Mountaineer Race Track, May 20, 7:00 ET

Race of the Day, May 20.

Mountaineer Race Track, Chester, West Virginia.

Race 1, Maiden Special Weight, Turf, 3 and up, 1 mile and 70 yds. Purse: $19,400

We’re returning to Mountaineer for our customary early week visit with a deep field of maidens routing on the turf. None of these horses have won a race before, but every one has raced before.  While this helps to reduce some of the unknowns, several horses are trying the turf for the first time.  There’s always a chance that Mountaineer won’t run on the turf because of the weather.  We’ll talk about that contingency at the end.

Prince Zurs (#9, #4-1) should be your rightful favorite.  He’s run fast enough on the turf before, and he’s yet to run a bad race in his short career.  Lotta Heat (#4, 3/1) ran well in his debut in early 2013 on turf, but hasn’t been back since, opting for polytrack.  Despite the nice debut, Lotta Heat has stuggled in every outing since. Mr. North Woods (#5, 5-1) and Dramatist (#1, 9/2) have competitive turf performances in their past.  Dramatist is lightly raced and is making his second start of a very long layoff.  It would seem he’s at least one more away.  Mr. North Woods has raced 10 times and earned 3 seconds and a third.  He has ample turf experience, racing six times previously. But he’d need to recapture his old form having not raced since the December.  Again, that seems unlikely in this situation.  Of the horses who have never tried turf, Lucky Luminaire (#8, 8-1) has the most upside, although he would need to improve substantially on the new surface.  Deshawn Parker, who was injured on Sunday and is the best turf rider on the ground, was slated to ride.

Questions:

  1. How low will the price be on Prince Jurs?  He should be the favorite, but he won’t be 4-1.
  2. Is Lotta Heat off form, or does he just want to get back to the turf?  If he thrives on the turf, he is a real threat to Prince Jurs.
  3. Can Mr. North Woods or Dramatist recapture old speed?

Analysis:

If the race is run on turf, Prince Jurs is a well-deserving favorite.  If he doesn’t like the course or otherwise doesn’t run his race, it becomes a wide-open affair, which could yield a price. If the race is moved to dirt, there will be several scratches which will change the race, and I’ll update the post (and on twitter) accordingly.  Tune in at 6:45 Eastern Time on Twitter @alldayracing.

Update:  

The race has been moved off the turf, which adds some risk to Prince Jurs.  He’s fast on turf, but never run on dirt.  Scat Daddy has shown propensity with turf runners, so there might be some risk with a move to dirt.  Scratch Lotta Heat and  Mr. North Woods  If Prince Jurs doesn’t like the dirt,  Lucky Lumiere is your likeliest winner.  After that, it becomes slim pickings. Ten Tequilas (#3, #10) is a factor returning to routing.  Taylor’s Point (#2, 8-1) probably wants a wet track,  Dramatist stays in, and while probably needs a race, may still be fast enough to claim this one if Prince Jurs and Lucky Luminaire falter.

Pimlico Special, G3, Purse: $300,000 5:52 ET

I watched the 2006 Pimlico special from an unfurnished living room in South Burlington, VT.  We saw the U.S. debut of Invasor, who would later go on to win the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic, 2007 Dubai World Cup, and be named Horse of the Year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCydlbYkGM0

I’m not sure there’s a horse of Invasor’s stature in here, but there are some nice looking classic division colts.  The race begins with Revolutionary (#6, 5-2) who was 3rd last year in the Derby behind Orb.  Since then, he looked dull in the Donn but raced well in the Oaklawn Handicap, finishing behind Will Take Charge.  Revolutionary is fast enough to win here and he should like this distance.  But he has a knack for inconsistency and, while he’s the best on paper, he doesn’t dominate the field.

Moreno (#3, 7-2) wants the lead, but there will be competition for it — I’d be surprised if he didn’t fold off the board in the final 100 yards.  Golden Lad (#4, 6-1)  and Valid (#1, 10-1) also have designs on it.  Valid is taking a step up in class, but ran the best race of his life routing in the mud at Gulfstream.  I expect his price to drop.  Cat Burglar (#2, 4-1) has earned this shot.  He’s raced well in Southern California, but he’d need to improve to find the winner’s circle here. Carve (#5, 5-1) is trained by Brad Cox, who has been on fire lately.  The horse is making his third start of the layoff and has a versatile off-the-pace style. Prayer for Relief (#8, 12-1) is getting a bit long in the tooth.  He’d need to find past speed for it to happen.  It’s not unheard of for that to happen with the recent switch to Dale Romans.  He could be a factor if others don’t move forward.

Questions:

  1. Will Revolutionary bring his A-game today?  If so, he’s hard to beat.
  2. Will Valid be crazy good on the mud again?
  3. Is Carve good enough to win a graded stakes?  He tried earlier in the Asmussen barn, but he seems like an improved horse under Cox.

Analysis

Revolutionary will be the likely favorite, but he is unreliable.  He certainly is a strong contender, but the price should lead you elsewhere.  Carve has always had potential and has been realizing it lately.  With a decent price around 5-1, he could be a very nice pick.   Valid deserves some consideration, especially if he floats over 10-1.

The Kentucky Derby, 6:24 ET

Churchill Downs, Louisviille, KY, Race 11, Kentucky Derby

Post Time: 6:24 EST, Purse: $2.2 million

There’s great racing all day, but there’s nowhere else to go on Derby day than the race we’ve been waiting for all year.  I’ve gone into great detail on the Derby elsewhere on this site (triplecrownraces.tumblr.com), so this will mainly be my analysis of the race.

The Derby is the biggest race for this sports, both to insiders and outsiders.  Today, we’ll have 19 three-year olds attempting to run 1 1/4 miles — longer than they’ve ever gone before.  While any horse in the field can win the Derby (and often it’s a surprise), there are a few betting tips that I typically follow.

First, I like to see a horse have the ability to come off the pace and close.  With 19 horse, you often get the horses going too fast too early.  Second, I like to see a horse that is bred well and should get the extra distance. Third, I like to get a price — it doesn’t have to be huge, but it should compensate for the risk.

Questions:

  • Will California Chrome bring his California speed to Churchill Downs?  This is the question of the race.  If he runs his best race, he’s going to win.
  • Will there be a hot pace?  A hotter pace?  A suicidal pace?
  • Will any of the frontrunners — Vicar’s in Trouble, Uncle Sigh, Samraat, Uncle Sigh, California Chrome, General A Rod, Wildcat Red, or Chitu — be faster than the others?
  • Will Medal Count like the dirt surface?

Analysis

The Derby often is influenced by the trip the horse will get.  And it’s notoriously difficult (and usually not useful) to predict trips.  So, we have to demand a price to deal with this risk .

With all that in mind, let’s turn to the horses. After going through the field, I was most impressed with Wicked Strong, who ran fast enough to win here in his Wood outing.  He benefitted from a fast pace there, but he should here, too.  Danza is another that catches the eye, along with an impressive General A Rod.  I expect Samraat to be noisy on the turn and stubborn in the stretch.  Medal Count could be the winner, too.  He’ll need to like the dirt and improve, but the Dynaformer breeding is very tempting.

I usually play the Derby Trifectas and Superfectas — it’s the only time of the year that I play those bets.  But there’s a bit of a mythicism about those bets and how they often pay in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands.  It’s Wicked Strong on top for me, combined with some Saamrat, and the above horses.  Here we go!  

Postscript:

Sometimes champions come from humble beginnings.  California Chrome is a champion.  Bravo and congratulations.  Commanding Curve, Danza, andWicked Strong all ran well but the pace wasn’t too fast and California Chrome was just too good.   It is will be interesting to break down why the pace was surprisingly soft. On to Baltimore, where I wouldn’t be surprised to see California Chrome at odds-on.

Churchill Downs, The Kentucky Oaks, 5:49 P.M. ET

Race of the Day, May 2, 2014

Churchill Downs (Louisville, KY), Race 11, The Kentucky Oaks

Post Time: 5:49 EST   Purse:  $1M

For the fillies, the Oaks is the equivalent of the Derby.  It’s a bit shorter — only 1 1/8 miles — and only has 13 horses, instead of the 20 (19 with the scratch of Hoppertunity) that will go forward in the Derby.  While not as big as the Derby among the general public, for insiders, this is an extremely important race, almost equal in importance to the Derby.

Who is in this race?

These are simply the best 3-year old fillies in the United States. Racing economics tend to push fillies into tough competition fast, and fillies tend to get retired quickly.  This always puts a big of a drag on this race.  That said, it takes a very good horse to win here.

What are the questions?

  • This race starts and ends with the heavy favorite, Untapable (#13, 4/5). Everybody loves her.  That, of course, pricks my ears up to see if she can be beaten.  Sure, she’s the fastest in the race by far.  But will she duplicate her previous efforts at the Fairgrounds here at Churchill?nThat’s far from a given, especially considering the likely very short price.
  • Who will improve?  These are top notch 3-year olds.  It’s likely that some horse will have a unforeseen, much improved effort.
  • Ria Antonia (#2, 10-1) , the juvenille champion, hasn’t moved forward yet.  She’s reportedly training well under Baffert.  Are her workouts meaningful?
  • Unbridled Forever’s (#9, 12-1) mom — Lemons Forever — won this race.  Can she run to this pedigree and turn the tables on Untapable?

Analysis:

I think it’s wise to try to beat Untapable here.  There’s a significant question as to whether her speed will translate, and there’s no reason to take a short price in a field of improving, well-bred horses.  The difficulty, of course, is figuring out who else to go with.  Nothing can be more frustrating than being right about the favorite and not being able to bring home the winner!  Of the other contenders, Unbridled Forever seems to have the ability to rate what could be a fast pace.  Just like her mother!  If not her, I’d look to the Rosario-piloted Rosalind (#4, 8-1)  to pick up the pieces.

Postscript:

Wow!  Untapable was not just a Fairgrounds horse, but is a superstar.  She’s a once-a-generation talent.  Still, she only paid even-money and, although she answered the questions, they were still there.  Unbridled Forever ran a strong third.  We’ll see if she improves, or whether she’s hit her ceiling.