May 23, 2016

Nyquist down, but not out...

As Jimmy Buffett (a fellow horse owner, btw) once sang -- mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for tossing Exaggerator and Mor Spirit in the KY Derby. It's truly ignorant to ever toss a legitimate closer in The Derby as you never know how the pace will turn out. Ice Box should have taught me this painful lesson years ago.  I offer a hearty congratulations to Exaggerator for not only proving clearly second best in The Derby, but for wining the Preakness Stakes convincingly.

While my top 3 picks of Creator (horrible trip 13th), Gun Runner (3rd) and Mohaymen (4th) left me (and others) shutout on Derby day, the Preakness outcome illustrated why you generally do not want to accept a heavy favorite in this triple crown series with huge payoff possibilities when the best horse does not always win. Nyquist was a convincing winner in The Derby and with his speedy style seemed a lock for the Pimlico oval. But the rogue Awesome Speed and jockey Jevian Toledo sandwiched him between Uncle Lino the first time through the stretch and again approaching the far turn and that was his undoing by the end of the 1 3/16ths race. In my opinion, the outside flanking by Toledo took more away from Nyquist than the fractions, as the 22.38, 46.56, 1.11.97 split times of the Preakness were on the whole slower than 22.58, 45.72, 1.10.40 from The Derby when Nyquist was able to spurt clear at a slightly greater distance.

I've gone from trying to beat Nyquist unsuccessfully to hoping his fever is just a minor blip and would love to see him in the Belmont Stakes starting gate where you'll likely get value odds for the first time in this triple crown series.  And a tip of the cap to both trainers O'Neill and Desormeaux for respectfully playing up this rare 3YO rivalry by showing up at the biggest races trying to prove their dominance. What a great marketing tool for racing and I'm sure the NYRA is equally appreciative.

Finally, kudos to all those in attendance at Pimlico who shattered all kinds of records in spite of the rain soaked day at Old Hilltop. I look forward to my return for next year's race to get my Preak' on!

The Belmont is shaping up as a very bettable race with a handful of serious Derby horses sitting out the Preakness to target Big Sandy as well as the Preakness top 3 finishers.

Stay tuned!

May 6, 2016

This TOSS horse may shock you - and I'm not exaggerating

Ok, so the gauntlet has been thrown to Exaggerator, sorry Desormeaux bros! I'm going big this year by tossing the clear 2nd choice in the wagering, a closing son of Curlin, coming off the most visually impressive win by any sophomore, recently bought into for a small fortune by one of the sharpest young eyes in the game Sol Kumin, and whose breeding rights purchased by the Roman fortress of WinStar Farm.  Have I lost my freaking mind?  Perhaps it was the 2nd mint julep during my Thursday "sampling" session.

Call me crazy, but the best Exaggerator will be on my tickets is 4th. Here are a few specific reasons for the knock...
1) Trainer Keith Desormeaux has stated that his charge better be last early or Kent will get an ear full. With so many other talented "dead closers," he is guaranteed to see massive traffic Saturday, unlike the 7 strung out opponents he faced in the Santa Anita Derby. After being more of a stalker type going shorter distances, they've taken back the last couple races and they have been pleased with the results. Previously, the trainer had stated he runs more like a sprinting miler, so he obviously has acknowledged concerns about the 10 furlong distance being from a Vindication mare. One easy win on the slop against overmatched foes and the tune has changed for many, but not me!

2) S-L-O-W finishing times for a closer!  Yes, the absolute times have been a notch better than other preps, as they always are with the Santa Anita strip. He was even passed back by Mor Spirit (another toss horse) in the San Felipe which is never a good sign. But consider his last furlong of SA Derby went an average :13 2/5. It was the slop, you say? Well 2 races back when he finished 3rd, his final 2.5 furlongs went in :32 1/5. EACH of these finishing times are slower than Brody's Cause, Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Mo Tom (even with the severe checking) and Majesto.  Plus, many of these other horses are used to running in larger fields and have dealt with the traffic. 8-1 versus 20-1 or more on the others?  I'll pass.

3) His only 2 victories post sprinting as a juvenile were on SEALED, muddy tracks. Even if Louisville gets some rain on Derby Day, the track will likely be harrowed and a traditional surface. Sealed tracks are night and day different and some horses do not respond. To borrow a line from Seinfeld, "His father was a mudder.... His mother was a mudder!" Unless you plan on performing a rain dance come Saturday, he may regress on the dirt. Finally, Brody's Cause outfinished him for 3rd in BC Juvenile last year at a comparable class level and may be sitting on a better race.

Having said that, if Nyquist, Exaggerator and Mor Spirit all finish in the superfecta, not only will I have blown a small fortune of my own, but I'll apologize to all Californians then leave Twitter and my blog until next March.  And ya'll know how much I like to #DerbyTalk. The loser leave town match is on!!!

Happy Oaks day to all!  Better use Oaklawn's Fantasy Stakes runner-up Taxable (another Tapit for Steve Asmussen) and I'm pulling with my heart for Rachel's daughter Rachel Valentina for Stonestreet Farm. But remember, small wagers only today so we can back up the van for our Derby score!

Best of luck to all!

May 2, 2016

Lessons from previous triple crown series...

One of the best ways to analyze this year's Derby field is to take a look back at winning horses and spotting patterns. Along those lines, I've dusted off notes from the 2013 triple crown races and a few of my top lessons learned then are jumping off the page and should be restated here.

1) Include your favorite horses rather trying to guess a pace factor (which is out of our hands). Derby 142 presents a unique challenge in that pure speed horses are limited and most of my choices are not only closers, but "from the cloud" closers!  Rather than thinking they may not get enough pace to run at and moving up horses I don't like as much, I'm sticking with the merits of each horse hoping the jockey can make needed adjustments to get the job done. Creator is my lesson learned from this category.

2) Look at key races/competition, NOT the highest Beyer speed figs to assess quality of the field. Whether you try to beat him or choose to key him on top, there is no denying that Nyquist is the CLASS of this field! To think multiple 3YO males have Beyer or Equibase speed figures greater than him is absurd. He has also beat every "key horse" angle going back to last year's BC Juvenile over Swipe and Brody's Cause. Interestingly, Brody's Cause is the next "proven" horse with his 3rd place BC effort finishing ahead of Exaggerator and others, yet his 3YO speed fig is the lowest of all major contenders. Brody is a real threat in my book! Also worth noting is Destin's two very average losses in Fair Ground's Lecomte Stakes (where a clean trip Mo Tom easy winner) and Gulfstream allowance race before reeling off two fast wins at Tampa Bay. Can he duplicate those efforts elsewhere against better?

3) Young sires (1st or 2nd crops) have great success throughout triple crown series, including Pioneerof the Nile's Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in his 2nd crop last year. This year we have a classic battle shaping up between new (Uncle Mo) and old (Tapit) sires. However, since over 60% of TC race winners of the last two decades hailed from the Mr. Prospector sire lines (mainly via Fappiano), this shapes up as much as a battle of sire power as it does for the individual horses. My vote is that Tapit finally breaks through with a Derby winner. While he comes from the Seattle Slew line, he is by an Unbridled mare which is close enough Mr. P for me!

4) Do not hold grudges against a horse, jockey or trainer.  This will be a tough one for me this year since I'm not an Uncle Mo or Repole fan (recall his disrespectful comment to other Derby owners that Uncle Mo was "five to seven lengths better than any of those horses" upon being scratched from the Derby). I'm not necessarily doubting the Uncle Mo's on distance either but Into Mischief also loaded the starting gate with his early runners, yet Vyjack, Goldencents and Vicar's in Trouble all came up short at Churchill Downs with a lot of hype. Nor am I crazy about several rides by Luis Quinonez aboard Suddenbreakingnews and other closing horses at Oaklawn this spring. Yes, this rule will surely test my patience!

5) Forgive one bad race, but not two. This was a painful lesson when Bluegrass Cat entered the Derby  at huge odds (2nd place finish) off a leg weary 4th place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes. Mohaymen would be the candidate to draw a line through the FL Derby, especially on a sticky race track. Several horses recently bounced back from a previous poor finish (Brody's Cause, SBN, Creator). Where does Mo Tom fit into this?  Were those bad races or toss races due to horrible trips? The way he's working at Churchill and with his back class, he'll be hard for me to leave off relevant spots in my exotics.  Nyquist, Gun Runner, Exaggerator, Mor Spirit and Outwork fall into the consistent category with solid runs each time they face the starter. However, some of these fail to wow with the turn of foot expected by a Derby winner. 

Hope this helps your Derby handicapping!  Final analysis will be out following post position draw, so stay tuned!