The Del Mar Futurity

The Del Mar Futurity, a GI event for 2YO’s going 7 furlongs, is one my favorite races all year. It is filled with memories. I can still hear my friend Josh yelling, “Stevie Wonderboy,” like it was yesterday. It typically sums up the meet for 2YO dirt colts, providing a 7f distance in anticipation of the 8.5 furlong American Pharoah (formally the Frontrunner). Unfortunately, this year one of the two standouts — Instagrand — will skip this race and train into the American Pharoah. According to DRF, it was the owner’s decision. Instagrand cost $1.2 million and won his debut at Los Al by open lengths and then won the GII Best Pal at Del Mar, earning one of the top 2YO Beyers of the year. So, we will always wonder whether Instagrand would have won here. That said, he may have been favored here, but maybe not. He would have been challenged by the horse that now takes on the position of heavy favorite, Roadster.

Roadster ran an 81 Beyer Speed Figure in winning his maiden race on July 29. But, prior to that maiden race, Bob Baffert had been touting this horse whenever asked “Who’s the next great one in your barn?” The maiden race was especially deep and he won by 4 1/4 lengths. He would seem to appreciate the extra furlong as his sire is Quality Road and his damsire of Silver Ghost. At some point, we may have questions about distance, but definitely not today. Another reason to support Roadster — Baffert owns this race — he has 13 wins. He definitely knows what it takes to win. With Instagram out, Roadster is likely to be 3/5, perhaps even 1/5. Can you beat him?

Game Winner aka the “other Baffert.” He ran a very good Beyer and then Baffert removes the blinkers. He’s an amazing 45% with this angle. Obviously, he must think this horse can run better, which makes him competitive for the winner’s circle. He’s the best chance to upset Roadster and a possible value play. Sparky Ville finished second behind Instagrand last time out in the Best Pal. It may have been a race that improves him. Rowayton was hot on debut and didn’t disappoint. He has an extra 2 furlongs to get; that’s a bigger jump than I like to see, but his speed isn’t terrible and there is some hype. Spin Lightning closed in a maiden, which is always notable. He earned a very slow speed figure, although there are hints of potential.

I don’t terribly care for Savagery. Front-running Beyer Speed Figures at the maiden claiming level tend to be inflated. Sigalert seems to slow to win this race.

Good luck at the races!

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.

Kentucky Derby Contender Profile: American Pharoah

American Pharoah is the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby off the strength of his stellar Oaklawn preps, which build upon the foundation of his Eclipse-award winning 2YO campaign. Here’s his road to the Kentucky Derby.

Debut Maiden Race

This was the key maiden race of the summer at Del Mar, featuring upset winner Om, American Pharoah, One Lucky Dane, Calculator, Iron Fist, and Daddy DT. It’s American Pharoah’s only career loss.

Despite still being a maiden, American Pharoah went off favored in the Del Mar Futurity, where he was sharp and ultra-impressive.

Frontrunner Stakes

Next was the Frontrunner, his first distance test at two turns. Passed authoritatively.

Rebel Stakes

An injury sidelined him from the Breeders’ Cup, but Baffert trained him aggressively through mid-winter for American Pharoah’s return in the Rebel at Oaklawn.

Arkansas Derby

He then faced a tougher field in the Arkansas Derby, although it still wasn’t the deepest field. No matter who he beat, he was electric and solidified status as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

American Pharoah has been sensational on the track, and is undefeated around two turns. He has a knack for opening up through the lane, something that bodes well for the stamina test that is the Kentucky Derby. He showed a new dimension in the Arkansas Derby, rating a bit off the lead, which he’ll likely want to do in Kentucky.

Finally, while the competition at Oaklawn was not the deepest, American Pharoah beat plenty of quality horses during his 2YO Southern California campaign. However, it’s worth noting that he may have benefited from being separated from Dortmund, a bonus of both horses sharing a trainer in Baffert.

Arkansas Derby (GI)

With the move of the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby has been left alone as the only major Derby prep three weeks out. This year’s edition is led by American Pharoah, who was ranked #2 in the rankings prior to the final preps. He’s been simply scintillating in his three stakes starts and overwhelms this field on speed. Here’s his never-in-doubt win in the Rebel:

He’s 1/2 on the morning line and, like Carpe Diem last week in the Blue Grass, is a fair bet for those willing to play dominating odds-on favorites.  He’s run three triple-digit Beyers in his career; no one else in field has run one. In addition, he’s proven over Oaklawn track with win in Rebel (was over wet track, however).

Far Right is likely to get some support. Outside of the Rebel (in which he sat out), the winter at Oaklawn has belonged to Far Right. Here’s his Smarty Jones:

And his Southwest Stakes:

Both visually impressive closes to be sure, but significantly slower than the races run by American Pharoah. The hope for Far Right’s supporters is a blistering pace, which would tire the front-running American Pharoah in the stretch. Yes, ir’s likely that the pace will be stronger than the Rebel, but it’s still far more unlikely that it would be so strong as to slow American Pharoah enough to permit the closing Far Right to catch him.

As for the others, Mr. Z had no real excuse in his last. He’s already peaked — he’s not fast enough to win here, and now he’s gone off-form. For those looking for a longer shot play, the lightly-raced Madefromlucky could very well move forward as he tries 9 furlongs for the second time. It would take substantial improvement, but that’s not impossible for any 3YO, especially a well-bred Pletcher-trainee this time of year. to give Todd Pletcher his third straight Arkansas Derby (2013, Overanalyze; 2014, Danza).

Also, don’t forget about the Lexington Stakes from Keeneland, which offers 10 qualifying points to the winner (the Arkansas Derby offers 100). Both Tiznow RJ and Divining Rod have points already, and with a win, may come close to qualifying for the Derby, if there are defections from the top 20.

Good luck and enjoy the races!

Kentucky Derby Top 5, as of March 23

Kentucky Derby Top 5

Written on March 23.

We’ve seen some impressive performances over the past couple of weeks, most notably watching American Pharoah return and dominate in the Rebel.  Firing Line, off his loss to Dortmund in amazing fashion in the Robert B. Lewis, shipped to Sunland Park and dominated — although his speed figure came back low. Still, his win was incredibly flattering to Dortmund.

So, here is my top 5.  I’ve also included a picture. I’ve placed them in order of finish, with lengths representing the distance between them. Currently, Dortmund is the clear leader, with a second group bunched behind. Bolo, who was ultra-impressive in his dirt debut, just might make a crazy charge and get them all by the end.

1. Dortmund

2. American Pharoah

3. Carpe Diem

4. Upstart

5. Bolo

Top 5


The Rebel (GII)

All eyes toward Oaklawn this weekend with the Rebel featuring the anticipated return of 2YO male champion, American Pharoah.  He’s the second top contender to return to the track in the last two weeks; Carpe Diem made a successful return to the races with an impressive performance winning the Tampa Bay Derby last Saturday:

Looking back at American Pharoah, he was lights out last summer in Southern California, cruising to victory in two straight Grade I races — the Del Mar Futurity and the Frontrunner:

Reports are that he was been training aggressively for this return and that he has looked sharp doing so. On paper, if he returns to last season’s sharp form (or better) on his return, he shouldn’t have too many problems with today’s field. He’s significantly faster than anyone else in the field, and it’s difficult to see someone improving to his level. He still has to favor the quirky Oaklawn surface — not a given and something that raises the risk.

It’s a small field compartively, with only 7 horses going forward. If American Pharoah is a bit shaky, look to Gulfstream shipper Madefromlucky. Its tough to tell much from his last race, but he may have more than shown here:

The final to watch is The Truth or Else, who either loved the wet track last out in the Southwest or improved off the layoff. If he improved, he should be a strong factor, but only for the top if American Pharoah isn’t at his best.

Enjoy the Rebel!

Image: Sandwich, Copyright 2014.

Kentucky Derby Top Five, as of March 6

Kentucky Derby Top 5

Written on March 6 — eve of the Tampa Bay Derby, Gotham, and San Felipe.

The top 4 clearly have separated — at least in my mind — from the rest of the pack. The 5th spot is a tough one — reasonable arguments could be made for Khozan, Far from Over, Daredevil, Ocean Knight, the injured Texas Red, and Prospect Park. However, I narrowly selected Ocho Ocho Ocho on the strength of his undefeated record, two stakes wins, including the Delta Jackpot, and his distance pedigree.

#5: Ocho Ocho Ocho



#4: American Pharoah











(Pharoah Sanders, whose name matches the spelling of American Pharoah (not Pharaoh), is a legendary jazz saxophonist.)

#3: Carpe Diem


#2: Upstart

(Finding a picture to represent Upstart is very tough. Thought about Uber, Fox TV, and the USFL, but I’ll stay true to the dictionary definitition — a person who has risen suddenly to wealth or high position.)


#1: Dortmund



Cover image: Staci Myers, Copyright 2009.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

After researching this year’s race, I have found what I expect to be a solid mid-price horse with a good chance to win. Read on for more. At the Breeders’ Cup, 2YO’s are asked to run 8.5 furlongs, which at Santa Anita is around two turns.

This race starts with two time G1 winner American Pharoah (that’s how it’s spelled — perhaps in honor of SNL’s Jay Pharoah?). He has plenty of speed and ran lights out over the track and at today’s distance in the G1 Frontrunner. To be fair, he hasn’t beaten much of anything and hasn’t rated successfully. When the highly-regarded Om got the lead on him in a maiden race, he didn’t run particularly well. However, American Pharoah’s behavior that day was especially unsettled, and it’s tough to draw too many negative conclusions from a horse’s first start.

Carpe Diem was scintillating in winning the Breeders’ Futurity, which was now on the new Keeneland dirt. His Beyer didn’t match the visual impressiveness of the performance. Yet, I’m a bit cautious of putting too much stock in the Keeneland Beyer, especially after only 3 weeks of racing on the track. Daredevil certainly must like the mud — he’s raced twice over wet tracks and been scintillating both times. He has every reason to be a good horse over a dry track, although it is a unknown, so you need to price accordingly.

Moving past the big three, Upstart is another who ran second last out in the slop at Belmont in the Champagne. He has been training well for Violette, who can train them when he gets a good one. Importantly, we still haven’t seen him go two turns, which creates both risk and profit possibility. Calculator is worth a serious longshot look. I like horses that sold at auction for many times their stud fees. Calculator’s sire, In Summation, only stands for $4k, but sold in April for $132,000. He ran a lifetime best in his first route, and may improve his second time out.

The two Aidan O’Brien international entrants are worth deeper looks. The Great War and War Envoy have not raced on dirt, although may very well handle it with War Front as their sire. Neither is terribly accomplished — with only a minor stakes for The Great War and some nice placings for War Envoy. One Lucky Dane had a tremendous maiden win in early October and goes straight to the Breeders’ Cup. Last year’s winner, New Year’s Day won this race straight out of a maiden for Baffert, although it took place one month earlier than One Lucky Dane’s win.

Without a dominant favorite here, I am looking for a potentially underrated horse, and I may have found that in Upstart, who still hasn’t raced around two turns. I trust Violette to have his horse in peak condition, and the work pattern suggest that he will be. I expect him to be about 8-1, although he could get forgotten a bit with the top three contenders (American Pharoah, Carpe Diem, Daredevil) getting more action. He’ll be a bet to win, and possibly in some exotics as well.

Check out “Stealing Money from the Crowd,” a contrarian guide to the Breeders’ Cup. Available here and on Google Play. Coming soon to iBooks.

Image: Lisa Andres, Copyright 2009.