2017 Penn Derby Preview

maxresdefault

September 21st 2017 – Updated September 23rd 4:30

Coming up this Saturday is highly anticipated Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. Although not a “Win and You’re In” Challenge race, the Penn Derby is an important Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds that carries a $1 Million dollar purse.

With no clear-cut favorite for the Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, perhaps this race will help sort things out. A win by West Coast could propel him to the top of this 3-year-old class.

Below are the post-positions, jockey assignments and morning line odds:

The Pennsylvania Derby – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #11 at Parx – Post-Time: Saturday September 23rd 4:45 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Timeline (122) – Castellano/Brown – 5/1
2. Outplay (119) – Velazquez/Pletcher – 12/1
3. Watch Me Whip (117) – Albarado/Romans – 20/1
4. West Coast (124) – Smith/Baffert – 8/5
5. Irap (122) – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 3/1
6. Talk Logistics (117) – Pennington/Plesa – 20/1
7. Game Over (117) – Carmouche/Navarro – 15/1
8. Irish War Cry (122) – Lynch/Motion – 9/2
9. Term of Art (117) – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 20/1
10. Giuseppe the Great (117) – Saez/Zito – 20/1

Race Commentary:  Bob Baffert’s West Coast is the horse to beat in this field. That being said, strange things sometimes happen in the Penn Derby. For example, last year when the Chad Brown-trained Connect at 10/1 odds upset the race favorite Nyquist. For this reason, I like Chad Brown’s Timeline in a 1-4-5 Boxed Trifecta (Timeline-West Coast-Irap). 

If you like to play longshots, Todd Pletcher’s Outplay at 12/1 is probably the best longshot with any glimmer of hope at winning. Outplay was a recent winner at this same 9 furlong distance in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga and he has won at Parx before.

For exotics, I would key West Coast to win over, Timeline, Irish War Cry, Irap and Outplay in some 10 cent supers. That is 4 over 1,2,5,8 over 1,2,5,8 over 1,2,5,8.


Early Favorites on the 2018 Kentucky Derby Trail

I recently wrote an article for US racing profiling my three current favorites on the 2018 Kentucky Derby trail: Bolt d’Oro, Copper Bullet and St Patrick’s Day. The article can be accessed by clicking HERE.


My new Food, Wine and Travel Blog

Be sure to check out my new food, wine and travel blog: https://mikesfoodwineandtravel.wordpress.com

–Michael

 

 

 

2017 Travers Stakes Preview

2017-travers-stakes-logo-lapel-pin-gold-4

August 22nd 2017 – Updated August 26th 4:38 PM CST

The 148th running of 2017 Travers Stakes has the most competitive field of 3-year-olds that we have seen all year. Entries include the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, the Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing, the Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit and the Haskell Invitational Stakes winner Girvin.

The Travers Stakes is a Grade 1 Stakes race that carries a $1.25 Million dollar purse. It’s not a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic but might as well be as the race winner will probably be viewed as the leading 3-year-old in North America entering the Classic.

Below are the entries, post-positions, jockeys and morning-line odds:

The 148th Travers Stakes

1 1/4th Mile – Race #11 at Saratoga – Post-Time: Saturday August 26th 4:44 PM CST. Televised by NBC

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Cloud Computing – Castellano/Brown – 8/1
2. Giuseppe the Great – Gafflione/Zito – 20/1
3. West Coast – Smith/Baffert – 4/1
4. Tapwrit – J. Ortiz/Pletcher – 7/2
5. Good Samaritan – Rosario/Mott – 5/1
6. Girvin – Albarado/Sharp – 10/1
7. Always Dreaming – Velazquez/Pletcher – 6/1
8. Lookin At Lee – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 30/1
9. McCraken – Hernandez Jr./Wilkes – 12/1
10. Irap – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 8/1
11. Gunnevera – Zayas/Sano – 20/1
12. Fayeq – Saez/McLaughlin – 30/1

Race Analysis: This race is wide-open. There are about six or seven horses in this field that I would not be surprised at all if they won. Right now, I like about three horses for the win: West Coast, Good Samaritan and Gunnevera. So I may try a 10 cent superfecta keying those three horses over 3 others which would cost $18. 

Girvin is one horse I am sure that I would include underneath because he has shown me a willingness to battle. I also like a rested Tapwrit’s possibility of hitting the board. And Always Dreaming has proven that he has won at the 10 furlong distance and he usually puts himself in striking distance. The question will be, will Always Dreaming  fade out like he did in the Jim Dandy?

Last year, when Arrogate won the Travers in a 14 horse field at 11.7 to 1 final odds and race favorite Exaggerator finished out of the money, a 10 cent superfecta paid out $1,045.60. It’s not likely to pay as much this year with a 12 horse field even if a longshot wins. But if Gunnevera or some other longer shot wins, it should still pay out nice.

I am really warming up to Gunnevera in my exotics because I loved his last start in the Tangelo Stakes at Gulfstream Park (shown below). It was nearly 3 weeks ago, so a tune-up for the Travers. Yes, it was against a weak field but he absolutely smoked this field in the final 2 1/2 furlongs. I calculated his final 2 1/2 furlong speed at 38.08 mph. He’s a closer but he had no early speed to run at in this race to aid his closing style.

Betting Advice: When bettingI prefer races where I feel that there are one or two clear favorites from my research and this isn’t one of them. I don’t think this is a great betting race for Win bets and Exacta bets, it’s just too unpredictable.

However, there will be a lot of money plunked down on this race and there is money that can be made. I normally don’t like Superfecta bets as they are too hard to hit. I can usually hit three out of four horses but one horse usually surprises me. That being said, a superfecta bet appears to be the way to go for this race. Over the last ten years, a 10 cent superfecta in the Travers, on average, paid out between $450-$500.

So I am going with a smaller outlay/big reward approach. I am going to place a 10 cent Superfecta keying 3 horses to win: West Coast, Good Samaritan and Gunnevera. So 3,5,11 over 3,4,5,6,7,8,11 over 3,4,5,6,7,8,11 over 3,4,5,6,7,8,11. This 10 cent super will cost $36. If it hits, you should cover your bet at the minimum for a potential $1000 payback if a longer odds horse like Gunnevera wins. If it doesn’t, well it’s just $36 lost–nothing to cry about.

Final Update: I see nothing new to wager on but I am liking how the odds are shaking out thus far. My superfecta bet above was edited, earlier edit didn’t take. 3,5,11 over 3,4,5,6,7,8,11 over 3,4,5,6,7,8,11 over 3,4,5,6,7,8,11. This 10 cent super will cost $36.


On the Docket…

My next blog will be updated Breeders’ Cup Classic contender rankings. I decided that the Travers Stakes deserved more attention, so I decided to wait until after the Travers to post my next updated Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings. A big hint, it won’t have Arrogate #1.


My new Food, Wine and Travel Blog

Be sure to check out my new food, wine and travel blog: https://mikesfoodwineandtravel.wordpress.com

–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

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

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

Holy Bull, Robert B. Lewis and San Antonio Stakes Previews

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

February 3rd 2017

If you are sick of all the pre-Super Bowl shows and interviews, then tomorrow the sport of horse racing offers three interesting races, two of which are points-paying races on the Kentucky Derby trail. And the other, a very competitive race on paper in the older horse division.

I have arranged them by their scheduled post times with the first two, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and Holly Bull Stakes, are 3 year-old races for 2017 Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Points will be awarded as follows: 1st place – 10 points, 2nd place – 4 points, 3rd place – 2 points and 4th place – 1 point.

The Robert B. Lewis Stakes – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #2 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 3:00 PM CST.  Televised by TVG

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Royal Mo (120) – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 5/2
2. Irap (120) – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 3/1
3. Dangerfield (122) – Desormeaux/O’Neill – 7/2
4. Term of Art (124) – Baze/O’Neill – 9/2
5. Sheer Flattery (120) – Smith/Hollendorfer – 2/1

Race Commentary: This race should come down to Royal Mo and Sheer Flattery and their respective jockeys Victor Espinoza and Mike Smith. Royal Mo is quicker and should get out into the early lead. Whether he can hold off Sheer Flattery is very questionable. Sheer Flattery has already raced at this 8 1/2 furlong distance and is the more accomplished distance runner. So I like Sheer Flattery in this one. So weigh a straight win bet of Sheer Flattery versus a straight 5-1 exacta (Sheer Flattery over Royal Mo). Or how split the difference and make both bets?


The Holy Bull Stakes  – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #12 at Gulfstream Park – Post-Time: 4:35 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Gunnevera (122) – Castellano/Sano -9/2 
2. Perro Rojo (116) – Juarez/Zito – 30/1   
3. Classic Empire (122) – Leparoux/Casse – 3/5 
4. Talk Logistics (116) – Lopez/Plesa – 12/1
5. Irish War Cry (120) – Rosario/Motion – 15/1
6. Fact Finding (120) – Velazquez/Pletcher – 6/1  
7. Shamsaan (116) – Saez/McLaughlin – 20/1
8. Cavil (116) – Lezcano/McLaughlin – 15/1
9. Fire for Effect (116) – Lanerie/Romans – 20/1

Race Commentary:  The 2 year-old Eclipse Award winner Classic Empire should win this one. Who rounds out the Superfecta is anybody’s guess in this 9 horse field. Gunnevera, Fact Finding and Irish War Cry seem to be the best bets here. However, I think Gunnevera will be hurt by drawing the rail. So I like an Exacta keying Classic Empire to win over two horses: Irish War Cry and Fact Finding. That is 3 over 5,6.


And finally, an older division horse race with a few horses that would have been ideal candidates for the Pegasus World Cup. Expect the top finishers in the San Antonio Stakes to be entries in the Santa Anita Handicap in March.

The San Antonio Stakes – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #8 at Santa Anita Park – Post-Time: 6:00 PM CST.  Televised by TVG.

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Hoppertunity (125) – Prat/Baffert – 2/1
2. Avanti Bello (120) – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 12/1
3. Prospect Park (120) – Arroyo/Sise – 10/1
4. El Huerfano (120) – Espinoza/Miller – 12/1
5. Mor Spirit (122) – Smith/Baffert – 3/1
6. Dalmore (122) – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 8/1
7. Accelerate (125) – Baze/Sadler – 5/2
8. Hard Aces (122) – Gonzalez/Sadler – 6/1

Race Commentary: This will be a very interesting race since Melatonin wasn’t entered as previously expected. I have no idea who will win this one but I expect Hoppertunity and Mor Spirit to land somewhere in the Superfecta. Both Accelerate and Dalmore have put in good times in their workouts leading up to this race. Concerning with Dalmore was the fact that he petered out towards the end of the 8 1/2 furlong San Pasqual Stakes and lost 2nd place to Accelerate. And this race will be 9 furlongs. Victor Espinoza is riding El Huerfano but I don’t expect him to be much of a factor judging from his race history and recent workouts.

Hard Aces is a quality horse but I like him better at 10 furlongs or longer. Avanti Bello finished 5th in the Winter Challenge at Los Alamitos against California Chrome in a weak field. He finished 3rd in his last start, a claiming race at Santa Anita Park. Prospect Park finished behind Accelerate and Dalmore in the San Pasqual Stakes in his last start.

So perhaps a $5 boxed Trifecta of Hoppertunity, Mor Spirit and Accelerate (1,5,7) might be your best bet. This would cost $30. 


 On the docket…

One of my next blogs might be a preview the Sam F. Davis Stakes on February 11th that is expected to include McCraken and/or updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings if I feel that they need to be updated after this weekend’s results. Stay tuned!

–Michael

The 2016 Los Alamitos Futurity Preview

los-alamitos-futurity-otb

December 8th 2016

Previously known as the Hollywood Futurity and raced at Hollywood Park, the Los Alamitos Futurity is a late-December high profile race for 2 year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail. Six Futurity starters have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Gato Del Sol (1982), Ferdinand (1986), Alysheba (1987), Thunder Gulch (1995), Real Quiet (1998) and Giacomo (2005). Real Quiet also won the Preakness in 1998 and entered the Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown. He lost by a nose to Victory Gallop.

In 2013, the Futurity had Shared Belief and Candy Boy as runners. Since 2014, this race has been run at Los Alamitos Race Course and had as runners the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the 2015 Kentucky Derby in Dortmund and Firing Line. Last year’s winner, Mor Spirit finished 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby and 10th in the Kentucky Derby. 

Trainer Bob Baffert has won this race five out of the last 8 times. And I wouldn’t bet against him winning it 6 out of the last 9 times. He has the 1/2 morning line odds favorite in Mastery. Mastery will be stretching out to 8 1/2 furlongs for the very first time. Baffert is very high on this progeny from Candy Ride. Baffert also has the 2nd morning line favorite in Show Me Da Lute at 7/2 odds.

The Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity  – 1 1/16th Mile – Saturday  December 10th – Race #6 at Los Alamitos Race Course – Post-Time: 4:58 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Dangerfield – Van Dyke/O’Neill – 6-1  
2. Bobby Abu Dhabi – Arroyo/Miller – 4-1    
3. Mastery – M.Smith/Baffert – 1-2  
4. Show Me Da Lute – Garcia/Baffert – 7-2  
5. Irap – Gutierrez/O’Neill – 20-1  

Race Commentary: Mastery *should* win this race. But Baffert’s other entry, Show Me Da Lute, has speed. Show Me Da Lute has also stretched out to 8 1/2 furlongs in his maiden race at Santa Anita Park back in October, winning with a time of 1:45.32. He had Victor Espinoza as his rider, this time he has Martin Garcia. The race winner will definitely need to have a wining time well south of 1:45. Dortmund’s winning time in 2014 was 1:40.86. Mor Spirt’s winning time last year was 1:43.54.

This race should be a good tool to access how much of a threat Mastery is to Classic Empire on the 2017 Kentucky Derby Trail. Classic Empire’s winning time in the 8 1/2 furlong Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park was 1:42.60. Los Alamitos is an equally fast track. I don’t expect Mastery will match or surpass this time. But we will see, won’t we?

–Michael