Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. I Want Revenge (1)
2. Imperial Council (2)
3. Fresian Fire (3)
4. Pioneerof The Nile (4)
5. The Pamplemousse (5)
6. Quality Road (10)
7. Old Fashioned (6)
8. Dunkirk (8)
9. Desert Party (7)
10. Rachel Alexandra (New)

Quality Road is the big mover after his dominant win in the Florida Derby. Many have the horse topping their lists, and im not in a position to dispute that opinion since I gave the horse virtually no shot to win the Florida Derby. I placed him 6 knowing that after this weekend, which see's 4 of my top 10 run, that at least two of them will fall to some degree. (In all likelihood) I like to give those ranked a chance to respond before making room for a new horse at their expense. Those ranked above him are on notice as Quality Road has now set the bar.

Theregoesjojo is dropped off the list. My fear was confirmed as he is simply a miler with a closing kick.

Desert Party fell two spots after losing to his less heralded stablemate in the UAE Derby. To be fair, front runners won about everything at Nad Al Sheba over the weekend, but it was not the type of electric race that you could still be impressed by a runner up finish. With that said, I cant think of many more logical horses to rank above him. He is a good colt, and should factor in major races stateside this year. He'd be a long shot to win, but not a bomb.

Rachel Alexandra makes her way onto the list. I avoided putting her on the list for weeks because its somewhat unfair to rank a horse that's not being pointed to the Derby. I elected to include her now for a couple reasons. One, the connections have left the door open just slightly for a run in the Derby. Secondly, I don't think there are horses any more logical than her that are not ranked. You could make a slight case for Big Drama, but she is less likely to run in the Derby than Rachel.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekend Review, Crow Eating Edition

Florida Derby

Every year there is a horse or a race you horribly peg and this weekend revealed the most drastic flaw in my Derby analysis to date. I thoroughly underestimated Quality Road and there is nothing I can do but sit down and eat my serving of humble pie like a man. Maybe...

Todd Pletcher has taken some criticism in fan circles for complaining about the Gulfstream track. I'm not a big fan of excuses but nothing Pletcher said on air was incorrect.

Saturday saw two track records broken and every race on the card won on or near the front end. All but one race was won by a horse either laying 1st or 2nd through a half mile. The lone horse that wasn't in either position sat 3rd! Saying that there was anything other than a front end bias is to deny the facts.

The question really comes down to did the bias give an unfair outcome. I'm not prepared to go that far. Dunkirk rallied with a sweeping move around the far turn to bypass the field and looked like a winner by daylight with an eighth to go. Quality Road had enough time to react and respond, and did so with power. While there might have been a bias, there is no doubt Dunkirk hung down the lane. Perhaps it was too much to expect him to sustain that bold move to the wire.

I think more than anything, if Pletcher has something to question its not his decision to run over the Gulfstream track but his decision to scratch his rabbit. If there is a front running bias, he only stood to help his chances by making the pace brutal, something that didnt unfold in the slightest on Saturday.

Dubai Day

Gulfstream wasn't the only track around the globe to have a front running bias on Saturday. The Dubai World Cup card was won by a slew front runners as well on both turf and dirt. I haven't seen that many races stolen on the front end since Keeneland switched to polytrack and ended the reign of the "Golden Rail". The fact that trainers didn't react mid-card is baffling. Especially since the dirt course has been notoriously known for favoring horses laying close to the lead. Horses that get the first run on track have historically fared well, despite the fact that it has one of the longest stretch runs in the world.

With that said I took a great deal of pleasure watching Aron Gryder win the World Cup and Two Step Salsa dominating the Godolphin mile. Gryder was due for a win after having his heartbreak over Well Armed's performance in the Dirt Mile aired on the Discovery Channel's, Jockeys. Two Step Salsa is starting to live up to the potential he flashed last year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Florida Derby

As you'll notice I did not post a new Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. I figured it would be a waste of bandwidth to re-post an identical list as nothing transpired over the previous weekend that would affect the list.

The winners of the Turfway Poly-Preps haven't done enough to warrant real consideration to this point.

The Florida Derby headlines this weekends action. The run for the roses really heats up now as these are the final races before the big dance. Not only do horses need to be improving in these races but a lot of drama surrounds qualifying in the first place.

Dunkrik, considered a wonder horse by many, will not even get into the Derby without a win. Talk about pressure. A good fast closing second and this horse is heading to the Belmont.

Quality Road probably gets in with at least a third place finish, but Theregoesjojo can afford no worse a finish than second and even that might not cut it.

Realistically when all is said and done only one, maybe two, of these horses will be in the Derby come May.

So who will it be? Ive basically dismissed Quality Road from the outset. Im prepared to eat my shoe on him but I don't see this horse winning the Kentucky Derby. Can he win the Florida Derby? Possibly. Will he? I doubt it. I suspect he'll be running on fumes late in the Florida Derby and will be all out to finish third.

Theregoesjojo is an interesting horse. He comes running late and is for the first time this year really primed for a peak effort. He'll make a move late to dust everyone but....

Dunkirk. I hate picking this horse on several levels. One, I dislike the choice because he is all the rage after an allowance win. I also despise his trainers tactic of entering a rabbit. (Will save that discussion for another day) What I do like about him here is simple, he is proven around two turns over this course. Whereas the other key contenders have some question stretching out, there's no reason why Dunkirk shouldn't have the the kick to make a real impression late. I am overlooking the massive class jump, but I think the distance will be the equalizer.

1st - Dunkirk
2nd - Theregoesjojo
3rd - Quality Road

Its also worth mentioning the Dubai World Cup day is Saturday. For those with TVG and nothing to do in the morning there is some high caliber action in the U.A.E.

I'll be rooting on Two Step Salsa, Russian Sage, Indian Blessing and Casino Drive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Poly-Preps

Its nice to see ESPN is finally ready to cover some Triple Crown action, though one has to wonder why they picked this weekend instead of last.

Not a whole lot to recap, because at this point both winners over the weekend are not genuine Derby contenders yet.

G2 Lanes End

Hold Me Back won the Lanes End impressively for his '09 debut. In retrospect he was the best bred horse in the field and certainly the best bred for the distance. Like all synthetic preps, the winners have to be viewed with some skepticism.

Next stop the G1 Bluegrass, though they are considering the option of training up to the Derby.

Rushaway Stakes

Cliffy's Future made a nice move to take care of the field in the co-feature. Looks like the quirky Tampa Bay track makes the Sam Davis effort a toss. Interesting pattern of note here. The trainer used the Rushaway as a launching point for the G1 Bluegrass with Dominican two years ago. Also for the eternally optimistic, Cliffy's sire won the 2004 Bluegrass and was a multiple graded stakes winner at Churchill.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. I Want Revenge (2)
2. Imperial Council (3)
3. Fresian Fire (6)
4. Pioneerof The Nile
5. The Pamplemousse (7)
6. Old Fashioned (1)
7. Desert Party (10)
8. Dunkirk (New)
9. Theregoesjojo (New)
10. Quality Road (New)

Also Eligible: Hello Broadway, General Quarters, Rachel Alexandra

This was certainly the hardest top ten list to compile so far.

It was obvious several spots were going to be open, but when analyzing those who are worthy of filling in those spots I came to the realization that they were every bit as questionable as the horses they were looking to replace. It was also difficult because I had 11 horses I could make a case for.

In the end I gave in to temptation and included three boom or bust types that will all be facing off against each other in two weeks.

Old Fashioned took a big hit. Some will be dropping him off lists entirely. I elected not to for a couple reasons. One, the top 5 horses are the ringers. If you had to lay your money down on a horse to win the Derby right now a majority of people would be siding with one of my top 5. Beyond that it’s a crapshoot. I cannot say with conviction that Old Fashioned is any less likely to win the Derby off that performance than a horse like Dunkirk, (an impressive allowance winner) who will not get into the field unless he wins the Florida Derby. Secondly, Afleet Alex did run poorly in the Rebel and was able to rebound to take the Arkansas Derby and win two thirds of the Triple Crown.

Plus, since others will run their final preps before him, I can adjust his ranking as other prove to be more worthy. It’s relatively pointless to drop him off the list, only for a couple of the Florida horses to throw in clunkers and have to re-rank him. A decent list doesn’t have horses moving up and down like a yo-yo.

Fresian Fire moves up three spots after his dominating win in the Louisiana Derby. He actually stands to move up higher after the two ahead of him face off in the Wood Memorial in three weeks. His status on the list will be predicated by his schedule as well. If they elect to run him before the Derby he is bound to fall down my list as the horse could be over the top for the Derby. If they train him up, and we see the same workout pattern as Jones had for Hard Spun in a similar situation two years ago, he’ll maintain his position or move up.

Hello Broadway was dropped off the list. I spent a considerable amount of time deciding whether to have him or Quality Road at the ten spot. I thought his effort in the Tampa Bay Derby was much better than it looks on paper. It was his first run around two turns and despite going wide the entire way around he made a dynamic move on the turn before flattening out. I still believe he could impact the Derby and Triple Crown, but I do have to be realistic, he is just G2 placed (sprinting) so far.

General Quarters gets dropped after a race where he never had a call. He had a poor trip, being checked multiple times into the turn and blanketed to the wire by other horses. I was actually proud of his effort all things considered, as he was still trying with a sixteenth to go when he finally found room to run. I’m fond of the horse and the trainer (who’s only horse is General Quarters) but again its time to be honest and the General is just a G3 winner over the quirky Tampa track. He’d make a Top 12 list and I still think has an outside shot of factoring in another prep, but he is behind the eight ball at this point.

So on to the additions of Dunkirk, Theregoesjojo and Quality Road. All are Florida based and all are being pointed to the Florida Derby. One if not two will emerge from that race a short priced choice in the Derby. The first question is why haven’t I ranked them before…

Dunkirk is undefeated but only an allowance winner. He became all the rage after winning both his maiden and allowance races after dreadful trips. (He went about 10 wide into the FIRST turn in his last race) I agree the horse has a lot of potential but I’ve been hesitant to rank a horse too high at this time of year who has yet to run in a stake, yet to run fast and has to win a G1 race in his first try against stakes company to gain entrance to the Derby field. (Because of his lack of stakes earnings a second place finish would not give him the needed earnings to make the race)

Quality Road hasn’t been ranked because he’s never been around two turns and will be coming in to the Derby with just one two turn prep under his belt. It’s really that simple. He looked dynamite winning the Fountain of Youth but it was a one-turn event. Had that race been around two turns he’d be ranked up there with I Want Revenge. His fast Beyer in the FOY has caused many to overrate him in my opinion. He may be a real Derby threat, but we haven’t seen enough yet in my opinion to declare that.

Theregoesjojo has the same issue with a lack of two turn races this year and his claim to fame so far is running a fast closing second to Quality Road. ( I give him a fair chance to turn the tide on Quality Road in the Fla. Derby. He’s put up some fast figures and will be running late)

All three of these horses would be bucking the historical profile of a Derby winner, but in the modern day where Big Brown’s, Barbaro’s and Giacomo’s have all bucked one trend or another, any one of these Florida horses is eligible to be a major player if they progress well enough in the Florida Derby.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Review

What a weekend of racing. For everything we learned about some of the key contenders, a new batch of questions popped up for others.

The off track at the Fairgrounds did put a damper on their stellar card but I doubt whether it had any effect on the outcome of the 3yo features.

G1 Louisiana Derby

Dominant effort by Fresian Fire and there is not a lot more you can say.

If there were any doubts about his ability they’ve been put to rest. He has great tactical speed and a pedigree that's made for the Derby distance. The only question here is his schedule. The problem with the Fairgrounds circuit is its feature race comes 7 weeks out of the Derby. Any horse that runs through their entire 3yo circuit has been awfully busy and squeezing in another race can do more damage than good. Of course the flip side to that is nobody really wants to go into the Derby off that type of break.

I’m in favor of him training up to the Derby for two reasons, one, the horse ran huge in each of his last three starts. He needs a breather. Secondly, Jones proved what he can do in the Derby off a layoff with Hard Spun two years ago. Hard Spun ran in the G2 Lanes End, 6 weeks out of the Derby and Jones elected to train him up rather fit in another race. Hard Spun ran a monster race in the Derby and was a factor in each of the following Triple Crown races.

If Fresian makes another start he’ll become “toss” material. If he trains up, watch out.

Also, while I think the field wouldn’t have beaten Fresian on any surface condition I cant help but think the off track led to many of the stragglers not firing. I don’t believe Patena, Terrain, Giant Oak and Flying Pegasus can be that bad. The problem is, its virtually impossible to differentiate between their efforts and upside because of the track. They could be anything at this point and no one knows.

G2 Rebel Stakes

I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Old fashioned has been a model of consistency and training very well. He towered over this field in class and ability. After taking firm command of the race he went into a virtual crawl to set up one of the biggest upsets in Ark Derby history.

To be fair he chased brutal fractions early, but I’m not really sure if that’s enough to excuse the effort. If those fractions zapped him, then he probably got a little more out of the race than they wanted going in. Also, it doesn’t bode well that he is not tractable enough to avoid a suicidal pace from a “no hoper”. With his miler pedigree, this is not a recipe for Derby success.

Afleet Alex ran like a dog in the Rebel and was able to bounce back with a dominating win the Ark Derby. (Later it was confirmed he was sick) The faithful can still be optimistic considering this type of defeat has been overcome in recent time.

Until we get a report on him it will be hard to make a decision. Either way this is a serious blow to his Derby chances.

G2 San Felipe

I have a hard time enjoying anything other than turf racing from California. They have synthetic surfaces that make their horses impossible to compare to contenders abroad. Then he you have their pathetically small fields in stakes races. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but on days like this it's really driven home while horses like Fresian Fire are taking on nice fields of legitimate stock.

At first glance the win from the west coast powerhouse Pionerrof The Nile was sub par. He was fully extended to defeat a field of questionable quality.

There are a couple obvious points to take into consideration. Bob Baffert is not new to the Triple Crown trail and he isn’t going to prime his horse for a prep race in March. The race was also devoid of pace and Pioneer had to make an early move to push the pacesetter. He is certainly more effective making one big run late.

It would still be nice to see him handle a field like that a bit easier. I like to see a horse distancing himself from his rivals at this time of year, not doing the bare minimum.

This of course sets up the showdown between The Pamplemousse and Pioneer in the Santa Anita Derby. Hopefully it draws a near full field.

G3 Tampa Bay Derby

Not sure what to make of this race. I don’t expect much from the winner moving forward and it’s hard to peg the quality of General Quarters and Hello Broadway after their efforts.

Hello Broadway was running a brilliant race for about 7 furlongs. He tracked nicely without being rank and made a very powerful move into the far turn before hitting the wall. The question is, did he hit his physical limit or was that just an effort of a horse running in his first two-turn start. If it’s the later then I guess you can forgive the effort.

General Quarters got a brutal trip. He had to check three times before hitting the backstretch and didn’t have a clear run until a sixteenth left. (Far too late to be a factor) I think he showed a lot of heart to finish as well as he did after essentially being swallowed by the field the entire way around.

G3 Fairgrounds Oaks

Perhaps the best effort of the day was Rachel Alexandra comfortably drubbing the field while Calvin Borel spent the entire stretch posing for those in attendance.

If there was a case for Stardom Bound to be considered the leading 3yo filly going in, it’s gone now.

While Stardom Bound’s path is being reeled back to within her own gender, many fans are wondering whether Rachel should be running against the boys.

Count me as one of those people. With Old Fashioned being defeated by a 56-1 shot, the Arkansas group looks to be weak and ripe for the taking. Id imagine his lost will prompt a couple shippers to invade, but if the field does not draw especially deep I don’t see a reason why Rachel should skip the Arkansas Derby.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Support The Report

Id like to tip my cap to Ray Paulick for linking this blog to his website, The Paulick Report.

For those unfamiliar with The Paulick Report, it serves as the central online hub for all things pertaining to the thoroughbred industry. Part blog, part news site, the Report has becomes the #1 source for opinion and commentary in the business. Its the first and last stop of the day for most fans and insiders.

I encourage everyone to visit his site for helping this blog gain some exposure.

I predict tens of viewers in the near future!

Thanks Ray!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. Old Fashioned
2. I Want Revenge (New)
3. Imperial Council (2)
4. Pioneerof The Nile (3)
5. Hello Broadway (4)
6. Fresian Fire (5)
7. The Pamplemousse (6)
8. General Quarters (7)
9. Flying Pegasus (8)
10. Desert Party

Also Eligible: Terrain, Dunkirk, Theregoesjojo, Patena, Quality Road, Giant Oak

Two big races have shaken up the top 10.

I Want Revenge ran the finest prep of the year in the G3 Gotham last weekend, receiving a Beyer of 113 for the effort. The power of that display alone will make him a threat in the Derby unless he drastically regresses in the Wood Memorial. I opted not to move him directly to the top of the list out of respect for Old Fashioned and the fact that he runs this weekend in the G3 Rebel. He deserves a chance to respond.

Some have dismissed Imperial Council after his runner up finish in the Gotham, but I think it was the type of race he can build on. It was his first start around two turns and his first in stakes company, so a win was not a must. He lost touch with the race early, but finished up strong and there is no reason to back off him now, as improvement in the Wood Memorial is likely. (The question being whether that improvement is good enough) Shug is also less inclined than most to prime a horse too soon. He isn't going to crank the horse up to get in the Derby, he's going to train with winning it in mind.

Stardom Bound was dropped from the top ten after a life and death win in the S.A Oaks. As I discussed earlier I do not think the effort was anywhere near as disappointing as some have made it out to be. (winning a G1 race by a nose, damn the luck!) I think she should still run in the S.A Derby, but if the connections are leaning against it, she cannot remain in the list. I will place her back on the Also Eligible list if her connections decide to roll the dice in the S.A Derby.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Upping The Ante

If the 2008 crop of 3yo's left something to be desired in terms of ability and intrigue, the '09 lot look poised to make up for it.

Another weekend, another sensational performance.

G3 Gotham

What a race for I Want Revenge. He got a great trip, a clear target to aim for and when asked was ready to pounce. I question Mr. Fantasy as he is pretty much the run of the mill Aqueduct speedster with class issues, but there was no way to predict that he was 8+ lengths inferior. The Beyer figure of 113 for the effort is astronomical in comparison to other two turn preps from last year.

Alot of talk about this effort and Quality Roads last week which received the same impressive speed figure, but they are in different leagues in my opinion. Quality Road got his in a glorified sprint, I Want Revenge earned his around two turns.

(Will cover Imperial Council's effort tomorrow in the Derby Top 10)

G1 Santa Anita Oaks

You know the expectations are high for a filly when winning a G1 race by a nose after going 8 wide is considered disappointing.

I understand the sentiment, but not entirely.

She did concede way too much ground early and ran the risk of losing touch with the race before it started. With that said when it came time to run she was rolling as usual. We can talk of the slow final time for the effort but consider the following...

1. She closed into a slow pace
2. She went 8 wide
3. She had to check halfway down the stretch as she was starting to inhale the field (which cost her winning by a more comfortable margin)

Deep closers inevitably get trips like this. Generally, deep closers cannot overcome them.

She has dropped a peg in my book to be fair, but the idea that she is now damaged goods and should not be given the opportunity in the Santa Anita Derby is laughable. She is proven over the course, has nothing to gain racing against her own gender in California and can always go the KY Oaks route if she fails in the SA Derby. (Where she would figure to run into the buzz saw that is Rachel Alexandra) To back out now after a G1 win, would be unfortunate.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. Old Fashioned
2. Imperial Council
3. Pioneerof The Nile
4. Hello Broadway
5. Fresian Fire
6. The Pamplemousse (New)
7. General Quarters (8)
8. Flying Pegasus (9)
9. Stardom Bound (10)
10. Desert Party (New)

Also Eligible: Terrain, Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Theregoesjojo, Patena, Quality Road

Lots of movement this week. The weekend didn't look to have a real Derby impact going in, but my how things can change in a hurry.

Midshipman was injured in Dubai and is sidelined until the summer. So far two of the esteemed Dubai trio of Vineyard Haven, Midshipman and Desert Party have had a rough go of it overseas. I'm a glutton for punishment though and at the last moment I decided to include Desert Party into the list after a week of serious defections. The colt has talent, will be fit but not damaged goods come May and is proven on dirt. The UAE Derby will be crucial for him.

I wavered considerably on who to bring into the list for that last spot and some will consider it interesting that I opted for a Dubai based horse over Quality Road or Dunkirk, the current buzz horses.

I'm taking a firm stance against Quality Road. He lacks sufficient experience and will only get one prep around two turns. His gaudy Beyer of 113 would have made him a Derby favorite if it was around two turns, but in a glorified sprint, against other glorified sprinters, its less relevant. Obviously the horse has talent and a bright future, but I'm taking a serious wait and see approach with him. He looks like a miler that will be massively over bet in his two turn debut.

The Pamplemousse went flying around the Santa Anita oval on Saturday and went flying onto my list in the process. I considered him a Quality Road type, but the dominance he showed around two turns, on a course that punishes front runners, was very impressive. If his ability is further embellished on dirt (as it should) he could be a major force. He has a certain boom or bust feel to him, but after that performance he'll get the benefit of the doubt until the Santa Anita Derby.

Capt. Candyman Can tumbled off the list after a stale effort in the Fountain of Youth. He was already behind the gun with only one two turn prep on his plate and he had to show something here that would underline his ability to run on further. He was light years behind Quality Road, despite the fact that he had a significantly less taxing trip. I cant see him doing anything other than shortening up in the near future.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Weekend That Was

It seems every week a new star is born or the next great contender revealed. Even in weeks without significant preps we've had standout performances that have grabbed our attention. (Dunkirk etc)

I went into the weekend not expecting much from a Derby perspective. The Pamplemousse has always looked like a sprinter-miler type and he was not facing much. The Fountain of Youth was a very competitive race on paper and figured to be an intriguing affair but at a flat mile it made it difficult to really consider a true Derby prep.

What a difference a couple minutes can make.

G3 Sham Stakes

It was completely logical to figure The Pamplemousse could win this race on class alone and still not display the type of effort that would make him a genuine Derby threat.

He did end up winning the race on class but the manner in which he won has put him firmly into the Derby mix. Some will still question who he has beaten and I'd be the first to tell you not much, but sometimes who you beat is secondary to the time in which you ran.

Setting fractions of 23 flat, and 46 and 2/5ths at the half is competent in a sprint, but that is cooking when considering the horse was stretching out to 9 furlongs for the first time with stamina concerns. When I saw those fraction I didn't necessarily think he was destined for doom but the last thing I thought I would see from the horse is an explosion once straightened out in the lane. He didn't just find another gear, he completely re broke.

That was a powerful performance and goes to the top of my list of individual performances by a 3yo this year. (But, will it put him in the Derby Top Ten... stay tuned)

G3 Fountain Of Youth

I don't like one turn preps at this time of the year. All serious contenders generally have at least two preps around two turns and flat miles in March inevitably draw a slew of sprinter types with stamina issues that will at most get one chance around two turns before May.

Quality Road ran quite the race. The pace was devastating and he sat right off it. The fact that he had anything left late is a major credit to the horse and the time he covered the distance (1:35.1) is excellent. Considering the talented Capt. Candyman Can sat chilly on the rail behind the leaders and still couldn't muster anything late after chasing that brutal pace further embellishes Quality Road.

The 113 Beyer Figure for the effort seems about right to me. That was an electric performance. The question is what does that race and that effort mean in the big picture.

More on Quality Road tomorrow in the new Kentucky Derby Top 10.