Preakness Time

Post positions were just drawn for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore.

Here’s what we have with each horse’s latest accomplishment:

  1. Multiplier (Illinois Derby winner)
  2. Cloud Computing (3rd behind Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial)
  3. Hence (11th Kentucky Derby)
  4. Always Dreaming (Winner Kentucky Derby)
  5. Classic Empire (4th Kentucky Derby)
  6. Gunnevera (7th Kentucky Derby)
  7. Term of Art (7th Santa Anita Derby)
  8. Senior Investment (Winner Lexington Stakes)
  9. Lookin At Lee (2nd Kentucky Derby)
  10. Conquest Mo Money (2nd behind Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby)

Royal Mo who was also eligible for the Derby sustained a fracture during his final work for the Preakness this past Sunday.  He had surgery Monday and is recovering.  Unfortunately, he will never race again.

Most everyone, myself included, believes that the race will be between Always Dreaming and Classic Empire and they couldn’t have drawn more favorably for that matchup to take place.  The key will be that no one lets Always Dreaming get loose on the lead because it’s unlikely he’ll back up much to the field particularly if he gets a sizable lead.  The expectation is that Classic Empire will stalk and then attempt to overtake him.  And that’s not to say that Always Dreaming will necessarily take the lead.  There’s a fair chance that Conquest Mo Money or another horse will.

The smaller field will allow for a fairer test and at this moment the forecast for Baltimore on Saturday is nearly perfect–partly cloudy and 70 degrees.

There have also been a couple of jockey changes.  Javier Castellano is off Gunnevera to ride Cloud Computing, a horse to which he was previously committed.  “Big Money” Mike Smith will take the ride on Gunnevera Saturday.

Beyond that there’s not much more news.  I’m looking forward to the race and expecting a big effort from both Always Dreaming and Classic Empire.  Classic Empire is my pick and I also think Conquest Mo Money (son of Uncle Mo, sire of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist ) will hold on to hit the board.  Hoping for a fun, safe race.

Post time is 6:45 on NBC.

Advertisements

Just Not Good Enough

So the draw reins worked! Always Dreaming is the winner of the 143rd Kentucky Derby.  Excellent ride by John Velazquez.  Not a straw in his path, he took advantage of the rail which was the place to be, and the horse was the picture of composure leading up to and during the race.  The pace meltdown that I anticipated between Always Dreaming and Fast and Accurate to the inside and State of Honor to the outside didn’t materialize.  Fast and Accurate was anything but and State of Honor, though he broke and took the lead, didn’t set a fast pace.

Classic Empire might have been able to make a race of it, but was on the receiving end of a serious body blow that occurred as Irish War Cry and McCraken dropped over to save ground once the race began.  Additionally, Classic Empire got smacked by a good clod of mud to an eye that word is has left him with a bit of a swollen eye and made a miserable run worse.  Still, he persevered to a fourth place finish.  He IS a racehorse.

And while undoubtedly, the wet track probably prevented some of the horses from having their best race, as I’ve thought it over, I keep coming back to the conclusion that was the undercurrent of the prep race season this year–these horses just were not good enough.  The inconsistency in performance, the injuries and setbacks in training, and the fairly average, less than impressive performances that resulted in wins during the preps that were indeed valid indicators of what was to come from these horses in the Derby. Not much. Today, that point is underlined for me. During yesterday’s pre-race coverage Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss made a point that proved prophetic and further underscores my point: Always Dreaming was the only colt in the race who was undefeated in his races in 2017. It’s not to say that some of the losing horses won’t emerge from this race and go on to success(es) later on, but right now, this is the not ready for primetime crop.

So where do we go from here? Excellent question.  I really don’t know.  There are no reports that any of the horses came out of the race any worse for wear other than simply being tired (perhaps exhausted!).  Always Dreaming’s connections indicated it’s their intention to move on to the Preakness.  Some writers and commentators are already saying Always Dreaming is Triple Crown winning material. I’m not sure which, if any horses that ran against him yesterday will pursue him in Maryland.  So far the only horses I’ve heard mentioned to potentially contest the Preakness are Royal Mo, who was Also Eligible for the Derby and Malagacy who was scratched from the Kentucky Derby field early and at that stage was mentioned as training on for the Preakness.  I really don’t think Malagacy will be much of a match for Always Dreaming either.

A horse I think should go on and run in the Preakness is Thunder Snow.  Not only did he not finish the Derby yesterday, he never really ran it.  As Thunder Snow came out of the gate, within a few strides jockey Christophe Soumillon was nearly sideways in the saddle, somehow righted himself, and then Thunder Snow broke into a bucking fit.  I suspect the position of the saddle and/or girth contributed to that outburst.  I do not believe he balked and refused to race.  Bottom line for me is he’s stateside, he didn’t run a step yesterday, why not take a shot at the Preakness? He’s already raced and won at the 1 3/16th Preakness Stakes distance when he won the UAE Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.  Sheik Mohammed’s goal is to win the Kentucky Derby, but the Preakness isn’t a bad consolation prize.  The only problem I see with Thunder Snow is he has what I think is a “grass stride,” and may not really be a good dirt runner. We’ll see.

Odds and Ends– Street Cry remains the only horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby as Classic Empire couldn’t turn the trick yesterday.  Post 17 remains winless as Irish War Cry briefly contended and then faded.  Best ride of the day goes to resident Churchill Downs rider Corey Lanerie who piloted poorly drawn Lookin At Lee from the one hole (where within 100 yards you will run into the rail in the 20-horse field if you aren’t real careful and real talented) to an amazing second-place finish.

Final order of finish for the Kentucky Derby:

1. Always Dreaming

2. Lookin At Lee

3. Battle of Midway

4. Classic Empire

5. Practical Joke

6. Tapwrit

7. Gunnervera

8. McCraken

9. Gormley

10. Irish War Cry

11. Hence

12. Untrapped

13. Girvin

14. Patch

15. J Boys Echo

16. Sonneteer

17. Fast and Accurate

18. Irap

19. State of Honor

20. Thunder Snow DNF

 

Thirteen days until the Preakness Stakes.  Can’t imagine what happens next.

 

 

Closing Entry–Kentucky Derby 2017

The biggest story of the week leading to Saturday’s 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby was yesterday’s post position draw, approximately 24 hours ago.  So let’s get to it!

Listed by Post:

  1. Lookin At Lee
  2. Thunder Snow
  3. Fast and Accurate
  4. Untrapped
  5. Always Dreaming
  6. State of Honor
  7. Girvin
  8. Hence
  9. Irap
  10. Gunnevera
  11. Battle of Midway
  12. Sonneteer
  13. J Boys Echo
  14. Classic Empire
  15. McCraken
  16. Tapwrit
  17. Irish War Cry
  18. Gormley
  19. Practical Joke
  20. Patch
  21. Royal Mo (Also Eligible and would take the #20 gate should another horse scratch prior to 9:00 a.m. Friday morning.)

Overall, I don’t think any of the horses with a realistic shot at winning the Derby were grossly compromised by the posts they drew; most trainers and owners expressed being pleased (and relieved; Post 1 was still open when Classic Empire was waiting to be assigned a gate!) with where their horses will break.

If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know I am death on posts 1 (just forget it), 2, and 3 for the 20-horse Derby field.  Horses breaking from #1 are solid on the rail and unless they break like they were shot out of a cannon they will generally get badly squeezed and likely blocked early on as the rest of the field attempts to drop over to save ground. If, by chance the horse in the 1 does break hard and fast, more likely than not they’ve expended a lot of valuable energy that they’ll need and likely have fully expended for the final furlongs of a mile and a quarter race with that early burst.  In the ultimate irony, Lookin At Lee (Post 1) is a son of Lookin At Lucky.  In 2010, Lookin At Lucky was considered a big favorite for the Derby, that is until he drew the #1 post, got slammed and scrambled around shortly after the break and finished sixth. Then two weeks later he won the Preakness Stakes.  Go figure. The same can pretty much be said for horses in # 2 and 3.  So in my opinion those horses’ race is lost before it even begins.  Posts 19 and 20 aren’t much better.  You need to be basically a super horse to win from either.  Big Brown was the first and only horse to date to pull it off out of #20, but Big Brown was also a man among boys in the 2008 Kentucky Derby field; none of these horses are that dominant this year.  One-eyed Patch most definitely is not.

Now add an extra wrinkle that wasn’t as much in the picture at the beginning of the week, but is a possible factor now–Rain.  Hey, it’s Kentucky in the spring!!  As of this morning there is a 60-70% chance of rain for Saturday.  And believe it or not, out of 22 major Derby prep races this season only three were run on muddy or sloppy tracks and of those three races, only one winner, Gormley, has made it into the Derby gate.  So in an already muddled picture, what to do?  For me, start by looking at pedigree; who sires mudders?  In this field you can look to Irish War Cry (Sire–Curlin who could fly on mud and whose son, Exaggerator romped to muddy wins last year in the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Haskell Invitational); Classic Empire (Sire–Pioneerof the Nile, sire of none other than American Pharoah who ran a tour de force victory in the 2015 monsoon Preakness). Classic Empire also won his first race on a muddy track; Sonneteer (Sire–Midnight Lute another horse who could easily handle slop as in his 2007 Breeders’ Cup Sprint win at Monmouth Park); and Gormley (Sire–Malibu Moon who sired Orb, the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby over a muddy track in 2013) who has, as mentioned previously, won over a muddy track earlier this year in the Sham Stakes.

There were a couple of other key developments this week.  Practical Joke, who had been working in blinkers this week, will not wear them in the Derby.  Trainer Chad Brown has decided he doesn’t want to make that change now.  Meanwhile, possible second choice for the race, Always Dreaming has been training very aggressively, on the muscle, at Churchill.  So trainer Todd Pletcher opted to change exercise riders earlier this week and add draw reins.  Draw reins provide a rider, among other things, greater leverage over a horse through his mouth, and by extension head and neck.  You might recall Smarty Jones, a strong morning work horse wearing them as well.  The bottom line is this is an attempt to get better control over a horse, so especially in a racehorse, they’re not just running off.  They’re saying it has helped his training, but he cannot wear draw reins in the race.  For me it’s a very short learning curve and with Always Dreaming breaking from the #5 post, there’s a very good chance he’ll be aggressive out of the gate because of the early race crush and/or the need for John Velazquez to hustle him up and out of there in an attempt to get clear running room.  If that happens, in my opinion, race over.  I don’t think he’s a mature enough racehorse to handle that kind of heat, rate, and carry on to win.

The owner of Fast and Accurate has indicated that their strategy is to gun for the lead from the gate. Good luck with that.

I am a bit disappointed that Thunder Snow got stuck in Post 2.  I wanted to see what he could do, but that post position doesn’t give him much chance to do that.  Should he somehow manage to win from there he is an exceptional horse.

Classic Empire has been made the morning line favorite at 4-1 (which is pretty high opening odds for a Derby favorite).  That will fluctuate throughout the day and he might not even be the favorite once the horses enter the gate.

At this point my top picks are Irish War Cry and Classic Empire with long-shot selections of Practical Joke, Gormley, and Sonneteer. I also wouldn’t rule out McCraken because Churchill is his home track.

That’s it folks.  You’re on your own now.  Post time is 6:45 on NBC.  This is a race where I believe anything (or horse) can happen.

Counting Down, Shaking Up

Six days away for Kentucky Derby 143 and here are some things you should know:

**The connections of Battalion Runner (second to Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial) and Malagacy (fifth in the Arkansas Derby last out) have withdrawn them from the Derby.  As a result, Sonneteer (a charging fourth in the Arkansas Derby) and Lookin At Lee (third in the Arkansas Derby) are now in the gate.

**Louisiana Derby winner Girvin struggled all week to get his final work in at Churchill Downs due to a quarter crack (A split or crack that runs up or down the hoof.  There are several causes for this, but hoof and/or limb conformation is the leading contributing factor.  Big Brown, 2008 Derby and Preakness winner struggled with this during his Triple Crown pursuit).  He finally got the work in and fired 5 furlongs (1/8 of a mile) in :59 + change (very sharp).

**Practical Joke, who has shown a tendency to “hang” (not pass and/or finish in the stretch; basically running in place) worked in blinkers this week and watching his work effort in them I did see some improvement when he engaged his workmate.  Chances are he will wear them in the Derby in an attempt to keep his mind focused and on the task at hand.

**Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE Derby IS going to contest the Kentucky Derby.  He is stateside at Churchill Downs, in quarantine (standard operating procedure) and will be able to stretch his legs on the the track Tuesday.

So as of today, the list of potential Derby starters is:

1. Girvin

2. Classic Empire

3. Gormley

4. Irap

5. Irish War Cry

6. Thunder Snow

7. Always Dreaming

8. Gunnevera

9. Practical Joke

10. J Boys Echo

11. State of Honor

12. Tapwrit

13. Hence

14. Fast and Accurate

15. McCraken

16. Battle of Midway

17. Patch

18. Untrapped

19. Lookin At Lee

20. Sonneteer

21. Royal Mo (Also Eligible in the event of a scratch)

Right now these horses break into four categories for me.

THE CLASS: Classic Empire and Irish War Cry. In my opinion, these two horses are the top of the field with all the ability needed to win the Kentucky Derby.  HOWEVER, both present a nagging concern. Classic Empire–Which version comes to the Derby? Calm, cool, collected, and polished Classic Empire who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Arkansas Derby or quirky Classic Empire who comes to the gate in a froth and can be unpredictable in behavior?

Irish War Cry–Which one? The talented horse that’s won all his races but one…or the one that finished an inexplicable and very well beaten seventh (in the Fountain of Youth Stakes)?

Still, when these two are on their game, they are very nice racehorses with great potential.

THE STEADY EDS: Girvin, Gunnevera, and McCracken.  There’s nothing flashy about any of these colts, but they generally grind away and get the job done.  Think Gun Runner last year. Girvin is the rare winner of two stakes preps this year in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby.  But he is dealing with a compromised hoof.  It won’t necessarily be an issue based on his good final work and Big Brown’s example of being able to race successfully with the same condition.  But bottom line, at least for me, I want my horse to be as close to physically perfect (and none of them are) as possible; a hoof problem, no matter how deftly handled doesn’t thrill me.  The old adage “No hoof, No horse” IS true; I know.

Gunnevera has won the Delta Jackpot Stakes (at 2) and the Fountain of Youth. His last out in the Florida Derby (3rd) was workmanlike, but not necessarily inspiring.

McCraken. I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t even challenge maiden-breaking winner Irap in the Bluegrass Stakes (finishing 3rd), but he also was in desperate need of a race following his minor setback with a bit of a wrenched ankle over the winter.  Churchill Downs is his home track with victories in the Street Sense and Kentucky Jockey Club stakes over the strip.  His trainer, Ian Wilkes knows his business and was a longtime assistant to two-time Derby winning trainer Carl Nafzger (Unbridled-1990 and Street Sense 2007).

THE DARK HORSES: Sonneteer, Gormley, Always Dreaming, and Royal Mo.  All four have shown talent, many people have or will make Always Dreaming their favorite off his Florida Derby win and sharp last work. I’m not on the bandwagon yet, because the Florida Derby was his first stakes race.  It’s impressive that he could step up from allowance company to take the Florida Derby in his first stakes action, but for me it seems/feels a bit too much too fast, with the Kentucky Derby as the next step/ask. In human terms, the progression equivalent might be similar to being the winning quarterback in the NCAA National Championship, then leading a team to an AFC/NFC Conference Championship, and then going on to quarterbacking and expecting to win the Super Bowl right in a row…maybe, but you get the picture in terms of the rapid advancement that’s being asked. I also watched his most recent work at Churchill Downs and was less than impressed.

Gormley showed improvement winning the Santa Anita Derby with his new running style and his stablemate Royal Mo just missed getting there (3rd in the Santa Anita Derby). They both have talent, consistency has been an issue.

Sonneteer has yet to even win a race, but finished exceptionally fast (4th) in the Arkansas Derby, two lengths behind Classic Empire.  It’ll take a hot pace and many meltdowns for him to win, but I certainly think with the right trip he could hit the board.

EVERYONE ELSE: And that’s just what I mean, everyone else.  The only one I’m going to mention is State of Honor because he is absolutely stunning to look at and not just because he’s 17 hands plus (not a real advantage at this stage of his racing life, if ever)!

Wednesday comes with what could well be the dreaded post position draw. If you’re the unfortunate horse that’s drawn into PP 1-2-3, despite all your talents you might as well stay in your stall.  So my fingers will be especially tightly crossed for Classic Empire and Irish War Cry’s draw.

See you after the Post Position Draw.

Return of the King?

The most important news since my last post is that the talented, quirky, questionable Classic Empire, who was on the outside looking in prior to the Arkansas Derby is now second in the points standings (132) for the Kentucky Derby thanks to his victory in the race. Classic Empire was on his very best behavior at Hot Springs before, during, and post race. It wasn’t an easy victory; in the stretch he was hung wide coming off the pace, but he was relentless to the wire.

So now that he’s in, how will he do? Kind of hard to say.  His start in the Derby will be his third start off the layoff he had from the conclusion of his two-year-old season.  For many horses this is an ideal setup for rounding into form for the next race.  So that’s a plus.  Still, Classic Empire had to work for this victory; what, if anything, did this take out of him three weeks before the big race at the longest distance he (and all the other colts) has ever run?  We really won’t know until May 6th around 6:30 in the evening.  It is important to remember, that Classic Empire was the two-year-old champion for a reason. He was that much better than the other colts of his year crop.  He’s had his excuses in 2017 so far, but in terms of raw talent, it’s for real. Barring any regression mentally or physically, he is a solid contender and might well be the favorite for Kentucky Derby 143.

Two other developments since the last post.  The connections of Cloud Computing have opted not to run in the Kentucky Derby and are now aiming for the Preakness Stakes and/or the Belmont Stakes. As a result of his defection, Untrapped, sixth in the Arkansas Derby, will move into the Derby gate.

Jockey Robby Albarado, who had the mount on J Boys Echo, sustained a broken ankle yesterday at Keeneland when he was thrown from his mount out of the gate.  The new rider has yet to be named.

The Kentucky Derby is now 12 days away!!

,

Does Anyone Want to Win the Kentucky Derby?

Well of course there are owners, trainers, jockeys, and breeders who do, but the horses? Even this deep into the prep season, 25 days out from the Run for the Roses, I’m not so sure there’s a horse who’s ready to win the Kentucky Derby.

So here’s the story, as prep races, all the way back to fall 2016 go, it’s been a pretty dismal  and wildly inconsistent affair.  There is no real star. There has been very little in the way of outstanding and consistent performances by this crop of colts.  There has been drama in the way of physical setbacks and peculiar behavior and in the case of one colt, both.

Coming into 2017, all eyes were on the very promising two-year-old champion, Classic Empire, facile winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  Alas, the year for him to date has turned into one issue after another.  Classic Empire has yet to post a win, has run in only one race, and currently doesn’t have the points necessary to get into the gate for the Kentucky Derby.  He is scheduled to run in the last major prep of the year this Saturday, the Arkansas Derby.  If he finishes in the top four he’s in, although the way his year has gone, he’d generate a lot more confidence if he finishes first or second.  What’s the deal?  In his first and only start to date in the Holy Bull Stakes (February 4) at Gulfstream Park, Classic Empire came to the gate cranky and washed out and it just went downhill from there as he finished a well-beaten third behind Irish War Cry.  The next day it was determined that he had an abscess in one hoof, so there was a clear and valid excuse.  But since then his training for his next race has been interrupted by two instances where he refused to train.  Like went out to the track essentially planted his feet and refused to even canter, let alone gallop, around the track.  After the first time, again a physical excuse was determined; he was treated by a chiropractor for back troubles.  The second time there appears to have been no physical excuse, which leaves us at mental (and this is a horse that as a two year old racing at Saratoga last summer broke from the gate and promptly took a sharp turn, dumping his rider in the process).  He’s since moved to a quieter training center and is reported to be training brilliantly.  Well, all I can say is he’d better be to make the Derby gate.

Mastery jumped into the Kentucky Derby picture in March in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in what was the best prep race performance of the season by far as he dispatched the rest of the field to win by nearly seven lengths.  And it was fabulous while it lasted, like about 10 strides past the finish line where jubilation quickly turned to valid dismay as jockey Mike Smith quickly pulled the winner up and he was loaded onto the ambulance for the trip back to his stall.  The next morning it was confirmed that Mastery had sustained a condylar (cannon bone, the long bone of the leg) fracture.  He has since had surgery and is recuperating.

In the meantime, the outcome of the other preps has been a free for all and racing reporter Randy Moss summed it up sweetly when he said Saturday that mostly it has been a case of wildly inconsistent colts scoring a win and then in their next race “not being able to be found with a search warrant.”

At this point, and actually throughout the prep season, the horse that has impressed me the most and that I believe has the most potential is Irish War Cry (Disclaimer: I have a bit of a special interest in Irish War Cry; more later).  He was impressive in his two wins this season where he defeated Classic Empire and Delta Jackpot (and later Fountain of Youth) winner Gunnevera in the Holy Bull Stakes and even more so this past Saturday when he won the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct.  However, in between, he inexplicably crashed and burned in a seventh place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.  Nonetheless, he’s a beautiful, long-striding colt, who when he’s right is a delight to watch run.  A son of Curlin, he should have what it takes to get the Derby distance.

Girvin has emerged from the southeast as the victor of Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby.  He’s not flashy, but he grinds away to the finish line.  Winning two preps this year is a true accomplishment. As I write, Mike Smith has committed to ride Girvin in the Kentucky Derby.

Gormley got himself into the Derby gate following a win in the Santa Anita Derby also run Saturday.  Much like Irish War Cry, Gormley had an impressive victory in the Sham Stakes where he fought American Anthem down the stretch to the wire, but then finished very dismally, fourth behind Mastery, in the San Felipe.  Trainer John Shirreffs changed Gormley’s running style for the Santa Anita Derby to stalking instead of on the pace and it paid dividends.  Gormley is ridden by Victor Espinoza who knows where the Derby finish line is (California Chrome, American Pharoah).

Always Dreaming is the well-thought-of winner of the Florida Derby (off an allowance win), trained by perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher.  In the Florida Derby he defeated Gunnevera (third).  He’s a nice horse, but I think the leap into a Derby win might be a big ask.

McCraken is another well-thought-of colt.  He won the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay and then wrenched his ankle and was briefly out of training and missed a planned race (the Tampa Bay Derby) in the process.  He returned to the races this past Saturday in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, finishing a respectable third in his first career defeat.  Still, it could be just enough to set up the son of Ghostzapper for his Derby run. He already has a win over the Churchill Downs track, winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall.

Other (kinda) notables this year are Bluegrass Stakes winner Irap (who in the process got his first-ever win at 31-1), J Boys Echo (Gotham Stakes winner, fourth in the Bluegrass), Tapwrit (Tampa Bay Derby winner in stakes and track record time for a 1 1/16th-mile race, fifth in the Bluegrass), and Practical Joke (second in the Bluegrass).

As of Sunday morning the top 20 colts in terms of qualifying points are:

1.Girvin

2. Gormley

3. Irap

4. Irish War Cry

5. Thunder Snow

6. Always Dreaming

7. Gunnevera

8. Practical Joke

9. J Boys Echo

10. State of Honor

11. Tapwrit

12. Malagacy*

13. Hence

14. Fast and Accurate

15. McCraken

16. Battle of Midway

17. Patch*

18. Battalion Runner

19. Cloud Computing

20. Untrapped

21. Classic Empire (racing in the Arkansas Derby Saturday, April 15)

*Colts that did not race as two year olds. Only one horse, Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two year old.

The standings will likely change a bit after the Arkansas Derby is run and, as always, there will probably be a few defections before May 6 due to injury or connections deciding to go in another direction.  My advice this year, more than any past year is, if you can, bet the field to win.  I think there’s a good chance that with a simple $2 wager on every horse you could cover your $40 outlay as I think there’s a very good chance a longshot wins the 2017 Derby.  I don’t expect any horse to go off at odds shorter than 2-1; the favorite could go off at 3- or 4-1.

This. Race. Will. Be. Wide. Open!

What a Weekend

SATURDAY

The Jim Dandy Stakes (1 1/8), at Saratoga Racetrack was run with a field of six: Belmont Stakes winner and runner up, Creator and Destin, respectively; maiden Laoban; Governor Malibu (fourth in the Belmont); Mohaymen (fourth in the Kentucky Derby); and Race Me Home. When the gates broke, Mohaymen promptly fell to his knees, but quickly recovered. Laoban took the lead and Destin, Governor Malibu, and Race Me Home stalked, while Creator took his usual spot at the rear.  Laoban under red hot jockey Jose Ortiz set moderate fractions in the first three quarters at :24, :49, and 1:12, bordering on slow.  And it worked! Governor Malibu and Destin offered a mild challenge to Laoban’s lead, but never made a dent; they finished second and third. Mohaymen basically ran in place for fourth, Race Me Home dropped out to fifth, and Creator never made a move from last as if he didn’t realize he was even in a race.

It was entirely fitting that Laoban would win his first-ever race in the Jim Dandy Stakes. In 1930, Jim Dandy was the horse that at odds of 100-1 defeated Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox.

SUNDAY

The Haskell Invitational was also run at a mile and an eighth at Monmouth Park at Oceanport, NJ.  The outcome of the race was likely determined overnight into race day as it rained…and rained some more throughout the day, leaving the track sloppy.  Lining up to contest the Haskell were six more colts: Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator, Gun Runner (third in the Derby), Sunny Ridge, winner of the Withers Stakes in January, Iowa Derby winner American Freedom, and Awesome Slew.  When last seen, Exaggerator finished a dismal 11th in the Belmont. Nyquist didn’t get to contest the Belmont because he spiked a fever post Preakness; this was the awaited rematch between the two.

Well, if you saw the Preakness you basically saw the Haskell as it was essentially the same race repeated.  Despite trainer Doug O’Neil (who took the blame for the Preakness Stakes run strategy of Nyquist) and jockey Mario Gutierrez indicating Nyquist would be handled differently in the Haskell it didn’t turn out that way. Nyquist again hooked up for the lead with American Freedom and Awesome Slew and although the fractions weren’t as blistering as those set in the first two quarters of the Preakness they were swift enough that they appeared to soften the Derby champion up.  In the meantime, Exaggerator had taken his typical spot at the rail and the rear of the field although he wasn’t too far off the other horses. Exaggerator was hung four wide as he made his move out of the final turn and swept past all the other colts to take the lead and the win.  Once again he was a big kid colt, happily splashing though the mud. Nyquist fell back to fourth, his first-ever out-of-the-money finish of his career.  Sunny Ridge ground on to nip him, taking third.  Gun Runner never seemed happy with the conditions and finished fifth.  Awesome Slew plummeted to last, while American Freedom carried on for the runner up position.

There was a brief inquiry based on American Freedom’s jockey Rafael Bejarano’s objection against Kent Desormeaux and Exaggerator  for a bump in the stretch that was disallowed.

As of today, Laoban, Mohaymen, and Exaggerator are being pointed to the Travers Stakes August 27 at Saratoga.  There has been no word on the next race for the remainder of the colts that participated in the two races that typically are used to prep for the Travers. There is also no word as to any reason for Creator’s poor effort Saturday.  As I indicated in my previous blog, I anticipated that some colts might move forward (Laoban and American Freedom) since the Triple Crown races while others might start to regress (Mohaymen and Nyquist).  Only time will tell if some colts just had a bad weekend and who ends up at the top of this year’s three-year-old class.  We shall see.