Well, it’s that time again — another Kentucky Derby prep season has come to an end. Three weeks from now we’ll be pinning our Triple Crown hopes on whichever of the 20 contenders heading to Churchill Downs wins. It’s safe to say, as so many already have, that we’ve found the likely favorite in American Pharoah, who won the Arkansas Derby by eight easy lengths, earning a Beyer speed figure of 105 and a TimeformUS figure of 113. Chills, etc.: “This is how I see Baffert’s hand,” DRF handicapper Mike Watchmaker tweeted, “American Pharoah is kinda like Seattle Slew, Dortmund is kinda reminiscent of Affirmed.”
I think I’ll wait to see these two run in the same race before making any comparisons, historic or otherwise. Somewhat related: We’re looking at two unbeaten contenders in the gate (Dortmund and Materiality), and another three who have won each of their starts this year (American Pharoah, Carpe Diem, and International Star), and nine of the 15 prep races at the 50- and 100-point levels were won by post-time favorites, which is exciting and formful, but could also suggest a lack of competitiveness.
Here’s the complete 2015 Kentucky Derby prep schedule, with charts, replays, speed figures, and the final leaderboard.
12:30 PM Addendum: Mike Watchmaker expands on his tweet re: trainer Bob Baffert’s top pair. American Pharoah is brilliant, but doubted, and:
Dortmund, like Affirmed, has a certain steely toughness about him. Like Affirmed, Dortmund will use any method, whether it be going to the lead or coming from off the pace, to beat you. And like Affirmed, Dortmund has a foil to help demonstrate how good he is. After losing two close decisions to Dortmund, Firing Line went to New Mexico and won the Sunland Derby literally by the length of the stretch. As my friend Ernie Munick noted, what Firing Line did at Sunland was a lot like what Alydar used to do when he got away from Affirmed.
If this crop is as good as it appears to be, we have so much to look forward to.
4/16/15 Update: Frank Angst takes a look at the preponderance of 100-point Kentucky Derby preps won by favorites this year. Smaller foal crops and the resultant shrinking field size may be a factor:
This year’s six 100-point races in the U.S. drew an average field size of 7.83 horses, nearly two fewer starters than just a year ago when an average of 9.7 starters contested each of these races. The 7.83 starters this year is down 32.4% from the 10.37 starters in these races from 2011-2014.
From the archive: What the G1 Derby prep winners paid, 2002-2011. We have to go back to 2006 to find a season as dominated by low-priced winners.
After finishing second to Dortmund in the Los Alamitos Futurity last December and then the Robert B. Lewis in February, Firing Line came back to win the Sunland Derby on Sunday by 14 1/4 lengths, a performance that earned him a Beyer speed figure of 97 and a TimeformUS figure of 111. With the final round of Kentucky Derby preps beginning on March 28, each worth 100 points to the winner, here are the 2015 prep schedule results so far.
Trainer Bob Baffert wouldn’t say which of his top Derby contenders, juvenile champion and Rebel winner American Pharoah or undefeated Dortmund, is better when asked — “That’s like asking me which kid I love more,” he told Ed Golden — but Bill Finley has no need for such tact:
American Pharoah is a brilliant horse. Dortmund is a grinder. He’s tough and game and somehow he always has his nose in front at the wire, but nothing he does takes your breath away. I’d be shocked if he proves to be the better of the two Baffert-trained stars.
I don’t know — a grinder who can make a horse capable of a 14 1/4 length win work hard for second, not once, but twice, is kind of brilliant in his way.
To gauge how easily Shared Belief won the Santa Anita Handicap, look back to last month’s San Antonio Stakes, writes Mike Watchmaker:
And that right there should give you a greater appreciation for California Chrome. Even if he was only prepping for the Dubai World Cup, California Chrome still was only second best to Shared Belief in last month’s San Antonio. But California Chrome at least made Shared Belief work for it. At this moment, you can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of horses capable of making Shared Belief run.
Yesterday, “The only threat in sight was boredom.”
For the win, Shared Belief was given a Beyer speed figure of 111, and a TimeformUS figure of 117. “One of these days Shared Belief will actually have to run late and pop a 130,” tweeted TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski. The question is, who’s going to make him?
Jay Privman reports that the Met Mile could be Shared Belief’s next target.
Here’s another question: How is that Santa Anita has gorgeous HD video (see the replay above), but the live video feed looked like the screenshot below while streaming on both the ADW platforms where I have an account?
Beyer speed figures for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby preps: Dortmund earned 104 for the San Felipe, Carpe Diem 98 for the Tampa Bay Derby, and El Kabeir 89 for the Gotham. Get the charts, replays, TimeformUS figures, and the updated leaderboard via the big Derby prep schedule.
Owner Willis Horton and trainer D. Wayne Lukas are considering entering filly champion Take Charge Brandi in the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the same race American Pharoah is expected to make his first start in since last September. Lukas told Mary Rampellini that the Kentucky Oaks is still Brandi’s goal, but Horton likes the idea of keeping her options open: “If we win the Rebel we get the 50 points for it, and it puts us in a position where we can either go to the Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby.” And if she finishes second, she’ll get 20 points, which would likely put her on the bubble for a Kentucky Derby entry. The returning 2-year-old male champion looks formidable; he’s also been out with a foot injury. Add in the larger purse and that, aside from Pharoah, the Rebel is expected to draw “names that shouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone,” starting Brandi in this race, instead of the Honeybee, looks like a pretty good (and sporting) move.
From what I’ve witnessed from my seat on the backbenches, Take Charge Brandi would seem better served going for the Honeybee rather than the more difficult Rebel hornets’ nest. If her connections ultimately choose the latter, though, it would probably be no less useful a prep for the Fantasy …
She has 40 points towards the Oaks — there’s really nothing for her to lose.
Mr. Z, another Lukas trainee, is one of the defectors from the Rebel Stakes after finishing third in the Southwest. He’ll start next instead in the March 28 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. He’s also getting an equipment change:
— Justin Zayat (@JustinZayat) February 24, 2015
3/3/15 Update: She’s going in the Rebel, says Lukas.
3/10/15 Update: She’s out. Take Charge Brandi will miss the Rebel Stakes and Kentucky Oaks after being diagnosed with a non-displaced knee chip.
Kentucky Derby preps moved into the 50-point round with the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and Risen Star at the Fair Grounds yesterday, and Itsaknockout and International Star both essentially secured places in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May with their respective wins. Charts, replays, speed figures, and the updated leaderboard are all available via the big Kentucky Derby prep schedule.
Itsaknockout was given a Beyer speed figure of 90 for the Fountain of Youth; he technically remains undefeated. Upstart, first to the wire, but disqualified and placed second for interfering in the stretch with the official winner, earned a Beyer of 95. Trainer Rick Violette called the stewards’ decision “very, very questionable,” and is considering sending Upstart to the Wood Memorial for his final prep, instead of starting him in the Florida Derby as planned.
For the Risen Star, International Star was given a 93 Beyer. He’s owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, yet not one of their many Kittens, being by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. (A little note for Suffolk Downs players: He’s also a half-brother to a familiar name in the 2013-2014 entries — Jet Pack.)
Next weekend’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is the last race on the points schedule, but the 2014 Kentucky Derby prep season is essentially over. Dance With Fate, reportedly unlikely for the Derby, won the Blue Grass on Saturday with a Beyer speed figure of 97. The little-regarded Danza upset the Arkansas Derby, earning a Beyer of 102. At 41-1, the colt is now the highest-price winner from trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn in the past five years, according to DRF Formulator, taking over that distinction from last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner at 38-1, Princess of Sylmar. [I called Danza the highest-price Pletcher winner ever earlier, but that’s wrong: Forty Ninth Street, a 50-1 MSW winner at Belmont in 1997 (PDF), is. Thanks for the tip/correction to @o_crunk.]
Charts, replays, and Beyer speed figures for all the winners are in the big prep spreadsheet. Here are top 25 contenders by points:
For comparison, I included the top 25 by non-restricted graded stakes earnings, or, the pre-points scale for Kentucky Derby entry, in the chart above. There aren’t too many differences: Strong Mandate and Casiguapo (#30 and #37 in points) would be securely in on earnings, General a Rod and Medal Count would be on the bubble/AE list instead of Uncle Sigh and Vinceremos.
4/14/14 Addendum: Churchill Downs’ audited leaderboard (PDF).
Go back six years. Other than the experience factor (it’s hard to believe that California Chrome has run 10 times …), I see Big Brown all over again, a really good horse against a far less talented and inconsistent group.
The same thought has crossed my mind. For a refresher, here’s how the 2008 Kentucky Derby field stacked up, Beyer speed figure-wise, in their final two preps and then in the Derby (listed below in order of finish):
Big Brown’s double 106-106 stood out then, and stands out now, much as California Chrome’s 107-108 Beyers do this year:
For comparison, I included the TimeformUS figures for the last two races of the top eight Kentucky Derby points leaders. On that scale, California Chrome is not the topper to date, but his figures are both consistent and easily put him within range of the “typical” TimeformUS winning Derby figure of 115. If you were only handicapping the Derby with ratings, California Chrome looks like a worthy favorite whichever numbers you use. But Brian Nadeau has a few reasons for why you might want to consider some other factors.
Noble Moon gets 10 points towards the Kentucky Derby gate, moving him to #7 in the official standings, and a Beyer speed figure of 85 for winning the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday. The Malibu Moon colt may start next in the Withers on February 1. View the updated leaderboard, chart, and replay via the big 2014 Kentucky Derby prep schedule and results spreadsheet.
The top three finishers in the Preakness Stakes were making their 10th or 11th career starts — it’s been a while since anything like that’s happened in a Triple Crown race, as Superterrific confirmed by compiling 2007-2013 results. What will be interesting to see, going forward, is how this year’s classic contenders perform over the next few months (will they stick around for fall campaigns?), and if this is the beginning of a trend toward more starts for classic prospects.
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.”
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