Kentucky Derby 145

For a LONG time, I really wondered if there was any point to having this race this year.  After watching 20+ prep races and sometimes coming close to falling asleep or pulling my hair out during the running of most of these generally sub-2:00 affairs, I was not impressed.  At all.  Fortunately, things started to take on a semblance of form in the very last (and I do mean VERY LAST) few prep races, primarily those run in Arkansas (the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby).

Here’s my bottom line as Saturday fast approaches.  There are seven viable, promising colts running in this year’s Derby (unfortunately one of them got stuck with THE WORST post position, #1, so forget it). Unsurprisingly, three are trained by Bob Baffert (trainer of Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify).  Although it was a really close call (for jockey “Big Money” Mike Smith as well as he piloted both my favorite colts to their Derby gate-entry-winning races), I’m going outside the Baffert camp this year as I think Omaha Beach is a grand looking and moving colt who can handle a wet track (Yes, the forecast as of today is for day-long rain at Churchill Downs).  Plus, in his final two prep races Omaha Beach defeated Baffert’s Game Winner (in a division of the Rebel Stakes) and Improbable in the Arkansas Derby.

All that being said, between the weather, the too large field, and the lack of consistency with most of these colts anything can happen and so yet again if a name, silk colors, or the beauty of any of these horses capture your fancy I wouldn’t tell you not to bet them (although there are colts that I believe have ZERO chance to win).

Without further ado and freshly minted, here are the post positions for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby:

  1. War of Will
  2. Tax
  3. By My Standards
  4. Gray Magician
  5. Improbable
  6. Verkoma
  7. Maximum Security
  8. Tacitus
  9. Plus Que Parfait
  10. Cutting Humor
  11. Haikal
  12. Omaha Beach
  13. Code of Honor
  14. Win Win Win
  15. Master Fencer
  16. Game Winner
  17. Roadster
  18. Long Range Toddy
  19. Spinoff
  20. Country House
    AE: Bodexpress

My favorites for Saturday are: Omaha Beach, trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by “Big Money” Mike Smith (who had the choice of riding either Omaha Beach or Roadster and went with Omaha Beach); Roadster, Improbable, and Game Winner trained by Bob Baffer (trainer of Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify): Tacitus, trained by Bill Mott, and Code of Honor, trained by Shug McGaughey.  I also like War of Will, but I believe breaking from the #1 gate, unfortunately, all but eliminates him in this race.

Coverage for the Derby will be on NBC and Post Time should be approximately 6:15-6:45 p.m.

Once in a Lifetime

It was over 10 jumps out of the gate.  Once again, Justify broke from the gate brilliantly and then turned on his exceptional speed; the remainder of the field was left to inhale the ether. For all intents and purposes Mike Smith and Justify had virtually “stupefied” them, because from that point on there was no challenge or straw in their way to winning the 150th Belmont Stakes and the oft-elusive Triple Crown.

What happened Saturday is just so remarkable and truly a singular event in Triple Crown history.

If you’ll recall, I’d gone about comatose watching the prep races leading up to this year’s Classics. From the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile through January and February ‘s early preps I found myself unimpressed and disappointed by the horses that were winning the races; it was really looking like it would be an uninspired series of races from the first Saturday in May through early June.  Trust and believe, a Triple Crown was definitely not in my thoughts.

And then February 18 rolled around and I caught a maiden three-year-old race at Santa Anita and I sat up and my heart raced, because even though it was his first race, I was looking at a real RACEHORSE.  My emotions were soon back in check, because, damn it all, this horse hadn’t run a single race at two and it was mid-February.  Still, he was SO stunning to watch because he had such BEAUTIFUL motion, efficient and light (so much like American Pharoah actually. Nah, no way could there be another one like him so soon), I went ahead and put him in my Virtual Stable because I sure didn’t want to miss seeing his next race(s); maybe he could do something this summer.

Well, that second race rolled around and was equally impressive, Mike Smith was on board for the first time because Bob Baffert thought he might have something special. When he crossed the finish line, untested and not spent, the CRAZY TALK started–He’s going to be pointed to the Santa Anita Derby to see if he can get the qualifying points to run in the Derby.  Sure, why not?  He only has ZERO points to qualify for the Derby in a field that was going to require him to have at least 30-50 to get in the gate.  Yeah, he’s special, but this is now do or die and he’ll be going up against one of the favorites for the Derby coming out of his relatively strong two-year-old season, Bolt d’Oro.  Not one that had thrilled me, but highly regarded by many, in the Santa Anita Derby, Bolt d’Oro became the first of many known contenders to wonder who was the colt that the only parts they saw once the race began were his heels, tail, and rump!

I was happy to see Justify make the Derby field, but as I indicated previously, it was going to be a big ask to ask any colt to win the Kentucky Derby in his fourth race ever.  The old Apollo Curse, no foundation, all that established knowledge you know. Still believed in Justify though, especially against the competition that day, and to my delight he didn’t disappoint! Monsoon rains, 19 other horses, no matter to him; he jumped to the lead and he was gone.  And winning that Derby would have been more than enough to have left me impressed with Justify for a long, long time.  He’d done something a horse hadn’t accomplished in well over a century. To paraphrase E. B. White’s Charlotte–“SOME HORSE!”

But the ride was just underway, as despite a troubled Preakness, Justify won again.  Troubled? How? It just looked like he was running out of gas. I thought so as well until the full story of the soggy, foggy Preakness emerged.  First, Justify jumped tracks at least once, possibly multiple times during the running of the race.  That, in and of itself is a difficult thing to overcome as it breaks momentum and has cost more than a few horses the race. Justify overcame that. Second, Good Magic hooked Justify out of the gate and the two of them had their own mini match race until late in the stretch; Good Magic yielded, Justify carried on even with new horses closing.  Third, Mike Smith admitted he eased up on his ride before the wire in part because he was concerned about Justify jumping again and he believed he was a bit more clear to the wire than they were. Fourth, post race, some of Justify’s connections commented that they really weren’t positive Justify really liked running over a wet track.  Stop and let that sink in for a moment.  It REALLY astounded me to hear them say this as he’d now twice skipped over sloppy tracks with the greatest of ease…this might be what it looked like when he could be extending himself over a less than desirable surface? Really??!!?? And if so, what by extension might he be able to do at a dry Belmont Park??? Finally, fifth, Justify’s finishing time in his Preakness was FASTER, faster, than American Pharoah’s winning time in the same race in comparable conditions (sans fog).


I so wanted to come out and say in my pre-Belmont post: Justify wins!  It was surely what my eyes were telling me as he continued to prepare like he’d run no serious races in the past five weeks.  It was surely what my brain was telling me, because I just didn’t think any of the other entrants were in his league despite rest or anything else, and it was SURELY what my heart wanted, because I was now completely smitten, and despite all he’d already accomplished I was in complete agreement with Bob Baffert–I KNEW he was great, but you really wanted him to have that Belmont win and by extension the Triple Crown so there could be absolutely NO doubt, questions, or arguments as June 9th ended and faded into history.

Thank you Justify, you DELIVERED and then some!!

I was a little nervous and concerned when I heard the first fraction for the opening quarter mile.  It was brisk (it LOOKED brisk!) but it wasn’t suicidal and hey, no one was going with Justify pressuring him! Perfect.  Then watching his motion; FLAWLESS, he was just skipping over “Big Sandy” and Mike Smith was sitting motionless. On the turn for home was the last question–Is there enough left in the tank? Sure looked like the tank was FULL as Mike was still sitting chilly while Velazquez, Ortiz, Ortiz, and Santana were scrubbing, riding for all they were worth and going to the whip to no avail before Mike even flagged Justify and gave him a few reminders down the stretch.

At the sixteenth pole, the celebration began in this household, alarming the dogs more than the thunder rumbling outdoors! 😉

I’ve discussed my opinion of what Justify has done in 111 days with some of you online in the past two days.  Here’s my opinion on where I believe Justify rates among the now five Triple Crown winners (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed–still my personal favorite, American Pharoah, and Justify) I’ve been blessed to see. I think Justify is the most physically gifted racehorse to win the Triple Crown since Secretariat and that’s in part no accident since he has Secretariat four times in his pedigree, top and bottom.

Taking nothing away from American Pharoah who is equally stride efficient and a superior representative of the Thoroughbred breed, Justify has accomplished something no one would have thought reasonable, plausible or possible to do in a FOUR-MONTH window! The horse had no two-year-old experience and completed his Triple Crown UNDEFEATED. Until Saturday, only Seattle Slew completed the Triple Crown undefeated; he also raced as a two year old.

The only analogy I can make to what Justify has pulled off in human terms would be is a 16-year-old getting their driver’s license in February and then in May winning the Indianapolis 500 or Grand Prix of Monaco, wire to wire.  Crazy, but he did it!!  And don’t get it twisted; much like Secretariat’s record 31-length margin of victory AND world-record winning time (on dirt) of 2:24 flat in the Belmont Stakes, I’m about positive you will never see another colt pull off the most difficult challenge in all of sports in the manner Justify did. It’s extraordinary!

Or as race announcer Larry Collmus stated perfectly in the final strides of Belmont Stakes 150–“He’s just perfect and now he’s just immortal!” Justify is now the 13th winner of the Triple Crown!



The Time is Near

Belmont Stakes 150 is this Saturday, June 9.  Post positions have just been drawn; here they are:

  1. Justify
  2. Free Drop Billy
  3. Bravazo
  4. Hofburg
  5. Restoring Hope
  6. Gronkowski
  7. Tenfold
  8. Vino Rosso
  9. Noble Indy
  10. Blended Citizen

So here we are.  Are we about to see another Triple Crown winner in three years after a 37-year drought?  It’s impossible to say for sure, but here’s what I do know: Justify is a superior horse, the best in the field.  He appears to have come out of the Preakness well, is training enthusiastically, and by all accounts is ready to rock and roll Saturday. Because of his post position, he might well be sent to the lead right away and it’s a fool’s errand to try and engage him early on. You might soften him up for a late challenge by another horse, but you will for sure be going down in flames first; ask Good Magic.  Regardless of the outcome of the Belmont, you have already witnessed an exceptional horse displaying exceptional abilities.  Should he win, you’re witnessing a legend as he’s made.

As the mud and slop settled from the Preakness, more information came to light from a race where it appeared Justify struggled to win at the end.  It turns out that the horse jumped tractor tire tracks on the track at least once (captured in a brilliant head-on photograph by Barbara D. Livingston), possibly as many as three times.  This can be a significant momentum-breaking move that’s caused the defeat of many a good horse; it didn’t stop Justify.  Mike Smith eased off “the gas” as they approached the wire (anticipating the chance he might jump again), thinking he was more clear than it turned out he was in those closing strides, AND, of course trying to conserve for the run in the Belmont. Justify also survived a mini match race in the opening two-thirds of the Preakness with Good Magic.  In short, Justify’s Preakness was more of an accomplishment than it appeared in the closing strides of the race.

But here’s the obvious–the Belmont is a horse race and unpredictable things can happen. There are fresh horses entering the race.  Will Justify handle the unique racing surface of “Big Sandy”?  And Heaven only knows WHAT the weather will be come Saturday; as of today, there is a chance of rain, but it doesn’t appear that if it does rain that it will be at the monsoon levels seen in the Derby and Preakness. Plus, we should be able to see the Belmont sans fog!!  Justify appears to be well rested and as fresh as a horse advancing through this series (and without the benefit of racing at two) can be, so hopefully he breaks from the gate sharply again, Mike Smith gives him a smart ride, and nothing else crazy occurs.  It should be quite the interesting race.

Post time is 6:37 EDT, coverage is on NBC. Enjoy and safe trips for all.



Preakness 143 Set

The field and the post positions for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes are now set.  The field is small, only eight runners, split between four Derby veterans and four “new shooters.” Here it is:

  1. Quip (Qualified for the Derby, connections opted not to run)
  2. Lone Sailor (Kentucky Derby 8th)
  3. Sporting Chance (DQ’ed to 4th in Bluegrass S.)
  4. Diamond King (Federico Tesio S. winner)
  5. Good Magic (Kentucky Derby 2nd)
  6. Tenfold (5th Arkansas Derby)
  7. Justify (Kentucky Derby winner)
  8. Bravazo (Kentucky Derby 6th)

Kentucky Derby Champion Justify could not have drawn better.  His primary competition, Good Magic, is to his inside where jockey Mike Smith can monitor how he breaks and where he is at the start of the race and act accordingly.  Honestly, I expect another sharp break from Mike and Justify (the move in the Derby that trainer Bob Baffert said must happen for Justify to have a chance, and indeed, it proved to be the winning move in the race as Justify encountered no traffic problems at all) and for him to be on or near the lead.  I have seen all of the horses in race run at least once; outside of Justify and Good Magic, none of them made that memorable of an impression on me.

As far as my impressions of this year’s Kentucky Derby, I didn’t write a review because I honestly didn’t have the superlatives to describe Justify’s superior and outstanding performance, especially under such adverse racing conditions.  For the record, it was the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, and to be fair, it likely hampered some contenders’ chances as not many of the colts had encountered an off track until that day.  Still, the ease with which Justify ran is indicative, in part, of what a special horse he is.

As I had said previously, my only concern about him going into the Derby was his lack of racing experience. And I’m old school enough to still maintain that racing, even if only one time as a two year old is important in developing a Triple Crown/Classic-caliber racehorse.  The fact that Justify could win the Derby handily coupled with his beautifully efficient stride shows he’s the special exception to the rule.  Win, lose or draw Saturday, in my opinion Justify is an exceptional, one-of-a-kind colt.

NOW, full disclosure, the morning after the Derby, Justify had a bruised left hind heel/hoof.  For those of you familiar with horses, when they move on/off a bruised hoof it looks pretty awful.  Fortunately, by all accounts, this was a minor issue, quickly resolved.  Watching his works since that Sunday morning he looks fine, he’s eating well, and all systems appear to be go for him to rock and roll Saturday.  Further disclosure, it’s raining in Baltimore today (Wednesday); it’s supposed to continue to rain tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday.  Do with that what you will.

Me? I think Justify wins.

Post time Saturday is 6:48 EDT on NBC.

Safe trips for all and enjoy.

You Decide

The draw for post positions for the 144th Kentucky Derby was completed yesterday morning. Interestingly, and for a change, the horses I think with the best opportunity to win were largely unscathed by the posts they received; actually, most contenders drew very well.

So here it is:

1. Firenze Fire

2. Free Drop Billy

3. Promises Fulfilled

4. Flameaway

5. Audible

6. Good Magic

7. Justify

8. Lone Sailor

9. Hofburg

10. My Boy Jack

11. Bolt d’Oro

12. Enticed

13. Bravazo

14. Mendelssohn

15. Instilled Regard

16. Magnum Moon


18. Vino Rosso

19. Noble Indy

20. Combatant

Also Eligible–Blended Citizen

You might note Quip and Gronkowski are not part of the field.  Both were withdrawn early last week.  Quip was pulled because his connections felt that the Derby was going to be asking too much of him following his efforts in the prep races to qualify.  He is being pointed to the Preakness.  Gronkowski became ill and wouldn’t recover soon enough to not only ship to the U.S., but prepare to race.  Thus, Instilled Regard and Combatant drew in; I don’t like either’s chances.  If a horse scratches prior to Friday morning, Blended Citizen will draw into Gate 20.

The horses in this field I believe with the best chance to wear the roses are Audible, Good Magic, Justify, Hofburg, My Boy Jack (who I really see as more of a place or show horse), Bolt d’Oro (who I personally don’t care for, but has some talent), Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, and Vino Rosso (although I think he’s the good horse most compromised by his far outside draw…).

Justify has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite.  As I’ve stated before, I think Justify is the most physically gifted horse in the field, but to win the Derby Saturday in his fourth lifetime race is a GIGANTIC ASK.  So we’re either going to see a grand horse stretched too far too soon or perhaps a superstar in the making.  I can’t give a rousing endorsement to ANY of these horses, including those I’ve singled out as the best in the field because I can make as many, if not more, significant arguments as to why they can’t or won’t win.  So, sorry, but you are TRULY on your own this year picking the winner.

I am anxious to see how this race will play out.  In the ridiculous 20-horse field, my main hope and concern is that first and foremost all horses and riders have a safe trip.

There is a chance of rain in Louisville early Saturday, following what’s forecasted to be a pretty wet day Friday. Still, I’m expecting a dry, although possibly not fast track at race time. Coverage of Derby Day begins at 2:30 on NBC, post time for the Derby is 6:45 p.m.




Well It’s (About) Time

Kentucky Derby 144 will run in 18 days.  About a week ago a friend asked in an email “Haven’t there been any horse races leading up to this year’s Derby?” Well, yes, yes there have been; 35 in fact that offered the needed points to qualify to get one of the coveted spots in the 20-post field.

So what happened?  In my opinion? Not a lot of anything.  If you think I was lukewarm on last year’s Derby colts (Aside: As 2017 ground on, I was proven right about those colts, sadly, as many succumbed to injury and went onto lengthy layoffs, one, Irap, was euthanized following a racing injury, and others retired before the year was over), the 2018 runners have left me at least, if not more unenthusiastic than last year.

Let’s just cut to the chase. As of today the 20 three-year-old colts slated to run May 5 are:

  1. Magnum Moon–Winner of Arkansas Derby & Razorback Stakes
  2. Good Magic–Winner of Bluegrass Stakes & Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
  3. Audible–Winner of the Florida Derby
  4. Noble Indy–Winner of the Louisiana Derby
  5. Vino Rosso–Winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes
  6. Bolt d’Oro–Winner of the San Felipe Stakes*
  7. Enticed–Winner of the Gotham Stakes
  8. Mendelssohn–Winner of the UAE Derby & Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
  9. Justify–Winner of Santa Anita Derby
  10. Quip
  11. Flameaway
  12. Solomini
  13. Bravazo
  14. My Boy Jack
  15. Promises Fulfilled
  16. Free Drop Billy
  17. Lone Sailor
  18. Hofburg
  19. Firenze Fire
  20. Gronkowski

The field is really a muddled mess with no clearcut standout.  The top nine horses are, for the most part, better than the rest of the field, but each one will have to overcome some history to find themselves in the Derby winner’s circle.

Honestly, I really do think that there are two exceptional colts in the race–Justify and Mendelssohn.

Justify–In any other year I’d be over the moon excited about him.  He IS an exceptional horse with unlimited potential.  In only his third lifetime race he won the Santa Anita Derby in a convincing manner. And he HAD to win it to qualify for the Kentucky Derby as, going into the race, Justify had ZERO points!  Therein lies the problem: for all his exceptional athletic ability, Justify will be asked to try and win the Derby in just the fourth race of his life.  Personally, I hate to see him pressed into the Derby at this stage of his racing life; the strain of this demanding race could well ruin his racing future.  But of course “The Run for the Roses” is a one-time opportunity… He did not race as a two year old and so, YES, carries the dreaded “Curse of Apollo”–No horse who hasn’t raced as a two year old has won the Kentucky Derby since 1882 when Apollo won.  Don’t run off, you’re going to hear this again soon!

Mendelssohn–He was born in Kentucky, but was purchased by the Coolmore Syndicate and has done most of his racing in Europe on grass…except when he returned to America last fall to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and last month when he went to run on the dirt for the first time in Dubai in the UAE Derby.  Yeah, so what.  Thunder Snow won the UAE Derby last year; YOU liked him and he only turned out to be a bucking bronco out of the Louisville gates and didn’t even contest the race. Yeah, well Thunder Snow is one of the few 2017 Derby horses still running and WINNING, including the 2018 Dubai World Cup! But I digress, what of Mendelssohn, the grass horse?  Well, in his first start on dirt Mendelssohn ONLY won the UAE Derby (at 1 3/16th miles; Preakness Stakes distance) by 18 and a half lengths!! It is the most impressive run I’ve seen by a three year old this season outside of Justify.  Mendelssohn is also a half brother to champion racemare Beholder, and young star stallion Into Mischief.

Of the other top nine colts, Good Magic is rounding into form with his Bluegrass win, his first since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (dirt) in November.  However, only one BC Juvenile winner has won the Kentucky Derby, Street Sense in 2007. Magnum Moon is four for four, but he too didn’t race as a two year old; Apollo Curse!  Also in winning the Arkansas Derby Saturday, he ran increasingly wide down the lane while on the lead.  Not a good look, but I think just showed how green he is. Audible, Noble Indy, Vino Rosso, and Enticed are all good horses, but I’m not convinced they have what it takes to win the roses.  Bolt d’Oro was highly regarded as a two year old, but technically, hasn’t won a race since last September.  *He was put up to first in this year’s San Felipe Stakes after a series of bumps down the stretch between him and McKenzie (I wouldn’t have taken McKenzie down; subsequently, he was injured in training and unable to continue on the Derby trail). Further, Bolt d’Oro contested the Santa Anita Derby, but was unable to catch Justify.

In my view, only one colt outside of the top nine, has a legitimate chance to, if not win, at least hit the board Derby Day and that’s My Boy Jack.  Yet again, the brothers Desormeaux (Trainer Keith, jockey Kent, previously teamed on Preakness winner Exaggerator and BC Juvenile winner Texas Red) have a live colt.  My Boy Jack runs and wins from well off the pace.  He can handle both a muddy and fast track. The Derby could set up for him.

The other 10 colts, as my mom used to say: “You pay your money and you take your choice (in this case more like chance! 🙂 ).

Yet again this race is really wide open. Pick the horse, name, jockey, horse or silk color that most appeals to you; it’s likely to be as good as any handicapping advice you receive.  Heck, at the pace this is all going, it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2018 edition of the Kentucky Derby is run in snow!

Good luck. I’ll be back to alert you of the dreaded or fortunate post position draw, May 1.




Last Horse Running

Belmont Stakes 149 is this Saturday, June 10.

When last I left you, I was not excited about the crop of three year olds running through the American classics. That hasn’t changed.  But there are a few developments since.

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming won’t contest the Belmont Stakes.

Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing won’t contest the Belmont Stakes.

Preakness Stakes runner up Classic Empire was to run in the Belmont Stakes, but has developed another abscess in the same hoof that affected him in the Holy Bull Stakes earlier this year.  Scratched. So Lookin’ At Lee will be the ONLY colt to run in all three Triple Crown races.  Enough said.

Here’s the field, by post position for the Belmont:

  1. Twisted Tom
  2. Tapwrit
  3. Gormley
  4. J Boys Echo
  5. Hollywood Handsome
  6. Lookin’ At Lee
  7. Irish War Cry
  8. Senior Investment
  9. Meantime
  10. Mutiplier
  11. Epicharis
  12. Patch

I have nothing else to offer about the field overall.  Twisted Tom won the Frederico Tesio Stakes at Pimilico and is trained by Preakness-winning trainer Chad Brown.  Meantime was second in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont and Hollywood Handsome was fifth in the Illinois Derby.

Epicharis interests me.  He was undefeated in his native Japan and second to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby.  Before you snicker at the thought of him finishing behind Kentucky Derby cutup Thunder Snow consider that Thunder Snow just finished second to the very well thought of Churchill in the Irish 2000 Guineas May 27th.  A grandson of Sunday Silence, Epicharis also has accomplished distance/stamina sires Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells, both sons of 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner and premier stallion Northern Dancer, in his pedigree.  Since his second place finish in the UAE Derby, his connections have pointed him to the Belmont.  Lani finished third in the Belmont last year; if ever there was a year for a Japanese horse to break through in the Classics, this is it.

Post time is 6:30 Saturday; NBC’s coverage begins at 5:00.