Tag Archives: Kentucky Derby

PREVIEW: Belmont Stakes – Justify a Triple Crown Winner?

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An almighty task on hand, the chance to become an equine legend beckons at the end of it – Justify has to defy history one more time to land the Triple Crown!

Still unbeaten, the Scat Daddy colt only started his racing career in February this year. He’s come a long way since then. Memorable victories in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes bring him here to this day, the day where it’s all on the line.

We all want to see a Triple Crown winner. And we may do so today. It’s so difficult to achieve, such a tremendous ask for a three year old colt who’s still learning his trade. Three grueling races within four weeks; different trips, tracks, underfoot conditions, going against some fresh and not so fresh, inexperienced and race hardened rivals.

If history tells us how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown then we must saviour the opportunity to witness the second one of these historical achievements within three years. Amercian Pharoah broke through this barrier that latest decades. Who’d have thought we might see one again so soon after?

So, the question everyone is asking: can he do it???

No. He can’t. My heart wants it. My head disagrees.

There are a few much smarter brains than I am out there who brought compelling arguments forward for and against. What sticks out for me personally is Simon Rowlands take on the race as he uses striding analysis to understand how Justify’s performances to this date compare to other notable Triple Crown winners.

His comparison and the facts uncovered are comprehensive. They tend to agree with my less so analytical thoughts: Justify is all speed. Or mostly speed. His pedigree doesn’t scream “I want a trip” either.

Don’t get me wrong, he impressed me in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, no doubt. The way he looks, the way he moves, the way he goes about his business.

Today is an entirely different race, though. Different conditions. An additional two furlongs. Against opposition that didn’t have to compete in all three Triple Crown races. Some of these may have a bit more left in the locker plus a few of the rivals Justify will meet today are likely to appreciate this marathon trip quite a bit more than he likely does.

Lest to forget: Justify needed to go all out for a while now – on the go since February – each month one important race for him to contest and be at his best. That must take its toll.

if it doesn’t- and if Justify can overcome all of these hurdles then he truly is a special horse, one that warrants to be mentioned in line with the best – make no mistake about that.

Okay so, if not Justify, who’s then going to win the Belmont?

Well, I take a punt. He’s not the most obvious one, he may not be good enough after all. Regardless, I do sense that Free Drop Billy is overpriced. He hasn’t won a race this year and only managed to get places in a couple of Grade 2- and 3 contests. He ran in the Kentucky Derby like his price suggested: rotten.

BUT there is a big but: Free Drop Billy is a Grade 1 winner already, nonetheless. He landed the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Keeneland as a juvenile. He also was a fair runner-up at this seasonal reappearance this year in February behind Derby third Audible. He clearly has class.

That says he very much looks like a grinder. One who’s always going to get beaten for speed. He’s also one who is likely to get into his own in the second half of the year – so now! Free Drop Billy is May foal; normally these individuals need a bit more time.

Connections clearly felt that way after the Derby. They gave him time off. He bypassed the Preakness and comes here fresher than most. And there is the fact that he is a son of Union Rags – himself a Belmont Stakes winner – while also being a half-brother to multiple 1m 4f Stakes scorer Hawkbill.

Dare I say that Free Drop Billy looked excellent in his work this week leading up to the big race? I start to believe….

In saying all of this, Free Drop Billy needs to improve, needs to step up a good deal to be in with a shout. I feel there is a better chance for him to do exactly that than the betting suggests. I believe he is a lively place chance, at the very least.

Selection:
5pts Each/Way (3 places, 1/5) – Free Drop Billy @ 66/1 VC

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Photo: nytimes.com
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Monday Selections: May, 7th 2018

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That was as rough as it gets! In brutal conditions on a muddy Churchill Downs oval Justify justified the favourite tag to land the 144th Kentucky Derby. The colt overcame the so called “Apollo curse” as for a mere 136 years no horse unraced at two was able to win the Derby!

My boy Mendelssohn lost every chance before it really began. The writing was on the wall when the heaven opened its gates as the more rain fell the less likely Mendelssohn was to enjoy the experience he was due to encounter.

As if that wasn’t enough already staked against him, right after the start Mendelssohn was nearly taken out by the cavalry of horses charging across from the wider gates. He didn’t break badly, yet he didn’t break quite fast enough either in order avoid it.

I found it interesting to read Aiden O’Brien’s comments afterwards. They were surprisingly insightful as even he seemed puzzled by the whole experience – he who’s seen so much already!

“There were nearly 160,000 people there, all wet, all screaming, the rain coming from everywhere. Everyone was jammed in and everyone had these plastic things [ponchos] on them.  Mendelssohn was just mind-blown by the whole thing. I’ve never experienced something like yesterday. It was just mad. That many people, that’s two cup final crowds together.”

Ballydoyle, though, haven’t lost faith in Mendelssohn to deliver the goods on US dirt. A bid for Breeder’s Cup Classic crown is firmly on the agenda for the colt later this year.

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3.25 Bath: Class 6 Handicap, 5.5f

Top weight Chicago School has been disappointing since his return to the UK, though he had some valid excuses those last starts as he completely missed the break at Wolverhampton three weeks ago and was carried out to the widest outside turning for home at Lingfield before that.

In truth, those performances are in line with his last few starts at Dundalk, though, back in December he was still able to win a super competitive handicap at the county Louth track.

The interesting bit today is: Chicago School back on turf. Not since October 2015 have we seen the now five year old gelding on the green grass. The last time he was a a 74 rated individual, a mark back then he proved to be worthy of when finishing an fair third at Musselburgh.

Plenty of non-runners today at Bath due to the fast going. This could be an advantage for Chicago School. In his six career turf starts, in five of those the word “firm” appeared in some shape or form in the going description and three times he finished in the money.

So it is fair to assume his best is likely to come on firmish ground. His turf handicap mark off 58 could really underestimate his chances today, given he ran to much higher time speed ratings and RPR’s on turf in the past.

Jockey George Downing comes to Bath for this one ride and his record over the 5.5f trip here is excellent. That says, the latest forms Chicago School produced are slightly concerning as twice he missed the break. Let’s hope this does not become a habit and the return to turf rejuvenates him.

Selection:
10pts win – Chicago School @ 14/1 VC

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6.05 Windsor: Class 5 Handicap, 5f

Bottom weight Haveoneyerself looks poised for a big run with conditions he likes off a career lowest weight. The winter on the All-Weather didn’t really work out for him and on his seasonal turf debut over CD last month the heavy ground certainly annihilated his chances.

Judged on juvenile turf form, though, he could have a big shout today: he placed a couple of times in Novice races on fast going at the beginning of his career and eventually landed a nursery of a mark off 70 at Bath in August.

That is not a particularly strong piece of form, nonetheless, Haveoneyerself has dropped to 62 now which may underestimate him given he has ran to TS 66 already.

Selection:
10pts win – Haveoneyerself @ 7/1 Sky

Preview: Kentucky Derby 2018 – A Spring Night’s Dream?

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After contemplating the whole week whether it’s a smart or not so smart decision, yet after listing to some beautiful Mendelssohn on this balmy spring Saturday, I decided the time has come: at 5/1 I’m IN!

A lot has been said about the UAE Derby winner’s performance at Meydan by people who are far more knowledgeable than I am: quite a few experts are of the opinion Mendelssohn was riding the “golden highway” on the inside rail and what did he beat anyways after Rayya bombed out in the Kentucky Oaks last night.

There is certainly merit to it. Figures based on that UAE Derby performance have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, what remains with me at least is the fact Mendelssohn not only won that day, but he annihilated a half-decent field with incredible ease (18½ to the runner-up Rayya) while doing so in a record winning time.

But there is more to like about him than only this one freakish performance: Mendelssohn won the Breeder’s Cup turf at the end of his two-year old campaign at Del Mar.

Given he was  a late May foal, he achieved far more as a juvenile than one could usually expected, as he also ran out a fine 2nd in the Dewhurst.

In summary: Mendelssohn has proven to travel well internally (so the slight issues around his arrivel may not be a big deal at all), he acts on any sort of surface and his best is (probably) yet to come.

Coolmore also seems rather bullish about his chances, Ryan Moore makes the trip across the pond, missing out on the 2000 Guineas, and while Mendelssohn’s wide draw could theoretically spell trouble it’s in practice no problem – as long as he breaks well (which he would need from any stall anyway).

So, c’mon Mendelssoh, make it A Spring Night’s Dream!

Selection:
10pts win – Mendelssohn @ 5/1 Matchbook

Preakness: Who can beat Always Dreaming?

Two winners today (there’s still one late runner in the lucky last at Doni to come): Paddy Power (advised 4/1) under a wonderfully brave and patient ride by Sammy Jo Bell in the Newmarket finale and exciting prospect Denaar (2/1 SP) did the business.

On the other side I got it horribly wrong in the Lockinge. Were my eyes blinded by love for all things Paco Boy? Did I want the son to emulate daddy too much?

Anyway, hats off to Ribchester. He did it from the front and he could have not been more impressive. Smart tactics from Godolphin as well. Pace maker I heard you saying? Good joke they said. Fooled them all.

On to the big race of the night – the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes! 

Always Dreaming was brilliant the way he won the Kentucky Derby, doing it “the hard way” as by no means he got an easy lead that day. He found plenty when it mattered after gruelling fractions on the front for most parts of the race.

Derby winners have a good record taking the second step along the road toward Triple Crown glory. So Always Dreaming may well be hard to beat today. However conditions are quite different this time around and he’s an odds-on chance – short enough to take on at this point in time given there are two intriguing alternatives at bigger prices.

It’s not difficult to give Classic Empire another chance today. This massively talented colt is quite a character and it wasn’t all plain sailing for him since winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Still he managed to get ready in time for the big one at Churchill Downs, on the way there proving himself to still retain all his class when getting up late in the Arkansas Derby.

Unfortunately things did not work out for him in the Kentucky Derby. A wide draw that day, bumped left and right once the gate opened, he was a long way off the pace and had to make his move widest of all around the home turn, then bumped again, mud in his face, banged up, he still ran on to finish fourth.

It was a tremendous performance, probably as good as the one of the winner, Always Dreaming. If he has recovered in time for the Preakness I really fancy him to turn the form around in a much smaller field with a better chance for a clear run. In my book he’s closer to Always Dreaming than the odds suggest.

That says there is a second horse that I feel is overpriced, by quite a margin, actually. That is Arkansas Derby runner-up Conquest Mo Money. He was qualified for the Derby but connections decided to target the Preakness. So that is certainly something to take note of.

You have to take note of his massively brave performance at Oaklawn Park too. From the second widest draw he crossed over to be right up with the pace and take up the lead halfway through. Put under immense pressure turning for home he fought gamely; headed a good furlong out he went on again to put his head in front…. just to be beaten in the dying strides by Classic Empire.

Now Conquest Mo Money has a wide draw today again, however with only ten runners this is not quite as big a deal. He’s still quite a lightly raced individual, so there is every that he learned a bit more and finds some improvement. At 25’s he’s huge value against the market leader.

Selection:
5pts win – Classic Empire @ 7/2 Bet365
5pts win – Conquest Mo Money @ 25/1 Paddy Power

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.

Preview: Belmont Stakes

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11.50 Belmont: Belmont Stakes (Grade 1)

Pretty clear storyline tonight: American Pharoah wins the Belmont and becomes the first conquer of the Triple Crown in ages. That’s the theory at least, or what the betting is telling us. Well, in fact many experts were making strong cases for this scenario as well. Pharoah’s relaxed attitude, lack of real opposition and so on where all brought up. And rightly so.

It would be massive for our sport if American Pharoah could make it happen – the sport needs superstars. Pharoah already is a star, of course. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But win the Triple Crown and immortality beckons. While he was still heavily challenged in the Derby, he hacked up at sloppy Pimlico – but here’s the all important question: can he show the same class over in the Belmont Stakes, a race which puts an alien like test to him?

Alien like because the 12f trip is a marathon distance for US racing. Something comparable with 2m in Europe. That’s down the nature of US racing. Emphasis is on early speed, unlike in Europe.

Personally I’m wary. I was sceptical before the Preakness, back then voicing concerns about the potential third leg of the Tripe Crown. American Pharoah doesn’t give me the impression to be a stayer. He’s speedy and powerful, but on pedigree you would give him very little chance to go as far as 12f.

Now, he has the right attitude, he really has! And he usually hits the line strongly – so happened in the Derby and the Preakness – plus there is there general perception of the lack of classy opposition in the Belmont Stakes, which many believe there is just nobody who’s capable of beating him.

My view is: that all counts for nothing if he doesn’t stay the trip. It’s that simple. Yes, my heart is with him tonight, all fingers crossed when he enters the home straight. But my money won’t be.

So let’s check out Pharoah’s opposition, shall we? I’m a huge fan of Mike De Kock and South African racing, so I’d love to see Mubtaahij running a mighty race. He swerved the Preakness, which was probably the right decision. But I’ve trouble to see him getting home over this trip. Unfortunately.

Derby fourth Frosted is thought to be the biggest danger to American Pharoah. He also comes here as a fresh horse and seems likely to appreciate the trip. He wasn’t well positioned at Churchill Downs, staying on well from the back. On pedigree he has a fair chance to stay 12f, but it’s not a given either.

Tale Of Vale came from a long way back to finish second in the Preakness, albeit still decisively beaten by Pharoah. Not sure if this performance reflects his true ability. He didn’t really excel in minor races before. So I’m rather cautious – he might not be able to back it up. Though the longer trip may well suit.

Staying on in the Derby was Materiality. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, he may appreciated the trip. Whether he is good enough is another question. At least he already is a Grade 1 winner, so can’t be easily discounted. Might be an interesting alternative against the red hot favourite.

However I find Keen Ice more appealing at a much bigger price. He also didn’t go to Pimlico, and is closely matched with Materiality on the Kentucky Derby form, as he finished behind him in 7th. Keen Ice encountered a troubled run, travelling way off the pace. He was hampered and short of room in the closing stages, but finished the race well enough.

He’s a son of Belmont Stakes runner-up Curlin, who can get offspring capable of staying the Belmont trip, like in 2013 with Palace malice – his stock sometimes needs a while to hit best form as well. Keen ice has some fair Belmont form in his dam line too.

That brings me to my final point: the heart is with American Pharoah – if he wins tonight he’s to be considered one of the all-time greats. My head and money is with Keen Ice, though, who seems to have good credentials to appreciate the Belmont trip and who looks still a big price, despite some money pouring in for him.

Keen Ice @ 16/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win

Preakness Stakes: Rod can spoil the party!

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Here we are, only two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, there’s the second leg of the American Triple Crown right in front of us! Yes, it’s Preakness Stakes Saturday, and boy, it promises to be an exciting renewal: the Derby winner, runner-up, third and fifth – they are all here. It’s round two of American Pharoah v Dortmund v Firing Line!

Of course there is the all overshadowing question: Do we have a Triple Crown winner on our hands? Well, American Pharoah was as good a Kentucky Derby winner as it gets, no doubt about that (though you better don’t get me started to talk about the butcher of a jockey Mr Espinoza!). But that doesn’t make him a ‘wonder horse’, as some ‘experts’ want to make us believe.

Anyway, let’s stay focused on what is important: Can American Pharoah win the Triple Crown? Nope. No chance!

Don’t get me wrong, this is a really talented individual. He was the best horse in the Derby, and he won, despite one or two difficulties to overcome during the race. But hype comes and goes quickly. We know that. Once he starts losing, he’s already forgotten.

Personally I find it hard to believe that American Pharoah is capable of staying the Belmont trip. The facts are against him. He’s a dubious stayer on pedigree and the Belmont is traditionally a race where you find some fresher horses in the line-up who are also better suited to the kind of unique test this race provides.

As for today, absolutely American Pharoah is the favourite. Though maybe not quite as clear as the betting wants us to believe he is?! Well, maybe he is. But a price of 5/6 isn’t really anything more than a fair price. So, do we have alternatives?

Derby runner-up Firing Line ran the race of his life. He was gutsy, but couldn’t quite hold on. The slight drop in trip may help him. He looks progressive and should be a big contender once again today. If he is quite good enough to beat American Pharoah, who’s probably even more fancied to do better over the shorter trip, remains to be seen.

I love Dortmund. I stated it quite often in recent weeks. His Derby performance doesn’t change that. He ran out of gas and that was always a possibility with the trip not sure to suit. The drop in distance is sure to suit today, though may still stretch him enough. My main concern is the fact that he had already four tough runs this year. It might be time to give him a break.

Derby fifth Danzig Moon is a good, tough horse. He always keeps going, though never seems to be really dangerous. That means he’s probably not good enough. His only win came in maiden company.

A brief look at the betting tells us there’s no other horse with a chance in this race….. or is there? Absolutely, there is! The exciting Tapit colt Divining Rod is overlooked. But not by me. I like his lightly raced profile and the fact that he comes into this race fresh off a five weeks break.

He won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes in super style last month, which would have entitled him to start in the Kentucky Derby. However he wasn’t rushed to be ready in time for the big one, instead connections decided to skip the first leg of the Triple Crown and aim him at the Preakness. He should love the trip and may be able to improve quite a bit.

I really like his Lexington performance, He showed gate speed, settled well and one single slight flick with the whip ensured that he went almost effortless into the clear. To my eyes he’s the right type to take on the well fancied Kentucky Derby runners.

That says It may turn out he is not quite up to the highest level. It may well be that American Pharoah is too good. But we don’t know that yet. And with the facts in hand right now, I have to believe Divining Rod is outstanding value.

Divining Rod @ 20/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win