2006 Preakness Stakes Preview

May 19, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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If you’ve climbed on the Barbaro bandwagon, be careful. His morning line odds of even money are not close to representing his real chances of winning, which are about 5-2.

Yes, Barbaro looked great winning the Kentucky Derby. He may indeed be a great horse. In fact, he may even be a super horse and win the Triple Crown. However, before that can happen, he has some serious problems to deal with on Saturday and their names are Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek.

Barbaro had a dream trip in the Kentucky Derby. After some bumps early, he was quickly able to find a spot sitting just behind the race leaders. It was a comfortable, unpressured position that didn’t cost him much ground around the turns and let him bide his time before cruising past the tiring leaders on the final turn and drawing away with ease.

The horses Barbaro will have to beat in the Preakness were not so lucky in the Derby. If either Sweetnorthernsaint or Brother Derek had been able to get Barbaro’s dream position behind the leaders in the Derby, they would have had an equally good chance of winning the race. Instead, they had troubled trips that left them in unfamiliar, and unfavorable, positions that took too much energy out of them and left them with too much to do in the stretch to have an impact on the race results.

The Preakness should be a much more fair competition. With only nine horses, there really are no poor post positions and traffic problems will not be as significant. All three of the main contenders should be able to position themselves near where they want to run and the best horse should end up finishing first.

How the race will run

Not that there was much doubt, but with Like Now breaking from the one hole he is commited to getting the early lead. Running next to him will be Brother Derek and possibly Bernardini and/or Diabolical from the far outside. Barbaro will move to the rail behind Like Now and Sweetnorthernsaint should be just to his outside, behind Brother Derek.

Much will depend on how fiercely the front runners battle for the lead. If Like Now and Brother Derek are able to slow down the pace and conserve their energy, Brother Derek could be hard to catch as they turn for home. I don’t expect that to happen. The pace should be hot and leave the front runners vulnerable by the time they reach the top of the stretch. At that point both Barbaro and Sweetnorthernsaint will pounce and I expect they will both fill the exacta at the wire. I will give the edge to Sweetnorthernsaint due to his stronger finishing kick and better price.

Preakness Wager

$40 Win on #7 Sweetnorthernsaint

$40 Exacta 7-6 (Sweetnorthernsaint over Barbaro)
$20 Exacta 6-7
$2 Exacta 7 over All = $16

$5 Triple Key 7 with 6 with 1,4,5,8 = $20
$1 Triple Key 7 with 6 with All = $7
$1 Triple Key 6 with 7 with All = $7

$1 Super Key 7 with 6 with All with All = $42
$1 Super Key 6 with 7 with 1,4,5,8 with All = $24

Total Wager: $216

2006 Kentucky Derby Recap

May 7, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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Barbaro wins the 132nd Kentucky Derby

You have to wonder when Michael Matz first realized he had a Kentucky Derby horse in Barbaro.

Certainly not last fall. Barbaro broke his maiden at first asking in a mile turf race at Delaware and came back six weeks later to win the Laurel Futurity at a mile and a sixteenth, also on the turf. Matz surely knew he had a good horse, but clearly wasn’t thinking Kentucky Derby when he sent Barbaro out on New Year’s Day to win the mile and one eighth Tropical Park Derby (G3) at Calder.

The light bulb must have been flickering to life by now. Perhaps jockey Edgar Prado mentioned something in the Winner’s Circle after the Tropical Park Derby, “Um, Michael? This turf thing is going swell, he seems unbeatable on the grass, but don’t you wonder if maybe he is unbeatable on dirt, too?” Or not.

In any case, Matz got the message. Barbaro was officially redirected to the Kentucky Derby Trail. Although Matz was willing to try Barbaro on the dirt, I’m guessing it wasn’t until after Barbaro won the nine furlong Holy Bull Stakes (G3) in the slop at Gulfstream that he truly believed he had a Derby horse.

After the Holy Bull, Matz developed a plan. He would spend the next two months training Barbaro for dirt racing and the rigors of the Triple Crown trail, run one final prep in the Florida Derby (G1) and then go straight to the Kentucky Derby five weeks later.

The plan wasn’t well received. “One race in thirteen weeks isn’t enough.” “No horse has won the Derby off a five week layoff in 50 years!” “He’s a turf horse.” “He barely beat Sharp Humor in the Florida Derby.”

Turns out, Matz knew what he was doing. Barbaro was fit, sharp and thoroughly dominated the 132nd Kentucky Derby. Despite a stumble at the start, and some bumping early on, Barbaro’s favorable post position and natural early speed enabled him to secure a comfortable position just behind the leaders. From this prime location, Barbaro had first jump on the tiring leaders on the far turn, moved quickly to the lead, and sprinted away to a six and one half length victory.

Top contenders not so lucky

Race favorite Sweetnorthernsaint was bumped at the start and had to steady more than once in the first quarter mile, but did show great determination by making a strong move to rally from twelfth to third, over a dead rail path, before tiring in the stretch to finish seventh.

Morning line favorite Brother Derek was doomed from the moment he was stuck with post eighteen at the position draw on Wednesday. Despite travelling very wide the whole race, and dropping back as far as fourteenth, Brother Derek was able to make a run in the stretch to finish in a dead heat for fourth.

Other runners of note

Barbaro’s stalking position was so good that even the horse following him was able to benefit. Bluegrass Cat woke up at 30-1 to finish second by following Barbaro all of the way around the track.

Steppenwolfer and Jazil both ran as advertised. Dropping back early and making one big run late enabled them to finish third and in a dead heat for fourth, respectively.

Lightly raced Showing Up, stablemate of Barbaro, ran side-by-side with the eventual winner for three-quarters of a mile before tiring in the stretch to finish sixth.

Early speed fails again

As I discussed in the Kentucky Derby Preview, horses with a BRIS running style of E, for Early, and runners whose Early Pace (EP) rating from their last prep exceeded the Early Pace par for the Kentucky Derby, did very poorly in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. The 2006 results were very similar:

In 2005, there were four E-Type runners; they finished 7th, 16th, 18th, 20th.

In 2006, there were also four E-Type runners: Brother Derek (finished 4th-DH), Sinister Minister (16th), Sharp Humor (19th), Keyed Entry (20th)

In 2005, there were seven Non-E-Type runners with last race EP greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par; they finished 2nd, 10th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th.

In 2006, there were four Non-E-Type runners with last race EP greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par: Deputy Glitters (finished 8th), Lawyer Ron (12th), Private Vow (15th), Bob and John (17th).

I’m not sure how much to make of this yet, but I will be discounting horses with these running styles next year if the field is similarly composed.

2006 Kentucky Derby Preview

May 6, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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How much early speed is too much early speed?

Answer that question and you’ll be a long way towards figuring out this year’s Kentucky Derby.

There has been plenty of discussion the past few weeks about the quantity of early runners in this year’s Derby. Will the early runners burn each other out and set up the race for a deep closer? There was plenty of the same talk last year, but that didn’t stop the public from making front runner Bellamy Road the 5/2 favorite. He finished seventh. Brother Derek is the morning line favorite this year and is a front runner facing other commited front runners. Sound familiar?

Last year, in addition to Bellamy Road there were three other horses with an E (for Early) pace designation – they finished 16th, 18th and 20th. It’s not just about getting burned out fighting for the lead, it’s also about the horse’s comfort level. Early runners like to run up front. If they get stuck in one of the far outside post positions, or they fail to get out of the gate quickly, or get slammed into by other horses in the first few steps of the race, their chances of getting anywhere near the lead in a 20 horse field are severely compromised. It is the rare Early runner that is able to overcome such adverse conditions and adapt to having to make a big move late in the race from the back of the pack. Most will be upset to find dirt being kicked in their face (probably for the first time in their career) and quickly become discouraged.

The BRIS Early Pace par for last year’s Derby was 104. Of the 20 horses in the race, 11 had exceeded that number is their final Derby prep. In addition to the four commited Early runners there were seven more horses who had shown an affinity for running fast early. There just wasn’t enough room up front for all of those horses to find a comfortable spot on or near the lead. Those 11 runners finished 7th (Bellamy Road), 10th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th. That’s only 10, the 11th was the only horse to find his happy place – 70-1 longshot Closing Argument broke from the 18 post, was able to find a spot on the outside just a few lengths off the lead, made the first move when the front-runners slowed and briefly held the lead before being caught by Giacomo nearing the wire. That’s one horse out of eleven that was able to find a comfortable place to run early.

Although there has been a lot of talk of a similar scenario this year, it may not be quite as dramatic. There are again four Early runners this year (Keyed Entry, Sinister Minister, Sharp Humor and Brother Derek), two of whom did not exceed the Derby Early Pace par in their final prep (Sharp Humor and Brother Derek). There are only four other runners who exceeded the Derby’s Early Pace par in the final prep race (Bob and John, Private Vow, Deputy Glitters and Lawyer Ron). That gives us eight horses with a strong interest in running on or very near the lead. That’s a little better than last year’s eleven, but you can still expect a contentious battle up front, albeit with a slightly better chance for one or two of these eight to find a suitable position up front.

I expect the four Early runners will still get the worst of it. Although Brother Derek breaks from the same 18 hole as Closing Argument last year, I don’t think he’ll be as happy to cruise along in sixth place. These four seriously want the lead, will fight hard to get it, and will therefore lose all chance of winning. Of the other four, someone may get a dream trip like Closing Argument and still be involved in the stretch, but they could just as easily be caught up in the pace battle and be done on the final turn.

Although Lawyer Ron did rate early in the Rebel Stakes, he would not tolerate being taken back in the Arkansas Derby and forced his way to the lead. Although his string of wins are nice, his speed ratings do not measure up to the the last two Arkansas Derby winners to run in the Kentucky Derby – Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex. Plan on Lawyer Ron wanting the lead and being further compromised by the 17 post.

Private Vow is also coming out of the Arkansas Derby, but it was only his second race of the year and he has yet to show improvement as a three-year-old. On the plus side, third race off a layoff is a positive angle and his last win was at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) last November.

Deputy Glitters was very impressive beating Bluegrass Cat in the Tampa Bay Derby, but was not flattered by Bluegrass Cat’s poor performance in the Blue Grass Stakes. The Wood Memorial was Deputy Glitter’s second poor outing on a sloppy track, so you can probably disregard it. He was content to track Bluegrass Cat in both Tampa Bay Downs races and, if he can rate on Saturday, he could still be running in the stretch. He’s probably not a Grade 1 horse. But maybe.

Bob and John has shown the ability to lay just off the pace and make a move for the lead on the final turn. If he were able to lay eight or nine lengths off the lead on Saturday, he could have a perfect trip and be very dangerous coming for home. While he wasn’t exactly flying home in the Wood Memorial, it was a very sloppy track and he did win the race, which should count for something.

Others that should be able to get good positions just off the early speed are Barbaro and Sweetnorthernsaint with Point Determined a little further back.

Sweetnorthernsaint was a very impressive winner of the Illinois Derby. Showing an ability to rate off the lead combined with a strong closing kick, he should be very dangerous in the Kentucky Derby.

Barbaro has excelled at everything he has tried. And he has tried everything from turf routes, sloppy dirt tracks and fast dirt tracks. All he does is win. He seems to run every race the same – break well, sit just off the leader for three quarters of the race, then move to the lead and hold on for the win. That last part is at least a small concern. Barbaro was all out to hold off a very game Sharp Humor in the Florida Derby.

Point Determined hasn’t won a graded stakes race yet, but has shown an ability to rate several lengths off the pace and close well at the end. Sounds vaguely Giacomo-ish.

Also sounding very Giacomo-ish is A. P. Warrior who is another West Coast horse that seems willing to settle mid-pack and close in the stretch.

Cause To Believe was no match for Sweetnorthernsaint in the Illinois Derby, but has shown an ability to sit mid-pack and close well racing in California.

A few horses will be content to stroll along at the back of the pack and hope to be able find their way through traffic and make one big run at the end.

Jazil was visually impressive closing from last to catch Keyed Entry for second in the Wood Memorial, but no one else was really running at that point.

Three times Steppenwolfer has dropped to the back of the pack and made one big run to try and catch Laywer Ron only to come up short each time.

The lightly raced Storm Treasure made a strong move from the back of the pack on final turn to the furlong marker but could not gain ground on front running Sinister Minister in the Blue Grass Stakes. He has been working very well at Churchill Downs and may be improving.

As for the rest, I just don’t like them. Bluegrass Cat has disappointed in his last two races and doesn’t seem likely to handle the distance. Showing Up has only run three times and that can’t be enough. Flashy Bull and Seaside Retreat aren’t anywhere near good enough to be entered in this race.

Thoroughbred Report Picks:

SWEETNORTHERNSAINT
BOB AND JOHN
BARBARO
POINT DETERMINED

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