Archive for May 2012

Preakness Picks

May 18, 2012

Here’s a much less long-winded rundown of the Preakness Stakes, as Derby winner I’ll Have Another attempts to head to Elmont, New York with a shot at racing immortality.

PP #1- Tiger Walk, 30-1 Morning Line- Still winless in three starts this year, he did make up a bit of ground late to finish fourth in the Wood Memorial, posting a career high Beyer of 90. However, the Wood form didn’t hold up especially well in the Kentucky Derby, with the winner finishing 16th and the runner up 12th.

PP #2- Teeth of the Dog, 15-1 Morning Line- This is a very lightly raced colt, with only four career starts and just one of those coming in 2012. However, he has posted increasing speed numbers in each of those four races, the last of which was a 93 Beyer in a third place Wood Memorial finish.  He’s had a long layoff since then and certainly has potential to improve, but takes a big step up here.

PP #3- Pretension, 30-1 Morning Line- He does have a win over this course to his credit in his last outing, but he’ll need to improve vastly upon that effort to factor here. The 83 Beyer he earned for that race was his highest figure in eight career starts, and the lowest top figure in the field.

PP #4- Zetterholm, 20-1 Morning Line- Arguably the most interesting of the newcomers, he has won his last three starts at Aqueduct over weaker company. His stalking style should fit here and his pedigree suggests he won’t have any trouble getting the distance, but would need to step forward from his career best Beyer of 85.

PP #5- Went the Day Well, 6-1 Morning Line- He put some juice into the superfecta and overachieved in an impressive 4th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, finishing the final quarter mile faster than any other horse in the race. One might wonder, however, whether that closing kick was a bit of a mirage. He had been taken back well out of the race and didn’t really start running until horses were backing up behind a grueling pace. You’ve got to try to beat someone in this race, so I’ll aim to keep him out of the top three on the basis that his Derby wasn’t as good as it looked, as he won’t have nearly the same pace scenario this time and will need to be more forwardly placed.

PP #6- Creative Cause, 6-1 Morning Line- His Derby was actually quite formidable, as he finished 5th after running nearly the entire race six to eight wide. He shouldn’t have been in that type of traffic trouble with such a favorable post in that race, so perhaps the horse has a tendency for finding it. However, he did make a strong move to improve his position from 10th to 3rd as he came down the stretch, and even though he was caught by a couple of closers he only missed the winner by three lengths- not a terribly large amount considering the amount of ground he had to cover relative to the top two. Additionally, that was his ninth career race, and that seasoning could help him recover more quickly for this race than the top two, both of whom he has beaten at earlier points in his career. Looks to be the lone overlay in the field at these odds, so I won’t back away from him now. The pick, again.

PP #7- Bodemeister, 8-5 Morning Line Favorite- Arguably, his runner-up performance in the Kentucky Derby was a more impressive race than the winner ran, as he set torrid fractions and stuck around with authority. There really isn’t any other speed signed on here, so Bodemeister should be able to control the pace much more easily and have much more gas left in the tank this time. The change in pace scenario alone makes him extremely dangerous here based on what he was able to show in the Derby. The main question mark here is the same one I had two weeks ago, and it becomes amplified now: Can a horse so short on seasoning deliver a third consecutive powerhouse performance in a six week span? At these odds, he is worth trying to beat, but on paper he should be the winner.

PP #8- Daddy Nose Best, 12-1 Morning Line- My suspicions were proven true in the Derby when he put in a middling but not disgraceful effort, finishing in the middle of the field with little excuse and never factoring. The feeling with this horse all along was that he is probably just a cut below the top runners in this class, and nothing that happened in that race changed that view. There’s no reason he can’t move forward off of that effort but if I didn’t use him two weeks ago, it would be hard to use him here, with at least four horses running that were considerably more impressive. Same reasoning applies, although for superfecta betting, he’s worth using underneath.

PP #9- I’ll Have Another, 5-2 Morning Line- The Derby winner continues to get no respect, which hasn’t hurt his winning ways so far in 2012. Undefeated in three starts, this colt is nothing if not professional, and is working like he is ready to fire again. At some point, one would think that so many tough races with such little seasoning would begin to catch up with him, but so far recovery has not been a problem. He did enjoy the most ideal trip imaginable in the Kentucky Derby thanks to a fantastic ground-saving ride from rookie jockey Mario Gutierrez and there is an argument to be made that without it he doesn’t hit the board in that race, let alone win it, but the fact remains that at this point he is a proven warrior with wins over all of the top contenders here. 5-2 on the Derby winner isn’t bad money and he has to be used in exotics.

PP #10- Optimizer, 30-1 Morning Line- One of the longest shots in the field two weeks back in the Derby, he didn’t disgrace himself in an 11th place finish but didn’t really factor either, as he stayed mid-pack throughout the race in a single gear, never improving his position. Coming back in two weeks against some of the same horses after a relative overachievement is probably asking a lot.

PP #11- Cozetti, 30-1 Morning Line- He seems to be improving as his last two races have shown ascending speed figures from his two year-old season, topping off at a 92 Beyer for his 4th place finish in the Arkansas Derby. Still, his performance in that race leaves something to be desired, as he was making up ground entering the stretch but then hung and fell back as the distance caught up with him. Not exactly the type of trend you’d like to see when stepping up in competition and stretching out in terms of distance.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Creative Cause

2. Bodemeister

3. I’ll Have Another

4. Went the Day Well

5. Daddy Nose Best

6. Teeth of the Dog

7. Zetterholm

8. Cozetti

9. Tiger Walk

10. Optimizer

11. Pretension

WAGERING STRATEGY:

As tempting as the dime superfecta always is, the more that I look at this race, the more I see a huge separation between the Derby runners and the newcomers, perhaps as big a separation as I can ever remember in this race. I’d love to throw a bomber into the 3rd or 4th spot and hope for a big payoff, and have been trying to find one all week, but from a handicapping standpoint it is just very hard to make a convincing argument for any of them relative to the Derby runners. At the same time, boxing exactas and trifectas using the four favorites isn’t likely to be very lucrative given the seemingly superior chalk here, so this is a race where I think you need to take a stand. There is a somewhat counter-intuitive argument to be made that Bodemeister will actually not benefit from potentially slower fractions, and that setting such fractions will keep tough horses closer to him for longer than is ideal. While entirely possible, I think it is worth trying to beat a potential repeat of the Derby exacta at these odds, so I will use Creative Cause again as my key horse in two horse exacta boxes with the top two Derby finishers. I’ll also, once again, place a straight win-place-show bet on Creative Cause. If I’m wrong again, he owes me a steak dinner the next time he’s in town.

HOW TO BET $50 on the PREAKNESS:

$10 WPS on Creative Cause

$5 Exacta Box: Creative Cause, Bodemeister

$5 Exacta Box: Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another

France Dining Recap

May 12, 2012

It’s taken me awhile to get around to this but while the restaurant experiences I enjoyed in France are still fresh in my mind, I wanted to get this posted. While spending ten days in France, we ate at nearly twenty places, and it is hard to go wrong with any of them. For the sake of time, I decided to break up this recap into my five favorite spots where we dined in Paris and in the south while we visited Provence and the Riviera.

PARIS:

1. Cafe Le Procope, open daily 10:30 am-1:00 am

We first visited this famous cafe on our trip in 2009, and I insisted on a repeat trip for my “Coq Au Vin” Saturday. Tucked  away on Rue De L’Ancienne Comedie, one of the quaintest cobblestone streets in St. Germain, the restaurant has been serving hearty French classics since 1686, and the old world ambiance is warm and inviting. The Coq Au Vin here (above) is still tops in the city, served in a giant cauldron with a rich, dark red wine sauce. The rooster meat is tender and gamey, and the pieces of baked potato and loads of chives make for an incredibly substantial and fulfilling meal, all for a very reasonable 22 Euros. Our server was very friendly and provided us with an English menu.

2. Allard, open daily 12:00-2:30 pm, 7:30-11:00 pm

Allard appears to be a bit more hit and miss than I realize, as Frommer’s has recently taken it off its recommendations and the restaurant has its fair share of negative recent reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp. It’s likely that you need to know when to come. Although it may be an expensive dinner choice, Allard serves a two course fixed price lunch daily for a very reasonable 24 Euros. Of note, they serve Coq Au Vin on Saturday (above) and Cassoulet Toulousian on Mondays, and both are spectacular. After picking away at some pestro-drenched escargots, I began my Coq Au Vin day here for lunch, and while the dish fell short of the version at Le Procope, it is still well worth the price of admission. My favorite thing about this place is how you walk in right past the kitchen into the tiny dining room, and the whole place feels like  you are dining in an old French home. That ambiance makes up for the somewhat snotty service. Very little English is spoken here, and at least one waiter was not pleased by the presence of our stroller.

3. Drouant, open daily 12:00 am- 12:00 pm

Drouant was an elegant way to spend our Easter dinner nearby our hotel, the famous Hotel Intercontinental Le Grand in the Vendome area. The service was very friendly even though we took it easy and ordered just a plat each. The suckling lamb confit here (above) was delicious, and the menu, while a bit confusing has an impressively wide variety of meat and fish dishes, each served with four vegetable sides. We felt we’d had more than enough food using this strategy and enjoyed the ambiance at what was probably our most upscale dinner in Paris. Plats run in the 30 Euro range.

4. Chez Savy, open Monday-Friday 12:00-2:30 pm, 7:30-11:00 pm

It’s rare to find such an authentic bistro tucked away from the idyllic but slightly touristy Champs d’Elysees, but weeknight dinners at Chez Savy are well worth seeking out. Sure, they tend to shuffle the English speakers towards the back, but the portions are huge and affordable, and the service is friendly, if a bit rushed. We started with an enormous charcuterie platter that had us drinking water the rest of the night, and shared an enormous duck confit (above) for our plat, which was juicy and tender beyond belief. The combination of its authentic ambience and prices in the 15-20 Euro range for plats makes Chez Savy a winner, but be sure to have a reservation as the place is tiny.

5. Pinxo, open daily 12:15-2:30 pm, 7:15-11:30 pm

Tucked into the Plaza Vendome Hotel, Pinxo brings a bit of southwestern and Spanish influence to the mighty Paris dining scene. We were greeted by friendly service and enjoyed a wonderful lunch here; the restaurant offers a fixed price menu for 21 Euros and several creative dishes in that price range a la carte. I opted for the baby squid stuffed with pigs’ feet served with porcini mushrooms and cocoa beans (above), a rich, innovative dish that was just what I needed after a long plane flight.

THE SOUTH- PROVENCE AND THE RIVIERA:

1. La Brouette de Grand Mere, Cannes, daily 7:30-10:00 pm

I am a sucker for this type of restaurant, possibly because it so far removed from anything that you would ever find in America. One waitress serves a dining room of about twenty tables, but there is no menu. For a fixed price of 35 Euros, you get to choose from a limited selection of entrees, but the rest of your courses are served family style and are brought out to you without any choice. Upon being seated, we were served an aperitif of champagne along with an entree of salad, salami and terrine of rabbit (above). Before our plat, a smoked salmon course was served with a chilled shot of vodka. An entire bottle of red or white wine is also included in the price. I opted for the rack of lamb for my plat and we shared a delicious chocolate soufflé for dessert. This was a long, filling, boozy meal, but the cozy ambiance and friendly company made it the highlight of our dining adventures in the south of France.

2. L’Escalinada, Nice, daily 12:00-2:30 pm and 7:00-11:00 pm

After a long, winding walk through the quaint streets of Old Town Nice, we finally found our destination, and it was every bit the quintessential outdoor lunch experience that I had hoped for. Set upon a tight but lively square, this small restaurant has a no-frills ambiance and several outdoor tables, one of which we were lucky enough to commandeer. We received a delicious chick pea salad and two glasses or kir on the house before diving in to an appetizer platter of the restaurant’s specialties, which included fresh sardines, roasted bell peppers, calamari, and fried zucchini flowers. My entree choice at this meal may have been the most spectacular of my entire trip (above), as the Pochetta Cochon de Lait Farci was an absolute explosion of flavors, a suckling pig rolled into various layers of meat. I can still taste it as I type this. They also brought our half liter of house wine out in a cute little clay jug. It is worth using the restroom here just to climb the old, tightly wound staircase to the top.

3. La Vielle Fountaine, Avignon, open Tuesday-Sunday 7:30-11:00 pm

As we were staying at the amazing Hotel D’Europe in Avignon as a home base for our wine tasting tour, we couldn’t resist dining here for our only Michelin star experience of the trip. We used to eat these kinds of meals all the time, but even with a very well-behaved ten-month old who discovered his love for bread this night, it isn’t quite in our comfort zone. The service was a bit spotty as we seemed to have several waiters, all unaware of who had taken which aspect of our order. They offer a very reasonable fixed price dinner menu for 48 Euros which consists of three courses. I opted for the green asparagus and egg cream followed by crispy, perfectly cooked sea bass and finished it off with a crusty raspberry tart puff pastry. We had some extenuating baby-related circumstances during this meal that apparently rendered us unable to capture it via photograph.

4. Le Restaurant Armenien, Cannes, daily 7:30-10:30 pm

Unique for its Mediterranean flair in this region, this unorthodox restaurant is run by Armenian chef Lucie Panossian and her husband Christian. For a set price of 48 Euros, we received two courses of about twenty different samplings each, ranging from hummus and eggplant to dolma and kebob. After that, a large selection of desserts came out. All of these dishes are presumably prepared solely by Lucie and then run out to the tables while Christian works the room. The servings, while plentiful, may have been a bit light on the meat and heavy on the vegetables, but it was certainly an entertaining and different manner of having a meal. We did feel a bit oversold into a large bottle of water, but the affordable and impressive wine list made up for it, and this was a fun way to end our trip, and expressive of the diversity of the Cannes dining scene.

5. Verger des Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape, open daily for lunch and dinner

While tasting wine in the Southern Rhone, a stop at the famous village of Chateauneuf du Pape is pretty much mandatory. At the very top of the town lies this restaurant, which offers amazing views of the Rhone River and valley below from both outdoor and indoor vantage points. A hearty Provencal lunch is served for a very reasonable fixed price of 18 Euros. I enjoyed a salad with fresh tomatoes and whitefish, a massive boneless pork loin, dessert and glasses of highly acclaimed red wine for a price that would be incomprehensible in America. After lunch, it is well worth the trip down into the cave for some history and some additional tastes of wine.

Other Notable Meals:

Brasserie Balzar, Paris- A true locals joint in the Latin Quarter, with tight quarters, no English spoken and a sausage stuffed with tripe for Easter brunch.

Les Palmiers, Villefranche-Sur-Mer- Huge portions of fresh seafood on the relaxing plaza by the sea, with covered and outdoor seating.

Pizzeria Monegasque, Monaco- A warm, cozy diversion from the generally culture devoid city, this place serves oven-fired pizzas and lasagnas with friendly service.

Le Festival, Cannes- Worth a stop for lunch if only for the people watching on the famous Boulevard de Croisette, the seafood here is actually quite delicious even for the price.

Cote Jardin, Cannes- Very inviting garden ambiance and well-made food, but we were the lone diners in the establishment the night we dined here.

KENTUCKY DERBY PICKS AND ANALYSIS 2012

May 4, 2012

The 2012 edition of the Kentucky Derby features as strong and deep a field as I can remember, and I’ve been betting this race since 1994. It remains to be seen whether this class will be as strong at the top as a class such as 2007 was by the end of that year, but one thing is for sure- I’ve never liked this many horses in one running of this race. Any of my top nine horses could win the race and I wouldn’t be surprised, and I’m quite confident that I’ve never said that before; usually I feel confident narrowing the field down to four or five, but not this year. You can’t bet nine horses in a field of twenty and expect to earn any return, and the process of narrowing it down was incredibly challenging. There are reasons to like and dislike all of these horses. Below, I present the pros and cons of each runner in this year’s race, as well as the conclusion I have drawn from this analysis and how I will play each horse, if at all. I hope this helps you to narrow down these choices and make an informed wager on the first Saturday in May. As a bit of wagering advice, while exotic bets like the trifecta and exacta are where the big payoffs lie, the value in this race will be found in the win, place and show pools. Both favorites are beatable and with such a competitive field, the win odds for some very strong horses are likely to be in the double digits. As always, I’ve broken down the field based on running style. Good luck, and enjoy the race!

PACE:

TRINNIBERG (Teuflesberg- Bella Dorato/ Goldminers Gold(, PP #9, 50-1 Morning Line, 99 Beyer, 231 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Winner of two straight races, both at 7f, he is likely to be a major pace factor. He’s capable of going out and running :22.3 and :45.0 splits as he did in the Swale, which could greatly change the complexion of the entire race.

Cons: He appears distance challenged, with a low Tomlinson number and no races beyond 7f in seven career starts, which is a very rare situation. He is bred to sprint and has been trained to sprint.

Conclusion: Did someone say rabbit? Oh boy. He doesn’t appear to have the stamina or experience to actually wire this field, but he certainly could have a huge impact on the other pace setters. This race appears to be well beyond his ideal distance. He’s actually my pick to finish last. The main question is whether the other contenders will be able to lay off his likely suicidal pace.

BODEMEISTER (Empire Maker- Untouched Talent/ Storm Cat), PP #6, 4-1 Morning Line Favorite, 108 Beyer, 342 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: On figures alone, he towers above this field, with the highest last out Beyer and highest overall Beyer by a large margin. While no other horse has duplicated a triple digit Beyer, he has done so three times, and his numbers have gotten better as the distances have gotten longer. His pedigree suggests he should have no trouble getting the distance if he can avoid a pace duel as his Tomlinson number is tied for the second highest in the field, and coming from the Mr. Prospector sire line, he has Derby history on his side. In his dominating Arkansas Derby win, he came home his final 1/8 in :11.97, so he certainly still had gas left in the tank as he pulled away from the field.

Cons: He is lightly raced and unseasoned with only four career starts, and will try to buck the 130 year old Apollo curse- no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two year old since 1882. If Curlin, arguably the greatest racehorse of the past 15 years, couldn’t win the Derby without two year old foundation, are we to believe that Bodemeister will? He seems to be rapidly improving, but after three straight Beyers above 100 and only three weeks rest since his huge Arkansas Derby performance, it is asking a lot for such a lightly raced colt to even duplicate that effort, let alone move forward from it. He’ll pick up eight pounds here, which is a bigger leap in weight than any other horse in the field. It is also important to note that he had everything his way in that race, and was able to dictate the pace through fairly slow internal fractions against a pretty weak field, which could make that final 1/8 look a bit faster than it really was. He’ll have much more competition if he wants the lead in this race, and he’ll have to exert more energy early, which could compromise his ability to finish quite so strongly.

Conclusion: While I typically stay away from pace horses going the extra distance in the Kentucky Derby, I believe Bodemeister has to be used on some level despite his lack of seasoning. The combination of his speed and pedigree is simply too much to ignore, and the prospect of him wiring the field isn’t impossible at all as there is no reason to believe he isn’t capable of sitting right off of Trinniberg and carrying his speed for another furlong. There are too many negatives for him to be my top choice, but he can’t be ignored. The feeling here, though, is that he will probably either win the race on pure talent, or he’ll get caught up in a speed duel and finish off the board. I’ll use him in exactas just in case, but will try to beat the favorite in outright bets.

HANSEN (Tapit- Stormy Sunday/ Sir Cat), PP #14, 10-1 Morning Line, 96 Beyer, 307 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: The juvenile champion is seasoned and has a win over this racetrack in the Breeders’s Cup Juvenile last fall. He’ll have to trail Trinniberg, but he was successful in rating off a hot pace in the Gotham and winning that race. He was caught at the wire in the Blue Grass by a charging Dullahan, but he ran a strong race over the Polytrack there, setting blistering fractions and still coming home in :36.88 for his final 3/8 and :12.74 for his final 1/8. Although he faded late, his Tomlinson number is on the higher side compared to his competition here, so he could stay longer than most think, much like Shackleford did last year to finish fourth. He couldn’t have drawn any more perfectly, as post #14 puts him outside of all the speed and gives him great position to rate off the leaders.

Cons: He doesn’t appear to have made any noticeable step forward from his two year old campaign as far as figures are concerned as his Beyers have been consistently in the 94-96 range over his last four races, which won’t get the job done here. Historically, need-the-lead types that have successfully wired the Kentucky Derby have done so after winning wire to wire in dominating fashion during their final prep race. Hansen was beaten in his final prep as mentioned above. It was concerning to me not only that he lost that race, but that he lost it the way that he did, running out of gas down the stretch after setting pretty taxing fractions. He tends to be a bit of a maniac from a behavioral standpoint, and might come out rank and not be too eager to let Trinniberg open up ground on him, thereby using his energy too soon to press a hot pace. His Tomlinson number appears competitive, but may be a bit overstated- by Tapit out of a Sir Cat mare doesn’t exactly scream 10f to me.

Conclusion: He certainly deserves respect coming off his impressive win over this racetrack last fall, and is arguably a length loss in the Blue Grass away from being the favorite. Still, if I’m forced to side with any of the pace horses, I don’t like him as much as Bodemeister as he hasn’t been as dominant on the lead and his pedigree, while strong, doesn’t suggest quite as much staying power as that one’s does. The feeling here is that the extra furlong is going to be a bit more than he wants regardless of how the pace scenario plays out, so I’m taking a stand against.

I’LL HAVE ANOTHER (Flower Alley- Arch’s Gal Edith/ Arch), PP #19, 12-1 Morning Line, 96 Beyer, 342 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Took the west by storm from out of nowhere, posting a dominating victory in the Robert B. Lewis before grinding out a photo finish win in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s still not getting the respect he deserves considering how well he’s performed and how well he is bred for this distance; his Tomlinson figure of 342 is tied for second highest in the field. His female side is loaded with stamina, and the Mr. Prospector sire line has been very successful in this race.

Cons: One has to wonder how much the Santa Anita Derby win took out of him, as he was coming off a two month layoff when he won with a game but tough effort, and didn’t earn a great speed figure in that win. His win in the Lewis came after a four month layoff, so it is reasonable to wonder if he will be able to recover in time for an equivalent effort after only four weeks rest and such little seasoning. His two year old campaign was not as successful, and it remains to be seen if he is a colt who is just now beginning to hit his best stride, or whether he is inconsistent and due for a bounce after two straight wins. He is still lightly raced, with only five career starts. If the pace is as hot as anticipated and he gets too close to it, he could be cooked early. Aside from a rough trip over a sloppy track, he’s never been further back than third in his other four starts, and that might be far too near the pace here. His post isn’t a death sentence, but it isn’t ideal either, as he’ll have to go to lead or run the first part of the race wide to the rail.

Conclusion: There are certainly reasons to like him, but to me, he is definitely one to watch later in the year when he gets more bottom under him. He seems as likely as any to bounce in the Derby, but I respect him enough that I’ll have to use him on the bottom of my trifecta.

TAKE CHARGE INDY (AP Indy- Take Charge Lady/ Dehere), PP #3, 15-1 Morning Line, 96 Beyer, 290 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Upset Florida Derby winner got away with an easy lead but still appeared to have run in him, closing out his final 3/8 in :36.70 and his final 1/8 in :12.84. Having Calvin Borel on board is never a bad thing at this racetrack, and this colt appears to be improving at the right time.

Cons: He got away with a very easy lead in the Florida Derby, wiring the field after setting fairly tame fractions of :47.3 and 1:12. That won’t be anywhere near fast enough to get to the lead in the Kentucky Derby, so he’ll either have to rate behind the leaders or risk going with them and burning out very early. He isn’t always a front-runner, so there isn’t any reason that he can’t rate, but he has only been victorious running on the lead, and he would be wise to avoid the lead here. With Borel aboard, he figures to be an underlay. He got arguably the worst draw of all, as he sits near the rail with all of the speed outside of him.

Conclusion: There’s a lot to like with Borel on board at this racetrack as this colt is improving at the right time. I worry that he won’t be comfortable settling back off the pace as he will need to in a field with this much speed, and he seems to be more of a grinder who only has one gear. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him get a ground saving trip and pick up the pieces if the horses in front of him begin to back up, but I’m looking elsewhere.

JUST OFF THE PACE:

GEMOLOGIST (Tiznow- Crystal Shard/ Mr. Prospector), PP #15, 6-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer, 275 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He’s the only undefeated colt in the field, as he’s posted five wins in five career starts, including two at Churchill Downs. His victory in the Wood Memorial was reminiscent of his famous daddy, as he ran near the lead, exploded four wide into the stretch, and then showed toughness and resilience to fight off his challenger Alpha when that one made a late run to draw even near the wire. Over his five career starts, he has posted an increasing Beyer in each one, so it possible that he is still improving and we haven’t seen his very best yet, especially since he has yet to really be challenged. He has heart and guts at a level that can’t be quantitated. He drew an ideal post outside of the speed and avoided the auxillary gate.

Cons: There are legitimate concerns that he isn’t fast enough to win here and that his wins have come against suspect competition. He’s without a triple digit Beyer, and the 1:51 he posted in winning the Wood doesn’t jump off of the page regardless of how the track was playing. Although he fought off his challenger, his final 1/8 was run in a plodding :13.22, and his running action tends to paddle down the stretch. With only five career starts, he is not as seasoned as some of these. Perhaps of greater concern is that he amazingly has never been further back than third place at any point in any race he has ever run. If he has any chance to win, he will need to be much further back than that in the second flight of horses, somewhere between 6th and 10th, or he will be fried before the stretch trying to keep up with that pace. How he will respond to having that many horses in front of him when he has been so accustomed to being closer to the leader?

Conclusion: After watching the Wood Memorial, it is tough to not admire his grit and will to win. It is even tougher to justify using Alpha and leaving Gemologist off my tickets, and I still think Alpha is a must use based on his pedigree. I’m less worried about traffic trouble since his post should be perfect for his running style, and I’m still not sure that Gemologist has quite the seasoning to pull off the win here, but I’ll use him underneath my top choices in exactas and trifectas. As the likely third betting choice, I will look elsewhere for outright bets, but as his daddy is one of my all time favorites, I’ll be rooting for him with my heart, if not all-in with my wallet.

UNION RAGS (Dixie Union- Tempo/ Gone West), PP #4, 9-2 Morning Line, 95 Beyer, 246 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He had excuses in his disappointing third place effort last time out in the Florida Derby, as he had a nightmare trip with Leparoux taking him back early and being forced wide late. He didn’t start his best running until it was too late, but he still made a strong closing move and came home in a respectable :12.38 for the final 1/8 and he appeared to gallop out past the winner. It’s also important to note that the horse didn’t need to post a dominating victory in that race, but instead needed a good workout to get him primed for a big effort on the first Saturday in May. He has a solid two year old foundation to fall back on, has been working like he is ready to peak, and is as impressive a physical specimen as you’ll see in this race. Even in his losses, no horses have passed him down the stretch.

Cons: Still without a triple digit Beyer, he’s a colt that is undeniably talented but doesn’t appear to have made a considerable improvement from his two year old season. He’s yet to win around two turns, and has been prone to traffic issues in much smaller fields than this one as a result of his large frame. He is likely to encounter more starting from the less than ideal #4 post with most of the speed to his outside. He’s somewhat like a locomotive in that he takes awhile to get moving and doesn’t have a quick turn of foot, but once he finds his stride he keeps coming. His low Tomlinson number is a bit of a concern as well, as it places him in the bottom five of the field by that measure and indicates that this may not be his ideal distance.

Conclusions: There are two schools of thought here. If you loved him before the Florida Derby, you’re probably just as glad that he didn’t win that race since you’ll likely get about double the odds now compared to if he would have won, and there isn’t anything that happened in that race that should make you want to jump off of him. On the other hand, many weren’t as enamored with him even before the Florida Derby, and will point to that race to emphasize his weaknesses, while voicing concerns about his ability to handle to distance. The talent is there, the seasoning is there, and he may be finally ready to deliver the huge performance that we’ve been expecting since last November. As the likely post-time favorite, I’ll try to find better value for my outright wagers, but he will be on all my exotic tickets.

EL PADRINO (Pulpit- Enchanted Rock/ Giant’s Causeway), PP #16, 20-1 Morning Line, 100 Beyer, 305 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He showed a lot of promise early in the year, posting a triple digit Beyer while winning an optional claiming race at Gulfstream running near the lead and getting past Take Charge Indy for the win. His pedigree seems suited well enough for the distance.

Cons: His Beyers have been descending since posting the 100 mark back in January, all while the distances of his races have been getting longer, which is not exactly the type of trend that you’d like to see leading up to the Derby. He came up quite flat in the Florida Derby without any excuses, never threatening or showing any sort of acceleration or turn of foot in that race. His prior Gulfstream form took a hit there as well, as the toughest horse he had beaten in Take Charge Indy turned the tables easily on him, and his win over Mark Valeski lost some luster after that one failed to seal the deal against a weak Louisiana Derby field.

Conclusion: It’s possible he was a bit overrated early in the year, although if you still have faith in him you’re likely to get a much better price on him now. Anything can happen on the first Saturday in May, but with such a strong, deep field, I have to admit that I like others better, as I generally avoid grinder-types in this race.

LIASON (Indian Charlie- Galloping Gal/ Victory Gallop, PP #20, 50-1 Morning Line, 92 Beyer, 251 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He won the Cash Call Futurity last December, finishing well to catch Rousing Sermon at the wire. He will likely benefit from a change of location, as things didn’t go well for him at Santa Anita in his three starts this year. Word from the track is that he looks like a different horse on this track, and he does have Bob Baffert in his corner.

Cons: To say that things didn’t go well out west is probably putting it mildly. He lost his jockey in the Lewis and didn’t finish the race, finished a well-beaten fourth in the San Felipe and then didn’t show up at all for the Santa Anita Derby, finishing sixth beaten by nine lengths. He shows all the signs of a horse that is moving backward rather than forward.

Conclusion: I’ve lumped him into the “just off the pace” category but in reality there is no real telling where this horse wants to run, because we haven’t really seen him compete at a very high level in 2012. His best shot is probably to sit in the second flight of horses, save ground and hope to grind out a decent effort. Still, it is hard to imagine that a change of location will make enough difference for him to contend here.

DADDY LONG LEGS (Scat Daddy- Dreamy Maiden/ Meadowlake), PP #1, 30-1 Morning Line, 60 Beyer, 236 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Euro invader from the Aidan O’Brien camp is the only horse to run and win a race beyond 9f, as he was most impressive over the synthetic surface in Dubai in the UAE Derby in his only 2012 start.

Cons: He didn’t run well at all over this racetrack in his lone dirt start, finishing a dismal 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind many of these. His pedigree numbers for this distance are among the worst in the field, and although he has proven to be able to win over a longer course, he sat off a crawling pace in that race and enjoyed a perfect trip. Shipping over the pond is always a concern, as Euros have not historically performed well in this race. He is lightly raced, with only one race this year and five over his career. If that weren’t enough, he drew the dreaded one hole, which has ended the chances of many horses more talented than him on Derby day.

Conclusion: You’d really be taking a stab in the dark to use him on your tickets in a race this stacked with talent, although O’Brien does choose carefully when deciding who to ship over for this race. Crazier things have happened (maybe?) but he doesn’t appear to be a dirt horse or a router, and the difficult trip over from Europe was the icing on the cake even before he drew the rail. As always, he will be a mystery, but who wants to root for the Euro horse after singing “My Old Kentucky Home”?

STALKERS:

CREATIVE CAUSE (Giant’s Causeway- Dream of Summer/ Siberian Summer), PP #8, 12-1 Morning Line, 102 Beyer, 302 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He stormed past Bodemeister like that one was standing still in winning the 8.5 f San Felipe back in March, posting the second highest Beyer figure in this field. Then he lost a close race in a photo finish in the Santa Anita Derby after a less than ideal trip and running with blinkers off for the first time. Still, I loved the way he split horses to get into contention in that race; that type of toughness is what you want to see going into a crowded field such as this one, and I think it was just the type of race that he needed to use as a learning experience before the Derby. His pedigree leaves no question marks, he’s broken the triple digit Beyer threshold, and he appears to have gotten solid conditioning out of the Santa Anita Derby, a race that he didn’t need to reach peak form for anyway considering he was already safely in the field. He’s as seasoned as they come, having run steadily increasing distances over his eight races, all of which have seen him hit the board. In his four losses, he’s never been more than a length from the winner, and he shows every indication that he be will at his best going 10f. He is the model of consistency, and should sit a perfect trip from the #8 post.

Cons: He’s lost concentration down the stretch in races at times, tending to waver and hang a bit, and his connections have been a bit indecisive as to the use of blinkers to correct this problem. You really don’t like to see equipment changes this close to the big race. He also isn’t fond of the whip or crowded fields, so he may need to be in position to be hand ridden or potentially lose focus or interest down the stretch, which isn’t a likely scenario in a race this competitive. He’s also a descendant of the Storm Cat sire line, which has been cursed in this race, if you believe in that sort of thing, but his mental toughness is more of a concern than any curse, as a new Derby law seems to fall every year.

Conclusion: I’ve been on him since before his third place finish at Churchill in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind since then. His gallop outs in all his races have been most impressive. He blew past the now highly touted Bodemeister in the 8.5f San Felipe like he was standing still and was flattered by that one’s subsequent Arkansas Derby romp, and the Santa Anita Derby loss would be more concerning if it appeared that he overexerted himself. On the contrary, he didn’t have the best trip, still drew even with the winner and galloped out well past him, and more importantly, was able to use that race as a learning and conditioning experience. He may have the most heart and experience of any horse in the field, and that’s a dangerous combination on the first Saturday in May, enough that I will overlook his apparent mental deficiencies. Plus, he’s a gray. The pick.

WENT THE DAY WELL (Proud Citizen- Tiz Maie’s Day/ Tiznow), PP #13, 20-1 Morning Line, 92 Beyer, 155 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Animal Kingdom’s connections are taking the exact same approach with this colt, who won the Vinery Spiral from off the pace over the synthetic surface just as that one did. In fact, his splits (:39.07 final 3/8, :13.26 final 1/8), which appear deceiving over that surface just as the Derby winner’s clearly were last year, are actually faster than Animal Kingdom’s were a year ago, and he actually does has have a win over dirt on his resume. He’s also a distant descendant of the Mr. Prospector sire line.  Psychologically, he seems to be well-suited to run in a large pack of horses such as this, as he controls space with authority and focuses and releases upon his competitors.

Cons: Two big differences between this colt and Animal Kingdom for those who want to make comparisons based on their connections. The big one- Animal Kingdom’s Tomlinson Distance figure was the highest in the field last year. The 155 for Went the Day Well is the lowest of 20, which is a major red flag. Also, Animal Kingdom made significant progress once arriving at Churchill Downs and working over the surface, and was practically the universal choice by the serious clockers as far as appearance was concerned going into last year’s race. Went The Day Well has failed to make a similar impression.

Conclusion: It would be a big mistake to assume that this colt is on the same level as Animal Kingdom at this point just because he has taken the same path to the big race. I like his running style and potential to make a stretch move, but can’t bring myself to support a horse with such a suspect pedigree for this distance, and who hasn’t faced any horses on this level before.

SABERCAT (Bluegrass Cat- Miner’s Blessing/ Forty Niner). PP #18 , 30-1 Morning Line, 92 Beyer, 271 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He posted a career high Beyer in his last outing, a third place finish in the Arkansas Derby, but was beaten handily in that race by nine lengths. His two-year-old season showed promise, and his daddy did finish second in this race. This will be his third race off a layoff, where trainer Steve Asmussen tends to do his best work, and he said Sabercat would be primed to peak.

Cons: He has potential but hasn’t yet delivered on it after three straight victories last year. His eighth place finish in the Rebel, behind the likes of Secret Circle, Optimizer and Scatman, is a big cause for concern as the competition here is on a completely different level. He hasn’t shown the speed to compete with the cream of the crop here.

Conclusions: He’d need to take a big step forward to be a factor here. Some will use him underneath as he figures to improve in this race and be coming late, but I don’t think that improvement will be enough to hit the board, so I will look elsewhere. Bottom of the superfecta appears to be his ceiling and I’m not playing the superfecta.

PROSPECTIVE (Malibu Moon- Spirited Away/ Awesome Again), PP #12, 30-1 Morning Line, 90 Beyer, 293 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He sat off a hot pace in the Tampa Bay Derby and pulled away from his foes in the stretch. He has hit the board three times in four starts this year, and finished ahead of Reveron in the Sam Davis. He was flattered when that one finished ahead of Union Rags at Gulfstream. From a pedigree standpoint, he should be considered in the upper echelon of this field, and the reports from the track indicate that he may be one of the most impressive horses in the field from a physical standpoint.

Cons: Perhaps he didn’t care for the surface, but he didn’t really show up in the Blue Grass, finishing sixth and never threatening after a wide trip. He appears not fast enough, barely breaking the 90 Beyer threshold once in his eight race career. He was destroyed over this racetrack in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where he faced seven on these horses, finishing 13th by more than 20 lengths. His claim to fame, the win in the Tampa Bay Derby, came against a very weak field and wasn’t incredibly fast.

Conclusion: It is hard to see where he fits in here. He doesn’t seem to have the speed to run on the lead or the acceleration ability to move past horses after running mid-pack. Pass.

OPTIMIZER (English Channel- Indy Pick/ AP Indy), PP #2, 50-1 Morning Line, 91 Beyer, 306 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He ran a strong race two back in the Rebel, racing from off the pace to narrowly miss the win by ¾ of a length. Given the anticipated hot pace up front, he has as good a shot as any to be coming late, especially with his strong pedigree numbers.

Cons: As good as his Rebel looked, his other two races this year looked bad enough to nullify it altogether. He was crushed in the 8.5f Risen Star, finishing 9th and losing by 13 lengths, and then threw in a real clunker in the Arkansas Derby, actually losing an astonishing ten lengths over the last half of the race to finish 9th by 20 lengths. The sheer depth of those losses indicate his Rebel performance may have either been a fluke, or his career peak. He wasn’t very competitive over this course last fall in the Juvenile, finishing 8th behind many of these. Inside post also doesn’t help the situation…

Conclusion: He’s the last horse into the race and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, a trainer who despite is successes has shown a tendency to enter horses into this race who have no business running. I can’t imagine he is going to be at his best coming off his Arkansas Derby no-show, and you’d really have to be leaning on his pedigree and praying for a complete pace meltdown to play him here. I will not.

CLOSERS:

DULLAHAN (Even the Score- Mining My Own/ Smart Strike), PP #5, 8-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer, 261 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: This is a stone cold deep closer who posted the most impressive fractions of any horse in the race in his Blue Grass win, closing out the final 3/8 in :35.44 and the final 1/8 in an astonishing :11.68, setting a stakes record time in the process. His pedigree is a proven force if you dig into it a bit- he descends from a Mr. Prospector sire line, and if you don’t recognize the dam, well, she foaled a little colt named Mine That Bird, who won this race three years ago in a stunning upset. Dullahan was flying late to finish fourth over this course last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and has been consistent on other surfaces since. He has posted three straight ascending Beyers, and has shown steady improvement figure-wise over all of his eight career starts. He’s also the only colt here with two Grade I wins.

Cons: He has yet to win over a dirt surface and is 0/3 at Churchill Downs, losing the first two starts of his career at shorter distances (5.5f, 6f) before his aforementioned 4th place finish at the Breeders’ Cup. The winner of the Blue Grass has been a complete no-show in the Derby since Keeneland switched to a synthetic surface, and many horses have made equally stunning closing moves only to fall silent three weeks later on Derby day (Monba, Dominican, Stately Victor, General Quarters and Brilliant Speed come immediately to mind). His rider pulled him up somewhat suddenly at the end of that race, preventing him from achieving a full gallop out, but perhaps that was in an attempt to save all of that bottled up energy?

Conclusion: I’m puzzled by the detractors who question his ability to handle the dirt; at Churchill last fall, he covered the final furlong faster than any horse in the race, coming from 9th to finish a very respectable 4th in a tough field at a shorter distance. His other two dirt losses came at distances that are clearly too short for him so I have a tough time even giving consideration to those performances. I doubted Animal Kingdom’s ability to handle the dirt last year despite all evidence to contrary and I won’t be making that mistake again. It’s a new world, and it isn’t that Dullahan doesn’t like dirt, he just hasn’t run on it enough yet. I’ve historically loved horses in this race that close with authority and on paper as well as by pure observation he appears to be the most explosive and dangerous of all, especially as this race shapes up to be having more pace than originally expected. I think he’s peaking, and he’ll be on top of all my exotic tickets and will get some serious outright attention as well.

ALPHA (Bernardini- Munnaya/ Nijinsky II), PP #11, 15-1 Morning Line, 98 Beyer, 384 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Here’s a colt that seems to be rapidly on the improve. In his three starts this year, he’s posted two wins and a place, and boasts ascending Beyers of 85-91-98. His pedigree is arguably the most balanced and deep for this distance in the entire field and his Tomlinson figure supports this assessment, as it towers over the field and is actually a higher figure than either of the past two Derby winners, who, importantly, also both had the highest Tomlinson figure in their respective fields. He made a strong move around the turn in the Wood Memorial to get into contention after being checked hard early and having a rough trip. Even though he couldn’t get past the winner in deep stretch, that’s the type of move you look for in a last prep for a Derby contender, and that race was his first after a two month layoff anyway.

Cons: He’s been a bit mismanaged in his three-year old campaign, as the Wood Memorial was his first race in two months and now he gets only four weeks to recover for the race of his life. He suffered some bleeding after getting banged around in that race resulting in an infection, which isn’t ideal either, and it has caused him to miss a scheduled workout. Although his move looked visually pleasing, the numbers say otherwise in comparison with his foes (:37.96 final 3/8, :12.97 final 1/8). His regular rider, Ramon Dominguez, has opted to ride Hansen in this race.

Conclusion: I promised myself after last year that I’d never leave the horse with the best pedigree off of my tickets again so he’ll be on mine. I think he is the most rapidly improving horse in the field with the most room for upside and he’s likely to fly somewhat under the radar as an overlay at attractive odds, especially after all of the infection rumors. I’m willing to trust that if he makes it to the starting gate, then his connections believe he is sound. His last scheduled work was very strong (:59.4 for 5f sounds pretty sharp to me) so I have no reason to believe he isn’t ready to be run a big one here. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see him win this race. After all, the AP Indy sire line is well overdue. He’ll be on all my tickets.

DADDY NOSE BEST (Scat Daddy- Follow Your Bliss/ Thunder Gulch), PP #10,  15-1 Morning Line, 100 Beyer, 242 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: The only horse in the field to win twice over the 9f distance, and he won both races with grit as he didn’t have ideal trips. He’s incredibly seasoned, with a field-high ten races to date, eight of which have been past 8f in his young career over a variety of surfaces. He’s broken the triple digit Beyer threshold, which historically has meant a great deal, if not recently. He may be the type of horse that has made the move from turf to dirt and is coming into his own at the right time; his last three Beyers dating back to last year are ascending, 75-93-100. He’s been training at Churchill now for a full month so he’ll have the advantage of being comfortable with the track, and by all accounts he has looked very strong over it.

Cons: He was all out to beat Isn’t He Clever in his big Sunland Derby win, and wasn’t flattered at all when that one was smashed in the Arkansas Derby by nearly 20 lengths. That is to say, he is taking a big step up to the big leagues in terms of competition. He seems to do his best running in tandem with his competitors, and hasn’t yet shown a strong mental ability to focus in on a target in front of him, which could be to his detriment given his running style. His distance pedigree numbers are among the lowest in the field, and although his sire has been hot of late, he finished 18th in this race himself. Also, aside from making a mockery of the English language, his name sucks.

Conclusion: I took a hard stand against his daddy five years ago and was right to do so. I even harassed and taunted an elderly hillbilly woman who had predicted Scat Daddy as the winner in the infield after the fact.  I will do the same again, although I do respect his seasoning and could see the pace setting up for him to get involved late for a minor award. It would be unwise to leave him off of superfecta tickets completely, but I’ll try to beat him for the trifecta. He seems to be the “wise guy” horse and could end up an underlay.

DONE TALKING (Broken Vow- Dixie Talking/ Dixieland Band), PP #17, 50-1 Morning Line, 85 Beyer, 339 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: Closed gamely from off the pace to win the Illinois Derby in his last effort. His pedigree numbers are extremely competitive here, and he descends from the Mr. Prospector sire line. With the likely hot pace up front, his running style and pedigree combination make him a live longshot to be moving late, even if not at an eye-catching pace.

Cons: Despite his strong closing move, his final time and Beyer number from the Illinois Derby win appear incredibly slow in comparison to his competitors. He was absolutely crushed in the Gotham over a wet synthetic surface, losing by 20 lengths.

Conclusion: While I can imagine a Giacomo-like scenario with this guy picking off tiring horses late, he’d need a perfect trip and a career performance. Even with all of that he isn’t fast enough without taking a massive step forward. There are probably too many strong horses here to advise using him at the bottom of superfectas, but he certainly could spice up the payoff. It isn’t impossible if the race completely falls apart and if I had to pick any of the 50-1 horses to hit the board, I suppose I’d go with him. Live longshot based on his high Tomlinson number (fourth highest in the field), but I will pass.

ROUSING SERMON (Lucky Pulpit- Rousing Again/ Awesome Again), PP #7, 50-1 Morning Line, 88 Beyer, 284 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: He made up a lot of ground running on late to take third in the Louisiana Derby. He has looked good moving over the Churchill Downs course this week.

Cons: His speed figures in his last three races are well below the competition here, as he has yet to post a Beyer above 90 and has only hit the board once in those three starts.

Conclusion: The likely pace scenario gives him a small shot to come on late but he’d need to improve massively and have a perfect trip to even factor into the superfecta. He appears, quite frankly, to be too slow, and in over his head.

HOW TO BET $100 ON THE KENTUCKY DERBY:

$10 WIN, PLACE, SHOW on CREATIVE CAUSE

$10 PLACE, SHOW on DULLAHAN

$10 SHOW on ALPHA

$1 EXACTA BOX: CREATIVE CAUSE, DULLAHAN, ALPHA, GEMOLOGIST, UNION RAGS, BODEMEISTER ($30)

$0.50 TRIFECTA WHEEL: CREATIVE CAUSE, DULLAHAN/ CREATIVE CAUSE, DULLAHAN, ALPHA/ CREATIVE CAUSE, DULLAHAN, ALPHA, UNION RAGS, BODEMEISTER, GEMOLOGIST, I’LL HAVE ANOTHER ($10)

PICKS SUMMARY:

  1. CREATIVE CAUSE
  2. DULLAHAN
  3. ALPHA
  4. GEMOLOGIST
  5. UNION RAGS
  6. BODEMEISTER
  7. I’LL HAVE ANOTHER
  8. DADDY NOSE BEST
  9. HANSEN
  10. TAKE CHARGE INDY
  11. EL PADRINO
  12. DONE TALKING
  13. WENT THE DAY WELL
  14. SABERCAT
  15. PROSPECTIVE
  16. ROUSING SERMON
  17. OPTIMIZER
  18. LIASON
  19. DADDY LONG LEGS
  20. TRINNIBERG

 

WINE OF THE MONTH- APRIL

May 1, 2012

Taking a break from the wines of France for a moment, I’ve decided to feature a grape that actually began its cultivation there after being transplanted from Iran,  but arguably rose to fame through its association with another country- Australia. I’m talking about Shiraz, or Syrah as they call almost  it everywhere else. It’s the same grape, and it is probably my favorite of all. You’ll find all different types of Syrahs now across the planet, as California and Washington are developing unique terroir-driven examples, South America creates minerally examples, Australia ramps up the fruit, heat and spice, and France keeps doing what they do. In slight contrast to the typical Australian style, I ran across a bottle of Shiraz that is remarkably refined and balanced between fruit and mineral notes, and at an impressive price point for its quality. I’m pretty certain that in a blind tasting I would not guess that this wine is produced in Australia; while the fruit is present it isn’t as immediate, and is complimented by so many other nuances. This is probably the best value I’ve found this year.

Shoofly Shiraz South Australia 2010, 89 Points, $10, 5000 Cases Imported-  Deep and leathery on the nose with hints of pepper spice and mineral. Full and lush on the palate, brimming with dark plum, black cherry and licorice flavors that give way to a spicy, lightly minerally finish. Impressive for its depth and texture at this price point.