Friday, April 30, 2010

Kentucky Derby Card Stakes Selections - Awesome! Super! Lucky?

Here we are. The biggest day of the year in the sport, the 1st Saturday of May. After the thrilling performances we witness on Friday, including the narrow victory of Blind Luck over Evening Jewel in the Kentucky Oaks, we come upon the big show. Unfortunately, mother nature is scheduled to be a bit of a party pooper on the big day, with massive and downright scary thunderstorms scheduled to hit at some point during the card. The weather will clearly have an effect on the track, so the selections here are made in mind for an off track and less than firm turf course in mind.
(If there are key scratches that occur, i will put any change of picks into the comments below.)

Race 6: Eight Belles S. - 7 and 1/2 furlongs

This sprint for three year old fillies has the shortest favorite among all the stakes in Hot Dixie Chick. This very fast filly will be winging from the gate and does look tough to beat. But this blog will try. Visavis cuts back after finding the 1m & 1/16 too far in the Kentucky Oaks. She has had three strong works in the interim, is bred to handle the slop and can rate just off the pace. The unique distance looks to be a good fit for this daughter of Indian Charlie. Hot Dixie Chick stretches out to furthest she has ever ran, but has immense talent and has run well on an off track before. Bell's Shoes, beside the obvious hunch play, also cuts back, attracts Calvin Bo-rail and looks like a horse who might be alright a this trip. She has never been on an off track, but could take to it.
#7 Visavis
#2 Hot Dixie Chick.
#3 Bell's Shoes

Race 7: Distaff Turf Mile S. - 1 mile (Turf)

This tough race is an example for this blog in which can you take a shot based on track condition. Churchill Downs's turf course is known to play in favor of those inclined to run near the front. This is why this blog is taking a chance on Cure for Sale. This mare may not be the fastest horse in the race, but her combination of positional speed and positive results give her a great chance to pull the upset. Tizaqueena won this race last year under similar circumstances and is riding a two race win streak. She is a much use on your tickets. While Diamondrella is a deep closer, she is no longer owned by IEAH. This development, plus her good efforts on off turf, intrigues this blog enough to put her in the top 3.

#8 Cure for Sale
#5 Tizaqueena
#7 Diamondrella

Race 8: Grade 1 Humana Distaff - 7 furlongs

The champion mare Informed Decision is the solid favorite in this race. But this blog will try to beat her, with the reasoning that she seems to pair up how she runs off the layoff, good or bad. Warbling is the choice to beat her. She can sit just off a fast pace, and she can handle the slop. She has had 3 good works in the interim and look ready to go. Mona Di Momma ships in from Socal after winning the Grade 3 Las Flores last out. She has worked well off her last race, but this is her first dirt, slop and run at the distance. Too many questions to put on top, but the form is good enough to suggest a chance.

#2 Warbling
#3 Informed Decision
#10 Mona Di Momma

Race 9: Grade 2 Churchill Downs S. - 7 Furlongs

This blog is going for a price in this race. A big one. Atta Boy Roy ships in, stretches out and is coming in guns blazing with the workouts. He should handle the off surface and at 20/1 under Calvin Borel, he's worth a flyer. Ventana is good horse who has run into two horses who just freaked in Kinsale King, who came back and won the Golden Shaheen, and Bob Black Jack, who just ran them off their feet that day. If nothing else, this horse will have the jump on the third choice turning for home, Warrior's Reward is a stone cold closer who has won on this track in the expecting conditions. He has three steady works since he narrow victory over Musket Man in the Carter, hinting that he is holding his form.

#9 Atta Boy Roy
#8 Ventana
#7 Warrior's Reward

Race 10: Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic - 1m & 1/8 (turf)

This race is very tough because of the three horses who have showed some speed, which is crucial on the CD turf course when it wet, one does not like less the firm turf (Wise River), one has not been on the grass in a very long time (General Quarters) and one seems to have lost the "winstinct". Battle of Hastings is the one that seems to have the lost the will to win, but he is given one more chance. He has been working well and the mile an eighth could just what he needs to find the wire. General Quarters has run well on Polytrack, and given his position in the race turning for home, is worth a shot @ 8/1 ML. Court Vision is one of the few who has closed on a wet turf course, but i just don't think he get nothing more than a minor award

#6 Battle of Hastings
#2 General Quarters
#3 Court Vision

Race 11: Grade 1 Kentucky Derby - 1m & 1/4

This year's Derby Trail has been like high school for this blog's author. In September, I thought I had found the one for the Derby in a horse named William's Kitten. He won an off the turf two turn stake on the Super Derby undercard, and by the time he hit the wire, it was love. We "dated" for a while, including when he came to visit for the Breeder' Cup Juvenile, in which he had a troubled trip. He then ran second to Super Saver in the Kentucky Jockey Club S., showing at least a likeness for the track. William's comeback race in the Holy Bull was good, in which he ran third while being much closer to the pace, showing some promise for bit of positional speed.

Then the news came that he was off the trail with an injury. It was deflating. It was like a break-up after your first serious relationship in high school. In the aftermath, you just shuffle the halls moping along, trying to fill a need, a hole in the soul left by the one who's gone. Then the dating process comes along where the search for a new love goes in weird places, with a wide net cast in the hope of latching on to someone. My list of "one-offs" included Backtalk, Rule, Super Saver, Interactif and Drosselmeyer. But none were a good fit.

The search was beginning to look fruitless, with the conclusion that maybe its okay to be that creepy loner dude who can't find love. Then, when it is least expected, "the one" appears out of nowhere. It comes from a place where you have recognized it, but only at a passing glance. Then, when you come face-to-face with it, it is obvious that the search is over. Endorsement was "the one". Coming from a race where I was tracking the 2nd and 3rd place finishers, in which he was the winner, his entry in the Sunland Derby was a sign to to pay attention. I knew the week before (scroll down to the comments and you'll see it) that he was live. Once he easily won the race, it was a lock that he would be my Derby pick. He then trained great going into the race, including having the best work of the contenders, according to DRF's Mike Welsch. Unfortunately in that work, he injured himself and had to have surgery.

Why did I bring all of that up? It is to show that right now, i feel like a person scrambling for a date right before prom, with only slim pickings to choose from, none of which are very attractive or interesting. I ended up on Awesome Act, who is bred not only for the off but the distance. he is inbred to Natalma, the dam of Northern Dancer, and could get a nice trip sitting 6-8 lengths off the pace. Paddy O'Prado had a great workout in the slop and could be sitting the "Smarty Jones" trip, 4th, sitting behind the pace. Super Saver is actually my 7th or 8th pick to win, but my number #1 choice for the place spot. Breeding, style and Borel all point to this being the winner. BUT his lack of passing ability relegates him to the place spot. Lookin at Lucky didn't get any breaks at the post position draw and i can't imagine a horse with his luck getting any sort of a good trip. There is one thing i am sure of: Sidney's Candy is not winning. No way, no how. No.

#16 Awesome Act
#10 Paddy O'Prado
#4 Super Saver

So there it is. If you wish to see my live thoughts about the runners (or today's Hollywood Park card) follow my twitter feed here. Good luck everybody!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kentucky Oaks Card Stakes Selections - Building the Budget for Saturday

As the racing world prepares to turn to Churchill Downs on the 1st Saturday in May, the Friday card anchored by the Kentucky Oaks serves as more than an appetizer for the main course of the Derby. This card has full fields and 6 stakes in all, starting in Race 6, where we are graced with the return of the reigning HOTY.

Race 6: G2 La Troienne S. (10:26 AM PDT) - 1m & 1/16
This compact field of 6 is headline by #4 Rachel Alexandra, as she looks to avenge her loss to begin the season given to her by #3 Zardana. There are two need the lead horses in #1 Be Fair and #5 Unrivaled Belle, who should hook up on the front end. Right behind them should be #6 Distinctive Dixie, who has speed but can rate just off. Rachel should be sitting right here behind these 3, about 3 lengths off. Next will be Zardana about 4 lengths off, with the stone-cold closer #2 Morena bringing up the rear. Rachel, with all of her connections venting a major amount of frustration, opens up at the top of the lane and takes command with an effortless move. She wins as she pleases, with Distinctive Dixie passing the tiring front-runners and holding off Zardana for 2nd.

#4 Rachel Alexandra
#6 Distinctive Dixie
#3 Zardana

Race 7: G3 Kentucky Juvenile S. (11:10 AM PDT) - 5 Furlongs
This is a hard race to figure out, as the race is for two-year olds. 5 of the 9 won last time out, while 1 of the others ran 2nd to one of the winners, one ran third and the other two are 1st time starters. While the betting will determine whom is "live", i like #2 Lou Brissie. Among every horse who has run, he is the only one who won from off the pace. He has a good maintenance work and his trainer is a ridiculous 6-15 1st race after the maiden win. His sire Limehouse won the race in 2003. #9 Twelve Pack Shelly is the only horse in the field that has run on dirt, demolishing a field at Laurel in a nice time. The jock follows the filly here in a sign of confidence and she has a good maintenance work in the interim. #7 Nina Fever won in a nice fashion and time has two works and maintains the services of Robby Albarado, who rode three of the horses, all winners, last time out. But she carries the "stain" of the 3f work as her first work back from her race. This blog never plays a horse in the top spot when their first work is 3f, when certain conditions apply. When young horses, anyone could improve quickly, so this is a race to spread. (This will be the subject of a future blog post.)

#2 Lou Brissie
#9 Twelve Pack Shelly
#7 Nina Fever

Race 8: Grade 3 CD Turf Sprint (12:04 PDT) - 5 Furlongs (Turf)

I'm going to take a chance on #9 Formidable here. Last time out, in his first ever race on turf, he won in good time after ducking in at the start. He has great speed but does not have to be on the lead. He's had two good works in the interim and Jose Lezcano strings along. At 12/1 on the morning line, this looks like a live longshot. #7 Starfish Bay won in race horse time last out, is the fastest horse in this field and runs well fresh. A nice complement of works for this Pletcher trainee stamp him as one to keep an eye on. #3 Chamberlain Bridge is the class of field, but could be vunerable 2nd off the layoff. Moralist, Silver Timber and Central City are others to consider.

#9 Formidable
#7 Starfish Bay
#3 Chamberlain Bridge

Race 9: Grade 3 Alysheba Stakes (12:54 PM PDT) - 1m & 1/16

#6 Bullsbay is the defending champ in this race and comes in off a 5 month layoff. He appears to be training well at his home base at Fair Hill. He is hoping for a good pace to run into, as he will probably sitting 5 lengths off the pace. #3 Macho Again is training lights out according to some people with some serious inside info on him. Half of his wins are on this track and has run huge off the layoff before. #8 Flying Private has always been a horse who has never lived up to the hype. But his two races since being out of action since the Belmont have been good efforts. He won first off the layoff, then closed into a tepid pace set by a lone speed horse, who looks to have a nice future, in Total Bull last out. He has two nice works at CD and may have finally turned the corner. Cool Coal Man will try to take the field wire-to-wire, but must deal with Southern California shipper Enriched. This 1/2 brother to multiple grade 1 winner Lava Man will be trying dirt for the 1st time, but will he have the same shipping issues his brother was notorious for possessing?

#6 Bullsbay
#3 Macho Again
#8 Flying Private

Race 10: Grade 2 American Turf (1:47 PM PDT) - 1m & 1 1/16 (Turf)

This race might offer one the best values all day with the presence of #1 Setsuko in the field. With all the talk around him not getting into the Derby, his price should be much lower tha it should be. In this blog's opinion, the Southern California 3 year-old Turf division is very weak. The entire meet at Santa Anita, a main track horse would come over to the turf and win. Alphie's Bet, Make Music For Me, Line of David all did this. With this in mind, i say both Setsuko and Alfarabi are tosses. I fear the favorite #4 Lost Aptitude, as he is probably the class of the field, but the 10 week layoff combined with only one published work in the interim prevents me from picking him on top. #11 Workin for Hops has won 3 out of 4 races, never been out of the exacta and can attend the pace. This son of City Zip has won at the distance and comes in with a nice series of works. #6 Doubles Partner cuts back after not lifting a hoof in the Lane's End, gets back on the turf but has only work in the 5 week interim. He's proven his liking for turf and should be sitting mid-pack. With the classic third off the layoff situation, will he make the necessary improvement to win?

#11 Workin For Hops
#4 Lost Aptitude
#6 Doubles Partner

Race 11: Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks (2:45 PM PDT) - 1m & 1/8

The feature on the card features a contentious field of 14 horses. The solid 6/5 morning line favorite is #5 Blind Luck. This daughter of Pollard's Vision looks to rally off what is expected to be strong pace. But this blog has never been very high on her and think she is vulnerable. The selection is #3 Quiet Temper finally reverted back to her stalk-&-pounced tactics last time out in winning the Fair Ground Oaks. She has had two steady works, and keeps Robby Albarado, who could have ridden Beautician as well. With her ability to sit off back, she will get first jump on the closers and hopefully hold on. #12 Ailalea is the other Pletcher filly behind Derby entrant Devil May Care. She struggled in first chance at two turns, but with the addition of blinkers and this being her 2nd race off the layoff, she could move up enough to challenge. With 3 nice "clockworks", this daughter of Pulpit should thrive at the mile and an eighth. (A clockwork is when a horse works with the same number of the days in between each work) Others given a shot are: Jody Slew, whose last race was compromised due to her training schedule being compromised after getting cast in her stall days before the race; Evening Jewel, who won the Ashland last out but has never run over a dirt surface; Joanie's Catch, who somehow finds a way to hit the board; and Tidal Pool, who will try to take them as far as she can under Calvin Borel.

#3 Quiet Temper
#12 Ailalea
#11 Evening Jewel

There are the picks for the stakes on the Kentucky Oaks card. I'll be back with picks for the stakes on the Derby card some point on Friday afternoon. Until then, good luck and hopefully will be cashing together tomorrow. :-)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

2010 Kentucky Derby Field Post Positions (Why Endorsement Why?)

The Derby field is set, but this blog was crushed with the withdrawal this morning of Endorsement with an injury. Hopefully all goes well with his planned surgery tomorrow and comes back with better than ever.

Here's the field:
1Lookin At LuckyGarrett GomezBob Baffert3-1
2Ice BoxJose LezcanoNick Zito10-1
3Noble's PromiseWillie MartinezKen McPeek12-1
4Super SaverCalvin BorelTodd Pletcher15-1
5Line of DavidRafael BejaranoJohn Sadler30-1
6Stately VictorAlan GarciaMike Maker30-1
7American LionDavid FloresEoin Harty30-1
8Dean's KittenRobby AlbaradoMike Maker50-1
9Make Music For MeJoel RosarioAlexis Barba50-1
10Paddy O'PradoKent DesormeauxDale Romans20-1
11Devil May CareJohn VelazquezTodd Pletcher10-1
12ConveyanceMartin GarciaBob Baffert12-1
13Jackson BendMike SmithNick Zito15-1
14Mission ImpazibleRajiv MaraghTodd Pletcher20-1
15Discreetly MineJavier CastellanoTodd Pletcher30-1
16Awesome ActJulien LeparouxJeremy Noseda10-1
17DublinTerry ThompsonD. Wayne Lukas12-1
18BacktalkMiguel MenaTom Amoss50-1
19HomeboykrisRamon DominguezRichard Dutrow50-1
20Sidney's CandyJoe TalamoJohn Sadler5-1

The worst of the draw goes to Sidney's Candy who out in post 20, and Lookin At Lucky, who clearly was improperly named as he draws the rail. Super Saver has drawn perfectly for him, as he will be able to sit right behind the speed while easily being able to drop down onto the rail. Sidney's Candy will have to work to get into a stalking position, with the unknown quantity of Homeboykris next to him. The other speed is split up throughout the middle of the gate, so any horse who has the misfortune to draw between them, say Stately Victor, might be pinched back out of the gate with American Lion and Line of David going for the lead.

With Endorsement out, this blog needs to go back to the drawing board. Be back soon with analysis of every stake at Churchill on Oaks day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ten's 10 for the Derby - A Salty Crop? Or Very Sweet?

After the (not so) shocking result of the Lexington Stakes, we have the Derby field set, save a last-ditch effort by 85ina50 and Pleasant Prince to break in. But who really has a chance? Here are my final thoughts on the top ten, with a rating on their chances of winning the Derby on the "chocolate-covered pickle" rating scale.

1. Eskendereya
All systems are go for this son of Giant's Causeway. He arrived today in Louisville and looked like a horse on a mission. Will he be the one to break the Pletcher "Derby Donut"?
Rating: 9 pickles out of 10.

2. Endorsement
The Sunland Derby winner has been getting some major buzz lately, and there is a chance he will end up being the "steam" horse come May 1. His first work back was a swift 4f in 46 & 4 12 days after his victory. He then worked 8 days later in company 5f in 1:01 & 2 on the 17th. Looks like all systems are go.
Rating: 8 pickles out of 10.

3. Looking At Lucky
The 2-year-old champ was roughed up in his last prep, the Santa Anita Derby but bounced back quickly from it and looked great galloping in the mornings before he shipped out to Louisville this week.
Rating: 7 pickles out of 10.

4. Ice Box

The Florida Derby winner worked at Churchill Downs on the 16th in 48 & 2 for 4 furlongs for the 6th best work on the day. He hopes to capitalize on the wicked pace expected on Derby day. But is he fast enough to get there?
Rating: 5 pickles out of 10

5. Awesome Act
The Gotham winner got crushed by the #1 on this list last time out in the Wood, but the there is hope. The trainer said that he was not at his best, and that the plan is on schedule. He worked today a nice 6 furlongs in 1:12 & 3, tying for the best work with Oaks contender Tidal Pool. He may bounce back, but is that enough to make up the 9 & 3/4 lengths on #1?
Rating: 5 pickles out of 10

6. Mission Impazible
The Louisiana Derby winner arrived on the plane with the others Pletcher platoon today. This forgotten member of the group is one of the few who can pass horses. But will his tendency to be stalk just off the pace leave him with no punch come the top of the lane?
Rating: 4 pickles out of 10

7. Super Saver
The Arkansas Derby runner-up gets his spot on this high on the list only because he is this blog's choice for the horse most likely to "end up" in the trifecta, as he will just "end up" having the lead at the mile pole. Will he be the last speed horse standing and then hang on another two furlongs?
Rating: 3 pickles out of 10

8. Devil May Care
The filly who is nothing more than a maybe cracks this list because stylistically she has a just a good a chance as any after the top three. She can sit off the pace, but will not be so far back that she would have to invent a trip. Her win in the Bonnie Miss was just as good as Ice Box's win. Same perfect set-up too. But she made the lead much earlier than her male counterpart, which is a plus on Derby Day, when the "wall of sound" strikes at the quarter pole in the stretch.
Rating: 3 pickles out of 10.

9. Paddy O'Prado
The runner up in the Blue Grass Stakes sat just off the pace set by Odysseus and hung in for 2nd against the perfect trip winner Stately Victor. While he can be pass horses, will he handle dirt? His connections hope he can be like another son of El Prado who could, Medaglia D'Oro.
Rating: 2 pickles out of 10

10. Sidney's Candy
The Santa Anita Derby winner is on this list only because I needed a 9th horse and he was the best of the rest. Everyone is saying that he can rate off the pace or just go to the lead and keep going. But with Conveyance, Line of David and American Lion plus maybe Rule being sent straight to the lead, there is no way he will make it gate-to-wire. About him rating? The horse he sat off of and passed, Oceanographer, is still a maiden. He was caught going 5 and 1/2 furlongs by Distorted Dave, who was a 1st time starter, bred to go two turns & a casualty on the Derby trail. Sidney did not pass Oceanographer, Oceanographer backed up pass him.
Rating: 1 pickle out of 10.

There it is. Will this list be even close to Derby Day? Who knows. But if it nothing else, it is the debut of something that will be remembered: the chocolate-covered pickle rating system!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The San Juan Capistrano - Then and Now

The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap will be run as the closing day feature at Santa Anita this Sunday. It has been the closing day feature of Santa Anita winter-spring meet for many decades. This year it is the last race of the meet, and it may be a fitting tribute to a race with such a rich history. With the impending closing of Hollywood Park, this may be the last time that the race will close out the meet. Which would be a shame, as it has such a rich and fulfilling history.

A former Grade 1 race, its list of past winners reads like a who's who of west coast stars. Before the race was moved to the turf, such Hall of Famers such as Seabiscuit and Noor won the race. Once it was switched to its current distance of a mile and three-quarters and put on the turf, it became a staple on the Southern California turf schedule. Some of the past winners have gone on to win older turf male Eclipse Award. The 1993 winner Kotashaan went on to win the Eclipse awards for Horse of the Year & Older Turf Male. Some of the other past winners who went on the win other multiple grade 1's are John Henry, St Vincent and Bien Bien. There have been 5 repeat winners, all in consecutive years. But one winner will always be remembered for defending his title in 1966, but more for the circumstances around it.

Johnny Longden, one of the top 5 riders of all time, decided that George Royal in the 1966 renewal of the San Juan would be his final mount before retirement. At the time, Johnny was the all-time leader rider in victories, a hall of famer and a crowd favorite. Every mount he had in those last days was driven down in the odds. His last mount, George Royal, had been off the board in his last 4 races leading up to the race. Yet somehow, someway, both horse and jockey stepped up and won in a thrilling stretch drive over Plaque. The fairytale ending had occurred and left a indelible mark on the horse racing landscape. He holds the record for most number of victories in the race with 5, tied with the man who went on to break his record, the late, great Bill Shoemaker.

But the race has fallen on hard times. In 2003, the race was downgraded from a Grade 1 to a Grade 2, losing its place as the longest Grade 1 in North America. It was subsequently won two years in a row by a horse who took at least 11 tries to break his maiden in T.H. Approval. The field sizes have shrunk and some of the luster is gone. This year brings a horse who might be able to bring some of the credibility to this race in Bourbon Bay. He is looking to be the first horse to sweep the turf distance series at Santa Anita (San Luis Obispo, San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano) since Kotashaan in 1993. Will he do it? He has a great shot to, but must hold off several multiple graded stakes placed horses, including a Dermot Weld shipper in Princess Taylor, who last race in Dubai.

As the Santa Anita meet winds down to a close, let us not forget the past and how this race once was an event to mark on the calendar, not just a reminder of what was great.

To get you in the mood, here is the 1993 San Juan Capistrano, featuring Kotashaan and Bien Bien.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lexington Stakes Preview - Can Connemara find the Last Derby Golden Ticket?

The Lexington Stakes is the last realistic Derby prep left on the Trail, and it is truly a one-shot type of race. Due to the astronomically high amount of graded earnings needed to get into the starting gate May 1, only one horse has a realistic chance to get in: Connemara. He has already accumulated just enough earnings that a win, and only a win, will earn him a spot. No one else, even with a win, will have enough earnings to get in. The highest any of the other could get is 24th. So can Connemara "win & get in"? Here is the field:

#1 Krypton 6-1
#2 Uptowncharlybrown 4-1
#3 Distorted Dave 10-1
#4 Bushwhacked 12-1
#5 Call Shot 10-1
#6 Prince Will I Am 30-1
#7 Lonesome Street 12-1
#8 Exhi 8-1
#9 Heavenville 12-1
#10 Connemara 5-1
#11 Kettle River 5-1
#12 Chief Counsel 15-1

The first thing i have to say is that the morning line on this race is suspect. Having Connemara, who is the only graded stakes winner in the field, as the 5-1 third choice is not the issue though. Having Kettle River at 5-1 is the head scratcher The buzz surrounding Krypton & Bushwhacked, plus the more recent performances of Exhi has led me to believe that all of these horses should be lower on the morning line than Kettle River.

Which is just what i want to see on the pick. There is a jockey upgrade from Brice Blanc to Javier Castellano. He has been working steadily for this race after deciding not to come back in three weeks for the Lane's End following his poor performance in the Sham. His race in the Sham is a toss out to me as his training was compromised due to an illness causing him to miss a work.

There is a good amount of pace in this race. Exhi and Heavenville will be fighting for the lead, with Krypton, Chief Counsel, Bushwhacked, Call Shot. Lonesome Street and Uptowncharlybrown all fighting for position right behind. Kettle River will be tracking back in 7th or 8th, with only Connemara, Prince Will I Am and Distorted Dave waiting with him to pounce in the stretch. The pace will be faster than expected, which will compromise the pressers.

Turning into the stretch, as some of the speed starts to back up, Kettle River will already be in his move, getting the jump on Connemara. He will start to wear down Krypton, Heavenville and Bushwhacked, who are my choices to survive being too close to the pace. (Heavenville should move up off his last win and a return to poly, but the pace scenario precludes him for being the top pick.) As they hit the wire at the 1/16th pole, Kettle River will just hold on from a late charge from Connemara, winning in a solid 1:42:08. Three-way photo for third between Krypton, Bushwhacked and Heavenville.

#11 Kettle River
#10 Connemara
#1 Krypton / #4 Bushwhacked / #9 Heavenville

A few other quick and dirty picks for some of the other stakes today:

Giant's Causeway (Keeneland Race 8): Canadian Ballet
Santa Barbara (Santa Anita Race 6): General Consensus
San Simeon (Santa Anita Race 9): Victor's Cry
Sixty Sails (Hawthorne Race 8): Life at Ten

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Happened at the Derby Trail's Last Call...

Shocking. Inconceivable. Preposterous. These are some of the adjectives that were used to describe the results of the final two major preps of the Kentucky Derby trail. But the adjective i was thinking something a bit less histrionic: Expected. How so?

First, let's recap what happen. In Lexington, Kentucky, Stately Victor lit up the tote board with a late finishing kick as the longest shot on the board in the Blue Grass Stakes. Paying a stakes record $82.20 to win, he leapfrogged his way into the Derby field with the win. Left in his wake was a game Paddy O'Prado, who finished 2nd. Having their Derby bubbles popped by not earning enough graded earnings were Odysseus, Pleasant Prince, Make Music for Me, Aikenite and First Dude. Has Stately Victor, a son of Ghostzapper had the light turn on at just the right time to take advantage of his late-night call to the post?

About a half hour later in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Line of David set wicked fractions and just held on in a gate-to-wire victory in the Arkansas Derby. Since the addition of blinkers, this speedy son of Lion Heart has found a new gear. He now has three straight gate-to-wire wins in game fashion. Pulsion and Northern Giant had their "bubble" popped, while Super Saver got in with his 2nd place finish. Uh Oh Bango is for now 1st out, but probably will get in. Line of David has gotten lucky to face three straight fields filled with horses who are "suspect" passers. Can his luck hold out for another three weeks?

So how were these results expected, as i alluded to earlier? The whole trail has had very few "statement" victories so far. Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and the Wood Memorial & Endorsement in the Sunland Derby. Other than that, this class has spent time spreading itself thin over the preps and beating each other. It says something when only 3 horses have won more than one prep. (Eskendereya, Conveyance and Sidney's Candy) This year's trail is littered with longshot after longshot. Dean's Kitten, Ron the Greek, Mission Impazible, Ice Box; All of these won preps at long odds in very unimpressive fashion. Last weekend's results was just a continuation of that trend. It would not surprise me to see someone like Kettle River win the Lexington, continuing the dueling trends of surprise derby prep winners & Southern California-based horses shipping in and winning. (But that topic is for another post)

So as we sort through the carnage of torn-up tickets over last weeks results, just remember that when it seems that chaos will reign, a light at the end of tunnel will show the way to cash!

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Madrid, a stop on the Derby Trail?

New Madrid, MO is a tiny town (Pop 3,400) on the banks of the Mississippi River about halfway between Oaklawn Park & Churchill Downs. It lies at the spot where Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee all meet. One of its claims to fame is that it is the oldest city west of the Mississippi. Another claim is that it was the site of a over a thousand earthquakes in 1811-1812, some that may have reached a magnitude 8.0 or higher on the Richter scale. While not as big a shock as an earthquake, a win would by New Madrid in the Arkansas Derby would cause some shockwaves.

New Madrid [Rock Hard Ten - Back to Earth (Theatrical)] has just a maiden win to his name, and with only three lifetime starts, is a rather unlikely Derby contender. But this colt is improving and should relish the stretch-out to a mile and a eighth Saturday. His trainer Tim Ice was down this path before last year, with a unheralded son of Birdstone (A first-crop sire last year just as Rock Hard Ten is this year) that only had a maiden win to his name, Summer Bird. With that experience behind Ice, New Madrid should benefit from what he learned last year.

While Summer Bird was a deep closer, New Madrid is a presser, sitting just off the pace. He should have a great trip behind Super Saver, Line of David and perhaps Uh Oh Bango. He will need a great trip, with the cutoff for graded stakes earnings standing right now at $215,000, before this weekend's preps. A win will be the only way to assure a starting spot in the gate for the 1st Saturday in May. He will have to hold off top contenders Noble's Promise and Dublin to secure the victory.

But the real reason this blog brings attention to this 20-1 longshot is who beat him in his start two back, where he finished second. That horse would be Endorsement, who this blog is very high on as a Derby contender. A strong effort would do nothing but enhance the resume of him. New Madrid's maiden breaker has already had at least one next-out winner, the Bob Baffert trained Broken Tango.

Is New Madrid biting of too much, too soon? Maybe, but this blog is willing to give him a fighting chance to rise from the ranks of "Derby hopefuls" to "Derby contenders".

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ten's 10 for the Derby - The Derby Alphabet Starts with the Letter "E"

With the performances in last week's Derby preps, several horses have moved up and down the top 10. But one performance has completely changed the dynamic of this list. Instead of a standard top ten list this week, we shall list the derby hopefuls by the grade given to their chances instead. But the Derby alphabet is a little different than the normal ABC's. It starts with an "E", as in:

The "E" horses:

Eskendereya: With his scintillating victory in the Wood Memorial, he has become the de facto favorite for the Derby. Disproving the worries about him being off 6 weeks and skipping what appeared to be a weak edition of the Florida Derby, he emphatically earned his way into the Derby. His two prep wins are among the, if not the best, prep wins along the trail. He is Todd Pletcher's best chance to finally get off the schneid. The only worries are that is that he likes to be near the pace, but will the expected fast splits be too quick to attend?

Endorsement: The horse who two weeks ago was consider the low man on the Winstar Farm depth chart stampeded his way into the Derby with his Sunland Derby victory two weeks ago. This son of Distorted Humor set a stakes record in the process, and the extra furlong will not be a factor. He admittedly beat a suspect field, but the "how" is more important than the "whom" this time of year. The fears of a bounce, or the fact that the Derby will only be his 5th start, are valid, but 3 year-olds can blossom overnight. Can this late bloomer be the exception to the rule?

The "B" Horses:

Lookin At Lucky:
The 2009 Eclipse Award winner had a nightmare trip in the Santa Anita Derby when he was pinched back in the far turn. Would he have caught Sidney's Candy? Maybe, but the fact that Gomez had to work hard to get him up for third worries more than the trouble itself. He reportedly looked great this week on track while out for a jog and will probably work sometime in the next week. Will his knack for trouble come back to haunt him on Derby Day?

The "C" Horses:

Awesome Act:
The horse who had the second worst trip of last week, behind Lucky, has to step it up to beat "Esky" after that one beat him soundly. Why was Leparoux under orders to strangle the horse back in the Wood? Did he bounce a little as well? While he will be entering the Derby on the classic 'third start off the layoff', will it be enough?

Ice Box: The hard charging winner of the Florida Derby will be off 6 weeks before the Derby. He had an easy half-mile workout in :49 B at the Palm Meadows Training facility on Saturday. People have talked about his win was a perfect set-up, but the way this year's Derby field is looking, won't he get the same set-up?

Interactif: He gets his chance to punch his ticket for the Derby this Saturday in the Blue Grass. This Todd Pletcher trainee has had only one okay work in the interim since his game 2nd in the San Felipe. While he has a win on the dirt, is it his best surface?

Odysseus: His heart and his running style are the only reasons he resides at this level. He is entered in the Blue Grass on Saturday, and needs to run no worse than third to secure his spot in the starting gate May 1. But why are his connections running him here instead of the Arkansas Derby, which appears to be a much easier spot?

The "D" Horses:

Sidney's Candy: Two graded derby preps, two easy leads. The winner of the Santa Anita Derby stole the race with an easy half-mile on the lead, then spurted clear late, going sub :36 the final 3/16th. But with the high amount of need the lead speed, including confirmed lead-or-bust American Lion, his chances are bound to be compromised, aren't they?

Mission Impazible: The Louisiana Derby winner once again earns his spot on here due that win only. His pace attending style might be problematic come Derby day, if he is unlucky with the post position draw. Will he have the needed kick while adding an eighth of a mile in distance?

Dublin: Any number of horses could have gone in this spot, but i chose him as he is running this weekend in the Arkansas Derby. He gets a positive jockey switch back to Terry Thompson, a trainer who knows a thing or ten about the Derby and gets another eighth of mile to unleash his kick. But is he good enough to turn the tables on Noble's Promise and then move up even more three weeks later?

With the last of the major preps this weekend being run in Hot Springs, AR and Lexington, KY the Derby picture will come into a much clearer focus. Hopefully. Maybe. Fingers crossed.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Endorsement for Rabbits, aka the Winstar Lead-Out Train

Besides being a horse racing lover, i am also a huge fan of road cycling. (Like the Tour de France) I love watching seriously trained athletes fly at high speeds using nothing but themselves as the motor. One of the best sights in the sport is when there is a sprint finish at the end of a stage. If the team has a strong finisher for the sprint, the team might consider setting up a lead-out train. This consist of one or more riders riding in front of the sprinter to ensure a high pace while providing a wind break. One of the best at doing this team Liquigas. (if you have ever seen any road cycling, they are the Neon yellow wearing team)

Here is a video to show what i mean:

Note how at 1:16, the neon yellow jerseys get in position, and how they lead out the their sprinter, Daniele Bennati, who wins this particular stage.

The reason i bring up this up is that Horse racing use to employ similar tactics by the use of the rabbit. Horse racing has a history of using rabbits in races to ensure a strong pace. Usually the rabbit is a horse who is owned by the same owners as the star of the owners. There have been many great examples of rabbits over the years. Damascus had Hedvar; Gallant Man had Bold Nero; Buckpasser had Great Power (Durso, ) Even in more recent times, Breeders' Cup Turf winner had a rabbit employed in either Shake The Bank or Icy Atlantic. The practice is still very prevalent in Europe.

Winstar Farm is the unique position of being able to reproduce a version of the "lead-out train" for their Derby horse Endorsement (and Drosselmeyer if were able to get in to the Derby.) With three confirmed speed types in Rule, Super Saver and American Lion, in theory they could set it up so that one of their horses goes to the lead for the half mile, then have another take over for half mile, then have the last one take over for an eighth and give Endorsement a perfect set-up to take over for the final furlong.

Now, i know that there are several problems with this idea: That the pace set-up will not only help Endorsement, but every other non-speed horse in the field. That it might be considering "unethical". That using the horse as a rabbit is not good for the horse. Those concerns are valid and i really cannot say that the do not bug me a bit as well.

But this is just an idea that if nothing else, would look rather cool to see as the head down the backstretch the first Saturday in May, the Winstar Train rolling along.