2008 Preakness Stakes Analysis and Picks

May 17, 2008 by · Comments Off on 2008 Preakness Stakes Analysis and Picks
Filed under: Handicapping, Triple Crown 

Really?  You’re looking for a Preakness analysis? OK, here it is:  Big Brown is much the best horse in the field and can win the Preakness even without running his best race.  So he’s a lock, right?  Probably, but there are a million ways for a horse to lose a race – so don’t bet the ranch on it. 

If you do want to bet on the race (and you know you do), you certainly don’t want to risk your money on Big Brown for a paltry 1-2 or worse.  We’re going to need some high priced horses to follow him across the wire in order for us to make a few bucks.

#8 Kentucky Bear (15-1) – Lightly raced runner won big in his debut in January.  Showed little facing Grade 2 company in his second start, but ran well to finished third in the Blue Grass.  Very nice works at Churchill prior to the Derby, but insufficient graded earnings kept him from making the Derby field.  Eligible to improve in just his fourth career start.

#3 Icabad Crane (30-1) – His win in the Frederico Tesio Stakes last out makes him the only horse in the field with a win over the Pimlico strip.  Ability to sit mid-pack and make a strong closing move should suit him well.

#10 Riley Tucker (30-1) – Pressed a fast pace in the Lexington but held well for third.  Pace upfront shouldn’t be quite so hot today and, if he’s able to rate off the leaders, he should be a little stronger in the stretch this time.

#11 Giant Moon (30-1) – His Wood Memorial left him only two lengths behind Tale of Ekati, who went on to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby.  Has been working well since the Wood and is bred to run all day.

Preakness Wager

For the Big Brown believers:

$10 Exacta Key – Big Brown (#7) over 3,8,10,11 = $40
$3 Tri Key – Big Brown (#7) over 3,8,10,11 = $36
$1 Super Key – 7 over 3,8,10,11 = $24

Total:  $100

What if Big Brown wakes up on Saturday and decides he just doesn’t feel like running today?  I believe that if Big Brown doesn’t win, it will mean something went very wrong and he probably wouldn’t even finish in the money.  If that’s the case, the exotic payouts would be astronomical. 

So, for you non-believers (and starry-eyed dreamers):

$2 Exacta Box – 3,8,10,11 = $24
$2 Trifecta Box – 3,8,10,11 = $48
$1 Superfecta Box – 3,8,10,11 = $24

Total:  $96

Good luck and have fun!

2008 Kentucky Derby Recap

May 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Triple Crown 

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Big Brown wins the 134th Kentucky Derby
Filly Eight Belles Euthanized

An impressive, resounding victory by Big Brown was, in large part, overshadowed by the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles, who had run a wonderful race to finish second.  A quarter mile past the finish line, Eight Belles broke both front ankles.  Unlike with the injury to Barbaro in the Preakness two years ago, it was immediately evident that there would be no heroic attempt to save her.  (Horses can stand on three legs during recovery from injury, but there is no way to support a horse on just two good legs.)  There is no evidence that the filly was hurt during the race or that jockey Gabriel Saez was to blame in any way.  A tired horse, a bad step and a tragic end to both a talented racehorse and a classic race.

Top choices

Despite having only a three race resume and starting from the far outside in post 20, Big Brown went off as the 5-2 favorite and justified that support with a five length victory.  Big Brown used only enough early speed to secure a safe position in sixth and rated well for the first mile before moving on the leaders approaching the stretch.  Big Brown remained strong down the length of the stretch and was never threatened.  It was a dominating performance over what may be regarded as a mediocre group of three-year-olds.

Second favorite Colonel John dropped back early, made a bold move around the final turn to get in position but flattened out in the stretch.

Third favorite Pyro dropped back to 18th, saved ground early, passed horses in the upper stretch but was unable to sustain a bid.

Fourth choice Eight Belles ran nearly the same race as the winner, racing in 5th place just ahead of Big Brown, but that one got first jump on her and took command of the race while Eight Belles had to settle for second place.  She was clearly best of the rest.

Other runners of note

Recapturetheglory pressed the early pace in third for the first six furlongs and held well to finish in fifth.

If you watch a replay of the race, take note of Denis of Cork breaking from post 16.  Much like last year with Street Sense, jockey Calvin Borel was able to get his horse to the rail within a furlong of the start.  To do so from post 16 is very impressive.  Calvin Borel is drawn to the rail at Churchill Downs like a moth to a flame.

Early speed

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, 2006 and 2007 Kentucky Derbies. The 2008 results were similar, with one very big exception.

In 2005, there were four E-Type runners; they finished 7th, 16th, 18th, 20th.
In 2006, there were four E-Type runners; they finished 4th-DH, 16th, 19th, 20th
In 2007, there were five E-Type runners: they finished 2nd, 10th, 14th, 16th, 17th

In 2008, there were only two E-Type runners:  Bob Black Jack finished 16th and Recapturetheglory finished 5th.

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; they finished 8th, 12th, 15th, 17th.
In 2007, there was only one Non-E-Type runner with a last race EP greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par: Any Given Saturday finished 8th.

In 2008, there were three Non-E-Type runners with a last race EP greater then the Kentucky Derby EP Par:  Tale of Ekati (finished 4th), Smooth Air (finished 11th) and Big Brown, who won the race.

The first four runners after six furlongs this year finished 16th (Bob Black Jack), 9th (Cowboy Cal), 5th (Recapturetheglory) and 15th (Cool Coal Man), so running up front in the Derby is still not the place to be.  However, the 5th and 6th horses after six furlongs ended up running second (Eight Belles) and first (Big Brown), so running near the lead wasn’t too bad.  

It is interesting to note that there were fewer early speed horses (E and high EP) this year compared to the three previous runnings of the Derby:

2005:  11 (4 E, 7 EP)
2006:  8 (4 E, 4 EP)
2007:  6 (5 E, 1 EP)
2008:  5 (2 E, 3EP)

Clearly, and obviously, the fewer committed front runners there are, the easier it is for a front runner to hold on and factor in the finish of the Derby.  In 2007, with 6 front runners, Hard Spun was able to hold on for second.  In 2008, with 5 front runners, Big Brown was able to win.  I’ll speculate that with fewer than 5 front runners we could see a gate to wire winner.

Miscellaneous Notes:

split times (2f, 4f, 6f, mile, final):

2005 – :22.28 :45.38 1:09.59 1:35.88 2:02.75 – Giacomo
2006 – :22.63 :46.07 1:10.88 1:37.02 2:01.36 – Barbaro
2007 – :22.96 :46.26 1:11.13 1:37.04 2:02.17 – Street Sense
2008 – :23.30 :47.04 1:11.14 1:36.56 2:01.82 – Big Brown

quarter times:

2005 – :22.28 :23.10 :24.21 :26.29 :26.87
2006 – :22.63 :23.44 :24.81 :26.14 :24.34
2007 – :22.96 :23.30 :24.87 :25.91 :25.13
2008 – :23.30 :23.74 :24.10 :25.42 :25.24

2008 Kentucky Derby Analysis and Picks

May 3, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Handicapping, Triple Crown 

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Much like last year, the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby features an uninspiring cast of characters without an obvious star.  Of course, no matter how uninspiring they appear now, a star will be anointed just a few minutes after six o’clock on Saturday afternoon.  Will it be a pretender like Giacomo in 2005 or will this year’s Derby winner go on to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed thirty years ago?  Although there are always more questions than answers heading into the Derby, this year there seem to be more than ever.  How will form translate from the the all-weather tracks in California to the dirt of Churchill Downs?  Is Big Brown this year’s Curlin – a future star without enough experience to win the Kentucky Derby?  Can any useful information be gleaned from the Blue Grass Stakes? 

On to the handicapping:

Step 1: Eliminate the Early runners

I’ve indentified some interesting trends over the past couple of years.  If you want to read the details, check out the previous Kentucky Derby Previews (2006, 2007) and Recaps (2006, 2007).  Horses with an E (Early) running style have a dismal record in the past three 20-horse Kentucky Derbies. This means that Bob Black Jack and Recapturetheglory can both be eliminated.

Also, eliminate any Non-E-Type runners with an Early Pace (EP) in their last race greater than the Kentucky Derby EP par.  This knocks out favorites Tale of Ekati, Smooth Air and Big Brown.

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

In the past 16 years, only two horses (Giacomo and Sea Hero) have won the Kentucky Derby without having previously earned a BSF of at least 100 as a three-year-old.

Out: Anak Nakal, Court Vision, Big Truck, Pyro, Colonel John, Z Humor, Momba, Adriano, Denis of Cork, Cowboy Cal

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

If you’re going to win the Kentucky Derby, you better be running in the stretch.

Out: Cool Coal Man, Visionaire, Gayego

Step 4: Miscellaneous Eliminations

With only two runners left (Eight Belles, Z Fortune), I guess I should stop eliminating horses.

Step 5: Hard Decisions

Since the first three steps decimated the field, the hard decisions will be who to bring back in from the cold.

#9 Pyro – Was second-best two-year-old last year (behind champion War Pass, who beat him three times).  Easily won first two starts this year, but did not produce fast times.  Finishing a dismal 10th in his final prep race (Blue Grass) does not generate much confidence, but the talent is there.  Or it it?  As I read what I write, I just can’t sell myself on him.  The wins were slow, the Blue Grass was pathetic, and his workout at CD this week was not at all impressive.  OUT.  (Upon further review, the workout was better than the final time indicated.)

#10 Colonel John – He’s never raced on dirt.  His Beyer Speed Figures are not gaudy.  His margins of victory are narrow.  But he closes like a freight train and his workout over the Churchill Downs strip this week (5f in 57 & 4/5) shows he loves the surface.  IN.

#16 Denis of Cork – Lightly raced runner began his career with three wins in as many starts before dropping a clunker in the Illinois Derby.  Come from behind running style suits the race shape here and he has been working very well at Churchill Downs.  Having last year’s winning jockey Calvin Borel on board is another plus.  Has a chance to pick up a piece of the superfecta.  IN.

#19 Gayego – Nice win in the Arkansas Derby was rewarded with the second highest route Beyer this spring, behind only the Florida Derby.  Was dead game in holding off fast closing Z Forture, but gets the worst of the post position change versus that rival.  Outside post and pace pressure will be too much to overcome.  OUT.

#20 Big Brown – Three races?  Curlin only had three and, as good as he is, he couldn’t get it done.  The Florida Derby was impressive, but he began his career as a turf horse and I’m just not convinced he’s really that good.  Throw in post 20 and the disadvantage of being a front-runner and I’ll pass.  OUT.

Thoroughbred Report Picks:

1st: #5 Eight Belles
2nd: #6 Z Fortune

Include in exotics: #10 Colonel John, #16 Denis of Cork, #9 Pyro

Kentucky Derby Wager

$30 Exacta 5-6 (Eight Belles over Z Fortune) = $30
$15 Exacta 6-5 = $15
$5 Exacta 5,6 over 10,16 = $20

$1 Triple Key 5 with 6,9,10,16 = $12
$1 Triple Key 6 with 5,9,10,16 = $12

$1 Super Key 5 with 6,9,10,16 = $24
$1 Super Key 6 with 5,9,10,16 = $24

Total Wager: $137

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