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occurred Wednesday when one of WinStar Farm’s up-and-comer Endorsement was injured during his last workout and was also withdrawn from the race, leaving the final spot for Make Music for Me – a son of my good friend “Bernstein.”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.


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