May 7, 2014

Chrome is the new Gold

As Bill Murray (another horse racing fan) stated in Ghostbusters, "He came, he saw, he kicked their ass!"

California Chrome did what he was supposed to do "on paper" by getting a clean break, perfect stalking trip with mild fractions (some idiot analyst opined the first half would go in :44 change, when it instead went in :47.37) and spurted clear on the turn where 80% of winners already have the lead (sorry, Normandy Invasion). Based on Victor Espinoza gearing Chrome down in deep stretch and the furious rally by deep closer Commanding Curve (I did not bet the CC-CC exacta), the winning margin appeared closer than it probably was in reality. Much has been made about the slow time (both final time of 2:03.66 and closing quarter-mile over 26 seconds) being the 2nd slowest Derby running on a fast track in over 30 years. Whereas, the previous day Untapable and Rosie Napravnik damn near bested the KY Oaks stakes record with a zippy 9 furlongs in 1:48.68. But let's reserve judgement until after the Preakness, as most people had anointed ORB the 12th Triple Crown champion after his last to first flourish in last year's Derby but then missed the board in the Preakness and checked in a well-beaten 3rd in the Belmont Stakes.

There is another expression, "the bigger they come, the harder they fall."  That is certainly true of the poor rides by some of the world's greatest jockeys. This list starts with John Velazquez aboard 4th choice in the wagering and one of my top win candidates, Intense Holiday. Breaking from the 16 post, I expected him to be 3-4 wide with a post that has claimed a couple of Derby trophies in recent memory.  Rather, he pressed the pace 6 wide on the first turn to stay near the lead pack while he had plenty of room to "tuck in" had he chosen to take back.  In a 10 furlong race, being caught that wide is the kiss of death and Johnny took away any chance of his horse hitting the board in that first furlong.  Next on the list is Gary Stevens, who claimed his problem of clipping heels and severely "checking" on the first turn was due to rogue riding by Wicked Strong's jock, Rajiv Maragh.  But again, why are you wanting to be in the top tier of horses when your trainer/owner has already stated they want to take him further off the pace this race?  Laying back early and rallying late worked out much better for Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong and Dance with Fate.

That leads us to my love-hate jockey, Calvin "Boo-Boo" Borel. I started by hating him as a 16 Y-O lad for screwing me out of a pick 6 ticket at Louisiana Downs by getting blocked on the rail and rallying late to just miss the win (and my perfect pick 6 bet!). But after Arkansas Derby day 3 weeks ago when he romped home on our Sammy's Bandit by 12 lenghts, I've finally released my previous resentment towards the Hall of Fame jockey. Trainer Billy Gowan was very critical of him lagging the field to dart directly to the rail, running sideways instead of forward. Then turning for home he tried to stay on the rail until he steadied due to Vicar's In Trouble rapid retreat and then wasted ground having to swing 9 wide. Several of my esteemed colleagues expect Ride On Curlin to hit the board in Pimlico at a square price if you are so inclined to test California Chrome again. Finally, Rosie Napravnik and her mount, Vicar's In Trouble, looked uncomfortable from the break from #2 post and Vicar was very headstrong early, fighting the bit and basically was pulled up in the stretch for the last place finish. Be careful what you wish for Mr. Ramsey! On a positive note, I was impressed with my long-shot Chitu's effort after setting the pace and only fading to 9th very late in the race. If they would have skipped the Derby for next Saturday's 1 3/16th mile Preakness he could have proved more effective on that speed favoring strip. And while I would have been very wealthy had Danza won The Derby due to my $20 futures bet last November in Vegas, the toughness he displayed getting bounced around twice in the stretch and still finishing strongly may set him up nicely for the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles.

Major congratulations are in order for one of SRS' founding members. Matt Lasko's lovely bride delivered the couple's first child, a "healthy foal" on May 5th - Evelyn Anne Lasko. Taking the best qualities from Matt and Ellie, I would say this filly is a lock to be a future superstar # LASKO STRONG!!

May 3, 2014

Intense Holiday over Danza, Chitu, Candy Boy

My official pick for Derby 140 will be Intense Holiday. I expect Johnny V. to revert to coming from further off the pace with the high number of front-runners expected today. This horse reminds me of Revolutionary last year who didn't get the best trip in Kentucky but finished 3rd under Borel.  If California Chrome breaks alert and able to stalk a couple of others in the first part of the race they'll all be running for 20% 2nd place money, but the best horses certainly do not always claim the roses. 

Danza could be tough if he's able to back up his huge effort in the Ark. Derby in a 3 week turnaround.  Samraat and Candy Boy seem to be flying under the radar and could run well at a nice price.  If the wicked pace doesn't materialize, look out for Rosie on Vicar's In Trouble, who is all heart!  She's on a roll this weekend under the TwinSpires. Also, Baffert's lone entry, Chitu, looks to be coming up to this race with a solid numbers progression and if he's able to lay off the leaders early could get the jump on them turning for home.   I wish them all a safe trip most importantly! 

Best of luck with your bets,

Toss the Florida horses!

While it is true I've only had a couple of winners since I began with my official picks back in 1997 (Silver Charm), I have had much more success choosing a 10-1 range horse to toss completely from all bets (Goldencents last year, finished 17th at 8-1).  My lone miss was with Ice Box, who rallied strongly for 2nd place in the slop to Super Saver in 2010, but never threatened again in another graded stakes race.

With California Chrome being a heavy morning line favorite and clearly the best horse "on paper" and 2nd choice Hoppertunity scratching, the odds are not dispersed typical this year. IF CHROME LOSES, THIS MEANS PAYOUTS WILL BE HUGE!! So while I can't toss Danza or Wicked Strong (only other single digit odds) I will give you a pair of 15-1 horses to short, Wildcat Red and General a Rod (Florida Derby toss). Gulfstream Park has developed a worsening reputation each year for its speed-favoring track (sans Orb last year) and this pair has taken turns beating each other with very slow times aided by this bias. Wildcat Red being sired by D'wildcat is probably the least bred horse in this race to win at 10 furlongs and 'a Rod also has a similar running style as many sophomores in here with better chances to fight on for a top 4 finish (Vicar's In Trouble, California Chrome, Chitu). So short these Florida horses and use other 15, 20 and 30-1 horses on the bottom of your exotic tickets. 

Two long-shots I will be using prominently include #13 Chitu (Baffert's "other" horse) and #18 Candy Boy (hoping Gary Stevens keeps him covered up until the far turn).

Best of luck with your bets today - HAPPY DERBY DAY 2014!!!