May 15, 2015

Pharoah prepares for Round 2 vs the Dynamic Duo

Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah was widely respected as the best horse leading into the Derby, although pundits questioned his heart, outside post position and need for the lead. In a sense, he has even MORE detractors following his Derby score than he did before, for different reasons (below). Firing Line and Dortmund ran well in defeat, so now the "Great One" talk has turned into the "Big Three" debate. This harkens back to the days of Triple Crown rivalries like Affirmed, Alydar, Believe It (1978), Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, Free House (1997) and Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun (2007) repeating their top 3 finish at Baltimore two weeks later. I'll go out on a limb and say a long-shot will spoil the trifecta reunion!

Knock 1: American Pharoah had a perfect stalking trip with no dirt kickback.
Response: He was parked wide on both turns, which would translate to an additional 3-4 length winning margin and better finishing time. The perfect trips were actually those of the second and third place finishers, who couldn't finish him.

Knock 2: Victor had to use his whip far too much based on his position and the slow fractions.
Response: Pharoah's best weapon is his high cruising speed -- the ability to run his foes "off their feet" and keep going. He was compromised by the dawdling pace such that he won by running down an opponent for the first time. My guess is that Baffert tells Victor "GO" from the opening bell.

Knock 3: The time of the race and final fractions were slow.
Response: True, but this is more of a knock on Dortmund and Firing Line for not being able to hold him off, especially with Pharoah running sideways into the stretch while only Frosted made up any ground through the stretch.

Knock 4: Prior to Derby- he's not battle tested. Now- his stern Derby test probably took too much out of him.
Response:  Well, which is it?! Dortmund has had 7 tough races without even a training break since his Nov. 2 maiden race and Firing Line 6 races dating back to Oct. 25, also w/out a break. Pharoah had 5 1/2 MONTHS off prior to his 3YO campaign.  You tell me who the fresh horse is.

Obviously, my top pick (and Triple Crown hope) remains American Pharoah!  But I think Divining Rod is sitting on a big one and could steal the show. While Firing Line or Dortmund should round out the trifecta, I'll also have long-shot Bodhisattva in my 3rd-4th positions for sentimental reasons.  His dam, Dr. Cheryl P., leapt off the page at me when I recognized that name. Surely, this couldn't be the same mare that dropped a non-descript Louisiana bred foal that I had an ownership stake in a couple years ago named Byappointmentonly? Come to find out, that's one and the same! What drew me to this filly was that her 2nd dam produced juvenile champion Wilko about a decade ago.  Typical of my racing luck, I was a day late and a dollar (errr... horse) short!

May 3, 2015

American Pharoah leads California sweep of Derby 141

To all the handicappers who went with Dortmund because Pharoah wasn't "battle tested," he dang sure had to grind in that last sixteenth to wear down an ultra game Firing Line.  Like a tweet from last night stated, Victor Espinoza landed more right hands than Mayweather - Pacquiao combined! It was a great feeling to hit all exotic bets multiple times thanks to Firing Line's effort to fight on for second. What a gutsy little colt who runs with his head low, giving him an efficient stride that counters the lack of stamina in his breeding line. The closing quarter mile and final furlong were run shockingly slow to stop the clock in 2:03, but final times won't be relevant if Pharoah becomes the 12th triple crown winner we so desperately seek. Chalk another Derby win up for the Fappiano - Unbridled sire line!

Dortmund had absolutely no excuses as he set the slowest fractions to date, wasn't hounded on the front end (thanks to Materiality being left at the gate) and saved ground the entire way. This proves how difficult it is to win the Derby on the lead, a lesson I need reminding of from time to time (see my Verrazano pick 2 years back). Further, this result proves that favorites still do win The Derby (3 in a row) with a fair break and the best horses in this Derby finished as such. Materiality certainly was compromised and still made a great late run to prove this son of Afleet Alex could be dangerous in the Belmont sitting off Pharoah's hip for a change. Upstart ran very poorly while just moderately wide into the first turn but had mucho dirt caked on his face after just a few furlongs and may have simply checked out. Carpe Diem laid an egg - another in a long line of Pletcher horses at Churchill Downs. Slightly cramped early, but then had a dream trip saving ground fourth on the inside and Johnny V had no gas under him turning for home. Kudos to Danzig Moon as the only long shot to threaten, being 4th-5th all the way around the track. If he could have held onto fourth from Frosted I would really be grinning this morning with my winning tickets! 

One of our racing stable mantras is "live in the moment" and while I loved this outcome, it is human nature to think ahead of what might be. This horse I've come to really admire getting to see up close at Oaklawn Park did what I knew he could. But now I want more. There will be plenty of critics after yesterday's victory but I can't blame people since I was "that guy" last year against California Chrome. But to American Pharoah, a job well done and I pray you stay healthy for "round two" in Baltimore in 13 days. And after that, who knows, I just may happen to be in New York a few weeks later for a little horse race going on there... 👑

May 2, 2015

Derby Day picks and toss horse

Well it should come as no surprise that I will stick with American Pharoah as my official Derby pick after trying to beat the winning favorites Orb and Chrome the last two runnings.  I think Carpe Diem is the possible spoiler and should have versatility to be close or make a late move depending on the break. And I hope Upstart can return with his best race to complete my trifecta. In addition, my toss horse will be Materiality - another Pletcher lightly raced speed horse who crawled home in his Florida Derby score after having things all his own way.  My criteria for a toss horse is top 5 odds that I try to exclude from all tickets and only Ice Box has burned me over the last 15 years.

The horse I am worried about is Frosted, who I'm only including near the bottom of my super tickets. If the throat procedure prior to his last race truly made all the difference he should be right there late. But trainers have a tendency to lay blame too much on health issues rather than admitting their horse's shortcomings. Frosted's last 3 furlongs in the Wood were the fastest of all prep winners followed by Int'l Star, Carpe Diem, then American Pharoah (under wraps), Firing Line, and finally Dortmund (13:05 final furlong) and Materiality.

I was very bummed when I learned of my long shot pick El Kabeir being scratched yesterday (sorry Borel), but then Lovely Maria won and got my betting budget kickstarted! Best of luck with your Derby strategy and enjoy the greatest two minutes in sports!

May 1, 2015

Lilies for the Fillies - Stellar Wind & Oceanwave

What a delightful Friday morning, both here in Dallas as well as in sunny Louisville. The ladies own the day as Friday is known as "Louisville's Day at the Downs" where many locals will visit the race track today, but avoid the madness that is Derby Day. The sad part of Derby weekend is that many top stakes races get overlooked, but from a betting perspective I can't blame people for focusing on the massive payouts of the larger Derby and Oaks fields.

This year's Oaks edition seems to be a little more wide open than The Derby with regards to betting favoritism. Stellar Wind from the west coast is slightly favored at 7/2 over east coast heroine Condo Commando (kick-ass name!) 9/2 and Gulfstream Park (Florida) Oaks winner Birdatthewire 4/1. I like Victor Espinoza's chances to pull off the rare Oaks-Derby double with the stout daughter of Curlin - Stellar Wind.  I will also include two time Oaks winning owner Brereton Jones' Lovely Maria in my tickets as she seems to be improving at the right time when taking the Ashland Stakes. We all know Larry Jones has a special touch with his fillies. #10 Oceanwave (Harlan's Holiday) should be running well late after a couple of rough trips at Oaklawn (fanned 6 wide while just missing in the Fantasy Stakes) and could hit the board at a juicy 13-1. One of my stable's fillies faced Oceanwave in her first Oaklawn start where she weaved through the stretch (avoiding our Cherries backing up in the drive!) and I knew that day this well bred filly could be something special.

I'm also close to rounding out my trifecta and superfecta Kentucky Derby tickets and the only way to play an affordable ticket is to leave out some good horses, for me that appears to be Materiality, Mubtaahij and Frosted.  I'll have to keep chewing on this for a while before I'm able to pull the trigger.  Hope your mint julep syrup is coming together nicely - be sure to secure that mint today before the stores run out!  Best of luck to all today, especially hoping these fillies run their best and come back safe.