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 Blue Grass Stakes Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 6th 2017

Coming up this Saturday is a huge weekend of racing with three very important Kentucky Derby prep races: the Blue Grass Stakes, the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby. All three races offer a $1 million dollar purse, 170 Kentucky Derby points and are run at the 9 furlong (1 1/8th mile) distance.

I will preview all three races individually and will start with the Blue Grass Stakes since the morning line odds have been released. 

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

Race Commentary: The Blue Grass Stakes doesn’t have the history of producing a lot of Kentucky Derby winners that a few of the other big Derby prep races have. The last Blue Grass Stakes runner to win the Kentucky Derby was Street Sense in 2007.  Then you would have to go all the way back to 1995 with Thunder Gulch. Oddly enough, neither Street Sense or Thunder Gulch won Blue Grass Stakes (Street Sense finished 2nd, Thunder Gulch finished 4th)

However, this year could be different as the 2017 Blue Grass Stakes field is small but very talent-packed. All the horses who I have bold-fonted above really have a legitimate chance of winning this race. However, I see this more as a showdown between McCraken and Tapwrit. The race favorite McCraken is undefeated in 4 career starts. His trainer, Ian Wilkes, has said that McCraken has gotten bigger and stronger since his last start in February. 

McCraken’s biggest threat is the Todd Pletcher-trained Tapwrit. However, remember that Tapwrit was defeated by McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (shown below) back in February. When reviewing this race, Tapwrit did display late speed and may have made this more of a race if he had an additional 1/2 furlong to work with. He will have that extra 1/2 furlong in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Other horses to keep an eye on are J Boys Echo and Practical Joke. Practical Joke won two Grade 1 races as a 2-year-old in the Hopeful Stakes and Champagne Stakes. He finished 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race behind Classic Empire and Not This Time. He had a decent performance coming back after a long layoff in the Fountain of Youth Stakes with a second place finish behind Gunnevera. It will be interesting to see if he has improved off of that performance.

J Boys Echo won in his last start in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. He received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for this win despite the fact that his time of 1:46.34 for this 8 1/2 furlong race was very pedestrian. Even his final 2 1/2 fraction time, that I estimated at 32.4, wasn’t impressive.

My Prediction:  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.


On the docket…

Previews of the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby.

–Michael