3 Derby Horses: Justify, My Boy Jack & Audible

It’s still way too early to get a deep grasp on the Kentucky Derby. Among other things, workouts and post positions are essential parts of the Derby equation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t summarize and analyze what we do know. I’m going to pick 3 horses and see if I can form an opinion on them.

Justify: Starting with anybody but him felt sacrilegious. He’s blazing fast along with being quite precocious — he’s 3 for 3 with a Santa Anita Derby in his belt (with 3 100 or higher Beyer figures.) But only 3 for 3. Because it only takes to the fourth sentence to mention the “Curse of Apollo” — no horse has won the Derby unraced at 2 since Apollo in 1882. “The Curse” isn’t a statistical quirk; it’s a measure of maturity. The Derby is chaotic and overwhelming for many young horses. An experienced horse is calmer. Can Justify overcome the curse? Baffert brought us a Triple Crown — perhaps this is next. He’s fast enough that he could still be affected and win (think of Curlin for a good effort). I think this is a question that every handicapper has to ask for themselves over the next few weeks.

My Boy Jack: You have to like the smart move to go to the Lexington to get the points to qualify for the Derby. He was originally a turf horse and ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, finishing 3 lengths behind Mendelssohn. My Boy Jacks faces Mendelssohn in a rematch of sorts on Kentucky Derby Day. He came back in January after a brief vacation and tried the Dirt in the Sham, finishing a well-beaten third. Interesting, he moved around running at 4 different tracks on his Derby trail. He’s fast, but I don’t know if he is Derby fast and his best win (other than maybe the Lexington) was in the mud at Oaklawn in the GIII Southwest. His profile doesn’t quite scream Derby resume.

Audible: 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.


Santa Anita Derby

100 points for the Kentucky Derby are on the line, but there’s so much more at stake in the Santa Anita Derby. On paper, it’s a two-horse race. And those are two sensational horses this time of year. I’ll take a look at the two super-contenders and then also look to see if any horse has a decent chance at an upset.

Justify has zero points and needs them to qualify for the Derby. That shouldn’t be a problem, as second-place seems the floor for this lightly-raced Baffert trainee. He’s been lightning fast in his maiden and first-level allowance — triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure fast and untouched with wins of 6 1/2 and 9 1/2 furlongs (which honestly could have been more.) His main knock? He didn’t race at 2 and the “curse of Apollo” is in effect. No horse has won the Derby unraced at 2 since Apollo since 1882. We’ve seen a bunch of curses and “never-happens” fall in sports this decade, so perhaps it’s time for this one to go as well. But that’s not really an argument. The stronger argument is the blazing speed. I’d be more likely to see him make the Kentucky Derby and freak out there due to lack of experience, as opposed to having a bad day today in a field of 7 at his local track. Mike Smith retains the mount for the stakes debut.

Bolt D’oro still has the best name on the trail, but, of course, that’s meaningless. But it’s still a very cool name. He was put-up as the winner against a very good horse in McKinzie in the Grade II San Felipe. He came back just as good as he was last fall and ran his record to 4 wins from 5 starts, with the only loss in the BC Juvenile. He has an experience edge over Justify, having run in exclusively graded stakes (3 G1’s) since breaking his maiden. He’s fast, but Justify may be a bit faster. Javier Castellano retains the mount and he’s as good as a jockey as you can get.

The rest of the field is significantly slower, with maidens in Jimmy Chila and Orbit Rain. Core Beliefs just broke his maiden, but it was on the front end on a slow pace — the weakest type of maiden win. Pepe Tono is too slow to win, absent improvement from a win less than a month ago. The one experience exception is Instilled Regard, who while slower than the top two, won the Grade III Lecomte at the Fair Grounds. But then he finished fourth in the Grade II Risen Star and did not contest the Louisiana Derby. If there’s going to be an upset, it will be Instilled Regard, but he’d need to improve off the February win and have the top 2 not fire. 10-1 seems fair and it’s possible you might get that price with money pouring in on the top 2.

Analysis: It is Justify’s race to lose. He’s fastest and the lack of experience shouldn’t hurt him today and much as it would in Kentucky. There’s not much you can do with 4/5 (may be 2/5) except play it through a Pick 4. It should be a good race to watch as we see what Justify (or Bolt D’Oro) can do. Finally, Keep an eye on Instilled Regard’s price — 10-1 or better should represent some value in an otherwise valueless race.


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.

Kentucky Derby Contender Profile: Dortmund

The goal of this series is to prepare for the Kentucky Derby by reviewing the racing history of the contenders. By the end of this article, you’ll have a good understanding of what the undefeated Dortmund brings to the Kentucky Derby and while he’ll be a top 2 choice come post time on the first Saturday in May.

Dortmund appeared on the radar with an notable win in an 2YO routing allowance at Churchill. I always try to play this class and distance of race; Dortmund made quite an impression. I thought he was a clear favorite and had heard the buzz from Baffert, but it was more a question of the lack of depth of the field than Dortmund’s ability. He had been wide in his maiden, and I worried about his discipline. But, after the race, I came away with a much stronger opinion, even though he still ran wide.

You can watch the allowance here:  Dortmund Allowance Win

Los Alamitos Futurity

The Buzz grew and he was the heavy favorite in the 5-horse Los Alamitos Futurity.  


His stamina — his defining feature — was well on display as he just had more than the others in the final strides. His staying ability in something you’ll notice in these next two races.

Robert B. Lewis Stakes

Firing Line and Dortmund returned in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.  What happened next was amazing. I watch a great deal of racing and you almost never see a horse do what Dortmund did in this race.


Santa Anita Derby

According to Brisnet, the Santa Anita Derby was the hardest prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Screenshot 2015-04-23 16.40.34

It also was run at a tough early pace and Dortmund had plenty left for the stretch. He beat several good horses, although due to subsequent injuries, only Bolo will follow Dortmund to the Derby from this prep.

Dortmund continues to show tremendous stamina and a versatility in style. He’s likely to be a close second choice to American Pharoah, previewed next.

The Wood Memorial (GI)

It’s the cap to the Aqueduct 3YO season on Saturday with the Wood Memorial.

Racing returned to the main track from the inner dirt on Wednesday and a field of seven goes forward. Five return from the Gotham, won by El Kabeir:

A very impressive performance visually, although the speed figure came back less than stellar. On the whole, the NY preps haven’t been all that strong this year. That said, El Kabeir had already established himself last fall, with a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club, although he still needs to improve to dream of the hitting the board at Churchill Downs.

Of the 4 others who were smoked by El Kabeir in the Gotham, I’d only give a long look to Lieutenant Colonel, who just may have not liked the wet, inner track. It was only his second career start; might be worth it to take a chance on a rebound for a great trainer (Chad Brown) at a long price.

The two shippers, Daredevil and Frosted bring very different resumes. .

Frosted has been hyped all winter, but hasn’t shown elite speed and performance. His Fountain of Youth says it all:

Daredevil had a terrible post in the Juvenile, so tossing that is ok.  And, if you toss that race, his speed profile is great. His biggest question is the 9 furlong distance. Right now, I’d guess he might be a better miler than anything else. If he doesn’t like the distance, El Kabeir might just inherit the win, unless Lieutenant Colonel (or another) improves.

Enjoy the great racing day!

Santa Anita Derby

Blue Grass

Paths to Kentucky Derby: 2010 – 2012

How did the eventual winners of the Kentucky Derby get to Louisville?

This morning, I’m going to start the review by taking a look at the winners from 2010 – 2012 and the path that they took to reach the starting gate. This period was marked by three non-favorite winners:

2012: I’ll Have Another 14-1 (9th choice)

2011: Animal Kingdom 20-1 (10th choice)

2010: Super Saver 8-1 (2nd choice)

Note that the qualifying method changed from Graded Earnings to points in 2013, although these horses all would have qualified under either system.

2010: Super Saver had a solid 2YO campaign, losing on debut to a very solid sprinter (G1 winning — King’s Bishop) in Discreetly Mine and then winning in the slop by 7 lengths next out. A solid effort in the Champagne, no Breeders’ Cup, but then a strong win in the KY Jockey Club marked him as a solid Derby candidate.

Screenshot 2015-02-23 07.40.58


His Tampa Bay Derby was a disappointing 3rd as a favorite, but this is definitely a race worth watching as Odysseus somehow wins the photo. Race starts at 1:13.

His Arkansas Derby, where he ran well as the third choice, even though he was upset by wire-to-wire longshot Line of David (the sire of Firing Line, who Dortmund rallied past in the stretch a few weeks back in the Robert Lewis). It was his lifetime best speed figure and suggested good form for his winning performance over a favored wet-track at Churchill.

Super Saver’s Derby:

2011: Animal Kingdom broke his maiden at 2YO over the then-polytrack at Keeneland. He returned for a first-level allowance on the turf at Gulfstream, possibly for conditioning. He broke poorly, but rallied wide to finish second by a head.

Screenshot 2015-02-23 09.08.05

He then went off as second choice in the Spiral Stakes, which stood an unlucky 6 weeks out from the Derby — no horse since Needles in 1956 had won the Derby off a 6 week layoff.

Animal Kingdom made a sweeping move and then outgamed Decisive Moment. Going into the Derby, the biggest question was the dirt, which proved to be a non-factor as in the words of Larry Collmus, he came “roaring” down the stretch to victory.

2012: I’ll Have Another won on debut at 5.5f at Hollywood Park, finished second in the Best Pal, and then shipped to Saratoga for the Hopeful. A sloppy track — or other factors — led to a very disappointing effort.

Screenshot 2015-02-23 08.45.32

He returned 5 months later — dismissed as a 43-1 longshot in the Robert Lewis — and shocked Santa Anita with a then-career best performance.

It was no fluke as he essentially repeated the effort in the Santa Anita Derby 2 months later — this time at 4-1.

He then brought his scintillating form to Kentucky a month later, where he thrillingly caught Bodemeister in the stretch to win.

Coming next: Favorites rule —  Orb and California Chrome (2013 – 2014)