Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kentucky Derby 135: The Pick

Well here we go. Posts are drawn, the betting line has been set and it's almost time to find out who is the best of the best. Below are my thoughts on each starter as well as videos of said horses' best effort. At the end I've made a bullet point style wrap up with what I'm looking at playing and expecting.

Tomorrow I'll chat on the Oaks (oh yeah, that race) and Friday I'll make any amendments to my selections once we get a better feel for the weather conditions. I'll also lay out my thought process on how I'll be structuring my tickets.

Daily Racing Form Past Performances, Click Here!

Post 1

West Side Bernie

This hard knocking colt has been on the cusp for most of his career and taken a ton of money in virtually every race. He's never quite gotten over the hump but he is certainly a trier. He comes in off a second place finish in the Wood Memorial where closed nice but was out kicked by I Want Revenge who just found room late. It was his career best effort and speed figure. Prior to that he had disappointed at a short price in the Lanes End, finishing 6th. That race was devoid of pace but the eventual winner had to close into it as well. The troublesome aspect of him is he hasn’t won since his second start of his career in the G3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile. He looks like a second best type that runs well enough to pull a check but not enough to win. He's run in good company but has never really threatened the better horses he's faced, many of which are in the Derby. There are some positives though. He's put in several good works since the Wood, hinting the race either didn't take much out of him or he is prepared to improve on it. He is also third off the layoff here. Additionally while he's run over synthetics quite a bit all of his best efforts and Beyers are on dirt. He's the type of hard knocker you could consider eligible to compete for a late piece of the pie but he seems a clear cut below a few in here. Cant back for the exacta but he is a tossup below there. Prefer others.

Post 2
Musket Man

This is the little horse that could. He's far out run his modest breeding and sales price. He's also as consistent as they come winning 5 of his 6 races with his worst finish a 3rd in the G3 Sam F Davis. What’s even more impressive is this horse has won on 5 different tracks, including some of the quirkiest in the game. He clearly does not need his track to run. He is also a pure dirt horse having never set foot on a track comprised of shredded rubber and wax. The real question here is of class and speed. He has beaten General Quarters twice, but hidden in his triumph over him in the Tampa Bay Derby is the fact that the General got a horrible trip, literally never getting a chance to run. He has beaten Join The Dance, another Derby horse, but that horse is still eligible for Nx1 conditions. His win in the Illinois Derby was over Giant Oak, a horse that is now being shifted to a career on turf. Not to go over the top but its worth considering he is not really bred for distance. He's outrun his pedigree to this point but you've got to think at some point he'll run into the brick wall with that type of breeding. A lot of people will use him in the exotics and I can’t really blame them. He's always put in an honest effort and he has a winner’s mentality. Its not out of the question he could nab a share deep in the super, but I just think the spot will be beyond him and he will find this considerably tougher going than what he's been facing to this point. Prefer others.

Post 3
Mister Hot Stuff

This horse had a hard time breaking his maiden, needing 5 tries. If you give those maiden races a second look though, they were quite salty. He ran into The Pamplemousse in one and in all of them he ran into a next out winner. (A key in determining the strength of a race) After finally breaking through they wheeled him back into the G3 Sham, where he ran a credible but distant third slowly picking up places in an even effort. He came back in the Santa Anita Derby and again ran third, though this time making a little more impact being beaten only 2 lengths by Pioneerof The Nile. The upside is he has put in a good effort in both stakes race and is by Tiznow, meaning this type of distance should not be a problem in his career. Ultimately though its hard to support a horse in the Derby that is still eligible for NX1 conditions. His lack of dirt experience is troublesome as well. Prefer others.

Post 4

He's earned his way into the field by winning the G2 Lexington two weeks ago. It was a pretty good effort coming from the clouds. Prior to that he had run 5th in the Sunland Derby and third in and allowance. The Lexington wasn't entirely a shocker as Advice had shown some ability as a 2yo. He broke his maiden in dominant fashion first out, and then was disqualified to third in the Arlington Futurity after dead heating for the win. His lone start on dirt was not great in the Sunland Derby though he did gradually improve his position after running into traffic issues early. He hasn’t been overly fast in his career from a speed figure perspective and it is somewhat worrisome that he is coming into the Derby off a career best effort with only two weeks to recover. With that said he fired a fast work this week and Closing Argument and Dont Get Mad were long shots in recent memory that were able to hit the board in the Derby after running on one and two weeks rest respectively. (Don’t Get mad wheeled back 7 days after winning the Derby Trial to finish third) He certainly seems as good as those two, so for that reason I can understand the idea of using him on the back end of the exotics. With that said I'm not entirely comfortable with him in effecting the tri. Prefer Others

Post 5
Hold Me Back

You cant knock what this colt has done so far in his career. Outside of the G2 Remsen, where he ran into one of the best 2yo's in the country in his first stakes appearance, he's put in a good account of himself everywhere he's gone. He swept the first two starts of his career before the aforementioned drubbing in the Remsen. Put on the shelf for the winter he got back into the fray in G2 Lanes End where he impressively dominated a questionable, ok, weak field. He came back three weeks later in the Bluegrass and was one of only two horses that showed a pulse in that race, closing very well to finish a little more than a length back of General Quarters. The knock on him is simple. His one start on dirt was a disaster. It’s hard to tell whether that was a result of the footing or the sharp class jump. He is also not a particularly fast horse. His peak Beyer of 97 leaves a lot to be desired. With that said I thought his effort in the Bluegrass was as good as could be expected with the amazingly slow fractions he had to close into and he was probably bouncing off the Lanes End score. I’ve considered this horse one to watch and a possible long shot consideration but have tempered that opinion with the way other mid pack horses have trained up to the race and the fact that closing from the clouds in the slop would not be ideal. I can’t see him winning, but it’s not out of the question he'll be running late assuming he's still mentally in the game after having dirt and possibly mud flung on him for a mile. He seems like the type that could outlast tired horses late to nab a piece. Supporting role. Eligible to get up late for a minor share.

Post 6
Friesan Fire

After breaking his maiden impressively first out Friesan Fire finished 3rd and 4th respectively in the G2 Futurity and G3 Nashua. After a runner up effort in his seasonal debut the colt turned the corner and reeled off three dominant efforts sweeping Louisiana’s Derby prep series. After winning the G2 Louisiana Derby, trainer Larry Jones elected to train the colt up to the Derby (7 week layoff) rather than scheduling another race and running the risk of having him over the top. The down side is clear. The horse has never run beyond a mile and a sixteenth. The Louisiana Derby is intended to be a step towards the traditional 9-furlong prep, not the stopping point. So whereas all horses are facing 10 furlongs for the first time, he’ll be in uncharted water with three sixteenths left. Additionally, no horse has won off this type of layoff. To be fair, 5 weeks was considered too much of a layoff a few years back but that scarcely gets a mention after Barbaro and Big Brown won off a similar break. Trainers do a lot more training than racing these days so these types of trends increasingly mean less and less. The key angle here is Larry Jones trained Hard Spun up to the Derby off a 6-week layoff and had him fire one of his best career races, running second in the Derby. Friesan has been on an identical work schedule and if this horses intentions weren’t already clear, the: 57 4/5 bullet he worked surely did. I’m big on eliminating question marks in the Derby and I was prepared to play against Friesan even as my second choice. The prospect of a sloppy track has changed my tune. His romp in the Louisiana Derby was over an off track and it was his career best effort. The lack of a 9-furlong prep doesn’t scare me nearly as bad over an off track as it does a fast one. His pedigree is also maybe the best in the field for the distance. His natural pace will keep him in great position and this should be the first horse to get a run on the field. Major Player. Real danger on an off track.

Post 7
Papa Clem

Another California horse that has gone abroad and found success. He took some time to develop as a 2yo but once he realized he had speed and should use it, he gradually improved, breaking his maiden and then running a very credible 2nd in the Robert B Lewis, losing to Pioneerof The Nile by a narrow half-length. They opted to ship him east for the Louisiana Derby next and he ran a well-beaten 2nd to Fresian Fire. His triumph in the Arkansas Derby was not a shocker but the manner in which he did it was. After becoming a confirmed front-runner he broke slow and found himself tracking in fifth for much of the race. His move was somewhat aided by the brutal pace Old Fashioned set in the running, but he gradually wore down the favorite in the lane to win by a length. The speed figure he received for the race puts him right on the threshold of being able to contend in the Derby, but that figure looks soft considering the final time was slow after a pace that should have wielded a much swifter time. There is plenty of other concerns though from my perspective. He has not trained well. He was back on the work tab soon after the Ark effort and it was rather blah. His next work was not very sharp either, which bothers me a great deal considering 3 of the last 4 works he had before the Ark were blazing bullets. This horse is traditionally a very swift worker. I get the feeling this horse is over the top. From his slow works, to the fact that he hasn’t had a breather since his career started in November, I'm not sure if this horse is ready to run a career best. His early pace should help him and he could sit second early if they choose to use it, but his front running antics didn’t help him much in the slop at the Fairgrounds. If that effort had anything to do with the off track its another concern with rain in the forecast. At his best he would fit in fairly well in this race and certainly be a factor for a share, but I’m not convinced and as a result will take a stand against him. Prefer others.

Post 8
Mine That Bird

This horse made a killing as a 2yo at Woodbine, reeling off 4 consecutive wins, 3 in Stakes company. He made the massive class jump into the Breeders Cup Juvenile where he ran last beaten some 10 lengths. After a winter freshening he reappeared in New Mexico where he ran 2nd in a $100k stake and then faded after a brief lead to finish fourth in the Sunland Derby. He has not run very fast in his career and it cannot be blamed on synthetics because the last two were over dirt. If he couldn’t stamp his case at Sunland its doubtful this is the ideal spot for him here. He's worked ok, but nothing to inspire a second glance. He looks in over his head here. Prefer others.

Post 9
Join The Dance

Not to be harsh, butI can’t really find a good reason for this horse to be in the Derby. (He's not the only one though) He has enough early speed to set the pace but he's faltered in each of his last two races after getting a lone lead. His real claim to fame is running second in the G3 Tampa Bay Derby where he set a pedestrian pace but was out finished by Musket Man. He followed that race up by setting a very slow pace in the Bluegrass before faltering around the turn to finish fifth. That doesn't look like the profile of a Derby winner and in some years a long time ago it wasn’t even the profile of a Derby starter. Of course having said all this he's probably going to shock the world a run a solid third, but I cant justify putting a dollar on this horse in any wager, whether there is a speed bias or not. Prefer others.

Regal Ransom

Godolphin’s less heralded entrant comes in off the race of his life in the UAE Derby, where he went wire to wire defeating his highly regarded stable mate Desert Party. In his prior two starts Desert Party beat him by a half-length in their debut and by 3 in the UAE 2000 Guineas. He did beat talented Vineyard Haven in the Guineas though. He does have a lot to overcome here. He is coming in off a 2-month break. Godolphin uses Dubai as the launching point for their horses and to this point it hasn’t been an effective route. Additionally, the record of last out winners, who have not won another race in the year (11 horses total in the last 5 years) have not managed to hit the board once. Might sound like an obscure stat but it speaks to horses either peaking too soon or being unreliable. (Inconsistent) With all that said and against my better judgment, I like this horse as dangerous long shot. Ransom is the most impressive horse on the grounds by most accounts. He is bred for the distance and is the legit speed horse in the field. (Though he might be stalking Join The Dance) If the track comes up sloppy it should greatly aide his cause. There are legitimate question marks here, but what big price does not? He is certainly a horse id fear omitting from the back end of a tri or superfecta at the very least. Here’s the long shot special.

Post 11
Chocolate Candy

This colt took a while to get it together, taking 4 starts to break his maiden. With that breakthrough he won his next start in an un-graded affair before running a solid third behind Pioneerof The Nile and I Want Revenge in his first real career test.. His trainer opted to move him to greener pastures at Golden Gates and the colt flourished winning the California Derby and G3 El CaminoR. After a brief freshening he put in a determined second to Pioneer in the Santa Anita Derby, beaten only a length. Chances are this could be the wiseguy horse come Saturday. A lot of people are quite high on this colt and Steve Haskin said he’s in as good of shape as any Derby horse he’s seen this year at Churchill. How to use this horse will really be predicated on what you think of Pioneerof The Nile. If you’re inclined to take a stand against him I’m not sure how you could like this guy. He has no starts over dirt and slightly slower speed figures than Pioneer. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see him surpass his west coast rival, but I’m having a hard time figuring a way to use him beyond the super. Lots of upside, but a tough call here. Eligible for a small share.

Post 12
General Quarters

This horse will be the sentimental choice of millions come Derby day. The retired principle turned part time horse trainer, who gets his one charge into the Derby, is the stuff of movies. The horse is no second ran either. The General is coming off an impressive, determined, score in the G1 Bluegrass where he beat a fairly deep field of hopefuls. It was somewhat a surprise to many, though his win two back in the G3 Sam F Davis was a dominant effort and amongst the best preps to that early point in the year. He is on the fringe, speed wise, but that doesn’t bother as much as the mixed reports on his condition at Churchill. Depending on who you talk to he either looks “in the zone” or “over the top”. It’s realistic he can fit into the back end of a super or trifecta and given his heart and determination, not entirely out of the question to be there for the exacta if the race falls apart. He’s a tough, seasoned horse and he’s one of those “tweeners” that has the potential to make or break a ticket. Bit player, eligible for a minor share.

Post 13
I Want Revenge

Revenge was a second tier horse in California but blossomed into a powerhouse with a switch to dirt. His win in the Gotham was a thing of beauty, earning him a 113 Beyer, the fastest in the field. His effort in the G1 Wood Memorial was nothing short of amazing. Being left at the gate, spotting 4+ lengths to the field he spent most of the race bottled up behind a wall of horses. With a furlong to go he had to move horses out of the way to find room while taking a battering. The second he found room he exploded to the front to win by length. The non-believers will point to the fact that he was a second tier horse in California being beaten by Pioneerof The Nile and Papa Clem. Others will claim he has been flattered by inferior competition in New York. I dismiss both points. For one, form over synthetics has no bearing on the Kentucky Derby. The horse looks to have found another gear with the switch, so it does not bother me that he found it difficult to discover his best on polytrack. Secondly, he destroyed the field in the Gotham like a good horse should and his horrible trip in the Wood was more than a great equalizer in ability. (To say the least) The fact is, I Want revenge is the fastest dirt horse in the field and he’s shown more heart and desire than any other entrant as well. The Derby is about going with the horse with the most ability, with the least amount of questions marks and this is the horse. The Pick.

Post 14
Atomic Rain

Another questionable entry. He has enough pace to create a good trip but I’m not sure if he can do anything with it. After breaking his maiden they entered him in the Remsen where he ran a credible but distant 2nd to Old Fashioned. They dropped him back into an allowance where he again ran second. He was shipped to Florida for the Tampa Bay Derby where he ran a stale 7th beaten some 16 lengths while virtually never improving position. They again dropped him back into allowance where this time he only finished third. Not to be denied they rolled the dice and put him into the G1 Wood Memorial where he ran a tiring 4th. On the cycle they established he's due for a start in an allowance not a run for the roses. He did run a best career Beyer (95) in the Wood but even that figure will be hard pressed to get on the board. Prefer Others.

Post 15

Dubbed the next the Big Brown by many at Gulfstream, the big gray colt has shown maturity and ability beyond his years in only 3 starts. His maiden and allowance scores were special, as you don’t see many horses of that level of experience able to over come such disastrous trips and conditions. He jumped right into the big time in the Florida Derby and after making a spectacular move to circle the field he was turned away by the ultra-talented Quality Road down the stretch. There was a massive speed bias that day and that certainly didn’t help Dunkirk’s chances. All in all it was a useful race in only his first race in stakes. Comparing Dunkirk to Big Brown is foolish in my opinion. A more apt comparison for Dunkirk is Curlin who had a similar running style and comparable speed figures. (Minus the highly suspicious Florida Derby figure which was raised 5 points, two days after the race) In a race where you have to make a stand against good horses, I'll be playing against Dunkirk based on his lack of experience. Curlin had the same concerns and ran a distant third. He was a multiple G2 winner, whereas Dunkirk is just G1 placed. He’s far too dangerous to omit from the second spot and I do consider him much more of a threat than other favorites like Pioneer. Major player, will side against for the win.

Post 16
Pioneerof The Nile

Welcome the main California invader. Pinoeerof The Nile has developed into a very nice horse over the winter and has done little wrong on the track since taking the Cash Call Futurity. He comfortably won the Santa Anita Derby after having to move prematurely in a pace less, small field. He did single handedly send Papa Clem and I Want Revenge packing from the synthetic circuit and that counts for something. He’s also been a talking horse at the Downs, with most analysts and “insiders” raving about how he’s done over the track. What’s the catch? He’s not that fast, hasn’t faced much in his last two preps and what he has beaten in his career seems much more effective over dirt than synthetics. One can’t help but think back to last year when Colonel John came in as the heavy California choice and failed to menace in the running. Baffert has been all smiles since arriving at Churchill but one has to question that the horse was at Saratoga as a 2yo and they ran him twice on turf instead of dirt saying he didn’t act like a dirt horse. To be fair synthetic Beyers are generally lower than dirt, and this horse has a high cruising speed that can aide him in staying out of trouble durin the running, but I’m of the opinion that until a purely synthetic horse wins the Derby they are too much risk to play on top. I'm willing to let him beat me because of that uncertainty and more than willing to tip my hat if he does. You have to make a stand somewhere when handicapping the Derby and mine starts here. Contender. Prefer Others.

Post 17
Summer Bird

Better late than never. This horse made his first start in March running 4th in his debut at 6f. He broke his maiden two weeks later while being stretched out to a mile and a sixteenth. They optimistically entered him a month later in the Arkansas Derby where he ran a bang up third in only his first start against winners, much less stakes horses. He was running big late and Papa Clem only beat him by a touch more than a length. This may sound rather odd, but I've considered this horse for cover in the super. Hear me out. Every year one long shot, no hoper, clunks up into the super, busting most people’s tickets. It’s important to think out of the box with the superfecta. Summer Bird is bred to run all day and his figure of 99 in the Arkansas Derby is honest enough for a horse to compete for an extremely minor prize. The problem is my enthusiasm has been tempered by a rather stale work over the Churchill track. Its was slowest of three at 1:15 for 6 furlongs and regardless of whether it was slow early or late, it was slow all over. That’s not what I’m looking for a bomber selection ideally. The stars need to be aligning and that works was not what I wanted to see. He's scheduled for a blowout in a couple days and that will be key. If he can’t turn the corner I’ll have to move on to another plodder type, to factor in the exotics. No hopes for winning, worthy consideration for DEEP cover in a determined super ticket.

Post 18
Nowhere To Hide

This horse snuck into the field at the last minute as Win Willy was pulled from consideration. It took him 5 tries to break his maiden, though interestingly enough in four of those efforts he had mid 80's Beyer figures. Youd have to look hard to find a maiden with 4 efforts of that quality. After his breakthrough he had three consecutive fourth place finishes in the Risen Star, Louisiana Derby and Illinois Derby. The real problem here is each of those efforts have been a regression in speed figures and beaten lengths. Not exactly the form cycle you'd look for especially with a mediocre work leading to the dance. Prefer others.

Post 19
Desert Party

Godolphin’s more highly regarded entrant comes into the Derby off a shock second to stable mate Regal Ransom in the UAE Derby in March. It’s worth noting the track was a speedster’s paradise with every race on the card won by a front-runner. He did rally well and was only beaten a half-length. He had two impressive wins over his rival before that, at shorter distances. As a 2yo he was a top tier type, breaking his maiden at first asking and impressively winning the G2 Sanford. In my opinion, outside of the big three (Dunkirk, I Want Revenge and Friesan Fire) he is the “best of the rest”. An improvement in speed figures puts him in the same area code with the favorites and its hard to overlook his back class. The prospect of a sloppy track is of no concern as he won the Sanford in the mud. To add to that, the Godolphin pair has really dazzled most observers with their appearance on the track, putting in several excellent works. This horse looks live. Consider this, he is the only non-favorite that could win but not completely be an “upset”. Mid-priced Contender. ***edit, this wide post is a bummer, but I have to remind myself that the best horses find a way***

Post 20
Flying Private

Questionable entrant if this were not a Dwayne Lukas horse. This horse has spent the majority of his career in maiden and optional claiming events. In typical Lukas fashion the horse was wheeled back and run four times in an 8 week period to start the year. After a second place finish in a 50k stakes, he ran a decent second in the Lanes end which no doubt prompted his nvolvment here. Honestly that race was a bit light on two turn quality and it doesnt bode well for him that his career best race was in his lone effort on synthetics. He followed that race up with a stale 5th place finish in the Arkansas Derby. He has drilled twice since showing no ill effects from that race, but it not really an eye opener for a Lukas horse to be swift in the morning. Aside from the trainer angle (Which sad to say has meant less and less each year) he looks desperately in over his head. Will pass.

The Pick
I Want Revenge

Also Eligible
Friesan Fire, Desert Party

Long Shot Special
Regal Ransom

Close But No Cigar

Possible Exotic Cover
Hold Me Back, Advice, Summer Bird, General Quarters, Chocolate Candy

Flop Alert
Pioneerof The Nile, Papa Clem

Mr. Irrelevant
Atomic Rain


Keith - Triple Dead Heat said...

Very thorough. You make the tough call on POTN and in a 20 horse field some horses have to be ignored.

The good news for us punters is that even a $1 exactor will probably pay dividends on Derby Day.

Good luck!

Gary said...

Yes, you can bet every horse so decisions have to be made which you can live with.

Im taking the wait and see approach with horses with no dirt starts in the Derby.

Ironically, with IWR and QR out, I think even a questionable horse could win. The race could break down.

Still playing against POTN and CC but they are much more dangerous now then they were 2 weeks ago or even 48 hours ago.