May 4, 2010

Preakness 135 Preview (and final Derby thoughts)

Let me start with a preview of Saturday's Preakness Stakes since I'm giving myself a trip to Baltimore as my own birthday present (I was born on the day of the first Kentucky Derby ever run - May 17 - won by Aristides in 1875). I 've never witnessed The Preakness Stakes and with the uncertainty regarding the bankruptcy of the Magna-owned Pimlico Racecourse, I'm worried that I may not get many more chances, at least in its current structure. After a furious work schedule this week, I'm finally home and getting back to priority numero uno... redeeming myself from those piss-poor Derby picks!

We have only five returners from Churchill Downs two weeks ago. Several of the seven new shooters intrigue me, as horses such as Aikenite, Northern Giant and Yawanna Twist were all briefly listed on my Top 10 Derby list. Although, I'm not sure any of them have the talent to take home the Woodlawn Vase come Saturday. One horse that interested me in the final days leading up to The Derby - Paddy O'Prado - overcame a rough trip in The Derby to just get caught by Ice Box for 2nd place. My initial reaction to Desormeaux's poor ride in the final yards was also covered by beat writers, who likewise questioned "Squeaky's" ride. Rather than replacing him, trainer Dale Romans decided to keep him on the mount knowing that Kent will try extra special to prove his critics wrong by winning the Preakness. He is certainly a capable horse and his inherent speed should give him even more of an edge than Super Saver, who breaks to Paddy's inside by two stalls in post 8. Kent relishes the spoiler role and has a good position to sit just off Super Saver's flank, pushing him into a quicker pace and wearing him down in the stretch.

And if they do go quick up front, look for the California bred Caracortado to be moving best in the stretch. His upset could lead to a rare feat in Triple Crown racing by giving Maria's Mon the distinction of siring a Derby winner and being the broodmare sire of the Preakness winner in the same year. It's too bad this stallion passed away at a fairly young age and the owners won't be able to capitalize on Derby inflated stud fees, ala Birdstone from last year's three year-old crop. While I expect both Lookin At Lucky and Super Saver to run well, there's no use taking a short-priced horse in what is clearly an average group of sophomores.

I've had to answer my own critics regarding my faulty pace prediction in The Derby, but I'm convinced something weird was going on with that wet-sealed track after watching the replay a few more times. I've never seen front-runners stop as severely as Conveyance and Sidney's Candy "spit the bit" and fairly early into the turn, at that. These two horses are the reason Lookin At Lucky, Paddy and Ice Box had to check multiple times in the stretch as they were avoiding the horse's rapid retreats. Perhaps the worst betting strategy, however, was that of playing the "slop" angle, even though most of these young colts (and filly) had yet to even test an off track. Consider the comments by veteran turf writer, Steve Haskin, in his blog @ "Stately Victor, who, based on his pedigree, could actually improve off his dominating victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack. If there is a better bred horse for the slop, we haven’t seen him. His sire, Ghostzapper , earned a spectacular 128 Beyer figure in the slop at Monmouth, winning the Iselin Handicap (gr. III) by 10 3/4 lengths. Ghostzapper’s sire, Awesome Again , was two-for-two in the slop, winning the Jim Dandy (gr. II) by three lengths and a Churchill Downs allowance race by seven lengths."

Yes, Super Saver had won on the slop as a 2YO (which he was supposed to at odds-on), but Paddy O'Prado finished 7th last year in his only run over a wet track, yet he appeared to relish the spatter. And while I'm diverting blame, let me add the NBC telecast to the list. How many times could you possibly show the "Shemp" looking schmuck with the briefcase? Yes, I know he bet his $100,000 on Super Saver and won nearly a million bucks due to this, but I would have preferred a live shot of the WinStar Farm owners (remember ABC's emotional exchange between Frances Genter and Carl Nafzger when Unbridled won the roses in 1990?) or Todd Pletcher as he watched the finish and not when he was walking alone through the paddock. At least they let it roll for the full Donna Barton-Brothers and Calvin Borel exchange on horseback. Calvin, maybe you will win the Triple Crown this year, but come Saturday I'll be rooting for a Paddy-Caracortado exacta. Erin go Bragh!

May 1, 2010

Kentucky Derby 136 goes to Super Saver and Calvin Borel

Initial thoughts... damn, that was over so fast. Unfortunately, NBC sports didn't show most of the split times, but it seemed like Conveyance and Sidney's Candy were zipping along at a pretty solid clip. I will eat a little crow and admit I thought the pace would be a bit slower, although I'm not sure what the effect of a wet-sealed track had on fractions. Smarty Jones (who stalked in 3rd/4th) won in 2004 on an "off" track that Lion Heart controlled the splits of 22.99, 46.73, 1:11.80, 1:37.35, 2:04.06, yet continued to finish well for the place. Today's fractional times of 22.63, 46.16, 1:10.58, 1:37.65 and 2:04.45 were comparable other than the 6 furlong time which was about a full second faster and likely caused the two front-runners to burn out in the stretch. Also, the sealed track seemed to be favoring closers for much of the day as several strong favorites that typically run on or near the lead fizzled out. But Calvin Bo-rel was able to relax Super Saver enough to keep him 6th for the first six furlongs with a ground saving rail trip before passing Conveyance en route to Borel's third Derby victory in four years. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. How bout the fact that he still calls everyone 'sir' or 'ma'm' even though Bob Costas is shorter than he is?! And Todd Pletcher finally gets the monkey off his back.

The filly Devil May Care ran a big race before tiring in mid-stretch, as did Noble's Promise, who looked like a winner turning for home. Very poor showings by 5th choice Awesome Act and well-backed Mission Impazible and Stately Victor, who never threatened. The relatively unknown Paddy O'Prado ran a big one to just get nipped at the wire for second and the real shocker of the day was the last horse to get in, Make Music for Me, which sparked a $202,000 superfecta! One of these years I'll hopefully hit one this nice!

I'll tell you one thing, Lookin at Lucky was anything but "lucky" for a second race in a row - typical from a #1 post position - and will be my pick if they choose to run him back in the Preakness Stakes. Depending on the pace scenario, I don't think Ice Box will be as effective at Pimlico Race Course in two weeks. Most of the other horses in the race have a plausible excuse with the wet sealed track, which may actually discourage many trainers from running back in two weeks. I will be there for the Preakness this year so it wouldn't hurt my feelings at all if Borel's prediction comes true - he said he wants to "get it done" this year for the Triple Crown... stay tuned!