April 30, 2010

Kentucky Oaks - Blind Luck's last to first victory

What a rousing start to Derby weekend with heavy favorite (and yet another Oaklawn Park graduate) Blind Luck ridden confidently by Rafael Bejarano from dead last to first by the slimmest of margins on the line. I never thought she would get there in time considering the slow fractions of the race. But clearly the Churchill strip was still a tad thick from the rains earlier in the week. A similar slow pace led to another shocking defeat of Rachel Alexandra earlier in the race card. After Rachel shared the dawdling pace of :24.79, :48.81 and 1:12.53 (all at least a full second slower than her remarkably consistent splits from last year), she still couldn't hold off the stalker Unrivaled Belle through the stretch, losing by a headbob. Based on Steve Asmussen's definition of running her "only if I was sure she was going to win," I don't see how they could even return her to the track with a pretty salty mare division shaping up this season. But I digress.

Speaking of rain, even though there are forecasts for rain about every three years on Derby day (yet it rarely leads to a "sloppy" or "muddy" track), it appears that this year may be the real deal with flash flooding alerts Saturday and Sunday for Louisville. Several people told me today that they listened to the radio and DJs were talking about betting the mudders. In my opinion, this is about the most over-hyped betting angle for this particular race, since most of these horses have never even ran on an off surface and many others have run as much on synthetics and/or turf as dirt. So this angle may apply better to a race for older horses who have multiple races on an "off" track to sample from. Regardless, this will surely impact the wagering as many "average joes" will be betting this race rather than your hard core New Yorker OTB bookie.

Take a peak at how the odds have already been affected by the first day of action for The Derby...

Kentucky Derby advance-wagering odds:

(No., Horse, Odds)
1. Lookin At Lucky, 9-1
2. Ice Box, 11-1
3. Noble's Promise, 21-1
4. Super Saver, 7-1
5. Line of David, 15-1
6. Stately Victor, 16-1
7. American Lion, 25-1
8. Dean's Kitten, 18-1
9. Make Music for Me, 25-1
10. Paddy O'Prado, 11-1
11. Devil May Care, 11-1
12. Conveyance, 25-1
13. Jackson Bend, 22-1
14. Mission Impazible, 24-1
15. Discreetly Mine, 41-1
16. Awesome Act, 13-1
17. Dublin, 21-1
18. Backtalk, 20-1
19. Homeboykris, 17-1
20. Sidney's Candy, 11-1
Total win pool, $340,544

As you can see, there are some juicy odds out there and multiple overlays with expected favorites. But even a better indication than current pari-mutuel win pool is the established Oaks-Derby double pool, where the professional gamblers have already tipped their cards. The win pools seem to be the preferred choice of the locals who came out today and made all their Derby bets since they will sell their boxes for Derby Day for tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, the first day odds are usually atypical of the core betting patterns. (It seems like local hero General Quarters was a favorite last yeat at this time.) In the "smart money" camp, the favorites (in order) are Lookin at Lucky, Awesome Act, Sidney's Candy, Super Saver and Ice Box. Keep this in mid as you make your selections tomorrow.

Until then, as Robin Leach used to say, "may you have 'mint julep' kisses and 'Derby pie' dreams...

April 29, 2010

Derby week 136 - Finally Friday

It’s go time, baby… “Go, Baby, Go” reads the NTRA ad slogan and we’ll all be yelling that come Saturday around 5:15pm CST. I’ve watched as many replays as I can possibly watch and my eyes are bloodshot from straining in front of small print race charts and the computer screen. My dogs are barking at me to take them out, so I’ve gotta wrap this up. I must confess that I have spent more time on the betting side of the Derby this year than researching all the human interest stories out there. (Actually, I haven’t “studied” this much since taking the CFP exam years ago.) I am still bitter about that F’ing Mine That Bird last year costing me a stone-cold trifecta. I’m overdue for a winner, not having dinged the register since my Funny Cide overlay in 2003. That’s another thing about these odds to watch out for. I think Churchill Down’s handicapper – Mike Battaglia – sets some piss-poor early odds, which unfortunately has a major impact on betting strategies. The best advice I ever got was that if you’re going to lose your own money, you should at least pick who YOU think will win, not what someone else tells you!

I forgot to mention another injury/defection that occurred Wednesday when one of WinStar Farm’s up-and-comer Endorsement was injured during his last workout and was also withdrawn from the race, leaving the final spot for Make Music for Me – a son of my good friend “Bernstein.” Endorsement had me puzzled quite a bit, not knowing what to think of his big performance over Conveyance in the Sunland Derby in his first start after breaking his maiden at Oaklawn Park, so I can’t say I was disappointed with the news.

After the crushing blow upon hearing Eskenderaya’s injury and withdrawal, I’ve been able to pull it together and be positive the last few days. Wednesday evening I found a replacement horse that I am very keen on, having discounted his impressive string of wins due to my inherent west coast bias. Of course, I am speaking of Sidney’s Candy. Check out these comments from the LA Times after his 3 year-old debut win. [“Sidney's Candy is certainly a horse to watch after the son of Candy Ride routed the competition in the Grade II $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, winning the seven-furlong race by 4-1/4 lengths in the time of 1:20.91. It was the second-fastest time in the 69-year history of the San Vicente Stakes and nine winners have gone on to take the Kentucky Derby. Trained by John Sadler and ridden by Joe Talamo, Sidney's Candy gained attention last summer at Del Mar when he set a track record for 5-1/2 furlongs in his second start. "I just basically sat on him today, and I couldn't believe that final time," Talamo said. "That's awesome. It's very exciting to have a horse of this caliber."]

Actually, the 20 year-old phenom jockey (discovered in Louisiana by the late hall of fame trainer, Bobby Frankel) did have a horse of his caliber on last year’s Derby trail that ended abruptly at about 8:00am Derby day morning when I Want Revenge had to be scratched from Derby 135 (shades of AP Indy). He had a great shot to match Stewart Elliott’s feat of winning The Derby (Smarty Jones ’04) in his first attempt. Now he still does with the second choice in the morning line. In spite of his 20 post, I am encouraged that he is the best horse in this below average crop (due to a few injuries) and that this will force Talamo to tuck into the second flight of horses by the first turn instead of being in the fray of establishing the early fractions.

Speaking of the pace scenario, here’s a quote from Mike Brunker, horse racing editor at www.NBCSports.com. “The pace in the Derby is almost certain to be blistering. American Lion, Conveyance, Discreetly Mine, Line of David, Paddy O’Prado, Sidney’s Candy, Super Saver and Rule all have a habit of going to the front right out of the gate. Even if the jockeys try to ration the front-runners’ speed, as they most assuredly will, speedsters tend to be headstrong and competitive and may not agree to the preferred tactics of their trainers and riders. And it would only take a couple of them to hook up to set up a suicidal speed duel.”

My contention is that “suicidal” fractions occur only when one or more horses have the natural speed to turn a :45 and change four furlong and 1:09 five furlong split time. In this group (conceding that 7 horses recently ran on the lead… impossible in a 20 horse field) the fastest split time in a prep race greater than one mile was Line of David’s Arkansas Derby where he went :46 1/5 and 1:10 3/5 before slowing the six furlong time down to 1:36 2/5. Conveyance was the next in line at :48, 1:11 4/5 and 1:35 4/5. Sidney’s Candy splits in the 9 furlong SA Derby were actually faster than his splits in the 1 1/16 mile San Felipe, but still only :48 2/5, 1:12 1/5 and 1:35 2/5. Considering the trainers and jockeys know that if they increased these times, they would have little shot at hitting the board and collecting a share of the $2 million purse money considering the added distance, my guess is that The Derby fractions will be about average – which would equate to :46 3/5, 1:11 and 1:36. Rather than the true “suicidal” fractions in 2005 that resulted in two horses over 50-1 stumbling home first and second after a :45 2/5 and 1:09 3/5 splits!

So what does all this jabber mean?? That you want a horse that can be forwardly placed in the 3rd – 5th spot to keep out of trouble (and keep the mud out of the face and nostrils if it truly comes up sloppy on Saturday). Over the past 8 years, 5 Derby winners were 1st through 4th by the half-mile point, while the remaining 3 winners were practically dead last (Giacomo, Street Sense and Mine That Bird). But to be honest, the pace will dictate who wins The Derby, and it will likely not be the best horse on paper!

Let me complete my top 3 picks with a square price in the field, #14 Mission Impazible at 20-1 and then the favorite, #1 Lookin at Lucky, who is by far the most consistent runner in the field. He relished the dirt at Oaklawn Park, so that may be enough to overcome the 4 lengths he lost to Sidney’s Candy in the SA Derby. For those of you who follow breeding nicks, take a peak at the Drone influence on the damside of Mission. Derby winner Grindstone (and grand-sire of both Mine That Bird and Summer Bird) and Triple Crown veteran from last year Musket Man (via Yonaguska – Cherokee Run) also carried Drone. His sire – Unbridled’s Song – hails from the classic stamina influence Mr. Prospector via Fappiano, who produced two Derby winners in Unbridled and Real Quiet. But my Sidney’s Candy has one of the lowest Dosage Index I have ever seen at 1.86, with inbreeding to both Nearctic (sire of Northern Dancer) and Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat). So that’s a peak at the method behind my madness.

Kids, it’s time to get those bets placed at your local track, OTB or twinspires.com, then kick back, relax, and enjoy the greatest two minutes in sports! And if you are so inclined, say a prayer for Todd Pletcher during “My Old Kentucky Home.” May your Derby Day 2010 be filled with joy and your pockets be filled with winning tickets.


April 28, 2010

Derby week trivia - Post Positions

Quite an ironic post position draw yesterday in that the two betting favorites in a seemingly wide open Derby drew the worst positions, see below. Many feel that the one hole is the worst spot but I can't help but think Sidney's Candy would be better off at the rail to save the ground, knowing he figures to be very close to the pace early and that there are 10 furlongs for him to maneuver around a horse or two, rather than being forced minimum 4 wide around the first turn. But the year Big Brown's camp chose the 20 post (while a couple other options were still available) people preached doom and gloom and he managed to get a fairly easy stalking trip only four wide. Several winners have come from the 15-20 post auxiliary gate over the past decade, so I guess anything is possible. Here's a look at the posts with odds, for your convenience:

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

Although I'll save my Derby picks for Friday's posting, I would like to share my "toss" horses for Saturday's race. With 20 horses in the field, you have to take a stand against some very capable horses, and I've been much more succesful in tossing horses than actually picking winners. A couple of cases in point were Dunkirk last year, who became the "it" horse after running second to Quality Road in the Florida Derby - he finished 11th while going off at lower odds than my pick, Pioneerof The Nile, who finished a gutsy 2nd. Likewise, back in 2006 I was shocked that Sweetnorthernsaint went off as The Derby favorite when I didn't have one cent bet on him. Too bad I also tried to beat the true talent of that year, Barbaro.

This year I'll take a stand against two of the co-third choices at 10-1 in morning line, Ice Box and the filly Devil May Care. I witnessed Ice Box's Fountain of Youth futile effort against Eskenderaya when he didn't get more than one "courtesy call" by the track announcer. And even though closers don't fare well in slower pace scenarios, they usually don't give up lengths in the stretch either, which is what he did. His Florida Derby victory came without the top 3 finishers from the FOY running back and that pace scenario was the fastest of any Derby prep. Thus, he should have looked like a world-beater coming from the clouds to win by a nose against a Pletcher horse (Rule) that he thought so little of he withdrew earlier in the week.

Regarding Devil May Care, I tipped my cap with previous comments about how she is coming off of one really good race against suspect fillies and a light race schedule. It seems to me like the recent success of other fillies in triple crown races has affected the morning line odds and likely the sentiment of the betting public when it may not be deserved for this particular filly. The owner basically admitted that when Big E scratched and that left John Velazquez without a Derby mount he felt bad for him and decided to give it a go. I'll take my chances elsewhere... stay tuned tomorrow!

Yesterday's trivia answer is $9,814 that was fueled by 50-1 shot Giacomo and 72-1 shot Closing Argument in the zany 2005 Derby! Would have been a nice year to wheel "All" with "All" for a $760 total outlay.

If you'd like to participate in a "just for fun" handicapping contest, please email me your top 3 horses - in order - to erickords@yahoo.com . Good luck with your handicapping!

April 27, 2010

Derby week trivia - Wednesday

Hump day during Derby week means two things in the Kordsmeier household; 1) post position draw and first glimpse at odds for The Derby, and 2) time to brew and age the “not-so-simple” mint infused syrup for Saturday’s Derby party. As is customary, the bartender will get an initial sample while the fermentation process takes place… very helpful when plotting hundreds of statistical samples (my own monte carlo simulation, if you will) of possible pace scenarios based on post positions. Now are you getting a sense of why I love The Derby so?

On the training front, Churchill Downs has been muddy for the last several days, forcing most of the entrants to have their last major workout on an "off" track. On Tuesday, Awesome Act drilled 4 furlongs in :48 1/5 on the slop and the expected pacesetter - Conveyance zipped 5 furlongs in :59 4/5. Inspired by these workouts, I laced up the New Balance's and labored 4 miles in :36 (errr, check that - 36 minutes!) on the Katy Trail and I was blowing hard after the work until I cooled down with a refreshing Coors Light. Have I mentioned the mint juleps?

I came across the following from the website representing thoroughbred racing, www.ntra.com, and thought you may also get a kick out of this. I’ve often stated that the months of March and April are the best months for sports fans, as we welcome back America’s pastime to the diamond (especially for Cubs fans!), NCAA college hoops are in full effect and potential Derby superstars are being formed every Saturday. This writer parallels the Derby experience with March Madness…

Top 5 reasons Triple Crown series beats March Madness by Eric Wing, NTRA Media Relations (with my emphasis added):
1. Sometimes our 16-seeds actually win. (Butler came really close this year, but Mine That Bird and Giacomo have actually taken our top prize.)

2. Our grand finale is better than yours. (The greatest two minutes in sports, bar none! And we have longer off-seasons to recover from the stress and common letdown after the Belmont - especially if we backed losers.)

3. Our "coaches" haven't forgotten how to compete with dignity. (Well, barring the Rick Dutrow and Big Brown circus of 2008 I would agree with this statement. Trainers like Baffert and Lukas have added more class as they have aged. Derby favorites such as Nafzger and Zito have always been great ambassadors for the sport.)

4. Our sport doesn't pretend that betting isn't going on. (Amen to that, brother! Many states with lotteries boast of the “economic impact” from the lottery on jobs, education funding, etc. How about the impact of the thoroughbred industry? Even at independent tracks such as Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, seasonal employment and the tourism industry swell thanks to the gambling juice (ranging from 13% on straight win-place-show bets to 20% on exotics such as exactas, trifectas, pick 3’s) that finance purse money, which in turn gives owners payback on their investment to pay the jockeys cut as well as training fees for their entire staff. It also doesn’t hurt that some people hit “paydirt” each year in The Derby. I’ll never forget in 2005 when long-shots Giacomo and Closing Argument ran first and second that sparked a superfecta that paid over $1.7 million! For the record, that was more than the owner’s (Jerry Moss of Zenyatta fame) share of the purse money for winning The Derby!)

5. Some Triple Crown TV correspondents can conduct interviews while on horseback. (I particularly enjoy the last point. What’s greater than seeing Donna Barton-Brothers or Caton Bredar with mane flying in their face capturing the first emotional exchange with the jockey who has just captured the greatest feat in sports, perhaps for the first time?!)

Trivia answer from yesterday is: “My name is Darrell, but you can call me D”… hit it Run. As a youngster, Darrell Wayne Lukas was the first person I “knew” that carried his first initial. It always struck me as odd. I even call him “D. Wayne” when I occasionally get close enough to him at a track to tell my wife I had a conversation with D. Wayne. Then I discovered that many more folks did this, from P. Allan Smith to J. Paul Getty, L. Ron Hubbard to P. Diddy. There’s something about this method that resonates with me. It seems to me that in a subliminal way it may help people become well known and move up in the world to achieve great fortune and fame. I think I’ll name my first racehorse bought at auction “A. Super Star” so he will have a better chance on the track, especially if his sire happens to be Super Saver! By the way, for those horse novices, Todd Pletcher plied his trade under “the master” D. Wayne (who started his Derby career with an equally pathetic 0 for 12 before busting out with a filly – Winning Colors ‘88) for 7 years before going out on his own, and look at him now!

April 26, 2010

Derby week trivia 136 - Tuesday

More drama from the Pletcher camp on Monday as he calls an audible and pulls out WinStar Farm's speedster Rule. This will definitely have an impact on the pace of The Derby, which many astute handicappers are calling for blistering early fractions. I'll give you my perspective on likely pace scenario on Friday when I pick my top 3 selections. However, in yanking Rule (watch how this horse tired in the FL Derby at 9 furlongs and I say this was a good move!) Todd replaced him with his filly, Devil May Care.

Until recently, I would have easily discounted the filly's entry. I backed the monster filly Excellent Meeting in the 1999 Derby (Charismatic) and although she finished a respectable 5th it discouraged me from betting fillies in this particular race. Hence, no winning tickets when Eight Belles ran a courageous second to Big Brown in 2008. I was shocked as Rags to Riches out-muscled Champion Curlin down the lane in the mile and one-half Belmont Stakes. But for the record, I did key Rachel Alexandra in last year’s Preakness Stakes when she was clearly superior. (Sidebar: Rachel is working up a storm and will be running on Friday's Kentucky Oaks undercard -- not that I'm paying attention to a Jess Jackson owned horse!) But these fillies had dominated their division and each strung together a solid series of prep races. Devil May Care, on the other hand, beat only 5 fillies at Gulfstream Park in her only victory this year, while running a dull 5th in her seasonal bow at the Fairgrounds. Someone out there please comment on why I should be afraid of the Devil in my exotics.

The answer to yesterday's trivia question was Eddie Delahoussaye, the original cajun bush track extraordinaire jockey who paved the way (along with Randy Romero) for current greats including Kent "squeaky" Desourmeaux, Robby Albarado (of Curlin fame) and Calvin Bo-rel, who garnered the most votes. I guess there is something to the recency effect, since Calvin has been front and center since his Derby triumph aboard Street Sense in '07 and obviously with Mine That Bird last year. Of course, Ron Turcotte was the other jockey to win consecutive runnings when he piloted Penny Chenery's Riva Ridge to Derby glory in 1972 followed by his lesser-known stablemate in '73, Secretariat (just kidding -- by the way, get ready for Diane Lane's portrayal of the first woman of racing in the motion picture "Secretariat" coming to a theatre near you on Oct. 8, 2010).

April 25, 2010

Eskenderaya to miss Derby... Derby week 136 kickoff!

Derby week officially began Sunday morning with the typical drama we have come to expect in the craziness that is... The Derby. And for the second year in a row I will be losing my "lock - cinch - key" horse about one week before they were set to run, as Quality Road was sent packing on Monday of Derby week last year with a quarter crack. The extent of Big E's injury wasn't well known, just the following comments by Pletcher, "He's got some filling. We're not sure of the extent of what we re dealing with. But he's not going to run." You know this has to get Todd questioning why the horse racing gods are so much against him, as his many other runners figure to be mid-priced horses that would be a tall task to get the monkey off his back. (Speaking of course, of his 0 for 24 record in the big dance.)

On Saturday the Derby Trial was run as a last hope resort to get some graded earnings to put a few of the "bubble" horses in the top 20 list. However, favored Eightyfiveinafifty and Pleasant Prince's chances were dashed when longshot Hurricane Ike under Calvin Borel took the top spot on a day when Borel posted five winners at Churchill Downs. At this rate, the best handicapping strategy may be to bet Borel's horse every race, including Super Saver in The Derby. After all, he has won two out of the last three runnings! My one-time tout, Aikenite, rallied for the place and now has the earnings to make the field, but team Dogwood has said they will not wheel back in just one week for The Derby.

I have been subdued for most of my Sunday, struggling with the thought of a potential superstar not getting the opportunity to etch his place in history. Last year I had a solid backup plan with Pioneerof The Nile, this year not so much. Perhaps I'll be able to build back some confidence while pouring through past performances and breeding nicks this week. The most profound impact of this defection will be on the betting schemes in the world's greatest betting race. My "budget" for Saturday just got exponentially larger since I'll now be using 3 or 4 horses in the first position of my exotic part-wheels. But those who were hoping to somehow beat Big E are very upset about this, since huge flows towards him would have boosted the wager pools and payouts if he ran out of the money. Now, all that money will flow to the next tier of favorites and water down those payouts.

Please note the trivia question on the left margin -- go ahead and try your luck (no one knows who's guess is right or wrong!). Happy Derby Week 136, our 14th year of Derby trivia!


April 14, 2010

Derby Top 10 Update - Preps wrap

Well, my hunch to bail out of Arkansas after Zenyatta's historical triumph was a good one, as two horses I had never heard of, Line of David and Stately Victor, upset in Saturday's Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, respectively. The former was coming out of allowance turf races at Santa Anita, the latter had been unplaced in his preceding five races. Not the likes of which will challenge Big E come the first Saturday in May. This actually gives me more confidence going into this year's Derby with my betting strategy.

My last two additions to my top 10 list (Aikenite and Northern Giant) failed to menace in their last preps and are off the Derby trail. I took a gamble and lost, but hey - that's what this sport is all about, right?! I am also bagging Noble's Promise. In spite of his troubled trip in the Ark. Derby, he doesn't have enough seasoning this year to tackle the big boys - that's the risk trainers take with a light prep schedule. Besides, after being rough-housed in Arkansas, his health may not allow him to run in The Derby. I'll offer this list and only update it again the week of The Derby with my final "standings."

1) Eskendereya - Even better performance in Wood Memorial if you can believe that and will be heading into Louisville as biggest favorite in some time, likely between the 2.4 - 1 of Big Brown in '07 and 9-5 on Point Given in '01. His jockey actually made a post-race comment that worried me, saying how he actually relaxed early this time, unlike the FOY where he was "on the bit." If that happened in the Derby, he could get rubber-legged in the deep stretch. But his high cruising speed reminds me of Rachel from last year and Quality Road and for this reason I not only think he will win The Derby, but sweep the Triple Crown as well (yikes, I said what?!).

2) Lookin At Lucky - Had a rough trip at Santa Anita, but it led to some drama when Garret Gomez punched Victor Espinoza (who put him into the rail) repeatedly at the weigh scales in front of thousands of people. Still reminds me of Pioneerof The Nile from last year and expect him to run solid, if not a winning race at Churchill.

3) Awesome Act - If you were standing around me at Oaklawn Park on April 3rd you would have heard some disgust at the half mile marker when the pace was a weak 49 seconds and Awesome Act was in 2nd place. That is not this horse's style but often a jockey is forced to ride the race instead of the horse. His Wood Memorial performance (3rd to Big E) reminded me a great deal of Monarchos' prep going into the 2001 Derby where he ran second to Congaree in a fairly dull race. By pressing the pace more than usual he may have gotten more out of the race than winner Eskendereya (as dumb as that sounds!). With the full Derby field, I can see him flying home in the stretch.

4) Sidney's Candy - What's ironic about this horse is that he is named after deceased diet guru Sid Craig, who along with Jenny amassed a fortune and invested heavily in thoroughbreds throughout the 1990's. One of my favorite race mares - Paseana - was campaigned by the Craigs in the early nineties. Sire Candy Ride (see my previous Cryptoclearance obit) is one of the hottest things going today. Doesn't look like the type that must be on the lead (like stablemate Line of David), but you never know until they're challenged on the front end.

5) Super Saver - Much better run in Arkansas and is set up to improve in his third start off layoff. Question will be how much they can get him to rate in The Derby. With confirmed speedsters and stalkers, I hope his jock wraps him up for the first 6 furlongs to keep him off the pace. For some reason this one reminds me of Bluegrass Cat, who was also owned by WinStar Farm and had ho-hum Derby preps before running huge in the 2006 Derby to finish second to Barbaro. The talent is there if he gets a good post and can tuck in that 2nd wave of horses.

6) Jackson Bend - Those Jackson Bend believers will be thinking "Funny Cide" with this one, who was a well-beaten second to Empire Maker in the 2003 Wood Memorial before turning the tables on the favorite in The Derby. (Although, it's fair to note Empire Maker sustained small injury and missed some training leading up to that Derby and dominated in the Belmont.) This likely overlooked horse has some backclass in sweeping the Florida Stallion Series as a juvenile. Very gritty horse who's pedigree says one mile, yet he has run second twice to Big E at 9 furlongs already, so anything is pauzible. (lead in...)

7) Mission Impazible - Same comments from last time... In the chaotic Derby field, it's nice to have a horse who can break well, but then settle and let the jockey place the horse. By reading the LA Derby race chart, that's exactly what happened in the big field when he broke 2nd but was taken back to 5th, then 7th before commencing his rally after true race fractions. This one could be a big price on Derby day to spark some exotics!

8) Endorsement - With the attention this lightly raced colt has gotten from his Sunland Derby win over Conveyance (a miler in my opinion), he might be my "short" horse come Derby week. But I have to include him on this list since he has the talent to run huge. I touted this horse in his OP maiden race and won some nice coin on him, but that's a far cry from the Churchill stretch come the first Saturday in May.

9) Yawanna Twist - I know this horse is likely not to make The Derby field by earnings, but I want to give a shout out to his sire Yonaguska, who sired Musket Man from last year who hit the board in two Triple Crown races. This sire has been "berry, berry good to me" - Sammy Sosa. I nailed the IL Derby exotics thanks to this guy and if you're ever reading a maiden claiming or special weight race and notice offspring of Yonaguska, put a little change on it!

10) Connemara - May get his chance to secure a spot in The Derby if he places in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday, so for now I'll keep a glimmer of hope for my futures play. Would be a great horse to key for 4th position in superfectas in Derby.

April 10, 2010

Zenyatta struts to sweet 16th win; ties Cigar and Citation's mark

Zenyatta looked like a schoolgirl on a playground at Oaklawn Park on a sun-drenched Friday afternoon. Let's forget about the fact that she's ginormous (I heard a wide range in sizes from the "casual" race fans near my perch on the rail), but she really looked like she was having a big time as she was prancing her front hooves during the post parade and hamming it up for her legion of fans armed with cameras. During the race, her head was erect for more than half of the race as she was frolicking at the rear of the small pack down the backstretch while others were put into stiff drives by their jockeys, heads low and ears pinned back. As if Mike Smith decided to finally let Zenyatta "come out and play," he gave her a bit of rein as she swooped to the front on the turn and was already on the lead straightening for the drive, uncharacteristic for Big Z at that point in the race. Of course, the rest is history, as she was never pushed or challenged in the stretch even though the opening fractions were very slow, yet she still posted a decent final time of 1:50 3/5, which should compare favorably to the Arkansas Derby horses going postward today.

This was not only a homecoming for team Zenyatta, who's victory in the 2008 Apple Blossom in only her fourth start really made her a national name fairly early in her streak -- much like Cigar when he captured the Oaklawn handicap in the 6th victory in his streak of 16 consecutive wins. But Mike Smith also was based at Oaklawn Park decades ago and was very gracious to the 44,973 men, women and a lot of children who played hooky to witness greatness as he cantered her back up the stretch before returning to her customary spot in the winner's circle, much like a baseball slugger taking a curtain call. Mike waved to the crowd and pointed to the gentle giant underneath, signaling that it was she who deserves all the credit. Along those lines, another shout out to Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners who were willing to bring her back to Oaklawn in spite of "that other" no-show and a purse reduction from $5 million to $500,000.

All in all, an enjoyable day at the races with most of those casual racegoers packed into the stands to be entertained. Zenyatta did not disappoint. I didn't even mind spending 9 hours in the car for a few hours at the track, playing hooky on a Friday afternoon, hanging out with my brother and the Big Z. Thanks for the memories, Zenyatta.