The Brock Talk

Friday, April 30, 2010

Kentucky Derby Wagering Strategies

When evaluating the wagering opportunities in the 2010 Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) presented by Yum! Brands, one fact stands out. The first two favorites have drawn perhaps the two most undesirable post positions: Lookin at Lucky at 3-1 in the morning line, has drawn post one; and Sidney's Candy (5-1) is on the far outside in hole no. 20. For many that will be plenty to keep either one off the top tier of their trifectas and superfectas and away from being keyed in multi-race bets like the Pick-4.

Despite the bad position, I'm betting that Lookin at Lucky has enough speed to avert most of the trouble. He should also get a little help from starting gate neighbor Ice Box, who is likely to be dropping behind him and create some additional room for Lucky. I have an aversion to picking favorites, but having said all that, Looking at Lucky appears to be a head above the rest of this field (excluding Sidney's Candy.)

Sidney's Candy will have even more speed to negotiate a good spot in the race and from the far outside, jockey Joe Talamo will have a good view from which to see his options. My concern for Sidney's Candy is the potential fast pace in the race and him getting caught in that likely speed duel - or worse - not being able to relax while being rated for the first time. I don't like throwing Sidney's Candy off the top tier of my selections and I expect him to be in the hunt when they turn for home. I'm just banking he's used enough energy during the first mile of the race to allow a late runner to come and get him sometime during the long Churchill Downs stretch.

So my other Kentucky Derby key horse is Awesome Act (photo), the third place finisher behind Eskendereya and Jackson Bend in the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) and the winner of the Gotham Stakes (gr. 2) in March. Awesome Act stumbled badly in that race and lost a shoe at the start. He is a late runner who got caught behind a slow pace, is making his third start off of a lay-off and may improve enough to win the Run For The Roses. He is the "Wise Guy" horse (meaning he has been the talk of the Churchill Downs barn area) which is usually a bad sign in itself. But I cashed one of my biggest gambles when Blushing John threw a shoe in the 1989 Oaklawn Handicap then came back to win the Pimlico Special... so I have a thing for shoe throwing horses.

My super longshot is Backtalk at 50-1. By that, I don't mean to say he will win, but his love of mud, good turn of foot, excuse in the Illinois Derby after a prerace work went awry, and a solid and perhaps underrated trainer in Tom Amoss make him a logical horse to put into my exotics hoping for a bonanza.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for Kentucky Derby tickets.

$1 Trifecta (32 Combonations) = Total Cost $32

$1 Trifecta (84 Combinations) Total Cost = $84

You may also have the option of wagering a 10-cent superfecta - one of my favorite new bets in racing. You get plenty of action at a relatively low cost with the possibility of a fairly big return on your investment.

$.10 Superfecta (420 Combinations) Total Cost = $42

Horses In My Kentucky Derby Wagers
1. Lookin at Lucky
3. Noble's Promise
7. American Lion
15. Line of David
16. Awesome Act
17. Dublin
18. Backtalk
20. Sidney's Candy

Comments, Morning Line Odds and Post Positions of every Kentucky Derby contender

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Awesome Lookin Exacta

1. Lookin at Lucky (3-1) – Definitely battle tested with significant trouble in his last two races in the Rebel (gr. 2) victory and the third in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1). His unlucky draw into the inside post will be helped by Ice Box, who is next door in hole #2 and likely to fall back quickly, giving Lookin at Lucky a little space. He also has the ability to launch his rally from any location in the pack (he raillied from 10th to just miss by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile) so if he gets shuffled back early, he can still roll from far back late. If you’re a fan, then 3-1 odds Saturday may be the best value you’ll ever see on this horse for a while. He's a potential super star who has looked great in the mornings. If he goes to 7-2 or higher, he’ll be irresistible.

2. Ice Box (10-1) – The winner of the Florida Derby (gr. 1) has many things going for him - not the least of which is the likely pace in this year’s Derby. He is one of two big closers (along with long shot and Ark. Derby winner Stately Vicor) in a year filled with front runners who are likely to insure an early fast pace. He is trained by 2-time Kentucky Derby winner Nick Zito and although the Florida Derby may not have been that strong, he ran down the leaders on his left lead. Traffic and the 6-week gap since the Florida Derby will be his biggest obstacles. I’m siding with the obstacles.

3. Noble’s Promise (12-1) – A bridesmaid to Lookin at Lucky in his two starts just previous to a disastrous Arkansas Derby that almost cost him a trip to this Derby because of cuts and bruises suffered at Oaklawn. It was also later discovered that Noble's Promise had lung infection that week that has also since been irradicated. Had a big work over the Churchill Downs mud Monday so it appears he’s recovered and ready.

4. Super Saver (15-1) – Second as the front runner in a suspect Arkansas Derby (gr. 1). If he couldn’t hold on as the speed in Arkansas, he's not likely to do it in Kentucky.

5. Line of David (30-1) – A long shot winner of the Arkansas Derby and a winner of three straight as an intriguing speed horse that is improving with distance. Will need some breaks and a slow pace to have a chance. A half-mile in 47 seconds ala 2002 winner War Emblem will be a plus, but that scenario is not likely this year with all the competing gas.

6. Stately Victor (30-1) – He won the Blue Grass (gr. 1) on Keeneland’s Polytrack at 40-1 odds. His other win came against maidens. Distance won’t be the problem with this horse with 7 of 8 races at 1-1/16 miles or further. Talent may be the challenge.

7. American Lion (30-1) – Won the Illinois Derby (gr. 3) as the front runner on a Hawthorne track that may have favored his style. In much the same boat as other speed horses needing some luck and a slow pace but his ability to lay back in second/third might come in handy if he can rate in the Derby. At big odds he stays on the bottom of my superfecta, and not much else.

8. Dean’s Kitten (50-1) – He looks like a turf horse that took to the Polytrack at Turfway and defeated a weak Lane’s End (gr. 2) group. Just not much I like about this horse.

9. Make Music For Me (50-1) – The second to last horse to get into the Derby Wednesday morning and eight lengths behind Stately Victor in the Blue Grass in his last race. Doesn’t mind being behind the front runners and making a late move, but his only win came on grass in an ungraded stakes in California.

10. Paddy O’Prado (20-1) – He looks like another turf horse who adapted well to Keeneland’s Polytrack and ran a second in the Blue Grass behind Stately Victor. Not sure that will translate in the Kentucky Derby but he has looked good in the mornings this week.

11. Devil May Care (10-1) – Will be trying to become only the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby in 136 years so odds are against her. Word has it she’s been training the best of Pletcher’s army and put in nice final work Saturday to convince the trainer to let her go. Six weeks since her nice win against fillies in the Bonnie Miss (gr. 3) in Florida raises additional questions, although a very nice race and one of the few in this field to achieve a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure (100 in Bonnie Miss.) Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez won the Belmont with the filly Rags To Riches and I’m sure they’d like to each pick up the first Derby victory with another female.

12. Conveyance (12-1) – Strategy will be to go to the lead and let the others try to catch him much like Baffert trainee War Emblem in the 2002 Kentucky Derby win. Undefeated until second in Sunland Derby (gr. 3), a race in which Baffert said he was not on his game. His sire, Indian Charlie, couldn’t run successfully at 1-1/4 miles so that is a concern along with others who want to run on the lead. He has been impressive in his works, but I’m not going to play him at 12-1 odds.

13. Jackson Bend (15-1) – A distant second to once Derby favorite Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial who has worked very well at Churchill. Nick Zito, who can win Derbies and pull upstets in Triple Crown races will need all of Zito’s talent and luck to adorn the blanket of roses.

14. Mission Impazible (20-1) – My favorite of the Pletcher horses with a stalking running style, a good work at Churchill Saturday and comments from the trainer about this horse’s “improvement.” On paper there are additional signs of him getting better so he has all the right ingredients of a horse perhaps “peaking at the right time,” (A most important spice with intentions of cooking on Derby Day.)

15. Discreetly Mine (30-1) – Pletcher’s “Anti“ Mission Impazible who looks like he might have peaked in his Risen Star (gr. 2) victory in February then a fourth in the La. Derby. Another speed horse that is not even on my top tier of front runners.

16. Awesome Act (10-1) – British invader who crossed the pond to finish 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November before going home for the winter. Flew back to United States to win the Gotham Stakes (gr. 2) in New York before finishing third to Eskendereya in the Wood when losing a shoe after stumbling out of the starting gate. Works have not been great but I like his chances at double digit odds and will be my top choice on some trifecta and superfecta tickets.

17. Dublin (12-1) – Came home a weak third in the Arkansas Derby which didn’t concern me as Lukas may not have wound him real tight for that race. But his training at Churchill Downs has not been as sharp as what I would have liked. I kept thinking this horse would give me something to hang a wager on… but no to the any positive signs and no to getting 12-1 when I think there’s better value elsewhere.

18. Backtalk (50-1) – The Brock Talk has been a fan of this horse since we began following him shortly after he broke his maiden in June. He is the final horse to qualify for this Kentucky Derby and the 50-1 odds are certainly fair after a dull third in the Illinois Derby. He is by Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones and will benefit from his stalking running style and if can show the quick turn of foot he had in winning a minor stake at Delta Downs in Louisiana. According to trainer Tom Amoss, if it rains Saturday, 100,000 fans will be upset, but Backtalk will be happy.

19. Homeboykris (50-1) – You may hear or read about horses who are 50-1 in the Kentucky Derby when they should be 100-1. Homeboykris is just such a horse with his last win coming in October in the grade 1 Champagne. While a nice victory, it was seven months and his last race, a loss in a non-stake race at only one mile, was more than two months ago.

20. Sidney’s Candy (5-1) – I’m not one to put too much into post positions, especially with a horse like Sidney’s Candy with a ton of speed who will have the entire field to his inside as jockey Joe Talamo picks a spot for him to negotiate the first turn. Although trainer John Sadler says the horse will also rate just fine, he appears to be the best of the speedsters by quite a margin and an expected improvement off of the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita keeps him among the best even with the outside starting point. He has the breeding to run all day and looked good while extending his lead in the Santa Anita Derby. His morning works have been fast enough but reports are not glowing as to how he looked doing it under more than expected urging from the rider. He’ll be second and third on a lot of my tickets, but not on top.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lookin at Lucky Looking At Unlucky #1 Post

Lookin at Lucky, the Champion Two-Year-Old Male in 2009 and the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) presented by Yum! Brands Saturday, has again been shunned by his namesake ol' Mr. Luck. After encountering severe trouble in his last two starts in which competitors bumped him during a Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) victory and a Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) third, Lookin at Lucky draws into the dreaded number one post position for the Kentucky Derby.

The far inside post is dreaded for many reasons among Kentucky Derby trainers not the least of which is traffic congestion. During the nearly quarter-mile run to the first turn, the 19 horses to the outside all try to get near his position on or close to the rail in effort to save ground around the turn. Some runners will want to be there ahead of Looking at Lucky and may unintentionally cut him off. Others invariable cause domino bumping incidents that sometimes conclude with the inside horse taking the worst of the ruckus.

Or the trouble may even start before the race in the starting gate, in which Lookin at Lucky will be the first to load and thus spend the most time.

There are some silver linings around Lookin at Lucky's dark post position cloud however. He has plenty of talent and speed to dash away from gate in an effort to avoid much of the trouble should jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer Bob Baffert decide to employ that strategy. It is doubtful he would sprint to the lead, but the more horses he leaves behind, the less chance of traffic. It would take some early energy however.

He also drew next to Ice Box in post two, who is one of the true closers in the race. The Florida Derby (gr. 1) winner will likely be at a pace not much faster than a gallop on his way to the first turn in an effort to stay behind the ensuing equine quagmire. That should give Lookin at Lucky some additional room in which to avoid potential problems early in the race.

Additional silver lining for Lookin at Lucky came when his closest competitor drew the post farthest away and generally deemed as the second worst. Sidney's Candy, who defeated Lookin at Lucky in winning the Santa Anita Derby and is the second choice in the morning line, drew the far outside post 20. Big Brown in 2008 and Clyde Van Dusen in 1929 are the only horses to win the Kentucky Derby from post position 20.

Sidney's Candy has won his last three races, all graded stakes, in wire-to-wire fashion and thus has plenty of early gas to to clear competitors and merge towards the inside. And although trainer John Sadler has said Sidney's Candy will not need to have the early lead and probably won't in the Kentucky Derby, (especially now), he certainly appears to have the speed to overcome the additional distance created from breaking to the far outside.

Although 12 horses have won the Derby from the 1 post position making it tied with post 5 for producing the most winners, the last to do so was Ferdinand in 1986 and it took an historically clever ride from jockey Bill Shoemaker to pull off that win.

Having the two favorites draw the worst post positions may also create more opportunities for the others looking for the upset.

The filly Devil May Care, co-third choice at 10-1 in the morning line, drew an optimal position in the middle of the gate in post 11. Ice Box is also listed at 10-1 as well as Awesome Act, who drew post 18.

Post 18 poses many of the same obstacles for Awesome Act as post 20 does for Sidney's Candy, but Awesome Act does not have the same early acceleration. Awesome Act and jockey Julian Leparoux will most likely take a much less aggressive approach and will be just that more susceptible to bad racing luck.

Endorsement injury not life threatening
Sunland Derby (gr. 3) winner Endorsement suffered a broken ankle during training Wednesday morning and was obviously not entered in the Derby. The injury is a non-displaced condular fracture and is not life threatening.

Earlier Wednesday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed that he would not enter Derby hopeful Interactif. That left the door open for Make Music For Me and Backtalk, number 21 and 22 on the graded earnings list last night, to enter the Derby today.

Kentucky Derby Post Position and Morning Line
1. Lookin At Lucky, 3-1
2. Ice Box, 10-1
3. Noble's Promise, 12-1
4. Super Saver, 15-1
5. Line of David, 30-1
6. Stately Victor, 30-1
7. American Lion, 30-1
8. Dean's Kitten, 50-1
9. Make Music For Me, 50-1
10. Paddy O'Prado, 20-1
11. Devil May Care (f), 10-1
12. Conveyance, 12-1
13. Jackson Bend, 15-1
14. Mission Impazible, 20-1
15. Discreetly Mine, 30-1
16. Awesome Act, 10-1
17. Dublin, 12-1
18. Backtalk, 50-1
19. Homeboykris (g), 50-1
20. Sidney's Candy, 5-1

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kentucky Derby: Pace, Traffic and Faith

One of oldest and most sound handicapping principles in thoroughbred racing is "pace makes the race." The study of handicapping under this theory dictates that each horse in a given race be classified as a front runner, a stalker or a closer. (Different systems have different terms, but the definitions are fairly consistent). After which the potential prognosticator attempts to map out the race at different stages relative to the competitors positions and energy used and determine which has the best chance to win.If there are too many front runners, the thinking goes, they will fight each other for the lead and run too fast, too early, tire and eventually surrender the lead to the stalkers and closers. A lone speed horse, on the other hand, may dictate a slow pace and have plenty to withstand the late challengers.

Without question, the first scenario appears very likely in the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. Among the 20 most likely Derby starters as of Tuesday, no less than seven of them are legitimate speed horses including Sidney's Candy (photo), the Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) winner and the probable second choice in the betting behind only Lookin at Lucky.

With that many horses going for the lead, the pace of this year's Kentucky Derby figures to be very rapid and will theoretically compromise the chances of the front running horses. Of the seven speed horses in the Derby, Line of David, Conveyance and Sidney's Candy are the most apt at winning from the front end and are likely to try to set the pace in the Derby.

The jockeys on these speed horses will be riding much more aggressively out of the gate and during the first quarter-mile run past the grandstand for the first time and looking for the few front row spots around the famous clubhouse turn.

Each year hundreds of photos are taken of the horses running around the first turn in the Kentucky Derby with the twin spires in the backround. Television producers also make a point of taking annual signature shot of the stampede around the first. For the jockeys aboard the front runners - it is their first job in the race to make that shot. You don't have to be the first one in the picture, but the cameras better see you. The race is most like over for any front runner lost back in the pack that early.

Eleven of the Derby contenders appear to be stalkers and will most likely be making up the middle of the pack as the field begins their run down the Churchill Downs backstretch.

Note: After saying Monday that Interactif was unlikely for the Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher said a final decision will be made Wednesday. That would eliminate Backtalk should Interactif enter.

Of this group, Paddy O'Prado, Jackson Bend and Homeboykris are the most likely to be nearest the leaders as they have raced very near the front runners in their recent races and are thus most vulnerable to also getting caught in a fast pace early. While the other stalkers appear to be more flexible in how they can be placed by their jockey during the race. Notable horses such as Lookin at Lucky, Devil May Care, Mission Impazible, Awesome Act and Noble's Promise should fall into the second tier of stalkers.

The stalkers will be looking to have a clean break from the gate and an uneventful first run past the grandstand and into the clubhouse turn. The objective of the jockeys aboard these stalkers will be to avoid as much of the inevitable traffic jam caused when the 20 horses begin to negotiate positions in the first 400 yards. Going into the first turn, those plans can collide and horses can bump, check, jostle and even stumble. The stalkers are most likely to get the brunt of that traffic and can also lose all chance of victory at this point as well.

Down the backstretch, relaxation and rhythm will be everyone's goal. Jockeys will be hoping for a ride with still hands, long reins and a straight back that will hold a martini glass and not spill a drop.

Near the red and white pole near the far turn a half-mile from the finish, the jockeys hands will begin to move as front runners begin to tire and stalkers and closers begin to rally. Turn number two also provides the second bevy of traffic obstacles, but this time it will be more vertical as the jockeys on any potential winners begin to steer around and through the stopping pretenders.

As three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert says, "At the top of the stretch, you just want your horse to have a chance to win. If they're backing up at that point, it's just not very fun."

The Churchill Downs stretch is one of the longest in North America at 1,097 feet from the far turn to the finish line - just 223 feet short a quarter-mile. So closer and late stalkers have plenty of ground closers to run down any front runners.

How that turns out Saturday, nobody yet knows. But it is sure to be another fitting conclusion to the most exciting two minutes in sports.

Tuesday Work Recap from Mike Welsh Daily Racing Form

More Derby Fun Facts
102 of the 135 previous winners of the Kentucky Derby 102 were foaled in Kentucky. Florida is next with six winners followed by Virginia (4), California (3) and Tennessee (3)... Citation (1948) (coupled with Coaltown) and Count Fleet (1943) each paid $2.80. These were the smallest winning prices recorded since pari-mutuel betting on the Derby was introduced in 1908...

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Revolving Door Has Begun To Spin In Kentucky Derby

The revolving door into and out of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) has begun to spin rapidly and decisively starting with the Saturday defection of prohibitive favorite Eskendereya (photo) due to "filling" in his left front leg. Trainer Todd Pletcher said while announcing the decision that "the horse is not lame" and he's hoping the injury, which he likened to a sprained ankle in a human, isn't career-threatening. Eskendereya is receiving antibiotics while resting comfortably in his stall at Churchill Downs and will undergo a thorough examination when the swelling subsides according to reports.

Pletcher, who also trains Derby hopefuls Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine, and Mission Impazible also lost Rule from the Derby trail Monday in a joint decision with owner Bill Casner of WinStar Farms. Stressing there are no physical problems with the earner of $791,700 with wins in the Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot Stakes (gr. 3), Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. 3), and Jean Lafitte Stakes and a third in the Florida Derby (gr. 1), Casner said the decision was based more on Rule's unsatisfactory training this week at Churchill Downs.

Prior to the defection of Eskendereya, it is thought that Pletcher was on the fence about running the filly Devil May Care in the Kentucky Derby. However, Eskendereya's loss is apparently Devil May Care's opportunity as Pletcher confirmed Monday he is running Devil May Care against the boys. With Eskendereya out of the Derby, jockey John Velazquez will be free to ride Devil May Care which may have had an impact on the decision.

Only three fillies have won the Run for Roses, the last being Winning Colors in 1988. Regret (1915) and Genenuine Risk (1980) are the only two. The last filly to race in the Kentucky Derby was Eight Belles, who finished second behind Big Brown in 2008. Only four fillies have tried the Derby since Winning Colors' victory including Eight Belles, Serena's Song (16th in 1995), and in 1995 Excellent Meeting (5th), and Three Ring (19th).

Pletcher, a four-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading trainer, is looking for his first Kentucky Derby victory after trying with 24 horses in previous Derbies. Velazquez is 0-9 in Derby mounts in perhaps one of the most successful teams to have not yet won a Kentucky Derby. However, Pletcher and Velazquez teamed up in the 2007 Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) with the filly Rags To Riches to defeat eventual Horse of the Year Curlin. Rags to Riches was only the third filly to win the third jewel of the Triple Crown after Tanya in 1905 and Ruthless taking the inaugural Belmont Stakes in 1867.

Rule's Derby departure allows for Jackson Bend to qualify for the Derby with $230,000 in graded stakes earnings. Jackson Bend was second to Eskendereya in both the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) in April and the Fountain of Youth (gr. 2) in March and also gives trainer Nick Zito his second starter in this year's Derby along with Florida Derby (gr. 1) winner Ice Box.

Baffert: Then and Then.
So you think things get easier for the trainers and horses once they begin to arrive at Churchill Downs in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby? Three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert (photo) summarized it during a interview on TVG's Saturday morning telecast of Morning Line by saying "You gotta come in here with a really good horse. Then he has to work well. And he has to be moving forward. Then he has to school well. And then you have to get a good post [position in the starting gate]. And then he has to get a good trip. There’s so many things involved. If all the things work, and you have the best horse. Then you can get the job done. But there are a lot of hoops they have to jump through. So until that gate comes open, I never relax."

Baffert may be just a little less worried now, however, after watching Looking at Lucky work five furlongs (5/8ths of a mile) over a sealed and sloppy race track in 1:00.38 seconds, the fastest of five Derby horses that also worked Monday morning.

Rachel Ready To Roll
Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra appears ready for her return to the races in Friday's $400,000 La Troienne Stakes after working a half-mile in 49.87 seconds over a sloppy track early Monday morning at Churchill Downs. After the work trainer Steve Asmussen told Daily Racing Form "The level of excitement for Friday, it's definitely there. I am very, very pleased with her."

The La Troienne will be no cake walk for the popular 4-year-old filly who will again meet Zardana, who upset Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in March; Careless Jewel, winner of the grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga last year and the beaten favorite in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) at Santa Anita in November and three other possible starters.

Derby Fun Facts
Outside of the jeweled embellishments that were added to the Kentucky Derby Trophy to note special Derby anniversaries in 1949 (75th), 1974 (100th), and 1999 (125th), only one change has been made to the original design.

For the 125th Kentucky Derby in 1999, Churchill Downs officials decided to defer to racing lore and change the direction of the decorative horseshoe displayed on the 14-karat gold trophy. The horseshoe, fashioned from 18-karat gold, had pointed downward on each of the trophies since 1924. To commemorate Derby 125 the change was made and the horseshoe was turned 180 degrees so that its ends pointed up. The trophy now annually incorporates the horseshoe with the ends pointing up.

Racing superstition decrees that if the horseshoe is turned down, all the luck will run out.

Roses became the traditional way to honor the Derby winner during the early years of the 20th century. Dating back to 1906 Churchill Downs has photos of the winner with the garland. In 1925 that the late Bill Corum, a New York sports columnist, dubbed the classic the “RUN FOR THE ROSES.” Corum later served as president of Churchill Downs from 1950-1958.

The most popular color of Kentucky Derby winners is bay with 49, followed by chestnut (43), Brown (17), Dark Bay or Brown (11), Gray Roan (8) Black (4) and Dark Bay (3). In 1962, the Jockey Club merged the dark bay & brown color classifications to
dark bay or brown.

Speaking of Brown
No Kentucky Derby party is complete without a Mint Julep and some Kentucky Hot Browns.

I recommend the mini Hot Browns as described here for a Kentucky Derby party. For authenticity, pleasure and additional cholesterol, Ramsey's restaurant in Lexington has the best Hot Browns among the Kentucky establishments I have reviewed.

4 oz. butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 - 3 1/2 cups milk
1 beaten egg
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 ounce whipped cream, optional
Salt & pepper to taste
Slices of roasted turkey
8 - 12 slices of toast, trimmed
Extra grated Parmesan cheese
8 - 12 strips crisp, cooked bacon

Melt butter and add enough of the flour to make a reasonable thick roux (enough to absorb all the butter). Add the milk and Parmesan cheese. Add the well-beaten egg to thicken the sauce, but do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat. Fold in the whipped cream, if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place two slices of toast in a metal or flame-proof dish. Cover the toast with slices of roasted turkey. Pour a generous amount of the sauce over the turkey and toast. Sprinkle with some of the additional Parmesan cheese. Place the dish under the broiler until the sauce is speckled on top and bubbly. Remove from the broiler; place two pieces of the bacon, crossed, on top and serve immediately.

For mini hot browns, substitute trimmed toast for snack size.

The Official Mint Julep Recipe From Churchill Downs
Make a simple syrup by boiling 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water for 5 minutes, without stirring. Fill a jar loosely with sprigs of fresh mint (uncrushed) and cover with the
cooled syrup. Cap and refrigerate 12-24 hours. Discard mint. Make one julep at a time.

Fill chilled julep cup with finely crushed ice, pour in half a tablespoon of the mint-flavored syrup and 2 ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whiskey. Frost cup, stick in a sprig of mint and serve at once. You can get a head start by putting the batch, without mint, in the freezer until ready for use.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kentucky Derby Prep Races As A Group: Quirky

There are almost as many handicapping angles as competitors-cubed in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, but one that has remained pretty consistent over the last 30 years has been prep races. While individual races have ebbed and flowed in their ability to produce a Kentucky Derby winner, a group of five races have been dominant in creating winners and runners alike on the first Saturday in May.

Since 1980, of the 521 horses that have started in the Derby, 468 of them (89.83%) made their last start in the Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby or Wood Memorial, all grade 1 races. During that time only Kentucky Derby winners Spend A Buck (1985), War Emblem (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) (photo) made their last start outside of the Big 5 prep races. Mine That Bird and War Emblem were both long shots at 50-1 and 20-1 coming from the Sunland and Illinois derbies respectively. Spend A Buck was the second choice at 4-1 behind Chiefs Crown at 8-5 in 1985.

Spend a Buck prepared for the Derby at Garden State Park winning the Cherry Hill Mile and Garden State stakes while chasing a $2 million bonus offered to any horse who could win those two races, the Kentucky Derby and the $1 million Jersey Derby Preakness week. He won all four races and his owners collected the bonus.

However apparent, this angle perhaps becomes more important in 2010, a year in which Derby contenders Mission Impazible and Discreetly Mine come out of the Louisiana Derby (gr. 2); Endorsement and Conveyance the Sunland Derby (gr. 3); American Lion the Illinois Derby and Homeboykris an allowance race. Should trainer Todd Pletcher run the filly Devil May Care, she obviously would not have started in any of the Big 5 prep races, coming out of the Bonnie Miss (gr. 3) for fillies at Gulfstream Park.

To add even more to the qualification quirkiness of this year's Derby, two potential starters run Saturday in the grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in an effort to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

Pleasant Prince, second to Ice Box in the Florida Derby before throwing a clunker in the Blue Grass, must win the Derby Trial in order to make the Derby roster. Aikenite would have the needed graded earnings to get into the Derby with a Derby Trial victory or second, but his connections have said they have no plans to run the colt back in one week. With $120,000 in graded earnings, Bay Shore Stakes (gr. 3) winner Eightyfiveinafifty, needs a win and some help.

Since 1980, six Derby Trial winners have come back to run in the Kentucky Derby with the most recent being Don't Get Mad who finished fourth in 2005. The most successful Derby Trial winner to come back in the Kentucky Derby during that span was Caveat, third in the Run for the Roses after winning the Derby Trial in 1983. The last Derby Trial winner to come back and win the Kentucky Derby was Tim Tam in 1958.

Adding to the irony of the prep race angle, perhaps the most impressive of the non-Big 5 races was the Sunland Derby, which last year produced long shot Mine That Bird. Graded for the first time in 2010, the race was won by WinStar Farms' Endorsement who defeated the previously undefeated Conveyance, also a Derby contender.

In fact, many believe the Sunland Derby may have been the third strongest Kentucky Derby prep race behind only Eskenderya's Wood Memorial and Sidney's Candy in the Santa Anita Derby. The derbies in Florida, Arkansas and the Blue Grass in Kentucky all were won by longshots. Ice Box won the Florida Derby at 20-1, Line of David won in Arkansas at 17-1 and Stately Victor was 40-1 in Lexington.

This year's Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby also have interesting similarities. In both races, the winner looked good with a daylight victory and triple digit Beyer Speed Figures. In both races the second-place finishers, Jackson Bend in the Wood and Setsuko at Santa Anita, are on the outside looking into the Kentucky Derby in terms of graded earnings. And both third-places finishers encountered considerable trouble.

Lookin at Lucky was bounced off the inside rail by jockey Victor Espinoza and Who's Up while making his move around the far turn in California while Awesome Act was stumbling at the start and loosing a shoe in the Wood.

Another interesting phenomena this year is the dominance of trainer Todd Pletcher (photo) and his army of 3-year-olds. Pletcher trainees won the Lexington Stakes, Wood Memorial, Louisiana Derby, Sam F. Davis, Fountain of Youth, and Risen Star Stakes this spring. Nobody has dominated the Spring 3-year-old scene like that at any point in the last 30 years and probably before.

Certainly Eskendereya has done everything right leading up to the Derby and he deserves to be the heavy favorite. In fact, I am the only line maker in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance Morning Line to have him below 2-1. I have him listed as the 9-5 favorite. But a macro look at the races leading up to the May 1 Kentucky Derby - from California to New York - might tell you something just as wacky may happen at Churchill Downs.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pletcher Considering Lucky Seven With Filly

With trainer Todd Pletcher confirming that Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. 2) winner Devil May Care (photo) is a possibility for the Kentucky Derby present by Yum! Brand, it is now possible we will see another filly take on colts in the Run for the Roses.

Pletcher said much depends on how Devil May Care ships into Churchill Downs and works over the surface Saturday or Sunday morning. Pletcher also indicated that the Kentucky Derby has been a consideration all along for Devil May Care, who has plenty to qualify for the Derby with $363,000 in graded earnings. Her work at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida Saturday may have also been a catalyst in the consideration after she covered five furlongs in 1:01.05, almost a full second faster than four of Pletcher's other Derby contenders who worked five furlongs that day. Wood Memorial (gr. 1) winner and probable Derby favorite Eskendereya was timed in 1:02 over five furlongs while Louisiana Derby (gr. 2) winner Mission Impazible went 1:02.25 and Rule stopped the clock in 1:02.25 seconds.

Pletcher was quoted in after the works as saying "Eskendereya, at this point, is a very fit horse and we weren’t looking to overdo it. I thought Mission Impazible was very good. He seems like he’s an improving horse. Rule, you know, wasn’t as sharp, but it was sort of consistent with the way he breezes. Discreetly Mine was good.”

Pletcher also has Arkansas Derby (gr. 1) runner-up Super Saver and Interactif, fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. 1) as possible Derby contenders.

Should Devil May Care run in the Kentucky Derby, she will be the 40th filly to try the classic against males. Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1981) and Winning Colors (1989) (photo) are the only fillies to win the Kentucky Derby. Two fillies have finished second, including the ill-fated Eight Belles in 2008 and Lady Navarre in 1906 while five fillies have finished third with the most recent being Prudery in 1921.

Regret and Prudery, running as an entry with the colt Tryster (fourth), are among the only fillies to start in the Derby as the post time favorite. The most recent fillies to accomplish wagering favoritism were Serena's Song, who finished 16th in 1995 running as an entry with Timber Country (third) and Excellent Meeting, 5th in 1999 coupled with General Challenge (11th).

More Derby Notes
The Bob Baffert Derby team of Lookin at Lucky and Conveyance had works over the Churchill Downs surface Wednesday morning with Looking at Lucky going six furlongs in 1:12.01 with exercise rider Dana Barnes aboard while Conveyance also worked six furlongs in 1:12.16 under jockey Calvin Borel... Both Eskendereya and Devil May Care arrived at Pletcher's barn at Churchill Downs Tuesday and had easy gallops Wednesday morning... Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) winner Sidney's Candy, who has never started on a natural dirt surface, seemed to take to the Churchill track very well Saturday morning working five eighths of a mile in :59.80 seconds, the second fastest work of the morning at that distance. With trainer John Sadler in California, assistant Larry Benavidez oversaw the effort and said "It gave me some goose bumps this morning. That work was phenomenal.”... Noble's Promise, a disappointing fourth in his last race in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1), appears to have recovered from a small lung infection that may have hampered his effort in that race. Tuesday morning trainer Ken McPeek sent Noble's Promise through a work in company with stablemate and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly (gr. 1) runner-up Beautician. The duo went the first half-mile together in 47.20 before Noble's Promise drew away and finished five furlongs in 1:00.40, two full seconds faster than Beautician... Jockey Jon Court, who rode Line of David to victory in the Arkansas Derby, will be replaced in the Derby by Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano was the regular rider on Line of David in his two previous wins against maiden special weight and allowance company in February and March.

Monday, April 19, 2010

TBA Kentucky Derby Morning Lines Show Differences and Similarities

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance has released our 2010 Kentucky Derby Morning Line where fans can go to our website for different morning line odds as calculated by our bloggers and other turf writers and guest.

It is an interesting exercise in opinions and perceptions with each line unique, but also with obvious similarities. Some differences may be as subtle as a point between to odds or as different as the definition or purpose of a morning line.

I define a morning line as simply the line maker's prediction of how the betting public will perceive and thus place win wagers in a given race. A perfect morning line is one in which the morning line odds on each horse exactly match the final win odds of that horse.

However, I have known morning line makers employed by tracks that emphatically believed the morning line should reflect their opinion of how the public should bet the race or worse, a reflection of the probably of winning they assign each horse. Some tracks somewhat provide a version of both with the published "program selections" corresponding to the morning line and "handicappers selections" reflecting the line makers top three picks.

Many track morning line makers are also severely restricted by management and must not assign odds above or below a given guideline. Generally they prohibit any horse being assigned morning line odds of less than even odds nor higher than 20-to-1. The belief behind this policy is that races with heavy favorites or big long shots reflect poorly on their product as being competitive. As flawed as that practice is, it remains a strong held policy at many tracks.

As of Monday afternoon, nearly every line maker on the TBA site has made Eskendereya the favorite with only one blogger making Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) winner Sidney's Candy their top choice. Most have Eskendereya in the 5-2 or 3-1 range with Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) winner Lookin at Lucky second at around 5-to-1 odds. Sidney's Candy is the only other horse averaging less than 10-to-1 odds, receiving around 7-1 from the panelists.

As of Monday afternoon, I was the only author to make Eskendereya less than 2-to-1. I have him at 9-to-5 based on two things. First, no horse has come into the Kentucky Derby as impressive as Eskendereya since Point Given in 2001, who went off at 9-to-5 in a field of 17. Ekendereya and Point Given prepared for the Derby with similar dominance, just on different coasts.

Point Given won the grade 2 San Felipe Stakes by 2-1/4 lengths with a 110 Beyer speed figure. Eskendereya won the grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8-1/2 lengths with a 106 Beyer. Point Given then won the grade 1 Santa Anita Derby by 5-1/2 lengths with 110 Beyer while Eskendereya made his final prep in the grade 1 Wood Memorial, winning by nearly ten lengths with a 109 Beyer number.

Having three additional betting interests in 2010 compared to 2001 would usually drive Eskendereya's odds above 2-to-1 during a year of relatively normal prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby. But this year, three big preps produced winners with double digit odds. Stately Victor won the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. 1) at 40-1 odds, Ice Box won the grade 1 Florida Derby at 20-1 and Line of David took the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1) at 17-1. Endorsement, who seems to have plenty of support as an upset candidate, won the grade 3 Sunland Derby at 11-1. Having so many long shot winners qualify for the Kentucky Derby will help drive down the odds of a prohibitive favorite like Eskendereya even further.

There are also six horses in this year's Derby who were beaten favorites in their last race. Interactif, Discreetly Mine, Conveyance, Rule, Noble's Promise and Lookin at Lucky were all defeated last time out as the most popular betting choice. I expect Lookin at Lucky to be the only one to hold any resemblance of his popularity and have him listed at 5-1 in the morning line. Sidney's Candy at 8-1 in my line, defeated Lookin at Lucky in the Santa Anita Derby as the 3-1 second choice and is the only other horse in the Derby I have listed less than 15-1.

Producing a morning line for a race just less than two weeks away is risky business at best, so I must disclose that conditions, horses and my morning line will change as developments occur. It is also notable that the formula used in the TBA Morning Line devised by Handride author Patrick Patten is in line with the generally accepted morning line formula used by line makers throughout horse racing which takes into consideration factors such as the number of betting interest and track take-out in order to best reflect an actual pari-mutuel betting pool.

To view the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance 3-Year-Old Standing sponsored by OCD Pellets, Click here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Derby Doubtfuls Don't Tell Whole Story In Lexington Stakes

The $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes may technically be on the road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, but only one horse, Connemera, has enough graded earnings to immediately qualify for the Run for the Roses with a victory. History further tells us that the Lexington Stakes has not been a prominent nor popular stop for trainers trying to win the Kentucky Derby as only Charismatic (photo) in 1999 has been able to win both races since the 1973 renewal of the Lexington.

That may be more a function of timing than quality, when making the Lexington-Kentucky Derby analysis as many winners have gone on to victories in other major 3-year-old races later in the year.

Wise Times, winner of the 1986 Lexington, won three grade 1 races that summer including the Haskell Invitational, the Travers and the Super Derby. Two years later, Lexington winner Risen Star won two-thirds of the Triple Crown by taking the Preakness (gr. 1) and Belmont Stakes (gr. 1). In 1991 Hansel accomplished the same Lexington-Preakness-Belmont triple after finishing eighth as the favorite in the Derby. Touch Gold won the 1997 Lexington, skipped the Derby, finished fourth in the Preakness then robbed Silver Charm of the Triple Crown by running him down in the final furlong to win the Belmont.

So there is plenty cause to show interest in Saturday's race - not the least of which is that it may be the most attractive wagering 3-year-old race of the year up to this point with a 4-1 favorite in Uptowncharlybrown.

Although not the heavy betting favorite, Uptowncharlybrown will have plenty of sentimental support as his trainer, the popular Alan Seewald, died unexpectedly in his sleep Monday night at the age of 62. Seewald's assistant trainer, Linda White has taken the training duties and will saddle Uptowncharlybrown Saturday.

After winning the $53,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in January, Uptowncharlybrown finished third in the grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes behind probable Derby starter Rule before a troubled fifth-place finish in the grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby behind the winner Odysseus. Although the Tampa Bay competition may not be on par with other Kentucky Derby preparation locales, it certainly appears to provide a sufficient base against the Lextington field.

Uptwoncharlybrown, a son of Limehouse, will be making his first start on an artificial surface Saturday which is certainly a concern. However, a quick look at the young stallion record of Limehouse shows his two stakes winners last year both won over Poly-Track. House of Grace won the JP Morgan Chase Jassamine at Keeneland and Oldredlgetcha won the Victoria Stakes at Woodbine.

Connemera will need some improvement in his game to punch a ticket to Louisville, despite his victory in the grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in February and a third in the grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway. Although both races occurred on artificial tracks, the Beyer numbers indicate Connemera will have to run several lengths faster to get the win Saturday.

California invaders have been successful throughout the midwest this year which flags Kettle River and Distorted Dave as contenders.

At 5-1 morning line odds, I'm not sure Kettle River brings the necessary value for financial support, but certainly he looks to have the talent. His closing running style was severely compromised by a slow pace in the March Sham Stakes, as did some traffic problems as he began to move in the far turn.

Kettle River's 90 Beyer in a January 6 allowance race win at Santa Anita makes him one of only three Lexington starters to reach that level joining Uptowncharlybrown's 91 in the Sam Davis and an impressive 90 Beyer by Bushwacked against maidens two weeks ago at Keeneland.

Distorted Dave trainer John Sadler has won two major Derby preps this year with Sidney's Candy taking the Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) and Line of David upsetting the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1) two weeks ago. Sadler will be calling on the upset gods again if Distorted Dave is to step up from his win last race against optional claimers.

So while we may not be looking for the next Kentucky Derby winner Saturday at Keeneland, it's a race likely to impact the Triple Crown later on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Will Popularity Equal Performance for Kentucky Derby Favorite Eskendereya?

With the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands in the books and the field beginning to solidify, it appears all but certain that Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. 1) winner Eskendereya will be your post time favorite. And as we mentioned Monday, according to Churchill Downs morning line maker Mike Battaglia, Eskendereya will likely be listed at 2-1 in the program and will possibly be bet down to lower odds by the wagering public.

Since 2001, when the wagering "field" was eliminated and betting interest increased to as many as 20, only Point Given has been popular enough to dip below the 2-1 level, going off at 9-5. He finished fifth. The last horse to win at less than double odds was Spectacular Bid, who in 1979 went off as the odds-on favorite at 3-5 in victory. The 1980s and 90s were a bad time to be a heavy favorite in the Derby as Arazi (1992, 4-5), Mister Frisky ('90, 9-5), the 1989 entry of Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring (4-5) and Chief's Crown ('85, 6-5) all went down in defeat. Arazi and Mister Frisky finished 8th while Easy Goer was second and Awe Inspiring and Chief's Crown finished third in their respective years.

Going back to 1946 when the Kentucky Derby wagering format was expanded to handle 12 betting interests from a maximum of ten, 38 horses have gone off at 2-1 odds or less. (Twelve of those Derby starters ran as a coupled entry so there were actually 32 betting interests.) During those 64 years, eleven, or 28.9%, of the 38 have come home winners.

The only year in which two uncoupled Kentucky Derby starters went off at 2-1 or lower was 1978 when Alydar was favored at 6-5 over eventual Triple Crown winner Affirmed at 9-5.

The only decade kind to heavy favorites was the 1970s when Seattle Slew ('77, 1-2), Foolish Pleasure ('75, 9-5), Cannonade ('74, 7-5), Secretariat ('73, 7-5 as an entry with Angel Light) and Riva Ridge ('72, 7-5) were all popular winners.

Between 1946 and 1969, only Majestic Prince ('69, 7-5), Needles ('56, 6-5), Hill Gail ('52, even) and Triple Crown winner Citation ('48, 2-5 as an entry with Coaltown) managed to hit the winner's circle and pay-off their supporters. During that span, such greats as Damascus, Candy Spots, Ridan, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Native Dancer all went down in defeat at odds of less than 2-1 as did 11 others including Coaltown.

Native Dancer and Social Outcast ran second and seventh respectively as a coupled entry to set the record as the lowest price losers at 3-5. In that Derby, Native Dancer was severely bumped going into the first turn by 45-1 long shot Money Broker and was never able to recover sufficiently to catch 24-1 winner Dark Star. Even the official chart notes that Native Dancer "was probably the best."

It is difficult to point the finger at other unfortunate favorites as well. Easy Goer lost to Sunday Silence. Hill Rise was bumped twice past the grandstand for the first time and forced wide on the far turn when second to Northern Dancer. Nashua was second to Swaps in 1955, but won the Preakness and Belmont as Swaps headed back to California. But Nashua was able to avenge his Derby loss to Swaps in the famous match race later that year at Washington Park in Chicago.

Daily Racing Form charts of other heavily bet losers are not so gracious however. Although Arazi was 8-wide, he "came up empty" and finished 8th. In 1967 Damascus "loomed boldly... ...continued gamely to midstretch where he appeared to hang under extreme pressure." Olympia "gave way" in the stretch of the 1949 Derby at 4-5 and finished 6th.

No one knows if Eskendereya's Derby will more resemble Secretariat's 1973 track record performance at Churchill or Bold Lad finishing tenth at 2-1 in 1965. Just remember before you put your precious financial investment through the window on the first Saturday in May, that popularity and performance are sometimes vastly different.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Zenyatta and Kentucky Derby Thoughts, Comments and Questions.

Thoughts, comments and questions while wondering what Zenyatta would play on her iPod during a race... Only Oaklawn Park track announcer Terry Wallace can pull off "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's Zenyatta!" Wallace is a classic... Do you suppose Jess Jackson, principal owner of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, enjoyed the Apple Blossom as much as we did?... Watching the replay of the Apple Blossom, I noticed Zenyatta actually pricked her ears long before she got to the lead at the top of the stretch. I'm not sure I can remember a horse doing that... Daily Racing Form reports that owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs are considering the $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June as a possible next race for Zenyatta. The race is attractive because it will give Zenyatta experience at Churchill Downs, the location of the 2010 Breeders' Cup which is the expressed long-term goal of the Zenyatta team. It also gives team Alexandra two months to prepare for Zenyatta coming into their house... Rachel Alexandra worked six furlongs in 1:12 Monday but trainer Steve Asmussen declined to reveal any plans telling Daily Racing Form "We're just trying to get her back to where she was."

Derby Odds and Evens
Near the end of the Arkansas Derby and Wood Memorial telecast Saturday, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands morning line maker Mike Battaglia said Wood Memorial Stakes winner Eskendereya will be 2-1 or lower in the program. Not a big surprise considering the average win pay-off was $20.40 in the four other grade 1 Derby preps, (the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes)... Last year Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby as one of the last horses to qualify off the also eligible list. Currently ranked just below the qualifying standard of $250,500 in graded earnings are Uh Oh Bango, Jackson Bend, Backtalk, Make Music For Me, Odysseus, A Little Warm, Setsuko. Pleasant Prince and Caracortado... Mike Maker, trainer of Blue Grass upset winner Stately Victor, said Sunday that had he not won the Blue Grass at 40-1 odds, he would be looking at "probably a conditioned allowance race for the colt." A nice twist of faith I'd say... Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy, Eskendereya and Florida Derby winner Ice Box top the TBA 3-Year-Old Colt Standings sponsored by OCD Pellets.

Baffert in Arizona Sports Hall of Fame
Trainer Bob Baffert (top left), fresh off induction into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2009, was recently inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony in the Phoenix Convention Center.

Baffert, trainer of three Kentucky Derby winners, joined an illustrious induction class that included legendary University of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson (bottom left), former All-American and National Basketball Association Champion Sean Elliott, five-time Professional Golf Association winner Billy Mayfair and University of Arizona softball pioneer Billie Harris, the first African-American to play on the school's women's softball team.

Baffert, a native of Nogales, Arizona and a University of Arizona alumn, jokenly said upon being honored "I wore my Lute Olson wig tonight."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass are Open Affairs

After watching Eskendereya's magnificent Wood Memorial (gr. 1) performance last week, one may wonder about the significance of this weekend's two grade 1 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands prep races. Of the 18 3-year-olds entered in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, only Uh Oh Bango has a race with a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure. And that was a 102 Beyer last September in the $53,000 Prairie Meadows Juvenile.

Eskendereya has done so in his last two races with a 106 Beyer in the Wood and a 102 in the Fountain of Youth. Not since Point Given in 2001 has a 3-year-old come into the Kentucky Derby looking so dominant. In fact, Point Given is the only horse during the last decade to go to the post with less than 2-1 odds.

Point Given finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Ironically, that is the average finish of the last ten Kentucky Derby favorites. Only Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Street Sense in 2007 and Big Brown the following year have won the Run for the Roses as the most popular betting choice.

The Arkansas Derby has produced two Derby winners during that time and seems to have the stronger cast on Saturday.

Todd Pletcher continues to unleash his 2010 armament on Derby contenders by bringing Super Saver to Arkansas and has been tabbed the 9-5 morning line favorite. Owned by WinStar Farm, Super Saver was third behind Odysseus and Schoolyard dreams as the favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby March 13 in his first start of the year.

But Noble's Promise may wind up as the fan's betting choice in Arkansas as well as the winner of the race if he can continue to improve off of his only start of the year. Trained by Kenneth McPeek, Nobel's Promise just missed hanging on against the highly regarded Lookin' at Lucky in the grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, also March 13. Although Lookin' at Lucky was rattled with trouble that day, Noble's Promise was forced three-wide on the turn in the Rebel and still produced a field best 98 Beyer.

Four-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas still has Dublin on the Derby trail after his third place finish in the Rebel. He also was plagued by bad luck as he was forced four and five wide on both turns and appeared to bump Lookin at Lucky down the backstretch as well. Oaklawn Park veteran Terry Thompson gets the return mount on the son of Afleet Alex and may be looking for a slow and relaxing early trip Saturday.

In Lexington, Kentucky Florida Derby runner-up Pleasant Prince has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite, just ahead of Tampa Bay Derby winner Odysseus at 7-2. Just behind them are the Pletcher duo of Aikenite and Interactif at 4-1.

Again, we have a wide open race in which I'm most interested to see Odysseus run again. His victory in the Tampa Bay Derby, while not overly impressive on paper, was about as much as one would want to see in terms of determination and late acceleration.

After appearing as if finished coming out of the far turn (even track announcer Richard Gunter called Odysseus as done for the day), jockey Rajiv Maragh suddenly found more inside the final eighth of a mile. By that time, they were behind a wall of horses and as if suddenly being recharged, began to run again and somehow got for the win. That made it 3 consecutive for the Tom Albertrani trainee and with any improvement in maturity, should be the one to beat at Keeneland.

Personal Ensign Dies

Personal Ensign, the Zenyatta of the late 1980s passed away at her home at Claiborne Farmin Paris, Kentucky. She was 26.

Ranked among the greatest racing mares of all time with an undefeated record in 13 career starts. Her two most memorable races included the 1988 Whitney Stakes (gr. 1) when she defeated Gulch and King's Swan as the odds-on favorite and the thrilling Breeders' Cup Distaff later that year. In her final race, Personal Ensign appeared to be defeated by Kentucky Derby winning filly Winning Colors only to get up to win a nose to cap her perfect career.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Enter Zenyatta. And They Will Come.

If you can take the afternoon off Friday, consider it. If not, set your TIVO. Because Zenyatta is running again.

It's not the $5 million "Race for the Ages" since principal owner Jess Jackson decided not to bring Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, but the $500,000 purse in the 1-1/8 mile Apple Blossom is almost inconsequential.

Because it is a horse race, anything can happen. But safe to say, most in attendance at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas Friday will not be there to see if Zenyatta wins. They will be there to see her.

They are coming to witness her daunting presence. At 17 hands and some 1,200 pounds, she towers over most horses in racing, not the least of which are the four mares that will line up against her. They are coming to see her dance and prance from the barn to the paddock. In the paddock and around the post parade they are coming to see her strut and paw with her neck bowed as if a mountain ram ready to strike.

But most of all they are coming to see her run. They are coming to see if she can join the likes of Cigar, Citation and Mister Frisky with 16 undefeated wins. They want to see that late furious rally that patently makes one doubt she can win from so far back, so late in the race.

Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella told Daily Racing Form that they are planning for 30,000 fans on Friday and 50,000 the next day for the Arkansas Derby. That would make it perhaps the third largest Friday-Saturday crowd of year behind Oaks and Derby days at Churchill Downs and the Friday-Saturday Breeders' Cup, also at Churchill in 2010.

Coming to the party in the role of the spoilers will be grade 3 stakes winners Be Fair, War Echo, and Just Jenda plus Taptam, an ungraded stakes winner. The morning line has Just Jenda as the 3-1 second choice behind Zenyatta at 3-5 which will be about as accurate as a wiffle ball in a windstorm. Zenyatta should be closer to 1-5 if not 1-9. The closest any second choice will come is 8-1.

Even Just Jenda's trainer Cindy Jones, concedes reality and is hoping for second. Steve Asmussen trains War Echo and will try to turn the tables on Zenyatta's trainer John Shirreffs. Shirreffs brought Zardana to New Orleans to defeat Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes when Rachel was 1-9. But even Asmussen must think an upset improbable.

“She’s totally different from any other horse I’ve had,” Shirreffs said. “She’s sharp and fit and ready to run, yet so relaxed. There was a little girl, about 11, at the barn recently and she had her little Breyer horse with her and was standing with Zenyatta. Before you know it, she (Zenyatta) turned around and had her backside next to this little girl. She just reached up and patted her on her butt. It was no big deal.”

The big deal will again be on the track. And you won't want to miss it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Does Big Wood Equal Derby Win For Eskendereya?

There are many things that can happen between now and May 1 when the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands is run, but something significant will have to happen to keep Wood Memorial (gr. 1) winner Eskendereya from being honored as the post time favorite. In fact, he may be a quite heavy favorite by Kentucky Derby standards - maybe in the 8-5 range depending on what happens in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1) at Oaklawn Park and the Bluegrass Stakes (gr. 1) at Keeneland this weekend.

Eskendereya is currently second behind Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy in the TBA standings sponsored by OCD Pellets.

But recent memories of Derby favorites coming out of the Wood Memorial winner's circle have not been positive for the most recent 20 years. Going back to 1982, eight winners of the Wood have become the post time favorite for the Derby. During that span, only Fusaichi Pegasus (photo right) in 2000 has managed to win the Derby coming out of the Wood as the favorite. Last year I Want Revenge was the morning line and early betting favorite, but scratched the morning of the race. Trainer Nick Zito brought Bellamy Road to Kentucky after he won the Wood by 17-1/2 lengths and equaled Riva Ridge's track record set in 1973. Bellamy Road finished seventh in the Derby as the 7-2 favorite.

Two years earlier, Funny Cide, after finishing second to Empire Maker in the Wood, turned the tables and won the Derby. Empire maker was second as the favorite at 5-2 odds.

The 1970s was a good time for Wood Memorial winners as Foolish Pleasure (1975), Bold Forbes (1976) and Seattle Slew (1977), all took the Wood/Kentucky Derby Double. However, Bold Forbes missed favoritism at 3-1 behind Honest Pleasure who was bet down to 2-5 before finishing second.

Before that, one has to go back more than 40 years to find a Wood Memorial winner that took the Derby as a favorite. Although Wood winners Dancer's Image (1968) and Assault (1946), both won the Derby, neither was the favorite for the Run for the Roses.

In 1943 Count Fleet won the Wood Memorial and then took the Derby as the heavy 2-5 favorite on his way to becoming the sixth Triple Crown winner. Thirteen years earlier, Gallant Fox won the Derby at even odds after taking the Wood. He would later become the second horse to win the Triple Crown.

Between those two, Twenty Grand took the 1931 Wood/Derby double at even odds in the Derby and Johnstown did the same with 3-5 Derby odds. Both were favorites.

In all, 26 winners of the Wood Memorial have made their next start in Louisville as the favorite but only seven have won. That's about a 27% win percentage and about 6 points lower than one-in-three, the industry's generally accepted level of percentage of winning favorites give or take a few points depending on the track.

There have been some historical names at short prices go down in Kentucky as the favorite coming from New York as well. Native Dancer (53), Olympia (49) and Easy Goer (89) were the only odds-on favorites of the group but both Damascus and Nashua were defeated as very popular 8-5 choices. Bold Ruler topped the win pool at 6-5 in the 1957 Derby but finished sixth. Fighting Fox (38) and Stir Up (44) were also highley regarded New Yorkers at 7-5 but they finished sixth and third respectively.

Now logic will tell you that none of these past races have little bearing on whether Eskendereya will win, be the favorite or even start in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. He has a few races to go before he can attract legitimate comparisons to Native Dancer, Damascus or Easy Goer but in fairness he appears likely to achieve additional accolades from the media and fans alike. At least I hope so. Super stars are always good for racing.

But before you tell somebody that Eskendereya can't lose in the Derby. I'm just sayin'.... it's happened before.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eskenderya Perfect. Lookin at Lucky Not

If one could envision a perfect preparation for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1), it might look a lot like Eskendereya's Wood Memorial (gr. 1). Jockey John Velazquez spent more energy looking for challengers in the final quarter mile of the Wood than urging Eskendereya. And Eskendereya apparently knew it. Down the stretch his ears were pricked as if asking the jockey for instructions or perhaps permission - permission to run faster.

Instead, Velazquez only rode, relaxed and probably relished in the machine beneath him. All while galloping past the wire 8-1/2 lengths ahead of Jackson Bend, Awesome Act and Schoolyard Dreams.

The picture perfect Wood Memorial by Eskendereya will make him the favorite - or maybe heavy favorite - for the Kentucky Derby to be run May 1.

Bob Baffert, the trainer of west coast favorite Lookin at Lucky in the grade 1 Santa Anita Derby Saturday, perhaps could not have envisioned a more unpleasant preparation for Kentucky. He saw Lookin at Lucky crowded shortly after the break by Cardiff Giant and almost dropped around the turn by Who's Up only to see his horse valiantly rebound for third when many horses would have quit.

After the Santa Anita Derby, Baffert criticized jockey Garrett Gomez. Gomez punched Victor Espinoza (jockey of Who's Up), who then got punched again by the Santa Anita board of stewards with a 3-day suspension for careless riding. Gomez also got slapped with a fine for punching.

Meanwhile, Sidney's Candy had just won the Santa Anita Derby by 4-1/2 lengths ahead of the late charging Setsuko and the rebounding Looking at Lucky in third. Although he drew away from the field down the stretch, he was coming off of slow fractions of :24.00 seconds for the first quarter and :48.50 for the half. He won't get away with a waltz like that on the lead in the Derby, which is why I don't have any higher than eighth on my Elite Eight this week.

American Lion won the Illinois Derby (gr. 2) Saturday and looked good while pulling away from second-place finisher Yuwanna Twist. American Lion also got away with easy fractions with the first half-mile in a 49.32 seconds. But American Lion had 8-5 favorite Yuwanna Twist on his flanks almost the entire trip around the track. But it is the first good race of the year for American Lion and additional improvement will be needed in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Derby Elite Eight
1-Eskendereya: He improved on his Fountain of Youth in the Wood with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure with a stretch run that more resembled a stroll.
2-Lookin at Lucky: The trip handicapper in me keeps this horse among the top contenders still. Although after two terrible trips and the Rebel and Santa Anita Derby, hoping for the first clear trip in three races among the Kentucky Derby field of 20, may be a little naive.
3-Noble's Promise: Ran a big race in the Rebel to almost take down Lookin at Lucky and may well be among the favorites in the Arkansas Derby Saturday.
4-Odysseus: His very late move in the last 100 yards of the Tampa Bay Derby was unusual, but impressive. He runs in the Bluegrass Stakes Saturday at Keeneland in his final prep.
5-Setsuko: The pedestrian pace in the Santa Anita Derby compromised his chances of improving on a second-place finish. He will have a much more honest pace to target in Kentucky.
6-Sidney's Candy: The benefactor and horse responsible for the tepid pace on his way to winning the Santa Anita Derby. He won't get that easy lead in Louisville.
7-Dublin: Has the stalking running style I like and I'm counting on the experience of four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas to manage the needed improvement. He will likely meet Noble's Promise again at home in Arkansas.
8-American Lion: Finally lived up to some of his expectations with a clear trip in the Illinois Derby. He'll have to improve further to get to the winner's circle in the Derby.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wood Memorial and Santa Anita and Illinois Derbies Look To Leave Decade of Disappointment Behind

There are many questions regarding the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands to be answered this weekend with the running of Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) in California, the Illinois Derby (gr. 3) and the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) at Aqueduct in New York.

Will juvenile male champion Lookin at Lucky (right) benefit from the last minute schedule change to stay home at Santa Anita instead of traveling to Arkansas next week? Will Eskendereya replicate his dominating performance in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2) in which he achieved a division leading 106 Beyer Speed Figure? Will American Lion finally live up to his winter hype and take the Illinois Derby?

During the last ten years, all three races have produced a Kentucky Derby winner as 2002 Illinois Derby winner War Emblem won in Kentucky as did 2000 Wood Memorial winner Fusaichi Pegasus. The sole Kentucky Derby winner to have run in the Santa Anita Derby during that time is Giacomo, who was fourth at Santa Anita.

Two other Kentucky Derby winners during the oughts made their previous starts in the Wood Memorial. Both 2001 winner Monarchos and 2003 winner were second in their respective Wood Memorials.

Two Wood Memorial winners have run well without winning the Derby including Congaree in 2001 (third in Kentucky) and Empire Maker (2nd in 2003). Santa Anita Derby winners, on the other hand, have lit the board only twice in Kentucky in that span. Pioneerofthe Nile finished second last year and Brother Derek was in a dead heat for fourth with Jazil in 2006.

One other historical notation in the last decade of Kentucky Derby winners: Only five, Big Brown, Barbaro, Smarty Jones, War Emblem and Fusaischi Pegasus won their race just previous to the Derby. Meaning the best horse in early April is not always the fastest on the first Saturday in May. The average Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby winners have finished seventh in Kentucky - the average Illinois Derby winner 9th.

But this is a new decade and the two current favorites to win the Kentucky Derby are running this weekend in Lookin at Lucky and Eskenderya and both have formidable foes in their paths.

Lookin at Lucky will likely be a heavy favorite in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby after over coming trouble several times to win the Rebel Stakes (gr. 3) at Oaklawn. Also entered in the Santa Anita Derby are Sidney's Candy, currently third in TBA 3-year-old colt standings provided by OCD Pellets and the winner of the San Felipe (gr. 2) and San Vicente Stakes (gr. 2) at Santa Anita during the winter; and Caracortado, a winner of his first five career starts and the grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes before finishing third in the San Felipe last race. A rapidly improving Alphie's Bet, already a winner at 1-1/8 miles in the Sham Stakes.

The Wood Memorial may be a bit more competitive with the likes of Awesome Act, Jackson Bend and Schoolyard Dreams also headed to New York.

Awesome Act is a British import who came to New York to impressively win the grade 3 Gotham Stakes last month and has remained stateside to train for the Wood. Jackson Bend comes from the Nick Zito barn that has won the Wood Memorial three times with Thirty Six Red in 1990, Adonis ('99) and Bellamy Road ('05). Zito is hoping Jackson Bend can improve enough to avenge the runner-up performance in the Fountain of Youth behind Eskendereya. Schoolyard Dreams comes from Tampa Bay Downs where he lost their Derby by a close nose behind Odysseus.

The Illinois Derby will be a test of two sophomores trying to establish themselves and earn a trip to the Kentucky Derby. Backtalk, a favorite of this blog, will be trying for his second victory this year after winning the one-mile Sportsman’s Paradise Stakes at Delta Downs Feb. 26. Trained by Tom Amoss, the son of Smarty Jones may already have the graded earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby but may need a solid effort in Illinois to secure the ticket.

American Lion has shipped to Illinois from California where he was third behind Caracortado in the Robert B. Lewis and fourth behind winner Sidney's Candy in the San Felipe.