Tag Archives: Preakness Stakes

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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A Sunday filly for Ripon

Beaten in the dying strides – life as a horse racing punter can be an agonising affair. Cloud Computing got the better of Classic Empire in the Preakness Stakes. The fresher horse, with the better, less aggressive and more economical ride, won in the end.

…..

4.10 Ripon: Class 3 Fillies’ Handicap, 6 Furlongs

Open enough looking contest and I take a chance on bottom weight Savannah Slew. Other three year old’s in the field are better fancied and this filly has questions to answer given that she already had eight career runs, is a bit temperamental and wasn’t convincing on her seasonal reappearance.

However she should strip fitter now and will enjoy the return to six furlongs, a trip she won two starts back. Ground wise it won’t be a big deal if any cut is left as her two victories came on softish ground although on pedigree better ground is what should be her optimum.

A mark off 78 is stiff enough and she will need to improve, though juvenile form gives her every chance given she already ran to an RPR of 81 and should be home in the conditions encountered here at Ripon.

Selection:
10pts win – Savannah Slew @ 10/1 Bet365

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

Rachel Alexandra – Filly for the Ages

CONGRATULATIONS! Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta – two of racing’s most spectacular equine superstars of the past –  have been inducted into racing’s hall of fame (to be precise: the ‘National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga’).

These two female racehorses, both at the peak of their craft in the one memorable year of 2009, never actually met at the race track, yet their stories are so closely intertwined as both captured the imagination of racing fans across the globe at the very same time.

Unfortunately the eagerly anticipated duel of the two greats never materialised – never at a race track at least. Now, there’s a saying, though, you’re either in one or the other camp; a Rachel fanboy/girl or a Zenyatta fanboy/girl… it’s the ever ongoing discussion, the human battle of arguments for and against: who’s been the better one?

You can’t have not an opinion. To say “ah well both are great horses” doesn’t cut it. So here’s my view on it.

The short answer is: there can’t be a doubt Rachel Alexandra was the better horse!

The long answer is: it’s not so easy. Zenyatta won plenty of races, won in awesome style and landed the Breeders Cup Classic – and take nothing away from her – she was an outstanding race horse.

Yet, if it comes to sheer brilliance, resilience, determination, will power and of course the all important looks – Rachel wins hands down!

2009: it was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s, beaten the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward as a three year old filly – this unparalleled campaign is probably only matched by all-time legend Sea The Stars!

I can’t state enough that this is only my opinion. In this debate, I guess, there is no right and wrong.

And I totally accept others in their view, claiming Zenyatta’s longevity of a career spanning over 20 races, with 19 victories, most of them in Grade 1 company, only marred by an agonisingly close defeat on the very last day of her career, give her the nod – and I agree, this was an outstanding career from an outstanding horse….

…. yet purely from an emotional point of view I never quite warmed up to her in the same way as I did to Rachel Alexandra. And isn’t that what racing is about? Beside everything else of course. But it’s not all about the betting, and the dream of making some bob on the nags – no, it’s also the sheer beauty of the sport when you witness these special creatures producing special moments.

This special moment – when I fell in love with Rachel Alexandra – it was the first May of 2009, a hot summers day. It’s was been only a bit more than a year that I followed closely the sport of horse racing and back then I was still living in Germany.

Still, I remember it vividly, sitting in front of the laptop, the grainy Racebets stream open – there was this ridiculously short priced favourite in the big race so I threw some Euros on Flying Spur, the second favourite.

Not the wisest investment. Soon it become clear why there was this one filly, called Rachel Alexandra, three to one on in the betting – she slaughtered the field!

She turns for home and Calvin Borel glimpses over his shoulder, the rest of the field is labouring hard but his filly’s still hard on the bridle…. and then…. the ‘WOW’ moment I’ll never forget…..

Still hard held, with every ease in the world she finds another gear, suddenly, so smoothly, she puts the whole world between herself and the rest of the field. WOOOOWW!!!

Horses are special – Rachel Alexandra is extra special. She went on to produce more memorable moments the same year. In the Woodward, the Preakness and the Haskell, then against the boys, fighting through some gruelling finishes she came out always on top.

It took a toll on her. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same. But who can begrudge her? She’s done it all, she showed the world how good she is, Rachel had nothing to prove. She gave us enormous pleasure – to ask her for even more would be greedy.

And so she retired, as the one filly that I’ll keep close to my heart as a racing fan forever and ever.

I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful video below, showing all her big wins – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!

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Saturday Selections:

3.20 Newmarket: Fashaak @ 20/1 Coral
2.30 Newbury: Frankuus @ 4/1 Skybet

Photo: Copyright Daily News

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