2011 Preakness Stakes Analysis

May 21, 2011 by · Comments Off on 2011 Preakness Stakes Analysis
Filed under: Handicapping, Horse Racing, Triple Crown 

Some recent Kentucky Derby winners, like Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown, left me thinking that maybe this was the year we would see another Triple Crown winner. While other recent Kentucky Derby winners, like Giacomo and Mine That Bird, left me wondering if they would ever win another race. I can’t put 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in either category – he doesn’t feel like a fluke winner, but I’m also not sure how good he really is. Given the apparent weakness of this crop of three-year-olds, he may not have to be very good to keep winning races.

While Animal Kingdom is a good-looking horse, and looked good winning the Kentucky Derby, questions remain.  The slow-early, fast-late pace was highly unusual for a Kentucky Derby and it’s unclear whether he won despite that or because of it. In addition, the uninspiring final time of the race produced a well below average Beyer Speed Figure. While he enters the Preakness as the legitimate favorite, he will have to win again on Saturday to gain any real credibility.

Only four other runners from the Kentucky Derby are heading to Pimlico – Mucho Macho Man (3rd), Shackleford (4th), Dialed In (8th) and Midnight Interlude (16th) – and none of those had any excuses in the Kentucky Derby that would justify moving them up in the Preakness.  Of those four, it’s ironically the worst Derby performer that interests me the most in the Preakness. Like last year’s Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, Midnight Interlude is trained by Bob Baffert and will be ridden by Martin Garcia. Unraced as a two-year-old, Midnight Interlude was a steadily improving three-year-old coming in to the Derby and was sent off as the fifth choice in the betting. Although he showed nothing in the Derby stretch, I’m willing to forgive that and hope he can run a race similar to his Santa Anita Derby win.  If he can sit off the early speed here, and finish as well as he did at Santa Anita, he could be a factor.

As for the new shooters, I’ll remind you of what I said last year:

As for the horses that didn’t race in the Derby, keep in mind that they didn’t skip it voluntarily – they weren’t good enough to make the 20 horse Derby field.  Read that again – they didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby because there were 20 horses that were more accomplished than them.  They haven’t gotten any better over the past two weeks.

That said, there are a couple of horses that skipped the Kentucky Derby that I will give a chance of stepping up in the Preakness Stakes. 

Sway Away comes into the Preakness off a fourth place finish in the Arkansas Derby, arguably the top Kentucky Derby prep this season – winner Archarcharch would have been one of the Derby favorites had he not drawn the unfavorable one hole in the starting gate; second place finisher Nehro came back to run second in the Kentucky Derby; third place finisher Dance City joins the field here; and fifth place finisher Alternation won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park last weekend. Sway Away made a strong move around the turn to take the lead at the top of the stretch and held on until the sixteenth pole before tiring to fourth.  By 2005 Preakness winner Alfeet Alex, Sway Away has yet to win a route race, but trainer Jeff Bonde has put three six furlong workouts into him since the Arkansas Derby and that conditioning may help him in the stretch on Saturday.

Astrology didn’t win either of his two races this year, and has never run particularly fast, but he has always been competitive and has never finished out of the money in seven career starts. In addition to being trained by Steve Asmussen, who won the 2007 Preakness with Curlin and the 2009 Preakness with Rachel Alexandra, Astrology has similar breeding to 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini (by A.P. Indy out of a Quiet American mare) and therefore should be well suited to the Preakness distance.

The Preakness pace should be much more contentious than we saw in the Kentucky Derby, with Shackleford, Flashpoint, Dance City, Norman Asbjornson and some others having a preference for running at the front of the pack.  I expect this to compromise their chances and allow midpack runners, like those mentioned above, to take the advantage in the stretch.

Thoroughbred Report Preakness Stakes Picks:

11-Animal Kingdom
7-Midnight Interlude
1-Astrology
6-Sway Away

2010 Preakness Stakes Analysis

May 15, 2010 by · Comments Off on 2010 Preakness Stakes Analysis
Filed under: Handicapping, Horse Racing, Triple Crown 

So who do you like, the horses exiting the Kentucky Derby or the new shooters who bypassed the Derby?

I’m not sure I like any of them.

At first glance, the Preakness winner should be either the Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, or the Kentucky Derby favorite, Lookin at Lucky.  Unfortunately, neither inspires a lot of confidence, especially given that they’ll both be 5-2 or less.  As for the horses that didn’t race in the Derby, keep in mind that they didn’t skip it voluntarily – they weren’t good enough to make the 20 horse Derby field.  Read that again – they didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby because there were 20 horses that were more accomplished than them.  They haven’t gotten any better over the past two weeks.

OK, someone’s got to win, so let’s take a look at the field and see if we can find someone to support:

HORSES EXITING THE KENTUCKY DERBY

SUPER SAVER (Pletcher/Borel)
PRO:  Won the Kentucky Derby.  That’s a good thing, right?
CON:  Received perfect trip in Derby.  It’s pretty lucky to have zero traffic in a 20 horse field.  Wasn’t exactly flying down the stretch in Derby. 

BRIS Late Pace Par for Kentucky Derby:  102 
Super Saver’s Late Pace:  86

Everything went his way in the Derby.  Part of that was luck, part was Calvin Borel.  He still has Borel.  We’ll see if gets/needs the luck.

PADDY O’PRADO (Romans/Desormeaux)
PRO:  Finished 3rd in Kentucky Derby.
CON:  Has never raced on dry dirt.

I think he’s a turf horse who benefited from the wet track at Churchill Downs.  I don’t see him running as well on a fast Pimlico strip.

LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Baffert/Garcia, M)
PRO:  Favorite in Derby for a reason.  Most accomplished runner coming in.  Finished 6th despite lots of trouble.  Ran well on dry dirt in Rebel.
CON:  Always seems to find trouble.  Gets a new jockey for the first time.

If he breaks from post 7 two weeks ago instead of post 1, is he the Derby champ?  If you think so, then he’s your bet here.

DUBLIN (Lukas/Gomez)
PRO:  Switches to a highly motivated top jockey.  May improve on dry dirt.  Sire won this race five years ago.
CON:  Hasn’t won since September.  Post 12 isn’t helpful.

Gomez picks up the mount after getting booted off Lookin at Lucky. 

HORSES WHO MISSED THE KENTUCKY DERBY

AIKENITE (Pletcher/Castellano)
PRO:  Last race was best of career, closing from last to get second.
CON:  One career victory.

Derby Trial was career best Beyer.  Will need to make another big step forward.

SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Ryan/Coa)
PRO:  Beat Super Saver in Tampa Bay Derby.  Sharp workouts.
CON:  Took a step backwards in Wood Memorial.

Two decent races at Tampa Bay Downs, but didn’t build on that in the Wood Memorial.

PLEASANT PRINCE (Ward/Leparoux)
PRO:  Missed by a nose to Ice Box in Florida Derby.  Bullet workout on Sunday.
CON:  One career victory.  Two disappointing races since Florida Derby.

I’m trying to find a way to excuse his last two races.  He didn’t like the mud in the Derby Trial?  Maybe so.  He didn’t like the Polytrack in the Blue Grass?  He certainly seems to like it in the morning – he breezed 5f in 59 flat a few days ago.

NORTHERN GIANT (Lukas/Thompson)
PRO:  Finished in the money in Risen Star and Lane’s End.
CON:  Low Beyers.  Took six tries to break maiden.

I can’t see what he’s doing in here.

YAWANNA TWIST (Dutrow/Prado)
PRO:  Only four career races means could still show big improvement.
CON:  May be better suited to sprints.

Don’t like that he couldn’t stick with American Lion through slow fractions in the Illinois Derby.

JACKSON BEND (Zito/Smith, M)
PRO:  1st or 2nd in all 9 career races before Kentucky Derby.
CON:  May be better suited to sprints.

Second twice to Eskendereya, but never close.  100 Beyer last October may be a fluke.

CARACORTADO (Machowksy/Atkinson)
PRO:  Ran a big race to win Lewis in Feb.  Been working well at Santa Anita.
CON:  Ran worse each of next two starts.

FIRST DUDE (Romans/Dominguez)
PRO:  A couple of good workouts at Churchill Downs.
CON:  Only has a maiden win.  Highest career Beyer is 90.

What has he accomplished?  Why should we believe he’ll be 15 points faster today?

Thoroughbred Report Preakness Stakes Picks:

DUBLIN
LOOKIN AT LUCKY
SUPER SAVER

I’ll also use Pleasant Prince in the exotics, and on top as a saver, just on a hunch.

2010 Kentucky Derby Recap

May 9, 2010 by · Comments Off on 2010 Kentucky Derby Recap
Filed under: Handicapping, Horse Racing, Triple Crown 

Friggin’ Calvin Borel.

This makes three Kentucky Derby wins in the past four years for Calvin Borel and ties him with Kent Desormeaux for the most Kentucky Derby victories among active jockeys, with three.  Handicapping the Kentucky Derby is easier than I realized – just bet the horses being ridden by Borel and Desormeaux (who finished third this year)!

For a few weeks now, I’ve been wishing that Borel was on a closer in the Kentucky Derby instead of a committed front-runner.  I shouldn’t have been so fussy.  Although his first two Kentucky Derby wins were on deep closers, he wasn’t on that kind of horse this time.  Super Saver has good early speed and always races on, or near, the lead.  But Borel rides regularly at Churchill Downs and I should have known he could find another way to win.

My other, larger, mistake was classifying Super Saver as a committed front-runner.  Here’s what I missed:  In his last race, the Arkansas Derby, Super Saver, under Calvin Borel’s astute guidance, was able to sit three lengths off the race leader until making a move for the lead in the stretch.  In the five races prior to that, Super Saver had strongly contested the lead every time.  This ability to sit back behind the leader served him well in the Kentucky Derby as Borel broke Super Saver smartly from the gate and moved him quickly to the rail (possibly impeding Noble’s Promise and Lookin at Lucky in the process).  Super Saver was content to sit in sixth for the first six furlongs, began moving up around the final turn and disposed of Noble’s Promise, right after that one had moved past the tiring leaders, to gain a clear lead in the final furlong.

The other big winner on Derby Day was trainer Todd Pletcher.  Much has been written about Pletcher being 0 for 24 in the Kentucky Derby, but that makes it sound like he’s lost 24 different Kentucky Derbies.  In reality, those 24 horses were spread across only nine Kentucky Derbies and none of them were favorites to win.  This year was different.  This year Pletcher’s stable was loaded with legitimate Derby contenders and his trainees dominated the Kentucky Derby prep season, winning the Sam F. Davis, the Risen Star, the El Camino Real, the Fountain of Youth, the Louisiana Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Lexington Stakes.  But none of those prep race winners would go on to win the big one for him.  It was the runner-up in the Arkansas Derby, Super Saver, who delivered the one prize that was missing from Pletcher’s resume.

Enough with the winners, let’s see how my ‘system‘ did in, perhaps, its final year of use:

Step 1: Eliminated the Early runners

Eliminated:  Super Saver (finished 1st), Line of David (18th), Conveyance (15th), Discreetly Mine (13th), Sidney’s Candy (17th), Paddy O’Prado (finished 3rd)

The theory, that having multiple front-runners in the Derby dooms them all, was right.  The leaders through the first half mile of the Kentucky Derby finished 15th (Conveyance) and 17th (Sidney’s Candy).  The five horses that had led after six furlongs in their final prep race finished in 3rd (Paddy O’Prado – more on him later), 11th, 15th, 17th, 18th. 

In practice, I failed to accurately determine who the front-runners really were.

Step 2: Eliminated horses that have not run a BSF of at least 98 this year.

Eliminated:  Stately Victor (finished 8th), Dean’s Kitten (14th), Make Music for Me (4th), Jackson Bend (12th), Mission Impazible (9th), Dublin (7th), Backtalk (20th), Homeboykris (16th)

Super Saver ran a 104 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) to win the 2010 Kentucky Derby.  His previous high BSF was the 98 he earned finishing second in the Arkansas Derby.

Step 3: Eliminated horses without a 100+ BRIS Late Pace in their last race.

Eliminated:  Noble’s Promise (finished 5th), Devil May Care (10th), Awesome Act (19th)

Noble’s Promise moved up to take the lead after seven furlongs and held on well until the final furlong before tiring.
Devil May Care made a strong move entering the stretch to get as close as third, within 2 lengths of the lead, before fading badly in the final sixteenth.
Awesome Act was never involved in the race.

Of the top four finishers in the Kentucky Derby, all but Super Saver had a history of running best late:

Super Saver, in his prior starts as a front-runner, had never run a BRIS Late Pace higher than 96.
Ice Box earned a 108 Late Pace winning the Florida Derby.
Disguised as a front runner his past two races, Paddy O’Prado had been a deep closing turf horse as a two-year-old, earning a 102 Late Pace at Saratoga in September.
Although he did not finish well in the Blue Grass Stakes, Make Music for Me had averaged a 101 Late Pace in his three prior races.

Step 4: Miscellaneous Eliminations

Eliminated:  American Lion due to his front-running style.

American Lion steadied early, was never closer than seventh, and finished 11th.

Two Qualifiers:

Ice Box steadied three different times during the race, but still closed strongly to finish second, 2 1/2 diminishing lengths behind the winner.  

As Lookin At Lucky’s trainer Bob Baffert said after the post position draw, “Plan A is we break well.  Plan B is we’re screwed.”  It turned out to be Plan B.  Lookin at Lucky was roughed up at the start, and again in the first furlong, which left him running in 18th position after a quarter mile.  Garrett Gomez swung Lookin At Lucky five wide on the final turn and was able to make a good move into the stretch, but couldn’t sustain it in the final furlong and finished 6th.

Step 5: Hard Decisions

I found reasons to uneliminate three horses and they finished 5th (Noble’s Promise), 7th (Dublin) and 10th (Devil May Care).

Conclusion:  In Kentucky Derbies with lots of front-runners, you can safely eliminate all of them IF you’re sure that’s the only way they know how to run.

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