April 30, 2012

Ode to Kentucky Derby 138

My Creative Cause for this year's Kentucky Derby contains some international flare...

April 22, 2012

Derby 138 - Final Ranking

Unlike most items (such as tax filings and house chores), I have taken the initiative to handicap The Derby two weeks in advance, leaving the final betting strategy until after the post position draw. I have removed horse 8, 9 and 10 from my last ranking; News Pending, Najjaar and Midnight Transfer since they failed to fire as long-shots in their last prep and won't be in The Derby 20 horse starting gate. The race is most assuredly going to get 20 actual starters this year with the four also eligible list in case of late scratches. So this is how I see things heading into Louisville...

1) Bodemeister: Not only adding this handsome son of Empire Maker in my final listing, but now he is my horse to beat for The Derby after seeing his smashing Arkansas Derby victory in person! I am the first to admit that field was one of the weakest in years, but horses seldom crush fields the way he did under Mike Smith. With such an evenly group of sophomores, he is the one that I can imagine taking another step forward on May 5th, like lightly raced Big Brown and Barbaro before him. I think his post position will be critical and would like to see him draw one of the outer third spots and sitting a couple lengths off the pace since he did not fare well against Creative Cause in the San Felipe when down towards the rail.

2) Creative Cause: I said before that a first or second placing in the Santa Anita Derby will have him moving forward into The Derby. Very confident that he will continue to run well with an honest pace and a clean trip, which he got in the SA Derby in running a coin toss finish to I'll Have Another. I've said all spring that the California contingent appears to be the cream of the crop and this has been validated with the final prep results. I think there is no dispute that this guy has the best resume heading into Louisville, but perhaps he has already proven all he can when others have a chance to "pop" a big one.

3) I'll Have Another: I started this guy out fairly high as a sleeper pick but he has stepped up to the plate and hit two HR's in his gutsy California victories (remember, SA has a dirt surface again in 2012). His sire Flower Alley registered well down the list of 2nd crop sires to close out 2011 at #13, but whenever a distance laden sire produces a horse with a turn of foot like this you'd better watch out. It's hard to sepaprate him with CC, but I expect at least one of these guys to be first or second at Churchill Downs.

4) Dullahan: This guy had no chance in the BC Juvenile when they were walking through slow mid-race fractions, but still managed a nice rally from 13th and last to get up for 4th. Had a solid second place finish two back at 9 furlongs on the Gulfstream lawn. Then, his Bluegrass Stakes win looked strong as he flourished in the last 1/16th of a mile to blow by Hansen, although his gallop out looked a bit stiff to me rather than encouraging that he is a true 10 furlong horse. But after last year seeing Shackleford's handling, I am very much a believer in Dale Romans ability to have a horse ready for the spring classics.

5) Went the Day Well: New York bred (ala '03 Derby winner Funny Cide) getting in on The Derby action with his 3YO campaign looking like Animal Kingdom thus far. Solid breeding by a KY Derby placed sire really coming into his own in Proud Citizen out of a Tiznow mare. Coming off a win in the Vinery Spiral on synthetic where he layed much closer to the lead from the 4 hole, handling the dirt kick-back and splitting horses very well, something that will come in handy in the 20 horse stampede that is The Derby! Will likely get much more respect at the windows since Team Valor and Graham Motion pulled it off last year with Animal Kingdom.

6) Union Rags: I actually think he will be more bettable after his 3rd place finish getting boxed in the entire race of the Florida Derby. I still feel that he may have distance limitations, but Matz has commented that his huge size and running style is much different than other Dixie Union offspring, so he could be the exception (ala Big Brown via Boundary). Certainly the one I like most coming out of Florida, although Take Charge Indy appears to be stepping up at the right time.

7) Alpha: Since as many Derby winners come off place finishes in their final prep, I prefer this one's style to that of the undefeated Gemologist out of the Wood Memorial, which speed numbers were one of the slower 9 furlong prep races. But his breeding is solid for this race and he could be sitting on his breakout race, which puts him right there at the wire.

8) Daddy Nose Best: Sire Scat Daddy is off to a surprisingly hot start and there seems to be more stamina to this horse being out of the classic winning damsire, Thunder Gulch. Has improved nicely in his only two starts as a 3YO after trying the turf late in his juvenile campaign. Perfect closing style and not too many of these can boast two wins under their belts in 9 furlong races. In my opinion, he may present the best betting action as the livest of deep long-shots.

9)El Padrino: Pretty sure he will make The Derby field even though currently on the earnings bubble, but totally disappointed with his flat stretch run at Gulfstream. Perhaps his jock was too pre-occupied with trying to pin Union Rags down on rail to actually run his race. I've been burned several times with tossing my early season picks in The Derby due to one bad race (Bluegrass Cat), so I'll hope a change in tactics or riders will get him back on his game at much nicer odds. But seems like 2nd/3rd could be the best this guy has to offer.

10) Prospective: Certainly did not run as I had hoped in the Blue Grass, but Keenland's polytrack is different than the synthetic surfaces on which he ran in Canada. He had been very consistent closing in his prior dirt starts at Tampa Bay Downs and I will likely put him on bottom in my exotics. Some years, a horse good enough to run third can possibly even steal the race (i.e., Giacomo, Mine That Bird). He is one of numerous Breeders' Cup Juvenile starters back to battle in the big dance!

Don't forget to follow my blog the week of The Derby both here and at my HRN site under 12thCrown... 

April 19, 2012

Bodemeister romps in Ark Derby, Unbridled potential

Vindication was a son of Seattle Slew who was voted champion two year-old colt in 2002. But there is another sort of vindication brewing about now. That is the goal of Bodemeister to make up for the two narrow defeats in America's Greatest Race suffered by his father, Empire Maker, and brother, Pioneerof the Nile. His male ancestors are descendants from the potent Classic winning bloodline via Fappiano. I will be the first to question out loud what several thoroughbred historians may be thinking after recently watching the grossly historical inaccurate (but inspirational story nonetheless) movie on HBO for the umpteenth time... wasn't Secretariat also foaled in Virginia?

Audley Farm Inc. in Virginia is credited as breeder of Bodemeister, the imposing $260,000 Keenland yearling purchase son of Empire Maker out of the Storm Cat mare, Untouched Talent. In two of his four career races, that is exactly what Bodemeister has been - untouched talent. He has the speed to grind his opponents into submission and the stamina to reload in the stretch. Veteran rider Mike Smith appears to be a great addition to this horse by trainer Bob Baffert, who utterly dominated the Oaklawn Park winter meet like no other trainer in its illustrious history, including D. Wayne Lukas. The silver fox won 6 of 9 entries with his California shippers in 2012 and is now 16 out of 25 lifetime at the Spa of the South, predominantly at the stakes level.

What I am really amazed by is how many "astute" handicappers are expecting a bounce race just because Bodemeister is so lightly raced and coming off three consecutive huge efforts. I took a similar stance towards a horse named Nehro last year and it cost me dearly as my long-shot pick Animal Kingdom won the race and the only exacta I had was a $2 wheel with the winner. Nehro was the obvious choice coming into last year's Derby -- he was on top of his game and had handled the class test more than adequately in the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbies despite his first career race just months removed on Dec. 12th. Not only has Bodemeister had two monster wins, he also got beat less than a length by the most proven horse in this 3YO crop, Creative Cause, in the San Felipe stakes in his first race beyond one mile. One could certainly make the argument that Bode is more suited for 10 furlongs of The Derby than CC based on their breeding and is still improving with each start.

But I will point out not only lightly raced Nehro from last year, who some may argue as a closer would more predictably run better in the Derby, but what about Barbaro's dominant 2006 performance and Big Brown's cakewalk with only 3 lifetime starts in 2008? Their speed favoring style turned many away in the Derby, yet they were each able to sit off a couple of horses early and draw away from the field on the far turn with their high cruising speed. Surely Mike Smith being the savvy rider he is knows not to gun Bode to the front as Bode is already accustomed to sitting off horses and has done so in two of his four career starts. With an outside post and a nice stalking trip, look for Bodemeister to wipe Apollo off the record books as the last horse to win The Derby without having run at age 2. This will be one of the final hurdles to fall, the previous "jinxes" being only two preps in current year, above 4.0 dosage index, being a gelding or filly, five+ week since last race, etc.

So my plea to my fellow handicappers is don't be an idiot like I was in the Arkansas Derby and "hope" that this clearly superior animal won't run his race on the first Saturday in May. I'd hate for you to look this gift horse in the mouth!

April 14, 2012

Arkansas Derby Day hunches

Oaklawn has a big day in store for the Arkansas fans (who need a distraction after this Petrino mess), with three graded stakes races on the final card of the meet. In the Count Fleet sprint, Izzy Rules looks to tower over the field, but former $4,000 claimer (that's only four thousand!!) Outta Tune will try to play the spoiler role in this one. Sometimes, speed knows no class boundaries, like on yesterday's program where a $6,250 claiming race went several ticks faster for 6 furlongs than an allowance!

The Oaklawn Handicap has perhaps the deepest field since Cigar won the 1994 edition, with the likes of Nehro (looking for his first graded victory after playing seconditis in last year's Derby trail), Win Willy, Hymn Book, Alternation and Ron the Greek. Look for Alternation and perhaps longer priced Yawanna Twist to take advantage of the lack of pace over the speed favoring Oaklawn strip.

And finally the 76th running of the Arkansas Derby, where I am predicting an upset of a monumental proportion -- just not sure which longshots will get to the wire first. I like Cozzetti and Najjaar both at 15-1 on the morning line, but the unheralded shipper, Isn't He Clever, probably has the perfect running style to sit just off of the powerful Baffert one-two punch in Secret Circle and Bodemeister and take down the $1 million purse. Sabercat and/or Raconteur could also hit the board at obscene odds. So in closing, I am hoping today's Arkansas Derby goes the way of the Louisiana and Florida Derbies that will light up the tote board and load up my pockets. Happy racing to you all and may all your bets be winning ones.