Pegasus World Cup capsule look, selections

For this race, minted as the new richest race in the world, supplanting the Dubai World Cup, I am proud to offer thoughts on each horse.  I am ignoring the also-eligible horses for purposes of my handicapping and publishing this post.   I will edit this blog post should scratches or changes occur.

ARROGATE:  5 wins and a 3rd lifetime, begins his 4YO campaign as one of two who are sharing the biggest of limelights.  Forged lifetime best 124 Brisnet 2 races back, winning the Travers by 13 lengths. I do not see him under influence of that race.  Followed up with a 115 in the Breeders Cup Classic.  Owns 2 prior wins 1st race after layoff. No doubting his speed ability! Neither jockey Smith nor trainer Baffert have participated in the current meet. My odds: None. No chance.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF has a long 45 race history, with an 8-6-10 record. Ran at Dubai in 2015 and all of spring 2016. Since then, 5th in the Fayette at Keeneland, and 9th in the Clark at Churchill. Best track speed of this field, 104.  4 nice works at Gulfstream since the Clark, 3 of them very fast.  My odds: 18-1, much better than the ML odds of 50-1.  Overlay.

NEOLITHIC has a series of allowance races under his belt, and a 2nd place finish in the Discovery at Aqueduct in November. Forged new lifetime best, small new top of 102 last time out. Prior win stretching out in distance. Prior win gaining at least 4 lbs. Gets John R Velazquez back in the saddle. My odds: 18-1, not well enough to be an overlay.
NOBLE BIRD won last year’s Fayette and Pimlico Special.  Best track speed for 9 furlongs, 114 Brisnet. achieved in the Fayette. Bounced to 92 last time out in the Clark.  Only pure sprinter in the field.  My odds: 5-1, an overlay.
WAR STORY won last month’s Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct, with small new top of 105. In the very unlikely event of rain, this horse would have the best mud numbers.  No other real evidence he can win.   My odds: No chance.

WAR ENVOY also with small new top last out, a 91, in an optional claimer 11/26 at Del Mar. Only deep closer in the field. Should the pace collapse, his chance certainly improve. My odds: 18-1. Overlay.

SHAMAN GHOST won last year’s Woodward and Brooklyn, and 2015’s Queen Plate and Marine, both at Woodbine.
2 prior wins first after layoff. Forged lifetime best of 105 last out in the Clark,bumpy start and all.  My odds: 9-1. Overlay.

SEMPER FORTIS hasn’t done too well class-wise, tho did win last year’s Los Alamitos Derby (Grade 2). Recovered in pace in the Zia Park Derby 2 races back on November, 101 Brisnet, his lifetime best.   My odds: 7-1.  Overlay.

KEEN ICE: The 2015 Travers winner hasn’t won since then.  Still, he put up a small new top of 103 2 races back in the Breeders Cup Classic.  My odds: 18-1.

BREAKING LUCKY won the Seagram Cup at Woodbine last August. Best AWD numbers of the field (Lookin At Lucky/Shooting Party, by Sky Classic). Big spike to 109 last out, finishing 2nd in the Clark. Connections have not yet appeared in the meet, and he’s a big bounce risk. My odds: 18-1.  Avoid.

ERAGON has solidly raced at the top level in Argentina and makes his US debut.  One prior win following layoff. 2 shipping wins.  Gets 5 lb weight break for not receiving Lasix.  Waiting the longest of these to stretch out.  My odds: 18-1. Overlay.

CALIFORNIA CHROME makes his final start today.  Forged lifetime best 115 in last year’s Breeders Cup Classic, then bounced to 102 in the Winter Challenge last month. This early-presser runner has best tactical speed of the field. Last 3 2nd call numbers: 90, 122, 124. Best turn time and work tab of the field.   My odds: 4-1.

My top 3: Shaman Ghost, Noble Bird, California Chrome, Semper Fortis.

On superhorses…and supershooters

In this post, I want to explore California Chrome owner Steve Coburn’s idea about a dedicated Triple Crown series that eliminates the presence of horses just running 1 or 2 legs of the series. I also muse about the very idea of the ‘superhorse’, which is what we all want, anyway, right?
In light of the heated remarks on NBC, these in the immediate aftermath of the race one has to wonder about the context. Steve had probably never been in the limelight before, or to this level of prominence, and maybe his comments were well-meant toward his competition, but the mic remained in his face, and maybe he simply felt he was getting his money’s worth on national TV and certainly across the Internet, feeling he was never going to get this close to a mythical presence in racing history. Along those lines, I feel NBC did a disservice by not pulling away from his thoroughly emotional presence.
So what does Coburn want? And what do we want as fans?
We want a superhorse, one that will be talked about as a household word, much like Native Dancer, Seabiscuit and Secretariat were in the past; a horse who transcends imagination, more than a series of races. Younger fans will not remember the 3 Triple Crown winners of the 70s, and likely will not understand why the circumstances were in place for these wins to happen. The more serious fans, the handicappers, do understand why, and yet will not wager much on those heavy favorites, rather using the big favorites with Tonalist, or the horses who seem to have the stamina along with the speed and the right trip, and maybe the right amount of luck, knowing that 12 furlongs is such a guessing game in this modern age of racing. The industry, well, simply wants to rope the fans in, get them to wager, have fun while doing so, educate them fairly on the game, and hype the marquee horses. They care most about getting fans into the track, even if there is no classic race on the line. So there is polarity here, the supply and demand between the fans and industry, with the handicappers somewhere in between, all looking to the great places of power and might, and to those questionably bred equines.
Without having a sense of the strength of breeding, or lack of it, we are duped to believe that a Triple Crown win can be acheived in our generation of fans, let alone lifetimes. These 3 races were established in a time when racing in routes along the lines of 12 furlongs plus were much more commonplace, along with the fact that there weren’t always as many as 20 horses in the Derby, or even double digit fields in the other Crown races. It can be argued that, before the influential sire Native Dancer came along, there were so many more horses bred for stamina, on dirt, capable of winning these important races, and run more often, and win more often. I am not at all sure just when the thought process changed, but we are seeing too often horses that are retired before age 4 to the breeding shed after a relatively decent career. Or there are horses who are gelded, and we’ll never know to some degree whether Forego, Funny Cide, or John Henry would have passed on some amazing gene.
We hang on to these faded old calendars in horse racing in thinking the old ways will translate to an instant superhorse and not understand why the horse lost, except that he/she lost and, well, time to turn on the NBA playoff game. Hearing sports talk this week, I pick up a strong defeatist vibe from hosts among the very casual of equine fans. This is sad, and there has to be more education to have those people understand why it is so difficult to win a racing series like this. If we look at the current stakes calendar, as of this typing there are under 10 races left in 2014 contested on dirt that are even 10 furlongs in length. One is the Canadian Derby at Hastings, another is the Birdstone at Saratoga. The others take place at relatively minor tracks. During the year there are many other races of longer length, but they all take place in Europe or Japan, and often on turf.
Maybe what the Triple Crown needs is the presence of those horses running outside North America, to make these races equal the might and the pull of the Dubai World Cup, which does bring the best of the best worldwide. This is an undeniable fact. Our American races should certainly attract outsiders on the distance alone, yet few foreign horses have tried at all.
What the sport also should educate fans on is the importance of summer racing, inbetween the Derby Trail and the series of Breeders Cup preps. All of those baby races at all those minor tracks such as Pleasonton, Remington, Emerald Downs, Thistledown, Monmouth, and so forth. The love has to be cultivated and educated from these minor tracks and others to keep this sport even somewhat relevant compared to others.
We can only hope that stamina can be exploited more with each annual foal crop and not focus so much on speed. The number of foals may make it easier or harder for producing a superhorse, but I believe the prime focus is really about providing the best educated, informed guess as to what type of horse can handle running routes in an expedient timeframe like his or her pedigree. I stress this point to mean distance without regard to surface.
To sum up: Educate the fans and the handicappers better on breeding. Put more importance on the smaller, takeout-friendly tracks that care about the fans and encourage the running of longer distance races for 2YO and 3YO horses, along with opportunities there overall for older horses. I’d love to see a Triple Crown for older horses. I want the Triple Crown races to attract more horses that run on other continents. If we do not do this, the Triple Crown will remain a rusted relic. And if the pressures of delivering a better fan experience continue to mount, (as it has this year for Churchill Downs) and fans and handicappers withhold their virtual and physical wallets, it can irreparably damage the sanctivity of the big race there and maybe the Triple Crown itself.

The issue of changing the Triple Crown is rather thorny. I am wont to believe that breeding has the main impact on whether or not it will happen in any one year. Again, I’m not entirely sure when things changed for worse, but it seems we’re reaching at best to have a horse accomplish in the same manner than it was done in the 70’s or even in the 40s with smaller fields and fewer shooters. It’s been 36 years now. If we get to the 50-year mark and things do not change, then someone, probably some people who sit on the boards of NYRA, the Louisville Jockey Club, or the Maryland Jockey Club will stand up, and speak up and urge change. So what are the possible changes?
Distance: The distances are sacrosanct but they have changed in prior years nearly 100 years ago. Would it be sacreligious to move the Belmont to 10 furlongs, in line with the longest stakes races American racing offers? Yes, most likely. But, given the short time frame to make history, it’s impossible nowadays to get a horse to succeed in the Belmont.
Time: Does it make sense to space out the 3 races? Yes it does. It affects workout and travel plans, and certainly more time for rest and strategy. My ideal situation is to set up the First Saturdays in May, June, July. for the races.
The Coburn Idea: Limit the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to horses running in the Kentucky Derby. No new shooters.
I could only think of improving on this by involving all horses who were nominated and made the final list of 24 by the current point system (or, selfilshly, using my Enlightened Derby/Oaks Trail system) including also-eligibles. If I really had my druthers, I’d max the Derby at 14 runners, in line with the maximum number of runners in American racing. I’m honestly OK with Coburn’s idea, even if he says the grapes are sour. Fewer horses to challenge in the Belmont then. It would be like old times. Would it result in less nominations to the Derby, and therefore the series? Maybe so. Would that encourage better breeding, better for stamina? Undoubtedly. Or, should that read “Decidedly” (winner of the 1962 Derby)?
In the chart linked below I listed every shooter I could find that entered the Preakness and/or Belmont, and those who skipped 1 or 2 jewels. So there are 3 lists, and within, I list those who won and placed in the top 4 by name and by circumstance. I used data from and to put these together. I used data going back to 1940 but did the math for all races going back to 1957. I could not locate data for several races (mainly the Preakness) prior to 1957. I’d welcome input on this to make this study more legitimate.


The critical stats: Of 273 horses who didn’t run in the Derby (nearly 5 per race), but ran the other two legs, 60 got into the top 4, and 15 won the Preakness. This includes 29 horses who would go on to run in the Belmont, where 14 placed in the top 4, and 3 won (Celtic Ash, Jaipur, Touch Gold). Of those who skipped just the Preakness, there were 111 of those horses (2 per race). 46 got into the top 4 in the Belmont, and 10 won out. The Belmont had 244 new shooters over the 58 races researched (4 per race), with 69 in the top 4, and 17 winners. Including the double entries (the 29), there were 928 new shooters in the Preakness and Belmont in the 116 races, a total of 8 per race. 187 earned a check (40%), and 39 won a race,(33% wins)
In 7 of those years, 2 new shooters won 2 jewels.
For a stat that would give Coburn ease, here’s this: in 2001, new shooters went 0-for-11 in placing in the top 4 in the Preakness or Belmont. In 1995 there were 15 new shooters, all failed to win out. The most new shooters in one year: 21, in 1983, with winners Caveat and Deputed Testimony. The most with a Triple Crown actually on the line: 19, as Da’Tara won in 2008 as a new shooter himself.
The fewest in any year: 3, in 1988. This might have been reactionary as the Triple Crown financial bonus was in its 2nd year of operation, and I do think it left its impact during its 19 year run. Coastal was one of just 4 new shooters in 1979, winning the Belmont that year, for a strike rate of 25%, best year of the study. Along those lines, 7 new shooters of a possible 8 filled the top 4 in the Preakness and Belmont in 1982.
With a Triple Crown on the line, Tonalist became the 8th new shooter since 1957 to win the Belmont and not race in the other 2 jewels. The other 7: Cavan, Stage Door Johnny, Coastal, Summing, Sarava, and Da’Tara. Among other Belmont upsets involving new shooters: Lemon Drop Kid, Empire Maker and Birdstone skipped the Preakness, and Touch Gold skipped the Derby
There’s more to study here but I’ll leave it for you to read and reminisce.

2014 Belmont Stakes prediction

In my heart of hearts, I do want to see a Triple Crown superhorse It will be something somehat beneficial for the sport, tho horse racing can really improve when the calendar of races outside the Derby Trail and the Breeders Cup gani larger importance.
Let’s go horse by horse for the Belmont:

MEDAL COUNT: Winner of the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland. Ran 3 consecutive lifetime tops in the Fountain Of Youth, Transylvania and Blue Grass Stakes, then a near pair-up in the Kentucky Derby. Actually it’s a triple up…running 94 to 97 the last 3 races, above an 89 in the Fountain Of Youth. This horse is outclassed outside of pace progression. My odds: worse than 14-1. No shot.

CALIFORNIA CHROME shares rank of best class.No surprise, winnning the Santa Anita Derby and 2/3 of the Triple Crown. He has 2 wins from an inside post…same trips as he had in the KY Derby and Belmont. I can’t factor him as an absolute lock because there are other horses that fit into better categories but he obviously must be factored. 7-1. Value pick.
MATTERHORN won a 75k maiden race in first start, was 4th in the Peter Pan with a new lifetime best far beyond his lone 2YO start. This is one horse whom I ranked as having strong pedigree that matches the chef-de-race idea for winners at Belmont. Sire is Tapit, who had won the Laurel Futurity and the Wood Memorial in 2003. Dam is multiple stakes winner Winter Garden. ROI angle: Joe Bravo has paired up in 42 races with Todd Pletcher in last 60 days, with 42% wins, 63% in the money, for return of + 4.14. 13-1. Dark horse.
COMMANDING CURVE hasn’t won anything outside of his maiden win in his 4th lifetime start. Forged lifetime best of 98 in the Lousiana Derby, and 101 in the Kentucky Derby in last two race. Could represent a bounce today. Odds: Worse than 14-1. No shot.

RIDE ON CURLIN lacks class of field…winning simply a 50k allowance in 3YO debut, but has contended in 4 Graded races since. This is the one horse in the field who is only now progressing past his 2YO best. His first race, back in July of 2013, was a 30k maiden win, with a dazzling 102 Brisnet. Only in the Preakness did he do any better, a 103. This indicates he can do even better today. Last 4 races have ranged from 96 to 103. Sure, he’s a closer but he’ll truly find his stride today. 4-1. Contender.

MATUSZAK also has just won his first race at the maiden level and managed to compete in some minor stakes events at mid-major tracks. He is also a deep closer, dependent on one big run and I feel he will get that run. Should he get the right trip, his stretch kick will dominate this field. Best work tab of the field too: 5 works at Belmont, 2 of those with a bullet. 3-1. Contender.

SAMRAAT after winning first 5 lifetime was second in the Wood Memorial, 5th in the KY Derby. I don’t see a single variable that mentions him at all. Worse than 14-1. No shot.

COMMISSIONER won just twice but nothing of any class. 2nd in the Peter Pan on this track. Best jockey/trainer win % combo of the field (Castellano, 22%; Pletcher, 27%). Ilke that he spiked to a 102 Brisnet in the Peter Pan, tho he can bounce from that. Also, both of his wins are from a middle post, right where he is now. 6-1. Value horse.

WICKED STRONG won the Wood Memorial, 4th in the KY Derby. This is the other horse who has won at Grade 1. ROI angle: James Jerkens has saddled 27% winners out of 44 races, 55% in the money, for return of +2.12. Odds: 11-1. Dark horse.

GENERAL A ROD won the Gulfstream Park Derby, ungraded back on New Year’s Day, no wins since, tho had competed well at the Florida tracks. None of my variables rank him with any edge here today. Worse than 14-1. No shot.

TONALIST may be seen as the big threat to Chrome’s Triple Crown shot. 4th in his maiden debut with an 85, then maiden breaker of 93, 2nd in an optional claimer at 75k, also with a 93, then a big win in the Peter Pan with a 107 score. Best average winning distance from pedigree (Tapit out of Pulpit, and Settling Mist out of Derby/Preakness winner Pleasant Colony). The 107 is the best Belmont performance of the field. Having forged that lifetime best, he can bounce but cannot be ruled out. Also shows the best trip among this field coming in. Odds: 6-1. Contender.

So, with some controversy, here’s my top 5:
6 Matuszak
5 Ride On Curlin
11 Tonalist
8 Commissioner
2 California Chrome.

Busy day for me today….handicapping the races at Pimlico and major races at Belmont today for 4th leg of a contest series. I’ve already received 2 entries to a grand prize drawing where the top 2 winners receive prizes tied into Maryland Millions Day in October. Also, I’m still in the Survival At The Shore contest at Monmouth Park, plus the meet-long contest at Emerald Downs.  

2014 Kentucky Derby analysis

Lifted from my very own TwinSpires account, here’s a look at my Derby Future Wagers for 2014:
$52 wagered
2014-03-29 14:51:36 Bet Derby Future Wager 4 Exacta $1.00 5+15+22/24 $3.00  
2014-03-29 14:51:20 Bet Derby Future Wager 4 Exacta $1.00 24/5+15+22 $3.00  
2014-03-29 14:51:00 Bet Derby Future Wager 4 Exacta $1.00 22/5+15 $2.00  
2014-03-29 14:50:47 Bet Derby Future Wager 4 Exacta $1.00 15/5+22 $2.00  
2014-03-29 14:50:28 Bet Derby Future Wager 4 Exacta $1.00 5/15+22 $2.00  
2014-03-29 14:50:06 Bet Derby Future Wager 4 Win $2.00 BX 5+15+22 $6.00  
2014-03-01 13:08:30 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Exacta $1.00 19/9+18 $2.00  
2014-03-01 13:07:56 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Exacta $1.00 18/9+19 $2.00  
2014-03-01 13:07:25 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Exacta $1.00 9/18+19 $2.00  
2014-03-01 13:04:34 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Exacta $1.00 9+18+19/24 $3.00  
2014-03-01 13:04:17 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Exacta $1.00 24/9+18+19 $3.00  
2014-03-01 13:03:47 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 BX 9+18+19 $6.00  
2014-02-08 14:55:23 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Win $2.00 BX 1+19+21 $6.00  
2013-11-30 10:48:19 Bet Derby Future Wager 1 Win $2.00 BX 2+9+15+19+21 $10.00

2013: $31 wagered, $139 won
2013-05-04 15:58:51 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Exacta $1.00 11/1+12+24 $3.00 $103.50
2013-05-04 15:58:51 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Win $2.00 BX 1+11+12+24 $8.00 $26.20
2013-03-03 14:47:15 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Exacta $1.00 11/1+12+24 $3.00  
2013-03-03 14:45:53 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Exacta $1.00 12/1+11+24 $3.00  
2013-03-03 14:45:26 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Exacta $1.00 1/11+12+24 $3.00  
2013-03-03 14:44:28 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Exacta $1.00 24/1+11+12 $3.00  
2013-03-03 14:43:00 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Win $2.00 BX 1+11+12+24 $8.00
2012: $22 wagered, $46 won
2012-05-05 12:14:55 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Win $2.00 12 $0.00 $46.20
2012-04-01 14:51:41 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 21 $2.00  
2012-04-01 14:51:34 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 20 $2.00  
2012-04-01 14:51:23 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 16 $2.00  
2012-04-01 14:51:16 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 4 $2.00  
2012-03-04 12:14:55 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Win $2.00 12 $2.00  
2012-03-04 09:19:16 Bet Derby Future Wager 2 Win $2.00 5+6+10 $6.00  
2012-02-12 08:59:31 Bet Derby Future Wager 1 Win $2.00 4+12+21 $6.00
2011: $6 wagered, $64 won
2011-05-07 14:40:37 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 1+8+9 $0.00 $64.60
2011-04-03 14:40:37 Bet Derby Future Wager 3 Win $2.00 1+8+9 $6.00

total of 91$ wagered in the pool, $249 won.

There’s your proof that I can spot a Derby winner a few calendar pages out.


From Derby pool 2:
Tapiture 38-1 win

Derby Pool 3:
Tapiture 17-1
Field 3-1.
I have these live horses from that field over and under Tapiture in exactas:
Ride On Curlin
We Miss Artie
Derby Pool 4:
California Chrome 9-1
We Miss Artie 36-1
I have the field at 5-1 over and under these in exactas.
Live from the field:
Commanding Curve
Medal Count
Wicked Strong

That covers 9 horses of the 19 running on Saturday. Now let’s go horse-for-horse.

VICAR”S IN TROUBLE…surely is. You knew it from the boos when he got the post position draw. Winner of two graded races down at Fair Grounds. One of two horses have outstanding progression in pace overall. After layoff he broke maiden with a 103 Brisnet score, then ran lower when being introduced to Graded and 3YO horses in next 2 races, then forged a new top with a 104 in the LA Derby. Never mind that he surged from 92 in winning that race. For this race, more evidence is required he’ll win. For my Enlightened Derby Trail (more on this in a prior post), he is definitely the best from the Gulf Coast tracks. But for this race, he has an outside chance at best.

HARRY’S HOLIDAY won an ungraded stakes event at Turf Paradise, and that’s about it, really. Did finish 2nd in the Spiral. One of 2 horses whose Brisnet took a dive. He went from 93 to 67 in the Blue Grass. Generally I’d call for a bounce-back. But I don’t see it. See, he’s never run a dirt route. His last 4 have been on the all-weather. Too much to adjust too. Despite great representation of horses racing in Kentucky, I suggest throwing this one out. I’ve stated on Twitter (@idealisticstats) in response to @Danonymousman’s query that this is the horse most likely to finish last.

UNCLE SIGH is the big NY hopeful, running only at Aqueduct until now. After winning vs statebreds, he’s finished 2nd twice in Graded events. ROI angle: Irad Ortiz Jr has worked for Gary Contessa in 4 races in the last 60. They have 1 win, 2 in the $ for return of +3.20. Beyond that accomplishment, nothing to suggest he can win now. Throw out.
DANZA in the money in all 4 lifetime starts, and a win in the Arkansas Derby. There’s reason enough to give him the dark horse label, as bettors may overlook the Ark Derby effort. One of 6 horses to win at the top Graded level. ROI angle: Joe Bravo has worked with Todd Pletcher 8 times in the last 60 days. Result was 3 wins, 5 in the money, for a return of $10.41. This also factors in Danza’s 20-1 score in the Arkansas Derby. In pace, he has alternating peak/valley system in his 4 races. Going from 87 to 104 in speed, I am choosing to believe he will bounce from this. Also: He’s never been in a field larger than 8 horses. Doesn’t belong in here but of course, the performance did get him here. Dark horse at best.

CALIFORNIA CHROME, everyone’s favorite it seems, has run since last April, all of the runs on the West Coast. (like, dude,where else, right?). Wins in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby in last 2. Pace progression is the key for him. After layoff in early December, he won an ungraded stakes race at Betfair Hollywood Park with a 101 Brisnet, then bounced with a 94 after, then matching and exceeding his lifetime best in the San Felipe in March, and then further with a 106 last time. He’s been built into a new level of consistency especially with Espinoza aboard. Contender.

SAMRAAT , based in NY, only won his first 5 races including the Gotham and Withers, and was 2nd in the Wood Memorial. I’ve rated this stalker as the speed horse of the field. 2nd call numbers from his last 3: 118, 101, 107. Contender.
WE MISS ARTIE won the Spiral and the Breeders Cup Futurity. He rated for me as having the top matching chef-de-race numbers for a winner at Churchill. If you read my Oaks post, you’ll see how I came to that decision. Artie Schiller by El Prado and Hidden Light was a multiple stakes winner but never part of the Triple Crown trail like his daddy was.. His progeny have been quite successful, and We Miss Artie, financially is one of his top 3 progeny. Dam is Athena’s Gift, out of Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus scored 2 wins of 9 races, nothing significant of a career but did earn $121k. We Miss Artie has much of the inherent quality to win this race but that’s all I have to go on to consider him.. Dark horse.
GENERAL A ROD won the Gulfstream Park Derby in February, always in the money in 5 starts. He peaked in February with a 100 Brisnet in the Fountain of Youth, part of a triple-up in pace numbers. Doesn’t figure into any variable I studied, and was eliminated in my Enlightened Derby Trail. Throw out.
VINCEREMOS has a win in the SF Davis, and was last in the Blue Grass last month. The meritorious value of the point system is why he’s here, scoring relatively low for me. With the ‘off’-pace race and the fact he ran slower on the all-weather in the Blue Grass a factor, there’s evidence of a bounceback. But there’s not enough evidence of a strong recovery to his 92-93 pace in the Graded events. Throw out.
WILDCAT RED is a great example of a horse who is set to win now. This horse truly represents Florida. 1st or 2nd in all 7 races, with wins in the Fountain Of Youth and the Hutcheson. All racing and training done at Gulfstream. Historically, per my math, based on the current Derby preps, winners of the Florida Derby have won more Kentucky Derbies than other preps, based on percentage. ROI angle: Jose Garoffalo has raced 11 horses this year in graded events. The results: 3 wins, 4 in the money for an ROI of 11.45. Also, he has raced 13 shippers this year. 2 wins, 3 in the money, for a 2.78 return. But here’s what sells me: This sprinter commanded speed well in the 9 furlong Florida Derby, similar to his prior win in the Fountain Of Youth. I love sprinters and closers who have great route trips. He’s also managed 2 prior wins from a middle post. Contender.

DANCE WITH FATE has raced in different racing locales and has largely been successful, with a win in the Blue Grass last out at 6-1. Another horse who has some of the built-in makeup of a winner. He has had repeated success in a middle post. It was only in the Blue Grass that he rated faster than his 2YO best. That effort, a 99 Brisnet is his best by a wide margin. Bounce potential, therefore is strong. And consider this: No races on dirt since turning 3, never mind that he already ran 2 dirt routes with mixed results. Dark horse.

CHITU wasn’t part of my EDT, as he didn’t race in any of my Derby preps for my version of the Trail. What am I missing? A win in the Sunland Derby. 1st or 2nd in every call point in his 4 races. Martin Garcia at the helm. Set new tops in both 3YO starts. Yes he could bounce from his 103 in the Sunland. But did you see how he’s been working? 4 works, 2 at Churchill, 1 nearly a bullet (2nd best of 46). Contender.

MEDAL COUNT’s place here was cemented with a 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass. Won the Transylvania Stakes before that. Pace has progressed well for him at 3, with modest new tops set, and little to no risk of bounce. Best average winning distance from his pedigree in the field. His sire was the world-class Dynaformer, who passed on great stamina. Damsire Unbridled’s Song had won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial along with the BC Juvenile. Honestly I don’t factor him well in comparison to this field. Dark horse.
TAPITURE, as stated earlier, is a horse I really liked earlier in the Derby Trail. In the money in his first 6 starts, then 4th in the Arkansas Derby. Ricardo Santana Jr. returns in the saddle. This to me is the horse who is ‘used’ to the Churchill Downs experience. Not to suggest it’s a home track for him, but see his numbers: 3rd in the Iroquois, 3rd in a maiden race setting a 91 Brisnet mark, then breaking maiden in the Kentucky Jockey Club with a 95. Progressed slightly forward with scores of 96 and 99. Can’t dislike that at all. Can he win today? It’s doubtful, as he faces greater competition here. But he does belong, as a dark horse.
INTENSE HOLIDAY forged a lifetime best in his win in the Risen Star, then a 100 in the LA Derby. The pair-up of number does represent a future regression. Is that future today? Probably so. Despite running in Graded company since October, he also faces better competition here and he doesn’t dominate any variable for me. Throw out.

COMMANDING CURVE was the best of the rest of the horses in my EDT. The 3rd place finish in the LA Derby, with a 98 lifetime best, isn’t enough for me, but I was intrigued. Running at Fair Grounds at 3, he’s a different horse but the Kentucky Derby will truly prove his worth. Going in, I can find nothing to suggest he will succeed here. Throw out.

CANDY BOY tripled up in Brisnet scores, 94 to 97, above an 88 while graduating from maiden status. Has a win in the RB Lewis, 3rd by a wide margin in the Santa Anita Derby. Signs point to a pronounced bounce for the West Coast stalking horse. Throw out.
RIDE ON CURLIN is one of a few horses here who is recovering in pace, tho he’s in a bit of a lower threshold compared to others and might bounce still. Ran a 90 Brisnet off layoff debuting at 3, then a drop to 87 in the Southwest, then a pair up of 98 and 99 scores. All this below his lifetime mark of 102 back in July. Doesn’t have the class and unlikely to keep pace, literally. Throw out.

WICKED STRONG did the classic NY/FL/NY shuffle in his career thus far. Winner of the Wood Memorial. ROI angles: Rajiv Maragh has 2 wins in 2 races with trainer Jim Jerkens in the last 60 days, for a return of 11.10. That, of course, includes the Wood Memorial at 9-1. Also: Jerkens has a good record in 2014: 8 wins and 18 in the money from 32 starts, for a return of 2.47. Exceeded his 2YO best 2 races back in an optional claimer at Gulfstream, then surged to a 103 Brisnet last out. A tough ask to duplicate that number. Outside contender at best.

My selections for this year’s Derby:
1st: 10 Wildcat Red
2nd: 6 Samraat
3rd: 13 Chitu
4th: 5 California Chrome

This is the one race of the year I’ll go 4 deep to consider any horses in wins and exactas. I’ll play wins on any of these 4 if the odds are worse than 5-1 today, AND if I have wagered them in the future pool and the odds are worse than what I paid for them.
So I have 11 of the 19 horses involved in some tickets. That gives me enough confidence to believe I’ll score on Derby Day itself along with another profitable Future Wager experience.

PS: I did profit in the Oaks Future Wager. Initially, for whatever reason, I thought I had lost out with Untapable winning. But I had the win and the exacta from the pool. My Miss Sophia was a field horse in the pool and I had Untapable as one of my 3 straight win choices. I used the field over and under her. Wagered $24, earned $36.


Who still belongs on the 2014 Kentucky Derby Trail?

I’m forgetting where I first read the quote, but it was definitely in a book referencing the intracacies of handicapping. In describing the morning-line, the suggestion was made that the track linemaker gives every horse a certain place to weigh them out individually so that each horse, theoretically would finish in a dead-heat with each other.
The same comparison should be made of the Kentucky Derby race and the Derby Trail.
Ideally, 3YOs who have enough of a resume should be able to run in that most famous of races. But an examination of some of the prep races belie the idea that every winner or contender of a Derby prep really belongs in the top 25 in Derby points at all.

After reading about the possible defection of Dance With Fate upon taking 100 points and $ in winning the Blue Grass Stakes (a turf route, reminding you), there was some criticism about the decision, and it’s certainly well-founded. Why should the Blue Grass be a prep race when we all know that the KY Derby is a dirt route? And what of horses who have only run on surfaces other than dirt? They don’t truly deserve to be taking points away from other contenders when they place in races like the Blue Grass, let alone be on the Trail at all.

So what I attempt to do here is produce a de facto standard for horses who should run in the Derby. I’m not predicting Derby wins here but deciding on who should be in Louisville when the time comes, as well as who shouldn’t.

On top of that idea, I want to present a more graduated Derby trail based on earnings and points, given less weight to the 2YO campaign, as well as less for Derby preps that don’t reflect the Derby itself or have otherwise produced few Derby winners themselves. The track and its own class also must be considered, among other factors.
Here I’ll spell out the ideal variables for a true Derby contender:

Must have at least one race at 2YO
Must have a dirt route race at 3YO
Must have competed at the Graded level.
Must have been part of a 10+-horse field.
Nice to have: Any history racing at Churchilll.

Let’s go through the 37 horses that are still on the trail and see if any belong. The * goes to any horse that is still not committed to the race as of this typing.

California Chrome: (West Coast) Fully qualified upon winning the San Felipe. Since then, won the SA Derby.

Vicar’s in Trouble: (Gulf Coast) Fully qualified upon winning the LeComte. Since: 3rd in the Risen Star, 1st in the LA Derby.
*Dance With Fate: (West) On the borderline here. Finished 2nd in the Front Runner (G2, 8.5 furlongs) at 2YO. No dirt routes as 3YO, so truly this means he does NOT qualify.
Wicked Strong (NY, Southeast) : Fully qualified after his run in the Holy Bull. Since: 9th in a 75k allowance, then won the Wood Memorial.

Samraat (NY) qualified after running 2nd in the Wood Memorial last time out.

Danza (Various) has NOT qualified, as he has never faced anything larger than an 8-horse field.

Constitution (Southeast) is out of the Derby. Was he a qualifier? I say NO, as he never ran as a 2YO.

Hoppertunity (West/Southeast) does NOT qualify as he did not race as a 2YO.

Intense Holiday (NY/Southeast): Qualified upon his 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull. Since: Won the Risen Star, 2nd in the LA Derby.
Wildcat Red (Southeast) Qualified after winning the Hutcheson. Since then: Won the Fountain of Youth, 2nd in the FL Derby

We Miss Artie (various); Qualified after his 8th place finish in the Fountain Of Youth. Afterward he won the Spiral Stakes.

Ride On Curlin (KY): Qualified with 3rd place finish in the Southwest. Then: 3rd in the Rebel, 2nd in the AK Derby. BONUS: 3 races at Churchill.
*Chitu (West) does NOT qualify as he has not yet faced a field larger than 9.

*Tapiture (South) qualified after winning the Southwest. Followed this up with a 2nd in the Rebel, 4th in the AK Derby. BONUS: 3 races at Churchill.

*Midnight Hawk (West) does NOT qualify: largest field entered was 9 horses.

*Ring Weekend (Various): Qualified after winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Followed up with 2nd in the Calder Derby

General a Rod (KY, Southeast): Qualified after finishing 2nd in the Fountain of Youth. Followed it up with 3rd in the FL Derby. BONUS: 1 race at Churchill.

Medal Count:(Various) Qualified after finishing 5th in the Fountain of Youth, then won the Transylvania, 2nd in the Blue Grass.

Candy Boy (West): Qualfiied after winning the Robert B Lewis.After that, 3rd in the SA Derby.

Cairo Prince (NY, South): Qualified after winning the Holy Bull. Then 4th in the FL Derby.

Uncle Sigh (NY): Qualified after finishing 5th in the Wood Memorial last time out.

Vinceremos (Southeast): Qualified after win in the SF Davis. Then was 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby, last in the Blue Grass. Unfortunate victim of the point system in that sense as he likely needed points.

Harry’s Holiday KY, Southeast) : has NOT qualified: No dirt routes as 3YO.

Commanding Curve (Various): Qualified after 6th place finish in the Risen Star. Then 3rd in the LA Derby BONUS: 3 races at Churchill.

Pablo del Monte (Various): Qualified after finishing 3rd in the Blue Grass Stakes last time out.
Bayern (West Coast/South): NOT qualified: Has not run in larger than 8 horse field. Also has not run at 2.

Social Inclusion (NY/Southeast): NOT qualified: No races at age 2.
Big Bazinga (Various): Qualified after finishing 11th in the Holy Bull. Then, 2nd in a 75k race at Gulfstream Park (lost to Divine Oath),5th in the Spiral, 4th in the Blue Grass.
Coastline (KY/South): Fully qualified after finishing 3rd in the Smarty Jones Stakes. Then: 4th in the Southwes, 3rd in the Spiral, 10th in the Blue Grass. Bonus: 2 races at Churchill.
Strong Mandate (Various) Qualified after finishing 2nd in the Southwest Stakes. Then: 4th in the Rebel, 8th in the AK Derby.
In Trouble (NY, South): Qualified after finishing 4th in the Louisiana Derby last time out.

Noble Moon (NY) (VA bred): Qualified after winning the Jerome. Since then: 6th in the Wood Memorial.

Cleburne (KY/Southeast) : Qualified after finishing 3rd in the Calder Derby last time out. Bonus: 1 race at Churchill.
Commissioner (Various): Qualified after finishing 6th in the Fountain Of Youth. Since then: 3rd in the Sunland Derby, 6th in the AK Derby.
Schivarelli (NY) (FL bred):Does NOT qualify: No races at 2
Conquest Titan (Various): Qualified after finishing 2nd in the Holy Bull. Since then: 4th in the Tampa Bay Derby, 5th in the AK Derby.

Casiguapo:(Various) Does NOT qualify: No dirt routes at age 3. Where did he run this year? a 75k allowance effort over 6 furlongs at Gulfstream (5th, behind 4 others not on the trail), then the Blue Grass.
Asserting Bear (Various) (CAN bred) : Qualified upon finishing 5th in the SF Davis, then 4th in the Spiral, 8th in the Blue Grass.

To summarize here are the horses that I’ve eliminated from Derby contention: Danza, Dance With Fate, Hoppertunity, Chitu, Midnight Hawk, Harry’s Holiday, Bayern, Social Inclusion, Schivarelli, Casiguapo.

Here are the actual horses that are on the fence now for being in the Derby as of this typing: Ring Weekend, Tapiture, Dance With Fate, Chitu, Midnight Hawk.
Curiously,all 3 of Bob Baffert’s horses would be off the trail.
So after 37 ‘active’ horses on the Trail, I’ve brought the number down to 25. Based on the current system here’s who would be in:
1-5: California Chrome, Vicar’s In Trouble, Wicked Strong, Samraat, Intense Holiday.
6-10: Wildcat Red, We Miss Artie, Ride On Curlin, General a Rod, Medal Count.
11-15: Candy Boy, Cairo Prince, Uncle Sigh, Vinceremos, Commanding Curve
16-20: Pablo del Monte, Big Bazinga, Coastline, Strong Mandate, In Trouble.
21-25: Noble Moon, Cleburne, Commissioner, Conquest Titan, Asserting Bear.

I mention the races entered for each qualifier after such qualification based on my standard to suggest which races have been most key to determining this year’s Derby winner. Here are the races that got the most mention between the 25 hopefuls from my list:
Blue Grass: 5 horses
Spiral, Arkansas Derbies: 4
Louisiana, Florida Derbies: 3
Santa Anita, Wood, Risen Star, Rebel, Tampa Bay Derby, Fountain Of Youth: 2
Transylvania, Southwest, Sunland, two each.  75k allowances: 2 horses at Gulfstream

A total of 7 races in the Southeast have current qualifiers, followed by 3 from Kentucky, 3 from the South, 2 from the West, and 1 from NY.
And so, the Blue Grass, more for worse than better, became the most important race of the trail, as the points do dictate this. 5 horses still on my list ran in that one. The problem is that it’s a turf race. It’s not proper prep for the big race at Churchill. Thankfully, Keeneland will go back to dirt next year, ending 7 years of this terrible experiment. Alongsides, 4 current qualifiers raced in the Spiral Stakes, also on the synthetic. The Arkansas Derby became the best dirt route indicator this year, with 4 qualifiers, a race won by Danza, over Ride On Curlin, Strong Mandate, Commissioner, plus 2 non-qualifiers in Bayern and Tapiture. With Danza possibly not running in the Run For The Roses, maybe this race loses luster as well. It’s tough to rank the Florida Derby, as its winner, Constitution, is now out. So that leaves 4 preps as the best preps of the year:
Risen Star: Intense Holiday over Vicar’s In Trouble, along with Commanding Curve. To be fair, the Risen Star should be devalued in comparison as this drew just 8 horses.
Santa Anita Derby: California Chrome over Candy Boy, along with Hoppertunity.
Wood Memorial: Wicked Strong over Samraat and Uncle Sigh, also Social Inclusion, Noble Moon, Schivarelli.
Fountain Of Youth: Wildcat Red over General a Rod, Medal Count, Commissioner, We Miss Artie

I remarked on Twitter (@idealisticstats) that a horse who enters in a race and then willfully drops out of the Trail NOT due to injury or lack of qualification should forfeit Derby points to the next placed horse, tho keeping their rightful earnings. I believe that this rule should be in effect for any horse that raced in the Championship Series (2/22 to present) For the Blue Grass and the possible defection of Dance With Fate ,that should give Medal Count the full 100 points, then Pablo del Monte 40, Big Bazinga 20, Coltimus Prime with 10. I believe it would give all but Coltimus Prime a spot in my top 25, dropping Asserting Bear from the list.
So there’s how I evaluate this year’s preps, with the Lexington Stakes, another aberration of a race as its being run on turf, still to come.

In the next post I attempt to construct a better mousetrap re the Derby Trail.

Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby 2014 selections

Here’s who I like in the major Derby prep races for today:
Wood Memorial:
KRISTO: In the money in all 5 starts, 4 of those starts at Santa Anita. Wonder why he’s not in the Santa Anita Derby, then? I think he’s the horse that is set to win today. He had his ‘off’ race last time, a distant 3rd in the San Felipe, after running Brisnet speed figures in the 90s for 3 straight. In 9 races at Aqueduct during the long meet, the majority of winners have come from sprinters in posts 1 through 7. Kristo is the one horse fitting this category. SCHIVARELLI switches jockeys to leading rider Javier Castellano (31%), combined with trainer Eddie Kenneally, make the top win% combo of the field. Schivarelli is undefeated in two, and wired a small field in a mile-long optional-claimer last time. Also appears to be able to win today. Pace numbers at 2nd call for both races: 113, 86. He’s also worked 4 times, all at Belmont, 3 with a bullet. WICKED STRONG after graduating from maiden was 3rd in the Remsen, last in the Holy Bull, and 4th in an optional claimer won by Constitution last time out at Gulfstream. Only horse in the field to go 9 furlongs. Pace progression is strong, spiking to a new lifetime high of 89 last time, just past his 2YO best.
6-7-2 are my selections.

Santa Anita Derby:

CALIFORNIA CHROME, who wired the field here in the grade 2 San Felipe a month ago, winner of 3 straight races, active since last April, is likely the favorite, and certainly is my favorite. The 102 score in that Grade 2 event is ahead of his prior best of 101 in a 200k stakes event in December at this track. That 101 was right off a 7 week layoff, so he’s ready to accelerate further. Last 3 2nd-call numbers: 107, 87, 93. CANDY BOY appears to be the only clear competition. Winner of the Robert B Lewis here (Grade 2), 2nd in the CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park (RIP), always involved in the mix. 97 and 94 in those graded races are a small pair up of numbers ahead of his prior lifetime best numbers and he could go either way from there. My hunch is he’ll improve. Nice work tab: 5 workouts, all at The Great Race Place, the last 3 very fast and ‘handily’. The only other class in the race is HOPPERTUNITY, winner of Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes last month. Mike Smith aboard (23%), trained by Bob Baffert (27%). Tripled up in pace figures with a 99 in the Rebel after two other scores in the 90s. Seems to be running best in a middle post which is where he is today.

5-6-3 for me, which appears a bit chalky.