2017 Travers Stakes Preview

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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 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

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

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

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

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

April 25th 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

The top 4 are:

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

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

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

Top Six Kentucky Derby Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

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

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


On the docket…

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

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

–Michael

2017 Arkansas Derby Preview – Classic Empire vs Malagacy

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April 14th 2017 – Updated April 15th 2017

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

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

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

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

Derby Scenario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


On the docket…

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

–Michael

2017 Rebel Stakes Preview

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 17th 2017

Coming up tomorrow (Saturday March 18th) is another big race on the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail at Oaklawn Park. The Rebel Stakes offers 85 Derby points and a purse of $900,000. At this stage of the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail prep races, this is the 3rd highest paying purse to date and the largest since the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes on November 19th. The Rebel Stakes always attracts some of the top young thoroughbreds in the sport. Notable winners of the Rebel Stakes since 2004 include:

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, the 2008 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Eclipse Male 3 Year Old Champion award
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – who won the 2007 Eclipse Older Dirt Male award
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 2013 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion

Other notable Rebel Stakes runners: Afleet Alex who finished 6th in 2005 Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the 2005 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award. Oxbow finished 2nd in the 2013 Rebel Stakes and went on to win the Preakness Stakes that year. Creator finished 3rd in last year’s Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes.

Below are the entries, jockeys and morning line odds:

The Rebel Stakes  – 1 1/16th Mile – Race #10 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: 6:06 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Silver Bullion (115) – Vazquez/Lukas – 30/1
2. Uncontested (122) – Hill/Catalano – 10/1
3. Sonneteer (115) – Eramia/Desormeaux – 301
4. Petrov (115) –  Ortiz/Moquett – 9/2
5. Untrapped (115) – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 8/1
6. Malagacy (115) – Castellano/Pletcher – 4/1
7. American Anthem (115) – Smith/Baffert – 2/1
8. Silver Dust (115) – Lanerie/Morse – 15/1
9. Appalachian Gem (115) – Stevens/Van Berg – 30/1
10. Royal Mo (122) – Espinoza/Shirreffs – 9/2 
11. Lookin At Lee (117) – Santana Jr./Asmussen – 15/1

Race Commentary: Trainer Bob Baffert has won six out of the last seven Rebel Stakes. He brings American Anthem, the morning line favorite, from California to be ridden by jockey Mike Smith. American Anthem will be stretching out from 8 furlongs to 8 1/2 furlongs for the first time of his career. Trainer Todd Pletcher shipped in Malagacy who will be making the first two-turn start of his career. He is stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 8 1/2. Normally I don’t like horses making two-turn debuts but it worked out wonderfully for Pletcher’s One Liner in the Southwest Stakes. Oaklawn Park stablemates Uncontested and Petrov hope to stave off the shipped-in competition.

Uncontested starts in the #2 post which has been the winningest post for distance races this year at Oaklawn Park. Uncontested impressed in the muddy 1-Mile Smarty Jones Stakes but has faded down the stretch in both of his starts at 8 1/2 furlongs. He will have no excuses this time. This race may determine if he is a legitimate Derby prospect or better suited for sprint races and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He likes to get out into the early lead. If he has gained stamina since his Southwest Stakes start, he could win this race especially if he gets an off track like he did in the Smarty Jones Stakes.

Petrov has finished 2nd in the last two Oaklawn preps to Uncontested in the Smarty Jones and One Liner in the Southwest. Petrov has the fastest estimated time through 8 1/2 furlongs in this field. He will battle to the end. Just like Steve Asmussen’s Untrapped did in his 2nd place finish to Girvin in the Risen Star Stakes. Then there Asmussen’s super consistent Lookin at Lee who finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 3rd in his first start back for his 3 year-old campaign in the Southwest Stakes.

Finally among the serious threats to win the Rebel, there is the Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Royal Mo, same owner (Jerry and Ann Moss) and trainer (John Shirreffs) combination as Zenyatta, 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and this year’s Derby hopeful Gormley.

Overall, this is most talented field for 2017 Kentucky Derby hopefuls that we have seen since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race last fall. With so much talent it will be hard to hit exotic bets. Silver Dust is a Tapit-colt who can’t be overlooked because he finished 4th in the Southwest Stakes and will get the early speed he needs. I like Royal Mo but I think he is hurt a bit by his starting gate position. Malagacy seems to be a more accomplished Pletcher colt than One Liner was entering the Southwest Stakes. But this is a deeper, more talented field. It is hard to go against a Baffert colt with his success in the Rebel so I like American Anthem for the win. The rest of the finishing order is anybody’s guess but I generally like Petrov finishing somewhere in the Superfecta. If his odds go south, Petrov could be a nice option for those looking for a sleeper pick for the win because his #4 starting gate position has been the 2nd most winningest gate position for distance races at Oaklawn Park this season.

At any rate, this is must-see-TV and a real star will emerge in this year’s Rebel Stakes. And don’t give up on any of the other top finishers as history suggests. Below are the top Beyer Speed Figures for horses in the Rebel Stakes field: 

Petrov –  96 BSF in 8.5F Southwest Stakes 2nd place finish
Uncontested – 96 BSF in 8F Smarty Jones Stakes win
Malagacy – 95 BSF at 6.5F Gulfstream Park win
Untrapped – 94 BSF in 6F James F. Lewis win
Royal Mo –  94 BSF in 8.5F Robert B. Lewis Stakes win
American Anthem – 94 8F BSF in Sham Stakes 2nd place finish

–Michael


Mastery brilliant in the San Felipe but off the Derby trail. Updated 2017 Kentucky Derby contender rankings

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 13th 2017

Mastery performed brilliantly Saturday in the San Felipe Stakes (shown below) with an excellent time of 1:42.28 and 105 Beyer Speed Figure. However, he suffered a condylar fracture to his left front leg and will have surgery today. These are repairable and a horse can usually come back racing depending upon the severity. If not, they will have to be retired to stud. At any rate, Mastery is off the Derby trail and if all goes well, we could see him back racing in the 2nd half of the season.

I am almost afraid to have a Kentucky Derby favorite. My early Kentucky Derby Not This Time had to be taken off the Derby trail and retired back in November due to a soft tissue injury to his right front leg. My next Derby favorite, Classic Empire, has had foot abscess and back issues. Now this unfortunate news for Mastery who I briefly had as my #1 after Classic Empire’s 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes and One Liner’s Southwest Stakes performance.

In the grand scheme of things, the 2017 Kentucky Derby is so wide open at this point that it might be best to draw names out of a hat. Injuries and inconsistency have kept every handicapper on their toes. This has been kind of a weird year and it appears that the best Derby contenders aren’t on the West Coast this year. We will have a better handle on who the Kentucky Derby favorite will be after the three major final prep races on April 8th. But for now, here are my Top Six Kentucky Derby contenders.

Top Six 2017 Kentucky Derby Contenders

1) One Liner – The undefeated son of Into Mischief. His win in the Southwest Stakes earned him a triple digit 102 Beyer Speed Figure, tied for 2nd best of this class in their 3 year-old campaign. I wrote a Kentucky Derby profile on him for US Racing that you can read by clicking HERE. There are questions regarding how he will take to added distance but for now, he’s my #1 for now. Next Start:  Undecided at this point. Todd Pletcher may opt to run him in one more race before the Kentucky Derby. My guess is that it will be the Florida Derby on April 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 3-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:41.85 2017 Southwest Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2017 Southwest Stakes

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 had a minor issue in a previous workout and refused to run. However, he ran 4 furlongs in 48.95 yesterday (March 12th) at his Palm Meadows training center. If Classic Empire is 100% healthy, he’s probably the most talented colt in this class. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th. 

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 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.60 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 102 – 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

3) McCraken – The son of Ghostzapper is undefeated in 4 starts. One of his big wins was in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. So there are no concerns of how he will take to the track surface at Churchill Downs. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire:  Ghostzapper
Trainer: Ian Wilkes
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.45 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 95 – 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes 

4) Tapwrit – The Tampa Bay Derby winner. He finished 2nd to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes back in February. His pedigree suggests that he will like added distance. And he has a greater trainer in Todd Pletcher behind him. Next Start: The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th.

Career: 5 Starts 3-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire:  Tapit
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:42.36 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – 2017 Tampa Bay Derby

5) Girvin – The Risen Star Stakes winner. His sire, Tale of Ekati, won the 2008 Wood Memorial and finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He has excellent closing speed. His Risen Star stakes time of 1:43.08 was 0.86 seconds faster than what Gun Runner accomplished the previous year (1:43.94). And Gun Runner finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Girvin is probably not a Kentucky Derby winner but one to keep an eye on and on your early radar for your Derby Day exotic bets. Next Start: The Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on April 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 2-1-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd>1st
Sire: Tale of Ekati
Trainer: Joe Sharp
Jockey: Brian Hernandez
Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.08 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – 2017 Risen Star Stakes

6Royal Mo The winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. A son of Uncle Mo like his half-brother Mo Town and last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Same owner/trainer combination as Zenyatta (Moss/Shirreffs) and his Derby trail rival Gormley. Next Start: The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 18th. 

Career: 4 Starts 2-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>1st

Sire: Uncle Mo
Trainer: John Shirreffs (2005 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Victor Espinosa (2002, 2014 & 2015 Kentucky Derby Winner)

Fastest 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.48 – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94  – 2017 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

On my radar:  J Boys Echo, Gunnevera, Practical Joke, Petrov, American Anthem, Uncontested, Irish War Cry, Iliad, Untrapped, Malagacy, El Areeb and Unique Bella although I haven’t heard anything to suggest she will skip the Kentucky Oaks in favor of the Derby. 


Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park – March 18th

Coming up this Saturday at Oaklawn Park is another key race on the Derby trail that carries a $900,000 purse and 85 Derby points. The Rebel has historically spawned some great champions the past 15 years. Below are the rumored entries for the Rebel Stakes with notable Beyer Speed Figures (BSF). Royal Mo or American Anthem will probably be the early morning line favorite.

Royal Mo – Victor Espinoza/John Shirreffs  – 94 BSF in Robert B. Lewis Stakes win
American Anthem – Mike Smith/Bob Baffert  – 94 BSF in Sham Stakes 2nd place finish
Petrov –  Jose Ortiz/Ron Moquett  – 96 BSF in Southwest Stakes 2nd place finish
Malagacy – Javier Castellano/Todd Pletcher – 95 BSF at Gulfstream Park win
Uncontested – Channing Hill/Wayne Catalano  – 96 BSF in Smarty Jones Stakes win
Untrapped – Ricardo Santana Jr./Steve Asmussen  – 92 BSF in Withers Stakes win
Lookin At Lee – ?/Steve Asmussen – 83 BSF in Breeders Cup Juvenile 4th place finish
Silver Dust – Corey Lanerie/Randy Morse  
Silver Bullion – Ramon Vazquez/D. Wayne Lukas 

Notable winners of the Rebel Stakes since 2004

  • American Pharoah (2015) – The 13th Triple Crown champion and the first Grand Slam Champion of thoroughbred racing.
  • Curlin (2007) – 2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders Cup Classic winner who went on to win the 2007 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award, 2008 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award and Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.
  • Smarty Jones (2004) – who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the 2004 Eclipse Male 3 Year Old Champion award
  • Lookin At Lucky (2010) – 2010 Preakness Stakes winner who went on to win the 2010 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award
  • Lawyer Ron (2006) – who won the 2007 Eclipse Older Dirt Male Champion award
  • Will Take Charge (2013) – 2013 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion

Other notable Rebel Stakes runners: Afleet Alex who finished 6th in 2005 Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the 2005 Eclipse 3 Year Old Male Champion award. Oxbow finished 2nd in the 2013 Rebel Stakes and went on to win the Preakness Stakes that year. Creator finished 3rd in last year’s Rebel Stakes went on to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes.


Who’s in the Kentucky Derby? Gunnevera (64), Tapwrit (54), J Boys Echo (53), Girvin (50) and Practical Joke (34). All have enough Derby points historically to earn a starting spot in the Run for the Roses.

–Michael