Archive for May 2007

Round 2: Projecting the Preakness

May 17, 2007

It’s already time to start trying to handicap another horse race, and in this case, that would be the second leg of the coveted Triple Crown, the Preakness. Traditionally, this isn’t a race that offers the same value as the Kentucky Derby, since the field is smaller and the Derby winner usually goes off at short odds. Nevertheless, I’m going to take a short look at this race, which features four returning starters from the Derby (the first three finishers and the sixth place finisher) along with five hopeful newcomers who have had varying levels of success already this year. As always, I’ll organize them based on the pace scenario. The Preakness is just a touch shorter than the Derby at 9.5 furlongs, but it is still a race where having some gas at the end is going to make a big difference.

PACE

Hard Spun, 5-2 Morning Line, PP #7, 107 Beyer

This horse proved me wrong and ran an incredibly strong race in the Derby, and probably would have won it had Street Sense encountered any traffic trouble whatsoever. He used a lightning quick 5f workout at Churchill (which scared many away, including myself) to build a foundation for a blazing trip that nearly wired the field. He’ll have fresh, fast horses to compete with on the pace this time, and they aren’t likely to let him control it as easily as he did in the Derby. And as much as a monster as he’s proven himself to be, I still have a sinking feeling that his recent efforts will weigh on his endurance. This will be even more of a problem if he can’t get loose on the lead like he did in the Derby. Admittedly, he was second best without any competition last time out, so he’ll either have to take a huge step backwards or another horse will have to improve vastly for him to miss the board. But I’ll still try to beat him for the win, and would be betraying my own instincts to play him at 5-2 when I passed at 8-1 in the Derby.

King of the Roxy, 12-1 Morning Line, PP #5, 99 Beyer

This one will battle hard for the lead and has the talent to control it early if he wants to. He was sharp and speedy early this year in winning the 7.5 furlong Hutcheson and then was caught at the wire of the Santa Anita Derby by a charging Tiago after taking the lead down the backstretch. It’s tough to know what he is really capable of beyond 9 furlongs. If he’s getting caught like that in a subpar field, I can’t imagine a extra half of a furlong is going to be to his benefit, although he will be coming into this one on a lot of rest. I expect him to tire down the backstretch, but he’s a live longshot if he can improve on his last race, and worth a play at 10-1 or better. Pletcher skipped the Derby and saved him for this race, which has to mean something.

Xchanger, 15-1 Morning Line, PP #2, 95 Beyer

He will battle for the pace as well but probably doesn’t have quite the speed of the first two, so I expect him to settle back in third early. He looked good in winning his last start, but I can’t shake his 7th place in the Arkansas Derby, a full 12 lengths from the winner, who is running here. His performance against the competition he’s faced doesn’t bode well against the top horses here, and he’d need to improve vastly to hit the board in my opinion.

JUST OFF THE PACE

Curlin, 7-2 Morning Line, PP #4, 103 Beyer

Curlin’s third place finish in the Kentucky Derby was a massive accomplishment as far as I’m concerned, both because of his inexperience in a race with such quality and because of the fact that he didn’t exactly have an ideal trip. I played against him hard in that one, and I still don’t think that he would have gotten up for second even with a perfect trip as he was still a good 4 lengths behind second place finisher Hard Spun. He wasn’t exactly mowing horses over down the backstretch, and I can’t believe that two races in two weeks so early in his career will be to his liking. I’m also not convinced that he’ll benefit from the shorter distance, and am turned off by the idea that he’ll be the “trendy” pick to win here. He seems the least likely to improve of the returning Derby starters in my opinion, so that would put him third place at best. He has the talent to get the job done, but he’ll need to improve on his 98 Beyer in the Derby to hit the board in this one. He should have a better trip, which will help, but I’m still waiting for the bounce that didn’t happen in the Derby.

Flying First Class, 20-1 Morning Line, PP #20-1, 82 Beyer

D. Wayne Lukas makes a reappearance at the Triple Crown after skipping the Derby completely. This colt comes into the Preakness riding high off his victory in the 7.5 furlong Derby Trial. I am not sure he has the speed to risk staying up with the pace, so I expect him to sit back 4th or 5th early. Overall, his speed doesn’t look all that competitive here; he’s only run beyond 8 furlongs twice in his career, and both times Curlin beat him by more than a dozen lengths. Unless you love Curlin, you have to pass.

CP West, 20-1 Morning Line, PP #9, (no races this year past 8 furlongs)

I’m not crazy about horses making a huge jump in class here, although this one has shown ability to close ground quickly in shorter races. Whether or not he has the speed down the stretch to compete with the top ones here remains to be seen. His only career race past 8 furlongs was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year and he was beaten 22 lengths by the top finisher and 12 lengths by the runner up. Did I mention they’re both here? Pass.

Mint Slewlup, 30-1 Morning Line, PP #1, 75 Beyer

He’ll be the longest shot in the field, and for good reason. His only lifetime wins are allowance races, he’s never won past a mile, and CP West beat him handily last time out. The pedigree looks good (by Slew City Slew, a Seattle Slew colt) but nothing else does. He needs to be over 50-1 to spark my interest, and that will never happen in such a small field.

CLOSERS

Street Sense, 7-5 Morning Line Favorite, PP #8, 110 Beyer

The Preakness is historically a race that is won by horses who come from off the pace, so why can’t my boy do it again? It’s not Churchill Downs, but he has a competent jockey aboard that can get the job done. I don’t have any worries about the trip he’ll get in a smaller field after the one Calvin Borel gave him in a crowded Derby field. He’s been training well since his Derby win and has to be considered the one to beat here. I really think the only way he gets beaten here is if he somehow encounters traffic trouble and starts his move too late. Once he decides to go into that second gear of his, he’s simply faster than all the others in the race. Unfortunately, he’s likely to be 2-1 or lower, so only bet him on top of your exotics, as I wouldn’t say he is unbeatable quite yet.

Circular Quay, 8-1 Morning Line, PP #3, 102 Beyer

This was somewhat of a last second entry for Todd Pletcher, so I’m taking a long, hard look at this decision. I liked this horse a lot off an eight week layoff in the Derby and he didn’t run a bad race to finish 6th from the auxillary gate after some considerable traffic trouble. He likes to come from way back which shouldn’t be a problem here with less horses to get in his way. It almost feels as though he used the Derby as his prep race, and he should be in perfect form for this one. So why not run him? I’m really glad he’s in here because it adds a whole other element to the competition. In a race that seems poised for a pace meltdown, don’t leave him out of your exotics. He has the talent, the agility and the turn of foot to surprise. If he’s anywhere near his morning line odds, I’ll be all over him, and right now he looks like the overlay of the race.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. Street Sense
  2. Circular Quay
  3. Hard Spun
  4. King of the Roxy
  5. Curlin
  6. Flying First Class
  7. CP West
  8. Xchanger
  9. Mint Slewlup

HOW TO BET $25 ON THE PREAKNESS

$5 Exacta Box- Street Sense, Circular Quay ($10)

$1 Exacta Box- Street Sense, Circular Quay, King of the Roxy ($6)

$9 Place- Circular Quay ($9)

Kentucky Derby Recap- The Drought Ends for the Matty

May 8, 2007

As I watched the sun come out unexpectedly and dry the sloppy Churchill Downs track Saturday afternoon while sipping on mint julep after mint julep, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly confident about my win pick for the Derby. It was a feeling that I haven’t had since Empire Maker in 2003. That pick ended up not working out for me, but I got the same feeling this time around as the race approached. Maybe it was the bourbon talking, but by the time the horses were at the gate, I had told pretty much anyone within an earshot that there was no conceivable way that Street Sense was going to lose this race. I could feel it. I even went back to the window and put some extra money on him just to win. My confidence in my pick was bursting to exciting levels.

In the end, I made a common handicapping mistake and got greedy. I bet just over $100 on the Derby, and based on how confident I was about Street Sense’s victory, I should have spent it all on a win bet. In retrospect, his 5-1 odds were almost absurdly generous in this field. Instead, I reasoned that since I already knew the winner, I would bet enough on him to cover my losses if my exotics didn’t hit, and went for the big payday- a “free” shot at hitting an exacta and trifecta essentially. I suppose it could have worked out and might have been worth it, and hindsight is always 20/20. At least I didn’t lose any money Saturday and above all, got to revisit that incredible feeling of picking the right horse out of 20 and basically looking like a genius to everyone around you, favorite or no favorite.

I’ll be pulling for my new boy, Street Sense, to become the first horse of my lifetime to win the elusive Triple Crown every step of the way. There’s no reason to think he can’t do it either, or at least to think that any of the six in the last ten years that had a shot to win it but lost the Belmont had any better shot than he could have. But before we start talking Preakness sometime next week, here are my brief wrap-up thoughts on what was a very memorable Kentucky Derby:

  • First and foremost, you can’t talk about this Derby without at least mentioning what an incredible race Hard Spun ran. Since Street Since winning didn’t surprise me much, I’d have to say what blew my mind about this Derby was the fact that Hard Spun nearly wired this field after setting pretty respectable fractions, demonstrating a shocking amount of staying power. I didn’t give him the respect he deserved, although I did admit in my preview that he scared the daylights out of me, and he nearly destroyed my day.
  • Onto Street Sense’s trip. Personally, I wasn’t as surprised as some (the announcer for one) that Street Sense was sitting 19th out of 20 after a half a mile. I expected him to be in the 2nd to last pack of horses, so anywhere between 13th and 17th would have put right where I thought he should have been, and sitting two spots out of position behind a faster pace than I anticipated didn’t worry me too much. What I will never understand as how the entire rail was open when he started to make his move. Being in 19th position is even less of a problem when the first 12 horses in front of you are all running three wide of the rail and are all slower. Street Sense knocked ten of them off almost immediately and never had to break his momentum, as jockey Calvin Borel made a great decision coming around the final turn and chose to veer wide of the rail to move around Sedgefield rather than continue to hug it. It was curtains after that, as Street Sense exploded up the stretch to win the Roses by more than two lengths. Wow does he love this track.
  • Of the Derby “rules” that are commonly used as statistics to handicap the Derby, Street Sense put a couple of big ones to sleep. The Juvenile jinx is over, as he became the first horse ever to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. Also, he became one of the only horses to ever win the Kentucky Derby after only two spring prep races. I obviously discounted both of these factors when picking my winner, because I didn’t feel like the correlation could be very high due to an extreme lack of sample size for these statistics-that is, how many horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then ran in the Derby, and how many have run in the Derby after only two prep races? The answer is not as many as you would think, and these “rules” have always been throwouts for me. What IS always an important “rule” for me is the 100 Beyer rule. Only one horse has ever won the Derby without ever running a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or more at some point in his career, and that was arguably the strangest Derby ever. Using this rule helped me to eliminate a lot of horses that got substantial support, such as Scat Daddy, Nobiz Like Showbiz and Dominican just to name a few. And as we look back at those who ended up hitting the board, we see three horses that all ran Beyer figures of over 100 in prep races this year. It makes sense, eh?
  • Curlin ran a huge race given the fact he was moving up to ten furlongs in only his fourth career race. I for one didn’t really give him a shot to hit the board and it will be interesting to see if he can develop into the monster that many think he is. Still, after rewatching the race many times, it is incredibly evident that Street Sense and Hard Spun are in another league compared to the rest of the field. The Beyer speed figures they posted show a huge improvement, as the ran very respectable figs of 110 and 107 respectably.
  • Poor, poor Pletcher. His highly touted stable of five horses didn’t even make the top five, let alone hit the board. And really, only one of his horses ran a decent race, and that was Circular Quay, who was closing at the end and finished 6th. Any Given Saturday had no real excuses besides a bad post, Sam P never factored and Scat Daddy and Cowtown Cat couldn’t have been much worse. Better luck next year I guess!
  • Another interesting note was the fact that the top four finishers in last year’s Juvenile over this same track finished in the same order at the Derby as well. Street Sense won both, Circular Quay was 2nd in the Juvenile and 6th in the Derby, Great Hunter was 3rd and 13th respectively, and Scat Daddy was 4th and 18th. So really, the hard part was just fitting the other horses between these four. That would have saved me a lot of time…

Good luck to Street Sense. I won’t be getting 5-1 on him any time soon, but I’ll still be pulling for him!

Preakness analysis coming next week…

FINAL KENTUCKY DERBY ANALYSIS

May 3, 2007

The post positions are drawn and the run for the roses is only two days away. I’ve spent the past two weeks dissecting pretty much every element of a race that I know full-well to be impossible to handicap. There are just too many elements that override normal handicapping. The insanely packed field of 20 horses creates a wide array of unpredictable traffic trouble, and if a horse gets boxed in at the wrong time, the race can be over for him pretty quickly regardless of how much of a world-beater he is (Empire Maker, Point Given and even Afleet Alex come to mind in recent runnings). The most intriguing aspect of the Kentucky Derby, though, is the fact that you have 20 young horses (equivalent to about 16-year-old human beings) prepared to try their hand at a distance that they have never attempted in their young lives. Most have gone 9 furlongs by now on at least one occasion, but the mystery of what will transpire in that final furlong is anyone’s guess. In some years the horses that run close to the pace are able to keep their stride and hold on for the win (War Emblem in 2002, Smarty Jones in 2004); in others, the pace melts, chaos ensues and unlikely winners emerge (Giacomo in 2005).

I am in a serious slump in this race that goes back to 2001, when I nailed the winner Monarchos at better than 10-1 odds. Point Given was the huge favorite that year, and he went on to win Horse of the Year honors despite the loss, and I loved the value that Monarchos offered with the strong closing style he demonstrated in his Wood Memorial loss. Some may recall that I proceeded to name my gray car after him in homage. Since then though, I’ve made some picks that weren’t as well advised as they could have been. Starting from 2002, my “official” picks have been: Perfect Drift, Empire Maker, The Cliff’s Edge, Bandini, and Point Determined. The first three ran strong races and made me look intelligent in my loss, while the last two threw in real clunkers and were probably ill-advised picks in retrospect.

I am bound and determined to improve this year. However, it should be noted that the increasing size of the field makes the Derby less of a race in which you should be dead set on one winner, but rather one where you should try to narrow the field down to a few horses that have a real chance to hit the board, and to box those horses in exotic bets. In 2007, I really, really like four horses and consider them to be virtually inseparable despite two of them running to some bad luck at the post position draw. I’ll be using these in my exotic bets. After those four, there are about eight more that still scare me, making this a Derby of unusual depth, but you can’t bet on everybody to win, and boxing 12 horses in exactas and trifectas sure gets expensive.

When handicapping the Derby (or any race), I feel it is important and beneficial to break the horses down based on the likely pace scenario. What follows is a brief analysis on each contender within each of five self-explanatory pace “categories”- Pace, Just off the pace, Stalkers, Closers and Deep Closers. This should give you and idea of where I expect these horses to be, and when. The Beyers listed are top speed figures on the year and the distance at which they were run. If I don’t list a speed figure, that means the horse hasn’t topped 90, which isn’t a good thing. Only one of the last 13 Derby winners has won without running at least a 100 Beyer or better in a prep race, and the one that didn’t (Giacomo) won thanks to the most insane pace breakdown of any race I’ve ever witnessed.

PACE

Liquidity, #9 PP, 30-1 Morning Line, 102 Beyer (9f)

This running of the Kentucky Derby doesn’t figure to be loaded with speed, which actually ensures a more honest race that is a bit more easily handicapped. Still, I expect this horse to battle for the lead early. He has great tactical speed but has had a lot of trouble holding his steam in 9 furlong races, and for that reason I think he will be really up against it in this one, although his daddy (Tiznow) certainly didn’t have any trouble winning 10 furlong races. It’s possible that he throws in a career best or that he’s just been slacking, but horses that tire after a mile and can’t even get to the wire in 9f races don’t generally peak my interest in this race, which is a massive test.

Stormello, #17 PP, 30-1 Morning Line, 96 Beyer (9f)

This is a perplexing colt, who seems to scream towards the lead but still hold well down the stretch. His connections have said that they plan to teach him how to rate before the Derby, although I still expect him to be on or near the pace, and was pretty shocked that his connections opted for this post when the three inside posts were still open. I think that he of all horses will have the most to overcome from his post based on his running style, as he’s certain to lose a lot of ground getting near the pace on the first turn. He nearly won the Fountain of Youth wire to wire, but then set a hot pace and tired to a 4th place Florida Derby finish. That sounds like the opposite of progress to me, and speed figures this low at a distance a furlong shorter than this one don’t bode well for a horse that needs to be close to the pace. I’m passing on him.

Cowtown Cat, #6 PP, 20-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer (9f)

I generally prefer stalkers and closers in this race as they have been much more successful than front-runners over time. However, if I had to pick one, this horse may be my longshot hedge of the pace horses, because he’s shown versatility in that he can rate and win like he did in the Gotham Stakes, while he can also win races wire to wire like he proved in the Illinois Derby. Some argue that he got ideal trips and pace set-ups in both races (Beyer absolutely hates him), but it is what it is. He’s turned in some fantastic 5f workouts recently (sub :59.0), and if this race turns out to be even slower than expected, his pedigree (Distorted Humor out of a Storm Cat mare) suggests he could have the gas left to get it done. Don’t dismiss at 30-1 or higher, but don’t get too excited either, as he’s likely been made to look a lot better than he really is.

JUST OFF THE PACE

Nobiz Like Showbiz, #12 PP, 8-1 Morning Line, 99 Beyer (9f)

I think that this Derby potentially sets up very well for this running style in the event that the pace is slow and the stalkers, closers and deep closers have too much ground to make up. I’m still going to play the closers as always, but if this scenario plays out, this will likely be the horse to beat. He showed determination to run near the lead in his Wood Memorial win and if he can sit back just a bit he may very well have plenty of juice to get the job done. His only loss this year was a three wide trip in which he was bumped and lost momentum down the stretch. This is a big, strong colt. My only concern is that he hasn’t exactly shown either blazing speed or strong closing punch, failing to to top a 100 Beyer in all three starts this year. I won’t bet him to win as he’s likely to be in the top three betting favorites and I don’t see enough value there, but he’ll be in my 5 horse exacta box for sure. His connections have to be very happy about his post draw. He could be ready for a big one, and that would be no surprise.

Hard Spun, #8 PP, 15-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (9f)


Oh dear. This seems to be the trendy pick this year, which from a value perspective gives me yet another reason to play against him. I’ll give some more shortly. On the positive side, he’s won 5 out of 6 lifetime races and posted a 101 speed figure his last time out at a respectable distance. Although, given the competition he’s faced, one has to wonder why he isn’t perfect on the career. If I’m being honest, he still scares the daylights out of me, because the way he likes to stay just off the pace and then decimate horses reminds me of how Smarty Jones killed me a few years back. The word from my sources last week was that he wasn’t training or working well (his last hard workout at 8f definitely left something to be desired, and sources lose to the track said he was “sore and stiff”- yikes!!) Then he ripped off a 5 furlong workout in :57.3 Monday morning, easily the fastest work of any of the contenders and the fastest such work in recent memory. This makes me think several things, including my original thoughts that he’ll try to go as hard as he can early and probably won’t have the stamina for the whole 10 furlongs. I also question why on earth his trainer chose to blow the horse out five days before the race. I can’t imagine that the workout didn’t take a lot out of him so close to the race while other horses were breezing along similar works a full four seconds slower, but we will see; it’s always possible that he is a monster waiting to emerge. For what it’s worth, 6 of the last 11 Derby winners threw in bullet workouts on their last serious prep, but I still have my worries that this one in particular was just too much and that it will show up in that valuable final furlong. Aside from the kamakaze workout, his owners and trainers couldn’t have handled his situation any more strangely. The six week layoff poses concern, as does his seemingly picky track taste that nearly led his connections to opt against running him here if he didn’t like the track. If they knew they had the next Seattle Slew, why would they even be considering not running? Nevertheless, now that he drew a basically ideal post and figures to go hard early (which basically ensures a close to perfect trip), he’s definitely not one to overlook. I’m planning to try to beat him, but since he’s probably the one that scares me the most, if he’s anywhere near the morning line odds, it would be tough not to play him small as a hedge.

Sam P, #13 PP 20-1 Morning Line, 99 Beyer (9f)

This is a colt that remains interesting at his odds for no apparent reason. I expect his odds at post time to be much more generous than 20-1, and while I don’t think there’s any way he’ll actually win the race, he’s the kind of horse that sticks around at a steady pace and sneaks in to hit the board. His pedigree says he can get the distance (by Cat Thief, 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner), although he was not match for fellow rivals Great Hunter and Tiago in 9f meetings earlier this year. Was he hustling? We’ll see. Certainly not a throw out, but I still think there are better horses to put onto the bottom of your exotics.

Tueflesberg, #10 PP, 30-1 Morning Line, 92 Beyer (9f)

I am still irate at this horse for basically destroying the Blue Grass, and therefore preventing handicappers such as myself from drawing any meaningful conclusions from the race. But perhaps in actuality the stunt that this horse pulled in that race will contribute both value and intrigue to this race. This horse is a fighter and one of the race’s enigmas of this race, but I don’t think he’ll even know what to do with himself once he is in it. Dude is crazy! He scares me for that reason, but I’m banking on the fact that he has a psychotic breakdown midway through. In any event, Hard Spun nailed him hard in the LeCompte Stakes, so if I’m playing against that one, I’ll have to play against this one too. Teuflesberg doesn’t look like he’ll handle 10f too well either, and the pace scenario I expect combined with the distance will probably leave him far behind the leaders at the wire.

Sedgefield, #1 PP, 50-1 Morning Line

Here is a horse that I would prefer to see out of this race. The last time I said that about a horse in the Derby he won the race (Giacomo) so take that for what it’s worth. But, if my reasoning is worth anything, this horse loves to stick near the pace and then get caught in 8.5 furlong races, so I can only imagine what is going to happen to him here. He’s never won a Grade II or better and has lost to some of these, most of whom I don’t like. He’ll have to go early to avoid being boxed in and run over by the rest of the field, and he’ll never make it 10f after that. He’s my longest shot on the board, so maybe that’s a good thing for him.

Storm In May,#4 PP, 30-1

There isn’t much to like about this one if you’re planning to bet against Curlin, as he was no match for that one in the Arkansas Derby, although he did seem to close well, albeit more than ten lengths from the winner. Earlier races this year were even more unsuccessful, so I suppose if you’re looking for a positive, he did improve in his last prep. One of the more surprising moments of today was the decision by his connections to select this post with the first pick. I figured he’d try to stalk, but it seems pretty clear that he’ll try to go as close as he can to lead early- if not why not take the 9 or 10 post? And I suppose that makes sense, as he’s been most successful in shorter races on the turf. Overall, he seems seriously outclassed here and he is one of my throwouts.

STALKERS

Any Given Saturday, #18 PP, 12-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (8.5f)

For some reason, I just have a feeling that we haven’t yet seen what this colt is capable of. Going back to his photo-2nd place finish to Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby, I immediately thought that these would be the two horses I would be deciding between on Derby Day. And so it is. In that race, he had a bit of a rough trip before giving Street Sense all he could handle down the stretch in a finish that could have gone either way. In the Wood Memorial, he ran the whole race four wide of the rail, made a game move down the stretch, but it wasn’t quite enough- although one has to wonder if after the rough trip his jockey decided to reserve some energy. He didn’t need to overexert himself to get in to the Derby, and the Wood was still in my opinion exactly what he needed- a good, solid prep (Derby winners Monarchos (2001) and Funny Cide (2003) both fell short in the Wood and then improved on the the first Saturday in May to win the roses). His pedigree might be the best in the entire field and it suggests he’ll love the distance (by Distorted Humor, who sired Derby winner Funny side and out of an AP Indy mare) and he’s been working well. If he is able to scrap his way through another trip that will be very much less than ideal coming out of the 18 post, he has a really big shot here at a respectable price. He’ll be in all my exotics, and amazingly, I see less negatives for him than any other horse in the race. At least he’s not accustomed to easy trips like some of these, and if he can slice his way into the second or third pack of horses early without losing too much ground on the turns, he could be in position to steal the race at double digit odds. Unfortunately, getting the trip he needs is a very big if in a field even more crowded than he is accustomed to (especially from the auxillary gate), but I’m going to take a shot on him. Remember, 6 of the last 12 Derby WINNERS have come from post 15 or beyond, and in a race this long, talented horses with strong kicks still find their way.

Curlin, #2 PP, 7-2 Morning Line Favorite, 103 Beyer (9f),

There is certainly a lot of buzz about Curlin, the morning line favorite for the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby. His victories have been visually impressive, but I am very doubtful that his accomplishments merit the hype, and I’m honestly very surprised that he’s the morning line favorite, especially after drawing such a tough inside post. He won’t be 7-2 on Saturday morning, mark my words. Smart money will recognize that in his three lifetime races (all victories), he failed to beat a single horse that would be considered a serious contender here. His runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby (where he posted a Beyer of 103, the best of the bunch but certainly not a figure that separates him from the rest of the field) reminded me a lot of Bellamy Road’s Wood Memorial win a couple years back, except that one ran much faster and still couldn’t live up to the declarations that he was unbeatable. Curlin’s stalking style should work well for him in this race based on the way the pace scenario sets up, but without really ever having been challenged head to head and lacking the seasoning and experience as most of these, it will be very interesting to see how he handles the intensity of trying to knock off 19 other world class horses. That is not to mention that his post is less than ideal, and he may be forced to go a little earlier than he wants to– a possible death sentence for an unseasoned colt facing real competition packed with stone-cold closers for the first time. No horse has won the Derby without racing as a two year old since 1882, and nothing Curlin has done has been impressive enough to endorse him as the one to topple that piece of history. I will grant that the sample size for that stat is small, and it’s certainly not impossible for him to win, but at the odds he’s likely to offer, I’m going to try to beat him.

Scat Daddy, #14 PP, 10-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer (9f)

He’s been somewhat of an overachiever, winning the Fountain of Youth in a tight finish and then stalking and closing impressively to steal the Florida Derby. He’s been training extremely well, and his post looks pretty solid for the race he needs to run to get the job done, but I have my questions as to how well he’ll handle the distance. He’s also failed to top a 100 Beyer yet in his career, so he’ll need to take a big step forward to win this one. With a good trip, he should be in position to make his move, but I think there are better horses here, and that his two big wins were largely due to circumstance. He held off Nobiz Like Showbiz in the Fountain of Youth, but got a perfect trip while Nobiz was bumped in the lane after a wide trip. Some feel that those two are separated by less than a length on their best day, but I think Nobiz is very much the better horse. Scat Daddy sneaked in late to win the Florida Derby, but needed every ounce of steam to hold off Notional, and the overall quality of that race is suddenly looking a bit less than originally thought. It’s also interesting to recall his fourth place finish on this same track last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and all three horses that beat him rather handily are here and all look like they will benefit from the extra furlong and a half more than he will. He’ll probably be the third of fourth betting favorite, so his odds won’t entice me at all, and with at least four horses ahead of him on my list, I’ll have to pass.

Bwana Bull, #11 PP, 50-1 Morning Line

Hitting the board would be a big surprise for this longshot, who threw in a real clunker in the Santa Anita Derby after winning his first two starts this year. It’s tough to tell how he’ll race, but given the result of his front-running effort at Santa Anita, I’m guessing he’ll try to hang back a bit and try to pick off fading pace horses rather than go straight to the lead. He doesn’t have the speed of the better stalking horses, and a 5th place finish in an incredibly weak Santa Anita Derby field doesn’t bode well against the likes of these. Nothing is impossible, but I can’t come up with any reason to support him.

Imawildandcrazyguy, #5 PP, 50-1 Morning Line

The last entry into the field has perhaps the stupidest name in the history of horse racing, so that alone ensures that the gods of Churchill Downs won’t let him hit the board. If you’re not into superstition, he wasn’t able to make up much ground in out-of-the-money efforts in the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby. I try to provide a positive about every horse, so I guess I’ll mention that he did finish ahead of Zanjero in the Risen Star after closing strongly. Only two problems with that: he’s raced twice since then and failed to hit the board, and those races were both a furlong longer. Enough said.
CLOSERS

Street Sense, #7 PP, 4-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (8.5f)
Juvenile jinx aside, there isn’t much to dislike about this horse. First of all, consider the dominating manner in which he won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on this very track over some of the favorites here. He clearly loves Churchill and appears to be coming into the race in absolutely perfect form. He threw in a killer work in his last serious effort, and his 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass last time out wasn’t a bad prep, and had it not been for the collision between Teuflesberg and Great Hunter in the stretch he would have been in strong position to wax the field. It’s also possible that he wasn’t all out in that race, and he’ll certainly like the dirt track at Churchill better than the Polytrack at Keeneland. It is interesting to note that he also failed to win his BC Juvenile prep, which was also on Polytrack, and then improved massively at Churchill to destroy a talented field. His win earlier this year over Any Given Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby was spectacular, hard fought and enticing. I’m not as worried as some are about his only having two preps before the Derby. I think he’ll get the distance, and if I have one concern it’s only that his wins have all seem to have come from especially good trips, where he is able to get to the rail on the final turn and shoot through the traffic, and he may not be so lucky in the Derby. On the strongly positive side, he got a great slot in the #7 post, so he very well may be able to shoot up the rail, as he seems to be as comfortable with handling these turns as any horse here. In any event, as long as he doesn’t sit too far off he pace he should be in solid position as the pace horses fade, and if he has a clear path he’ll likely dust the field, as he has an ability to change gears quickly that is superior to the rest of these. The juvenile jinx is a fluke, and it is about time that it was ended once and for all. This horse may be the one to break the curse, and I think he’s the winner on Saturday.
Great Hunter, #20 PP, 15-1 Morning Line, 101 Beyer (8.5f)

I really like this horse’s chances at the odds he is likely to offer, especially after drawing the dreaded far outside post. In my opinion, this post, while certainly not ideal, won’t hurt him as much it would hurt some, as he’ll plan to sit way back off the pace anyway and shouldn’t lose much ground. Watch his fifth place finish in the Blue Grass closely: he had an engine full of steam coming down the stretch before he collided with a fading Teuflesberg and lost his momentum. Otherwise, he could have easily won the race and been the morning line favorite here. He possesses a dramatic turn of foot, which has been a successful running style in the Derby over time, and his pedigree suggests he will love the distance (sired by Aptitude, Derby runner-up and Belmont winner). He looks primed for a big effort, and he’s my top value play, as his meaningless Blue Grass race will be inaccurately analyzed by some and overlooked by many and his outside post surely won’t attract very much interest. He showed his stuff earlier this year in his Robert B. Lewis Stakes win, as he sat off the pace and exploded down the stretch to win the race in hand. I’m looking for him to improve upon that effort, while also keeping in mind that he ran well in last year’s Juvenile to hit the board. I wouldn’t be surprised if his outside post pushes his odds above the morning line estimate, and he’s worth a shot for sure.

Circular Quay, #16 PP, 8-1 Morning Line, 102 Beyer (8.5f)

The son of 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch is perhaps the race’s biggest enigma, and how wonderfully ironic is it that he will start from the same post that his daddy did when he won this race 12 years ago? (Yes, I had Thunder Gulch that year. I wish it was still that easy). There are certainly knocks against him, such as the unusually long eight week layoff since his impressive Louisiana Derby win, the fact that he’s never even gone 9 furlongs before trying his hand at 10 (that’s a big one) and his tendency to sit WAY off of what will likely be a slower pace than would be to his liking. As he showed in the aforementioned win, he likes to come from far off the pace, a style that generally works in this race, but many feel that the lack of strong pace will hurt his chances. Remember that he was second on this track in last year’s Juvenile, and that his only loss this year resulted from a severe collision in which a jockey was actually thrown from an adjacent horse. His pedigree puts him in position for a win here, and the layoff doesn’t bother me as much as some, although there is a difference between being fresh and being rusty. Trainer Todd Pletcher seems to think that this is his top colt, which is no small feat among the likes of Any Given Saturday, Scat Daddy, Cowtown Cat and Sam P. Barbaro proved last year that a long layoff is easily overcome, and that a fresh horse in competent hands can be tough to beat. He’s certainly in the mix and I won’t be leaving him out of my exotics. Despite pace scenarios, horses that come from off the pace have won 7 of the last 10 Derbys.

DEEP CLOSERS

Tiago, #15 PP, 15-1 Morning Line, 100 Beyer (9f)

This is probably my favorite of the three horses I have associated with this style, although I still think that they are all up against it as a pace breakdown a la his half-brother Giacomo’s 2005 victory seems unlikely, and they’ll probably all have a lot of ground to make up behind horses of superior talent. Tiago’s win in the Santa Anita Derby probably looked better than it really was as he benefited from a complete breakdown of pace. Nevertheless, he gained ground with authority, and if an unforeseen hot pace forces some of the serious contenders to go earlier than they would like, he certainly has the turn of foot to be there at the end. Great Hunter dusted him earlier this year and he didn’t seem to have the same closing kick we saw in the Santa Anita Derby, which means either is is improving incredibly quickly or his last race was a fluke. I’m going to go with something in the middle and probably stay away, although if you like deep closers, it isn’t unthinkable for him to repeat his brother’s upset. His lack of experience (only four career races) is also somewhat of a cause for concern, unless you’re going in to play Curlin.

Dominican, #19 PP, 20-1 Morning Line, 93 Beyer (9f)

This colt made a name for himself after closing strongly to win the Blue Grass by a hair. He’s demonstrated a strong closing kick in both starts this year, although his speed figures pose some serious concern against horses of this caliber. He also seems to love Polytrack surfaces, although he has been working very well up to this race and has shown a lot of improvement. I still think the deep closers will have trouble unless the pace is hotter than expected, and duplicating a career effort that benefited greatly from the traffic troubles of superior horses will be asking a lot for this one. I’m going to respectfully pass, although he scares me more than most of the ones I am dismissing. Blue Grass winners have bounced in recent years (my The Cliff’s Edge pick comes immediately to mind), so I’m going to hopefully learn my lesson this time and stay away, as I see too many question marks.

Zanjero, #3 PP, 30-1, 93 Beyer (9f)

In three starts this year, Zanjero hasn’t finished better or worse than third place, either closing strongly or holding position through the finish. I don’t personally think he’s fast enough to get the job done, as he had a complete rail trip in the Blue Grass while the rest of the field endured utter chaos and still couldn’t quite get into the top two, and if Great Hunter hadn’t been bumped he would have missed the board. A lot of people love him as a value play, probably because his profile and racing style remind some of the aforementioned Giacomo. His pedigree is an interesting blend of speed and stamina (by Sprint champion Cherokee Run out of and AP Indy mare) which doesn’t sound too bad for a race like this. He could be ready for a big step up, and I’m looking really hard, but I can’t quite see it. Coming out of such a far inside post won’t help his chances either. In fact, in the last 8 years, only 3 horses inside of post #10 have won the Derby (which seems astonishingly low), and they’ve all been on the pace or near the pace (War Emblem- wire to wire, Funny Cide- stalked/ just off the pace, Barbaro- stalked/just off the pace).

HOW TO BET $100 ON THIS YEAR’S KENTUCKY DERBY:

($1) 5-Horse Exacta Box: Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, Circular Quay, Nobiz Like Showbiz = $20

($1) 4-Horse Exacta Box: Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, Circular Quay =$12

($1) 4-Horse Trifecta Box: Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter, Circular Quay= $24

$6 on Street Sense to win, $9 on Street Sense to place =$15

$5 on Any Given Saturday to place, $5 on Any Given Saturday to show= $10

$5 on Great Hunter to place, $5 on Great Hunter to show= $10

$5 on Circular Quay to place, $4 on Circular Quay to show =$9

OFFICIAL PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. STREET SENSE
  2. ANY GIVEN SATURDAY
  3. GREAT HUNTER
  4. CIRCULAR QUAY
  5. NOBIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ
  6. HARD SPUN
  7. SCAT DADDY
  8. CURLIN
  9. TIAGO
  10. DOMINICAN
  11. COWTOWN CAT
  12. ZANJERO
  13. SAM P
  14. STORMELLO
  15. BWANA BULL
  16. IMAWILDANDCRAZYGUY
  17. STORM IN MAY
  18. LIQUIDITY
  19. TUEFLESBERG
  20. SEDGEFIELD

Hope this helps. It’s Wednesday night and I’m off to bed now feeling fairly content with my picks. I’m praying for sweet dreams that don’t involve a Curlin-Hard Spun-Scat Daddy trifecta. Oh the horrors!