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.
The March edition of HANA’s monthly newsletter is now out, and there’s a terrific interview with jockey Julien Leparoux, and another with Dana Byerly (@superterrific) talking about Horse Racing Data Sets, the site she launched last month for sharing data. I’m biased, but HRDS is swiftly becoming a good, useful resource — the most recent addition to the site is a spreadsheet from Brisnet containing 25 years of winning speed and class ratings, which I’ve just begun exploring for possible Kentucky Derby implications.
Somewhat related: TimeformUS posted their winning figures for the last five years of Triple Crown race preps. You can find Beyer speed figures for the same races since 2010 in the Derby prep schedule (the column labeled “BSF”).
HANA’s newsletter also includes a short primer on churn, which Lonnie Goldfeder recommends setting a goal for each day you play. Goldfeder’s latest column at Daily Racing Form is about staying sharp; it’s a reminder that wagering, like any discipline, requires a commitment to practice.
The greatest example of all that the curse of Apollo is nothing to scoff at is Curlin. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream then galloped in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. But the best he could do in Louisville was third.
He went on to win the Preakness, the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, the Dubai World Cup and was twice Horse of the Year. But the Run for the Roses was too tough a challenge too soon.
… the modern Kentucky Derby bears little resemblance to what the race was even just 15 or 20 years ago. Khozan won’t be going up against grizzled veterans of the turf wars, horses that have started 15 times or so, including seven or eight starts as two-year-olds. He will be facing horses more like him than not. Most will have had only six or seven lifetime starts, their races carefully spaced out and their trainers careful never to have pushed them too hard. As a lightly raced horse with no experience as a 2-year-old, he’s simply not going to be at that big of a disadvantage.
3/6/15: And just like that, Khozan is out. The colt exited a routine gallop on Friday morning with an apparent right hind ankle injury.
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.)
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