May 7, 2013

Derby 139 Wrap - Pace makes the race

You've heard me say it at least once each year in a post, "pace makes the race." You correctly guess the pace scenario and you have a huge advantage in cashing tickets at the window. I could not have been further off from my pace analysis than this year's Derby since I expected a moderate to slow pace based on previous split times. And my early bias against Orb's pre-Florida Derby races also cost me from having him in my win spot in exotic bets, but I would never have included Golden Soul for second so I don't feel so bad. The excuses (err... explanations) are as follows;

1) Rogue speed - Palace Malice. Todd Pletcher will tell you it was the addition of blinkers that caused PM to run away from Mike Smith with suicidal fractions. Mike Smith will tell you he broke on a flyer and couldn't restrain him. Conspiracy bloggers will tell you it was Pletcher instructing Smith to be the rabbit to set up Revolutionary's late run. But this would compromise Verrazano's chances and would mean pissing off (and possibly being fired by) his best clients, Dogwood Stable and Lets Go Racing Stable. So that is not plausible either. Perhaps it is a little of each of the above that sent Palace Malice on a suicide mission but the fact that he still finished mid-pack beaten "only" 13 lengths back (Falling Sky was officially 53 lengths behind) tells me that somebody screwed this horse out of a top 3 finish with those insane fractions. And it also depleted his racing tank such that he will not run back in the Preakness in two weeks, which could have been his best spot.

2) Sealed "sloppy" track. If any of you have ever been down near the track when it is sealed you will recall the dense packing and thud of hooves when horses travel over the off track. It actually allows for quicker foot action and speed in the short-run. Think of running across a grassy field versus track - no give in the track allows for quicker times whereas your foot sinks into the ground when running cross country. But in the long-run it creates more fatigue on a horse. I would say the 10 furlong distance of The Derby qualifies as long-run having a detrimental effect on any horse close to the front on Saturday. Bottom line is that 4 of the top 5 placed-horses only had one horse beat after 6 furlongs, and that was Java's War who missed the break and was out of contention from the start. The lone exception was Normandy Invasion, who was in 6th place only 5 lengths off the pace. Look at his DRF chart and you will note that any typical year he is in the winning position at that point of the race but instead he finishes a tiring 4th. But certainly this was an atypically run Derby.

3) Palace Malice's breakaway speed caused a chain reaction of the other speed-oriented horses (Goldencents, Falling Sky, Verrazano, Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday) chasing him down and kept the swift fractions going each successive quarter mile until the race unraveled at the mile point and final 10 furlong time. 22.2, 22.3, 24.2, 26.1, 26.3 split times for a moderate final time of 2:02.89. Historical relevance; In 2001 Point Given was also 3 1/2 lengths behind a wicked 1:09.25 six furlong pace that watched him labor home in 5th position in the 2nd fastest Kentucky Derby in history, only behind "Big Red" in 1973. Point Given was clearly superior in this group and proved it by winning each Grade I race before and after the Derby (including an easy Preakness score and 12 length Belmont romp over Derby winner Monarchos) before being injured later in the year and retired to stud duty. I'm not saying Normandy is in the same league as this horse but it proves how significant the pace can factor into an outcome.

4) Trip line. While Orb was officially 6 wide into the stretch, the replay showed that he came away from the gates clean and was never impeded while racing on the outside (even though his head looked like the grill of a 4X4 Jeep after going muddin'). Compare that to Revolutionary, "bumped, waited 1/4 pole," Normandy Invasion, "steadied start, weakened" and my long-shot pick Will Take Charge, "5 wide run, checked 3/16 pole" who certainly got the worst trip of all as he was traveling in stride with Orb on the turn until that damn Verrazano drifted into his path as he was tiring. Now I'm not implying that Orb is not a worthy winner by any means and I am very pleased that "Shug" won his elusive Derby, being a Kentuckian. I am just stating that he got the winning trip and it may not come as easy in Baltimore on May 18th, which makes it an intriguing betting race - albeit nowhere near the odds of Kentucky. So if you are like me in trying to get back a little dough, this is NOT the race to "double down!"

Fortunately, many of the also-rans (Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday, Vyjack, Will Take Charge) along with 4 of the top 6 finishers at Churchill Downs will get one more chance in the Preakness and hope for better conditions. And there are two new shooters that will come into the Preakness a bit fresh in Govenor Charlie (Bob Baffert) and Departing (Al Stall). Speaking of which, if you believe in "key races" as I do and is particularly useful among early 3YO races, the one thing I was right about is how good the crop in Louisiana was this year (in spite of slower speed figures). Four of the top six Derby finishers came out of a Louisiana prep race and another went on to win the Illinois Derby! And if you think this trend holds up, you've got to look at Departing, who finished just 3 lengths behind Revolutionary and Mylute in the LA Derby and in front of Golden Soul, who shredded a lot of Derby exacta, trifecta and superfecta tickets when he rolled home second at 35-1.

I will have another post out just prior to the Preakness, but I felt I needed to "explain myself" after my disappointing predictions. After hitting all top five finishers last year (though not in exact order) I felt my 3 for 5 this year left a little to be desired. I hope to fare better at Pimlico and feel good about a couple of price horses.

Hope you enjoyed Kentucky Derby 139, truly a race unlike any other!

May 4, 2013

Derby Day hunches, that damn Bob Costas and E's final Top 10 list

What a delightful Derby morning in Dallas, TX!  Had a nice 5 furlong (err, 5 mile) gallop with my Tawny dog who has a stride similar to Itsmyluckyday - she likes to go to the front!  Too bad the Louisville weather is much worse with rain about 80% likely throughout the late afternoon hours. Although, unless the track gets one good downpour it could still be listed as "fast" since that Churchill sand and clay base track can absorb a good amount of water. The only horse of mine that would definitely be affected is long-shot Will Take Charge, who ran a dull race in the sloppy Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in February. On the flip-side, Itsmyluckyday, Revolutionary and Vyjack have had victories with higher than average speed times on "off" tracks. Now on to the picks!

My last and "official" Derby Top 10 shakes out as follows, with post positions and day 1 closing odds;

1) #14 Verrazano 11-1 

2) #3 Revolutionary 5-1

3) #5 Normandy Invasion 8-1

4) #10 Palace Malice 25-1

5) #16 Orb 6-1

6) #17 Will Take Charge 31-1

7) #12 Itsmyluckyday 11-1

8) #19 Java's War 22-1

9) #8 Goldencents 5-1

10) #9 Overanalyze 14-1

I see some major odds discrepancies, such as the obvious- #14 being totally disrespected at 11-1!  In addition to juicy win odds, those who like this horse should top him in a $1 exacta wheel and pray for a long-shot. That bet costs $18 with the defection of Black Onyx and if he truly goes off as the 5th choice would pay a $200 minimum (same 11-1 range return) and could pay closer to $1,000 if a 25-1 shot or greater rolls in for second.

So my famous "toss" horse this year is #8 Goldencents. First a little history, as hard as it is to pick a winner from a 20ish horse field, I've been singling out a short horse each year. Granted, some years I have been aided by  bad trips (Gemologist was my short last year at 9-1, 16th place finish), but the only horse who has burned me was Ice Box when he flew up for 2nd place to Super Saver (my #2 pick) over the slop in 2010. Earlier in the week, I was hoping to short Orb (as M-L favorite, this would be the equivalent of having shorted sub-prime mortgages in 2008 if he runs poorly!). But as much as I was unimpressed with his slower win times at Gulfstream Park (these horses disappoint more than the Wood Memorial), he has a few things going for him. He reminds me of Fu-Peg in 2000 in that he is the most gorgeous horse in the field and he has made a swooping closing move into a slow pace - a big plus for a closer that they CAN do more. I am encouraged that he seems to spook easily, so I'll put him in 2nd - 4th in my big superfecta bet but hope he melts in the paddock with 150,000 screaming drunk Kentuckians.

I'm shorting Goldencents this year, even though if I am wrong I can see him actually winning the dang race due to his whopping 105 Beyer speed figure in the Santa Anita Derby. He is a true speed horse with the fastest split times by far, so I can't see him rating effectively (although IHA burned me last year by coming further back in Derby). Further, some of you may have heard of the "bounce" theory where a horse runs a much faster than typical race and his next start is flat - also known as Ragozin # progression. I just can't see him duplicate that last race and actually those horses were nothing like the best from the Wood or Louisiana Derbies this year. That's it folks, take it to the bank! 

Other observations; Mylute and Frac Daddy seem to be way overbet due to their Kentucky connections and 60 minutes Rosie - ugghhh!  Whereas, Palace Malice with Hall of Famer Mike Smith are getting no respect at 25-1. Did anyone notice what Mikey did yesterday in the Oaks?  Exactly, rang the damn bell with Princess of Sylmar at 38-1. He is the best big money rider in the country, bar none, period, exclamation point!!! My goal is to have a good enough horse for him to ride before he retires - he's getting up there. No disrespect to Calvin "Boo Boo" Borel, but I'd take Smith at 25-1 over Calvin at 5-1 in some backup bets to exploit these odds.

Kids, I hope you have a Fantabulous Derby now. Now that my "official" work is done, I can sit back, relax and enjoy the greatest 6 hours of pre-Derby coverage (other than that damn Bob Costas - he and Rosie Napravnik in the same interview may make me puke!). But then we will get to experience the truly greatest two minutes in sports.  Whoooooo, brother (shout out to Ronaldo and Rick Flair)!

Let's Roll....

May 3, 2013

Memorial to Storm Cat - influential U.S. sire who died at age 30 last week

Sad news came out last Wednesday that leading U.S. sire of sires Storm Cat was euthanized due to debilitating effects of old age at 30 (approximately 90 in human terms). The grandson of the immortal Northern Dancer out of a Secretariat mare (hence, "Big Red" was known as a top broodmare sire) had been pensioned from stud duty (i.e. retired from the "strenuous" life of sex and leisure) for the last several years at the original owner's farm - William Young (Overbrook Farm). I have copied the incredible stats below, but most impressive is how he infused additional speed and juvenile success into American breeding through sons Hennessy and Stormy Atlantic yet also passed along some stamina through sons Giant's Causeway, Harlan and Tale of the Cat. Not only the impressive sire line, but he is becoming quite the broodmare sire with top sires Speightstown and Bodemeister - last year's top classics performer, to his credit.  Speaking of Classics, Storm Cat will be represented in tomorrow's Derby by five contenders, most notably by his great-grandson Into Mischief with #8 Goldencents and #20 Vyjack.

Storm Cat was a relatively small stallion who produced medium build foals but they were/are known to be feisty S.O.B.'s. I know - my Stable bought a son of Henny Hughes who is a cross to Storm Cat at the third generation. One other special note is that as good as Storm Cat proved to be in the end, he was doubted when his first crop of foals came through the auction ring much smaller than average for top sires. There was one Texas cowgirl in the Keeneland sales pavilion back in 1990 who liked what she saw - offset knees and all - and ended up buying a filly to be named Joy's Baby and recorded the very first of 180 stakes winners for the sire, over 100 of those in Graded company! That cowgirl is Diamond D Ranch's very own (and current Saturday Racing Stable bloodstock advisor) Caroline Dodwell. Please note the amazing stats below and follow the link to read more about his stellar stud career and lasting impressions.        

Storm Cat facts 1983, dk. b. or br. h., Storm Bird—Terlingua, by Secretariat
Breeder: W. T. Young Storage, Inc.
Owner: W. T. Young
Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard
Race record: 8-4-3-0, $570,610
Stakes wins: 1985 Young America S. (G1)
Stakes placings: 2nd in 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1)
Honors at stud: Leading sire (1999, 2000); leading broodmare sire (2012); 
leading juvenile sire(1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004)
Foals: 1,452 Starters: 1,110 Winners: 807 Wins: 2,340
Stakes winners: 180 (12%)
Graded/group stakes winners: 108
Earnings: $128,085,381
Average earnings per starter: $115,392

May 1, 2013

Wednesday means 2 things; post position draw and mint julep recipe

Perhaps rivaled only by Monday of Derby week, Wednesday is very popular in my household. There are two things that happen late every afternoon of this day each year - Post positions are drawn in a commercialized one hour process and that evening I stew my select batch of mint julep syrup. There is nothing simple about the equal parts water-sugar base.  It begins with bountiful leaves of legitimate Bluegrass mint (complements of the Houston's who transported the original strand from Paducah, KY) which gives the base a nice hue of green after the syrup comes to a boil. After cooling for approximately one hour, the mixologist is allowed ONE mint julep sample before placing the seal of approval on Batch 139. The pewter julep chalice is cleaned with care in hopes that Derby Day will be here. The sampling is occurring precisely as I pen this handicapping commentary, so let's get on with it before I start missing my keys...

Nothing spectacular came out of the post positions and odds announcement and the only adverse impact for legitimate threats would be Vyjack (15-1) #20 far outside post and Oxbow (30-1) down in the #2 hole, which should prompt Gary Stevens to show more speed (which Lukas had intended to do regardless). The top contenders drew anywhere between the prime 8 to 16 posts with the exception of Revolutionary towards the rail in #3. But with his lagging running style and agile maneuvering, this will enable him to save ground early and weave through tiring horses on the far turn. So what about the speed scenario that I promised yesterday?  Here goes...

My estimate of the likely pacesetters based on their recent preps split times (nothing at a mile or under would be relevant at this distance) are as follows, in order; Goldencents, Falling Sky, Giant Finish, Lines of Battle, Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday. This is a very rare year in that I can't point to a single "junk" speed horse - a horse that is wicked fast but only entered in The Derby because they were a legit sprinter and the owners had Derby fever (ala Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Trinniberg last year). This is likely due to the new point system created by Churchill Downs this season to ensure that legitimate two-turn horses in top form close to Derby day get in. What this means is that even though some horses will try to grab a few seconds of fame (perhaps Giant Finish and Falling Sky fall into this category), they have not shown the type of speed that would prompt the half mile time to be sub :47 flat. In contrast, last year when Trinniberg pushed the speedy Bodemeister early the half went in :45.39 and 6 panels in 1:09.80. I'll Have Another was about 8 lengths off this suicidal pace at the half mile point and the 3rd and 4th placer finishers were 13 and 18 lengths back.

This year I want to use more speed oriented horses in the top slots of my trifecta/superfecta bets and I will get odds since many of the top candidates are deep closers (i.e. Orb, Revolutionary, Java's War, Normandy Invasion, Mylute). Thus, my official WIN pick will be the horse some are doubting because of his natural speed, Verrazano (4-1). The misconception could be that he was only 2nd at the 4 furlong mark in the Wood Memorial due to the c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g pace of :49.62 seconds and he was still 2 lengths back, meaning he ran his first 4 furlongs in about 50 seconds. Does this sound like a speed only horse to you? Absolutely not!

Todd Pletcher has been brutally criticized by the media (namely Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post and of Beyer speed figure fame) for having only one winner in 30+ Derby starters and that was when Super Saver came further off the pace in 2010 to win than he had in previous races. Even if Todd Pletcher can't recall this simple fact I guarantee you that Johnny V. doesn't want to jeopardize his 10% cut of the $2MM purse by using up his horse early. Especially since his other mount option in this race was the actual morning line favorite and closer, Orb (7-2). Along with Itsmyluckyday (who I believe to have distance limitations), these two horses seem to have the best tactical speed and if they choose to rate off the pace on Saturday they can be wearing the blanket of Kroger roses (which they will begin tomorrow stitching together the 554 red roses).

Finally, while still trying to whittle down my large exotic tickets, one horse that I like more each time I scan the charts in #5 Normandy Invasion (12-1).  Not only would this guy be the patriotic choice with that special name, how wild is it that both his dam and damsire carry the name "Boston" (Boston Lady and Boston Harbor) and we are just over one week removed from the tragedies of their marathon race?! Tapit is known more as a miler sire but his speed figures are higher in his two 9 furlong races and his running style could help him last in that final furlong. I know who you Red Sox fans will be rooting for on Saturday!

Good luck!