The want vs. will discussion will be key in your mental gymnastics between now and the first Saturday in May. There are fans and foes of the Zayats and Ramseys, Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert, jockeys like Kent Desormeaux and Joel Rosario, and of east vs. west, Davids vs. Goliaths and so many more personal stands. But remember: They are personal stands. Don’t mistake them for sound handicapping and wagering.
I’ve been struggling a bit with this — I like Dortmund, and I’m conflicted. He’s trained by a guy who admitted dosing his entire stable with thyroxine (a legal therapeutic drug when appropriately prescribed) during a period when seven horses in his barn dropped dead of sudden cardiac events, and by a sire campaigned by dodgy owners and a trainer who’s since been banned for 10 years. But the horse knows nothing of this — all he’s done so far is win.
American Pharoah and Dortmund, mind you, have done nothing but win this year and between them have 10 wins in 11 career starts.
Once a hurdle as imposing Secretariat is cleared, a historian in search of a duo as formidable as Dortmund and American Pharoah would most likely have to head back to 1948 when trainer Ben Jones sent out Calumet Farm’s entry of Citation and Coaltown, who were dismissed as a 2-5 favored entry.
Citation won the Derby and went on to sweep the Triple Crown. The Hall of Famer retired as the sport’s all-time leading money earner. Coaltown, the other half of the entry, finished second in the Derby and developed into a Horse of the Year and a Hall of Famer.
It’s a heady comparison. Fortunately for bettors, the pair won’t be coupled.
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.
The March edition of HANA’s monthly newsletter is now out, and it includes two great interviews, one with jockey Julien Leparoux, and the other with Dana Byerly 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.
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