Friday, May 25, 2012

American Handicap - Foreigner's Delight?

The stakes action this Memorial Day weekend at the track of the lakes and flowers starts off on Saturday with the Grade 2 American Handicap. This race used to be run on the other national holiday of the Spring, Fourth of July until recently. But with the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile being shifted to that weekend, this race took its place on the calendar as a prep for that race. This mile on the grass brought together a diverse group of runners, some foreign-born and some domestic. This race has a nice mix of established runners and newcomers to the stakes level. Let's get to the action, starting with the morning line favorite.

Mr. Commons looks to rebound after failing as the favorite in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on the Big Cap undercard. He has worked steadily for this race for the last two months for this race after taking a couple of weeks off to refresh himself. His trainer John Shirreffs has said that this is a prep for the Shoemaker, so it is possible that he could not be fully cranked for the race. Mr. C has run well of similar layoffs, winning both times off similar layoffs. He figures to get a nice pace set-up in the race with the presence of several speed horses. He has been heavily bet in most of his races, and he once again figures to be a unplayable price, and this blog will play against him in the win spot.

The other Americans who have a chance are Compari, whose rail draw will force this front-runner to commit to making the pace. He comes off a good effort in the G3 San Simeon H last time, with three turf works since the last race. Calimonco, who has done well at the listed stakes level and run fast enough to win this but has not won in graded stakes company. He finished 4th in the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile last time out. He has two solid works since the last race. Mobilized is coming off a smart win in the state-bred Tiznow Stakes. He has done better in extended one-turn races than in two-turn races. He does have two smart works and the trainer was quoted that he entered him instead of another race next week because he was doing so well.

The foreign-born contenders are headed by Tigah (GB). Trained by John Sadler (who also trains Calimonco), Tigah won a 2nd level allowance two races back in nice time. Running an okay 4th off a two month layoff last time out, he comes back 2nd off the layoff, just like his allowance win. He has two solid works since the last race and figures to get a solid pace to run at in here. Barney Rebel (IRE) wired an allowance field last time out across town, running a fast time in the process. Barney gets 8 pounds from the favorite and with his light impost, he will be winging on the front end in attempt to steal the race. Venomous
(GB) looks to return to his first run off the plane last year in the Oak Tree Derby. His trainer has hit for a price with a horse off a similar layoff, with a series of nice works in tow.

Race Analysis: Liberian Freighter is a confirmed need-the-lead type coming off a layoff. His presence ensures that either Compari or Barney Rebel will not get an easy lead, forcing them to rate off the pace. Great Warrior and Calimonco will be in the next flight, with the rest of the runners behind them. It figures to be a trip race, where the runner who can find a way through the pack can get up in time over those who take the overland route. Tigah figures to huge the rail and hope it opens up turning for home, and he is the pick. It will be in a tight photo with Calimonco, Venomous and Mr. Commons, who will all be in the fight for the minor awards.

Good luck folks!

Friday, May 18, 2012

One Drought Broken, Another One In Sight?

I'll Have Another came out of the pack to gun down Bodemeister deep in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby to end the 23 year drought of the Santa Anita Derby winner going on to take the run for the roses. Two weeks later, the North American racing world finds the attention focused on Pimlico Race Course. The Preakness Stakes is the middle leg in the Triple Crown and the next step to see if I'll Have Another can break another streak of futility, the thirty-four year gap since Affirmed last won all three jewels. Many of the top finishers of the Derby come back in an attempt at avenging the loss. Some new shooters will attempt to upset the bid for immortality as well.  Let us get to the action.

I'll Have Another seems to have bounced out of his grueling effort fine. He shipped to Pimlico early to become acclimated with his surroundings before most of the other competitors. He was installed as the 2nd choice on the morning line to the horse who he passed in deep stretch Bodemeister. Bode shipped in this week and has been looking fine over the track, The biggest question for both of these runners is how will they bounce back after their grueling efforts. IHA has only two preps and could be under raced this year to bounce back quickly from such an effort. Bodemeister will be making his sixth start in four months and his third start in 5 weeks. Is it too much too soon?

The others coming back from the Derby in attempt to avenge are Went The Day Well (4th), Creative Cause (5th), Daddy Nose Best (10th) and Optimizer (11th). Many are jumping on the bandwagon of the first two because of their late-running and wide trips in the Derby. CC shipped back to California, then to Pimlico for the race while WTDW shipped home to Fair Hill before coming in for the race. Optimizer is being run into the ground by his trainer, just begging for turf one day in his future. This blog picked Daddy Nose Best in the Derby (but did say that the winner would be on all of the exotics in the win spot), and like him to bounce back from his effort, chalking up the clunker to being too close to hot pace early on in the race, leaving him nothing left in the stretch.

The new shooters seem to be a bit below the runners from the Derby, but some out there like them. Tiger Walk is owned by the one of the best local folks in the business, Sagamore Farm. The distance & class are the question with him. Teeth Of The Dog comes in for Michael Matz, so those who bet Union Rags in the Derby may play him for a chance to make his money back. Pretension is another local horse, but he looks too slow to even clunk up for a minor award, even though he won the local prep. Zetterholm comes in for the crafty Rick Dutrow and steps up from the state-bred ranks. Maybe has a chance to garbage collect underneath in the superfecta. Cozzetti has run some okay race that could maybe earn him a share of the trifecta if things go right.

ANALYSIS: Once again Bodemeister is a play against based on the price and the fact that this feels like too much racing in such a short amount of time. The shipping back and forth for Creative Cause is a major negative for this blog. Went The Day Well will be overbet for what this blog feels was an optical illusion of a fast-closing effort in the Derby based on how slow the final furlong was run in.

Daddy Nose Best was the pick in the Derby and he will be the pick in the Preakness. He figures to get a better trip than the two favorites and will be a better price than WTDW or Creative Cause. But just like the Derby, I'll Have Another will be a part of all tickets in the top spot. An exacta box of these two will be the main play.

Good luck folks!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kentucky Derby Thoughts and Other Picks & Thoughts

With the Kentucky Derby less than 24 hours, the build-up is about to explode everywhere. This blog cannot wait for all the fast racing with huge competitive fields in the Derby and the undercard, plus the other good racing around the country. Let get to some thoughts and picks.

For my detail thoughts on the Kentucky Derby, please visit the Thorofan's Handicapper's Corner, where I eliminate horse after horse until I find the winner. (Short version, I like Daddy Nose Best barely over I'll Have Another, with Creative Cause, Alpha, Gemologist the only three I can see winning.). I sent that along on to the fine folks there at Thorofan on Wednesday night, but since then I have had some second thoughts. After taking another look over the past performances, my thoughts on one horse in particular has drastically changed. For most of the last three weeks since the Arkansas Derby, I had been high on Sabercat to snatch a piece of the exotics at worst, with an outside chance to win. But on the last look, I realized that he his performance looked much better than it probably was in real life. The horse did make up ground late in the stretch, but his closing kick was not as good as it seems. The rest of the field chased after Bode and ran themselves into such vulnerability that Sabercat was able to pick them off. The fact that he could not get by the distance challenged Secret Circle is proof that his closing kick was an optical illusion. Maybe he can pick off 4th, but I no longer think he can hit the board.

For even more thoughts on each horse in the Derby field, take a look at Paul Mazur's blog over at Chicago Now  He and I go back and forth over the chances of the field, disagree over his pick and drop a Simpsons reference that I have been haunted by ever since a certain member of the field won the Breeders' Futurity back in October.

Some quick-and-dirty picks for the stakes on the Derby undercard:
Churchill Downs Handicap: Taking a stab at a big price with Gantry. He is going great right now, riding a four race win streak. He took down Fair Grounds sprint specialist Cash Refund twice over the winter. He figures to be a good price to play against Smiling Tiger (the long layoff raises some red flags), Amazombie (this is not his best distance) and Shackleford (This blog always plays against him at his depressed odds).
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile: Two horse race between Marketing Mix and Daisy Devine. Aruna is better than her last, but this blog is going to take a chance and go against her.
Humana Distaff: Groupie Doll won the Vinery Madison in a sparkling performance, turning the tide against Musical Romance and Hot Summer. She has paired up big performances in the past and has won over the CD dirt. Accepting some sort of chalk in this P5 sequence is necessary, as not every race will be won by a huge longshot.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic: Slim Shadey and Brilliant Speed are both good prices, both figure to enjoy the pace set-up and both are not on many people's radar. This is not Turallure's optimal distance, even though he does have a win over it.

Good luck folks. Enjoy the great day of racing!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Drought Breaker - I'll Have Another

After a thrilling stretch duel, I'll Have Another preserved and took the Santa Anita Derby four weeks ago. He has trained well since the race, with two solid six furlongs drills at Betfair Hollywood Park before he shipped to Churchill Downs last week. With him earning the "Drought Breaker" title, let us see the recent history he most overcome in the Kentucky Derby this Saturday being a winner of the Santa Anita Derby:

As you can see, it has been 23 years since the winner of the Santa Anita Derby has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. Not since the immortal Sunday Silence has a horse pulled the double. During that time the average odds of the Santa Anita Derby was less than 10-1, yet the average finish was just worse than 7th. Several were heavy favorites, such as Mister Frisky, Indian Charlie and Point Given. I'll Have Another figures to go off at odds higher than the average, hopefully he will finish better than average.

So, what are his chances for breaking the streak? Here are the pros & cons, in bullet form.
  • He has early speed to escape his far-out post, but he doesn't need the lead (unlike others in here).
  • His pedigree suggests ten furlongs will not be a problem, being by Flower Alley (a ten furlong winner) out of an Arch (a ten furlong winner) mare.
  • He's proven in a fight, as shown in his Santa Anita Derby win.
  • His only bad race was in a bog in the Hopeful last year over a track many struggled over.
This blog think he has a strong chance, though with his outside post he could end up being parked out wide for most of the running, with nothing left turning for home. He is the 2nd choice of this blog. He'll need all the luck he can muster from the outside post.

So there is the chance of the Drought Breaker. Can he end it? We shall see. Good luck this weekend folks!

Why A Six Week Break Between Derby Preps is A Bad Thing

In today's racing, everyone is worrying about the "bounce" effect with their horses. This leads to a culture of big efforts and big layoffs, all to keep up winning percentages and avoid scrutiny. But for the Kentucky Derby, is this strategy a bad thing? The chart below shows the horses in the last ten years who have had a gap of 40 days or more in between the penultimate and final Derby prep.

22 horses have run in the Derby in the last ten years under the criteria. The average finish for these horses is tenth, with the average odds being just a shade under 29-1. Horses who fit this criteria (based on the average odds) should hit the board about 4% of the time. So far, given the small sample, the record for these horses is 22-1-1-1. This group has hit the board almost 14% of the time so far, with the shortest and longest prices hitting the board.

Four horses this year fall into this category, each likely to fall beneath the average odds. Those four are Alpha, Hansen, I'll Have Another and Take Charge Indy. Among the five lowest horses in the odds on the chart, the average finish is nearly 9th while the average odds is 11.60-1, though the one winner is among this group. With only 22 horses in the past 10 years that fit the angle, it is hard to make a concrete stand on whether this angle is viable or not. Based on the limited data, it looks like it is a negative, but a few more year's data will answer whether it is or not.

Even though the data is more limited, with just five horses in the last ten years, this blog feels that the stat shown in blue is worth using at this point. That stat shows the average of horses odds & finish who had just two preps. The numbers are worse than the full chart. I'll Have Another and Take Charge Indy both fit that category. Both will be lower odds than any of the previous runners listed, so this year's race will be a stern test of it.

Time will tell whether the early data of this obscure stat will pan out into something usable to take a stand on against a horse in the Derby. Good luck this weekend folks.