Gun Runner – The 2nd best in the world?

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June 18th 2017

In the most recent Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings that came out on June 4th, the Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner ranked 4th and tied with three other horses. After his impressive win in the Stephen Foster Handicap yesterday (shown below), there is little doubt that Gun Runner will move up in the next Longines rankings because he’s the best racehorse in the world behind Arrogate. Sorry Winx fans!

Gun Runner’s time in the 9 furlong Stephen Foster was 1:47.56, just 3 tenths off a track record and the fifth-fastest running of the race. Gun Runner received a Timeform rating of 139 for his 7 length victory. This is the third best Timeform rating this year and his jockey Florent Geroux glided him home in the final 100 yards. The 139 Timeform rating is outstanding when you consider that there have only been about 15 horses (both turf and dirt) to receive a Timeform rating of 140 or greater. One of which was Arrogate back in March in the Dubai World Cup when he received a 141 Timeform rating. Arrogate received a 139 Timeform rating in the Pegasus World Cup in late January.

With the win, Gun Runner receives an automatic entry in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic. And rematch with Arrogate provided both remain healthy. The Louisiana Derby winner finished third in last year’s Kentucky Derby, He was consistently good but not spectacular as a 3-year-old. However, he has really blossomed as a 4-year-old and seems to be getting better with each start. I had previously thought that Arrogate would likely romp again in this year’s Classic. But if Gun Runner keeps progressing, this year’s Classic could be one of the great showdowns.


2017 Breeders Cup Classic Contender Rankings

With the 2017 Breeders Cup World Championships less than five months away, here is a short list of top contenders for the Classic. The next “Win and You’re In” race for the Classic will be the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 30th. This race will be for 3-year-olds only.

  1. Arrogate
  2. Gun Runner*
  3. Shaman Ghost
  4. Cupid
  5. Neolithic

*Clinched a starting spot in Breeders Cup Classic


–Michael

2017 Belmont Stakes Preview

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June 7th 2017 – Updated June 10th 2017 5:00 PM CST

Below are the post-positions, jockey assignments and morning line odds for the 2017 Belmont Stakes. The race will be shown live on NBC between 5 and 6 PM CST.

Epicharis was treated for lameness on his right front leg on Wednesday and was scratched this morning, Senior Investment was treated for a muscle spasm with acupuncture and Vitamin B12.

Race Analysis: This could be a jockey race. But they will still need to have a horse underneath them that will have enough stamina to challenge at the finish. The starting gate is situated to enable every jockey enough time and room to get into the position that they desire entering the first turn. When the horses come out of the last turn, they will have traveled the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 mile. So the stretch run is where many horses start fading away and where the real race begins.

In my opinion, this race is such a toss-up that no horse should have odds lower than 5/1. Every horse has question marks:

Twisted Tom – His career best Beyer Speed Figure is 78.
Tapwrit – He never really challenged in either the Blue Grass Stakes or Kentucky Derby
Gormley – His Beyer Speed Figures have declined in every start as a 3-year-old. 
J Boys Echo – Big win in the Gotham Stakes but he regressed in his next two starts.
Hollywood Handsome – His only nice win as a 3-year-old came in an allowance race.
Lookin At Lee – Extremely consistent but hasn’t won since August of last year.
Irish War Cry – Which Irish War Cry will show up? He faded badly in the Derby
Senior Investment – Only Graded Stakes win came in a talent depleted Lexington Stakes
Meantime -Last 2 starts came in the slop, has never raced on a dry track beyond 1 mile.
Multiplier – He didn’t dazzle in the Preakness with a 6th place finish
Patch – Pedigree suggests he’ll like the distance but will he have the turn of foot to win?

The pace of this race and who gets out in the early lead is the key in determining a winner of this race. However, this is uncertain. I don’t expect to see Meantime will be out in the early lead as he did in his last two starts. I expect Irish War Cry will be near the front of the pack in the early going but question whether he has the stamina to hang on in a 12 furlong race.

I question if this race will have enough early speed at all to aid a deep closer.  If not, this will hurt Lookin At Lee and Senior Investment’s chances. There are a lot of unknowns.

Irish War Cry is the best horse in this field but he extremely hit-or-miss. He could win or finish dead last. 

I think I am going to wait to see the live odds to find a price. I think there are about 6 horses that I could see winning this under the right scenarios: Irish War Cry, Lookin At Lee, Gormley, Tapwrit, Meantime and Patch.

I am leaning towards Meantime and Patch.

2017 Belmont Stakes – Post-Time 5:37 PM CST

1) Twisted Tom (20/1) – The 3-year-old gelding trained by Chad Brown is coming off a nice win in the Federico Tesio Stakes (shown below). He has won three straight races in a row and has had seven weeks off since his last race.

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Creative Cause
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Javier Castellano 
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  78Federico Tesio Stakes

2) Tapwrit (6/1) – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 5th in Blue Grass Stakes and 6th in the Kentucky Derby. He is well rested and has a pedigree that suggests that he will take to the added distance like his paternal half-brother Tonalist did in the 2014 Belmont Stakes.

Career: 7 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>5th–>6th
Sire: Tapit 
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2007 & 2013 Belmont Stakes Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

3) Gormley (8/1) – The Santa Anita Derby winner. Same owner/trainer combination (Moss/Shirreffs) as Zenyatta, 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Royal Mo. He has been training well of late.

Career: 7 Starts 4-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>1st–>9th
Sire: Malibu Moon
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Jockey: Victor Espinoza (2015 Belmont Stakes Winner)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  942017 Sham Stakes

4) J Boys Echo (15/1) – The Dale Romans-trained Gotham Stakes winner. His 102 Beyer Speed Figure that he received for the Gotham Stakes win still ranks near the top of the best Beyers for this class. He has regressed some since that race, finishing 4th in the Blue Grass Stakes and 15th in the Kentucky Derby. However, he has the talent and pedigree to win this race. Although his sire Mineshaft didn’t compete in the Belmont Stakes, his grandsire, A.P. Indy, won the race in 1992.

Career: 7 Starts 2-1-1-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>4th–>15th
Sire: Mineshaft
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1022017 Gotham Stakes

5) Hollywood Handsome (30/1) – He finished 4th in the Louisiana Derby and 5th in the Illinois Derby. His sire Tapizar was a “miler”, so his 30/1 morning line odds are deserved. 

Career: 9 Starts 2-0-3-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>5th–>1st
Sire: Tapizar
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  88Churchill Downs 5/20/17

6) Lookin At Lee (5/1) – The Steve Asmussen trained colt is a consistent horse having finished in the Top 4 in the Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He a deep closer racing style that worked well for Asmussen’s Creator in last year’s Belmont Stakes. However, deep closers don’t win the Belmont Stakes very often. I wrote an article on his longshot chances in the Kentucky Derby for US Racing (SEE). I don’t see a win here but he is too consistent not to include in your exotic bets.

Career: 11 Starts 2-3-2-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>2nd–>4th
Sire: Lookin at Lucky 
Trainer: Steve Asmussen (2016 Belmont Stakes Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr (2016 Belmont Stakes Winner)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 98 – 2017 Kentucky Derby

7) Irish War Cry (7/2) – The son of Curlin and winner of the Wood Memorial. He should be one of the top favorites on the tote board. His sire Curlin lost the 2007 Belmont Stakes by a head to Rags to Riches.

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 7th–>1st–>10th
Sire: Curlin (Finished 2nd in the 2007 Belmont Stakes)
Trainer: Graham Motion 
Jockey: Rajiv Maragh
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  1012017 Wood Memorial

8) Senior Investment (12/1) – The Lexington Stakes winner. He followed up this effort with a surprising third place finish in Preakness Stakes. I don’t like Preakness Stakes runners as a potential Belmont Stakes winner.

Career: 9 Starts 3-0-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 6th–>1st–>3rd
Sire: Discreetly Mine
Trainer: Ken McPeek (2002 Belmont Stakes Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Channing Hill
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  89 2017 Lexington Stakes 

9) Meantime (15/1) – Finished 2nd in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park. That was run on sloppy sealed track conditions at Belmont Park. With jockey Mike Smith aboard, you’ve got to like his chances of pulling a mild upset.

Career: 4 Starts 1-2-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Shackleford (Finished 5th in the 2011 Belmont Stakes)
Trainer: Brian Lynch
Jockey:  Mike Smith (2010 & 2013 Belmont Stakes Winner)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  91 2017 Peter Pan Stakes

10) Multiplier (15/1)  The Illinois Derby winner, he finished 6th in the Preakness Stakes and received 94 Beyer Speed Figures for both performances. He will have 2014 Belmont Stakes winning jockey Joel Rosario on board so he should be more of a factor than he was in the Preakness. However, I don’t like the chances of a win for any of the Preakness Stakes runners.

Career: 5 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>6th
Sire:  The Factor
Trainer: Brandon Walsh
Jockey:  Joel Rosario (2014 Belmont Stakes Winner)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  94 2017 Preakness Stakes

11) Epicharis (Scratched) – The Japanese horse finished 2nd in the UAE Derby, getting nipped at the finish line by Thunder Snow. I think this is a talented horse with “hit the board” potential but I just don’t see him shipping in and winning a 12 furlong endurance race.

Career: 5 Starts 4-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Gold Allure
Trainer: Kiyoshi Hagiwara
Jockey: Christophe Lemaire
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  N/A

12) Patch (12/1) – The one-eyed Pletcher-trained colt was the sentimental favorite on Derby Day.  I wrote an article on him that can be accessed by clicking HERE. He has the needed rest, the pedigree, trainer and jockey to win the Belmont Stakes.

Career: 4 Starts 2-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>14th
Sire: Union Rags (Won the 2012 Belmont Stakes)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2007 & 2013 Belmont Stakes Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2007 & 2012 Belmont Stakes Winner)
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  89 2017 Louisiana Derby


RIP HOLY BULL

Sad news…one of the great racehorses in the last century, Holy Bull, had to be euthanized Wednesday June 7th. I saw him in a horse farm tour in October of 2015 and he still seemed feisty and full of life.

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–Michael

The Profile of a Belmont Stakes Winner. Is it one-eyed Patch?

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June 5th 2017 – Updated June 6th 2017

How do you handicap the Belmont Stakes? You don’t. I am being facetious because the Belmont Stakes is the toughest Triple Crown race to handicap. You can pretty much throw out a lot of handicapping analytics because they mean very little when horses are stretching out from 9 to 10 furlongs to the 12 furlong (1 1/2 mile) Belmont Stakes distance for the very first time. The fastest horse in the field rarely wins the Belmont.

Just how tough is the Belmont Stakes to handicap? 

The race favorite has only won once in the last 10 years and that was an incredible horse in Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The 2nd favorite in the Belmont Stakes hasn’t fared much better, only winning twice during this span. On average, the winner is roughly the 5th or 6th favorite among bettors. The average final odds of the Belmont Stakes winner over the last 10 years? 13.5 to 1.

What does this mean? It usually means that the Belmont Stakes winner is a surprise like we had when Cloud Computing won the Preakness Stakes. It means that longshots have a better chance of winning this leg of the Triple Crown.

Even though it is tough to handicap the Belmont Stakes, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it try. After doing research, I decided to try to profile the typical Belmont Stakes winner from the past 10 years. So here you go:

  • Their race style is typically a stalker, one who sits off the lead pack (top 3 to 5) through the first 1/2 mile and 1 mile of the race. Surprisingly, deep closers don’t win the Belmont Stakes that often like Creator did last year.
  • Rest. The average winner had 4 to 5 weeks off between the Belmont and their last start. Horses who have raced 3 weeks prior (ie. Preakness Stakes runners) don’t fare very well. In the past ten years, only three horses who raced 3 weeks before the Belmont found themselves in the winner circle. The same holds true going back to the year 2000. 12 out of the last 17 Belmont Stakes winners (70.5%) had 4 to 5 weeks off between starts. 
  • As I eluded to earlier, the typical Belmont Stakes winner is neither the race favorite or even the 2nd race favorite. So look at the live odds on tote board at the 5th favorite on down as this is where as the average Belmont Stakes winner will come from.

From the information above and how I think the live odds will go, Classic Empire will likely be the race favorite. The 2nd race favorite will probably be one of these four horses: Epicharis, Tapwrit, Lookin At Lee and Irish War Cry. If I had to pick the most likely 2nd race favorite, I’d say it will be Irish War Cry because he seemed to be real popular in Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools.

So for me, I am scratching off Classic Empire due to his race favorite status and without the standard rest. Add two other Preakness Stakes runners in Senior Investment and Multiplier. And with the recent history of 2nd favorites not faring very well, I am scratching off Irish War Cry.

As I stated above, deep closers don’t often win the Belmont Stakes. For this reason, I don’t like Lookin At Lee’s chances of a win. So scratch off Lookin At Lee. However, I do like his chances of hitting the Superfecta.

The Japanese horse Epicharis. I think he is a legitimately talented horse who has “hit the board” potential. However, I have a hard time seeing “a shipper” winning an endurance race like the Belmont Stakes. Note that Epicharis got nipped for a win in the UAE Derby by Thunder Snow in a race roughly the distance of the 9 1/2 furlong Preakness Stakes but shorter than the Kentucky Derby’s 10 furlong distance. The 12 furlong Belmont Stakes will have plenty of stretch run for him to get mowed down again.

So who am I warming up to as the potential 2017 Belmont Stakes winner?

I will need to see final entries, jockey assignments and post-positions which will be out on Wednesday. But it appears that the one-eyed horse Patch will be entered and ridden by two-time Belmont Stakes winner John Velazquez (who won this year’s Kentucky Derby on Always Dreaming).

Patch’s sire, Union Rags, won the 2012 Belmont Stakes who he has the pedigree to suggest he will like distance. And his trainer, Todd Pletcher, is one of the very best in preparing a horse for the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes.

Patch was the underdog media darling for this year’s Kentucky Derby due to his handicap. He will likely fly a bit more under the radar with bettors this time since he finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby. I don’t think Patch took to the sloppy surface and it was a tall order for any horse, in the 4th start of his career, to come from the far outside post in a field of 20 horses. Patch having one eye may have been a factor in his performance due to sloppy conditions. If he got some mud thrown into one eye, he didn’t have another one to see out of. 

So I am warming up to Patch and Tapwrit as potential Belmont Stakes winners provided the race is run on a dry, fast track.  I will post a Belmont Stakes Preview this Wednesday evening with more of my thoughts and analysis

-Michael

Post-Preakness Blahs?

May 28th 2017

The general feeling I got after Preakness Stakes is horse racing in North America is sort of dead until next season since we won’t have a Triple Crown contender entering Belmont. So go back to gardening, watching baseball, break out the lawn dart set because this sport offers very little now. Great racing is over, there are no compelling stories to follow until next Derby trail season. 

Two words: Au contraire! There is a lot to look forward to (I’ll explain later) and this is what baffles me every year after the Kentucky Derby. This year my blog received 18,409 views on Kentucky Derby Day. That works out to be an average of 767 views per hour, an average of one view every 4.7 seconds. The day after the Derby? I got 988 views total. The drop-off had nothing to do with bad handicapping as I provided betting advice in that blog that would have tripled your money.

For whatever reason, this captivating sport loses a ton of fans and interest after the Kentucky Derby only to see a significant spike around the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Yes, if we have a Triple Crown contender entering Belmont, there is another mild spike in interest. However, interest in the sport really seems to boil down to two big events: the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

I will never understand this as I feel the sport has so much more to offer than two big events or a Triple Crown run that usually ends disappointingly. So what does the sport have to offer this summer until the Breeders’ Cup? A lot.

Arrogate

Did many seem to forget that the all-time leading money earner in North American horse racing is still in training? A horse that broke a track record at one of the oldest sports venues (Saratoga) in the North America. Arrogate certainly seems to have the talent to ultimately be considered the greatest thoroughbred since Secretariat as his trainer Bob Baffert suggested after his amazing Dubai World Cup win. He just needs more starts and wins to strengthen his case.

Arrogate’s Next Start? It appears that he is being pointed for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 19th as a prelude to another entry in the Breeders’ Cup Classic which will be held at Del Mar this fall.

Songbird & the battle for 4-Year-Old Female Dirt Champ

Did everyone forget about Songbird who has a chance to become the greatest filly/mare of all-time? She’ll need to beat “the boys” at some point but Songbird will have all she can handle in her own division this year battling Stellar Wind and Vale Dori.

Stellar Wind gave Beholder fits last year. She is the recent winner of the Apple Blossom Stakes and a winner of four career Grade 1 stakes races. The Bob Baffert-trained Vale Dori has won six straight races, four of which have been graded stakes races at Santa Anita Park. It appears that Stellar Wind may meet up with Vale Dori at Santa Anita in next Saturday’s race (June 3rd) in the Beholder Mile Stakes.

Songbird, who had a mild setback in training due to an injury, will make her 2017 debut in the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park in a couple of weeks on June 10th (Belmont Stakes Day). Then at some point, she will meet up Stellar Wind and/or Vale Dori for the battle of the reigning Queen of thoroughbred racing.

3-Year-Old Male Dirt Champion?

Although we won’t have a Triple Crown contender this year, the race for who ultimately wins the Eclipse 3-Year-Old Male Dirt Champion award will be interesting with the depth of talent that we have in this 2017 Derby class. I feel that the Preakness Stakes (shown above) provided a good visual for how tough it will be to win the award this year. Right now, I feel like the Top Four 3-year-old colts are as follows:

  1. Always Dreaming – Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner
  2. Classic Empire – Arkansas Derby winner and Preakness Stakes Runner-Up
  3. Cloud Computing – Preakness Stakes winner
  4. Gormley – Santa Anita Derby winner

I based this ranking off the point system that the Breeders’ Cup uses for entry into the Classic. So the Belmont Stakes coming up in a few weeks on June 10th, the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes races in the month of August will go a long way in sorting out the real champion before we get to the Breeders’ Cup World Championship this fall.


On the docket…

My next blog will preview the Belmont Stakes if I don’t feel compelled to write on some other topic before then. I will be writing my first installment of 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings at some point soon.

–Michael

2017 Preakness Stakes Sleeper

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May 19th 2017 – Updated May 20th 2017

Historically, new shooters don’t fare very well in the Preakness Stakes versus those who ran in the Kentucky Derby. I still think this year’s Preakness Stakes will be won by Always Dreaming or Classic Empire. But if you are looking for sleeper and somewhat of a longshot to win the 142nd Preakness Stakes, I like Conquest Mo Money. Why?

The son of Uncle Mo is fresh. He has never finished below 2nd in five career starts, something no other horse in this Preakness field can boast. This tells me that Conquest Mo Money is a horse who likes to win and be near the front. Re-watch the Arkansas Derby shown below and see how he battles and battles “fino alla fine” that’s Italian for until the end. He did this from the #11 post and he will start in #10 post in the Preakness.

At 15/1 odds, I may plunk down $10-15 for a Win bet on Conquest Mo Money as a hedge. A Place bet on Conquest Mo Money may pay out more than a win bet on Always Dreaming depending on how the live odds go. So that is another bet to consider.

If nothing else, I feel that Conquest Mo Money has to be a horse you include in your exotic bets (trifecta and superfectas). His Beyer Speed Figures have improved in every one of his starts. I like the upward trend and the willingness to battle that he displayed in the Arkansas Derby.

UPDATE:

Superfecta betting: I like #4 over 1,5,6,10

Trifecta Betting: I like 4,5 & 10 Boxed

–Michael

2017 Preakness Stakes Preview

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May 18th 2017 – Updated May 20th 2017

Below are the entries, post-positions and morning line odds for Saturday’s 142nd Preakness Stakes. Rain doesn’t appear to be in the forecast so that is a handicapping aspect we fortunately won’t have to worry about.

This should be a great race that will be won by either Always Dreaming or Classic Empire. Classic Empire had a really bad trip in the Kentucky Derby but he won’t in this 10-horse Preakness field. There are a few “new shooters” that could finish in the money in Conquest Mo Money and Multiplier but neither are a huge threat to win.

The Preakness Stakes – 9 1/2 furlongs. Race #13 at Pimlico. Post-time: 5:48 PM CST. Televised by NBC.

1) Multiplier (30/1) – The Illinois Derby winner. He laid down an impressive sub 1:48 time in this 9 furlong race. So I don’t understand the 30-1 odds here.

Career: 4 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st
Sire:  The Factor
Trainer: Brandon Walsh
Jockey:  Joel Rosario
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:47.98 – 2017 Illinois Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  882017 Illinois Derby

2) Cloud Computing (12/1) – He ran an impressive 2nd in the Gotham Stakes but finished 3rd in a slow Wood Memorial. Judging how Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry fared in the Kentucky Derby (10th place finish), I don’t see Cloud Computing figuring in my Preakness Superfecta.

Career: 3 Starts 1-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Maclean’s Music
Trainer:  Chad Brown
Jockey: Javier Castellano (2006 Preakness Stakes Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:52.03 (estimated) – 2017 Wood Memorial
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  962017 Gotham Stakes

3) Hence (20/1)   He is probably a much better horse than his 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby suggests. He is a deep closer and they typically don’t fare well in the Preakness.

Career: 7 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  7th–>1st-->11th
Sire:  Street Boss
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 932017 Sunland Derby

4) Always Dreaming  (4/5) – Always Dreaming is the fastest horse in the Preakness field and the deserved favorite. The son of Bodemeister has a stalking race style and late speed that should put him on or near the lead. I wrote a Derby profile on Always Dreaming for US Racing which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Career: 6 Starts 4-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in the 2012 Preakness Stakes)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher 
Jockey: John Velazquez 
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:47.472017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1022017 Kentucky Derby

5) Classic Empire (3/1) The 2-year-old Male Champion had a bad trip in the Kentucky Derby and really should be commended for salvaging a fourth place finish. He should be more of a factor in the smaller Preakness field. I was very high on the Pioneerof the Nile colt and first wrote about him back in July (SEE). I see him stalking Always Dreaming in the Preakness but will he have enough to mow him down in the stretch? He is capable and we will see.

Career: 8 Starts 5-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Last 3 starts: 3rd—>1st–>4th
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile (Finished 11th in the 2009 Preakness Stakes)
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 

6) Gunnevera (15/1) – His closer style of racing makes him less of a factor in the Preakness unless he is pressed up more on the pace. 

Career: 8 Starts 3-1-1-1   
Last 3 starts: 1st–>3rd–>7th
Sire: Dialed In (Finished 4th in 2011 Preakness Stakes)
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Jockey: Mike Smith (1993 Preakness Stakes Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Fountain of Youth Stakes

7) Term of Art (30/1) – The Doug O’Neill-trained colt is looking to bounce back from a 7th place finish in Santa Anita Derby. He is justifiably 30/1.

Career: 9 Starts 2-1-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>3rd–>7th
Sire:  Tiznow
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:52.16 (estimated) – 2017 Santa Anita Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 922017 San Felipe Stakes 

8) Senior Investment (30/1) – He is coming off a win in the Lexington Stakes but at best, I see him as a mid-pack finisher in the Preakness.

Career: 8 Starts 3-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>6th–>1st
Sire:  Discreetly Mine
Trainer:  Ken McPeek
Jockey: Channing Hill
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.69 (estimated) – 2017 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  89 2017 Lexington Stakes

9) Lookin At Lee (10/1)  A deep closer whose racing style, like Hence & Gunnevera, doesn’t match up well for the Preakness. I wrote an article on his longshot chances in the Kentucky Derby for US Racing (SEE). I don’t see a win or 2nd place finish here.

Career: 10 Starts 2-3-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 6th–>3rd–>2nd
Sire:  Lookin at Lucky (Won the 2010 Preakness Stakes)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen (2007 & 2009 Preakness Stakes Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Corey Lanerie
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.17 (estimated) – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 98 – 2017 Kentucky Derby

10) Conquest Mo Money (15/1) – He earned enough points to start in the 143rd Kentucky Derby but he wasn’t Triple Crown nominated. Conquest Mo Money has never finished below second in five career starts and beat some quality horses in the Arkansas Derby. His Beyer Speed Figures are ascending.

Career: 5 Starts 3-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Uncle Mo
Trainer: Miguel Hernandez 
Jockey:  Jorge Carreno
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.01 (estimated) – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 932017 Arkansas Derby


Handicapping Advice

The Pimlico straight is 80 feet shorter than Churchill Downs and the Preakness is 1/2 furlong shorter than the Kentucky Derby. The turns at Pimlico have less banking so it is more difficult for horses to accelerate through the turns. All of this works against deep closers.

My gut instinct tells me that Always Dreaming is going to win this race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Classic Empire pulls the upset. So I think Always Dreaming’s 4/5 morning line odds are a bit too short. These odds are shorter than the live odds (9/10) American Pharoah had for the sloppy 2015 Preakness Stakes.

The Preakness exotic bets usually don’t pay out well unless longshots finish in the top 3 or the favorite gets beat. I generally feel that the best Superfecta candidates are: Always Dreaming, Classic Empire, Conquest Mo Money and Multiplier. You can usually count on one of the speed horses having an off day so you will want to throw in one closer. It is difficult to figure out which closer will come out ahead of the others. I generally feel that the closer who gets pressed up a bit on the pace will have the best chance of finishing in the money.  I feel that Gunnevera is the most likely candidate of this group.

Overall, I don’t see this a big payout race unless the totally unexpected happens. So I would play it conservative.


UPDATE:

Superfecta betting: I like #4 over 1,5,6,10

Trifecta Betting: I like 4,5 & 10 Boxed

–Michael

Three stars of the Kentucky Derby and a look ahead to some great racing

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

May 12th 2017

After the dust has settled on the 143rd Kentucky Derby (or should it be after the dirt has dried?), there is plenty to discuss and look forward to in the sport of horse racing. I purposely waited to publish this blog to soak everything in and analyze what was another great Run for the Roses.

First, this year’s Kentucky Derby posted the best overnight television ratings since 1992. The viewership of this year’s Kentucky Derby is roughly what the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 get combined. I felt the sport of thoroughbred horse racing was making a comeback in popularity prior to the Derby. So this information only confirms my belief.

Secondly, this year’s Derby had three awesome performances but unfortunately, history will only remember Always Dreaming’s performance. 

Derby Day’s Three Star Performers

I felt that the Kentucky Derby’s three star performers were Always Dreaming, Lookin At Lee and Classic Empire.

Always Dreaming

Always Dreaming took the lead at the 3/4th mile mark and held on to the finish. You have to have a lot of horse to be able to do that over the final 4 furlongs of a 10 furlong race. He received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for this performance. He is a popular horse too. The Derby profile I wrote on Always Dreaming for US Racing was the 2nd most viewed article on the site from April 1st to Derby Day. Always Dreaming is the real deal and will deservingly be the Preakness Stakes favorite.

I had previously thought that there was no way that we would have a Triple Crown contender this year entering the Belmont Stakes because this class was deep in talent but inconsistent. But after Always Dreaming’s performance in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby on a muddy track, I have changed my mind.

Looking At Lee

I liked Lookin At Lee as a longshot and wrote about it for US Racing “Is there a Mine That Bird in the 2017 Kentucky Derby field?”

With 20-1 morning line odds, I knew with him drawing the rail (#1 post) that this would scare off bettors and his live odds would lengthen. But I liked his chances in a 10 furlong race with Corey Lanerie on board. Lookin At Lee displayed great late speed and a fighting spirit in the Arkansas Derby. He didn’t get the best trip in that race. But he ran a great race in the Kentucky Derby and Corey Lanerie did an outstanding job as his jockey. He was going to pull off another Calvin Borel Rail-Run and he was probably about length behind Always Dreaming at one point entering the stretch. He was coming like a freight-train. But jockey John Velazquez moved Always Dreaming over to the rail which broke Lookin At Lee’s momentum and forced Corey Lanerie to move to the outside to have a shot at the win.

If you are Steve Asmussen, you’ve got to be grinning like a Cheshire Cat with 33-1 odds Lookin At Lee’s performance and the $400,000 that he picked up for 2nd place.

Classic Empire

Although he finished what would appear to be a disappointing fourth in the Derby, he ran a great race. He got knocked around jockeying for position coming out of the gate. Then he suffered lacerations on his eye that resulted in the eye nearly swelling shut the next day. He is doing fine now and the eye is quickly improving. But just like the Holy Bull Stakes, I knew something was ailing him by his final fractions times. This was not the Classic Empire–the champion–that we know. He ran better in the slop at Churchill Downs in the very first start of his career as a 2-year-old. But despite all of this, he still managed to salvage fourth place. Classic Empire will strike back at some point this season.

Finally, Preakness Stakes Day is going to be a can’t miss event if you are within driving distance. 

Preakness Stakes Weekend

The Preakness Stakes field is expected to include Always Dreaming, Lookin At Lee, Classic Empire, Gunnevera, Hence, the Illinois Derby winner Multiplier and the rested runner-up in the Arkansas Derby–Conquest Mo Money. A smaller field will eliminate the possibility of the bad trips that a few of the Derby horses had. So I am expecting that the Preakness Stakes will be a closer race than the Kentucky Derby.

But an equally great race will be the Pimlico Special Stakes that will be run at the same 9 1/2 furlong distance as the Preakness Stakes. Shaman Ghost is expected to be an entry and he is probably the 2nd or 3rd best horse in the Older Division behind Arrogate. But he will be facing a new hotshot contender in the Todd Pletcher-trained Send It In. The son of Big Brown posted a 119 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) in the 1 1/4th mile Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct on April 8th. This is tied for the best Beyer Speed Figure this year with Arrogate’s 119 BSF in the Pegasus World Cup.

It will be interesting to see how Send It In fares in the Pimlico Special as we could be looking at a major contender for Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall. And it will be interesting to compare the times of the Preakness Stakes winner vs the Pimlico Stakes winner.

And the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes is always a good race for 3-year-old Fillies. It is expected to include undefeated Jenda’s Agenda.  I can’t wait!

–Michael

Handicapping the 2017 Kentucky Derby

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

May 6th 2017 – Updated 5:30 PM CST

It appears that the weather, in the form of rain showers, will impact the early races today at Churchill Downs. The type of track conditions we get for the 143rd Kentucky Derby is an extrapolated guess.

I am banking on at least “Good” track conditions with a decent chance of “Fast” track conditions after the Churchill Downs crew gets some time to work on the track. “Good” instead of “Fast” track conditions will affect handicapping to some degree in this field. If it is “Sloppy” instead of “Good” then throw out all handicapping and be prepared for longshots finishing in the money.

Post time for the Kentucky Derby is 5:46 PM CST/6:46 PM EST and the race will be broadcast live on NBC. You can follow the live Kentucky Derby Odds by clicking HERE.

Below are my predictions based on “Fast” track conditions:

Win –>#14 Classic Empire & #5 Always Dreaming

I believe that the race will come down to Classic Empire and Always Dreaming and I am leaning towards Classic Empire if you read my blog last week (SEE). These are the two best horses in this field, however, both have a few issues of concern.

Always Dreaming is the fastest horse in this field. His time of 1:47.47 in the Florida Derby was the fastest since 1978 with Alydar’s 1:47-flat. However, the reports are that he has been amped-up since he first got to Churchill Downs to the point that trainer Todd Pletcher had to add draw reins and a new exercise rider to harness his aggression. The positive spin on this is that Always Dreaming appears to be ready to go. The concern is, will he be so amped-up in front of a huge Churchill Downs that he will expend a lot of energy before entering the starting gate? You want your Derby horse to be relaxed but focused.

With Classic Empire, he has raced in front of a big crowd at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race and won. However, Classic Empire does have a history of being temperamental, having dumped his rider shortly after leaving the starting gate in the Hopeful Stakes. And then refusing to workout several times the past three months. It appears that he has worked past those issues. He also had a foot abscess problem that went undetected until after the Holy Bull Stakes 3rd place finish that affected his training schedule.

But Classic Empire’s temperamental demeanor and inability to train like trainer Mark Casse had planned pushed his final Derby prep to the Arkansas Derby three weeks ago. He supposedly acting happy but gained some weight in the process. Is he 100% fit and ready to go?

Note that Classic Empire has beaten the most starting entries in this Kentucky Derby field in Lookin At Lee, Gunnevera, Gormley, Practical Joke, Sonneteer and Untrapped. If he is 100% mentally and physically ready, he is the horse to beat as he seems to have a nose for the finish line.

Irish War Cry has been a lot of national handicapper’s pick to win the Derby. My concerns are that he failed to eclipse a 38 second final 3 furlong fraction, failed to eclipse a final winning time under 1:50 in his final prep race. Irish War Cry’s Wood Memorial winning time of 1:50.91 (101 Beyer) was slower than Frosted‘s 1:50.31 (103 Beyer) and Wicked Strong’s 1:49.31 (104 Beyer) winning Wood Memorial times. Both of these colts finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby.

Like Wicked Strong, Irish War Cry is a son of Curlin. Curlin finished 3rd in the 2007 Kentucky after demolishing the Arkansas Derby field in his final prep race by 10 1/2 lengths. So I just don’t see Irish War Cry as a huge threat to win but would recommend using him in your exotic bets.

My Advice: Divide your win bet between Classic Empire and Always Dreaming based upon their live odds by putting less money on the longer odds horse and more on the shorter odds horse. You should be able to double or triple your money if either of these two horses win.

For example, right now the current odds are 9/2 for Always Dreaming and 7/1 for Classic Empire. If you had $100 to bet and put $60 on Always Dreaming and $40 on Classic Empire at these odds, your $100 wagered would return $330 if Always Dreaming won or $320 if Classic Empire wins.

Trifecta –>#14-#5-#10 (Boxed)

If pressed for a straight Trifecta I would go with: 1st-#14 Classic Empire, 2nd-#5 Always Dreaming, 3rd-#10 Gunnevera but I would box this one.  A $1 Trifecta Box will cost $6.

As far as Exacta and Superfecta betting, for the Exacta I would probably do a Boxed Exacta with three horses (Classic Empire, Always Dreaming and Gunnevera). But note that this bet would cost the same as a Boxed Trifecta of the same horses. So wouldn’t throw big money in the Exacta for this race.

For the Superfecta, I don’t have a good recommendation as this Derby class is so unpredictable that I wouldn’t be surprised if a 50-1 slipped into the Superfecta. What I always do is bet $10 on straight 50 cent or $1 Superfecta of various combinations that I think might hit and including a few longshots. Just know that it is extremely hard to hit a Superfecta in the Kentucky Derby. However, I think it is worth throwing $10 at and hope you get lucky.  The payouts can be huge.


UPDATES:

Upset Alert: The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby is will be run in muddy, but fast sealed track conditions. This will be the great equalizer. 

This helps this year’s sentimental Derby favorite, the one-eyed horse Patch who drew the far outside #20 post. He is missing his left eye, so if he stays on the outside, he won’t get mud kicked up in his eye. The mud getting kicked in a horse eyes and face is sometimes what causes fast horses to not run up to their expectations.

Sloppy track conditions will bode well for horses like Gormley, Tapwrit, Irap, Untrapped, Hence, Lookin At Lee, Gunnevera and Classic Empire. All the aforementioned horses have raced on sloppy or muddy conditions with Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee having raced on sloppy/muddy conditions at Churchill Downs. 

I still like Classic Empire!

–Michael

2017 Kentucky Derby Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

May 3rd 2017

Below are the entries, post-positions and morning-line odds for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. I will write another blog by Saturday with my with Derby picks but Classic Empire and Always Dreaming will be the only two horses I will lay money on to win provided it is a dry race. If the odds stay 4/1 for Classic Empire and 5/1 for Always Dreaming, you could bet $56 on Classic Empire and $44 on Always Dreaming and double your $100 investment ($226-$220) if either of these two horses win.

Be sure to check out my feature article for US Racing titled “Is there a Mine That Bird in the 2017 Kentucky Derby Field?”

2017 Kentucky Derby Starting Field

1) Lookin At Lee (20/1)  Like Gunnevera and Sonneteer, he is a deep closer who raced against some of the best in this class. He didn’t win but acquitted himself well. While he is not a huge threat to win on a dry, fast track, he certainly has a chance on a wet track. I wrote an article on his chances in the Kentucky Derby for US Racing which can be accessed HERE

Career: 9 Starts 2-2-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>6th–>3rd
Sire:  Lookin at Lucky (Finished 6th in the 2010 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen 
Jockey: Corey Lanerie
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.17 (estimated) – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 91 – 2017 Arkansas Derby

2) Thunder Snow (20/1) – Godolphin Racing’s UAE Derby winner. UAE Derby winners haven’t fared all that well in the Kentucky Derby but I generally feel the Irish-bred colt’s chances are better than last year’s UAE Derby winner Lani. Lani finished 9th in last year’s Derby.

Career: 8 Starts 4-2-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Helmet
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor
Jockey: Christophe Soumillon
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time:  1:52.21 (estimated) – 2017 UAE Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: Unknown

3) Fast and Accurate (50/1) – A 50/1 longshot. The Spiral Stakes winner has won his last three starts. His sire Hansen finished 9th in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Hansen was definitely better than his son. So I don’t see an above 10th place finish in this year’s Derby on a dry, fast track as a realistic probability.

Career: 6 Starts 3-1-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Hansen (Finished 9th in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Michael Maker
Jockey: Channing Hill
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.96 – 2017 Spiral Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 82 – 2017 Spiral Stakes

4) Untrapped (30/1) – Here is another horse that hasn’t won since his maiden. I generally feel that Untrapped is the weakest of the three Steve Asmussen-trained Derby entries. However, jockey Ricardo Santana Jr rode all three Asmussen Derby entries and probably could have had his choice of any of the three mounts. He chose Untrapped. I always take notice of this.

Career: 6 Starts 1-3-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>2nd–>3rd
Sire: Trappe Shot
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.53 – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 922017 Withers Stakes

5) Always Dreaming (5/1) – Always Dreaming 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

6) State of Honor (30/1) – Always the bridesmaid, never the bride is the best way to describe this Mark Casse-trained Canadian bred colt. He hasn’t won a race in four starts during his 3-year-old campaign. However, he had 2nd place finishes in the Tampa Bay Derby and Florida Derby. I am not sure that he will like the 10 furlong distance as his sire To Honor and Serve seemed to excel more at 8 and 9 furlongs.

Career: 10 Starts 1-4-2-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts:  3rd–>2nd–2nd
Sire:  To Honor and Serve
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Jose Lezcano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.27 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  90 – 2017 Florida Derby

7) Girvin (15/1) – 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 and Louisiana Derby times were both faster than what Gun Runner accomplished the previous year. And Gun Runner finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. The only concern now is a quarter-crack that they are trying to heal before the Derby. 

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

8) Hence (15/1) – 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: Florent Geroux
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.10 – 2017 Sunland Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 932017 Sunland Derby

9) Irap (20/1) – 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

10) Gunnevera  (15/1) – 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
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:48.51 (estimated) – 2017 Florida Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 972017 Fountain of Youth Stakes

11) Battle of Midway (30/1) – He finished 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby. However, I don’t feel that the talent on the West Coast this year is anywhere near where it has been the last three years. He will win a Graded Stakes race somewhere down the line but I generally don’t like his chances in the Derby. Just like Patch, he didn’t race as a 2-year-old and no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.

Career: 4 Starts 2-1-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Smart Strike
Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.24 (estimated) – 2017 Santa Anita Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  88 – 2017 Santa Anita Derby

12) Sonneteer (50/1) – The Desormeaux brothers colt has yet to break his maiden and will try to become the first maiden to win the Kentucky Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933. He is a deep closer and well deserving of his 50/1 odds.

Career: 10 Starts 0-4-2-3   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>2nd–>4th
Sire: Midnight Lute
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux 
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux (1998, 2000 & 2008 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.52 (estimated) – 2017 Arkansas Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90 – 2017 Arkansas Derby

13) J Boys Echo (20/1) – The Dale Romans-trained Gotham Stakes winner. He received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for the Gotham Stakes win which ranks near the top of the best Beyers for this class.

Career: 6 Starts 2-1-1-2   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>1st–>4th
Sire: Mineshaft
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Luis Saez
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.99 (estimated) – 2017 Wood Memorial
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 1022017 Gotham Stakes

14) Classic Empire (4/1) – My Derby favorite. The 2-year-old Male Champion proved he is back with his brilliant run in the Arkansas Derby (94 Beyer Speed Figure). 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 

15) McCraken (5/1) The son of Ghostzapper was undefeated in 4 starts before his disappointing 3rd place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes. One of his big wins came in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. So there are no concerns of how he will take to the track surface at Churchill Downs. I personally think 5/1 odds are way too short for this colt.

Career: 5 Starts 4-0-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>3rd
Sire:  Ghostzapper
Trainer: Ian Wilkes
Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.99 (estimated) – 2017 Blue Grass Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 952017 Sam F. Davis Stakes 

16) Tapwrit (20/1) – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. But disappointed in his last start in the Blue Grass Stakes with a 6th place finish. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance but you can’t ignore the performance drop when he went from 8 1/2 to 9 furlongs.

Career: 6 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd>1st–>6th
Sire:  Tapit (Finished 9th in the 2004 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:52.23 (estimated) – 2017 Blue Grass Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

17) Irish War Cry (6/1) – The son of Curlin bounced back with a big win in the Wood Memorial. He earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort. Irish War Cry is a talented colt and I like his pedigree. However, I am concerned that he had a drop-off 6th place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes after winning the Holy Bull at the same distance and same track. Are we now due for another drop-off? I don’t think he will win the Derby but he still deserves strong consideration to round out your exotic bets. And I like his future in the other big races down the line.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 
Sire: Curlin (Finished 3rd in the 2007 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Graham Motion (2011 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Rajiv Maragh
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.91 – 2017 Wood Memorial
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  1012017 Wood Memorial

18) Gormley (15/1) – The Santa Anita Derby winner. Same owner/trainer combination (Moss/Shirreffs) as Zenyatta, 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Royal Mo. If it rains on Derby Day, Gormley’s career best speed figure came in the sloppy Sham Stakes.

Career: 6 Starts 4-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>4th–>1st
Sire:  Malibu Moon
Trainer:  John Shirreffs (2005 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Victor Espinoza (2014 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.16 – 2017 Santa Anita Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  942017 Sham Stakes

19) Practical Joke (20/1) The Chad Brown-trainee has two Grade 1 stakes wins but both came as a 2-year-old. Practical Joke is the son of Into Mischief. I have some pedigree concerns and especially beyond 9 furlongs. 

Career: 6 Starts 3-2-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Joel Rosario (2013 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.51 (estimated) – 2017 Blue Grass Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

20) Patch (30/1) – The one-eyed Pletcher-trained colt will be a fan favorite on Derby Day.  I wrote an article on him that can be accessed by clicking HERE. Just remember that he failed to race as a 2-year-old due to the eye issue and no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.

Career: 3 Starts 2-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Union Rags (Finished 7th in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Tyler Gafflione
Fastest 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:49.97 (estimated) – 2017 Louisiana Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure:  892017 Louisiana Derby


On the docket…

My next blog will provide handicapping advice for the Derby.

–Michael

Why Classic Empire will be my Kentucky Derby favorite

cropped-20161105_1447290.jpg

April 29th 2017

Being heavily influenced by my Italian Grandfather and getting my hair cut in an Italian-owned barbershop as youth, it taught me a couple of important things in life. Mind you, the Italian barbershop had a painting of their father cutting Rocky Marciano’s hair and my great-depression survived Grandfather’s generation loved Baseball, Boxing and Horse Racing. And probably bet on it under the table. Why do I bring up the barbershop? Well, sports was always one of the big topics in the barbershop.

The first thing I learned was–from observation–every good Italian-American restaurant or Italian-owned barbershop had to have either a picture of Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano or Frank Sinatra hanging up somewhere or it wasn’t legit. To not have one or the other was something that a “Stunad” (a stupid or out of tune person) would do.

The second thing I learned was–a short motto–“In order to be the Champ, you have to beat the Champ.” This was from my grandfather’s era before baseball had free-agency and dynasties reigned supreme. An era where you really had to clearly beat the boxing champ to get the belt. And in horse racing, where the Champion horse was champ until beaten.

Fast forward to 2017 where we have had so much inconsistency in the 3-year-old Kentucky Derby class to the point where handicappers are retiring and one on-air national handicapper was honest in letting on that he loss some nice chunk of change with this class one big weekend. Yes, it has been that type of chaotic year. I think a 5th Grade student who picked horses by name probably had as good of a chance of being right as experienced handicappers thus far with the Derby trail races.

So how do I make sense of this year’s Kentucky Derby trail season and come up with a favorite? How do I have Peace of Mind over this dilemma that has agonized my thought process and analytics?

It could be a “Mine That Bird” kind of year where anything can happen. But I have narrowed down the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner to two horses: Classic Empire and Always Dreaming. Always Dreaming has proven to be the fastest through 9 furlongs in this class. However, the fastest horse through 9 furlongs has only won 4 out of the last 10 Kentucky Derbys. 

More importantly, not boding well for Always Dreaming is the fact that in the last 25 years, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby who has had a Brisnet Speed Figure of 10 or more (either better (+) or worse (-) ) between their last start and 2nd to last start. Always Dreaming is +18 in this category earning an 84 and 102 in his last two starts.

Getting back to the basics, I consider myself not easily impressed in the sport of horse racing but which colt was the very first that I wrote about in this Derby class? It was Classic Empire back on July 12th which you view the article by clicking HERE. The Youtube video of the Bashford Manor Stakes race at Churchill Downs that I inserted in this article was removed, probably for copyright infringement. However, you can see why I was impressed by Classic Empire’s performance as a young 2-year-old by watching the video of this race on Bloodhorse.com by clicking HERE.

As far as analytics, Classic Empire passes all my tests. A new one though, is the fact that in the history of racing that dates back 34 years ago to 1984 when the Breeders’ Cup World Championship was created, there have only been four horses that have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the 2-year-old Eclipse American Male Champion Award, won their final Derby prep race and also ran the Kentucky Derby. These four horses are: Chief’s Crown in 1984, Arazi in 1991, Nyquist in 2016 and Classic Empire this year in 2017. Fact-check me all you want. It seems that there should have been more but there hasn’t.

That is pretty incredible really but only one of the three thus far went on to win the Kentucky Derby. Chief’s Crown finished 3rd in the 1985 Kentucky Derby, Arazi finished 8th in the 1992 Kentucky Derby and Nyquist won last year’s Kentucky Derby. But if we were to narrow this down even further, Chief’s Crown won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the 8 furlong (1 mile) distance. I am not sure if Hollywood Park’s One Mile race that year was one or two-turn, I think it was a one turn race because the 7 1/2 configuration was one turn.

Then there is Arazi who only had one prep race as a 3-year-old before the Kentucky Derby and that was on turf. I don’t have the statistics on this one but I am confident that very few horses have won the Kentucky Derby after just one prep race as a 3-year-old before the Derby. And the transition from turf to dirt is not an easy one for most horses.

So it comes down to Nyquist and Classic Empire as the only two horses to have met this same exact criterion: 8 1/2 Furlong Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, 2-Year-Old American Male Champion, had at least two starts before the Derby, won in his last Derby prep and then started in the Kentucky Derby.

As a 3-year-old, Nyquist had two prep races (San Vicente and Florida Derby) before the Kentucky Derby and won. Classic Empire has had two prep races (Holy Bull Stakes and Arkansas Derby) entering this year’s Kentucky Derby. And for good measure, if it rains on Derby Day, the first race of Classic Empire’s career came at Churchill Downs on a sloppy, sealed track and he won.

Classic Empire has had 7 career starts. If you throw out his Hopeful Stakes performance were he ran out of the gate and quickly dumped his jockey. If you throw out his 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes where it was discovered a few days later that he was suffering from an undetected foot abscess. Classic Empire has never been beaten when he was 100% physically and mentally sound.

All the above reasons are why I am sticking with “The Champ” as my Derby favorite.


Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

Below are my early projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds that Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia will set.  

Classic Empire (4/1), Always Dreaming (5/1), Irish War Cry (10/1), Girvin (12/1), 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 which will be finalized this coming Wednesday May 3rd.

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