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.

 

 

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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

17.Solomini

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.

ENJOY!

 

 

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.

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.

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!!

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