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 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.

Weekday Races: Charles Town #5

When this site started, I did a feature called “Race of the Day.” It’s exactly what it sounds like — I wrote a preview every day. It eventually ran Wednesday through Sunday. As the site began to focus more on Saturday racing, I discontinued Race of the Day in favor of extended coverage of Saturday and Triple Crown (3YO Campaign) racing. But the Race of the Day was a terrific tool. It permitted exposure to different classes of racing than you see on Saturday. There’s great value in being able to understand the difference between a maiden $5K claimer and a maiden $50K claimer. Or the difference between $5000 non-winners of 1 in 6 months and $5000 non-winners of 2 in 6 months. Playing lower level races can teach the concept of class and help your overall understanding of the game. They can also help take down Pick 5’s and early P4’s — and at small tracks, late P4’s — that tend to be made up of these races.

So, let’s focus on a race #5 tonight from Charles Town (8:51 PM ET). It’s a 6 1/2 furlong $12.5 Claimer for State-bred (West Virginia) Maidens 4YO and up. As typical, there is a significant class drop/class rise for maidens moving from MSW to MC. Let’s run through the contenders and see if we can find a bet:

  • #1 Gattosing 5/1: Making his third start off the layoff, although the second start was riderless as the horse fell at the break. Showed potential in two prior races. Stretches out — which didn’t work great last November.
  • #2 Alternate Route 5/2: Cuts back from 9 furlongs where ran ok before tirirg. Ran well at 7 furlongs on debut, even with a shaky start. Low percentage trainer doesn’t inspire at a low price.
  • #5 Just a Lil Lukey 8/5: Start #12, brings the second drop into $12.5K Maiden claimers. Inconsistent. Has some nice performances, but last one wasn’t great. Likely favorite, but vulnerable.
  • #6 Makana 6/12nd start at the level after leading in the straight and being interfered with last time. Not much on worktab and a low percentage trainer, but this horse shows some sneaky potential.
  • #7 Country Sonde 15-1: Slow, but can’t eliminate because of the drop and the stretchout.The class change could make the difference.

Analysis: I’ll try to beat Just a Lil Lukey off the bad performance. I prefer a bet on Makana (6-1 ML) and a small bet on Country Sonde (15-1 ML). I’d use those two and add Alternate Route (5-2 ML) to a deeper mutli-race wager.

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.

King Glorious Stakes

Scouring the country for 2YO routes, we end up right where we were last week. We’re back at Los Alamitos for the King Glorious Stakes, a 1-mile affair for 2YO Cal-breds. King Glorious began his career with a flourish at Golden Gate and then won the G1 Hollywood Futurity. He missed the Triple Crown but won the GI Haskell. He also won the GII Ohio Derby. According to Blood Horse, he was the first G1 winner for now-legendary Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

It’s a key race in the late P4 (race #9), so let’s take a deeper look and flush out some contenders and maybe a single:

  1. Royal TrumpThere are lots of horses named after the President running out there and here’s one at Los Al today. He wants the lead — something he shares with Bookies Luck. He got here through the maiden claiming ranks and had a solid 3rd in a 50K allowance. Despite his speed and the rail, he feels outclassed here. The stretch-out is a wild card. Still, he’s a pass for me, at least for the win spot.
  2. IntimidateA Golden Gate Fields shipper, like King Glorious. But that’s where the similarities end. He’s stretching out and would have to improve significantly. Pass.
  3. Minoso: A recent maiden-breaker, he’s stretching out for the first time and adds Gary Stevens. If there’s a speed duel — kinda, sorta, likely — he will be motoring down that long stretch at Los Al at the end of the race. At 12-1, Minoso may offer some value for those who think the race will fall apart.
  4. Lucky Romano: In the barn of Mark Glatt for the first time, this horse will be routing for the second time. He struggled the first time, but answered that with 2 fast outings (but no wins). He has the benefit of being gelded for today’s race (and, of course, every race from here on out). Both were facing winners, and his last start came in the 200K Golden State Juvenile, where he finished 3rd. Certainly a contender — and even more so if you figure he’s grown (and gained stamina) since that September route fiasco.
  5. Oh Man: Another who got here through the maiden claiming ranks. He’s another who is first-time routing. He’s too slow barring improvement and is probably safe to leave off your tickets.
  6. Bookies Luck: The M/L Favorite. He’s faster than everybody and will probably be 3/5 or 4/5 come post time. He wants the lead but he’ll have to fight for it, and it is a first-time route. He won the Golden State Juvenile and also the I’m Smokin Stakes. A chink in the armor — Jeff Bonde is 1 for 48 first time routing. That’s enough to make me look deeper for a stamina horse to beat him.
  7. Campaigner: Another first-time router, he had a solid 4th in the Golden State Juvenile, he could benefit from a bit of pace. He’ll be relatively close for the Miyadi barn, who can be a bit sneaky with their wins (evidenced by a flat-bet profit.) He seems to be improving at the right time. A strong contender, given his even performance against several of these last time out.


The goal is to beat Bookies Luck, or alternatively, how strong you feel about him as a favorite. I’m going to pass on him and go with Campaigner as my top choice. I’ll also include the newly gelded Lucky Romano, with the new barn and hopeful second try at the route distance.



Top 5 Desert Island Races: #1 Smarty Jones

Yes, it’s technically Birdstone’s Belmont Stakes in 2004, but this day —  in defeat — belongs to the people’s champion.  Smarty Jones — hailing from what was then Philly-park — was undefeated, had rather easily won the first two legs on the Triple Crown, and captured the public imagination in a way not seen in decades.

When he turned for home under Stewart Elliot’s premature move, he appeared to be pulling away and the question — for at least a second — was “how much?”  But, then announcer Tom Durkin noted that  Birdstone was commencing a rally, and it became a race against the tiring stretch of the mile and a half and, of course, history.


The Iowa Derby (Grade III)

You can often find value in these late season three-year-old stakes races, often simply by betting against horses that ran in the Triple Crown.  The public recognizes the name and overbets on this reason alone.  This strategy, however, still requires finding either a late developing three-year old.  Often, you can find them in horses that may have missed the Triple Crown due to injury, but usually you can find them in stamina horses that are now beginning to fully develop.  I like to demand recent form and speed, however.  Betting simply on the hope of improvement is a recipe for losses.


  • Vicar’s in Trouble (#8, 3/1) is certainly the most accomplished of the field, but will be overbet, given the Derby experience and past speed.   Will try to do it on the front end.  Needs to be sharp off the layoff.
  • Charge Now (#5, 8-1) emerged out of a Belmont allowance that I previewed and recapped.  He was much the best on paper in that race, but didn’t have to do too much.  The speed figure came back low, and even if that wasn’t a top effort, he’d still have to improve to win here.
  • Embellishing Bob (#1, 7-2) is my pick.  He’s been plenty fast sprinting and beat (by legitimate DQ) hot horse Bayern in the Derby Trial before being trounced by him in the Woody Stephens.  I like the stretch out and the mile work.
  • Russelin (#2, 10/1) goes for conditioner Chris Hartman.  Old Fashioned is an emerging sire and this one has nice speed and style. Still seems like a bit much to find his way to the top.
  • Six Spot (#3, 5-1) should be moved up if the track is wet – a possibility with thunderstorms likely tomorrow — but not otherwise


What I’m thinking of betting:

I like Embellishing Bob at anywhere over 3-1.  I expect that you’ll get this price on the likely second choice as Vicar’s in Trouble will likely get tons of action.  Six Spot deserves a look if the track is wet.   I haven’t seen enough speed from Charge Now to support him here.  I’ve heard Travers for him, but I’ll wait to see more.

Tune in on Twitter at 10:00 ET on Saturday night for coverage of the full slate of Stakes races from Prairie Meadows.  See you then!

On Casual Fandom, the World Cup, and the Importance of Story

I’m never been terribly sure why mainstream media coverage of horse racing essentially disappears post-Triple Crown.  As someone who did not grow up around horse racing (a very suburban, generation X’er, Midwestern childhood — my father is a law professor and my mother writes about macrobiotic foods and healthy living), I too once inhabited the limited place known as the”Triple Crown-only” horse racing world. In comparison to my now deep involvement in the sport of horse racing, I  am very much a casual sports fan for another of America’s part-time sports, soccer.  Like many, I only really pay attention to the World Cup, and I’m enjoying the current one.

So, I ask myself — what keeps me from turning on an MLS game or even the highest-level football, such as the Champions League?  I actually really enjoying watching soccer, and it’s fun to watch the action and opportunities develop so deliberately. I don’t watch outside the World Cup because I don’t know the stories. And knowing the stories — the personalities, the histories, the sentiments —  is essential to the enjoyment of sports.  It’s why rivalries are always compelling theater — the history is known and  usually angry — and its why seven-game series and championship rematches can develop an epic quality.

Yes, the Triple Crown is compelling, but not any more so than other dramatic arcs of racing. Wise Dan’s and Palice Malice’s recent campaigns have been astonishing, and Moonshine Mullin’s rise to grade I winner has been sensational. He is a horse in simply amazing condition. Mucho Macho Man‘s triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a testament to life after the Triple Crown. Furthermore,  the racetrack and its community tend to be deeply intermingled in ways not typically found in contemporary life.  Rich stories are found in these settings everyday.

We’ve seen recently how much a good story can move the needle.  The American sport-viewing public (and, perhaps, the public in general) has a constant desire for drama and story.  Horse racing — year-round, from all levels — has the ability to provide it.



Postscript: The Belmont Stakes

Tonalist gets past Commissioner in the shadow of the wire to win the “Test of a Champion.”  California Chrome was valiant, but clearly defeated.  Let’s revisit the 3 key questions from the Cheat Sheet:

1. Does California Chrome run his race?

Pre-race comment:  If he does, only Tonalist or an unexpected improvement will get it done. The above-risk factors matter, along with the importance of a good start. It’s a long race, but a bad start did in Victor Espinoza and War Emblem.

Post-race comment: He ran well, but was not in his top form today. Whether it’s due to Matterhorn stepping on his hoof or just being tired from the Triple Crown effort, he didn’t put out an absolute top effort.

2. Can Tonalist duplicate his Peter Pan effort?

Pre-race: There’s the ever-present mud question coming out of the Peter Pan. But this is a very impressive son of Tapit out of a Pleasant Colony mare. I wouldn’t expect to see him on the lead, especially starting from the way outside. A repeat of that effort puts him right there with California Chrome. Wouldn’t be shocked to see him catch Chrome in the final strides.

Post-race:  The mud wasn’t the reason for his earlier improvement, and he managed to put forth a great effort.  As expected, he showed great versatility in style, the mark of a very talented horse.

3. Who improves?

Pre-race: Most likely, one of the remaining 9 horses will put a career-best effort together. It’s the result of growth, training, and an affinity for the distance. Commanding Curve is getting some buzz in all these regards.

Post-race:  Commissioner moved forward again after his strong Peter Pan and seized the lead early.  He almost got it done, and gives WinStar another Travers prospect along with Charge Now.

Is California Chrome lucky?

California Chrome is lucky. At least that’s what a rival trainer told me yesterday. Easy pace in the Derby. Perfect trip with only a half-decent close in the Preakness.

Those are solid points, and ones that we’re likely to forget in our Triple Crown daze. Still, some horses tend to find trouble, while others — usually possessing tactical speed — tend to find good trips. I’ll stick with the latter on Chrome, but let’s be clear. Under no reasonable measure is he a good bet at 3/5. This is just one of many risk factors for him.