The Dwyer

We continue our post-Triple Crown tour with a trip back to Belmont Park for the Grade III Dwyer. A field of 7 3YO’s contest a 1-turn mile over Big Sandy. The purse is 300K and the top finishers likely move on to the bigger races, such as the Travers, later in the summer.

The field is led by Mendelssohn, who went off at 6-1 in the Kentucky Derby. He is trained by Aidan O’Brien. He entered that race amid a great amount of hype after his 18 1/2 length win in the UAE Derby, where he earned an estimated 106 Beyer Speed Figure. He previously had been successful stateside with his win as the 9-2 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf back in November. But his Derby was one to forget — he finished 73 1/4 lengths last, eased to the wire by jockey Ryan Moore. It was, perhaps, the sloppy track or the fast pace or the depth of competition, but, in any event, it was an extremely poor showing for a well-regarded horse. He’s 8-5 on the morning line and it will be interesting to see how he’s bet. My guess is most bettors will put a line through the Derby and bet the horse that we saw in Dubai. If he runs that race or anything close to it, he’ll win here easily. Whether he does is the question of the race.

Rugbyman, trained by Graham Motionis a later developing 3YO that debuted in April at Keeneland. He lost that debut at 7-1, but rebounded to win decisively by 14 lengths over the mud at Belmont in May. He ran in the Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard where he finished second by a neck over a fast track and earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure while going wide around the turn. He’s 2-1 on the morning line, but will likely need to improve to win today. He’s a son of Tapit, which also catches the eye. Motion adds blinkers, a move he’s had success with in the past.  The 2-1 price seems a bit ambitious given the need for improvement. Noble Indy returns to Belmont after an extremely poor showing in the Belmont Stakes. This followed another lackluster effort in the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Todd Pletcher, he’d need to find his form from the Fairgrounds, where he topped out at a 95 Beyer Speed Figure in the Louisiana Derby. Like Rugbyman, he also adds blinkers which is a move that has brought Pletcher success. He’s a bit of a wildcard and if he can rediscover old form — a bit of a theme in the race (Mendelssohn) — he should be competing for the top spot.

Firenze Fire was last seen finishing 11th in the Kentucky Derby at odds of almost 60-1. Trained by Jason Servis, his best win to date was in the Champagne Stakes last October as a 2YO. He also won the Jerome in early January as the heavy favorite. He’s never run fast enough to win this sort of race and has been on a downward trend since that Jerome win. His best hope is that the rest since May has done him well and, perhaps, a bit of growth in the meantime. He’s 6-1 on the morning line. Seven Trumpets brings a nice Churchill Downs allowance win to the table, but he was consistently mid-pack in a number of GIII races through the spring. He has a nice worktab recently for trainer Dale Romans, but is way short of the speed needed to win this race. Seahenge is the other entrant for Aidan O’Brien. He was demolished by stablemate Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby and didn’t fare much better in his US Debut in the Pat Day Mile, where he finished 13 3/4 lengths back over a sloppy track. Fixed Income Larry stretches out for the first time for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. His only win is his maiden breaker at 12-1 at Belmont in early June. He would be a major surprise to win the winner’s circle today.

Analysis: Most horses in the field aren’t fast enough to compete with Mendelssohn, even if Mendelssohn isn’t at his best. He’s the likely favorite, but I’ll try to beat him with another horse that could rebound — Noble Indy. Away from Triple Crown winner Justify, he’ll hopefully sit near the pace under John Velaquez and regain his past form. Blinkers should help. Rugbyman is interesting but still too slow for me to put him in the top spot. He’ll only find it if both Mendelssohn and Noble Indy fail to run to potential.


The Bashford Manor

We’ll take a look at 2YO’s for the first time this year with the 117th running of the GIII Bashford Manor from Churchill Downs. We’re still months away from 2YO’s routing, but this is still an early test of stamina for this group of 13 2YO’s. It’s 6f, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s farther than any horse in the race has run. They’ve all been cutting their teeth on races from 4.5f to 5.5f. They also comprise a national field — Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Indiana Downs, Belmont Park, Belterra Park, Evangeline Downs, Presque Isle, and Santa Anita are all represented.

The field’s highest Beyer Speed Figure (84) belongs to Tales of Chaucer who earned it over a sloppy track at 5f at Belmont Park. Trained by Norm Casse (son of Mark Casse, who branched out on his own this year), he’s a NY-bred who earned the figure in a NY-bred restricted race. He’s cost $58K this past March. The other likely favorite is Toothless Wonder, a $220K purchase in March that is trained by Doug O’Neil, who needs no introduction. He lost first time out at Santa Anita — nothing strange for an O’Neil trainee — and then won with a 76 Beyer Speed Figure his next time out. He’s by Street Boss and should appreciate the extra distance, having run at the short 4.5f in his two starts.

Sir Truebadour is trained by Steve Asmussen (he of the recent haircut) and finished fourth by two lengths in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont. None of the top 3 finishers in that race are here today. He cost $300K last August as a yearling. He returns to Churchill Downs, where he broke his maiden, albeit over a sloppy track. Weiland won the Kentucky Juvenile back in May over this track with a 63 Beyer Speed Figure at 20-1 odds. Trained by John Ennis, he was only a $7K purchase last October.

Shanghaied Roo, trained by Bret Calhoun, has been unseen since his win in early April at Keeneland. There’s no Beyer Speed Figure for the 4.5 sprints at Keeneland, but his BRIS speed figure puts him right among the top contenders. Mr. Granite, trained by Wayne Rice, ran in the Kentucky Juvenile but finished 15 3/4 lengths behind. He did experience a bit of trouble early, but is still too slow. The rest of the field is comprised of maiden winners with speed figures that are a bit too low to be competitive to win graded stakes at this point in their career. Unlike in some 2YO (and 3YO) stakes, every horse has earned a win coming into this race.

Analysis: Anything can happen in these early 2YO races as horses are likely to grow in between starts. That said, it will likely come down to the favorites. Among these, I like Toothless Wonder, due to his high recent purchase price, experienced trainer, and likely propensity to improve with the distance. But I’m likely to also play Shanghaied Roo, who is the wildcard in the race and might offer some value. His breeding, trainer, and almost 3 months off suggest a possible strong performance. He’s very playable at 9-2 or better.

The Ohio Derby

We return to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio for the Grade III Ohio Derby. It’s a 9 furlong race restricted to 3YO with a purse of half a million dollars. It’s the featured event of the Thistledown meet and always a good test of 3YO after the Triple Crown races. The track is currently listed as fast (as of 1 p.m. ET Saturday), although more rain could be on the way. With thunderstorms in the forecast, it’s worth watching the weather and how the track plays throughout the day. It highlights a 10-race card with 2 other minor stake routes for older horses.

A large field will go forward, even with the scratch of Last Drop of Wine. There are some familiar names in the eleven-horse lineup for those who followed the Triple Crown. Flameaway was very competitive in the Kentucky Derby preps. He finished first in the GIII Sam F. Davis and second in the GII Tampa Bay Derby, both at Tampa Bay Downs. He then ran second to Good Magic — probably the second best 3YO — in the Bluegrass, before finishing 30 lengths behind Triple Crown winner Justify in the Derby. He’s 5 for 10 in this career. He’d likely appreciate the track remaining fast, although he does have a win over a sloppy surface as a 2YO in the GIII Bourbon Stakes. He’ll be up near the lead but has shown an ability to stalk. The distance shouldn’t be a problem — he ran well at 9 furlongs in the Bluegrass. He’s fast enough to win.

Lone Sailor returns after runs in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, both over sloppy tracks. He comes from off the pace and showed improvement in his final Derby prep in the Louisiana Derby, where he finished second to Noble Indy. He was right there at the finish line in the close ending to the Preakness, only 2 lengths behind Justify. Irad Ortiz maintains the mount from the Preakness. He only has one win from ten starts. Like Flameaway, on his best he’s fast enough to win and shouldn’t have trouble with the distance. Diamond King ran in the Preakness after his win in the Tesio Stakes at Laurel. He was well-beaten that day. He’s yet to put up at Beyer Speed Figure that would make him competitive today. His trainer, John Servis, is more than capable, so it’s surprising to see him try these races with his limited speed. He’d need improvement — something not out of the question for mid-summer 3YO — to be in the mix today.

The rest of the field did not contest the Triple Crown but instead took different paths to get here. There’s plenty of speed in the “new shooters,” led by Core Beliefs who ran well in the GI Santa Anita Derby and finished a strong second in the GIII Peter Pan. Still relatively inexperienced with only 5 starts (3 of those are maiden races), he has the speed to be competitive today. Joe Talamo picks up the mount for the first time. Title Ready ran well in the Sir Barton, behind Ax Man, who failed as the favorite in the Matt Winn. He also had a nice performance in the Rebel, leading early before falling back in the stretch. He’s never run 9 furlongs, so that remains a question for him and his trainer Steve Asmussen. The speed is there to be competitive if he appreciates the distance. O’Kratos ships in from Woodbine where he’s been a different horse through the spring. He won a first-level allowance and then the GIII Marine at 8.5 furlongs. Like Title Ready, he’s never gone 9 furlongs and never shown this speed on conventional dirt (Woodbine is an artificial surface). He’s a bit of a wildcard as he’s been winning and doing it with nice speed pressing the pace.

Trigger Warning has speed, but he’s only shown it sprinting. His best win was in the Tom Ridge from Presque Isle over an artificial surface. His route tries are unremarkable. He would have to show new dimensions to be competitive today. Machismo either hasn’t appreciated the 9 furlong distance or fell off form after his 4th in the GII Fountain of Youth. He’d need a major turnaround to hit the board today. Dream Baby Dream is a bit too slow to find the winner’s circle (absent some improvement). He’s also only 1 for 10 in this career. His best performance was a second in the GIII Sunland Derby. Caloric broke his maiden in a claiming race and then was claimed for $16K next time out at Gulfstream. He hasn’t run the distance or a speed close enough to be competitive. Takedown has run the distance — in the Tesio — but is too slow to be competitive in this group.

Analysis: I expect the race to come down to Flameaway and Core Beliefs. Flameaway is a proven winner, although the track surface could come into play. He’ll also be a short price. Core Beliefs is talented and, while he’s inexperienced, he has two solid runs at the 9 furlong distance. A slight improvement — something possible with the layoff since the Peter Pan — puts him on top, hopefully at a price as others go for the two Kentucky Derby runners.

The Matt Winn

Welcome to the post-Triple Crown season. We had an incredible one this year, with Justify becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner, just a few years after American Pharoah accomplished the feat. But now we turn to the world of later-developing 3YO’s (it’s funny, in a normal year, you could consider Justify one of those) and a summer full of GII and GIII state derbys. Tonight, we have the Matt Winn, a GIII affair from Churchill Downs, which begins to set the stage for the summer. It’s 8.5 furlongs on the same main track which hosted the Derby 6 weeks ago.

The 4/5 morning line favorite is Ax Man, who hails from the incredibly deep barn of two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert. He debuted with a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, winning by 9 1/2 lengths under Drayden Van Dyke, who had the first 3 mounts of his career. He’s 3 for 4, with his only blemish coming in the hot pace of the GII San Vincente, which brought winner Kanthaka into the Derby consciousness for a short time. He’s been odds-on in 3 of his 4 starts — the only exception being his maiden — and he earned his first stakes victory in the ungraded Sir Barton on Preakness day, where he decimated the field to win by 6 3/4 and earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. He’ll be the favorite — likely at lower than 4/5 — and he’s a deserving one at that.

Home Base is rapidly improving for trainer Michael Tomlinson, who is winning at a 32% clip at the current Churchill Downs meet. Claimed for $50K at Gulfstream, he broke his maiden at Keeneland at 32-1 and then won a first-level allowance against older at 10-1. He earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure in the latest win. Both wins were at 7 furlongs and he’ll have to prove he can handle two turns. He has early speed. Combatant last ran in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 18th out of 20. He is trained by Steve Asmussen. He is a proven dirt router with some speed. Prior to that challenging run in the Kentucky Derby, he finished in the money 3 times in Derby prep stakes at Oaklawn. He’ll likely need pace to be competitive today, something that doesn’t seem all that likely. He seems like a good horse to finish underneath for those who play exactas, trifectas, and superfectas.

Funny Duck won the GIII Pay Day Mile over this track on Derby Day and did so at almost 40-1. Trained by Rusty Arnold, he closed from off the pace and earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure. Like the others (other than Ax Man), he’ll need to improve to figure today. Tiz Mischief had his best performance with a 3rd place finish (albeit 13 1/4 lengths) behind Audible in the Holy Bull and ran an 83 Beyer Speed in the Blue Grass against Good Magic. He struggled on the yielding turf on Derby Day in the GII American Turf and now returns to his preferred surface. He is trained by Dale Romans. His only win is his maiden and he prefers to come off the pace. King Zachary is also trained by Dale Romans and won a 3YO allowance on Derby Day. He faced top competition in the Wood Memorial but finished 6th — 13 1/2 lengths behind Vino Rosso. He has some early speed but would need to improve greatly in the time since Derby Day. Navy Armed Guard is trained by Joan Scott and has two wins — a maiden-breaker at Tampa in a lower-level maiden and a win over Polytrack at Arlington in a first-level allowance for 3YO. His recent Beyer figures, even in the wins, are still way too low to be competitive here. His stakes tries — the GIII Lexington and the GIII Sam F. Davis — resulted in losses by double-digit lengths.

Analysis: Ax Man dominates this field. A ferocious pace battle could do him in and set it up for Combatant. An improving Home Base could easily finish second and could challenge Ax Man if, for some reason, Ax Man doesn’t away from the gate cleanly or is off his game.

The Belmont Stakes

12 furlongs on Belmont’s main track. Not your typical race for 3YO’s as they enter the summer. It’s an arcane distance, but one that also tests stamina, conditioning, and breeding. It’s a fitting conclusion to the Triple Crown and one that requires a uniquely special horse to win, especially after capturing the first two legs.

This is Justify’s race to lose. He’s the fastest runner in the field and is likely bred to handle the distance — a son of the late Scat Daddy. There is concern that he regressed a bit in the Preakness — running his first sub-100 Beyer — and further regression would bring him right into the middle of the field. He could be tired — he’s run 5 races in a row without a break. Or it could have been the Pimlico surface on Preakness day which slowed him down. There’s risk with Justify entering the Belmont, especially at a low price. I still expect him to win and rebound — and win the Triple Crown. He’s just too talented (although that hasn’t stopped many from completing the last leg.)

If Justify regresses or doesn’t handle the distance, there are a number of horses that can pass him for the win. Bravazo has run 3 of 4 90+ Beyers and finished only a 1/2 length back in the Preakness after a strong 6th in the Kentucky Derby. Hofburg, a son of Tapit, has flashed potential without winning. He finished 2nd to Audible in the Florida Derby and ran a good 7th in the Kentucky Derby. He skipped the Preakness and is fresh for the Belmont try. He’s likely to really appreciate the distance. He’s second choice on the morning line, despite still being eligible for an N1X. Tenfold is lightly raced but moved forward to be in the pack at the finish line in Preakness. A talented son of Curlin out of a Tapit mare, he should have the stamina for today’s race.

Vino Rosso has run 2 Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or better and finished in the top half of the Derby field. Because of this speed, he had a longshot chance in the Derby where he was wide. He’ll come off the pace and could loom a “Birdstone” type threat to Justify in the final furlong, especially if there is a contested pace. Noble Indy, who along with Vino Rosso, is trained by Todd Pletcher, could apply this pace pressure. He’s unlikely to possess the stamina to win the race, however.

Blended Citizen is an interesting entry. He came off the pace while wide and won the GIII Peter Pan over this track back in May. He’s likely too slow to find the top spot, but could complete exactas and trifectas. Gronkowski is a wildcard. He’s probably not fast enough to compete with these horses, but Chad Brown doesn’t run just to run, so he needs to be respected. Free Drop Billy is a son of 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags, but would need to improve — even if you throw out his 41-length loss in the Derby. Restoring Hope, the other entry from Bob Baffert (trainer of Justify), has only won 1 race — a restricted maiden at Santa Anita in February. A son of Giant’s Causeway out of a Tapit mare, the breeding is there for a good performance, but he’s yet to show the necessary speed on the track.

Analysis: I think Justify is simply too fast to lose this race and that the competition isn’t quite at his level. A speed meltdown could doom him (think American Pharoah in the Travers) and open the door for closers such as Vino Rosso. We very well could see another Triple Crown winner — just years after some deemed it an impossible task for the contemporary thoroughbred.

The Penn Mile

With one week to go before the Belmont Stakes, we take a diversion to the 3YO turf division with the GII Penn Mile from Penn National Race Course. It’s restricted to 3YO and carries a purse of half a million dollars. As the name suggests, it’s 8 furlongs — a mile on the turf. Only in it’s 5th running, the Penn Mile has become a key turf race for 3YO, especially in the eastern half of the country. That doesn’t mean that western horses aren’t shipping in, as we will see. It will be run at 7:45 eastern time, as part of a special mid-afternoon card at Penn National, which normally runs exclusively at night. Firm turf is expected.

Maraud is a likely deserving favorite with a morning line of 5/2. He won the GIII Palm Beach at Gulfstream on firm turf in an early test in March. He ran near the pace that day. He followed it up two starts later with on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs in the GII American turf, where he came off the pace on the yielding turf. Both of those race brought excellent Beyer Speed Figures. He’s trained by 3YO specialist (along with many other things) Todd Pletcher. He’s only run at mile once (early in his career) — typically running 8.5 furlongs — and finished a disappointing 3rd as the favorite.

Therapist has been off since late March when he won the Cutler Bay in track record time. He earned a tied for field-best 92 Beyer for that performance. He’s won 4 of 5 starts, with his only loss coming at the hands of Maraud in the Palm Beach. He’s 2 for 2 at the mile, with his other wins coming at the 6f distance. He prefers to come from slightly Freshened by Christophe Clement, who made his reputation on the turf (he’s since become a very good dirt trainer), he should be a major contender for the top prize today.

He’s Bankable is a bit slower than the top two, but has won two stakes in a row — both at 8.5 furlongs. He won them both in front-running fashion. It took him a while to break his maiden and couldn’t pass the N1X condition, but seems to have turned into a new horse in his last 2 starts. Trained by Mark Casse, he’ll be hoping for an easy trip on the front end — something that happens out east more often than not.

Hawkish is relatively inexperienced but ran a tied for field-best Beyer in a first-level allowance at Aqueduct in April. He was the heavy favorite that day with an easy field, something that can ultimately create an unrepeatable Beyer (although the second-place finisher went on to win next out). Despite the fast speed, a win would be a surprise in his stakes debut. It is an ambitious placing, but one that makes sense. He is trained by James Toner.

Encumbered ships in from the west coast and makes his seasonal debut. He was last seen getting smoked by Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, losing by 16 1/2 lengths. You always need to fear a horse that was good at 2 — he won the Del Mar Juvenile Turf — making his 3YO seasonal debut. That said, it still should be a little much for him to find the winner’s circle for trainer Simon Callaghan. ColtandMississippi is another Todd Pletcher trainee. Unlike Maraud, he’s significantly slower and without a win on the turf. He did have a nice third in the 6f Bridgetown at Aqueduct but would have to improve quite a bit to factor today. Way Early, for George Weaver, is inexperienced, with only a maiden win on the turf and a second in an NY-restricted allowance. A win would be a major surprise. Smart Remark returns to the turf after a poor performance in the Pat Day Mile. He broke his maiden on turf for his only win on the surface. Trained by Victoria Oliver, a win is not out of the question — he’s shown some speed on the turf — but he’d still need to improve and rebound from the last performance.

Analysis: The race comes down to how Maraud handles the shorter distance. If it affects him (he wants to go longer), then this is Therapist’s race to lose. I’ll side with Therapist who is proven at the distance.

Good luck at the races!

The Gold Cup at Santa Anita

It’s the 79th running of the race that was the Hollywood Gold Cup until 2014. Yes, a short field of 7 will go to the starting gate at Santa Anita in this GI affair. But in that field are three horses who should be considered leaders of the Classic division and who may duke it out again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill in early November (It’s a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup.) The horses will run the classic distance of 10 furlongs.

Accelerate had been a nice horse, but he burst on the scene when he beat superstar Arrogate in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last summer. He then finished 3rd in the Pacific Classic and had a subpar performance at a mile in the Breeders’ Cup. This year, he’s 2 for 4, with a dominating performance in the GI Santa Anita Handicap — at today’s 10f distance — and a useful win in the G2 San Pasqual. All 4 of his starts have yielded Beyer figures over 100, topping out at 110 in the Santa Anita Handicap. His two losses are to Giant Expectations and by a neck to City of Light who lines up two posts away from him today.

City of Light burst on the scene with an impressive performance sprinting 7f against fellow 3YO’s in the year-end GI Malibu and followed it up again with a 7f win against older in the Triple Bend. The former sprinter then stretched out in the Oaklawn Handicap and, as mentioned, defeated Accelerate by a neck. All three performances (including the Malibu) have brought triple-digit Beyers, topping out at 107 at Oaklawn, where he established himself as a router. He’s never gone 10f — only going the 9 at Oaklawn — which raises a bit of a question.

Dr. Dorr is new on the scene. It took him a while to pass his conditions, but he’s been a different horse this year. He passed his N2X in March over a wet track at odds of almost 12-1 and then won the Santana Mile convincingly as the favorite. He made his graded stakes debut in the prep for this race — the G2 Californian — where he received a Beyer of 108 and decimated the field at 9f. Like City of Light, he’s a former sprinter and has never gone the 10f distance of today’s race. But he’s passed every test given to him this year.

The rest of the field is behind the top 3, although there are some upset contenders. Pavel finished 4th in the GI Dubai World Cup and has some useful finishes in top level races. His best win to date is in the G3 Smarty Jones and his best Beyer came in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he finished 4th. He seems best used underneath. Full of Luck was soundly beaten by Dr. Dorr in the Californian and would need to improve significantly to reach the top 3. The same goes for Prince of Arabia, who appears outclassed by the top of this field. Little Scotty has risen through the claiming ranks and had a nice performance at the optional 40K level at 10f. But, again, he’d need to improve quite significantly to catch the top 3 in this field.

Analysis: It’s a hard race to make money unless you really like one of the top 3 and combine him with an upset finisher in the exacta. I don’t expect that to happen as the top 2 will likely come from Accelerate, City of Light or Dr. Dorr. I like Accelerate to win because he’s proven at the 10f over the track and has shown he’s a fan of the distance with his two best Beyers at 10f.

Good luck at the races!

The Preakness

Justify should win the Preakness. He’s already an amazing colt — he broke the “Curse of Apollo” — something that I strongly believed in. He’s an undefeated Derby winner. He’s started his career with four Beyer Speed Figures over 100. He’s a very deserving 1/5 morning line. The one X-factor is the sloppy track — it’s been really wet in Baltimore for days and it should continue tomorrow. He won on a sloppy track in the Derby, of course, but every track is different. I’m not terribly concerned about the track condition, although he did run slightly slower in the slop at Churchill than he had been on the fast track of Santa Anita.

If, for some reason, he doesn’t bring his “A” game (remember he still is a relatively inexperienced colt), Good Magic could be there and ready to pounce. He was game in defeat in the Derby and ran his fastest Beyer of the year in the Derby. He could very well be peaking and this form may put up a career-best performance. Would that be enough to make up the 2 1/2 lengths between them if Justify regresses? Likely not, but Good Magic has the best chance of pulling the upset. Tenfold is inexperienced, but finished only 4 1/2 lengths back of Magnum Moon in the Arkansas Derby. He’s only made three career starts and very well could improve in his fourth. He’s 20-1 on the M/L and could offer value on top as a win bet and underneath in an exacta. Quip is an interesting horse. Even though he had the points for the Derby, his connections chose to skip the race and point to the Preakness instead. He’s likely to improve in his 3rd start of the year. Brazavo is likely too slow, but has D. Wayne Lukas, 6th-time winner of the Preakness, in his corner (Lukas also trains Sporting Chance). He finished a good sixth in the Derby. Lone Sailor ran fast in the Lousiana Derby and finished a respectable eighth in Louisville. Like most in this race, he likely too slow to catch Justify on his “B” game. Diamond King was too slow for the Peter Pan and is way too slow for the Preakness. He’d need to move way up because of the track surface to hit the board.

Analysis: There’s no money to be made betting Justify to win, so I’ll try to match him up in an exacta with Tenfold and Quip (and Lone Sailor, if the prices permit it.)

Good luck at the races!


The Peter Pan

The Peter Pan Stakes, a GIII contest for 3YO from Belmont Park, is the focus this week. We step back from last week’s 10 furlongs in the Kentucky Derby to a more manageable 9 furlongs–the distance of the Derby final preps. A field of 7 will assemble at 6:18 Eastern Time — some with some very interesting and intriguing resumes on tap.

The race begins with Core Beliefs, who breaks from the inside, and will likely be the favorite. He finished third in the GI Santa Anita Derby, 9 1/2 lengths behind eventual Kentucky Derby winner, Justify.  The Santa Anita Derby is at the same distance as today’s race and his Beyer speed figure in that race is best in the field. Zing Zang was an also-ran in Blue Grass Stakes, Rebel, and Southwest. He should find the waters much less deep today, but he hasn’t yet shown the speed needed to win at this level. Just Whistle is a fast maiden winner trained by Michael Matz. This horse might have a bright future, but this may be too much too soon.

Blended Citizen was the last one out for the Kentucky Derby. He won the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway and finished a decent 5th behind Good magic in the Blue Grass. With today’s race at the Blue Grass distance and the GIII win under his belt, he should be well-regarded. I expect the 6-1 price to drop. Diamond King adds Javier Castellano after winning the Federico Tesio from Laurel. He also ran well in the Swale, a Gulfstream sprint back in February. He’d need to improve, but the second start off the layoff should bring (at least some) improvement. UPDATE:  Diamond King will scratch and run in the PreaknessHigh North ran the second fastest Beyer Speed Figure in the field. He did so while winning the Northern Spur, run on the undercard of Arkansas Derby day. He wasn’t very good against the top of the division in the Rebel, but he’s likely to find his level today. Both Gotta Go and Transistor — new to the Rudy Rodriguez barn — are likely too slow to compete today. Gotta Go ran well in the Swale, but has been on a downward trend since then. Transistor’s best run was a second-place finish in a Florida-bred allowance at Gulfstream.

Analysis: Core Beliefs will likely be a short price, but both Blended Citizen and High North may offer a bit more value. I’d include the 3 of them as part of the excellent all-stakes Belmont late Pick-4 ticket.

‘Twas the Night Before the Derby

It’s the night before the Kentucky Derby, and I think I finally know what to do with Justify. I’m a firm believer in historical trends and the “Curse of Apollo” is one of the strongest in sports. Churchill Downs is a zoo on Derby Day and that energy permeates throughout the racetrack. A horse is exposed to new levels of activity and noise — something that conditioning as a 2YO obviously helps. It’s hard to say whether Justify has developed that experience in just 3 races — all which have come this year as a 3YO.

Ultimately, the horseplayer in me sees too much risk to take a low price on this equine wunderkind. Yes, he’s blazing fast, but I think it best to side with history. This leaves the question of who to bet. I’ve written about Audible before:

This is a horse that has done nothing wrong. You can excuse the sprinting effort on debut in September — even though he made up tremendous ground. And then all he’s done is win, starting with stretching out to a mile at Aqueduct. He blew away an allowance field, albeit there were only 4 horses running. At Gulfstream, he brought it to a new level, running Derby-level speed. He was dominant in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby is trained by über-trainer Todd Pletcher. He has the experience that some of the field lacks. I think he stands a good chance come Derby day, and will likely be on most of my tickets.”

I still feel that way about Audible. He’s come back as a fast 3YO and NY-bred is no longer any sort of disadvantage — he cost $500K at auction and runs that way. I’m also intrigued by Mendelssohn, even though it’s hard to comparatively gauge the UAE Derby effort. He was impressive last fall winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but this is a completely different beast. Ryan Moore is a major plus. I’ve never thought that Good Magic is fast enough to win this and it has been some time since Bolt D’Oro crossed the finish line first. Magnum Moon has the same Apollo issues that Justify has, without the same level of speed. Vino Rosso is a bit of a wildcard — he’s always been a morning horse and he showed up in the afternoon in the Wood. But he’s a bit too inconsistent for my tastes on Derby Day.

The rest all have small chances with improvement, although I’d be surprised if the winner did not come from the horses that are listed above. It’s going to be Audible for me in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Good luck to everyone playing!