JC / Railbird

Racing Archive

Early Runners

How dominant is trainer Wesley Ward in Keeneland spring juvenile races?

When it comes to early season maiden races, Ward’s record is pretty close to off the charts. Since 2009, there have been 47 2-year-old maiden events at the Keeneland spring meet. Ward has had starters in 45 of them. He won 22 of them or 48.9 percent.

Incredible. I didn’t know until I read @DougieSal today, though, that trainer John Shirreffs was once a debut runner win machine:

… in the late 1990’s John Shirreffs was the most brilliant debut trainer in the land. In 1998 and 1999 he trained 24 first-time starters and a mind-boggling 14 of them won their debut and another four finished second. In those days, the Southern California circuit was unquestionably the toughest year-round circuit in horse racing, and Shirreffs won at a 58.3% clip with first-time starters and 75% of his debuters finished first or second.

His takeaway: Bet Cozmic One with caution, if you insist on doing it all.

No Easy Task

Chris Smith on the likely challengers to California Chrome at Royal Ascot:

A picture is beginning to emerge of the probable strength of the international challenge for the great meeting (June 16-20), and it is abundantly clear that some truly outstanding turf performers from Europe, the Far East, and Australia are being lined up to take him on.

The reigning Horse of the Year is apparently quite happy in trainer Rae Guest’s Newmarket yard post-Dubai World Cup. He certainly looks good.

Take Heed

Beware fandom while handicapping the Kentucky Derby, writes Jeremy Plonk:

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.


Bob Ehalt on the power duo of trainer Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby string:

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.

Next Stop, Louisville

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.

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