Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Racing Archive

Getting Started

Beholder

Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder returns on Sunday (DRF+ sub. req.):

Mandella considers the Santa Lucia to be a prep for the $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7. With that in mind, Mandella said Beholder is not 100 percent ready for the Santa Lucia.

“I don’t think she’s ready for her best, but I didn’t plan it that way,” he said. “I think she’ll get enough out of this to do what we want to do. I haven’t tightened the belt. I’d have a strong mile in her if I wanted her at her best.”

Even not fully cranked, and giving six pounds, Beholder may still just outclass her rivals — she is the only stakes winner in the field. But if there’s a returning champion who’s statistically vulnerable, it’s a reigning 3-year-old filly champ: 74% return, 87% are favored in their first start of the year, and only 32% win.

California Dreaming

There’s been something about California Chrome from the start:

“I had a dream about this colt two or three weeks before he was born, and I woke up and told my wife that (the mother) was going to have a colt, he was going to be a lot of flash to him, he was going to have four white feet and big bald face, and that’s exactly how he was,” Coburn said. “(When he was born), I looked at that colt and said, ‘This horse is going to be special — I don’t care what it takes, we’re going to do everything we have to do to make sure this horse is put in the right hands and taken care of so that he can run.’”

The colt’s owners laid out a plan, and so far, so good:

Last March, when Sherman received word that he was getting Martin and Coburn’s 2-year-old to train, Martin sent him an email. The subject line simply read: “The Road to the Kentucky Derby.” It included all the races that California Chrome needed to enter to prep and qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Sherman said he’s glad Martin detailed the story to the media because he felt folks would think he made it up.

“Every race Perry put in that plan worked out just like he said.” Sherman said. “It’s kind of spooky, kind of like a miracle because I’ve been around this game a long time and know all the things that can happen.”

With zero strikes, he’s one of 11(!) in this year’s likely Kentucky Derby field who stand “a very good chance” of winning according to Jon White’s system.

Top 25: The latest Derby leaderboard from Churchill Downs (PDF).

The Wicked Favorite

… it’s hard not to see a little Red Sox in the dark brown colt.”

If Wood winner Wicked Strong goes to the Kentucky Derby as anticipated, his story will be huge, and not only in the city he’s named to honor. It might even bump that of California Chrome, Art Sherman, and Swaps (remembered fondly in conversation by Sherman and jockey Dave Erb at the Blood-Horse.)

The Standings

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).

Wise Dan’s Return

The Horse of the Year is set to make his first start of 2014 today, and:

“If he is going to be vulnerable, this is it because the others that are in there have been running,” [trainer Charlie] LoPresti said.

True, but he’s also a returning champion. The odds are good that he’ll win. In 2010, I found that returning champions beat the winning favorites average by a significant margin when they made their first starts of a new season.

The stats for returning champions are now updated through 2012: You can view the numbers and complete spreadsheet via Raceday 360. There are a couple of changes in this year’s version: I restricted the data to only starts made in North American races with wagering (horses who returned in non-wagering exhibition races and foreign races were excluded, as were steeplechase champions). I also broke out the numbers by division and decade this year, as well as by class, which revealed a few interesting tidbits.

One thing I left out of the R360 post, but wanted to make note of, is that all champions, not only the favored, won or finished in the money in 186 out of 228 races (or 82% of starts). Be sure to include them in your exotics.

The original data, including all champions named from 1971-2012, and not only those who returned to race, can be downloaded as an Excel file.

4/12/14 Addendum: And Wise Dan wins the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland on Friday. Here’s the returning Horse of the Year chart, updated:

That brings the returning HOTY record to 18 wins from 23 starts (18 wins from 22 favored), for a total payout of $49.10 on $46 bet.

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