Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Blinkers

Odds and Ends

After racing twice this year in blinkers, Lookin at Lucky will start without on Saturday; Devil May Care, who’s been training in blinkers, will start with. Horses that have gone blinkers-on or -off haven’t done well in the Derby, with Aptitude, second at 12-1 in 2000, the last such starter to even finish ITM. That few horses make equipment changes on Derby day surely explains part of the lack of impact, and those that do aren’t usually well-bet contenders. Atswhatimtalknbout, fourth in 2003, was the best supported in recent years, going to post at 9-1. Lookin at Lucky will have the added distinction of being the first favorite, since at least 1991, to start blinkers-on or -off in the Derby. A knock? Well, it’s not just Derby day equipment changes that haven’t done well. Blinkers-on or -off at any point during a Derby contender’s 3YO prep season hasn’t been a positive sign over the past couple decades. The exception is 1991 Derby winner Strike the Gold, who had blinkers removed in his second start as a 3-year-old.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas believes Dublin was unfairly portrayed as skittish after the colt attempted to bolt while galloping last Saturday upon seeing thousands of marathoners in the infield:

“The publicity on that is totally, totally wrong,” he lectured a member of the Churchill Downs notes team. “This horse is very manageable. But if you’re going to send 4,000 screaming marathon runners out of the tunnel, he’s going to take a look at that. My pony shied from that. The horse in front of him shied from that. He was the only one who got the publicity, [and] that’s ridiculous!”

Foolish Pleasure is concerned Dublin might shy again on Saturday.

Arkansas Derby winner Line of David will start on Saturday missing one thing found in every other runner’s record: A layoff line. The Lion Heart colt has been in training since he made his first start in November 2009. Combined with the new career-high Beyer speed figure he earned at Oaklawn, it seems likely the John Sadler trainee may have peaked last month. His final Derby work at Churchill certainly suggests as much.

The Louisville forecast calls for rain Saturday: Lane Gold has wet track Derby pointers, Steve Haskin recommends Stately Victor. The top Tomlinson — 463 — belongs to Noble’s Promise, who has yet to start over an off surface.

Andrew Beyer’s Derby exacta: Ice Box, Lookin at Lucky.

Following up on surface switches:

Interesting numbers from Dean of Pull the Pocket, who was inspired to do some data mining on 2009 synthetic-to-dirt/dirt-to-synthetic moves in JCapper after reading the post “Surface to Surface” earlier this month:

Going synthetic-to-dirt may indeed be an easier move, as measured by win percentage. It is more predictable, as evidenced by the lower average win mutuel and the post-time favorites percentage. But, as Dean pointed out to me when we talked about his findings, the JCapper data isn’t limited to horses making their first starts on either surface, it isn’t broken out by class (which doesn’t address the question of whether horses are more likely to move to a synthetic surface for increased purse money or black type, resulting in more negative performances), and there’s no way to account for trainer intentions (a poorly running horse may start on synthetic in “a last-ditch effort” to find something that will work for it).

Questions remain, but, “if you dig down, there are patterns that work,” said Dean. Just one example: Connections matter. According to the JCapper algorithm (which combines trainer and jockey stats), the win rate was 30.31% on dirt for horses with the highest-rated connections, 23.28% on synthetic.