California Chrome (1st with 150 pts), 2nd – Commanding Curve (28th with 20 pts), 3rd – Danza (7th with 100 pts).

2015 – 1st – American Pharoah (4th with 160 pts), 2nd – Firing Line (12th with 58 pts), 3rd – Dortmund (2nd with 170 pts).

2016 – 1st – Nyquist (2nd with 130 pts), 2nd – Exaggerator (3rd with 126 pts), 3rd – Gun Runner (1st with 151 pts).

Conclusion

What the point system has taught us thus far is that the eventual Kentucky Derby winner was ranked 4th or better in the final point standings and accumulated at least 130 points. So let’s take a look at this year’s final Kentucky Derby points standings.

The top 4 are:

  1. Girvin – 150 points
  2. Classic Empire – 132 points
  3. Gormley – 125 points
  4. Irap – 113 points

Classic Empire and Girvin are the only two horses who fit perfectly into the previous Derby winner/points system mode with at least 130 points and a 4th or better placement in the standings. The 2015 points leader International Star did not compete in the Kentucky Derby so this means that the overall points champion won the Derby twice and finished 3rd in the other. So in three attempts, the overall points champion finished no worse than third. It will be interesting to see if this holds to form in this year’s Kentucky Derby and perhaps something to consider for your Trifecta wagering.

Below are my Top Six Kentucky Derby Contenders. I feel rather strongly that the Kentucky Derby winner will be one of these six horses provided that the Derby is run on a dry, fast track. This group of six has speed horses and closers.

Top Six Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming   Always Dreaming is #1 in my rankings because he is the fastest horse in this Kentucky Derby field. His 1:47.47 in the Florida Derby is the best 9 furlong time in this class. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that will bode well in the Kentucky Derby. I wrote a Derby profile on Always Dreaming for US Racing which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Florida Derby

2) Classic Empire  – The 2-year-old Male Champion proved he is back with his brilliant run in the Arkansas Derby (94 Beyer Speed Figure). He ran a great race and showed me something I hadn’t seen from him before dealing with traffic. For a brief moment, I didn’t think he was going to win. Somewhere between the 1/2 mile and 3/4th mile mark, he got boxed into group of horses. However, he managed to get clear, and when he did, he started making his move and then mowed down the field in the stretch. Classic Empire is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and first wrote about him back in July (SEE).  He will try to join Street Sense and Nyquist as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champions who went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Career: 7 Starts 5-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd—>1st
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile (Finished 2nd in the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.93 – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 

3) Girvin – The Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby winner. His sire, Tale of Ekati, won the 2008 Wood Memorial and finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He has excellent closing speed. His Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby times were both faster than what Gun Runner accomplished the previous year. And Gun Runner finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby.  He has moved up in my rankings because he fits every analytic I like in a Derby winner.

Career: 4 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd>1st–>1st
Sire: Tale of Ekati (Finished 4th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Joe Sharp
Jockey: Mike Smith (2005 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.77 – 2017 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  93 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes

4) Gunnevera  – The 2016 Delta Downs Jackpot and 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes winner. His sire Dialed In won the 2011 Holy Bull Stakes, the 2011 Florida Derby and then finished 8th in the Kentucky Derby and 4th in the Preakness Stakes. His closer style of racing, late speed and the additional furlong he’ll get in the Kentucky Derby should make him more of a factor at the end than he was in the Florida Derby. Having finished third in the Florida Derby should keep him a bit under the radar on Derby Day. I would recommend putting a closer or two in your Superfecta bets and Gunnevera has the most upside of any of the closers in this class.

Career: 7 Starts 3-1-1-1   
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Dialed In (Finished 8th in 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Fountain of Youth Stakes

5) Hence – If you read my blog a few weeks ago on Kentucky Derby sleepers, you will understand why I like this Steve Asmussen-trained colt. His 9 furlong time, speed figures and final 3 furlong fraction time in his last race put him squarely in the top 5 of this class. He probably won’t get this same respect from bettors or other national handicappers. But if you are looking for a Derby Day sleeper in what has been a chaotic and unpredictable Derby trail season thus far, Hence and Gunnevera are probably your two best choices. With the way that Conquest Mo Money ran in the Arkansas Derby, Hence’s 3 3/4th length win over Conquest Mo Money in the Sunland Derby looks better and better.

Career: 6 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  1st–>7th–>1st
Sire:  Street Boss
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Jockey: Alfredo Juarez 
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 932017 Sunland Derby

6) Irap – The son of Tiznow has the same trainer/jockey combination of two previous Kentucky Derby winners in I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016). Since jockey Julian Leparoux will opt for his Classic Empire mount, trainer Doug O’Neil hired Mario Gutierrez. The two hope for back-to-back Kentucky Derby wins. Irap appears to be peaking at the right time and his Beyer Speed Figures (73,79,93) are ascending in his 3-year-old campaign.

Career: 8 Starts 1-3-1-3   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>4th–>1st
Sire: Tiznow
Trainer: Doug O’Neill (2012 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez (2012 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.39 – 2017 Blue Grass Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  93 2017 Blue Grass Stakes


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Classic Empire (132), Gormley (125), Irap (113), Irish War Cry (110), Always Dreaming (100), Thunder Snow (100), Gunnevera (84), Practical Joke (74), J Boys Echo (63), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), McCraken (40), Battle of Midway (40), Patch (40), Battalion Runner (40) and Untrapped (34).

Lookin At Lee (32), Sonneteer (30), Royal Mo (30) and Local Hero (30) are on outside looking in and hoping for defections or scratches.  


Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

Below are my early projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds that Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia will set.  Battaglia has gone on record stating that he saw enough from Classic Empire to make him the favorite.

Classic Empire (3/1), Always Dreaming (4/1), Irish War Cry (10/1), Girvin (10/1), Irap (10/1), Gormley (12/1), Gunnevera (12/1), McCraken (15/1), Hence (15/1), Patch (15/1), Malagacy (20/1), State of Honor (20/1), Thunder Snow (20/1), Practical Joke (20/1), Battalion Runner (20/1), Battle of Midway (30/1), Tapwrit (30/1), J Boys Echo (30/1), Untrapped (30/1) and Fast and Accurate (50/1).


On the docket…

My next blog will provide a more in-depth look at the projected Kentucky Derby field.

My next contribution to the Cyberworld is going to be a food, wine and cooking blog. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and my travels to Italy left me with a desire to recreate the same awesome dishes I had there but can’t get here in the US in Italian restaurants. Stay tuned!

–Michael

Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby Contender Rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 16th 2017 – Updated April 24th 2017

After a wild Derby prep season that was marred by inconsistency and top contenders getting taken off the Derby Trail due to injury, below are my Top Five Kentucky Derby contenders and projected morning line odds. I feel that these six horses have the best chance of finishing in the money.  This can change based upon scratches as I like at least one horse who is on the outside looking in as far as Derby points. But Always Dreaming is my #1. The Kentucky Derby is most often won by the horse who gets to the 1 1/8th mile mark first and a closer or two often sneak into the superfecta. 

However, this has been kind of a weird year and I expect that the 2017 Kentucky Derby will be wide-open and exciting. I kind of get the sense that the year’s Derby could be one like we had in 2008 when 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird won.

Update: I was really high on Conquest Mo Money but his ownership has decided not to pay the $200,000 fee to enter the Kentucky Derby and focus on preparing for the Preakness Stakes. Cloud Computing is another eligible Derby runner who will skip the Run for the Roses.

At any rate, here are my top five and I will have a Top 10 out by tomorrow (Sunday April 23rd).

Top Five Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming (3/1)  Always Dreaming is #1 in my rankings because he is the fastest horse in this Kentucky Derby field. His 1:47.47 in the Florida Derby is the best 9 furlong time in this class. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that will bode well in the Kentucky Derby. I wrote a Derby profile on Always Dreaming for US Racing which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Florida Derby

2) Classic Empire (7/2) – The 2-year-old Male Champion proved he is back with his brilliant run in the Arkansas Derby (94 Beyer Speed Figure). He ran a great race and showed me something I hadn’t seen from him before dealing with traffic. For a brief moment, I didn’t think he was going to win. Somewhere between the 1/2 mile and 3/4th mile mark, he got boxed into group of horses. However, he managed to get clear, and when he did, he started making his move and then mowed down the field in the stretch. Classic Empire is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and first wrote about him back in July (SEE).  He will try to join Street Sense and Nyquist as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champions who went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Career: 7 Starts 5-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd—>1st
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile (Finished 2nd in the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.93 – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 

3) Gunnevera (12/1) – The 2016 Delta Downs Jackpot and 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes winner. His sire Dialed In won the 2011 Holy Bull Stakes, the 2011 Florida Derby and then finished 8th in the Kentucky Derby and 4th in the Preakness Stakes. His closer style of racing, late speed and the additional furlong he’ll get in the Kentucky Derby should make him more of a factor at the end than he was in the Florida Derby. Having finished third in the Florida Derby should keep him a bit under the radar on Derby Day. I would recommend putting a closer or two in your Superfecta bets and Gunnevera has the most upside of any of the closers in this class.

Career: 7 Starts 3-1-1-1   
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Dialed In (Finished 8th in 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Fountain of Youth Stakes

4) Hence (15/1) – If you read my blog last week on Kentucky Derby sleepers, you will understand why I like this Steve Asmussen-trained colt. His 9 furlong time, speed figures and final 3 furlong fraction time in his last race put him squarely in the top 5 of this class. He probably won’t get this same respect from bettors or other national handicappers. But if you are looking for a Derby Day sleeper in what has been a chaotic and unpredictable Derby trail season thus far, Hence and Gunnevera are probably your two best choices. With the way that Conquest Mo Money ran in the Arkansas Derby, Hence’s 3 3/4th length win over Conquest Mo Money in the Sunland Derby looks better and better.

Career: 6 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  1st–>7th–>1st
Sire:  Street Boss
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Jockey: Alfredo Juarez 
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 932017 Sunland Derby

5) Girvin (10/1) – The Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby winner. His sire, Tale of Ekati, won the 2008 Wood Memorial and finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He has excellent closing speed. His Risen Star stakes time of 1:43.08 was 0.86 seconds faster than what Gun Runner accomplished the previous year (1:43.94). And Gun Runner finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Girvin is probably not a huge threat to win the Kentucky Derby winner but he should be one to consider in your Derby Day exotic bets. 

Career: 4 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd>1st–>1st
Sire: Tale of Ekati (Finished 4th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Joe Sharp
Jockey: Mike Smith (2005 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.77 – 2017 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  93 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Classic Empire (132), Gormley (125), Irap (113), Irish War Cry (110), Always Dreaming (100), Thunder Snow (100), Gunnevera (84), Practical Joke (74), J Boys Echo (63), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), McCraken (40), Battle of Midway (40), Patch (40), Battalion Runner (40) and Untrapped (34).

Lookin At Lee (32), Sonneteer (30) are on outside looking in and hoping for defections or scratches.  


Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

Below are my early projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds that Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia will set.  Battaglia has gone on record stating that he saw enough from Classic Empire to make him the favorite.

Classic Empire (3/1), Always Dreaming (4/1), Irish War Cry (10/1), Girvin (10/1), Irap (12/1), Gunnevera (12/1), Gormley (12/1), McCraken (15/1), Hence (15/1), Patch (15/1), Malagacy (20/1), State of Honor (20/1), Thunder Snow (20/1), Practical Joke (20/1), Battalion Runner (20/1), Battle of Midway (30/1), Tapwrit (30/1), J Boys Echo (30/1), Cloud Computing (50/1) and Fast and Accurate (50/1).


On the docket…

My next blog will provide a more in-depth look at the projected Kentucky Derby field. I will have this out Sunday evening April 23rd.

–Michael

Classic Empire brilliant in the Arkansas Derby. Who will be the 2017 Kentucky Derby favorite?

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April 16th 2017

After an exciting Arkansas Derby yesterday (shown below), that saw the 2 year-old Male Champion Classic Empire bounce back into form, Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia now has his work cut out for him in coming up with the Kentucky Derby favorite. It seems pretty simple to me that it comes down to Always Dreaming or Classic Empire. 

Although I think Classic Empire will be the favorite among bettors on Derby Day, here is how I would set the morning line odds for the two top contenders right now. 

1) Always Dreaming  (3/1) 

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Florida Derby

2) Classic Empire  (7/2) 

Career: 7 Starts 5-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd—>1st
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.93 – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 

One performance that shouldn’t go overlooked is the second place finish by Conquest Mo Money. This makes Hence’s win over Conquest Mo Money in the Sunland Derby by 3 3/4th lengths look better and better. It adds clout to my inclusion of Hence in my last article on Kentucky Derby sleepers.


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Classic Empire (132), Gormley (125), Irap (113), Irish War Cry (110), Always Dreaming (100), Thunder Snow (100), Gunnevera (84), Practical Joke (74), J Boys Echo (63), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), McCraken (40), Battle of Midway (40), Conquest Mo Money (40), Patch (40), and Battalion Runner (40).

Cloud Computing (40), Untrapped (34), Lookin At Lee (32), Sonneteer (30) are on outside looking in and hoping for scratches.  Conquest Mo Money is not Triple Crown nominated and may be the first horse to qualify but not race in the Run for the Roses.


On the docket…

My next blog will provide my updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings. I will have this out by later tonight.

–Michael

2017 Arkansas Derby Preview – Classic Empire vs Malagacy

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April 14th 2017 – Updated April 15th 2017

On Saturday, we get the final piece of the Kentucky Derby trail’s puzzle in the Arkansas Derby. A great matchup between the undefeated Rebel Stakes winner Malagacy and the 2-year-old Eclipse Male Champion Classic Empire.

Aside from its $1 million dollar purse and the 170 Kentucky Derby points that are up for grabs, this race race deserves your full attention as the Arkansas Derby has served as an important springboard for racing greatness in recent years.  Since 2004, in nine out of the last thirteen runnings, the Arkansas Derby produced either a winner of a Triple Crown race or the Breeders Cup Classic:

2016 – Creater finished 1st – Won the Belmont Stakes
2015 – American Pharoah finished 1st – Won all three Triple Crown races plus Breeders’ Cup Classic
2014 – Bayern finished 3rd – Won the Breeders’ Cup Classic
2013 – Oxbow finished 5th – Won the Preakness Stakes
2010 – Super Saver finished 2nd – Won the Kentucky Derby
2009 – Summer Bird finished 3rd – Won the Belmont Stakes
2007 – Curlin finished 1st – Won the Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic
2005- Afleet Alex finished 1st – Won the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes
2004- Smarty Jones finished 1st – Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes

In this same time frame, the Arkansas Derby has also produced five 3-Year-Old American Male Champions: American Pharoah (2015), Summer Bird (2009), Curlin (2007), Afleet Alex (2005) and Smarty Jones (2004).  Plus two International Horses of the Year in American Pharaoh in 2015 and Curlin in 2008.  And a Triple Crown winner and the very first Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing in American Pharoah.

Derby Scenario

As far as Derby points, the only horse in the year’s field who is assured a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby is Malagacy who has 50 points. Untrapped has 34 points and Classic Empire 32. Both will need a fourth place finish or better to assure themselves a shot in the 143rd Run for the Roses. The rest of the field will need a first or second place finish.

Below are the entries, post-position, jockeys and morning line odds for the 81st running of the Arkansas Derby.

The Arkansas Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #11 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: 6:18 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Rockin Rudy – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 12/1
2. Classic Empire – Leparoux/Casse – 8/5
3. Silver Dust – Lanerie/Morse – 20/1
4. Petrov – Santana Jr/Moquett – 12/1
5. Grandpa’s Dream – Canchari/Hartman – 30/1
6. Lookin At Lee – Contreras/Asmussen – 15/1
7. Sonneteer – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 15/1
8. Rowdy The Warrior – Quinonez/Von Hemel – 30/1
9. Untrapped – Smith/Asmussen – 6/1
10. One Dreamy Dude – Franco/Van Berg – 50/1
11. Conquest Mo Money –  Carreno/Hernandez – 15/1
12. Malagacy – Castellano/Pletcher – 2/1

Race Commentary: In preparation for this race, I created my own expected morning line odds and they turned out fairly close to the track handicapper’s version. I had Classic Empire at 7/5, Malagacy at 9/5, Sonneteer at 12/1 and Lookin At Lee at 20/1. However, one morning line odd that totally surprised me was Rockin Rudy at 12/1.

I had the Doug O’Neill-trained Rockin Rudy at 30/1 and have a hard time understanding the shorter odds for a horse that has primarily raced turf sprints. Especially one who also drew the dreaded rail. This is coming from someone who remembers 41-1 Danza winning the 2014 Arkansas Derby from the #1 post. Rockin Rudy has nice speed numbers in his last two starts on turf but he finished 2nd both times. He will also be stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs for the very first time. I think he will probably be the early speed in this race much like Uncontested was in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes. 

I rewatched the Rebel Stakes (shown below) several times, with the current post-positions in mind, to envision how this race might play out.

Classic Empire is starting from the #2 post–the winningest post this year at Oaklawn for distance races. Todd Pletcher’s Malagacy had the #6 post in the Rebel Stakes but this time gets the far outside post #12. I think this hurts his chances but he does have the speed to overcome a bad post-position. However, he will need to get off to a good start. In the Rebel Stakes, Malagacy did not get out of the gate well and he will have a further trip and have to deal with more traffic from the far outside post. 

Untrapped finished 2nd in the Risen Star and 3rd in the Rebel Stakes with Blinkers off. For this race, he will race with Blinkers On.  I think this equipment change is a bit of a risk. Blinkers On didn’t work well for any horse in the Rebel Stakes. 

Overall, I will say that this race sets up well for Classic Empire if run on a dry, fast track. However, he is a bit of a risk due to unpredictable demeanor. This field has six runners from the Rebel Stakes. Many criticized the quality of the Rebel field when 112-1 Sonneteer finished 2nd. But Sonneteer used a closer strategy in the Rebel and he ran a very good race. Whether that was a good one-off performance remains to be seen. Sonneteer should get the pace he needs and will have an additional 1/2 furlong to work with. 

I feel that Petrov is a pretty consistent horse who has shown a willingness to battle. I like his chances of finishing in the superfecta whether it is wet or dry. Steve Asmussen’s Lookin At Lee finished 3rd in the Southwest Stakes and 6th in the Rebel. He is a closer, who if pressed up to mid-pack sooner, could surprise. He was 11th and dead last in the Rebel Stakes at the 3/4th mile mark but finished 6th and within 4 lengths of race winner Malagacy.

Conquest Mo Money is coming off a second place finish in the Sunland Derby. Grandpa’s Dream is coming off a maiden win at Oaklawn Park in his last start. Trainer Randy Morse’s Silver Dust is a Tapit colt who finished 4th in the Southwest Stakes and 5th in the Rebel Stakes. He is a horse who may benefit from the added distance.

Donnie Von Hemel’s Rowdy the Warrior finished 9th in the Southwest Stakes and is coming off a third place finish in his last start–a one mile race at Oaklawn Park. Jack Van Berg’s One Dreamy Dude is winless in six career starts. He is coming off a sixth place finish at Oaklawn and is a very deserving of his 50-1 morning line odds.

My Prediction: Rain doesn’t appear like it will be a factor. So in a field of twelve horses, I narrowed half of the field down to the ones that I think has a chance of finishing in the Superfecta. Drum roll, these six horses are: 2) Classic Empire, 4) Petrov, 6) Lookin At Lee, 7) Sonneteer, 9) Untrapped and 12) Malagacy.

There are many questions here: 1) Will this be just like the Rebel Stakes except with Classic Empire added to field and just a reshuffling of the deck of cards? 2) According to trainer Mark Casse, Classic Empire has gained some weight but supposedly acting happy again. Is he fat and happy…fit enough physically and mentally to bounce back in form?

If we get a mature, well-conditioned Classic Empire who is ready to rumble, there is little doubt that he is the fastest horse in this field and perhaps the most talented colt in this entire class.

I would watch the lives odds. Usually three of the top four favorites with bettors in the Arkansas Derby finish in the Superfecta. Also pay attention to how Classic Empire looks and acts in pre-race.  If he acts up or doesn’t seem relaxed, this is Malagacy race to lose. That being said, I like 2, 12 over 2, 7, 12, over 2, 4, 7, 9 over 4, 6, 7, 9. A 10 cent Superfecta of this type would cost $2.90, a $1 bet would cost $29. Don’t spend more than $50 on this one, too many mysteries and uncertainties. Save your Benjamins for another day. This year’s 3-year-old races have been as unpredictable as 2-year-old races.

But if you really like longshots, Sonneteer is a closer who should get the early speed to do his thing. Last year, a closer won the Arkansas Derby in Creator. The difference this year is that there this is a faster field than last year. Last year, Creator’s winning time in the Arkansas Derby was 1:50.14. I expect this year’s winning race time will be in the 1:49 range.


On the docket…

My next blog will recap the Arkansas Derby and I will provide my updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings. I will have this out by Sunday evening.

–Michael

2017 Kentucky Derby Sleepers

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 11th 2017

After reviewing all the major Derby prep races to date and analyzing times and speed figures, two horses jumped off my spreadsheet as potential Kentucky Derby sleepers: Gunnevera and Hence. I like my Derby contenders to achieve two standards in their final prep race before the Derby: a sub 1:50 time in a 9 furlong race and a final 3 furlong fraction time of less than 38 seconds. Both Gunnevera and Hence achieved these standards and did so with flying colors.

Now I don’t see either of these two as a huge threat to win the 143rd Run for the Roses. However, with a Derby trail season that has been marked with inconsistency and the race favorite getting beat often, this seems to be a year where anything can happen.  A “Mine That Bird” sort of year.

I expect Gunnevera and Hence will both be flying a bit under the radar on Derby Day. If nothing else, these two horses should be given strong consideration for rounding out your superfecta bets. Here is why.

Gunnevera

With Gunnevera, the Antonio Sano trained colt disappointed in the Florida Derby (shown below) with a third place finish.

This disappointing finish will scare off a lot of bettors. However, after reviewing the race and his final 3 furlong time, I like his chances of finishing in the money on Derby Day. I estimated that Gunnevera ran the final 3 furlongs in 36.32 seconds, faster than Always Dreaming’s final 3 furlong time and the fastest any horse has run in their final prep race to date.

Gunnevera has a closer race style and he simply got too far behind to have a shot at beating Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby. This can be corrected much like jockey Keith Desormeaux had to do with Exaggerator last year. If you remember, Desormeaux made the adjustment and began to press Exaggerator up to mid-pack sooner to get him within shouting distance of the race leader.

With an additional furlong like Gunnevera will enjoy in the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby, he should be more of a factor at the end. A stalking race style like Always Dreaming employs traditionally has better success rate in the Derby. However, a few closers do win on occasion. I like putting a closer or two in my superfecta bets because the pace and additional furlong sometimes tires out a few on the lead pack and makes them easy prey to be picked off for position down the stretch. Last year, Exaggerator used this same closing race style strategy to get a second place finish behind Nyquist.

Gunnevera  – expected morning line Kentucky Derby odds 15/1

Career: 7 Starts 3-1-1-1   
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Dialed In (Finished 8th in 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Fountain of Youth Stakes

Hence

I am sure that my inclusion of the Steve Asmussen-trained Hence will raise some eyebrows here. Hence’s Sunland Derby win (shown below) didn’t generate a whole lot of ink when it happened. However, his 1:48.10 time is the second fastest 9 furlong time of this class behind Always Dreamings’ 1:47.47 in the Florida Derby. I estimated Hence’s final 3 furlong fraction time in the Sunland Derby at 37.62, the third fastest behind Always Dreaming (36.56)  and Gunnevera’s (36.32) in the Florida Derby.

Yes, Sunland Park is a notoriously fast track. But remember what 2015 Sunland Derby winner Firing Line did that year in the Kentucky Derby–a  second place finish behind American Pharoah and ahead of highly touted Dortmund.

Working a bit against Hence is the fact that his sire Street Boss was a sprinter. If a generation is skipped, Street Boss’s sire (Hence’s grandsire) was Street Cry who won the 2002 Dubai World Cup.

Steve Asmussen is a great trainer who does more with less. He is very good at developing a colt and bringing them along slowly. Just see the development of Gun Runner over his 3-year-old season and into his 4-year-old campaign. Gun Runner really didn’t produce eye-popping times or speed figures during his Derby prep season but he won and ended up finishing third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Gun Runner has been an extremely consistent throughout his race career and is now is arguably the best colt in training behind Arrogate due to his consistency.

Hence – expected morning line Kentucky Derby odds 20/1

Career: 6 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  1st–>7th–>1st
Sire:  Street Boss
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  93 – 2017 Sunland Derby


On the docket…

My next blog will preview the Arkansas Derby which is scheduled for Saturday April 15th. I will have this out by Friday morning.

–Michael

 

After the dust has settled on a huge Derby Trail weekend, Always Dreaming still my #1

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 9th 2017 – Updated April 10th 2017 (One Liner to miss Kentucky Derby)

The 2017 Kentucky Derby trail has been a wild and unpredictable one. The big Derby prep races yesterday (Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby) were no exception as not one single race favorite won. The big surprise was 31-1 longshot Irap winning the Blue Grass Stakes. Irap, a maiden winner, beat the previously undefeated McCraken yet he was badly beaten by over 8 lengths by Hence in the Sunland Derby two weeks ago. Go figure.

This is the kind of Derby trail season that has made every national handicapper look foolish or look for a part-time job. It has been marred by injuries to Mastery and Not This Time and inconsistency every step of the way it seems.  Now One Liner will miss the Kentucky Derby and undergo tests since he wasn’t acting right in his last workout.

I will state up front that, although I enjoyed all three Derby prep races yesterday, I am not high any of the winners. At least as Kentucky Derby potential-winning horses and I really wanted to be. In a final prep before the Kentucky Derby, I like to see winning times under 1:50 and final 3 furlong fraction times below 38 seconds. No horse achieved both of those standards yesterday. And the Santa Anita Derby was molasses-slow historically on a notoriously fast track. I was happy for trainer John Shireffs but Gormley‘s winning time of 1:51.16 was the fifth-slowest Santa Anita Derby at the 9 furlong distance.

Irish War Cry‘s 1:50.91 was the 11th slowest Wood Memorial Stakes since it was run at the 9 furlong distance starting in 1951. Folks, these races were run on dry, fast tracks and I’m sure some of these other slower times in the past were run in sloppy, off-track conditions if I had time to check.

That being said, after all three races had concluded, the NBC crew were pretty unanimous that Todd Pletcher’s Always Dreaming is now the Kentucky Derby favorite. Always Dreaming was my tentative Derby favorite entering this big Derby prep race weekend as you can see in my last Derby contender rankings. I thought so highly of Always Dreaming that I had submitted a Derby profile on him to US Racing last Tuesday evening that had to be shelved by my editor due to all the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races going on this weekend. Needless to say, the timing of this profile probably got a lot better in the wait. Click HERE to read the profile.

Below are my Top Three Kentucky Derby Contenders. I have narrowed this down from six to three as I am keying on who can possibly be the favorite entering the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby next Saturday will be the final Derby prep race. After its completion, I will produce a top ten ranking list to aid in superfecta betting. And just because a horse doesn’t hit the board in their final prep race or in the Kentucky Derby, with additional training and maturity, a few horses go on to have outstanding careers.

Looking at how these final Derby prep race fields were shaking out a few weeks back, I really felt that the Arkansas Derby had the most top-end talent of any of the final Derby prep races. That includes the Florida Derby so get ready for a huge race at Oaklawn next Saturday.

Top Three 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) Always Dreaming  Always Dreaming is #1 in my rankings because he is the fastest horse that is guaranteed a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that will bode well in the Kentucky Derby. His final 3 furlong fraction time was 36.6–an average speed of 36.9 mph. He coasted home in the last 1/2 furlong, winning by 5 lengths. So it appears that he had much more left in the tank and will be able to handle one more furlong just fine. Next Start:  The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time:  N/A (estimated 1:41.2 from his Florida Derby performance)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  97 – 2017 Florida Derby

2) Classic Empire – The 2-year-old Eclipse champion disappointed in the Holy Bull Stakes with a third place finish. Later it was found that he was suffering from an undetected foot abscess. He is American Pharoah’s half-brother. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and wrote about him back in July (SEE).  Classic Empire has had issues in workouts with refusing to run at his Palm Meadows training center. So he was moved to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala, Florida and has produced three straight bullet works: 1:01.40 in 5F on March 22nd, 59.30 in 5F on March 28th and 59.60 on April 3rd. Judging from his previous workout history, these times are as good if not better than what he produced before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race last fall. Next Start: The Arkansas Derby on April 15th. 

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in the 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.60 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

3) Malagacy – Another undefeated Pletcher colt in three starts. There were questions regarding how he would take to added distance but Todd Pletcher believed from training that he would handle the step up in distance well and he proved him right by winning the Rebel Stakes. See my Kentucky Derby profile of Malagacy on US Racing’s website by clicking HERENext Start: The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 15th.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Shackleford (Finished 4th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey:  Javier Castellano 
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.00 – 2017 Rebel Stakes
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 97 – Gulfstream Park 2/12/17


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Girvin (150), Gormley (125), Irap (113), Irish War Cry (110), Always Dreaming (100), Thunder Snow (100), Gunnevera (84), Practical Joke (74), J Boys Echo (63), State of Honor (62), Tapwrit (54), Malagacy (50), Hence (50), Fast and Accurate (50), McCraken (40), Patch (40), Battle of Midway (40), Battalion Runner (40) and Cloud Computing (40).  All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.

Horses who are on the bubble or needing points in the Arkansas Derby (bold-fonted): Untrapped (34), Classic Empire (32), Royal Mo (30), Sonneteer (20), Petrov (13) and Silver Dust (1). There are always a few qualified horses that don’t run in the Kentucky Derby so 30 to 32 points may be good enough to get in this year as it has in the past. However, a poor performance by Malagacy in the Arkansas Derby could propel new horses into the mix and put a horse with 40 points on Derby Day scratch standby. 

I think it is going to take 40 points this year given the recent rumblings that the Irish-bred, UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow is coming over to race in the Kentucky Derby instead of the English 2000 Guineas.


On the docket…

My next blog will preview the Arkansas Derby which is scheduled for Saturday April 15th.

–Michael

Your Guide to the 2017 Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 8th 2017

Below is a cheat sheet for the three big Kentucky Derby prep races today. All three races will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network. Live coverage begins at 4:30 PM CST and will end at 6:30 PM CST at the conclusion of the Santa Anita Derby.

For a more in-depth look at each race, I have hyperlinked race previews of each race. Just click on the name of the race.

The Wood Memorial   1 1/8th Mile – Race #10 at Aqueduct – Post-Time: 4:52 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network & TVG

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1.  Glennrichment – Carmouche/Rodriguez – 15/1
2. Mo Town – Castellano/Dutrow – 6/1  
3. Battalion Runner – Velazquez/Pletcher – 2/1 
4. Bonus Points – Saez/Pletcher- 20/1
5. True Timber – Lopez/McLaughlin – 12/1
6. Stretch’s Stone – Franco/Levine – 15/1
7. Cloud Computing – Ortiz Jr/Brown – 5/2
8. Irish War Cry – Maragh/Motion – 7/2 

My Pick: Battalion Runner. For reasons of inconsistency of form from Irish War Cry and Mo Town, I don’t like exotic bets for this race. I am not sold on the second favorite Cloud Computing. And Todd Pletcher’s other entry, Bonus Points, hasn’t had shown enough in workouts or previous races to make me think he will be a factor. So I like straight win bets on Battalion Runner. I expect his live odds to shorten from 2/1 and be closer to 1/1.  Unless Irish War Cry has a return to form, I think Battalion Runner runs away with this one. This may be a better race to just watch than lay any money on.


The Blue Grass Stakes  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #10 at Keeneland– Post-Time: 5:17PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network and TVG

Post/Horse//Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. It’s Your Nickel – Graham/McPeek – 20/1
2. McCraken – Hernandez Jr/Wilkes – 7/5 
3. J Boys Echo  – Albarado/Romans – 4/1
4. Tapwrit  –  Ortiz/Pletcher – 5/2  
5. Wild Shot – Lanerie/Arnold III – 12/1
6. Irap – Leparoux/O’Neill – 20/1
7. Practical Joke – Rosario/Brown – 7/2

My Pick: McCraken.  I like the undefeated McCraken. I think the handicapper Mike Battaglia has this one pegged right: 1) McCraken, 2) Tapwrit, 3) Pratical Joke, 4) J Boys Echo. However, I would probably box an Exacta bet of McCraken and Tapwrit knowing how hot Todd Pletcher has been on the Derby trail of late.


The Santa Anita Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #8 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 6:12 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network and TVG

Post/Horse//Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Term of Art  – Baze/O’Neill – 12/1 
2. Reach the World  – Smith/Baffert – 5/1  
3. Battle of Midway – Nakatani/Hollendorfer – 5/1 
4. Comma Sister – Ocampo/Papaprodromou – 50/1  
5. So Conflated – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 15/1
6. American Anthem – Garcia/Baffert – 5/1
7. Kimbear – Talamo/Kruljac – 12/1
8. Gormley – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 9/2 
9. Iliad – Prat/O’Neill – 7/2 
10. Milton Freewater – Pereira/O’Neill – 30/1

11. Irish Freedom – Bejarano/Baffert – 20/1
12. Midnight Pleasure – Theriot/Ruis – 30/1
13. Royal Mo  Stevens/Shirreffs – 10/1

My Pick: Reach the World. There are too many variables and uncertainties in this race for me to predict a finishing order. The pace and jockey’s race strategies will go a long way in deciding the outcome. I expect to see a few surprises and my intuition tells me that this race my come down to a battle between Iliad and Reach the WorldReach the World displayed a nice closing speed in his last start and his second place finish by a neck was mainly a byproduct of him getting tied up briefly in traffic. So I like a Boxed Exacta of Iliad and Reach the World to play it safe but I really like Reach the World as the surprise winner here.


On the docket…

My next blog will include updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings which I will post by Monday evening. Then I will preview the Arkansas Derby which is scheduled for Saturday April 15th.

–Michael

 

2017 Wood Memorial Stakes Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 7th 2017

It’s been awhile since the Wood Memorial Stakes has produced a Kentucky Derby winner. Thirteen years and counting with Funny Cide in 2003 who finished second in the Wood Memorial that year. The last Wood Memorial winner to go on and win the Kentucky Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

Inaugurated in 1925, the Wood Memorial was named after New York state politician and horse racing enthusiast Eugene D. Wood. Wood founded the Jamaica Racecourse which where the Wood Memorial was run until 1960.  Long ago, “The Wood” used to be one of the premier final Kentucky Derby prep races. It has produced four Triple Crown Champions: Gallant Fox (1930), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and Seattle Slew (1977).

However, like the Blue Grass Stakes, the Wood Memorial was recently downgraded for 2017 from a Grade 1 to a Grade 2 event. Below are the post-position, jockeys and morning line odds for this year’s running.

The Wood Memorial   1 1/8th Mile – Race #10 at Aqueduct – Post-Time: 4:52 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network & TVG

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1.  Glennrichment – Carmouche/Rodriguez – 15/1
2. Mo Town – Castellano/Dutrow – 6/1  
3. Battalion Runner – Velazquez/Pletcher – 2/1 
4. Bonus Points – Saez/Pletcher- 20/1
5. True Timber – Lopez/McLaughlin – 12/1
6. Stretch’s Stone – Franco/Levine – 15/1
7. Cloud Computing – Ortiz Jr/Brown – 5/2
8. Irish War Cry – Maragh/Motion – 7/2 

Race Commentary:  Todd Pletcher has won four Wood Memorial Stakes races and I like his chances of number five with Battalion Runner. Battalion Runner was entered last Saturday in the Florida Derby as a backup to Always Dreaming. I liked his chances of a win in the Florida Derby then better than Always Dreaming in that race but he was scratched.

Who finishes second, third and fourth in this race is anybody’s guess. It depends upon which Irish War Cry shows up, the one who scored a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in his Holy Bull Stakes win? Or the version who finished a disappointing seventh in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. The same holds true for Mo Town who won the Remsen Stakes, then finished out of the money and in fifth place in Risen Star Stakes.

My Prediction:   For the above reasons with inconsistency of form from Irish War Cary and Mo Town, I don’t like exotic bets for this race. I am not sold on the second favorite Cloud Computing. And Todd Pletcher’s other entry, Bonus Points, hasn’t had shown enough in workouts or previous races to make me think he will be a factor. So I like straight win bets on Battalion Runner. I expect his live odds to shorten from 2/1 and be closer to 1/1.  Unless Irish War Cry has a return to form, I think Battalion Runner runs away with this one. This may be a better race to just watch than lay any money on.


My previews of the Blue Grass Stakes and Santa Anita Derby can be accessed by clicking here: Blue Grass Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. Or by scrolling down if you accessed this from my home page URL address: thederbyhandicapper.com.

–Michael

2017 Santa Anita Derby Preview

20160312_143746

April 6th 2017

The past twenty years, no Derby prep race has produced more Kentucky Derby winners than the Santa Anita Derby. The Santa Anita Derby has produced six Kentucky Derby winners over this time frame: California Chrome (2014), I’ll Have Another (2012), Giacomo (2006), Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997). 

This year’s Santa Anita Derby field seems to be lacking the Derby trail quality that it has enjoyed the past few years. Mastery’s injury indeed hurts here but most of the top 3-year-olds this year are based west of the Mississippi River.

That being said, there is enough talent to make this interesting and especially a nice size field of 13. I generally think this will be the most exciting, unpredictable race of the three big Derby preps this weekend. Below are the post-positions, jockeys and morning line odds.

The Santa Anita Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #8 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 6:12 PM CST. Televised by NBC Sports Network & TVG

Post/Horse//Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Term of Art  – Baze/O’Neill – 12/1 
2. Reach the World  – Smith/Baffert – 5/1  
3. Battle of Midway – Nakatani/Hollendorfer – 5/1 
4. Comma Sister – Ocampo/Papaprodromou – 50/1  
5. So Conflated – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 15/1
6. American Anthem – Garcia/Baffert – 5/1
7. Kimbear – Talamo/Kruljac – 12/1
8. Gormley – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 9/2 
9. Iliad – Prat/O’Neill – 7/2 
10. Milton Freewater – Pereira/O’Neill – 30/1

11. Irish Freedom – Bejarano/Baffert – 20/1
12. Midnight Pleasure – Theriot/Ruis – 30/1
13. Royal Mo  Stevens/Shirreffs  – 10/1

Race Commentary:  Trainers Doug O’Neill, Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs all have multiple entries. So when handicapping this race, I had to determine each trainer’s best horse to help sort out this field of 13. On recent form, for Bob Baffert, its Reach the World. For Doug O’Neill, its Iliad. And for John Shirreffs, it’Gormley. Throw in Jerry Hollendorfer’s Battle of Midway and you have four horses to work with for your exotic bets.

Royal Mo and American Anthem are two talented, fast colts who are coming off disappointing finishes in the Rebel Stakes. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back at a track where they had previous success. Doug O’Neill’s Term of Art is a horse who has improved in each of this last three starts at Santa Anita Park, finishing 5th in the Sham Stakes, 4th in the Robert B. Lewis and 3rd in the San Felipe Stakes.

My Prediction: There are too many variables and uncertainties in this race for me to predict a finishing order. The pace and jockey’s race strategies will go a long way in deciding the outcome. I expect to see a few surprises and my intuition tells me that this race my come down to a battle between Iliad and Reach the World.

Reach the World displayed a nice closing speed in his last start and his second place finish by a neck was mainly a byproduct of him getting tied up briefly in traffic. So I like a Boxed Exacta of Iliad and Reach the World to play it safe but I really like Reach the World as the surprise winner here.


On the docket…

A preview of the Wood Memorial. My preview of the Blue Grass Stakes can be accessed by clicking HERE.

–Michael