My Triple Crown Dream Was Justified

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June 12th 2018

I don’t even know where to begin when writing about my experience at the 150th Belmont Stakes or what adjectives to use to describe it. I checked off something that was at the top of  my bucket list by witnessing a Triple Crown Championship won in person. And the cherry on top was the fact that Justify became only the 2nd Triple Crown Champion to go through all three legs undefeated. Justify’s great-great-great grandsire Seattle Slew is the other.

I didn’t get to post this on my blog in time as this article for US Racing was posted while I was at the track Saturday but I did call this race. See: Why Justify Will Become the 13th Triple Crown Champion. 

Perhaps, it best that I share the two videos I took below and you will get idea of what I experienced. This race undoubtedly goes into my Top 5 sports memories viewed in person along with American Pharoah’s win in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic to make him the first Grand Slam Champion of American Thoroughbred racing.

 

Gronkowski

I was really surprised how well the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt Gronkowski performed in the Belmont Stakes with his 2nd place finish. This colt had never raced further than a mile and had raced mostly on turf or synthetic surfaces. I didn’t really think this was the best race for him but he exceeded all expectations. Unfortunately for me and quite a few others, Gronkowski killed all of my exotic bets.

TV Ratings

Although the Belmont Stakes on NBC was the most watched TV program all weekend, the ratings are down from when American Pharoah and California Chrome made their Triple Crown attempts at Belmont. The theory is that since Justify didn’t race as a 2 year old, that he hadn’t developed the following along the way as the other two.

At any rate, my blog views this year were down considerably from January thru May over the last two years. I blame some of this on the fact the Older Horse division lacks stars due to so many key retirements. And also the fact that the most popular Derby contenders in this class entering the year were more lightly raced than in year’s past.

However, Justify is just what this sport needed. The interest seems to be back better than ever as my blog views for the month of June have already set a new record over previous years. So, I foresee that this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championship at Churchill Downs will break a lot of records if Justify races in it as expected.


On the docket…

I am currently working on another article for US Racing that is tentatively titled: “Justify vs American Pharoah: Who’s Better?” This should come out in the next week or so.

For my blog, I also plan to preview this coming Saturday’s Stephen F. Foster Handicap if Patch is entered. So far this has not been confirmed.

–Michael

Patch Nominated for Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day

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June 1st 2018 – Updated June 4th 2018

Patch, the one-eyed fan favorite from last year’s Kentucky Derby, was recently nominated for this year’s Metropolitan Handicap (aka “The Met Mile). Check out my latest US Racing on article: “Patch is Back! And He’s Better Than Ever! 

https://www.usracing.com/news/patch-back-hes-better-ever

For a full list on Met Mile nominations, click HERE 

Update: Patch is not going to run in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day. Instead, he is being pointed towards the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 16th. But this is probably a better fit for him.

–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 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

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

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Patch on the cover of Thoroughbred Today

April 27th 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are Patch’s chances in the Derby?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

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

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


On the docket…

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

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

–Michael

2017 Louisiana and Florida Derby Previews

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

March 29th 2017 – Updated April 1st 2017 12:30 PM EST

Another huge weekend on the Derby trail is coming up this Saturday with the Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby. Both races offer 170 Kentucky Derby points each.  Points are awarded as follows: 1st=100 points; 2nd=40 points; 3rd=20 points; 4th=10 points. Race favorites Gunnevera (64) and Girvin (50) have both clinched a spot in the 2017 Kentucky Derby field.  

Kentucky Derby Bubble Watch

The horses below are on the bubble. I have put the finish they will need this Saturday in order in order to get into the Kentucky Derby field.

Needs a 3rd place finish or better: State of Honor (22), Guest Suite (15)

Needs a 2nd place finish or better:  Three Rules (10), Local Hero (10), Talk Logistics (6) and any other horse in the Louisiana and Florida Derby fields that are not named above as they have scored zero Derby points.

Sub 1:50 Time

What you are really looking for in these two races is a winning time of less than 1:50 as seven out of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners posted a sub 1:50 in their final 9 furlong prep race. Nine out of ten had a sub 1:51 time.

Below are the starting fields and odds.

The Louisiana Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #11 at Fair Grounds – Post-Time: 5:21 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse//Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Patch – Gaffliaone/Pletcher – 9/2 
2. Hollywood Handsome  – Torres/Stewart -12/1
3. Local Hero  – Geroux/Asmussen – 7/2 
4. Senior Investment  – Hill/McPeek – 12/1 
5. Monaco – Maragh/Pletcher – 12/1 
6. Guest Suite – Albarado/Howard – 4/1 
7. Sorry Erik – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 30/1 
8. Girvin – Hernandez Jr/Sharp – 8/5
9. Hotfoot – Stevens/Van Berg – 30/1

Race Commentary: Girvin was the surprise winner of the Risen Star Stakes. I don’t think he is a fluke as he demonstrated excellent closing speed in that race. I like him again in this race. However, as we have seen thus far on the Derby trail, inconsistency has reigned supreme. Todd Pletcher’s has entered Patch and Monaco in the field. Overall, I feel that Patch is his best horse in this field. Pletcher has been a very hot trainer of late on the Derby trail. Patch’s sire Union Rags who won the 2012 Fountain of Youth Stakes and finished 3rd in the Florida Derby as a 3-year-old. I am not sure how good Patch is. However, I had the same questions about One Liner and Malagacy that were answered in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes.

My Prediction: 1) Girvin, 2) Patch, 3) Guest Suite, 4) Local Hero. However, I would probably key Girvin to win over Patch, Guest Suite, Local Hero and Senior Investment in a Superfecta bet. That is 8 over 1, 3, 4, 6 over 1, 3, 4, 6 over 1, 3, 4, 6.  A 50 cent bet of this type would cost $12.


The Florida Derby  – 1 1/8th Mile – Race #14 at Gulfstream Park – Post-Time: 5:40 PM CST. Televised by TVG

Post/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. State of Honor – Leparoux/Casse – 8/1  
2. Talk Logistics  – Bravo/Plesa – 30/1  
3. Charlie The Greek –  Reyes/Yanakov – 50/1 
4. Always Dreaming – Velazquez/Pletcher – 4/1 
5. Quinientos – Montalvo/Sanchez – 50/1
6. Coleman Rocky – Ortiz/Delgado – 30/1
7. Unbridled Holiday – Juarez/Biancone – 30/1 
8. Impressive Edge – Lanerie/Romans – 12/1 
9. Battalion Runner – Velazquez/Pletcher – 3/1  SCRATCHED
10. Three Rules – Saez/Pinchin – 8/1
11. Gunnevera – Castellano/Sano – 9/5

Race Commentary: Gunnevera is the most talented colt in this disappointing field. However, he will have to overcome the far outside post. Trainer Todd Pletcher will scratch either Always Dreaming or Battalion Runner and run one of them in another Derby prep race. The rumor mill says Battalion Runner was entered as a backup to Always Dreaming. However, I like Battalion Runner’s chances of winning better than Always Dreaming.

My Prediction:  With Battalion Runner getting scratched, I would key Gunnevera to win over State of Honor, Three Rules, Always Dreaming and Talk Logistics. That is #11 over, 1, 2, 4 and 10. A 50 cent bet of this type would cost $12. 


On the docket…

My next blog will include updated Kentucky Derby contender rankings which I will post by Monday evening.

–Michael