In preparing for the Preakness, I decided to take a closer look at the Louisiana Derby, as it appears to have become a very important race based on its top 4 finishers’ recent efforts:

1st- Revolutionary (3rd Derby)

2nd- Mylute (5th Derby)

3rd- Departing (1st Illinois Derby)

4th- Golden Soul (2nd Derby)

In the Kentucky Derby, of the 19 runners, only 7 of them had shown sub :38 second final 3/8 moves in their final prep on dirt (this doesn’t include Java’s War or Palice Malice, who did so over synthetic in their final prep). Looking deeper, three of those runners did so in the Wood Memorial, a race that is pretty much a toss in terms of come home times considering the absurd opening fractions (:24.9/ :49.6/ 1:13.7). If we toss those three runners, we are left with only FOUR horses to run a legitimate sub :38 final 3/8 leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Want to know who they are?

Golden Soul :37.29 (finished 2nd)

Mylute :37.64 (finished 5th)

Orb :37.68 (finished 1st)

Revolutionary :37.89 (finished 3rd)

The most notable thing here is that somehow I completely missed the fact that Golden Soul’s final 3/8 in the Louisiana Derby was not only the fastest in that race, but the fastest in the entire Derby field outside of the Wood Memorial. I’m not sure I would have used him anyway, but it would have been nice to have noticed that in retrospect.

A cheap, simple box of these four horses in a $.50 tri would have cost $12 and paid $1730. Oops.

Anyway, back to the Preakness. Before I stumbled upon that tidbit that has me incredibly furious with myself, the point of the exercise was to evaluate the chances of newcomer Departing, who was 3rd in the Louisiana Derby before circling the field to win the Illinois Derby impressively, making a four wide move.

First, I wanted to evaluate his final 3/8 in the Louisiana Derby against the rest of that field, a stat that held up quite well in the Derby based on the come home times in that race:

Golden Soul :37.29 (ran 3rd fastest final 1/4 in Derby)

Mylute :37.64 (ran 4th fastest final 1/4 in Derby)

Revolutionary :37.89 (ran 2nd fastest final 1/4 in Derby)

Departing :38.54

So, based on that, it’s probably safe to say I wouldn’t have used him in the Derby. Considering he finished three lengths behind Mylute in Louisiana, and considering how well Mylute ran on to finish 5th in the Derby, it’s tough to elevate Departing above him, one would think.

But, we also must evaluate Departing’s win in the 9f Illinois Derby, in which he came home his final 3/8 in a much improved :37.25 running four wide. This looks eye-catching on paper and would certainly have been worth considering for the Derby- is this a colt that is simply improving at the right time?

To quote Lee Corso, not so fast my friends. Let’s have a look at the opening fractions of the Wood Memorial, which my above methodology proves rendered the come home times irrelevant in terms of hitting the Derby trifecta, versus the opening fractions of the Illinois Derby and the Louisiana Derby, which was proven to have very valid come home times in terms of predictability:

WOOD: :24.9/ :49.6/ 1:13.7

ILLINOIS: :23.1/ :47.7/ 1:13.0

LOUISIANA: :22.8/ :46.3/ 1:11.8

While the Illinois Derby opening 1/2 fractions were far faster than the Wood, the middle 1/4 was actually slower, making the opening 3/4 split relatively similar, only :0.7 faster. Keep in mind that after running a similarly slow opening 3/4, Normandy Invasion, Verrazano and Vyjack were all able to come home in a sub :36.5 final 3/8 in that race. None hit the board in the Derby, and only one came close. How does :37.25 look now taking that into consideration?

In addition, Departing’s Beyer for the Illinois Derby was 93. In a year of generally low speed figures I guess that doesn’t disqualify him altogether, but it certainly doesn’t jump off the page, and the field he beat there was quite weak. I’m leaning towards not using him…especially since he’s the projected 6-1 second choice right now.

Now, a word on each of the horses:

139th Kentucky Derby

1- ORB (1-1 Morning Line Favorite, 104 Beyer)

Considering how easily he won the Derby, and the fact that the 2nd-4th place finishers took a pass on the Preakness, he is certainly a deserving odds-on favorite here. What was most remarkable about his Derby win is the fact that he ran the fastest final 1/4 split of all; there was no horse gaining ground on him through the finish. Sure, the hot pace up front didn’t hurt his chances, and he’ll have less extra ground here as the distance shortens up half a furlong. But it would be difficult to make a strong case for any of these runners to beat him considering the way he came out of the race and the way he’s been training (worked a :47.2 4f and galloped out beautifully in :59.5). The one to beat, and an easy one to root for.

2- GOLDENCENTS (8-1 Morning Line, 105 Beyer)

I had been hard against him in the Derby, but even his detractors didn’t expect the utter disaster he experienced there. He didn’t like any part of it, be it the hot early pace or the muddy track, and finished a fading 17th, nearly 50 lengths from the winner. Some will look for a bounce back performance here, but I again expect him to be on or near the lead, setting fractions near :46.5 or below. That’s simply too fast for a horse with his distance limitations, and while he was near the lead in the Derby, it’s worthy of note that he sat 4.5 lengths off the opening half and pretty much ran his race- his split time of :46.3 falls directly in between his prior two opening split times, so don’t tell me he got too close to a hot pace. The track at Pimlico should be more favorable to speed than Churchill was two weeks ago, but it won’t be as favorable as Santa Anita, and there is plenty of other speed in here to keep him honest him early.

3- TITLETOWN FIVE (30-1 Morning Line, 84 Beyer)

Lukas adds another contender to the mix here and now has a third of the field under his supervision. A Tiznow colt with tons of speed on the bottom, you can expect him to be involved early, despite Lukas’ assertion this week that he would like to see him four to five lengths off the pace. His 9th place finish in the Louisiana Derby against many of these foes after making the lead in :46.3 for the half doesn’t inspire much confidence, and he wasn’t able to hit the board against a weaker field in a shorter race, the 8f Derby Trial three weeks back (he was only 2 lengths off a scalding :45.0 opening half in that race, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be right there if they go in :46.5 this time).

4- DEPARTING (6-1 Morning Line, 93 Beyer)

I gave him a fair amount of attention above, and of the newcomers, he certainly appears to have the most upside. A bit of Preakness history here though- the last three winners to not race in the Derby were Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Bernardini in 2006 and Louis Quatorze in 1996. The most recent two of those became two of the most brilliant thoroughbreds of their generation, and the latter benefited as lone speed with a front-running trip. While admittedly improving, does Departing’s win in the Illinois Derby (93 Beyer) from off a slow pace qualify under either category? For what it’s worth, Bernardini had posted a 104 Beyer, and Rachel Alexandra a 116, prior to racing in the Preakness. In terms of class, his win in the Illinois Derby featured a 4 length win over Abraham, a horse that Govenor Charlie handled even more easily by 8 lengths at Sunland. For me, as mentioned above, it is hard to justify betting him ahead of Mylute, especially considering the extra money he is liable to take as the “wise guy” horse.

5- MYLUTE (5-1 Morning Line, 99 Beyer)

As documented above, his closing fractions in the Louisiana Derby indicated he could be a factor in Kentucky, and his 5th place finish there looms on paper to be the biggest returning threat to the winner. I still think it’s likely that he benefited from the sloppy track most of all, and his one-run style could be less effective as this race should turn up a tad cooler on the front end, but he is certainly in the mix to hit the board.

6- OXBOW (15-1 Morning Line, 95 Beyer)

I keep waiting for this guy to show his breakout race, and this could finally be it. The race he ran in the Kentucky Derby was arguably the best of his career to date. Forced to go early with a quicker than expected pace from his furthest inside post, he stuck around far longer than any of the other pace horses to finish a respectable 6th. With five races now under his belt in 2013, he’s got plenty of bottom, experience, and if his last race was any indication, upside. My affinity for his pedigree is well-documented and this might be the race to take a shot on him to hit the board at a decent price.

7- WILL TAKE CHARGE (12-1 Morning Line, 95 Beyer)

Coming off a long seven week layoff, the race he ran in the Derby was deceivingly good. He started to make a move around the same time Orb did and was actually matching strides in the early part of that move before he ran smack into the rear end of a tiring Verrazano, had to check, and ran on to finish 8th. He probably needed the added fitness he acquired there anyway, and might also benefit from the slight cutback in distance. He looks like a live one to hit the board.

8- GOVENOR CHARLIE (12-1 Morning Line, 95 Beyer)

Baffert finally gets his 2013 Triple Crown shot after deciding to pass on the Derby with this guy, who now takes a giant leap up in class coming off an eight week layoff thanks to an issue with a bruised hoof in only his fourth career start. That’s a lot to overcome, and while he appears to be a talented colt with a promising future based on his Sunland Derby win, there’s nothing to suggest he possesses the type of brilliance required to pull the upset against this classy field. Expect him to be tested early as he likes to run near the lead.

9- ITSMYLUCKYDAY (10-1 Morning Line, 93 Beyer)

His connections seemed utterly shocked by his dismal 15th place finish in the Derby, but he pretty much ran the race I expected, starting off close to a hot pace and fading late. Again, he has been training well and certainly has the tactical speed to be in the mix early, but I still think he is highly vulnerable at distances beyond 9f…which this race, while a cutback from the last one, still is.

Picks Summary:

1) Orb

2) Oxbow

3) Will Take Charge

4) Mylute

5) Departing

6) Goldencents

7) Itsmyluckyday

8) Govenor Charlie

9) Titletown Five

How to Bet $100 on the Preakness:

Orb is the highly likely winner, but won’t offer value in the outright pools. I’ll try to key him on top and hit the trifecta, while looking for value elsewhere underneath him in the place and show spot. Again, since this is still a longer race at 9.5f, I’ll try to beat the horses with suspect pedigrees at longer distances, namely Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday. It worked in the Derby and I’m not buying the slop excuse…they were all running on the same slop, and a wet track should help the speed if anything. I’ll also play against all the newcomers, which leaves me with this:

$10 Tri Key: Orb/ Oxbow, Will Take Charge/ Oxbow, Will Take Charge, Mylute

$30 Place, Show on Oxbow

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