Jessica Chapel / Railbird

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The Target

Trainer Rusty Arnold defends Steve Asmussen:

The two medications alluded to in the video (Lasix and thyroid powder) are both legal to have and legal to use. So, what crime has Steve committed?

None, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? The indiscriminate dosing of horses with unnecessary drugs has become routine. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

Getting Started

Beholder

Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder returns on Sunday (DRF+ sub. req.):

Mandella considers the Santa Lucia to be a prep for the $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7. With that in mind, Mandella said Beholder is not 100 percent ready for the Santa Lucia.

“I don’t think she’s ready for her best, but I didn’t plan it that way,” he said. “I think she’ll get enough out of this to do what we want to do. I haven’t tightened the belt. I’d have a strong mile in her if I wanted her at her best.”

Even not fully cranked, and giving six pounds, Beholder may still just outclass her rivals — she is the only stakes winner in the field. But if there’s a returning champion who’s statistically vulnerable, it’s a reigning 3-year-old filly champ: 74% return, 87% are favored in their first start of the year, and only 32% win.

4/20/14 Update: Wow. You expect a champion to return well, but Beholder made winning the Santa Lucia look like the easiest gallop. Watch the replay:

Nice bit of detail in the Brisnet race recap: “Beholder … was content to bide her time in second as Legacy set splits of :23 2/5 and :47, then began whittling away at that rival’s advantage under her own power.”

4/21/14 Update: Beholder gets a Beyer speed figure of 98 for the Santa Lucia, and now she’ll point to the June 7 Ogden Phipps at Belmont, the same target as Princess of Sylmar and Apple Blossom winner Close Hatches. We have a rivalry: “Beholder looked fantastic in her return, Belmont day will be some race,” owner Spendthrift Farm tweeted. “Princess of Sylmar is looking forward to Beholder visiting the Big Apple. Great for the game!,” Edward Stanco replied.

California Dreaming

There’s been something about California Chrome from the start:

“I had a dream about this colt two or three weeks before he was born, and I woke up and told my wife that (the mother) was going to have a colt, he was going to be a lot of flash to him, he was going to have four white feet and big bald face, and that’s exactly how he was,” Coburn said. “(When he was born), I looked at that colt and said, ‘This horse is going to be special — I don’t care what it takes, we’re going to do everything we have to do to make sure this horse is put in the right hands and taken care of so that he can run.’”

The colt’s owners laid out a plan, and so far, so good:

Last March, when Sherman received word that he was getting Martin and Coburn’s 2-year-old to train, Martin sent him an email. The subject line simply read: “The Road to the Kentucky Derby.” It included all the races that California Chrome needed to enter to prep and qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Sherman said he’s glad Martin detailed the story to the media because he felt folks would think he made it up.

“Every race Perry put in that plan worked out just like he said.” Sherman said. “It’s kind of spooky, kind of like a miracle because I’ve been around this game a long time and know all the things that can happen.”

With zero strikes, he’s one of 11(!) in this year’s likely Kentucky Derby field who stand “a very good chance” of winning according to Jon White’s system.

Top 25: The latest Derby leaderboard from Churchill Downs (PDF).

Pricing

Tom LaMarra on simulcasting fees and Churchill’s recent takeout hike:

I’m no math whiz, so correct me if I’m wrong. In the case of Churchill, if its host fee remains the same, a rebate shop and its customers get to keep the extra 3 percentage points when the exacta takeout goes from 19% to 22%.

If you operate a rebate shop or are a large importer of simulcast signals, higher takeout is money. That may explain why racetracks, rebate shops, and [ADWs] don’t complain about 30% trifecta rakes: If they pay the sender 3% for the signal, there’s 27 cents per dollar to play with before taxes.

Matt Hegarty on how those cents might get shared:

If simulcast rates do not go up at the same rate as the takeouts, then some players may not feel the full impact of the hikes. Many account-wagering operations, including Churchill’s mammoth twinspires.com and an offshore site the company bought several years ago, offer rebates to players, and some sites may elect to forgo the additional revenue to increase the rebates to their players on the Churchill signal. Many rebated players, including those who use automated systems employing algorithms to determine their wagers, are highly sensitive to takeout rates.

The Wicked Favorite

… it’s hard not to see a little Red Sox in the dark brown colt.”

If Wood winner Wicked Strong goes to the Kentucky Derby as anticipated, his story will be huge, and not only in the city he’s named to honor. It might even bump that of California Chrome, Art Sherman, and Swaps (remembered fondly in conversation by Sherman and jockey Dave Erb at the Blood-Horse.)

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