The Iroquois

The Iroquois is the first race on the Kentucky Derby trail for 2019 — offering 10 points for the winner. A large field of 12 goes to the gate in this GIII event in which 2YO’s will navigate 2 turns and 8.5 furlongs. 2YO’s routing in a graded stake — that’s all you need to say in order to bring up the Derby antenna.  It is, of course, still very early, but serious contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile tend to emerge in these early races. In turn, the Juvenile is an important “prep” race for the Kentucky Derby.

Tight Ten (2-1) looks the overwhelming favorite on paper. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he has a Beyer Speed Figure of 80 last time out, finishing second in the Saratoga Special. His biggest question is whether he can get the route of ground — something that seems likely with Tapit as his sire. Distorted Humor — who I think of as producing more milers — is his damsire. To confirm that, his dam has produced more sprinters than routers and was a sprinter herself on the racetrack. If you’re going to take a shot that Tight Ten is a better sprinter than a router, you will likely get paid – the key is to find the right horse (or horses — if you put it in a multi-race exotic). Even with a sprinting propensity,  It’s also possible he’s still a better router than this group. He’s likely to be odds-on.

The rest of the field comes in as slower sprinters. Here are a few that could improve with distance. Tobacco Road (6-1), who is also trained by Steve Asmussen, broke his maiden at Ellis Park and followed it up with a win as the favorite in the Ellis Park Juvenile. He is bred for routing with Quality Road as his sire and Lomitas (GB) as his damsire. His dam has never produced a route winner, however. She has produced her share of 2YO winners — with 5 winners from 12 starts. He rates a chance. Manny Wah (8-1) is trained by Wayne Catalano and broke his maiden over artificial surface at Arlington Park. He then finished a close third in the Ellis Park Juvenile. His sire, Will Take Charge, should eventually produce routers. Proud Citizen on the bottom should help stamina as well. His trainer doesn’t excel at first-time routing — only 10% — which raises some red flags, even though he’s only adding 1.5 furlongs.

Everfast (12-1) is trained by Dale Romans who relatively excels at first time route. This horse won first time out at Ellis Park coming from off the pace — always a nice sign. His sire is Take Charge Indy and his dame sire Awesome Again, so distance shouldn’t be a problem. Pole Setter (6-1) has already shown an ability to get a route, although it has been over the turf. He finished 6th after a competitive run in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile. Trained by Brad Cox, he adds blinkers today after weakening late in his last race. His last workout is a bullet, so it’s likely that the blinkers help the focus.

Analysis: It’s too hard to take a low price on Tight Ten, even though odds-on in graded stakes, especially 2YOs, tend to be formful. I’m leaning towards the upside of Everfast, who at 12-1, could be a daymaker in the multi-race exotics if the odds stay high. Multi-race players can play several and I’d also include Pole Setter who has enough dirt in his pedigree to make an interesting run as well and stamina built-in from that Kentucky Downs run.

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.

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.

Southwest Stakes

Happy President’s Day! And the “bonus” racing that comes along with it, including a Kentucky Derby Prep from Oaklawn. The Southwest Stakes, a GIII at 8.5 furlongs, has drawn a field of 10, with the scratch of Principe Guiherme. At first glance, it’s a Baffert race to lose, with Mourinho rocking the best speed figure and a significant advantage over the field. And, as usual, I’ll try to beat him, just like we beat Instilled Regard with Brazado at 21-1 in the Risen Star.

The strengths of Mourinho are many. He’s fast — fastest in the field — and won the Smarty Jones over this track. He’s finished first or second in every race. He had a successful 2YO campaign, gaining experience which showed up in the Smarty Jones as he stretched out for the first time. He cost $625K as a 2YO in training. There are some downsides. Baffert doesn’t exactly excel with 2-time starters off the layoff (he rocks the layoff, though), but that’s of less concern b/c of the nature of this animal. He did get an easy lead last time — something that likely won’t happen today.

There are several challengers, starting with the Asmussen-trained Combatant for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing. He finished second in the  Smarty Jones, sitting off the pace, and finishing 3 1/4 lengths in arrears. He’ll need to improve and get a more favorable pace, but both are possible. It’s his 3rd start as a 3YO – both routes — which is favorable for another strong performance. Seven Trumpets ran well in the Jerome, but was still significantly slower than needed to win here. He’s likely a pace factor, along with Retirement Fund, Ezmosh, Mourinho, and Sporting Chance.

Sporting Chance makes his 3YO debut after winning the GI Hopeful last year. It’s also his first stretchout for the son of Tiznow. He was an expensive yearling for the Derby Trail veteran in D. Wayne Lukas. He has the most chance to improve among the contenders. Ezmosh comes off a loss by a neck to the upset winner of the Risen Star, Bravazo. He’d need to improve and get a good pace, but is likely too slow.

Analysis: It is Mourinho’s race to lose and there aren’t tremendously strong contenders. Combatant could win at a better pace, but I really like Sporting Chance to improve on his 2YO form. You won’t get 21-1, but you could get 6-1. Add him to your ticket with Mourinho and you should be able to get through the P4.


Sham Stakes

In trying to evaluate the legacy of Sham, the 1973 Derby and Preakness runner-up, we have to consider he’d probably have won these 2 races in almost any other year. His times are in the top 5 in history — he just happened to be in the same crop with Secretariat. There is a connection between Sham and Santa Anita, with Sham winning the Santa Anita Derby. But, on the downside, he didn’t win a Triple Crown race and was injured in the Belmont.

This race is a GIII. Based on his legacy, you could argue for GII — the Secretariat is a GI. But it seems a bit of a stretch for, what is in fact, a losing horse. I think the GIII is about right. Even assuming that he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, that puts him far from elite company — 64 horses have won at least two legs of the Triple Crown in a given year. But the historic nature of his times deserve recognition and I’m glad to see Sham’s name next to a graded stake.

(Wolly Bully is in my head)

On the actual race today, it’s a GIII mile for 3-year-olds. Still just a mile, it nevertheless could go a long way towards shaping the Derby qualifying on the West Coast. The race begins with McKinzie who has run lights out both times on the track. He was beaten last night, but put up as the winner. The decision was controversial to say the least (I am biased here). Mourinho is fast enough to win, but does have two second-place finishes as the favorite with a big of hang at the end. Blinkers go on, potentially to address this failure to move away from the pack. My Boy Jack will try to bring good turf form — his last start was a 3-length loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf — to the dirt. You can’t put too much stock in his poor showing at 5f in his career debut.


I’m going to try to beat McKinzie and do it with the headwear-added Mourinho. I like My Boy Jack to close and finish well underneath.