Tag Archives: Churchill Downs

A Weekend To Remember

What a roller-coaster week. Culminating in an emotional and dramatic weekend that included a 16/1 winning selection for the 1000 Guineas as well as a winner in the Kentucky Derby that was no winner half an hour later and a superstar on the other side of the globe far too few people have heard of yet!

Throw in a couple of unlucky 2nd places and a 2000 Guineas result that left me wonder “what if” and you’ve certainly got a few days to remember!

2000 Guineas: What Draw Bias?!

Horses loading for the first Classic of the 2019 flat season, a last few words from Johnny Murtagh on ITV: he’s now leaning toward Magna Grecia based on his observation of the existence of a draw bias in favour of the stands-side.

A few minutes later Twitter was running hot as Magna Grecia passed the line in front of everyone else, indeed. The colt trained by Aiden O’Brien – of course – won the battle of his small group on the stand-side, far away from the rest of the field, comfortably. And because his side was always ahead throughout the race he won the 2000 Guineas rather comfortably in the end.

My selection Skardu ran a massive race and finished 3rd, winning the race in his much larger group. I guess, ideally we wouldn’t have this discussion now and instead we’d have seen a “fair” race. But this is racing. Happened in the past. Will happen again.

Whether there was a draw bias I am not so sure. Most likely there was a pace bias, though. And this had the most profound impact on the outcome of the race. This is certainly something that occurs any given day. If you’re drawn close to the pace and you follow it you always have a better chance of winning than not.

Smarter people will be able to explain all the exact reasons behind it in greater detail than I can or want right now. But that is a racing fact.

On balance I believe – at least over 1 mile – there is little between Magna Grecia and Skardu, and possibly Madhmoon. Will we see a re-match at the Curragh in a few weeks time? Magna Grecia is bound for the first Irish Classic. Wouldn’t it be nice to see these three meet there again? I’d love to see that!

Derby Delight Turns Sour

I live for these big races. The anticipation building over the whole day leading up to the moment when the gates crash open – pure excitement!

Normally I’m neither too high nor too low watching bred and butter racing, regardless of betting, the winning or the losing. Big races get my blood flowing, though.

Getting up at 3am in the morning for the Melbourne Cup? No bother. I can’t sleep anyway because of all the butterflies in my stomach!

The Kentucky Derby is one of my favourite races of the entire year. The occasion, build-up and atmosphere transported thanks to the outstanding NBC coverage is simply stunning.

No different this Saturday night. I was cheering home my selection Maximum Security with passion – surely the neighbours enjoyed it too – pumping the first in the air as the colt crossed the line ahead of everyone else. And who wouldn’t? A 9/1 winner in the Kentucky Derby is something to shout about!

Then the dreaded words: “objection lodged…. hold on to your tickets”. What follows are replay after replay dissecting ever aspect of the final three furlongs of the 145 Kentucky Derby. It was obvious Maximum Security was the best horse in the race. The runner-up Country House had no right to be upset with the result. He wasn’t impeded at all!

But it was also obvious Maximum Security impeded other horses when shifting around when turning home. It could resulted in a pretty bad situation on a different day.

Taking that into consideration I can understand the disqualification. And given the strict US rules it probably was the right call in the end.

On the other hand, whether it is truly a fair call to take the race away from the horse that was quite clearly the best one in the race, because of shifting around in an incredibly tight situation, racing on the limit at the end of a tough contest, doing so on a sloppy surface….

After all these are animals, not robots who run straight on rails as if they’d be pre-programmed machines.

It all happens so fast, there are 150.000 people screaming, horses and riders fighting for space, whips flying around…. it’s racing, not chess. These things happen in the sport and the question that needs to be raised in these type of situations is: did the winner got an unfair advantage and did the runner-up lost because of this situation?

The answer is unequivocal NO in this instance.

Ultimately I feel Maximum Security should have kept the race. What a fairytale it would have been. A horse thought to be so bad he started his career in a $16k claimer, going to win the Kentucky Derby…..

The Best Ever? 

South Africa as produced a lot of fantastic race horses over the years. The likes of Variety Club or Igugu come to my mind, in particular. But there is a new kid on the block and he could be the best there ever was in South Africa – some already suggest!

Well, one thing is for sure: Hawwaam is an incredibly exciting colt, with a turn of foot you rarely see produced in such stunning manner. How he races away from his rivals in the closing stages, like it’s the easiest thing in the world, is nothing short of breathtaking.

I took note for the first time – and was immensely impressed –  when Hawwaam stepped into Grade 1 company for the first time in the SA Classic earlier this year as he arguably exploded in the final furlong putting a handful of lengths between himself and the rest in a matter of strides.

He followed up on Saturday in the Grade 1 Champions Challenge when stepping up to the 10 furlongs distance and he couldn’t have been more impressive. How often do you see a horse in a top-level contest travelling hard on the bridle approaching the final furlong and then shooting clear under hands and heels? This horse is special:

On to the Durban July now? He surly will go off a warm favourite. And only luck or the lack of can stop him there I reckon.

How great would it be to see this superstar travel the world?! And what a shame that it remains so difficult for South African horses to travel. In turn it means far too few people get to know these classy horses that race on the other side of the globe.

Wayne Lordan Defies the Stats

He was 1 for 42 rides in the UK for Aiden O’Brien and his mounts went off a 25/1 average SP – Wayne Lordan couldn’t have been an unlikelier hero in the 1000 Guineas today – at least judged by the numbers.

Riding the least fancied of the Ballydoyle string once more, Hermosa was a largely ignored runner coming into the race. You could back her at 20/1+ this morning.

I missed those massive prices, but still got 16s with only a few hours to go to the race when making her my sole selection for the 1000 Guineas.

All credit to Wayne Lordan, though. What superb ride: incredibly brave, at the same time keeping it simple, bouncing the filly out of the stalls sending her straight to the lead, knowing Hermosa would likely stay all day and night long.

And she did! She was gutsy, stuck to her guns when challenged and won well in the end. A supremely well bred filly, adds another big race success to her superstar family, given she is a full-sister to Group 1 winners Hydrangea and The United States.

It brings a hectic week to an end. I had 30 bets. Way too many. I go carried away on Monday in particular but was bailed out by New Show at Windsor, thankfully. 4 winners & 120pts profit this week – the highlight obviously Hermosa.

A week of what would have been. 10 placed horses, multiple of those beaten in tight finishes on the line. A winner in the Kentucky Derby that was taken away half an hour later.

Well…. onwards and upwards. 

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Preview: Kentucky Derby 2019

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11.50pm Irish time: gates crash open for the 145th Kentucky Derby! The Run for the Roses is the longest running sporting event in the United States. This years edition appears to be particularly wide open in the absence of recently withdrawn ante-post favourite Omaha Beach.

As a consequence you can make a case for plenty of horses. Bob Baffert remains to have a strong hand, of course. Though, I fancy two horses that seemingly sail a little bit under the radar at the moment.

War Of Will – his stock has significantly fallen since a disappointing effort in the Louisiana Derby. Disappointing only on paper, though. Watch the start of the race and you see how he looses his footing soon after leaving the stalls, pulling a muscle as a result.

That aside, since switched to the dirt, he won three races on the bounce, including two graded contests. He did so in fine style, running away with the races once entering the home straight.

He’s been a high class juvenile on turf last year, runner-up in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes and finishing  good fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

If you’re willing to excuse the last run – he was 4/5 favourite, telling something about the expectations for this colt – you’ll see a classy, progressive individual, who’s taken really well to the dirt – and who has, as a little bonus, local form as well as form on a sloppy track.

Drawn right next to the rails can be a struggle, however he has early speed to overcome this task. Obviously, a different question is whether he can make the step up to Grade 1 company and has the stamina to stay the Derby trip.

We’ll find out. Crucially, the talking of the track is he’s flying at the moment, having worked really well leading up to the big race. At a big price he’s a rather easy choice for me today.

Maximum Security – By no means I am an expert if it comes to US racing, nonetheless I struggle to understand why this colt isn’t closer to the top of the market than he is. Sure, he started his career in a cheap claiming race, but ever since winning on debut he’s kicked on to new heights, culminating in the Grade 1 Florida Derby victory.

Unbeaten in four starts, it seems his recent top level success is questioned because Maximum Security lead from the front, setting slow fractions. That certainly is true and will be different today, but on the other hand, simply from a visual perspective, one could hardly been more impressed with the way he put the race to bed in the end.

On the clock he ran the last three furlongs in less than 36 seconds – easily. According to Beyer Speed Ratings, he’s ran twice to a rating o 100 or higher already. Not other horse in this years Kentucky Derby lineup has shown that sort of speed.

Early speed will lead Maximum Security to the front or near to it from a good draw. Once he’s there, how he’ll react being hard pressed, going potentially fast for a long period, over a trip he’s uncertain to stay – we’ll find out turning for home whether he’s a Derby horse.

On the plus side: Maximum Security has shown in the past he doesn’t need to lead, and he has form on a sloppy track as well.

Selections:
5pts win – Maximum Security @ 9/1 Coral
5pts win – War Of Will @ 20/1 MB

Preview: Breeders’ Cup Classic 2018

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9.44 Churchill Downs: Breeders’ Cup Classic, 1m 2f

It’s always hard to assess US form properly if you watch the Dirt racing only with one eye. So, when I dismiss the home raiders in the blink of an eye I do so knowing full well it may turn out to be a foolish move in a few hours time.

But if it comes to this years Classic I feel pretty strong about two European runners. For different but then also somewhat similar reasons. In either case, the one of Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn, a lot will depend on the start of the race, I believe. It’ll make or break their chances.

Thunder Snow in gate one faces an uphill task. He’s never showed tremendous gate speed, so this is a major risk. However, if experienced Sumillon in the saddle is able to push his mount forward, so he’ll not end up behind a wall of horses entering the first bend, but rather tracking the pace in third, fourth or fifth, then the reigning Dubai World Cup champion is in a position to win the race.

That performance back in March is to be taken with a pinch of salt due to the rail bias that day. However, he beat some excellent dirt horses in tremendous style and ever since the Breeders’ Cup Classic was the goal.

A disappointing effort in the Juddmonte International aside, on his return to the US, for the first time after his disastrous experience in the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Snow ran a tremendous race in defeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He was more sensibly ridden than the two pace setters, but still was pushed forward rather aggressively from the widest gate. That must have cost vital fuel. Contrast that with the eventual winner of the race, who had pretty much the perfect race and ride and simply picked up the pieces in the closing stages, having the most left in the tank.

Thunder Snow tracked the pace from a long way off in third place throughout the race and was gradually closing in until catching the leaders entering the home straight. He led in the final furlong, eventually beaten on the line by the fast finishing Discreet Lover.

That was an excellent run, the second after a break and only a prep for today – you would think there is still a bit to come from him, hoping he’ll peak when it matters most: today.

His form on dirt reads an impressive 11P21212 – so clearly Thunder Snow is a classy individual. Everything hinges on the start. If he can get through that without getting too far behind, then I’m confident Godolphin has a major shout at celebrating a first Classic Success.

A first one in this regard it would also be for team Ballydoyle. I’m sure there are quite a few who’ve already given up on Mendelssohn at this stage, given in three starts over in the US, ever since producing that sheer unbelievable performance in Meydan, he’s yet to come close to winning.

I see it from a different perspective: today was always the goal. Knowing Aiden O’Brien, you can be sure he’ll have Mendelssohn spot for the race they want to win desperately. Also, something that seems overlooked: Mendelssohn, for whom the way races are run in the US must have been a bit of culture shock, has steadily improved from race to race over there.

You can easily draw a line under the Kentucky Derby; since then 3-2-3, the last two in Grade 1 contests over the Classic trip. I’ve been mightily impressed with this most recent performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Mendelssohn was sprinting forward right from the start, racing for the lead with odds-on favourite Diversify – the two set mad fractions and where more than ten lengths clear halfway through the race! They were caught eventually, but it was Mendelssohn who battled on toe finish a two lengths beaten third in the end.

One could argue, only with some sort of soft lead, steeling the race from the front, Mendelssohn will have a chance to win today. He’s not quite up to the standard to be considered a major contender, otherwise. That is probably an assessment not too far of the truth, by all we know up until now.

I see it from this perspective, though: Mendelssohn is improving. His latest run was a new career best. He’s still not got too many miles on the clock. He’s got an ideal draw to move forward today. He had a pretty ideal preparation, stays the trip and is a returning Breeders’ Cup winner, i.e. he has class!

I might be totally wrong. Overestimate these two Europeans, and underestimate the US horses, like favourite Accelerate, Mckinzie and Catholic Boy. I might overvalue the merit of the Jockey Club Gold Cup performances. And if I fancy the second and third of that race, I should fancy the winner, Discreet Lover at massive odds of 50/1 even more so today, right?

Well, I stick to my analysis, that both Mendelssohn and Thunder Snow didn’t have ideal races that day, ran big despite the factors against them, and both offer significant upside coming into the Breeders’ Cup Classic today.

Selections:
10pts win – Thunder Snow  @ 14/1 Coral
10pts win – Mendelssohn @ 10/1 PP

Preview: Kentucky Derby

How time is flying, ’cause here we are yet again: first Saturday in May – it can only mean the run for the roses, the Kentucky Derby, is upon us! The first leg of The Triple Crown, the time where dreams are still alive and rumours and tales are all the talk. So who’s the next big thing; who can  follow into the massive footsteps of American Pharoah?

The Favourite

Favoured is the unbeaten Nyquist – named after  brilliant Detroit Red Wings star Gustav Nyquist (who himself does pretty well at the current Hockey World Championships – a good omen?). Seven starts, seven wins, including a most recent impressive success in the Florida Derby.

He could been backed throughout the week at prices in and around 7/2 – very fair, and he’s sure to be a good deal shorter come post time. And that puts myself a bit into a dilemma. I really like the price, think it’s slightly bigger than it should be given what we know so far about last seasons leading juvenile.

But what about the future? You got to have doubts about his stamina to last the Derby trip with his speedy pedigree. Start box 13 must not necessarily be the problem as Nyquist possesses gate speed. However over this new trip, with 19 other horses in the race, a rattling pace right from the start, he’ll need to use a lot of energy early on to get across.

That could inevitability cost him when it really matters and he may run out of steam eventually. Therefore I am inclined to take him today.

I want to look for something sure to appreciate the trip. No need to look all that far though as there are plenty of alternatives in the field – however there is an interesting fact attached to more than half of the field: many are closers, so likely to come from off the pace.

It’s highly likely that with three furlongs to go we could see some dramatic traffic congestion which inevitably will result in plenty of hard-luck stories. Interestingly that is one of the factors speaking in favour of Nyquist, given his gate speed and prominent racing style. But only if the bit of stamina, which can be found to some extend on his dam’s line, comes through to help him stretch out over the 10f trip.

The Contenders

Curlin son Exaggerator is thought to be Nyquist’s biggest danger. A runaway winner of the Santa Anita Derby, who has a chance to stay the trip, even though there is a fair bit of speed on his dam side. He shouldn’t be too far off the pace too, which I reckon is a plus. He can be backed at 9/1 – is a fair price in my book.

Mohaymen lost an unbeaten record when readily put into his place by Nyquist in the Florida Derby. A performance too bad to be true, still his overall profile doesn’t scream Kentucky Derby winner to me, though the trip might bring out a bit of improvement.

Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner is one I do like a lot. Potentially somewhere settling in midfield, he’s a pedigree to do well over this trip and crucially won at Churchill in the past. He’s generally available at 12/1.

Blue Grass Stakes hero Brody’s Cause already tasted success at Churchill as well. He’s got to overcome a draw in the car park, though he’s more of a closer anyway, so this might not  be a problem. More so will be to find a clear passage through the field in the latter stages of the race.

Yet to prove himself in Grade 1 company, however an excellent winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, when beating in second another interesting Derby contender in Outwork, is Todd Pletcher’s Destin. He has some questions to answer in terms of stamina and class but a fair draw and prominent race tactics do give him every chance to run his race and show he belongs here.

Stable mate Outwork was a good runner-up at Tampa, which was his only defeat in four career starts as he went on to win the Wood Memorial subsequently. A wide draw and question marks over stamina aside, he’s an intriguing contender, given there might be more improvement to come with time.

Some wise men, who surely know more about US racing than I do, tipped Mor Spirit to win the Derby. You got to listen to the people in the know, and the horse can be backed at 25/1. Still, his record isn’t that impressive. Twice a runner-up this year in addition to a Group 3 success. He looks to be a notch below top class, had been dealt a wide draw and has stamina questions to answer. Very little chances in my book.

The Long-shots

The Japanese runner Lani can’t be trusted to run his race given the antics he’s shown in his work leading up to the big race. But if he doesn’t completely bottle the start and if he wants to run and if he has a bit of in-running luck then I can see him running on strongly to have a shot at some decent prize money. It’s some big “if’s” though.

The need for in-running luck applies also to the closers Trojan Nation and Suddenbreakingnews. Both should appreciate the trip and finished with plenty of promise in their last outings. But again, luck will be a determining factor for their chances today, given their extreme racing styles.

The same applies to Creator I’m affraid. The winner of the Arkansas Derby, beating Suddenbreakingnews there, got the run of the race whereas the runner-up had to go wide around the whole field. That makes Suddenbreakingnews a better prospect in the race, yet Creator is a shorter price. Make of that what you want.

Two I like from the bigger prices are two with wider draws, but a bit of gate speed and the not to distinct possibility of improvement coming from stepping up in trip: Shagaf (40/1) and Majesto (33/1) may not make too much appeal at the first glance but it’s worth to give them a second look.

Shagaf went off favourite in the Wood Memorial, unbeaten in three starts up until then. He only managed to finish a disappointing 5th that day, but had multiple excuses. On muddy ground, he got off to a fair start from box one but got hampered right before the first turn and that cost him a fair few lengths at a crucial stage when the pace really took of. He made a big move halfway through the race then, his jockey seemingly panicking, and that cost him dearly in the end. So it might be best to draw a line through this particular performance.

The son of Bernadini is usually ridden closer to the pace, so if he can overcome his wide draw and be in a good position, not too far off the speed, I believe he can be a big player here. He’s still had only four starts and there’s a fair chance Shagaf stays the Derby trip.

Majesto was a good runner-up – albeit fair and square beaten – behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby. But that proved he’s certainly a quality horse. He’s bred to improve with time, by multiple Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, out of a Unaccounted For mare. Good chance he likes the 10f trip and despite already six career starts he’s still open to a bit of improvement I reckon.

So these two are indeed my selection against the favourite Nyquist. They may prove not to have the necessary class required to go close after all, but at this point in time I believe both offer value for money.

What Else? 

The gates crash open somewhere around half past eleven, UK time. At The Races starts their coverage at quarter to six. On Friday for the Kentucky Oaks they showed the original NBC feed throughout the night, which was all class. Here’s hoping the same applies to today, but I fear we get to see all the atmosphere soaked out by a dreary ATR studio panel.

There’ll be roughly 170.000 people in attendance at Churchill Downs today. It’s just so massive! I always wanted to be one of them. But checking the ticket prices I realized those tickets that enable you to enjoy the day without being crushed by the masses are slightly beyond my budget. For the same price you can attend the Melbourne Cup five times – mind you having good seats….

Super mare Tepin – Royal Ascot bound – will race in the Distaff Turf at 6:13pm. Shouldn’t be missed. She is really good and I believe we see here a strong contender for the Queen Anne.

No Lasix for Mubtaahij

Knowing Mike De Kock, it doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is still a brave move – the South African handler has opted against the use of Lasix for his Kentucky Derby runner Mubtaahji. De Kock argues:

“He’s never run on it, he doesn’t bleed, and I’m not prepared to take my chances running him on a substance he’s never run on before. … He’s good enough without it. I’m not experienced enough to say whether Thoroughbreds in general will or won’t run well on Lasix … If I gave him Lasix he may run better, he may run worse, but I’m not going to experiment. Lasix is not even a consideration for him.”

Source: BloodHorse.com

Obviously as someone who condemns the use of Lasix as race day medication I applaud this decision. In fact I admire his decision! Because let’s be honest, most foreign trainers do use Lasix once they send over their horses to the US. And one could argue: Rightly so.

My point of view is that Lasix is a performance enhancing drug. Actually, did anyone ever seriously doubted that? I mean this drug seems particularly effective if horses run on it for the first time. Naturally, these are often foreign raiders on their first ever visit to the US. There are many examples of horses improving dramatically. You’ve ever heard of Main Sequence?

But my favourite example is the filly Dank. A good filly, a Group 3 winner in Europe – but once on Lasix, she looked like on a different planet! I’d say she was literally flying in the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington. Yes, maybe only a US Turf Grade 1, against weaker opposition than she would probably meet in Europe – still, the sheer acceleration… spectacular! Unbelievable!

Another fact to my point: She beat the very good filly Duntle by more than six lengths that day – she wasn’t even close to do that when these two met before. Not to mention multiple Grade 1 winning mare Marketing Mix, beaten by almost six lengths either! Further to his: If I have it right in mind, Duntle actually didn’t run on Lasix that day at Arlington.

Now, this is only the most dramatic example which comes to my mind when I think about the use of Lasix and the possible improvement it can bring out. There are many more, if you search for it, though. That says, it can’t make poor horses fly and doesn’t work for everyone. Of course not. If you’re not good enough, you’re not enough anyway. But there’s no doubt, that Lasix can bring out some improvement in good horses. It’s a performance enhancer. Simple as that.

That brings me back to the more present moment: De Kock opting against Lasix. As much as I applaud this decision , you have to wonder if it is a wise move from a pure performance point of view. Doesn’t this lower the chances of Mubtaahij to win the Derby? Yes, it absolutely does in my mind. He’s running against a bunch of US horses doped to the maximum (exaggeratedly spoken – but true to an extend). It certainly doesn’t make this mighty task any easier.

On the other hand, you got to trust the wise man – Mike De Kock. He’s a brilliant trainer, and If he believes this horse is good enough to take on a top class US Derby generation, even without Lasix,… well you know, chances arereal that the horse is good enough indeed!

Khozan’s a special colt!

You may remember this: I made recently a case for Dortmund to the win the Kentucky Derby. Nothing has changed in that regard, I still believe Bob Baffert’s colt will be a big runner on Derby day, in fact I do fancy him to be one of the shining stars this season. However, sometimes you come across something that makes you think: “WOW, this is special!”.

It’s likely that I wasn’t the only one who thought this way after the lightly raced Khozan won a Claiming race at Gulfstream Park by a mere 12 lengths last weekend. This low mileage colt is rapidly emerging as one of THE prime Derby contenders for the Kentucky Derby. But Why? Well, there is his outstanding pedigree first of all. He is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Royal Delta, and simply bred to be a champion. Take this: His sire, dam, and damsire were all graded stakes winners, and his damsire was even inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame

Then there is his price tag. He was purchased by Al Shaqab Racing for $1mio at the sales. Right, you may say, money doesn’t make necessarily a good racehorse. Only to point out then, that Khozan looked the real deal when he appeared on the racetrack! He ran extremely well first time out on a very eye-catching debut. But Khozan clearly stepped up to another level over the last weekend. He couldn’t have been more impressive on what was only his second career start then when winning a claimer by a street under a light hands and heels ride. Yes, he didn’t beat much, but as mentioned, this was only his second career start and he got a really nice educational ride, having some difficulties to overcome right after a start and also getting some dirt into his face. This experience will toughen him up and he should have learned plenty. The manner he drew clear in the home straight was nothing less than impressive after all.

So far so good. Okay, here’s a bit of a dilemma, though: History is against him. Horses that haven’t raced as two year olds have failed in their attempt to win the Derby since Apollo managed to do exactly that for the last time – back in 1982. They call it the “Apollo Cause.” But hey, you know what? Sometimes it needs something special to break the duck. Khozan has the talent to do so… if he can qualify for the Derby. Because he hasn’t qualified for the race yet! Obviously he didn’t have any chance to earn points yet.

But, breath easy, he’s due to run in the Florida Derby next. If he wins it, he’s in. The race should suit perfectly as he has won twice at Gulfstream Park now. If he is a legitimate Derby contender, well then he has to perform strongly in this next qualifier anyway. Do I expect him to live up to his rapidly growing reputation? Yes, absolutely. You can still back Khozan at 20/1 with Bet365 & Racebets. I’d recommend to lump on. Back Dortmund and this boy at the big prices which are available now – surly not on Derby day though – and you’ll have two extremely strong runners for your money when it really matters!