Horse Racing: In-Depth Analysis of the 2014 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

The big day is finally upon us…I know I’ve said this before so if you’ve heard it already, I apologize in advance. With all do respects to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Breeders Cup Classic, the Dubai World Cup, the Japan Cup, or any other horse race they run on this planet or any other, this Saturday marks Horse Racing’s best and biggest race in the world today, the 2014 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. This year’s field is, like always, deep and talented with California sensation California Chrome leading the way as the 5/2 morning line favorite.

Before we get into the breakdown there are a few things I’d like to mention to you.

Please keep in mind that the Derby, year in and year out, is like any other sport…the best team, or in this case horse, doesn’t always win.

There are several notable obstacles a horse must get over in order to win. First and foremost the horse needs plain unadulterated racing luck. He needs to be in the right place at the right time. (See Super Saver, Mine That Bird, and Giacomo), he must avoid the serious traffic issues throughout the race (see Lookin’ at Lucky, who was wiped out at the start of his Derby) and he must survive…that’s right….survive that rodeo they call the first turn.

I don’t know about you, but I hold my breath every year when 20 horses, at a full out sprint, try to negotiate that first turn. There are multiple bumping incidents, there are multiple “checks” going on and you just know several horses will be hung out to dry (like four or five wide) as well.

Also, let’s not forget that the Churchill Downs surface is a bit quirky. Some horses (see Point Given, Holy Bull etc) just don’t get over it very well.

So, a good trip is imperative and the ability to handle the surface is also extremely important. If you have those two things in place, you have a chance to win.

One more thing, and on a personal note, not only is the Kentucky Derby the best and biggest horse race in the world, it’s also the most difficult to handicap…. well….at least for me it is.

This year’s running will be my 34th Derby that I will be handicapping. Of the 33 previous Derbies I’ve handicapped, I am officially five of 33. That amounts to about a 15% success rate.

I can name the five on literally on hand… I had Gato Del Sol in 1982 at 21-1. I cashed in big on that one, but I wound up giving it all back and then some because it would be 18 years before I’d pick another winner which was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. However, for the last decade, I’ve started to heat up quite a bit (of course, anything would be considered heating up after an 0 for 18 stretch). I had Smarty Jones in 2004, Barbaro in 2006 and Big Brown in 2008.

Aside from all that the Kentucky Derby needs no introduction.

 

Churchill DownsSaturday, May 3, 2014

Race 11 – 6:24 PM

The KentuckyDerby (Grade I)

Purse $2,000,000

For Three Year Olds

One and One Quarter Miles

 

P# PP Horse A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 1 Vicar’s in Trouble 3/C L R Napravnik 126 M J Maker 30/1
2 2 Harry’s Holiday 3/C L C J Lanerie 126 M J Maker 50/1
3 3 Uncle Sigh 3/C L I Ortiz, Jr. 126 G C Contessa 30/1
4 4 Danza 3/C L J Bravo 126 T A Pletcher 10/1
5 5 California Chrome 3/C L V Espinoza 126 A Sherman 5/2
6 6 Samraat 3/C L J L Ortiz 126 R A Violette, Jr. 15/1
7 7 We Miss Artie 3/C L J Castellano 126 T A Pletcher 50/1
8 8 General a Rod 3/C L J Rosario 126 M J Maker 15/1
9 9 Vinceremos 3/C L J Rocco, Jr. 126 T A Pletcher 30/1
10 10 Wildcat Red 3/C L L Saez 126 J Garoffalo 15/1
11 11 Hoppertunity 3/C L M E Smith 126 B Baffert 6/1
12 12 Dance With Fate 3/C L C S Nakatani 126 P Eurton 20/1
13 13 Chitu 3/C L M Garcia 126 B Baffert 20/1
14 14 Medal Count 3/C L R Albarado 126 D L Romans 20/1
15 15 Tapiture 3/C L R Santana, Jr. 126 S M Asmussen 15/1
16 16 Intense Holiday 3/C L J R Velazquez 126 T A Pletcher 12/1
17 17 Commanding Curve 3/R L S Bridgmohan 126 D Stewart 50/1
18 18 Candy Boy 3/C L G L Stevens 126 J W Sadler 20/1
19 19 Ride On Curlin 3/C L C H Borel 126 W G Gowan 15/1
20 20 Wicked Strong 3/C L R Maragh 126 J A Jerkens 8/1
21 21 Pablo Del Monte 3/C L J Sanchez 126 W A Ward 50/1

Analysis (In Post Position order, selections below)

 

PP#1 Vicar’s in Trouble- yes, he certainly is drawing the #1 hole in the Kentucky Derby. I think we all know the #1 post is not exactly where you want to be albeit this horse does possesses a good amount of early speed that he might be able to utilize to get him out of any early trouble….. So a good break is imperative for him.

“I was kind of shocked, being the first one drawn,” regular jockey Rosie Napravnik said. “But he’s sharp to get out of the gate, so I think we’ll get good position. He’s versatile. Don’t worry, Vicar’s not in trouble, yet.”

“Hopefully we get a good break out of Vicar’s in Trouble like we usually do and get a good position,” trainer Mike Maker said. “His running style should help. He’s good out of the gate. All the closers are to the outside, so hopefully everybody breaks clean and we’ll be in good shape.”

Aside from that, I like this horse. Dating back to his maiden breaking annihilation of a state bred field (he won by 13 lengths), he came back a little over a month later and buried his opponents in the LeComte Stakes (won by almost seven).

Not quite sure what happened in that race after the LeComte, which was the Risen Star Stakes, again a little over a month later. In the Risen Star, he was taken back to 6th early on, started picking off horses at about the three eighths pole and loomed boldly inside the quarter pole but suddenly put it into reverse and finished third, beaten by 5 ½ lengths.

He came back in the Louisiana Derby (five weeks later) and wired the field, winning by 3 ½ conclusive lengths. Before you go running to the windows to bet on him, let me go ahead and tell you, there were several other speed horses in the Louisiana Derby and none of them broke very well, so this colt by Into Mischief was handed an easy early lead. Be careful not to put too much stock in that LA Derby win.

But you can put stock in his final work for this race, where he went five furlongs in 1:03.1 last Saturday and I’ll tell you, it looked as though with a good pair of sneakers, I could have outran him. Talented horse, but coming off a not so great work and drawing the one hole, makes it so they’ll have to be a lot of things that go right for him in order to contend. ..seems up against it.

 

 

PP#2- Harry’s Holiday- has run his last four races on the synthetics including absolutely spitting out the bit after the first half mile in his last race (the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland), where after being in contention early, faded and finished 13th of 14.

If you look at the race before that (the Spiral Stakes, March 22) you’ll find a bang up second when beaten a whisker in that race. In fact, his past performances are littered with inconsistencies, something I don’t like especially when running in the Kentucky Derby.

His speed figures do not match up well either.

This son of Harlan’s Holiday worked five furlongs in 1:02.3 last Saturday but I can’t endorse him with any confidence.

 

PP#3- Uncle Sigh- started his career with four straight very strong races before breaking slowly and coming fifth in the Wood Memorial in his last (April 5).

I had the pleasure of talking with trainer Gary Contessa after (and before) that race and he had a good point when he said “Gerard, he missed the break, went wide on both turns and didn’t like the dirt being kicked in his face, something he’s never experienced before”.

I just shook my head “yes”.

Good looking colt by Indian Charlie has worked well since the Wood recording five furlongs in 1:00.1 this past Saturday, but he still needs to figure out how to beat Samraat, who he’s faced twice and was beaten by twice….nice horse but I just don’t think he can pull it off.

 

PP#4- Danza- this chestnut colt by Street Boss from the Todd Pletcher barn has certainly been flying under the radar now hasn’t he?

I mean with just four races under his belt, where did the titanic win (at 41-1) in the Arkansas Derby come from?

Looking back, I see he won the first race of his career nicely on July 12, then came back a month later and was third, beaten just a half length after charging hard down the lane in the Saratoga Special.

He then gets almost seven months off and comes back in a high priced optional claimer at Gulfstream where he finishes a distant third in a very quickly run seven furlong race (final time 1:21.3). Then comes the Arkanasas Derby, where under a terrific ride from Joe Bravo, he cuts the corner on the turn for home and waltzes home almost five in front.

When asked about the #4 post, Pletcher said: “its good spot for him, he won the Arkansas Derby out of the number 1 hole. He’s fine with being on the inside.”

So basically, here’s your choices with this horse…a) he just had a really good day (and trip) in the Arkansas Derby and won’t repeat such a monster effort or b) he’s getting good and peaking out at the perfect time….Your call from there.

 

PP#5- California Chrome- is the 5/2 favorite and rightfully so.

This obscurely bred chestnut from the Art Sherman barn (who incidentally was the exercise rider from the great Swaps back in the day) has been terrorizing the west coast since December.

He’s rattled off four straight open length wins in the Dec 22 King Glorious Stakes (won by 6 1/4, getting 7 furlongs in 1:22 flat), the Cal Cup Stakes (won by 5 1/2 , getting 1 1/16ths in 1:43.1), he then wired the field in a tour de force win in the San Felipe (won by 7 ¼ while cutting fraction of :45.3, 1:09.2 and finishing the 1 1/16ths miles in a fleet 1:40.3 (recording a 108 speed figure) all before dominating his rivals in the Santa Anita Derby, where he won by 5 ½ and completed the nine furlongs in 1:47 flat (recording a 107 speed figure).

Sherman, who at 77 would become the oldest trainer to win the Derby (Charlie Whittingham with Sunday Silence in 1989 at age 76), said “I like that he has some speed horses to his inside, that way he can just sort of sit in there and then float into that first turn.

“I could see us right in behind the leaders and be in the clear down the backside,” Sherman added said. “If (jockey) Victor (Espinosa) could get him in the clear near the three-eighths pole, I think we’ll have a big chance.”

Espinoza won the 2002 Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem after breaking from post 5.

“I think it’s great. No. 5 (post) seems like a lucky number for me,” Espinoza said. “I was just hoping that we didn’t get the one or the two. There’s nothing wrong with the one or the two, I just think it’s a little safer to be out some”.

“We just want to come out of there running and then we’ll play it by ear,” Espinoza added, and said he just hopes “to have good position entering the first turn.”

This colt has a great stride, a high cruising speed and seems so relaxed while in full flight it’s scary really. I like the versatility he’s shown as well, if they are going too fast early, he will find a position and make a late run or if he breaks well, he could easily run them off their feet and take them gate to wire.

Which brings me to my only two concerns….1) this horse does have a habit of breaking just a beat slowly. In his most recent races, he’s been so much the best it didn’t matter, but the Derby is a different story. If he does break even a beat slowly he could find himself behind a wall of horses or hung wide on that first turn that I spoke of in my introduction and 2) He’s run all his races in California, will he handle the sometimes quirky Churchill surface?

Other than that, if he breaks well, likes the track and gets a good position early (on the first turn and down the backside)….turn out the lights…..the party is over. Here’s a video of his last work last week, watch carefully as he just glides over the Los Alamitos surface

 

 

PP#6- Samraat- suffered his first career defeat in the Wood Memorial in his last race after having to “alter course in the upper stretch”.

Colt by Noble Causeway was 5 for 5 heading into the Wood with several open lengths wins. Once again, I was in the paddock before the Wood and he is stunning to look at.

Good looking, speedy and showed great heart and determination in winning the Withers (March 1) and the Gotham (April 1) so you have to figure he’ll make a good showing of himself in the Derby.

Trainer Richard Violette continues his patter of one mile works down in Florida (his latest was a 1:45.4 on April 26 but does show a half mile breeze of :49 flat on April 18).

“It was almost like he was beamed here,” Violette said after watching his charge jog twice around the Churchill oval. “He was squealing and throwing his head walking around here after we got unpacked. He likes traveling.”

“It’s a horse race. This is a real horse,” Violette added. “He’s beaten all but one horse in six starts. I think he’s a high-quality horse, period”.

Agreed Mr. Violette, he is a quality horse, whether he’s good enough to win the Derby remains to be seen, because truth be told, even though he had a traffic issue in the upper stretch of the Wood, he wasn’t beating the winner (Wicked Strong) anyway.

 

PP#7- We Miss Artie- used a tremendous late run to come from well back of the pack to win the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park in his last….but that was on the synthetic surface.

In fact, he is 0 for 3 on the traditional dirt surface.

“We Miss Artie doesn’t get a lot of respect at 50-1, but there weren’t a lot of horses that came out of the Polytrack race up at Turfway Park that got a lot of respect. He’s sound, solid, a closer so he kind of complements my speed horse. We’re cautiously optimistic” trainer Todd Pletcher said who is sending out a total of four horses on Saturday afternoon.

Overall, I don’t like the “one good race, one bad race” pattern he’s displayed throughout his career, his speed figures don’t match up well and I just don’t think he’s good enough to win this….next.

 

PP#8- General a Rod- is NOT named for the currently suspended Yankee third baseman (just FYI).

This colt by Roman Ruler is speedy, game and consistent as he hasn’t run a bad race yet in now five lifetime starts (5-2-2-1), including a dead game win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, then lost a nip and tuck battle with Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth and then, even though tiring late in the Florida Derby, he still battled and held well late to be third.

His great heart was on display once again this past week while out for his morning work, a filly ran past him and he didn’t like it one bit. This dark bay colt took a hold of the bit and went after her briefly before his rider put a stop to it.

“He felt the pressure, jumped into the bit, but it worked just fine,” trainer Mike Maker said.

Honestly I was going to throw him out being, he should be on or very close to the early lead in the Derby and I was question his ability to get 10 furlongs (I still am actually)…but the key word there is “was” going to toss him, perhaps I need to think twice after listening to Joel Rosario, who will be riding him Saturday, speak:

“It depends on how fast they go in front,” Rosario said.”That’s the key, I think. I think he can do anything. He can come off the pace, and I think he can be close. … He’s a big horse, good looking, nice strong horse. So I think he can do anything.”

If Rosario does take him off pace early, he’ll stand a better chance…however I cant back him a whole lot either not knowing if he’ll handle 10 furlongs or not.

 

PP#9- Vinceremos- I loved the way this colt by up and coming sire (and Derby runner up himself) Pioneerof the Nile won that Sam F Davis Stakes back on Feb 1.

In that race, he laid fourth early on, rallied at the top of the stretch to take command of the race but was subsequently passed in the stretch by another horse (Harpoon). However, he dug in, battled back and won by a nose. It was a very impressive race.

The problem is, I don’t think he improved enough off of that race to be a major threat in the Derby.

Because from there, he finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby (March 8) after showing a strong closing run and then didn’t run one step in the Bluegrass (April 12). It certainly appears he didn’t care for the synthetic surface at Keeneland that day because all his other races (on dirt) were pretty good.

I’m sure he’ll run better with the return to the dirt surface, but, although this is nice horse too, his speed figures lack a bit and I just don’t think he’s good enough to win this….pass.

 

PP#10- Wildcat Red- see General a Rod…

Speedy colt by D’Wildcat has never been worse than second in his career (7-4-3-0) including wins in the Hutcheson Stakes and the Fountain of Youth (where he fought off General a Rod every step of the way, in a knock down, drag out battle race).

He really impressed me in the Florida Derby where once again, he fought and ran his lungs out to get beat a neck to the now sidelined Constitution.

“The way he went today was amazing. I’m very happy with it,” trainer Jose Garoffalo said after watching his colt gallop 1 1/8 miles over the Churchill Downs surface last Tuesday.. “We’re still very optimistic, but he seems he likes the track. I saw a big difference between today and Sunday, He’s full of himself.”

I said see General a Rod because he seems to fit in the same category, fast horse and game as they come, but I’m just not sure he’ll get 10 furlongs.

 

PP#11- Hopportunity- scratched due to a bruised foot.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Thursday that the Rebel Stakes winner would be scratched. Baffert said he believes Hoppertunity has a bruised foot but he wants to make 100% sure that is the only issue.

“We’re pretty sure it’s the foot but we just want to make sure that it’s nothing else, so we can continue on with him for the Preakness” Baffert said. “The timing is obviously horrible because we don’t have enough time to work on the foot.”

“Yesterday when he came out, he took a couple of steps that looked like something was bothering him,” Baffert added. “So we took a hoof tester and we saw his inside quarter was sore. We cut part of the shoe off. This was after he trained. I schooled him in the afternoon and after that we had the vet look at him. We jogged him up and down the pavement and he was fine. I jog all my horses in the morning. When we brought him out this morning he was still a little bit off on that left front foot”

The scratch brings also-eligible contender Pablo Del Monte into play; however at the time of this writing, trainer Wesley Ward had not decided if Pablo Del Monte would run. Ward, a co-owner of the horse, said he will meet with the other owners Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith, and Michael Tabor and make a decision shortly.

 

PP#12- Dance With Fate- this horse looked fanatastic in winning the 2014 Bluegrass winner at 6.50-1 odds when he came from 11th position early but used a big, wide sweeping move at the quarter pole to take command of the race and edged away to win by almost two.

He shows a 8-3-3-0 career record and a snappy :47 half mile drill a week ago at his home base (Santa Anita.).

“We made the decision (to run in the Derby) a week after the race, (Bluegrass win)” trainer Peter Eurton said. “I wanted to see how his weight was and soundness and everything was good.”

“I just want to see that his appetite is good and he stays healthy,” Eurton said of his plans for the week. “And, I want to see if he gets over the track as well as he does at home.”

Which brings me to my problem with him….yes; he has the perfect running style to win the Derby. That big stretch kick he possesses bodes well with that long home stretch at Churchill…and yes, that 8-3-3-0 career record is impressive.

However, when I looked closer, it’s blatantly obvious this guy is a far superior horse on the synthetics and turf than he is on the dirt. His dirt record is two starts with just one second place showing while his turf/synthetic record is a much better 6-3-2-0.

If the Churchill Downs surface was synthetics, he’d have a huge shot to in this, but, since it’s not…..

 

PP#13- Chitu- is a half a length away from being unbeaten in four lifetime starts.

Just about all four of those wins were identical in the sense that all of them were when this colt, by the corvette looking Henny Hughes, rated just off the early pace and came with big runs down the stretch.

He did break his maiden “on the engine” (Dec 7), the rest of them which inclduned a win in a high priced optional claimer (where he missed the start but still won), the Robert B. Lewis, where he had the lead late but was overhauled by a streaking Candy Boy, and then recorded a monster win in the Sunland Park Derby, were all run the same way…so, you have to like that kind of consistency.

Speaking of the Sunland Park race, he took over in that race thru swift fractions (:46.2, 1:09.3, a mile in a hot 1:34.2 and finished in a good 1:47).but I have to tell you, I’m crazy about some of those closing fractions as he ran the last three furlongs in :38.2 including the last furlong in :13.2.

Regardless of that, trainer Bob Baffert seems to like this horse and I’ve learned over the years when Baffert speaks, you better listen.

“He’s one of those horses that is quiet and low-key” Baffert said after schooling the colt in the paddock on Tuesday. “He’s got a great mind. He’ll walk into the paddock and he’s quiet. Nothing really stirs him up. That’s what I loved about him when I bought him, he was just so quiet. He would make a great riding horse and he’s beautiful to boot. And he’s fast. He really runs. He’s not bred to go that far, but the bottom side, the A.P. Indy, just carries him a little bit farther. He likes a fast racetrack, we know that.”

 

PP#14- Medal Count- see Dance With Fate as I believe this colt belongs more on either the sythentics or turf.

Even his breeding, which I love, screams turf (Dynaformer- Brisquette by Unbridled’s Song).

His past performances (he struggles against inferior horses) and speed figures make it look like he’s totally outgunned here.

 

PP#15- Tapiture- colt by Tapit from the Steve Asmussen barn appears to be coming into this with his form heading in the wrong direction.

Don’t get me wrong, I like him, especially off those back to back 4 ½ length wins in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (in Nov) and the Southwest Stakes (in Feb), hell, he ran bang up in the Rebel also being he was bounced around like a pinball in deep stretch.but still came second beaten just a half length.

But what happened to him in the Arkansas Derby, where he assumed a great position early (4th) but came up empty down the lane? I mean I saw no visible excuse in that race, which makes me think he may have peaked out too soon.

Further fueling my speculation is the fact that his last work for this race was a :50 half mile last Tuesday …:50 seconds?….that’s it?

Asmussen had different thoughts: “I’m very happy to get it in,” Asmussen said before the skies opened up “I loved how he moved over it.. He hit 50 right on and that’s what we were aiming for with the horse.”

“He’s got a beautiful stride to him,” Asmussen added. “He’s an extremely efficient mover.”

That’s true…his stride is poetry in motion, but I’m still not sure his form is where it needs to be.

 

PP#16- Intense Holiday- by Harlan’s Holiday, out of the Pletcher barn and will be ridden by Pletcher’s “go to” rider John Velasquez, you better look out for this guy, he may be lying in the weeds.

His last six races were five Grade: 2 races and one Grade: one race and  he’s held his own in all of them.

His form has steadily risen thru them all topped off by dramatic nose win in the Risen Star Stakes and even that second place finish (in the Louisiana Derby) wasn’t that bad considering the winner had things all his own way and could not be run down late.

Pletcher has done nothing but pump half mile works into him time and time again…overall, I really like the way this horse is coming into this race and if he can work out a good trip, you might very well be hearing from him in deep stretch.

Its sounds as though Pletcher agrees with me when he said: “To me, on paper, it looks like you get to the first turn and try to establish a position, and it seems that’s where a lot of the traffic problems occur. There could be four or five horses looking for a similar spot going into the first turn. Hopefully, the race spreads out a bit.”

Long-shot possibly right here readers….

 

PP#17- Commanding Curve- it took this bay ridgling four starts to break his maiden last year.

He started off this year with a not so bad 6th place finish in the Risen Star Stakes (The Grade:2 Risen Star as your seasonal debut race?) but evidently, trainer Dallas Stewart knew something I didn’t because he wheels the horse right back in the Louisiana Derby and what does this horse by Master Command do? After being bothered at the start and racing towards the back of the pack (10th) early on, he rallies around the far turn and was closing the gap late to get third in a very sneaky good race.

“The horse that was on his outside just came over on him, and the rider had to take him up, couldn’t do anything, had to just get himself back together,” Stewart said. “And then as he went around the turn and down the backside, he kind of geared him up. Geared him up on the turn and dropped him on the rail, then came back outside, and the horse handled it great. So hopefully, that’ll all play in good for this race.”

Jockey Shaun Brigmohan called Commanding Curve “a very improving 3-year-old that’s coming into himself at the right time and definitely, the distance is in his favor, He’s such a kind horse. He does everything nice and easy.”

The Louisiana Derby sets him up almost perfectly here as does that five furlong (1:00.2) he recorded recently. If your looking for a long-shot in this race, this (or the #16) horse are definitely your best ways to go.

 

PP#18- Candy Boy- I was a big believer in him earlier this spring.

After he broke his maiden so impressively (by 8+ lengths), then although thrashed by Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity, he bounced right back and won the Robert B Lewis Stakes in March. After that race, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stephens said this colt by Candy Ride had “enormous talent”.

His connections, CRK Stable and John Sadler, gave him a two month break before running him back in the Santa Anita Derby where he was blown away by California Chrome.

I’m sure he wasn’t at his best for that race (after a two month break) but still its troubling he got beat close to nine lengths.

I’m also sure Sadler will (and has) “turned the screws” on this horse to raise his fitness level. I see the :59.4 work two weeks ago and that’s what convinced me of that.

Sadler was pleased with recent 1 ½ mile gallop over the surface this horse took on Tuesday and “everything was moving” and “He’s doing well here.”

Said Stephens when asked about who he needs to be concerned with in this race: “There’s four or five I have my eye on, and I’m outside all of them.” …sounds like Stephens is going to gun from the gate.

If he runs his race, he should be on the board in some capacity.

 

PP#19- Ride on Curlin- is another who has the right running style to win this race being a late runner and with Churchill’s long home stretch.

This colt by the gorgeous Curlin is as consistent as the day is long with nine starts and eight of them on the board and his speed figures always about the same as well. The bottom line is he’ll be at the mercy of the pace…..the faster it is the better chance he’ll have.

He is coming into this race well. After that Southwest Stakes debacle (he was a ridiculous 7 or 8 wide on the turn for home which was totally unnecessary and costed Calvin Borel the mount on this horse), he finished a close third in the roughly run Rebel Stakes and solid closing second in the Arkansas Derby.

Ride On Curlin in the shedrow Monday morning, a day after he worked seven furlongs in 1:29.Trainer Billy Gowan said the colt was a “handful”.

“He was feeling his oats, because he ate every one of them last night,” Gowan said.”And his legs were cold and tight. I love the way he looks this morning, because you always hold your breath after a work. We came in this morning, and it was perfect.”

Yet another horse that if he runs well, at long odds, won’t shock me.

 

PP#20 Wicked Strong- here we are two days away from the race and I still can’t make up my mind about this horse.

On one hand, he looks like a horse with the perfect running style to win this race (again, big closing kick that meshes well with Churchill’s long stretch) and he’s coming into this race peaking out off that enormous Wood Memorial win.

But on the other hand, he’s only run well on New York tracks.

I mean let’s go back to the very beginning, his first two races of his career, a good late closing second in a maiden race at Belmont but came back five weeks later, stretched out in distance and won a Belmont maiden race.

Another five weeks after that, he was charging hard late once again and was third but just a half length behind Cairo Prince and Honor Code in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.

Jimmy Jerkens, who evidently knows he has a good horse, takes him to Florida, gives him two months off and runs him back in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park where he literally stopped after the first half mile and finished 9th beaten an eye popping 16 lengths….maybe he needed that race after two months off… I thought?

Jerkens then brings him back about a month later in a much easier field, again at Gulfstream Park, and although he does run better (4th, beaten 6+ lengths) I still felt he should have run even better than that.

Jerkens takes him back to NY, enters him in the Wood and the rest is history. He runs past the entire (quality) field, including the supremely talented Social Inclusion, Samraat and Uncle Sigh and was drawing away at the end all while registering a solid 104 speed figure.

So, which Wicked Strong, who also has a history of gate problems, shows up?…the New York one or the Florida one? I’m going to lean towards the New York one and hope for the best. But even if the New York Wicked Strong shows up, will he be able to handle the tough #20 post?

“It’s better than the ‘1’ (post) but not a whole lot,” Jerkens said. “He’s just going to have to work his way down a little bit. No horse runs good when they get fanned out wide, especially him. He seems to get competitive when he’s close to the fence early on. In Florida, he was wide on both turns (in the Holy Bull) and he kind of spit out the bit down the backside”.

“At least he’s got a nice long run down the stretch and it looks like the speed should be in a nice clump where he can draft in behind them, so it might work out a better trip than we think. It’ll be tricky, that’s for sure. I’ll just try to convince myself it’s not as bad as time goes by.”

 

AE Pablo Del Monte- at this writing it is unclear if this horse will run with the defection of Hopportunity, but even if he does, I don’t see him making much of an impact.

“He galloped around the track here at Keeneland unbelievably,” trainer Wesley Ward said.

That’s always a good sign but, in his last three races, he’s been beaten fair and square by three different horses who are all entered right back in this race. (General a Rod and Wildcat Red in the GP Derby, Wildcat Red again in the Hutchenson and Dance With Fate in the Bluegrass)

 

Selections:

1) California Chrome

2) Wicked Strong

3) Candy Boy

 

Honorable Mention:

Samraat

Intense Holiday

 

2014 Record: 7-24 = 29% (pending Kentucky Oaks)

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Little Bets N’ Pieces

**** Also on the Derby card is the Grade: 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic that will feature back to back Horse of the Year winner Wise Dan, so be sure to catch that race as well.

Wise Dan will be taking on nine others in the mile and an eighth test and believe his main competitors appears to be multiple graded stakes winner Boisterous and Seek Again , who came from overseas to take the Grade: 1 Hollywood Derby in December.

 

**** On a personal note, my racing stable and website are now up and running. My partners and I have worked diligently the last 18 or so months putting this together and I can’t believe how much fun it is.

Currently, we have two in training in New York and I’ll go ahead and tell you, we have targeted horses #3 and #4 and hope to have them in our barn within the next several weeks/months.

Information (pricing, breeding, race record) about our newest acquisition, Street Thug (by Street Sense) who is available for syndication, is posted on the site. If you ever thought about getting into the game and enjoying all the perks of an owner, in a very inexpensive manner, let me/us know. My contact info is on the site or you can use my isportsweb email which is isportswebgerard@yahoo.com

The website is: http://knightsoftheroundstable.com/

 

 

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