Kentucky Derby-(Louisville, Kentucky) the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby is carded as race 12 this Saturday at Churchill Downs, approximate scheduled post time is 6:34PM. The field consists of 20 entrants who are vying to make history having their name on a plackard in the paddock at the storied Churchill Downs. The weather forecast is no precipitation Saturday with perfect temperatures, should be ideal track conditions.
I used to be a huge football fan, until I came to the realization that it is no longer a sport but reality TV show. I still watch it though, how couldn’t I as I am in Steeler Country! The thing about Pro Football that is so hard to deal with is the injuries, it seems every year 20%+ of the players get hurt making it both frustrating and impossible to have a level playing field with a top notch product. Sure, the slogan is out there “next man up” but we want to see the stars out there, it’s why we both their shirts. Thoroughbred racing has similar injury patterns, some of our biggest stars don’t make the gate to the big days in racing which hasn’t really allowed for the Classic showdowns of days gone by: Affirmed/Alydar, Alysheba/Bet Twice, Sunday Silence/Easy Goer just to name a few; A argument can be made it has been due to changing of the breed or that the game has become so speed influenced.
With all that said, this has pretty much been an injury free year (knocking on wood). Yes, I know for those of you very close to the sport, the magnificent 3 year old filly Songbird is missing the Oaks this year due to losing time in training from a fever, she was the prohibitive book favorite @ 3/5 to win the race. Some racing insiders also felt she might be the best 3 year old regardless of sex, I would not argue with that assessment at all as she has dominated what I consider a very solid division of females thus far. The good news is she will be back at some point in the next few months, the better news for gamblers is the Oaks went from a 1 girl show to a wide open wagering bonanza.
For the boys, it has been a healthy bunch (again knocking on wood or my head, same thing). I personally feel the reason for this is the foundation change. Every runner in the field has raced at two thus allowing for a base into these horses, Trust me, I know the game is still about speed, but when racing got a much needed shot in the arm in 2015 with America Pharoah sweeping the Triple Crown, maybe that laid a blue print of how it can replicated?
The Derby has been phrased as “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” and rightfully so as celebs, sports fans, and even the average Joe join racing fans everywhere to put horse racing at the forefront of sports.
I commonly refer to the Derby as a puzzle, each year I try objectively line up all the pieces to create the mural I envision. This year is very perplexing as the field has remained intact and there really haven’t been any surprises along the prep schedules nor have we had any late bloomers to burst on the scene.
It’s time to start this 2016 Derby analysis, let’s start eliminating and identifying pretenders, below is some interesting stat’s I have followed over the years:
The Apollo jinx is alive and well, No horse has won the Derby without racing at two since 1882 (Apollo). If you like angles, history has this angle on your side. Apparently the trainers have finally wised up and not tried to test this trend as all runners headed to the gate have started at two.
Since 1980, 31 of the 36 Derby winners were out a winning dam. That is 86% and here are the ones that are NOT out of a race winning dam: Danzing Candy, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Tom’s Ready, Majesto, & Mo Tom (disclaimer, last year’s Derby winner, American Pharoah wasn’t either, but did buck the stat)
The Ken Ramsey pitch angle is one of my favorites, which is to dismiss any runner from this owner as he would run me in the race if I had 4 legs and qualified to enter the starting gate. This year’s entrant, Oscar Nominated has to even be supplemented to the TC series with Ramsey soliciting investors, doesn’t make me warm & fuzzy to bet him, you can safely pitch him.
Since 1996, 18 of the last 20 Derby winners finished 1st or 2nd in their final prep; the other 2 were Mine That Bird & Giacomo (2 of the 3 longest prices ever) who both finished 4th in their final preps both lighting up the board and paying over $100 to win. Mohaymen, Shagaf, Whitmore, & Mo Tom can now be eliminated.
After eliminating the ones above, 11 are still left. This is interesting since the past few years when I began tracking these angles to incorporate into my numbers, they have always been single digits.
Of the 11, I can’t play Trojan Nation who clunked up at 81 to 1 in the Wood which is a prep race since 2003 that has produced no on the board finishes with 26 starters, doesn’t bode to well for Outwork either so based on that I am removing him from consideration as well so that takes me down to 9, a much bigger sample left over then in years’ past, maybe we will have an upset?
With all the form holding through the preps, I really feel we have a solid group of three year olds who should run to their numbers and style; weather, potential track bias, & trip will have a big say in the outcome.
Nyquist is the stand-out logical choice to win, he will go to the gate as the solid favorite. He’s never lost a race, his connections (trainer, rider, & owner) all did this only a few short years ago in 2012 winning with I’ll Have Another, and speed figures don’t lie. Still despite him being the best looking guy in the room, coming from a great family, and has the other intangibles you just wonder if there is a flaw to be uncovered. For starters, he lives on a shockwave machine which is a device that helps horses with sore muscles, joints, & bones stay sound. Each horse is different but the way he drifts signals some type of physical flaw, will it be exposed going a mile and a quarter? Another thing to consider, the Derby has been won 3 straight years by the favorite, this race traditionally is a value players delight, can it really be 4 in a row?
Three hurdles all 20 entrants must overcome: First time racing in a 20 horse bulky field, first time going a mile and a quarter, and carrying 126 lbs for the first time in their careers. I’m getting the feeling an upset is on the horizon……
#11 Exaggerator– I have been handicapping horse races for 30 years, I love reading racing forms; In fact, I probably would be smarter if I spent 1/10th as much of that time reading informational stuff, history, etc.. as I have spent pouring over past performances. Despite gaining that knowledge, nothing is better than the eye test. What a horse player sees with his eye’s, is leaps & bounds better then numbers. In the Santa Anita Derby, I was a bit wowed at his effort, sure he had a solid pace to run at, but letting him settle and make one bold run was breath taking. In fact, the only other horse that visually looked that impressive using that running style at that oval was Zenyatta. I am certainly not anointing him the king of the castle, but any move forward off that effort will make him a major player. Naysayers will point out the fact he is a wet track specialist having been aided in last and in the Delta Jackpot by sloppy tracks, but I think the clear forecast will only juice the price. I am more concerned that such a big effort in last might cause him to bounce in here. Fires every time so he will be around at that wire, might need Nyquist to stub his toe, I expect another huge run from this guy with a 3 time winning jockey in tow. California horses have proven over last 4 years that they are superior to their East & South counterparts, this guy has already proven he can ship and win. If he gets some pace to run at, he’s a major player to wear the blanket of roses, give him a long look.
#13 Nyquist– The only reason I am picking against this horse is it just seems unfathomable that 4 straight favorites win this heat, If you are going to try to beat a favorite, then this would be an ideal one to try as he has had elevated white blood counts since his last win and he drifts late in the mile which signals soundness issues. I am also not sold on Uncle Mo as a sire, I know he has thrown a bunch of winners, but I just feel miler’s, not classic distance runners are going to be his best progeny. With that said, American Pharoah came into last year’s Derby with foot issues and we saw how that turned out so great ones overcome obstacles. As a harness fan/handicapper, we tend to handicap races based on trip. Using those principles you just can’t pick against this horse as he will be sitting right in the cat bird seat behind the speed with the majority of the other runners wanting to settle and close, every time I run the race in my head I see him clear of trouble and passing the tiring pacesetter on the bend. Connections have done this before, so no pressure in fact the experience from that past triumph likely makes this time around a little easier. Oh yeah, he’s the only undefeated runner in the group covering 4 tracks and 3 states. He also blazed his final 3/8’s in the last prep faster than any of his rivals. What’s not to like? Got a bad feeling, his name and number will be boldly displayed on the tote board on top. I have never bet $1 on him in his career, but I certainly couldn’t talk anyone out of doing it, the obvious choice that will need a bad break not to win it.
#2 Suddenbreakingnews– There are a bunch of stone cold closers in here so he’s going to find company wherever he settles in the race, he does his best running in the lane and even when he got stopped in the Rebel he still managed to run 5th after being 13th at the half. I really liked his Arkansas Derby where he was the widest of them all and seemed to still be running hard at the winner (Creator) and actually gets an extra 1/8 mile to run at it here. I’m not sure he could win this, I think his running style & pedigree will allow him to get into the mix late filling out the trifecta or superfecta. Not sure the draw hurts him either as he’ll be far back early, a little light on Beyer’s, but I still expect him to show up late on the scene.
#14 Mohaymen– Wow, 1 bad race and now is flying way under the radar. He actually went off as the 4/5 favorite against Nyquist in the Florida Derby but flopped. I was on that bandwagon as well and promptly got off. Maybe he didn’t like the off track? If that is the case, then he could be a very live runner in here. Has been well backed by the public in every start going off the betting favorite, that streak will end in here. If you were along for any of those rides, today is the day the price will be right. I do feel he will redeem himself with a solid run, juts don’t think it will be good enough to beat them all.
Betability: I just don’t feel there is enough speed signed on here to put the back field in motion, so to me it plays right into the favorite Nyquist’s hands, still you must run the race and a bad break or maybe someone goes who we don’t think that creates just enough havoc to get the closers in play. If you are a chalk eater, the 2 to 1 you will get on Nyquist will be palatable. If you have an imagination, I think the rest get very hard to separate so 12 horses I could see winning which gives long shot players a better mathematical chance than in other years, swing away.
6 & 11 to Win & Place for 1 unit
11 & 13 wheeled first and second in Exacta’s with All (except the 1,7,16,18) for 1 unit
Exacta Wheel 2 unit 11,13 / 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,11,13
Trifecta Wheel ($84 for $1) 11,13 / 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,17,19,20 / 2,3,6
Trifecta Wheel ($84 for $1) 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,17,19,20 / 11,13 / 2,3,6
Superfecta Wheel for 1 unit 11,13 / 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,13,14,15,17,19,20 / 2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,13,14,15,17,19,20 / 2,3,6 ($936 a unit)
Saver bet: 1 unit WPS #8
Should you be interested in the Oaks on Friday, it is a 14 horse competitive field, I am leaning toward Rachel’s Valentina (#11) who is the daughter of previous Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra. In her 1st start of the year, she raced ultra game to the wire in the Ashland stakes at Keeneland. This is a very competitive bunch with the defection of Songbird who would have trounced this field, but I think Rachel might just be a step or two faster.
Graded Analysis with fair value win odds
#11 Exaggerator- 6 to 1, owns the career best Beyer in the field with a solid foundation under his belt with 9 career starts, will need some luck but has the ability to create a minor upset.
#13 Nyquist- 9 to 5, hasn’t lost in his career and that is over different surfaces & distances, the draw was very kind to him, all systems go, the deserved favorite.
#2 Suddenbreakingnews- 20 to 1, only has missed the exacta once in 8 career tries with an excuse, like how he runs on and he is a physical specimen, I think he will find his way to get a minor reward.
#14 Mohaymen- 12 to 1, history has proven the last prep race is very important in the Derby; if you do line that race out, he’s a major player. I do think he will rebound, just not enough to win.
#3 Creator- 15 to 1, same post as he had in his last romp, expecting he will get away far back and make 1 run, got a dream trip in last, doubt lightning strikes twice but another that can clunk up.
#5 Gun Runner- 9 to 1, flying way below the radar as his speed figures don’t match up with most in here so he needs to make a leap forward, last LA Derby victor to win this was 30 years ago.
#9 Destin- 18 to 1, speed figs are legit, but the big knock is the 8 week layoff which statisicially has a very poor record, went the B circuit to get here as well, intrigues me as he should be in the right spot pave wise.
#6 My Man Sam- 20 to 1, really like how this guy is finishing up, if you are looking for a wise guy horse, stop here, budding superstar trainer Brown is due to win a big race like this.
#8 Lani- 25 to 1, gets in here via the UAE Derby automatic entry, a major wildcard but I concur with Mike Watchmaker of The Daily Racing Form, “I’ll pitch these imports until they beat me”.
#4 Mo Tom – 25 to 1, late runner had major excuses in last 2 that almost prompted a rider switch, cooler heads prevailed as Lanerie rides this oval as good as anyone, Tom Benson of Saints owns.
#20 Danzing Candy- 25 to 1, will be even money to be on the lead at the half, inside info is this guy gets worked up in crowds and will get headstrong and blast, only hope is a major speed bias.
#17 Mor Spirit- 25 to 1, has been the betting favorite in every career start having disappointed those backers 4 times, just a horse IMO, shows up but doesn’t really kick any doors down, Baffert’s repeat hope.
#19 Brody’s Cause- 30 to 1, broke his maiden right here at 33 to 1, figures to be a slightly shorter price with a much taller task, I felt his last race was pace aided, don’t like the draw for him.
#10 Whitmore- 30 to 1, another horse who wants to settle and make 1 run, unfortunately he’s going to find company of various who employ that style, is 1 for 1 at CD breaking his maiden here.
#12 Tom’s Ready- 100 to 1, Tom Benson gets two shots at Derby glory, I think he at least has a puncher’s chance with the other one, this one simply doesn’t look fast enough and breeding suggests shorter.
#16 Shagaf- 100 to 1, Brown has 2 shots in here as well, the other is legit, this one is a slow plodder having not gotten faster in each of his starts, will likely beat a few and that’s it.
#15 Outwork- 25 to 1, I have him rated way too low, but I am just so sour on the New York prep, on paper he looks like he could be a player, but needs to take a big leap forward to be a contender.
#18 Majesto- 150 to 1, ridgling needed 5 tries to break his maiden, then was the beneficiary of Mohaymen’s flop to earn points to get in, don’t think he’s of this caliber, a gate filer.
#1 Trojan Nation- 500 to 1, a maiden who almost graduated in the Wood, was all out bouncing in and out in lane, the rail draw doesn’t help as well, will only be 1st in the post parade.
#7 Oscar Nominated- 250 to 1, has never been on dirt, diminutive horse, former claimer, and Ramsey (who has money) was looking for investors to get into the race, hmmm, pass.
This year’s Preakness should see some very intriguing new shooters, be sure to follow along with my on the Triple Crown trail as that publication will be out May 12 at as well as the Belmont Stakes on June 9th at www.equineinvestor.com
-Professional handicapper at www.equineinvestor.com