How’s this for a coincidence? Both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby winning trainers omni-ed (finished first and third) in their races, Larry Jones with Lovely Maria and I’m a Chatterbox on Friday, Bob Baffert with American Pharoah and Dortmund on Saturday. And what a story it would have been had 52-year-old jockey Gary Stevens, second in the Derby with Firing Line, been Oaks-winning 56-year-old rider Kerwin Clark’s counterpart.
Sometimes the angle on both classics is upset and surprise; this year it was about being at the top of your game. Form held, in that the Kentucky Oaks winner, yet again, passed through the Fair Grounds. And in that the Kentucky Derby winner was the post-time favorite for the third year running. The Oaks win was the third for Jones since 2008, all with fillies owned by Brereton Jones. The Derby win was the fourth for Baffert, and for an owner, Ahmed Zayat, with a string of near-misses, including one in 2009 with the sire of this year’s winner. For Clark, the Oaks winner was his first Grade 1-winning mount, and the rider was the third to get his first Grade 1 win on one of Jones’ Oaks fillies. For Victor Espinoza, the Derby winner was his third, his second in two years.
“For me to get this opportunity at this time in my life when 15 years ago I had decided I was just going to stay in Louisiana and finish my career out there and just disappear quietly into the sunset,” mused Clark, “I got lucky.”
Espinoza knows the thrill. “I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth,” he exulted when Donna Brothers rode up for his first post-race interview, and then he praised his horse. “[American Pharoah] has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse.”
Talent enough to win the Triple Crown? We’ll find out over the next five weeks. Baffert said the plan is — of course — to continue on to the Preakness. His stablemate will do the same. “If Dortmund turns the tables on [American Pharoah], so be it,” the trainer told Jonathan Lintner of the Courier-Journal.
Such equanimity. He can allow himself that after getting both to Churchill Downs and winning with Pharoah. “I’m just relieved, very relieved,” Baffert said to DRF correspondent David Grening (subscription only):
“You know coming in here you got that kind of horse, and he showed it today. Pharoah probably didn’t run as well as he can, but he’s such a good horse. I’m just glad he got through here.”
American Pharoah was given a Beyer speed figure of 105 for the Kentucky Derby, the same figure he earned winning his final prep, the Arkansas Derby. TimeformUS awarded him 127 (post updated to included this link 5/7/15).
Fractions for the Kentucky Derby from the Daily Racing Form chart:
Looking at the chart, it’s striking how consistent the top three finishers were through the first six furlongs. It’s a very even race. Dortmund (the leader, as predicted by the TimeformUS pace projector) took the field through a moderate first quarter in :23.24, a half in :47.34, and the first three-quarters in 1:11.29, and what had been a tight group near the front the first time past the grandstand separated into the three front-runners and the rest by the final turn. For a nice illustration of how the race unfolded, compare the official chart (PDF) points of call with the Blood-Horse pictorial race sequence.
Watching the replay, what’s most noticeable is how wide American Pharoah is turning into the stretch. Trakus has him covering 29 more feet than Firing Line and 69 more than Dortmund. Minor ground loss doesn’t seem like a bad trade for such an easy trip — the winner was unimpeded all the way around:
The final time for the Derby was 2:03.02, and American Pharoah’s margin at the wire one length over Firing Line. Espinoza had to go to work on him with hands and whip (something Larry Collmus picked up in his call, noting Pharoah was “under a ride”), and he responded. It wasn’t a brilliant victory, but a solid win, the kind that reveals a horse’s mettle. Pharoah is tough.
For that matter, so is Firing Line, who I unfairly and wrongly (so wrongly) discounted when handicapping. The Sunland Derby winner had finished second to Dortmund in their two earlier meetings, and the pair went to the front together in the Kentucky Derby, keeping both busy. “I not only have to turn the tables on Dortmund with Firing Line, but I’ve got to figure out a way to beat American Pharaoh,” Stevens said during a Reddit AMA two weeks ago, talking about his Derby strategy. “I’ve already figured out a way to beat Dortmund! For my plan to work, I’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.” Credit the rider with pulling off at least half his plan — Firing Line headed Dortmund turning into the final quarter and finished two lengths ahead of the previously undefeated colt. If Firing Line did anything wrong, it was that he didn’t switch leads in the stretch (via @randy_moss_TV).
No excuse for Dortmund — he just didn’t have that last furlong in him. Frosted ranged up late and almost got him for show. “He’s a really good horse and he ran like it today,” said jockey Martin Garcia after the Derby. “He always comes to run; that’s the kind of horse he is. He got beat today by really good horses. That can happen.” The question going forward is, did he reveal a distance limitation, or — with the experience — will he be able to handle 10 furlongs in races such as the Travers or Breeders’ Cup Classic?
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.
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.
Two weeks ago, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as though it would be a showdown between two California 3-year-olds. Now it’s setting up as an East Coast vs. West Coast sophomore clash, after Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist exited a troubled Jockey Club Gold Cup with his second Grade 1 win and an improved, blinkers-off running style, and undefeated Shared Belief was tested, but not bested, by trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom in the Awesome Again. Both winners reportedly came out their races in fine shape.
That’s the good news. The bad is that jockey Rajiv Maragh is out indefinitely with a broken arm after falling from Wicked Strong during the first half of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Junior Alvarado, aboard Moreno when he veered into Wicked Strong’s path, causing the two to clip heels, is due before the stewards at Belmont Park this Wednesday to discuss the incident. [10/1/14 Update: Alvarado has been suspended for 15 days (DRF+ link).]
At Santa Anita, the stewards have already handed Victor Espinoza a seven-day suspension for the Awesome Again, in which his mount, Sky Kingdom, the longest shot in the field, steered Mike Smith and Shared Belief toward the center of the track on the first turn and then kept them running wide until he tired on the far turn and fell back to finish last. Trakus shows Shared Belief running 66 feet more than runner-up Fed Biz, who had a rail trip.
“It’s ridiculous,” Espinoza told Art Wilson on Saturday, responding to the allegation that Sky Kingdom was acting as a foil for his stablemate’s competition. “I would never try to hurt anybody or bump somebody, especially a horse like that. He’s an amazing horse. My horse, he always runs on the outside. He doesn’t like having dirt kicked in his face.”
Whether intentional or not, writes Mike Watchmaker, “what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional.” You can judge for yourself: Watch Santa Anita’s HD replay.
While Smith was hotly deriding his rival’s post-race explanation, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was playing it cool. “We’re all big boys,” he said. “It’s no big deal for me. Mike [Smith] will have to settle up with Victor [Espinoza]. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double fit for the Breeders’ Cup. That race will be tougher, so we’ll need to be tougher too.”
Beyer speed figures and TimeformUS ratings for Super Saturday’s Belmont Park and Santa Anita graded stakes winners:
Re: Shared Belief’s 114 for the Awesome Again, Craig Milkowski tweeted, “If our figures included ground loss, particularly ground loss in relation to pace, Shared Belief would easily be 125+ …”
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