The Brock Talk

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Derby Trifecta Ticket Using Post Positions

Now that the post position draw has occured here's my Derby Trifecta ticket by the numbers.

Must Run First
Must Run Second
Must Run Third

Total Cost $12 on a $1 Trifecta. Let me know if you have questions by clicking on the comment link just below this post. These are the same horses as on my Early Derby Trifecta ticket posted earlier this week with I Want Revenge and Pioneerof the Nile as our "key" horses.

My longshot on this ticket is Hold Me Back at 15-1 and I've played him to run second or third. That would be about the only thing that could save me from a sub-$500 ticket if it cashes at all... and that's a big if.

I will be taking a closer look at three other longshots that may take the place of Hold Me Back tomorrow. I'm off Muskat Man. His morning reports are not what I'm looking for. So I'm taking a closer look at Papa Clem, General Quarters and Chocolate Candy. At least each of those horses are all at 20-1.

I still have to leave out Friesan Fire. Bear in mind that I'm not discounting the horse too much. It's just that I won't play a trifecta that is completely filled with favorites. The Derby very seldom works that way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Comment of the Week

My favorite comment came as a response to my April 23 post regarding my visit to Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky to see Seattle Slew.
--Brock Sheridan

That’s how I remember it, however you left out the most chilling part of the day and the day I realized that there really are race horse gods. When we went to Claiborne Farm and saw Conquistador Cielo and they led him out of his stall, crippling with arthritis, and as I put my hand on him the clouds broke out into a downpour. I couldn’t help but think of him romping home in the monsoon of the Belmont…I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
--Matthew Denny, Austin, Texas.

Post Position Fun Facts

I'm not one to put too much importance into a post position draw unless there is some evidence of a bias in the track surface. And since there is usually no strong bias at Churchill, I don't see many advantages or even disadvantages. It has been popular in recent years to speak of the dreaded 1 post because of all the horses trying to get into racing position causing traffic problems before the large field reachs the clubhouse turn.

I contend that 20 horses going anywhere from a straight line will cause traffic problems. Granted the inside horses may have a greater probablity of traffic, but you're going to see plenty of bumping by many of the horses before they reach the turn. One advantage we have at Churchill Downs, however, is the long stretch. The jockeys have a full quarter of a mile to attempt some assemblance of order before they turn left - all at once - going 40 mph. Nonetheless, Bob Baffert chose post 16 for Santa Anitia Derby (gr. 1) winner Pioneerof the Nile and multiple training champion Todd Pletcher selected post 15 for Florida Derby (gr. 1) runner-up Dunkirk with the next draft pick. Both have been assigned morning line odds of 6-1 making them the second choice selections. (More on morning line odds later)

Churchill Downs and television have created a unique draft-style post position draw for the Kentucky Derby. Instead of the posts being drawn strictly by the "pill system" or lottery, they draw pills to determine the draft order of the trainers and owners of each horse. The overwhelming obstacle to making that event entertaining is of course, is the event itself.

To further my point, just look at a few post position facts. Only two postitions have produced 12 Kentucky Derby winners since such records began in 1900 - posts one and five. Breaking from the dreaded inside post is West Side Bernie, runner-up to I Want Revenge in his last race and given morning line odds of 30-1. Hold Me Back will break from post five with odds of 15-1. Posts four and 10 are the only other gates to produce double digit Derby winners with 10 each. Pletcher selected post 4 for gr. 2 Lexington Stakes winner Advice and trainer Saeed bin Suroor took post 10 for UAE Derby (gr. 2) winner Regal Ransom.

Obviously the Derby fields have been much smaller for much of its history so these figures are skewed a bit to favor the inside. (The average number of starters in the Kentucky Derby is 12.76.) So looking at the outside 10 posts, we see that only one has produced as many as four Derby winners. That distinction goes to post 13 which I Want Revenge has been assigned and installed as the favorite at 3-1.

Post positions 17 and 19 are the only two that have never produced a winner and post 18 has produced only one. The far outside post this year, post 20 has produced two winners.

Let me also take this opportunity to explain the morning line odds. Many people have questions about them because these are the odds that appear in the program. And yet, they mean nothing after the wagering has begun and the amount of money bet on each horse determines his final odds and the amount of money you may have won.

The morning line odds are really a prediction by a track racing official who is trying to predict how the public will bet the race, thus setting the eventual odds. So the morning line does reflect his prediction of the outcome of the race - but rather the outcome of the wagering. When formulating wagers before the betting windows open, many horseplayers use the morning line odds to help them manage their money and make wagering decisions.

For the complete post position information and morning line odds, you can see the complete list of entries by clicking on Kentucky Derby Post Positions under "Other Horse Racing Links" below.

Want Your Own Kentucky Derby Trophy?

Skinner, Inc., one of the nation's leading auction houses for antiques and fine art, announces it will auction a 1947 Kentucky Derby 14 kt Gold Winner's Trophy and Commemorative Mint Julep Cup, won by the American thoroughbred racehorse Jet Pilot. It is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000.
You can read the full story by going to "Other Horse Racing Links" below on this blog.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Early Trifecta

When I wager on the Kentucky Derby, I play the trifecta. That is I try to pick the first three horses to cross the finish line in exacta order. That is an almost impossible task to hit cold, so we play what is called the old "$1 Trifecta part-wheel," or a "$1 trifecta key." Here's what it looks like:

Must Finish First:
I Want Revenge or Pioneerof the Nile
Must Finish Second:
I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile or Hold Me Back
Must Finish Third:
I Want Revenge, Pioneer of the Nile, Hold Me Back, Desert Party or Dunkirk

This is a $12 ticket or there are 12 different possible winning scenarios, each costing $1.

I've tried for weeks to find somebody that I thought could beat I Want Revenge and I can't. He has looked great on the track including another effortless yet spirited drill this morning going a half-mile in :47.34 seconds and galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.14. He may not have had the stiffest of competition in the Wood Memorial, but his trip was horrid after a very slow break and no racing room down the stretch.

There is no correct answer to the question of who the best jockey or trainer is in the Kentucky Derby. But Pioneerof the Nile's team provides about as close as you can get. Jockey Garret Gomez has been among the best jockeys in the country now for years and Bob Baffert will be looking for his fourth Kentucky Derby victory. And the Santa Anita Derby winning horse ain't that bad either. He defeated I Want Revenge twice this winter and quite a few others in the Kentucky Derby as well. He appears to have answered the questions about the racing surface and has looked very good in the mornings. And I think he'll have a nice early pace on the front end.

I always like to have a fairly good longshot in the second spot and I'm hoping Hold Me Back's odds will be between 15-1 and 20-1. It's killing me not to put Desert Party or Dunkirk here, but trainer Bill Mott (Cigar) must see something in this colt to bring him here. Mott is a Hall of Fame trainer who goes by the old and now rare addage of not "leading one over to the grandstand who he doesn't think can win."

Two horses I've left out are the likely second favorite Friesan Fire and the longshot I've been talking about, Muskat Man. Muskat Man has not had rave reviews since his arrival at Churchill Downs. I like him on paper quite a bit, but again somebody has to go. I took off Friesan Fire for two minor reasons: First, his odds are too low. If I'm going to play the favorite, I better have the courage to toss out the second choice in terms of betting. I also don't like the long layoff of six weeks or the fact that he comes here training on Keeneland's polytrack. I know trainer Larry Jones has done it before with the last two runner-ups, but its just too many strikes for me.

Now remember, it's still nearly four days until post time for the Derby. We can still make adjustments.

Derby Picks So Far...

Tough to Beat
I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile
I Think They Can Win But...
Desert Party, Dunkirk, Papa Clem,
Muskat Man, West Side Bernie, Hold Me Back

I'll refine and probably change this as the Derby gets closer. I'll also try to formulate some kind of trifecta ticket.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kentucky Hot Brown Recipe

This is Chef Bobby Flay's recipe from I recommend the mini Hot Browns as described here for a Kentucky Derby party. For authenticity, pleasure and cholesterol problems, Ramsey's restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky has the best Hot Browns.

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.

Quality Road Out Of Derby

Florida Derby (gr. 1) winner Quality Road will miss the Kentucky Derby due to a minor hoof injury according to trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Quality Road has a quarter crack on his right front hoof, that is much akin to a split toe nail in a human, and while not serious, "it's not right," said Jerkens.
Quality Road overcame a different quarter-crack on his right hind foot suffered during his track-record victory in the Florida Derby on March 28, developed this injury late last week. An acrylic patch was applied by noted hoof specialist Ian McKinlay on Sunday morning, but the colt has not recovered to the satisfaction of Jerkens.
The Preakness Stakes (gr. 1) on May 16 or the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) on June 6 are possibilites according to owner Edward P. Evans.
In the absence of Quality Road, Tampa Bay Derby (gr. 3) runner-up Join The Dance now moves up to the 20th spot on the graded earnings list and into the Derby.

Do Derby Trends Make West Side Bernie A Contender?

Like one would expect from a sporting event that has been around for more than a century, the Kentucky Derby has defined certain trends among its winners. Obviously, not every winner meets every criteria, and the horse that meets the most criteria each year is not necessarily the winner. It’s just another helpful tool.
Let’s take a look at some of the more accepted trends. Here they are in no particular order. Remember all Derby starters are 3-year-olds.
1.) Did the horse win a race at a mile or further as a 2-year-old? (Last Year)
2.) Did the horse win any race as a 2-year-old?
3.) Did the horse have only 4 or 5 prep races this year as a 3-year-old.
4.) Did the horse race in a 1-1/8 mile prep race.
5.) Did the horse win at 1-1/8 miles before the Derby.
6.) Did the horse NOT win his final race before the Derby.
When looking at the horses preparing to run in the Derby this year, we find only twp horses that meets all of these criteria – West Side Bernie and Hold Me Back. But Hold Me Back is bucking another big trend - he is trying to become only the fifth horse since 1933 to win the Derby with less than six career starts. Big Brown bucked that trend last year and won the Derby, but I don't see that happening in consecutive years.
West Side Bernie is an intriguing entry for this and a few other reasons. In his last race, he was second behind Derby favorite I Want Revenge in the gr. 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Race Track near New York City. While West Side Bernie’s race was not nearly as troublesome as I Want Revenge’s nightmare trip, he did race 4-wide in the final turn and made a nice move to get up for second. His Beyer Speed figure in the Wood was a good 101, but he seemed out matched and out classed by I Want Revenge. But West Side Bernie has 30-1 odds. I Want Revenge is the favorite.
In a bit of irony on the West Side Bernie team, trainer Kelly Breen will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter Saturday. Five years ago, West Side Bernie's jockey, Stuart Elliott, became the first jockey in 25 years to win his inaugural Kentucky Derby on Smarty Jones.

I recommend, everyone take the time to watch the replay of the Wood Memorial at or on Youtube. You’ll see why I Want Revenge is the favorite and you’ll get a chance to watch West Side Bernie too. One of the most valuable tools of any handicapper is watching the previous races of the contenders. The internet is allowing us to do this for the first time with relative ease.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Barbaro Statue Dedicated At Churchill Downs

Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby and captured the hearts of all of America in his fight to recover against a catostophic injury suffered in the Preakness, was honored at Churchill Downs Saturday. Read the full story below in "Other Horse Racing Links."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Derby Trial Goes To Hull

The gr. 3 Derby Trial was won today by Hull, who may make his next start in the gr. 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in three weeks. Because it is traditionally run one week before the Kentucky Derby, very few recent Derby Trial winners have made the short turn-around.

Horses Moving Up And Down Derby Ladder

It was a busy morning Saturday at Churchill Downs as five potontial Kentucky Derby starters had official workouts. For the purposes of this site, Muskat Man's lathargic effort has moved him out as my longshot.
Musket Man worked six furlongs in 1:14.81 with a less talented stablemate, who appeared to have the easiest going of the pair as they raced together throughout the work. Apparently, Muskat Man was even less impressive while galloping out to seven furlongs in a slow and tiring effort.
On the other hand, gr. 2 UAE Derby runner-up Desert Party impressed again on the track with a five furlong work in 59.44. He then galloped out seven furlongs in 1:12.60, more than three seconds faster than Muskat Man and passing West Side Bernie while both pulled up down the backstretch.
Remember we talked about how it was reported how confident Desert Party looked when he just galloped Thursday morning. He doesn't seem to be loosing any that swagger going into this race.
The UAE Derby curse seems less and less important the closer the Derby gets with this horse.
With I Want Revenge sure to be the solid favorite if the race were run today, I'll be looking for horses to try to beat him. I just can't bet on the favorite in the Derby. History is too much against it. Look for a complete revamping of my Derby Trifecta posted last Sunday.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Derby Bubble Horses

Should the new quarter crack cause trainer Jimmy Jerkins to not enter Quality Road, there are plenty of Derby bubble horses waiting on the sideline. We can say with almost certainty the Derby will have a full gate of 20 starters.
Sitting on the side lines and next in line with $100,000 in graded stakes earnings is Summer Bird. Having only three lifetime races, Summer Bird would earn is way into the Derby by way of his third-place finish in the gr. 2 Arkansas Derby April 11 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. While the light resume and a slow work today at Churchill throw up red flags, his Arkansas Derby performance is worth taking a closer look. In that race he broke slowly, was five wide in the first turn and made a strong stretch run to finish a length behind the winner Papa Clem and Old Fashioned. He also achieved a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in that race at 26-1 odds, so there some trifecta players very happy with Summer Bird that day who cashed the $271.80 tickets.
He also looks like he can get the 1-1/4 mi. Derby distance after we saw his late run in the 1-1/8 mi. Arkansas Derby and he is a son of 2004 Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) winner Birdstone. Because of the long 1-1/2 mile distance of the Belmont, winners are particullary attractive as sires. Birdstone stands at the prestigious Gainseway Farm in Kentucky for a fee of $10,000.
I'll have to see something more though, to have him on my Derby trifecta but I'll be pulling for Drs. K.K. and V.D. Jayaraman, whose distinctive blue silks with the red ball on the back have long been familiar in to Ark-La-Tex racing fans at Oaklawn, Lone Star, and Lousisiana Downs.
Waiting just below Summer Bird is trainer Todd Pletcher with Join The Dance and Take the Points. Pletcher has already qualified Lexington Stakes (gr.2) winner Advice and Dunkirk, who was second in the Florida Derby (gr. 1) behind Quality Road.

Coming Up... Derby Party Talk

In the days ahead, we will be hearing from a former Louisville resident and regular Derby attendee who is now a Kentucky Derby hostess near Seattle. We'll have menu item ideas and more....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sub-Par Morning Effort Put In By General Quarters

While most of the Kentucky Derby contenders have blazed through their morning works in gallant and impressive fashion, gr. 1 Blue Grass Stakes winner General Quarters turned in a bit of a clunker today. He worked five furlongs (5/8 miles) in 1:01.79 this morning at around 7 am with his exercise rider Julie Sheets aboard. He then galloped out to finish six furlongs in 1:16.09 but "shut down a bit quickly" according to Mike Welch of the Daily Racing Form who saw the work.

Welch also commented that he thought General Quarters appeared to be a bit reluctant to get started and needed encouragement from Sheets to get rolling.

Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy said, “I was looking for between 1:01 and 1:02, so this was perfect.” because he wanted a nice, steady work from the horse. This also raises another one of those dreaded artificial surface questions because the Blue Grass was run over a Polytrack surface. Although General Quarter also won on dirt in the gr. 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Downs in February, a race in which Muskat Man was six lengths back in third.

While I Want Revenge and Desert Party only galloped today, both looked dynamite according to many reports. When horses look impressive doing something as simple as galloping, it usually means they know just how... just how... sorry folks, but these words convey the best... just how much of a bad-ass they are. That attitude can translate into impressive victories when they look another horse in the eye during a race.

Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew were the most fearful horses I ever saw in person. At first glance, both horses set off an internal "yikes" in me. When I saw Sunday Silence, he was 3 and getting ready to romp in the gr. 1 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. Seattle Slew was 20-years old and in his stall relaxing at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky when he made me and my friends literally stop in our tracks when we saw him. You kind of felt like Jodie Foster visiting Dr. Lecture in Silence of the Lambs.

Cracking The Injury Case

I've heard and read plenty about the minor injury Quality Road suffered in the gr. 1 Florida Derby on March 28. Television commentators, jockeys, turf writers all have offered their opinions on the effects the quarter crack in his right hind hoof may have on his Kentucky Derby performance. After his impressive bullet workout at Belmont Park last Friday, many of those questions appeared to be answered but I still have questions.

So I called Dr. Patrick Reeves, a former racetrack veterinarian in Kentucky, Florida and New York and who treated such horses as 1997 Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) winner Touch Gold. Dr. Reeves currently has a large and small animal veterinary practice in Fort Worth, Texas and just as important for our purposes, is a very good horse player.

I wanted to know his opinion of the quarter crack injury and its potential effect on Quality Road next Saturday in the Derby. "Obviously, I can’t make an evaluation of the injury without seeing it," Dr. Reeves said. But he did offer some insight from the perspective of an equine practioner. With regard to the work he said, "A good work is a good indication, but not a complete indication." Reeves said that even in the short time since he practiced on the track in the 1990s, treatments for quarter cracks and supportive shoes have advanced making it easier for horses to recover. But a quarter crack can sometimes surprisingly reoccur.

But then he spoke from the point of view of a horseplayer. "I would be more concerned about the horse’s fitness than I would be over the actual injury," he said. "Because of how it may have affected his training schedule." Even if it was a short respite from training following the Florida Derby, any kind of alteration in his schedule leading up to the biggest horse in the world still leaves room for concern.

Quality Road may win the Derby. He is getting plenty of respect as evidenced by The Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker who has him listed as a solid second choice in the Derby at 5-1. But I'm going to have to leave him off of the top spot on my trifecta and maybe even put him only in the third spot of the wager.

Updated Derby Field and Odds

The Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker updated his Kentucky Derby field and odds today. A very good one-page reference. See my "Other Horse Racing Links" below to view this page and read other informative and interesting Derby articles.

What does gr. 1, gr. 2 mean?

I have received a few e-mails on this question, so I'll address it quickly. All of the major stake races in the world are rated each year by a committee of racing officials as grade 1, grade 2, grade 3 and non-graded races. (In Europe and Asia they are referred to as Group 1, 2, 3). The most prestigious races in terms of history, purse and competition level are rated as grade 1 races. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Breeders' Cup and a few more are group 1 races.

More questions like this are not only welcome, but needed to make this blog more user friendly and more informative. That gives us all a better chance to cash at the windows too...!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Perhaps Papa? Or Hold Me Back?

There is a term in horse racing that descripes horses that appears to have a much better chance of winning a race than what the odds (a function of money bet on a horse) may indicate. That's an overlay. Because of the large size of the Kentucky Derby field and "silly money" bet by people who place their wager based on names, grey horses or who the favorite is, overlays are a rule and not the exceptions in the Kentucky Derby.

I have already made my case for Muskat Man (see below), winner of the gr. 2 Illinois Derby and currently 15-1 at most racebooks. Let's take a look at two more.

Papa Clem won the gr. 2 Arkansas Derby in his last race with a gutsy stretch dual with one-time Derby favorite Old Fashioned, who is out of the Derby. In the race before that, he finished second in the gr. 2 Louisiana Derby March 14 behind Freisan Fire. Still he is hovering around 12-1 in racebooks around the country. Before that he was a close second behind Pioneerof The Nile in the gr. 2 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in early February. So he's shown he can compete on even terms with some of the most highly regarded horses in this year's Derby.

Papa Clem's trainer, Gary Stute, may have been looking at the same Derby trends Jennie Rees wrote about today in her column in the Louisville Courier-Journal. By not racing since the 1-1/16 mile Louisiana Derby, Friesan Fire will attempt to become the first horse since at least 1929 (when Churchill Downs began to keep such records) to win the Derby off of a seven week lay-off. He will also try to become the first horse since Middleground in 1950 to win the Derby without a 1-1/8 mile prep race.

Stute sent Papa Clem to Oaklawn Park for the 1-1/8 mile Arkansas and took care of those two nixes while winning the Arkansas Derby to boot. And he acheived a solid 101 beyer speed figure in the process. Add the additional fact that recent Derby winner Afleet Alex and Speedy Jones came out of the Arkansas Derby (a longtime Derby prep anyway) and I think we have an overlay folks. Don't be surprised to see him creep into my trifecta ticket.

Now let's look at Hold Me Back at 15-1 odds. Hold Me Back is by Giant's Causeway who was a star runner in Europe before finishing second to Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2000 and stands at Ashford Stud in Kentucky for $125,000. That means it cost the owner of a mare a sweet $125K for his mare to get a little lovin' and hopefully make a Hold Me Back calibur baby Giant's Causeway.

He is also trained by Bill Mott, the trainer of super star Cigar. While Mott has never won a Derby, that is certainly no reflection on his horsemanship. It is even fewed as a positive by some, because Mott doesn't come to the Derby for the Mint Juleps. He will also be ridden by jockey Kent Desormeaux, winner three Kentucky Derbies with Real Quite in 1998, Fusiachi Pegasus in 2000 and Big Brown last year.

In addition to his well decorated connections, Hold Me Back comes into the Derby with his own credentials having won the gr. 2 Lanes End Stakes at Turfway Park in March and finishing second to General Quarters most recently in the gr. 1 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. He likes to come from the clouds having been 11th during the early part of the Lanes End and 9th early in the Bluegrass. That could pose some traffic problems in the crowded Derby, but at 15-1 he's certainly worth a look for those who like longshots or horses that like to make that one big run coming down the long stretch at Churchill Downs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why The Funny Name? And Other Derby Fun Facts

Have you wondered why in the world somebody would spell the name of a horse like Pioneerof The Nile? Horse-racing regulations state that no race horse's name may contain more than eighteen letters. Had to take out a space to make it fit.

Only two horses have run the mile and one-quarter in less than two minutes. The great Secretariat ran the fastest Kentucky Derby in 1973 with a 1:59.40 time. In 2001, the suprising Monarchos stopped the clock in 1:59.97.

A racehorse looses an average of 15 to 25 pounds during the running of the Kentucky Derby.

Think you have problems parents? Thoroughbreds can wear out a set of shoes in the roughly two minutes it takes to run the Derby.

The first woman to ride in the Derby was Diane Crump on May 2, 1970. She finished 15th on Fathom. Dust Commander was the winner.

Texas and Louisiana racing enthusiast will be interested to know that jockey Jimmy Nichols finished 6th on Admiral's Shield that day. After his riding career ended in 1979, Jimmy Nichols went on to become the regular exercise rider for 1989 Preakness and Belmont winner Risen Star. Nichols was 62 at the time. He rode many champions as a jockey including the great Graustrak. He later became a track steward in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia. Lone Star Park jockeys still honor the late Nichols with a photo that hangs prominently in their jockeys' quarters.

Pioneerof The Nile Answers Big Question

On the morning after being named to the Racing Hall of Fame, trainer Bob Baffert got a congratulatory effort from Pioneerof the Nile by working five furlongs (5/8 of a mile) in 1:00.8 over a deeper and drying out Churchill Downs racetrack. Exercise rider Joe Steiner continued to urge Pioneerof the Nile around the turn to finish a six furlong work in 1:13.52.

"It was a stiff work but wasn't hard on him," Baffert said. "And I loved the way he went. He just skipped over the surface."

That appears to answer any doubt of whether he likes the Churchill Downs surface or not. I say "appears", because the race will tell the true story. But this work was a very positive sign. Baffert has won the Derby three times with Silver Charm in '97, Real Quite in '98 and War Emblam in 2002.

Tuesday morning also featured works from Derby horses I Want Revenge, Chocolate Candy, and Flying Private. 2007 Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel picked up the mount on Mine That Bird who arrived at Churchill Downs from Dallas-Fort Worth today.

For more information on today's works go to

Monday, April 20, 2009

Derby Developments – thoughts, comments and questions.

Louisiana Derby (gr. 2) winner Friesan Fire worked over the Keeneland track Sunday morning as trainer Larry Jones supervised from his pony horse.

With jockey Gabriel Saez aboard, Friesan Fire went a mile in 1:39.6 and covered the last three-eights of a mile in 37.87. Jones seemed happy with the work saying “he came home well. He was blowing very little. It was easy for him, so that was good. He needed a semblance of a little scrimmage.”

What doesn’t show up on the clocker’s list is that following the official work as the son of A.P. Indy was galloping out, another horse raced up along side Friesan Fire. Reportedly, Friesan Fire then re-broke forcing Saez to work another half-mile before convincing him to pull up. This looks to me like a horse that is ready to run and more importantly, doesn’t like other horses getting’ up in his bidness.

Having the horse train at Keeneland instead of Churchill Downs before the Derby would normally be somewhat of a concern for me, just because Keeneland has an artificial racing surface and Churchill is natural dirt. However, Jones has finished second in the two previous Derbies with Hard Spun in 2007 and Eight Bells last year, both of whom came into the Derby from a base at Keeneland.

With jockey Garrett Gomez choosing to ride Pioneerof the Nile in the Derby over Dunkirk, the Derby musical saddles is nearly over. Edgar Prado, who won the Derby with Barbaro in 2006 will pick up the mount on Dunkirk. Last week Eibar Coa choose to ride Illinois Derby (gr. 2) winner Muskat Man over Bluegrass Stakes (gr. 1) winner General Quarters.

What does all this mean for those of us who would like to cash a ticket on the Derby? Really not much in my opinion. The list of great jockeys choosing the wrong horse to ride in the Derby is “as long as long can be” as 80s SNL character Ed Grimley used to say.

Jockey changes can be much more important when handicapping everyday races, but a Derby horse is going to attract the nation’s leading riders. You don’t loose or gain much with jockey changes at this level.

Giant Oak departed from the Derby picture Monday because “physically he was right. Mentally is was not,” according to trainer Chris Block. That paves the way for Arkansas Derby (gr. 2) third-place finisher Summer Bird to make the Derby entry box. Horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby based on earnings in graded stakes races. Trainer Tim Ice said he didn’t think Summer Bird’s $100,000 in graded earnings would give them a trip to Churchill Downs but has already made plans to ship into the Churchill Downs stable area Wednesday.

My Favorite Derby

In 1987 Alysheba came into the Kentucky Derby with little fanfare. He had won only one of seven starts as a 2-year-old, but did finish third in the gr. 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Before he raced as a 3-year old he had surgery on his entrapped epiglottis to correct a breathing problem, and was winless in his three races before the Derby although he finished first in the gr. 1 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, his was disqualified for interference with another runner and placed third.

He never garnered much respect from the public who sent him off 8-1 in the Derby. Even though Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg had told anybody within earshot that his colt was going to run a super race.

At the break of the Derby, things didn't look any more promising as Alysheba and jockey Chris McCarron were pinched at the start and forced to settle in 14th place early in the race, ahead of only three horses. But as the field left the clubhouse turn McCarron steadily advanced a relaxed Alysheba towards the frontrunners. As they raced around the final turn, it was if Alysheba found another speed and excellerated quickly and athletically toword the lead and on his way to apparent history. Just inside the final quarter pole as the field straightened away, Alysheba had only one horse ahead of him, Bet Twice, and Alysheba had him in his sights. So much so, however, that Alysheba clipped the rear heals of Bet Twice and went crashing to his knees and his nose hit the track with 16 other thoroughbreds bounding down on him.

In a split second that defies logic, McCarron was thrown forward but quickly reached for Alysheba's head and the two somehow hit stride again in unison. Within a few more strides they had engaged front-runner Bet Twice again and in seemingly moments had taken the lead. Before most racing fans could fully comprehend what had fully happened in those final 25 seconds, Alysheba and Chris McCarron crossed the wire and McCarron was standing up waving his right handed whip in celebration.

What's your favorite Kentucky Derby story? Let me and our other bloggers know in comments.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Muskat Man Is My Longshot

If the odds I posted today are any indication of the real post time odds at Churchill Downs, it looks like Muskat Man will be a longshot. We have him listed at 15-1 (the winning bettor would receive $15 for every $1 wagered) and we've seen him listed as high as 20-1 in some places.

Based on his race history (past performances) he looks to me to be a pretty good longshot wager. And if your going to bet a trifecta, you may as well have a long shot somewhere on your ticket.

Not many times will you have a chance to get 15-1 odds on a horse that is a multiple graded stakes winner, having won the gr. 3 Tampa Bay Derby in March and the gr. 2 Illinois Derby in his last race in April. The Illinois Derby was an impressive effort in my mind for a few reasons. He swept to the lead around the far turn and held the lead throughout the long stretch of Hawthorne Race Course for a two-length lead over second-place finisher Giant Oak.

His stalking running style, which allows him to race and relax behind the early leaders before making is move, is just the kind of running style that can win the Derby. And the long stretch run at Hawthorne will be similar to the final run at Churchill Downs.

It doesn't hurt that jockey Eibar Coa decided to ride Muskat Man in the Derby over General Quarters, who Coa rode to victory in the gr. 1 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland on April 11.

I also like the fact that Muskat Man had a nice foundation of two starts last year as a 2-year-old and has trained and raced up to the Derby on what appears to be an untroubled path of four well placed races this year.

His doesn't have the speed figures that one likes to see having only achieved a 98 in the Illinois Derby compared to the 100+ speed figures of other contenders, but that's why he is 15-1.

Approximate Kentucky Derby Odds

These are approximate odds as of Sunday, April 19.
ADVICE, 20-1

Today's Trifecta

If I were to bet a trifecta ticket on the Kentucky Derby today, here is what it might look like. Notice one thing... it's not a big expensive, complicated ticket. We have a lot to learn in the next two weeks before we would invest too much.

Must run 1st - I Want Revenge or Muskat Man
Must run 2nd - I Want Revenge, Muskat Man, or Pioneerof the Nile
Must run 3rd - I Want Revenge, Muskat Man, Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, Papa Clem or Freisan Fire.

$1 Trifecta. 12 different bets = $12.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Like I Want

One of the great things about horse racing is that you can see who everybody else likes in the race. And, you can see how much they like him or her. The horse with the most money bet, has the lowest odds and is hence, the favorite.

As of today there are three horses that are vying for favoritism when the horses go to the gate in the Kentucky Derby - Wood Memorial Winner I Want Revenge, Florida Derby winner Quality Road and Louisiana Derby Freisan Fire. Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile will also be popular. (More on that later.)

Of those top three, I like I Want Revenge, but there isn't much to seperate them and I reserve the right to change that opinion.

Quality Road looks very impressive, but I am worried about his quarter crack injury suffered in the Florida Derby on March 28. (A quarter crack is not serious but is akin to a human running with a split nail on his big toe.) Trainer Jimmy Jerkins has said that the foot has healed and all systems are go. The son of Elusive Quality worked at Belmont Park in New York yesterday morning going 6 furlongs (3/4 of a mile) in 1:12.03. The work was tabbed as a "bullet" work by the Daily Racing Form, meaning it was the fastest time at that distance that morning at Belmont.

“He went good, a little faster than I intended,” Jerkens said. “His foot looked like it’s all right, too. Usually when you get this far, it’s OK.”

With I Want Revenge we have a horse who has been very impressive in his last two races leading up to the Derby and more importantly, no quarter crack. After leaving his home in Southern California, I Want Revenge won the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in New York by eight lengths on Mar. 7 then came back to take the Grade 1 Wood Memorial two weeks later. It was only by a length and-a-half, but he did it very easily.

In his first serious work at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, jockey Joe Talamo flew in from California to take him 5/8ths of a mile in :50. It wasn't the fastest of works (18th of 25 at Churchill that morning), but it was what the trainer said he wanted from the horse. "That's all we wanted to do today," Mullins said. "He just needed to do enough to keep himself safe. He's been tearing the barn down and we had to do something with him. If they get to feeling too good, they might get themselves hurt. We had to let him do a little something today."

This will be the first Kentucky Derby for Talamo, but there is little question this young rider is ready for the Derby after having much success in his young career - first in his native Louisiana and recently in the very tough circuit in Southern California.

I Want Revenge will also be a case study of the impact of artificial racing surfaces that are somewhat new to horse racing. After leaving his home in California where races are run on synthetic tracks, he showed considerable improvement racing on natural dirt in New York. Churchill Downs is also on natural dirt so we'll watch his next work closely.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Welcome To My First Blog

Welcome to my first blog post on my first blog.

Now that the formalities are over, let's get to the Kentucky Derby. Each year I play a trifecta ticket on the Kentucky Derby. That is, I try to pick the first three finishers of the Kentucky Derby in exact order. This weekend, I'll continue to handicap and read about the Derby contenders and post my observations here. At this time, my top three are I Want Revenge, Muskat Man and Pioneerofthe Nile. In future postings I'll talk more about each horse, how they are progressing toward the race, betting strategies and money management. I'm sure my selections will change many times between now and the first Saturday in May based on what happens between now and the first Saturday in May.

So join me and I look forward to your comments and questions.