Twenty days and counting: Prep season is over, even if there are still two races on the calendar that offer small Kentucky Derby points (also good for the Kentucky Oaks, which is why Pure Fun will start in the Lexington). Here’s the full Kentucky Derby point race schedule, with charts, replays, and winning Beyer Speed figures, and the official list of Kentucky Derby prospects in order of points as of April 14 from Churchill Downs (PDF). Noted — not one of the top 23 on that list started in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Java’s War is #4 in points after winning the Blue Grass Stakes with a last to first move that seemed all the more impressive because he broke slowly from the gate (and not for the first time). “I wasn’t worried,” said trainer Ken McPeek after. “He’s not a horse that’s quick out of there.” If you like him for the Derby, you should be worried — it’s an unforgiving race. Jon White has his strikes (explained) — one of mine is that a horse can’t have a penchant for creating its own trouble. “[T]his colt can’t expect to spot 19 stronger Derby opponents a head start and still win,” observes Mike Watchmaker. “He’s not that good.”
Strike the Gold (1991) was the last Blue Grass winner to go on and repeat in the Kentucky Derby. None of the next fifteen dirt or six Polytrack winners went on to Derby success.
Two Derby winners came out of those final fifteen Blue Grass Stakes run on dirt. Sea Hero (1993) and Thunder Gulch (1995) finished out of the money at Keeneland, perhaps victimized by the speed bias, before going on to Derby glory.
Polytrack runnings of the Blue Grass have been similar. Street Sense was narrowly-beaten in that 2007 Blue Grass, then went on to dominate the Kentucky Derby. Since then the Derby winner has come from other venues and Blue Grass graduates have not been a factor.
Matt Gardner, looking at Blue Grass results in the Polytrack era, found that “the top 3 finishers in the Blue Grass are 13-1-0-2 in the Derby since 2007.”
Compare that to the Santa Anita Derby over the same years: The top three Santa Anita Derby finishers are 13-1-1-0 since 2007. Or the Florida Derby: 9-1-1-0. If there’s an irrelevant Kentucky Derby prep lately, it’s the Wood: The top three finishers out of Aqueduct are 10-0-0-0 since 2007.
I’m not saying Verrazano is going to win the Kentucky Derby, and I’m not about to dissect his performance in the Wood other than to say he did show a new dimension regarding the ability to settle off the pace, and he did come home in splits of :23 4/5, :24, and :12 3/5, which not only are strong, but are fractions you see from late closers.
You can say the same about Vyjack, as Superterrific pointed out to me:
While Normandy Invasion was flashing a little more speed than either at the end, the winner and the show horse ran the same final fraction.
That fewer Kentucky Derby prospects are earning 100+ Beyer speed figures in preps hasn’t gone unnoticed (see: Trending Down, 2011; Mike Watchmaker 2012), but it’s still a little odd to realize that not only did the last four Kentucky Derby winners not post a single triple-digit figure in their two-prep campaigns, but hadn’t done so in their entire pre-Derby career. Since 2009, only one starter with a 100+ Beyer as a 3-year-old (out of 13) has even finished in the money (Bodemeister, 2012).
With two significant preps remaining, the four highest winning Beyer figures of the Derby points races so far belong to Goldencents (Santa Anita Derby, 105), Itsmyluckyday (Holy Bull Stakes, 104), Verrazano (Tampa Bay Derby, 101, down from his previous high of 105), and Super Ninety Nine (Southwest Stakes, 101). The winning Derby Beyer has gone down by a point or two every year since Mine That Bird’s 105 in 2009, with I’ll Have Another getting 101 last year. Will the winner this year make like Giacomo and get 100?
Another 2011 classic, another upset.
Considering the Triple Crown season just ended, I thought it’d be interesting to look back at the win prices for the five Grade 1 Derby preps (Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, Arkansas Derby*), and the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont for the past 10 years:
Winning favorites are indicated with a gray background.
This year stands out for the both the highest average win mutuel ($34.01) of the past decade and for being the sole year in which no favorite won in the five preps or a classic. The next highest average ($32.05) was 2004, when Smarty Jones dominated Oaklawn and the first two legs of the Triple Crown, while Friends Lake and Castledale sprung upsets in the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby, respectively, and Birdstone shocked everyone in the Belmont.
Price-wise, 2006 was the least surprising year, with the lowest average win mutuel ($11.68); chaos still had its moment, when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down shortly after the start of the Preakness Stakes. The $27.80 paid to Bernardini backers was the highest price of the season.
Of the three classics, the Preakness has the lowest average win pay ($10.40), with six winning favorites, four of those Derby winners. The other two winning favorites were Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Afleet Alex in 2005, contenders rightly tabbed as superior to upset Derby winners Mine That Bird and Giacomo.
Only one favorite has won the Belmont Stakes in the past 10 years, and that was Afleet Alex in 2005. Handicappers look for longshots in the Derby, but the Belmont has delivered a higher average price ($43.61) and a healthy ROI in recent years — if you had bet $2 to win on all 110 Belmont starters since 2002, you would have almost doubled your money.
*Grade 2 through 2009.
… if you don’t go. Claire Novak on Derby fever for Kentucky Confidential:
“I still get Derby fever; guilty as charged,” Wolf said. “If that horse had won the Blue Grass, we would be going to the Derby. He doesn’t have any distance limitations in his pedigree. You could ask what we were thinking to enter him in that race, but if you look at the sheets and past performances, he seemed to belong from a competitive standpoint. In hindsight, he didn’t keep up with those horses, but they’ll never jump up and show you if you don’t give them a chance.”
They should have run this Derby on April 1 — April Fool’s Day — instead of May 7 (BC). “It’s crazy. This is just totally ridiculous.” I guess what I’m saying is, throw out all the rules this year (JS). The attempt to make sense of this group is an exercise in grasping at straws (PM). Is this year’s crop of 3-year-olds — seemingly ill-prepared, not completely fit, and not particularly ambitious — falling into what is now considered American mediocrity (EH)? What once promised to be one of the best Kentucky Derbies in recent years is rapidly becoming silly, as more bad horses point for the race (NK). Who will win? Your guess is as good as mine. This year that’s all any of us can do — guess (BF). “It could be a Giacomo year.” It’s anyone’s year (JC). There are still more twists and turns likely to unfold (JP). So keep looking for a Derby horse — one of them has to win (JD).
Three weeks from the Kentucky Derby, and about all that’s safe to predict is that the winner won’t be predictable. With yesterday’s wins by 25-1 Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby and 19-1 Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass, the average win mutuel of the last four Grade 1 preps works out to $35.45. In the Arkansas Derby, if you had the ten-cent super, you cashed for almost $3000. In the Blue Grass, you signed for more than $6400. Jaycito, redirected to the Lexington after missing the Santa Anita Derby because of a foot problem, now sits on the Derby earnings bubble with $250,000, and jockey Corey Nakatani, second with Nehro at Oaklawn yesterday, has his choice of Derby mounts, but Calvin Borel has none. It’s anyone’s year.
The Factor was the latest favorite to falter. Taken out of his element from the start, out-hustled to the front by JP’s Gusto and Dance City, The Factor finished seventh as the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby. I didn’t think the colt was a nine-furlong horse, much less a 10-furlong one, but I expected he’d be a pace factor at Churchill and it was a shame to see how little he did when taken back. Trainer Bob Baffert said The Factor may have flipped his palate. (In which case, he’s out of the Derby? “We’re just going to see how he’s doing.” Just like that, Midnight Interlude becomes Baffert’s best chance.)
All the upsets along the Derby trail have left Dialed In,
the only prospect one of only two prospects* to have won two graded preps this spring, as the most consistent of the bunch and the likely Kentucky Derby favorite. (“I mean, who else?” said Derby oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.) Forgive me if I’m not wild with enthusiasm about a horse who won the Florida Derby by a nose dueling a 68-1 shot and running a final eighth in more than 13 seconds. And there is the matter of how trainer Nick Zito plans to bring Dialed In to the Derby with only one workout between April 12 and May 7, done in seclusion at Palm Meadows.
“Pardon me for being a wee bit cynical and not buying it,” writes Jeremy Plonk. “The last time seclusion and serenity were used as reasons for staying at Palm Meadows, 2010 would-be Derby favorite Eskendereya turned up lame.”
Pure speculation about Dialed In, of course, just as it is that Uncle Mo, diagnosed with an intestinal infection after the Wood, is being treated with antibiotics and still not feeling so hot, based on a Facebook update:
I want to run in the Derby sooooo bad!! Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike said ONLY if I’m 100%! I know they have my best interests at heart. I’m taking my medicine (I hate the taste)!!! Uncle Todd says if I take it, he will let me go out and play with my friends. I galloped today, and felt great. I’m eating a lot but not as much as Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike would like.
Hm … I don’t know what I’m going to do with this week’s PDI top 10.
If there were any chance he’d ship to Churchill Downs, I’d make Frankel #1 off his glorious romp in the Greenham at Newbury at Saturday (replay). In his first start of the year, and only 80% according to trainer Henry Cecil, Frankel brought his undefeated record to five with the four-length win. He’ll start next in the Guineas in two weeks, the overwhelming favorite.
*Thanks to o_crunk for the correction. Archarcharch is the other dual graded prep winner headed to Churchill. I assume The Factor is no longer a Derby prospect, but if he were, he’d be the third to have won two graded preps.
8:20 PM Addendum: Apparently, The Factor is going to Kentucky. The Derby, maybe. Beyer speed figure of 98 for Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby, 89 for the not-so Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass.
Spare yourself the trouble of ranking Kentucky Derby contenders and play the quick pick, with Green but Game’s random top 10 list generator.
I left Uncle Mo #1 on this week’s PDI, feeling contrary, if not enthusiastic. “[L]et’s keep it in perspective; he was beaten 1 1/4 lengths, not 5 1/4 lengths,” notes Jason Shandler. “I still think [Uncle Mo's] a very good horse and he’ll bounce back,” said trainer Bob Baffert. Many thought post-race that Mo looked less than fit in the Wood stretch, but not trainer Todd Pletcher. “I do not believe he was a short horse the other day. Maybe I’m wrong,” he tells Jay Privman. “Sometimes, making up for if you felt like you didn’t have him fit enough and going the other way would be a mistake.” So, no Mo tightening?
Enough about the Derby; “#KYOaks should be one helluva race!” Joyful Victory is the latest filly to announce herself an exciting prospect, following up her win last month in the Honeybee with a seven-length romp in the Fantasy Stakes, a race that’s turned out a Kentucky Derby runner-up (Eight Belles) and two Oaks winners (Rachel Alexandra, Blind Luck) in the last three years.
This is a huge development: Citing the increasing internationalization of racing, and the success of the steroids ban, The Jockey Club backs RCI’s call to end raceday medications. It’s time. Janet Patton tweeted on Monday, “KHRC vice chair Tracy Farmer says it will happen in Kentucky.”
4/13/11 Addendum: Well, trainer Nick Zito isn’t inspiring much confidence with his Derby approach for Dialed In either. “Zito plans to train Dialed In up to the Derby in nearly the same manner he got him ready to win the $1 million Florida Derby earlier this month — with a series of long gallops and just one more sharp five-furlong work between now and May 7.” That’s it?
One thing that does bother me a little is how some folks have drawn an analogy between Uncle Mo losing in the Wood at 1-10, and Secretariat losing in the Wood at 1-5 in 1973. While Uncle Mo was the divisional champion at 2, Secretariat was not only divisional champion at 2, he was the first ever to be Horse of the Year at 2. Before he lost the Wood, Secretariat turned in scintillating victories in the Bay Shore and Gotham, running a mile in the latter in 1:33 2/5. And really, the only way Uncle Mo’s loss in the Wood could ever be analogous to Secretariat’s is if Uncle Mo goes on to sweep the Triple Crown, beats a superstar field of older horses in an invitational race in the fall, and then closes his campaign with two awesome romps in major turf stakes going 12 and 13 furlongs. Otherwise, it’s fantasy.
In other words, Mo wasn’t Secretariat before, and he’s not Secretariat now.