Thursday, May 21, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Nassau Stakes

by Paul Mazur of ChicagoNow

On a weekend with only a sprinkling of graded stakes (even though it is the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend) as opposed to the vast variety for Kentucky Derby Week and Preakness Week, it's up to Canada for the $200,000 Grade Two (Canadian) Nassau Stakes from Woodbine Racetrack in Canada.  On Saturday afternoon, the G2 Nassau functions as the first stakes of the year at Woodbine on the turf, part of Woodbine's long grass season from that stretches from now until late-October.

There are two stakes that have the nameplate of Nassau Stakes, and ironically both are for female turfers.  One of them is at Glorious Goodwood in Britain, at about ten furlongs and often gives clues to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.  The other is previewed in this space.

Created in the late 1950s and run on dirt, the G2 Nassau Stakes has seen a few runnings at fellow Canadian track Fort Erie, while being run for its first ten years on dirt.  A mile category race for most of its life, it's been as short as seven furlongs but for many years was at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass.  In 2010, the race shortened up to a flat mile.  Past heroines include Woodbine stakes nameplates like Wonder Where (1960) and Carotene (1987). Also among the more recent winners is Marketing Mix, who won this race in 2012.

All purse values are given in Canadian funds unless denoted and all selections are made for "turf only".

Woodbine -- Race 8 -- G2 Nassau Stakes -- One Mile (one turn) on Turf -- post time 4:45 pm ET
Woodbine's grass course is different in that encircles the main track, as opposed to most other venues where the main track (be it dirt or not) is the outer oval.  As such, it's a one-turn mile.  Moreover, Woodbine's grass has been known to play favorably to European runners - whether they come over in October to scoop up the G1 Pattison Canadian International and G1 Taylor or other events along the way. 

STELLAR PATH (7-2) has a win at the last-out distance, but that's a two-turn turf mile where she won last at Aqueduct.  So why endorse a two-turn mile winner?  She's trained by Christophe Clement, a three-time victor in this race.  And she's done well in her native France, as a graded stakes winner at three and a small stakes winner at four.  Something went wrong with her late in the four year old campaign and now she's in North America.  She'll go second off the layoff after winning a small stakes at Aqueduct.  The field of four saw a slow pace last out and she still kicked on to win despite a bad break.  With twelve in the field pre-scratch, the pedestrian cadence of last time isn't likely.  Luis Saez, who rode her last time (he isn't missing much in New York) to ride here. 

Trainer Malcolm Pierce puts two in the field, and both of them are pegged for discussion as possible contending candidates.  DECEPTIVE VISION (3-1) goes back on the turf after a win last-out at 13-10 odds in the G3 Doubledogdare at Keeneland over the dirt.  Third in the G1 Taylor last fall, she's hit the podium in all five of her tries over the Woodbine green (though with only one win) and has shipped south to North America to carry her success in G3s down there.  She won her G2 in a quirky running of the Canadian Stakes where La Tia set the pace then dropped off while Lexie Lou (who would be the Canadian Horse of the Year) threw in a clunker.  Upgrade her chances on turf that's not firm, as both of her turf wins have been on "good" going. 

OVERHEARD (4-1) missed the trifecta last time in her first start of 2015 at Keeneland.  But she was fourth, two lengths behind the winner, in a Keeneland upper-level allowance.  Typically those allowances draw well for their level, as she was facing a stakes winner and two runners that next-out ran mid-pack in graded stakes.  She's hit the podium in her seven tries over the Toronto turf, with three wins and beat DECEPTIVE VISION last summer over this course in the G2 Dance Smartly.   Upgrade her chances should the turf be firm, as she won the G2 Dance Smartly and a G3 at three over firm going.


Longshot: #2 SKYLANDER GIRL (8-1) fits the role of "horse for the course" to a tee (eighteen outs, three wins, eleven top-three finishes), and given Woodbine's unique and wide course that's not a bad ace to hold.  SKYLANDER GIRL was good enough to take down to Gulfstream in the winter, where she was second to Parranda, the same Parranda that was esteemed enough to be tried in a multi-million dollar race (over $3M, US funds) in Singapore.  SKYLANDER GIRL projects the speed of the speed in this spot, and pilot Emile Ramsammy won't be afraid to put this on the lead - this space likes the move away from Contreras to Ramsammy, the latter of which was aboard in her three-year-old races over this course.  While she isn't likely to get a free pass on the front end, she is the speed of the speed and if the others play chicken, she stands to benefit the most.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Handicapper's Corner - 140TH Preakness Stakes Analysis

Please also read the Pimlico Special analysis by The Turk and Little Turk

COMPETITION OR CORONATION?  - by Rob Fundter, aka. Amateurcapper, @Amateurcapper
AMERICAN PHAROAH was best by some 3 ½ lengths farther than the 1 length winning margin over FIRING LINE in the Kentucky Derby.  However, it took a controversial stretch drive by Victor Espinoza who used his whip some 30-plus times to implore the favorite to the lead and stay clear.  

For the Preakness Stakes the Zayat Stables, LLC runner drew the dreaded rail which could be his undoing.  If not AMERICAN PHAROAH standing in the winner’s circle, who could it be?  Will FIRING LINE have a chance to turn the tables and buck a trend of failed second jewel runs by the Kentucky Derby runner-ups?  Could his stable mate DORTMUND, who suffered his first career loss in the Derby, be positioned in the garden spot off a hot pace to atone for that loss and extend the Triple Crown drought to 37 years? Can D. Wayne Lukas summon some of his famed Triple Crown magic for Calumet Farm's new purchase of MR. Z?  Will a non-Derby starter like DIVINGING ROD or local hopeful BODHISATVA step up?

Bob Baffert came to Pimlico with Kentucky Derby with SILVER CHARM and Gary Stevens 18 years ago.   

In 2015 they are associated with the likely top two choices, Derby winner AMERICAN PHAROAH and Derby runner-up FIRING LINE.  Studying races of the past are terrific lessons to help predict the future.

Stevens drew nearly identical on FIRING LINE as he did on SILVER CHARM.  Another perfect trip is expected from the Hall of Fame jockey for Simon Callaghan’s charge.  To his inside will be AMERICAN PHAROAH, who drew disadvantageously on the rail, and will play the part of FREE HOUSE regarding the race shape.  Victor Espinoza will be forced to put the Derby winner on the engine to avoid traffic trouble.  A poor start will be tragic.  Playing the part of pacesetter will be MR. Z as CRYP TOO was in ’97.  The late threat will be DORTMUND who plays a more tactical version of CAPTAIN BODGIT.

While there are similarities to the 1997 Preakness, these are different horses and the result will not be identical.  Let’s take a look at the field.

He suffers from the weight of expectation.  We’ve all heard how special the PIONEEROF THE NILE colt has worked and run to this point in his career.  Other than an inexplicable 5th place finish in his debut, Bob Baffert has conditioned him to a five race winning streak and Champion Juvenile Male status.  The reasons to love AMERICAN PHAROAH have been discussed ad nauseum in the weeks before and after the Kentucky Derby win.  Finding reasons to defeat him is paramount to a horseplayer.  After all, the Preakness Stakes is still a horse race where anything can happen.

In the Kentucky Derby ‘PHAROAH was wide on both turns while he was tracking a slower than usual pace.  When DORTMUND and FIRING LINE helped author the second-fastest third ¼ mile split the Derby winner found himself using reserve energy that kept him from drawing away in the authoritative manner Triple Crown winners of the past have done.  Espinoza asked him for his life and, as champions do, AMERICAN PHAROAH put forth a winning effort in a challenging race flow over a track that reacts poorly to the length of time between dirt races.  That effort, just two weeks prior to the Preakness, could have taken necessary energy from him, negating the wide trip excuse and making the second jewel of the Triple Crown a competition instead of a coronation.

2.       DORTMUND
Defeated for the first time, failing to last despite a favorable race flow, the son of Kentucky Derby & Preakness Stakes winner BIG BROWN lost more than a few people on his bandwagon.  The massive colt was noted to have fought a stomach issue prior to the run for the roses, which could have put him at less than 100% for that demanding test.  DORTMUND set the pace like the classy colt he is and fiercely ran on to finish third earning a 96 Bris rating.

Prior to the Derby DORTMUND authored the most impressive string of Bris ratings of any Triple Crown contending colt in 2015.  After pairing tops to end his juvenile campaign, topped by a G.1 Los Alamitos Derby win, the glowing chestnut ran a 101 in a brave, re-rallying win aginst FIRING LINE in the G.2 Robert B. Lewis for a 101 Bris figure.  Instead of resting him, Baffert ran him because he was doing so well and won the G.2 San Felipe while viritually pairing his new top with a 102 rating.  In the G.1 Santa Anita Derby DORTMUND once again moved forward visually and on Bris ratings, earning a 106 in a dominant 4 1/4 length win.

Turf history is littered with horses who won major races after losing their last start.  Jockey Martin Garcia and Baffert will have learned more about DORTMUND in a loss than they would have in victory.  The massive son of BIG BROWN has ample speed to stay close no matter the pace situation.  Supporters will have to predict whether the Kaleem Shah runner, making his 5th start of 2015, is on the downside of his form cycle or whether the three length defeat could be excused because he was still physically cycling back to peak health.

The “other Baffert” is the best horse that angle has ever seen.  Could he be the primary win threat keeping stable mate AMERICAN PHAROAH from a Triple Crown try?

3.       MR. Z
The race wild card, recently sold from Zayat Stables, LLC to Calumet Farm, is still under the training of D. Wayne Lukas.  He was once a photo finish third to DORTMUND and FIRING LINE in the G.1 Los Alamitos Derby and a nose from winning the G.3 Delta Jackpot but has not been able to capitalize on those efforts.  He’s a winner of only his career debut in 13 starts but placed in eight of them.  In the Kentucky Derby the son of MALIBU MOON suffered severe trouble past the stands the first time and should be afforded a chance to make his presence felt in this year’s Preakness Stakes.

He’s recorded a 100 Bris rating which is bolstered by a 97.  Both those figures came late in his juvenile season but the best he’s done in 2015 are a pair of 92’s in negative race shapes for his style.

MR. Z will be reunited with Corey Nakatani, one of the best big money riders in the world, who guided him to a G.3 Southwest Stakes third place finish earlier this year.  He clicked off faster than usual splits in two efforts at Oaklawn Park before being run down both times by FAR RIGHT.  In the Los Alamitos Derby, despite the speed of the fractions, Bris pace ratings indicated it was slower than par early and MR. Z finished with terrific energy as the 96 late speed rating indicates.   In a field without run-off speed, with a chance of getting a much cleaner trip, this wild card could be the value in the vertical exotics.

D. Wayne Lukas is vilified for his handling of horseflesh…many feel that MR. Z is in need of a rest and/or weaker competition.  This is exactly the sort of situation when Lukas is most dangerous…he knows what it takes to win an American Classic race and he would not persevere with MR. Z, brokering a deal away from Zayat Stables to run him against AMERICAN PHAROAH again, if he didn't believe in this colt.  Beware…

4.       DANZIG MOON
There was much made of how terrific the Mark Casse trainee looked leading up to the Kentucky Derby.  Paired with his second place finish to CARPE DIEM in the G.1 Blue Grass Stakes, pundits considered him a boxcars value for the bottom rungs of the exotics.  Considering how readily CARPE DIEM backed up in the Derby, DANZIG MOON’s 5th place finish in the run for the roses could be somewhat of a mirage.  He suffered early trouble as well because his mid-pack style put him right into a traffic jam behind the slower than par early pace.

Considering his best Bris figure is a 99, with supporting numbers of 93 and a pair of 92’s, the John Oxley owned runner is just not fast enough to be considered a legitimate win contender unless a chaotic result can be envisioned.  Making his fifth start of the year, there’s a possibility that there’s no more improvement left in this form cycle.  Running back to that 99 speed figure puts him behind a more value laden MR. Z.  A board hit would be like winning.

5.       TALE OF VERVE
He was entered by Dallas Stewart in the Derby and nearly made the field after scratches.  A maiden winner last out in the sixth career start puts him well behind the class of this Grade 1 field.  Supporters can be encouraged that his 95 last out Bris figure off the freshening is his career best.  However, a forward move in a race of this quality against pace horses of top class is unlikely.  He’ll pass a few tired horses in the stretch, but a bottom three finish looks like his ceiling.

The usual local hopeful is produced by owner/trainer Jose Corrales.  The California bred has made 11 career starts primarily in the mid-Atlantic region including a resounding defeat in the G.2 Remsen at 114-1.  He shows a steady improvement line as he’s matured, running a virtual career-best 96 Bris figure last out in the Federico Tesio.  That prep for the Preakness on the Pimlico dirt came after he earned a 95 in a runner-up effort in the Private Terms at Laurel Park.

That said, his style will be challenged by contenders who have proven themselves superior at the same game to this son of STUDENT COUNCIL.  A regression back to a high 80/low 90 in a negative race flow situation makes him a likely contender to bring up the rear.

7.        DIVINING ROD
Nine years removed from the tragic Preakness in which Lael Stables runner BARBARO suffered a catastrophic injury that eventually led to his demise, owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson bring DIVINING ROD to “Old Hilltop.”  Fresh off a G.3 Lexington Stakes win which, paired with two graded stakes placings, could have put him in the Kentucky Derby, the son of TAPIT represents the biggest threat to the contenders exiting the Derby.

A November debut maiden winner at Laurel Park, his only off the board finish came on the turf.  Last out at Keeneland DIVINING ROD earned a virtual career-best paired Bris speed figure of 96 to go along with the 95 earned in a photo finish loss in the G.3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.  However, the Lexington win came with a perfect trip he may not receive on Saturday.  After setting a fast/pressured pace two races back in the G.2 Tampa Bay Derby, making CARPE DIEM’s late run look great, the Arnaud Delacour trainee could not find late energy and tired to a 87 final Bris figure.

Like MR. Z, without a run-off speed type entered, there is a chance that Javier Castellano will find himself with an energetic mount in the stretch run.  However, from post 7 there’s a chance of a wide run into and around the first turn which would make him lose precious ground to the most talented field he’s ever faced.  While it would be a great story for DIVINING ROD to ease the memory of BARBARO for his owners, I cannot envision it. Like DANZIG MOON, an in-the-money finish would feel like a win.

8.       FIRING LINE
The Kentucky Derby runner-up had a perfect trip off DORTMUND, put away his arch rival for the first time, but could not find the necessary late energy to hold off AMERICAN PHAROAH.  Despite his paired 100-plus Bris ratings coming two races back, the second in a daylight G.3 Sunland Derby win, FIRING LINE could be hard pressed to repeat his Derby effort.

There’s been talk of the son of LINE OF DAVID not changing leads down the stretch.  If that’s because he reached the outer limit of his stamina, envisioning a win in the Preakness is difficult.  However, he gets a favorable post for Gary Stevens to survey the break and decide to press forward if the field dawdles early or rate off a faster-than-expected pace.  Another perfect trip could yield a board hit, but a win seems unlikely.

DORTMUND should be offered a chance to atone for the lone blemish on his resume.  By all accounts he’s maintained the fitness that made him 1a to many experts’ opinion that AMERICAN PHAROAH is #1 for the Kentucky Derby.  Attention, and money, will switch from him to FIRING LINE and more notable jockey Gary Stevens because of the Kentucky Derby result.   Garcia has already won a Preakness Stakes and will not be as nervous for the second jewel on a sturdy, classy colt.


COMPLETING THE EXOTICS (in order of preference)
MR. Z.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the racing this weekend!

Please connect with me @Amateurcapper and with the @ThoroFan community at large.

Handicappers' Corner: Pimlico Special

Page McKenney in Purple with Silver Diamonds
Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk on Black Eyed Susan Day. I'd like to thank the good people at The Thorofan for giving me the opportunity to handicap for you today's Pimlico Special, a Grade 3, 1 3/16 mile affair on the dirt for 3 Year Olds and Up.  

To the left is Page McKenney, a local trained by Mary Eppler, a closer whose in the deep end of the pool class wise and will have to be at his very best to hit the ticket today.  We are gambling after all, so let's take a look at this field and see what we are working with. Let's get it (our preak) on!  By the way, thanks to Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club, for use of the photo.

Horse/PostTurk's Grade
PlacePage McKenney/5B-
ExoticTop Billing/8B-
Also Ran'sCat Burglar/9B
Kid Cruz/6D
Pimlico Race 14: Post Time 6:21 ETPimlico Special G3
1 3/16 Miles on Dirt For 3 YOs and Up

It's hard not to like the Evil Empire's   Todd Pletcher's Commissioner.  His last four races back to the Belmont Stakes last year, he has sat right on the pace, within 2 lengths of the lead at first call, and you should expect that today.  Purely on class, the son of A.P. Indy seems to be the package, but don't get carried away by any hype.  He laid an egg in the Donn Handicap, was barely Show in an Optional Claimer one race and one month before that, and then he went unraced after the Belmont.  I think you'd be foolish to not cover him in the top spot, but let's hope that he cracks and one of the closers gets him, as there is money to be made in this race if that happens.

 The closer bench got a bit shorter with the scratch of Tapiture, offset by the scratch of pace setter Albano. Still, closers like Page McKenney and Top Billing still provide a horse player some hope as both will go off >10-1 I reckon. Page McKenney is my top upset pick.  Remember, most longer odds finish in Place, not Win, but let's suspend analytics for a moment and get caught up in how cool it would be for a local to win here.  The sport always needs a feel good story and the horse lover in my is a sucker for that stuff.  The cold horse player in me still likes what I see: deep closes in last three races, 23 of 34 in the money lifetime, 12 of 15 life time in the money on fast dirt and the local edge.

 Returning to probabilities, Transparent and Cat Burglar loom as threats from a 4-1 to 6-1 range of value.   The Florida bred Transparent is a big fat tease in my book.  4 of 16 wins to starts, 4 of 13 wins to starts on fast dirt, some hideous Grade 1 starts, but some pretty sharp current form for McLaughlin's Godolphin 5 YO Bernadini son.  If he's not on the pace, he's most likely not winning, unless this dog learns new tricks late in his career. Top Billing, son of Curlin, has an unaccomplished 6 race career so far.  His last race was a deep close and he trained sharply at 4f in :48 flat last time out over BEL.

Don't ignore. Cat Burglar is criminally low in my handicap but you have to take positions and live with it.  Baffert is shipping in the 5 YO Unbridled son with 9 career starts, 8 of 9 in the money, 8 of 9 in the money on fast dirt, and a lack luster first effort of 2015, although Baffert is 24% on 29 tries in the 2nd effort off a long layoff.  He's put some nice bullets up lately, the most impressive :47 2/5ths in 4F at CD. Vyjack is an on the pace runner who has cracked more than he's gamely rallied.  He won the G1 Kelso last year in September and not much since.

Handicapping is about current form, pace, class and little else and I don't see it here. So what to make of this? I could go easy and play some exacta's:  a 2-5-8-9-10 $2 Box is $40 bucks.  Great if someone other than Commissioner wins, not so great otherwise.

 I may play a few Tri's:  Something like this: 5-10 OVER 2-5-8-9-10 OVER 2-5-8-9-10 a $2 bet for $48 or 5-8-10 OVER 2-5-8-9-10 OVER 2-5-8-9-10 a $2 bet for $72. Have some fun with it friends, I think that this race, as long as it stays at 8 horses, should provide some value. Turk Out!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Peter Pan Stakes

By Michael Amo, ThoroFan

Remember last year’s Peter Pan Stakes? You might have had the cold exacta in the Belmont Stakes (GI) when Tonalist and Commissioner repeated their performance. 

With the depth of the current 3-year-old crop and their performance in the Kentucky Derby (GI), it is hard believe that any of this year’s Peter Pan Stakes runners will come back to win the Belmont Stakes.  The race is dominated by speed. The winner will have to tactically sit chilly up close and move at the right time. Which jockey will have the poise to do so? The answer will be the key to unlocking the outcome of the race. 

Here is the field:

1.     #1 Wolf Man Rocket (Mineshaft) making first attempt at graded company in an average field. New jockey is a question mark. Espinoza is committed to American Pharoah for the Belmont Stakes. Baffert must be considering this one for the same race. The pace of the race should set up for his tactic move. Contender.
2.     #2 Madefromlucky (Lookin At Lucky) took on American Pharoah last two times in Arkansas. Will want the lead, but so will Two Weeks Off, the other uncoupled Pletcher entry. If Castellano can get him to rate behind Two Weeks Off, the morning line favorite, he will be a force inside the 1/16th-pole. Contender.
3.     #3 Conquest Curlinate (Curlin) showed tremendous improvement in last and works at Churchill Downs after the race. Seasoned jock who knows him well. Needs to get into the race early. Will be closing, but from where? Maybe.
4.     #4 Two Weeks Off (Harlan’s Holiday) speedster whose last race was over the top. Although with five weeks rest and showing nice works, he should be ready to run. Clearly the one to catch, if he lasts. Maybe a rabbit for Madefromlucky. Maybe.
5.     #5 Tiz Shea D (Tiznow) ran into some tough customers in the Wood Memorial (GI). Working nice for Hall of Fame trainer Mott. Too slow and lacks closing punch to win. Next time.

Two Weeks Off will likely set a fast early pace followed tactically by Madefromlucky who will pass him going into the stretch. Wolf Man Rocket and Conquest Curlin will be moving, as well. Madefromlucky will try to pull away from Wolf Man Rocket. The race will be close to the finish with Madefromlucky prevailing over the stepping-up in class Wolf Man Rocket.

1.     Madefromlucky
2.     Wolf Man Rocket
3.     Conquest Curlin

Keying in the exacta #2 over #1 and #3 should work at a nice price, if the favorite, Two Weeks Off finishes back. Save with a three way exacta box (1,2,3).

Good luck, but keep the day job.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Pat Day Mile

By Michael Amo, ThoroFan

New this year to Derby day is the Pat Day Mile, previously called the Derby Trial and run a week before the Kentucky Derby as part of the championship prep series. This year the race was added to the enhanced Derby card to enhance the Derby card even further. The field of eight includes several horses with impressive resumes that have fallen inches below the ranks of this year’s top 3-year-old crop. 

Then again, it may be a matter of development that has separated their performances from the top tier. If the latter is true, a couple of these may show up in the Preakness Stakes (GI) ready to compete in the majors. Lets look at the field.

Where’s the Moon (Malibu Moon) has shown nice improvement this year while running in New Mexico. Although his last race against Firing Line showed some regression. He should be in the mix in the stretch. Will he out last the others? Maybe.

Gimme Da Lute ( Midnight Lute) broke out with his performance in the EchoEddieB Stakes at Santa Anita. The race turned out to be a key race where two horse came back to win their next time out. With two wins for three starts this year, he has the ability. Contender.

The Truth or Else (Yes It’s True) is struggling with the last two performances poor, albeit against the likely Derby favorite, American Pharoah. Trainer McPeek is taking blinkers off to see if that might help. Wait to see if the experiment works. Pass.

Hillbilly Royalty (Langfuhr) has the potential speed to run with Competitive Edge, the morning line favorite. He and Where’s the Moon from the inside will assure the pace is honest. If the two are caught in a speed duel with Competitive Edge the finish will be exciting. Pass.

Lord Nelson ( Pulpit) has withstood tests by a number of top 3-year-olds. His win in the San Vicente Stakes after a two month layoff was impressive. He held his own in the San Felipe Stakes against Dortmund while showing development. Contender.

Competitive Edge (Super Saver) is rightfully the favorite and the one to beat. His 2-year-old career was flawless. Experience is the only knock against him as a 3-year-old. On innate talent he should win. But this looks more like a prep race for a future race. Contender with a question mark.

Pain and Misery (Bob and John) is showing some improvement race-by-race. Plenty of excuses for his performance against Dortmund. Looks like he needs more races to hone his skills.  Pass.

Peace and War (War Front) ) looked like he might be something special as a 2-year-old. His near last to first to win a grade one race at Keeneland was impressive. He is working in the morning nicely. Still has a lot to prove in afternoon races this year. Pass.

The key to this race appears to be the likely speed duel among Where’s the Moon, Hillbily Royalty and Competitive Edge. The former two have nothing to lose. Competitive Edge should emerge the victor as they turn for home. Gimme Da Lute will be on the front runners heels ready to move. Lord Nelson should be moving fast right behind “Lute”. At the wire Gimme Da Lute will prevail.


1.   Gimme Da Lute
2.   Lord Nelson
3.   Competitive Edge

Longshot: The Truth or Else will be coming fast and late. Could nose Competitive Edge out of the trifecta.

Handicappers' Corner: The Kentucky Derby

By Laurie Ross, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds

Once again the Kentucky Derby is upon us. Angles seldom used in other horse races get pulled out of the closet and dusted off like the Christmas decorations.  Some handicappers use track bias, pace figures and trainer/jockey statistics year round. Pedigree? Like the good dinner plates, it's only trotted out on special occasions.

However, discerning horse players are aware of this powerful tool called pedigree handicapping.  After all, the biggest questions in figuring out which colts have a legitimate shot to wear the roses are – can he get the distance and is he suited for the surface?

Pedigree separates the horses that will love ten furlongs, those who could finish in the money and the ones that couldn’t get the distance with a guided missile strapped around their girth.  Just because a horse ekes out a win at nine furlongs doesn’t mean he has enough gas in the tank to keep up a full-out run for an additional furlong.

Yes, other factors come into play, such as training, how the horse is leading up to the race, the horse’s temperament and running style.  A good horse with a borderline pedigree for the distance can overcome pedigree to an extent if the other factors are favorable.

Let’s take a closer look at the field.

Main Contenders:

Entrants who won their last start in a G-1 or G-2

Dortmund  -  Along with his stablemate American Pharoah, he’s a household name. The two colts are different physically, but closely matched for talent.  Dortmund has the better pedigree for getting the distance. Dortmund reminds me a bit of another Baffert horse, Point Given.  That one was a huge monster and a favorite to win the Derby, but finished inexplicably in fifth. He rebounded to win the Preakness and Belmont.

American Pharoah – Light on pedigree, but strong on talent. His work at Churchill was spectacular. He drew a far outside post and will need a good journey to keep from going wide. 

Carpe Diem – Of the top three contenders, he has the best pedigree for the distance. He has not beaten much this year, but did it nicely.  A drawback is trainer Todd Pletcher’s 1-for-40 record in the Derby and Carpe Diem’s inside post. 

Frosted – He has a very good pedigree for classic distances. Once McLaughlin got him figured out, the pretty gray colt responded with a huge win in the Wood Memorial.  Was it too much?  He had an eight point speed figure jump and could regress slightly off of that effort.  If he takes another step forward, Frosted could be dangerous.

Materiality – His pedigree is borderline for 1 1/4-miles.  He’s very talented, but light on experience and will have to fight the two year old jinx.  I was not thrilled with his appearance on the track during morning exercise. He looked like a shampoo commercial, with a lathered neck and he was fidgety.  If he’s that worked up because of morning activity, how will he respond to Derby stimuli?

Firing Line – Twice he fought Dortmund to a head decision, then went on to set a track record over a hard Sunland Park surface in the Sunland Derby. His pedigree is borderline for 1 1/4-miles and he has a forwardly placed running style.  He doesn’t seem to settle, even in the gate Firing Line moves around.  Obviously talented, he’ll need to conserve energy if he wants to be around at the end.  If anyone can settle this colt behind other runners, Gary Stevens can. 

International Star – His pedigree is borderline for 1 ¼ miles.  His stalking style should help International Star get the distance. He swept the Louisiana preps and likes to win. The drawback here is that the class of runners he beat is suspect. The last two colts to sweep the Louisiana races finished out of the money.  Perhaps International Star can hit the board, but I don’t see him winning here. 

Mubtaahij – He has the best distance pedigree in the field and is proven at 1 3/16 miles.  Although he just turned three, this mighty little dynamo beat older horses in Dubai.  Runners from Dubai are 0-for-10 in the Derby, but Mubtaahij’s trainer is accustomed to shipping horses worldwide for top events and winning.  This colt has run the same style in every race.  Sit behind the leaders on the rail and pounce turning for home.  If he’s able to get the same trip and is up to the task, Mubtaahij could be a surprise. 

Longshot Plays:

Upstart – He slugged it out in Florida, first with Itsaknockout then with Materiality.  This colt does not quit and his two races in Florida were over tiring tracks.  Upstart has the pedigree to handle the distance and if he gets a good trip, this colt could be in the exotics. He did regress 12 points from the Fountain of Youth to the Florida Derby which is not something we like to see, but perhaps he can rebound. 

Keen Ice – He has a good pedigree for 1 1/4-miles.  Problem is – he’s a one paced grinder with no speed. There would have to be a blazing pace up front for this colt to win.  He could pass tired horses late to spoil someone’s superfecta.

Also Rans:

Bolo – He’s a beautiful colt and certainly has the pedigree, but Bolo does not have the same form on dirt as he does over the lawn. 

Far Right – His pedigree indicates that he’ll be strongest at 1 1/16-miles and his closer running style could get him to 1 1/8-miles.  He was best of the rest of a tired group in the Arkansas Derby behind American Pharoah.  His last three speed figures were a steady low-90’s and Far Right has not shown any improvement.

Danzig Moon – He has the pedigree, but has been no match for Carpe Diem in two meetings. Danzig Moon had a huge 18+ speed figure jump from his fourth place finish in the Tampa Derby to the Bluegrass.  That could set him up for a bounce in the Derby.

El Kabeir – His pedigree is very light for 1 1/4-miles and so far, he’s proven to be best at 1 1/16 miles.  El Kabeir was no threat to Frosted in the Wood, despite an 8+ speed figure jump. He’d have to improve even more here and I don’t see that happening. 

Itsaknockout – Has a pedigree suited for 1 1/16-miles.  He ran a huge 102 speed figure in his second start, but they have regressed in each start.  After the Fountain of Youth slugfest with Upstart, Itsaknockout could manage no better than a fourth place finish in the Florida Derby, regressing 9- points.

Ocho Ocho Ocho – He faded like a bad tan in the Bluegrass Stakes after leading through moderate fractions.  He has the pedigree, but appears a cut below.  Ocho Ocho Ocho draws the rail and may find himself on the lead again. If this happens, look for him to throw it into reverse after a mile, maybe sooner.  

Mr. Z – He’s been beaten like the school geek all year long. To his credit, the hardy colt has hit the board in all except two starts.  He’s difficult to rate and likes to be on the lead, but once passed, Mr. Z gives it up.  He’s run 12 times in his career without a break.  Mr. Z has the pedigree to handle the Derby, but can he actually hit the board?  If he does, it will blow up the tote. I’ll toss him out and hope Lukas doesn’t pull a fast one.

Tencendur – Finished off of the board in the Gotham and Withers, then ran a huge race in the Wood Memorial.  He was passed by Frosted, but was the best of the rest. Tencendur’s pedigree for 1 1/4-miles is not optimal. In addition, his speed figure jumped 15+ points from the Withers to the Wood. There’s a very good chance that he’ll regress in the Derby.

War Story – His pedigree is borderline for 1 ¼ miles.  War Story chased International Star through the three Louisiana preps. He finished third, losing two speed figure points in the Louisiana Derby.  He has the makings of a decent Grade 2 or 3 runner at shorter distances.  

Frammento – Sneaks into the field after Stanford scratched.  Frammento has a miler pedigree. His best finish this year was a distant third in the Fountain of Youth and he’s been whipped 30+ lengths in his three Derby preps. I’ll vote him most likely to finish last. 


#8 DORTMUND (3-1)
#10 FIRING LINE (10-1)
#15 FROSTED (15-1) 

Longshot: #14 KEEN ICE (50-1)