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Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Notes - March 31

- Rafael Bajarano is replacing Victor Espinoza on Point Determined in next week’s Santa Anita Derby, because the latter is opting to ride Balance in the Ashland at Keeneland that day instead; and who can blame him? If she wins big, I may start a new phone number, 1-800-GODERBY, to draft her to run against the boys!

- That was a cold exacta in the first at Santa Anita for yours truly, and you read it right here. Yeah, I was looking for more than $13.40, but I’ll take it.

- John at …Not To The Swift is looking for Pletcher’s Saint Augustine to be overshadowed in the betting pools by his stablemate Sunriver in the Florida Derby tomorrow, and I think that’s good thinking; remember, Saint Augustine is coming off a win in a higher allowance level than is Ashado’s baby bro.

The same strategy may be worthwhile in tomorrow’s G3 Excelsior at the Big A. Pletcher has Colita, the 4-1 second choice behind Funny Cide. He’s coming off a big allowance win in a lifetime best 105 Beyer, and I think even those sentimental New Yorkers will opt for him over the slumping Derby winner, still looking for his first win since the ’04 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Colita is an erratic one though, and in the past he’s just been a tad short in graded stakes company. Stablemate West Virginia could get overlooked. He had rounded into fine two-turn form late last year, taking the Iselin, and missing by a neck in both the Stuyvesant and Queens County, all Grade 3’s. He threw in a bad one in between on a sloppy track, one-turn state-bred race at Belmont. In his last two, he ran into Brass Hat, who certainly confirmed his form with his excellent second in Dubai, as well as the muck at Gulfstream in the Grade 1 Donn. He loves the Big A main track, with a 4-2-1-1 record there, and could bounce back with a stronger effort here. [Note: there’s a chance of showers here tonight and tomorrow afternoon.] Liquor Cabinet is in fine fettle for Mark Hennig and makes his graded stakes debut. Your Bluffing is a neck short of six wins in a row at Delaware and Laurel, but faces better and ran his heart out with 125 pounds just two weeks ago.

NYRA Still Waiting For The Dough

- It didn’t take a genius to figure out that NYRA’s Aqueduct casino isn’t going to be ready until well into 2007, nor that the construction costs would rise beyond what was originally projected. It’s been long known that the project would take 12 months to complete, and construction still hasn’t yet started. The estimated cost of the project, envisioned in 2003 as costing $80 million to $100 million, has now grown from a recent estimate of $170 million and is now at $181.5 million with the potential of reaching $190 million. [Albany Times-Union]

But now the oversight board that is supervising the loans to NYRA that are supposed to get them through until the VLT’s are in action are getting a bit nervous, as if this is something they didn’t expect! When they approved the $30 million in loans in December that were intended to get the association through to the end of this year, did they really think that the racino would be ready at that time considering that construction wasn’t even close to being started? What the hell were they thinking? The state Lotttery didn’t even issue a license to NYRA until last week, and whatsmore, a spokesperson for casino operator MGM said that final approvals from the state attorney general's and comptroller's offices are needed before work can begin, which could take another six weeks. [Saratogian]

So now, the oversight board says it’s concerned about NYRA’s ability to repay the loans on time; chairwoman Carole Stone said 'We need to look at this issue.” But they really need to look at themselves, and the delays caused by the state bureaucracy. NYRA has no control over the scheduling and costs, and perhaps it’s the oversight board that could use some oversight here for granting the loan with conditions they should have known were impossible to meet.

- Brad Free in the Form (sub. only) has an interesting take on Baffert’s real reason for sending Bob and John to the Wood rather than going in the Santa Anita Derby.

It's not likely because of pace. There is plenty of that. Is it because Bob and John is overrated and has no shot to beat Brother Derek? More likely, Bob and John's stablemate Point Determined needs to finish at least second in a rich race to be guaranteed a berth in the Kentucky Derby.
In the same column, Free also queries: Is there a sane handicapper anywhere who believes that Godolphin-owned UAE Derby winner Discreet Cat actually has a chance to win the Kentucky Derby in his fourth career start?

Do I think he has a chance to win it? Absolutely. I may change my mind after the next three week’s worth of preps, and I’m not saying I consider it likely. But this horse has been dominant in all three of his starts, and there are no apparent superstars here. Other horses with similar potential, such as Strong Contender or Showing Up, would be coming in with only three prior races as well. While it would be quite an accomplishment and as much as I respect Brad Free, I think it would be foolish to completely discount Discreet Cat at this point. Do you?

Stumped by Florida Derby

- I’m having a tough time with this year’s edition of the Florida Derby. One on hand, has there ever been a more obvious bet-against than Barbaro (Dynaformer)? Never raced on the expected fast dirt track; horrible post; hasn’t raced in eight weeks. Plus, he’s 8-5 morning line. Perhaps it’s so obvious that he’ll become a wise guy bet himself! But I think not; I imagine he’ll be closer to even money. In my opinion, you cannot be wrong betting against him if that’s the case. You can lose, but it’s still the right bet, and it’s always the right bet to bet against a big favorite that is being asked to do something that he never has before.

But who do you bet instead? Flashy Bull (Holy Bull) is the obvious candidate to upset the favorite. He was hard used to get position from the ten post in the Fountain of Youth; but with such a short run to the stretch, was still hung out four wide. He dropped back a bit at the top of the stretch, and appeared to be coming on a bit at the end; though how much of that was due to Corinthian goofing and First Samurai tiring I can’t say. Flashy Bull is a nice, handy horse with good speed to get position, but has never really finished strong enough to get excited about. Plus I think he’ll be lower than his 4-1 morning line, and to me, that would be an underlay.

Other than those two, you have a bunch of horses that have performed well enough in allowance races to think they have a shot, but have not shown enough, run fast enough, or beaten enough to get inspired about. Sunriver, Pletcher’s full brother to Ashado, won an allowance race on Fountain of Youth day in a time 4/5ths faster than the stakes race, though his Beyer was only one point faster than FOY third place finisher Flashy Bull. I’m not buying into him. He’ll also be overbet, and he beat little that day; the runner-up in the five horse field was High Blues (also in this field), in his sixth attempt at breaking out of the entry-level allowance condition. Saint Augustus, Doc Cheney, and Rehoboth all fall into this middling category; though at least they have won NW2 other than allowances.

So, while I’m not normally inclined to take a tout from Mike Watchmaker, maybe he has a point about Sharp Humor (Distorted Humor).

Given the high speed he demonstrated contesting a fast early pace when he won the Swale Stakes in his first start of the year, Sharp Humor is unquestionably the best early speed in this field. He should be able to build a clear advantage fairly quickly, and then slow down the pace. [Daily Racing Form]
The problem is that he’s never been around two turns, nor longer than a mile. But perhaps that will mean a square price. He’s shown big Beyer improvement on fast tracks, and was tough and game in the Swale. Out of a Hansel mare, there seems to be no reason based on his pedigree why he can’t get a mile and an eighth. He gets a tepid vote in a race that's probably one to just watch.

- Balletto ran 4th at even money at Gulfstream on Thursday. There’s gotta be better ways to invest one’s money than a horse coming off a year and a half layoff at that price. Nobody took the winner Take D’Tour for the optional $250,000 tag.

Darley took the 9th, an entry level allowance for three-year old fillies, with Beholden, a $700,000 two –year old in training purchase, and a daughter of Cat Thief, third in the 1999 Florida Derby. You know that a stallion is a disappointment when the best they can come up with in the Stallion Register is Sire of 2006 NY SWs GREAT INTENTIONS (First Flight H. [G2], etc.) and REGAL ENGAGEMENT. Cat Thief's third crop is two this year, and those are his only two stakes winners; those are the kind of numbers that can earn him a new home outside of Kentucky. His stud fee has gone from $35,000 Live Foal to $10,000 Stands and Nurses; and that ain’t a good trend. As a racehorse, he won only four times in 30 starts, but one of those of course was the Breeders Cup Classic, which he won at age three at 19-1. That topped off a single superfecta ticket of $692,000, with Budroyale, Golden Missile, and Chester House following him home at respective odds of 26-1, 75-1, and 63-1. I didn’t have it. Did you?

- No two furlong sprint at Santa Anita in Friday’s opener; but instead a really nice allowance affair on the grass. Neil Drysdale has a German import named Dalicia who is listed as the 2-1 favorite in this race for older fillies and mares. And beware – Drysdale has scored with five out of his last six foreign imports, all of them coming off long layoffs, as is this one.

But there are some tough runners in here. Memorette (Memo) spent the first part of last year chasing the best three-year old fillies in the country, then switched to the grass and ran second (dead heat) in the G2 San Clemente last July. Last month, in her first race since then, she ran a nice closing third, missing by just a length. However, she hasn’t won in nine races dating back to Dec, 2004. Carini has put in two huge closes for a second and a win in an entry level allowance since coming over from the UK; she moves up in class here and may like the stretch from a mile to nine furlongs.

There's not any speed in here, and perhaps Frankel’s Dream Lady (Old Trieste) can steal it up front with Valenzuela despite stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time. She’s stalked in her last two, but there doesn’t look like anything to stalk this time; and she’s gone wire to wire before. She ran second in the G3 Lake George at Saratoga last summer; and this is her third off the subsequent layoff. The first two have been excellent, the last in a lifetime best Beyer, defeating Memorette. Could be a decent exacta using her on top of Drysdale’s import.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Thursday News and Notes - March 30

- Jessica has the story over at Railbird on the grim news out of Massachusetts on the prospect for slots legislation, the failure of which could be the death knell for the industry in the state. And once again, as in Maryland, one man seems to hold all the cards, in this case, House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The measure passed the Senate, and supporters feel that it could do so in the House as well if DiMasi wasn’t working to defeat it. "The fix is in. It's just like the old days," said one Beacon Hill insider. "The word has gone out. He doesn't want it." DiMasi icily mentioned job training for those who would be put out of work if tracks indeed close.

An editorial in the Boston Herald opines that the Speaker, in addition to being callous, is being rather duplicitous as well.

And the speaker failed to see any contradiction or irony in his other big announcement of the morning - that the House budget would lift the cap on Lottery proceeds that go to cities and towns, increasing local aid by $158 million. (The governor also proposed lifting the cap.)

It’s the ultimate hypocrisy to be economically dependent on one form of gambling, while bemoaning the “social costs” of another.
- Ernie Paragallo hasn’t completely ruled out the Wood (nor the Illinois Derby) after Achilles of Troy’s eventful six furlong work in 1:16.71 yesterday. "We'll know more after he works again next week." [NY Daily News] The colt gave his exercise rider more than he could handle, breaking off well before the three-quarter pole, according to the Form. "He breezed a mile and an eighth…..There's not a thing wrong with him; he's sound as a dollar."

- Paul Moran of Newsday echoed my comments about the competitive deficiencies of New York’s rebate program.
The plans approved for NYRA and Capital District OTB are tiered downward to the point at which a player betting the minimum $2,000 per month would qualify for a one percent rebate - $20 - leaving the vast majority of bettors inclined to seek out rebate offers with better options.

A player wagering $500,000 a month - $6 million a year - is either collecting a much more attractive rebate from an offshore bookmaker - Pinnacle Sports, in Curacao, for instance, offers its clients a seven percent rebate on all bets placed on horse races at North American tracks - or is enjoying the copious largesse extended to the best clients of Nevada racebooks.
In addition, NYRA VP’s Bill Nader conceded that there are no current account holders who wager $500,000 in a single month nor is one expected to arrive on the scene anytime soon. I guess he figures that Ruben Bailey isn’t coming to town.

- Hot damn, Walter does it again. I may have to start charging for this. Though he hemmed and hawed just a bit, he did give a slight nod to Hot Flame in today’s two furlong baby dash at Santa Anita. He returned $9.40. No surprise based on his pedigree; he’s by Flame Thrower, a son of Saint Ballado who won four of five at two, including three Grade 2 stakes. And he’s out of a mare by the crack first time sire Carson City. This is the female family of the nice stakes winner Nasty and Bold, as well as the grass star Told.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Notes - March 29

- The roles will be reversed in the Florida Derby as Barbaro draws the awful ten post, and Flashy Bull, stuck on the outside for the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, gets an ideal spot in post two. Barbaro’s trainer Michael Matz took the draw in stride - "Heck, if he gets that for the Kentucky Derby we'll be happy." [DRF] He also knows that Barbaro has no need to win the Florida Derby. He has enough graded earnings, and can get the race he needs without necessarily being first under the wire.

It will be eight weeks – 56 days - since Barbaro’s last start when he goes to the post on Saturday. Since his debut race, his races have come off layoffs of 46, 43, and 34 days. Taking a look at Matz’s stats on Formulator, over the past year he’s won at 27% in the 31-60 day layoff category (24% without Barbaro’s three wins). If you narrow it down to the 55-60 day range, more applicable in this case, he has four winners and a second with ten such starters over the last 12 months. So he certainly is capable of keeping his horses sharp without racing, which he’s going to have to do to pull off a Derby win with this strategy. But this all assumes that Barbaro is in this class racing over a dry fast dirt track which he has never raced on before.

- The Wood has lost one contender and gained another, but the result seems to be a net loss. Strong Contender will opt for the Blue Grass instead, and that’s a bummer for us here in the Big Apple. As much as I’d like to consider him a serious Derby contender, it’s hard to believe that Ward can pull this off with a horse that will be making his third start just three weeks before the big race. Added to the Wood is Tampa Bay Derby winner Deputy Glitters. According to the Form, other horses considered definite for the Wood are Bob and John, Greeley's Legacy, Keyed Entry, Like Now, Scanlon's Song, and Showing Up.

- Nine out of the ten race card at Gulfstream on Wednesday were claming races, four of those of the maiden variety. I guess they’re saving the good races for Saturday. Thursday sees the return of Grade 1 winner (Frizette) Balletto (Timber Country), making her first start since running second to Sweet Catomine in the 2004 BC Juv Fillies; she had colic surgery last year. Her second dam is champion Althea.

- Walter is as hot as Jaromir Jagr (well, almost) with those two furlong baby races at Santa Anita, tabbing Erin’s Kristina ($6) today. Neil Drysdale took the finale with maiden winner Trade Only, graduating on the turf in her 4th start. She’s by Unbridled, out of a Danzig mare who is a half-sister to A.P. Indy.

- You gotta love those British bookmakers – Cashmans has installed champion Rock of Gibraltar, a seven time Group 1 winner, and second at 4-5 to longshot Domedriver in the 2002 BC Mile, as the 4-6 favorite to be the leading first year sire of winners in Britain and Ireland this year. He’s by Danehill, out of a Be My Guest mare, which makes him 3x3 to Northern Dancer. In addition, he has a 3rd cross of Northern Dancer’s dam Natalma via his half sister Spring Adieu, making him 4x4x4 to that broodmare.

Drop Out of Music School

- It’s time to dial 1-800-NODERBY and vote Music School out of the Derby. This promising colt attracted tons of attention when he made and won his three-year old debut. But in two subsequent stakes tries, he ran 4th in the Southwest, and then 8th in the Rebel, during which he suffered a minor back injury.

One could argue that the colt has already been campaigned too aggressively, considering that his comeback win, which was nice but not overly impressive, was his first race since last summer and only the second of his career. And now, despite two futile stakes tries and an injury, Howard is still talking about possibly running in the Lexington Stakes on April 22, and was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as saying “We’re going to try and determine what he wants and let him be what he can be, whether it’s going a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby or three-quarters of a mile in a sprint.” It seems inconceivable to me that Howard would still contemplate running in the Lexington, which could be renamed the Desperation Stakes, and then in the Derby just two weeks after! Music School’s close relative Mineshaft was a champion at four; let’s hope that Music School is still sound and racing by then.

- Achilles of Troy, who could now be trained by Andrew Card for all we know, breezed six furlongs this morning in 1:16.71 (3/4).

- A commenter queried about Film Fortune the other day, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article linked to above confirms that Jack Van Berg’s maiden will indeed run in the Arkansas Derby after a decent 5th in the Rebel. He’s is by Indy Film, a rather obscure son of AP Indy who doesn’t even turn up in the Stallion Register; according to the Pedigree Query site, he was winless in ten starts. But Film Fortune is a half brother to this year’s Sunshine Millions Distaff winner House of Fortune.

NYRA Gets Their Rebates

- Rebates are coming to the New York Racing Association, but the association will be depending partially on the goodwill of big bettors in order to compete with the offshore shops. The program, finally approved on a one year trial basis by the state, is set to launch on May 3, opening day at Belmont. Bettors that enroll in the program (or who are current customers of NYRA’s account-wagering program) will receive one point for every dollar bet on NY races, and a half point for wagers on simulcast tracks. Rebates will start at one percent for bettors accumulating 2,000 points per month, and range up to a maximum of seven percent, on exotics such as the pick six, for players with 500,000 points or more. However, the maximum rebate for win bets will be three percent.

It’s pretty safe to say that I will not be qualifying for the maximum rate. Or the minimum for that matter. As a matter of fact, I’ll be donating more of my occasional winnings in the form of a one percent increase in the takeout on win/place/show wagers that the state insisted on as compensation for the givebacks.

The problem is that rebate shops, who return only a few percentage points of handle in the form of simulcast fees, retain their competitive advantage and are able to offer rebates as high as 15% on exotics. So NYRA VP Bill Nader is asking bettors to show a little civic duty, so to speak.

Nader said that NYRA hoped to attract bettors who are concerned about the low return to the racing industry generated by many rebate shops…

"It's the best payback to the industry for all stakeholders, especially horsemen…They'll know that they will be betting through a platform that gives the most back to the racing industry, and that should be worth something." [Daily Racing Form]
Sounds good in theory, but for high-volume bettors who churn piles of money in search of the most subtle of edges, just a couple of percentage points can make the difference between winning and losing; so it may be wishful thinking. The bottom line is still king, after all. Still, NYRA hopes to regain at least a portion of the handle they lost when they cut off rebate shops last summer.

Also on May 3, NYRA will expand its simulcast menu, woo hoo! New York has always lagged far behind neighboring New Jersey as far as the volume of simulcast tracks, so this will give me a chance to get even more distracted and scatterbrained without having to make the trip across the river.

- Polytrack is coming to Woodbine. The project will cost some $10 million, which includes revamping the seven-furlong Standardbred oval here to accommodate Thoroughbred racing during the transitional period. [DRF] The track says that the transition will pay for itself in five to 10 years in reduced maintenance costs. [Toronto Globe and Mail]

- Harness horsemen at Yonkers Raceway are fed up with waiting for the track to reopen and are going to court. Old Hilltop has been closed since June for construction of their slots parlor, but the horsemen claim that a contractual agreement called for it to reopen after four months. It’s not like the track is unusable; it remains open for training. But management obviously has little incentive to open their doors to what, without the slots in action, is a money-losing venture. The horsemen seek, according to a press release, an immediate reopening of the track, monetary damages for unpaid purses, and breach of contract. [US Trotting Association]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Notes - March 28

- Bandini will run in Saturday's Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream, a stepping stone for the Met Mile at Belmont on May 29.

- Alan Klanfer is the new trainer of Paraneck Stable, replacing Frank Amonte Jr., whose license has been revoked indefinitely according to the Daily Racing Form.

According to the board's rules on drug use, Amonte may have to complete a drug treatment or drug education program before he could regain his license.

Amonte claims he tested positive for Vicodin, a painkiller for which he did not have a prescription. It was unclear whether he tested positive for additional controlled substances. [Daily Racing Form]
- Costa Rica-based gambling website’s offer to sponsor the $5 million Triple Crown bonus was spurned by Triple Crown Productions, whose executive director Ed Seigenfeld told Bloodhorse: "Sponsorship would involve much more than just payment of the bonus permium and we have received no formal offer from that company…..That is not even within the realm of possibility."

Bodog’s flamboyant founder and CEO Calvin Ayre is probably not accustomed to not getting his way. His bio on the Bodog website describes him thusly: “Online entrepreneur, jetsetter, maverick, industry leader. Calvin Ayre is the personification of a new American Dream.” You can find pictures of Calvin hanging out with the likes of Joe Montana, Kelly Hu, Tori Spelling, and Shannon Elizabeth. And even the one and only Chris Berman!

His bio also quotes Calvin as saying: "I came from a place where hard work and humility were prized qualities." With all due respect, it seems that one would hardly describe Calvin as humble. In fact, he recently appeared on the cover of Forbes Magazine’s billionaires issue; this despite the fact that a good deal of his billions have been earned in this country via a business that is illegal here.
Title 18, Section 1084 of the U.S. Code…..forbids using telephones or other communication devices “in interstate or foreign commerce” in order to take bets. “Online gambling, whether it is located offshore or not, is illegal when it comes to the United States and its citizens,” says a U.S. Justice Department official who works on Internet gambling crimes.
Ayre presumably has not just the vice squad but the tax collectors in a huff. While 95% of his sales come from the U.S., the 44-year-old doesn’t pay a nickel in corporate or personal income tax here. Is that legit? Foreigners are supposed to pay federal tax on income derived from U.S. business activities. [Forbes]

Zito Not Flying High

- Just one major Derby prep set for this weekend, because who the hell wants to run their horse five weeks before the big race? In addition to keeping an eye on the entries for Saturday’s Florida Derby at Gulfstream, handicappers will be watching the weather maps, hoping for a fast, dry track that Barbaro has never run on (so far, so good according to And that’s only one of the questions to be answered by Michael Matz’s undefeated colt, as he has mapped out a most unorthodox schedule in which Saturday’s race will be his only one in 13 weeks prior to Kentucky.

The race is not coming up strong, as horsemen deliver their verdict to Frank Stronach on his realignment of both the Gulfstream track and the prep schedule. Barbaro’s main rival figures to be Flashy Bull, who just seems to me like a second-tier contender at best. He hasn’t done anything terribly wrong and thus is hanging around as a contender; in fact he’s done a good job in his two Gulfstream stakes overcoming poor posts. But he has yet to make anything near a statement that he’s top flight material. However, a win in the Florida Derby would make his three-year old form a bit reminiscent of that of McLaughlin's Closing Argument, second in Kentucky last year.

Other than those two, the big question according to the Form, is which horse or horses Zito will enter in defense of his title (he won with High Fly last year), and that’s not saying much for this race. His top two candidates for the race are said to be Hesanoldsalt and Doc Cheney, and that being the case, perhaps it’s time to dial 1-800-NODERBY, and vote Zito off of the Derby trail altogether.

We all love Nick, he’s a nice guy and a wonderful spokesman for the sport, but this seems like a case of trying to get blood from a stone; let’s face it, he just doesn’t have the horses this year. Hesanoldsalt was dismal once again in the Gotham and Doc Cheney was unable to handle Saint Augustine in a slow nine furlong allowance. Fabled was nowhere in the Rushaway on Saturday. Great Point is gone with injury. Who else? Little Cliff? Even Haskin, who could probably even make a case for a third term for Bush, could come up with little better than pointing out that he had been beaten 5 3/4 lengths by Bluegrass Cat in the Sam Davis and finished 3 1/2 lengths behind him in the Tampa Derby. That’s progress for you. We hope to see Nick in the winner’s circle with Bellamy Road sometime soon.

- The Wood Memorial has taken some hits with the defections of Corinthian and Achilles of Troy, but the race is making a comeback with the addition of Strong Contender and now, Bob and John. With Keyed Entry also slated to go, as well as the unbeaten Showing Up, the speedy Like Now, and possibly Sweetnorthernsaint, it’s still shaping up as the most intriguing of the remaining Derby preps.

- Strong Contender breezed what for him was a lazy five furlongs in 1:01.60 (6/10) at Gulfstream. Missing the Lane’s End was, I believe, a big blow to trainer John Ward’s Derby hopes with him. He was looking forward to racing him on the kind Polytrack surface, and he would have had the option of getting another race into him if he wished. Now, he’s looking at one shot to get the graded earnings he’ll need to even get in, and, if he does, will be sending a 4th-time starter with one stakes race to the Derby. Of course, Discreet Cat would be doing the same, unless he goes in the Blue Grass, but he just seems further along than Ward's colt at this point.

- High Fly, last year’s Florida Derby winner, is standing at Live Oak Farm in Florida for $5,000.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Notes - March 27

- Wilko is one of my favorite whipping boys, but man, he gave me a scare in the World Cup Saturday morning just after I mocked his U.S. odds of 8-1.…he was 33-1 in the UK. According to the race comments at the Racing Post site, “he led briefly 1f out.” Jeremy Noseda, who handled the training duties for Wilko there, writes on his website of the colt’s future plans as he looks for his first win since the ’04 Juvenile: “In the future, we are hoping to prepare him for a tilt at the Metropolitan at Belmont Park at the end of May or the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in mid-June.”

As for World Cup champ Electrocutionist (Red Ransom), who earned a Timeform rating of 127 (thanks Walter) for his win, he’ll be heading back to the turf. In the opinionated piece from the UK’s Independent Online that I linked to in the Discreet Cat post, there was a note that: [Electrocutionist] was off the bridle almost throughout on Saturday, and only his generosity and class got him home.

In any event, the Racing Post reports that not only will he indeed return to the grass for his next effort, he may very well face the impressive Duty Free winner David Junior in the Royal Ascot. [Free registration is required for this very worthwhile site.] Whatsmore, the connections of both horses named the Breeders Cup Classic as their ultimate goal.

- The increasingly bizarre tale of Ernie Paragallo took another turn this past weekend when all of his horses were scratched from both weekend cards at Aqueduct. The Form reported that new trainer Frank Amonte Jr. failed a drug test, testing positive for Vicodin, a legal painkiller that he did not have a prescription for; he will serve a 15 day suspension.

- You may think that the Lane’s End is a throwout as far as a Derby prep goes, but that’s not the case for the connections of 48-1 winner With A City (City Zip). "The Kentucky Derby has been the plan all along," said trainer Michael Maker. Owner Ron Peltz started to follow this horse after seeing his half-brother The Daddy win at Saratoga (he went on to take the Super Derby). And although he watched him race for $40,000 claiming tags at Calder, it wasn’t until after he saw him win a turf allowance that he ponied up $150,000 to buy him privately. His first race for the new connections was a last place finish in the Battaglia, but Maker was undaunted.

"His race in the Battaglia showed that he needed blinkers….He was wandering and climbing. He also bled pretty badly (because of a lung infection), so we just took him back to the barn and started training towards this race." [Cincinnati Post]
So never mind his final time of 1:51.11, nor his lifetime high non-Polytrack dirt Beyer of 63. With A City is on the Derby trail. Perhaps Maker got his case of Derby Fever during his stint as an assistant to Wayne Lukas.

And speaking of Lukas, he’s got nothing this year! Not even a Going Wild-type that we can make fun of!

- Walter also reports that Discreet Cat earned a Timeform rating of 119+. Using that rule of thumb of subtracting 12-14 points to approximate a Beyer fig, that makes him more than competitive with the U.S.-based Derby contenders, including favorite Brother Derek, who worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:11 at Santa Anita on Sunday. Brother Derek's split times were :12 1/5, :23 4/5 and :35 2/5, and his gallop out time was 1:24 1/5, according to Santa Anita clocker Gary Nelson. [Bloodhorse]

- Point of Impact worked five furlongs (on the dirt) in 1:00.40 (5/42).

Don't You Hate When That Happens?

- I know I’ve been writing a lot about Pletcher at Gulfstream lately, but consider that his 51 wins is over twice as many as anyone else; and he’s an important player in many of the races he hasn’t won. Consider that out of his 177 starters, a mere 16 have been sent off at double digit odds, while 51 have gone off at 2-1 or lower (27 of those have won). So he’s certainly been a dominant figure, and it’s hard to talk about this meeting without him coming up.

This weekend, he had three winners in four starters, including what could be his newest star, Oonagh Macool, winner of the Grade 2 Rampart. The four-year old filly held off Sweet Symphony, the Alabama winner making her first start since her unsuccessful try in the Breeders Cup Distaff, after recovering from a stumbling start. She’s two-for-two on the dirt after an unsuccessful U.S. debut on the turf at Aqueduct last fall after shipping here from the UK. I don’t imagine that she was sent here with a future on the dirt in mind, but things always seem to work out for this barn. This daughter of Giant's Causeway is a stakes winner on the grass in England, and is a half to three Grade 1 winners on the grass, two in the UK and one in Germany.

After his three unsuccessful first time starters in turf races on Friday, Pletcher scored with one on Sunday with Regal Chime. Those who lost on the three well-backed maidens the other day must have been cursing if they missed this one at $20 even. Don't you hate when that happens? Like Oonagh Maccool, Regal Chime (Kingmambo) also had an eventful start, was dead last out of the gate, and three wide around the turn; yet got up in a bris 6 1/5 for the final sixteenth. And how about this for some unorthodox breeding – he’s inbred 2x3 to Mr. Prospector, his grandsire, and Mr. P’s unraced full brother Red Ryder. His dam, Rings A Chime (Metfield), won the Grade 1 Ashland and placed in the Kentucky Oaks.

- Our filly Christening (Vicar) had another impressive workout, getting a half mile in 49.14 seconds, the 12th fastest of 40 at the distance. April 12 is her hoped-for debut date.

- A couple of tough losses for me on Saturday in races that I had figured pretty well. You can be right about so many things in a race and still come out on the short end. The 5th at the Big A was a $15K claiming event for non-winners of two lifetime; that’s about as low as you get in New York outside of the Finger Lakes. Tech Valley was cutting back in distance and taking a huge drop in class from allowance races, and looked like a play at 5-1. I eliminated the favorite and played him on top of three others in the exacta, including Silver Forest, at 10-1 tied for longest shot in the field. So I felt pretty good, looking at a $100+ exacta when Silver Forest led my choice into the stretch, with the latter seemingly set to strike the front, as Trevor Denman would say. But instead, the longshot refused to yield, and two of the cheapest horses on the grounds made like Affirmed and Alydar down the length of the stretch. The problem is that in this case, the part of Affirmed was played by a horse with a lifetime record of one win in 17 attempts, sent out by a trainer with one win in his last 62 New York starters. Don’t you hate when that happens?

Another crummy loss came in the 4th at Oaklawn; another claimer restricted to non-winners of two. Timber Hunt blew a five length lead in his last, but did so with a lifetime best Beyer and was now being confidently moved up in class from 15 to 20K. He looked live in a race begging to be stolen on the lead, and though he was 3-1 to win, he looked overlaid in the exactas. I used him on top in triples with the 2-3-4. He cleared the field easily breaking from the rail in the two-turn affair, and was in front after a quarter mile. But all of a sudden, the 8 horse, Humble Deputy, at 10-1 the longest shot in the field, rushes up to challenge, and edges out in front on the outside. With the 2-3-4 right behind, I’m like, ‘get the 8 outta there!’ Timber Hunt was tough, held in there, and was able to retake as the 8 tired. But the damage was done as he faded to third in the late stages, with two of my tri selections passing him by. Of course, I can’t say for sure whether Timber Hunt would have prevailed had he been left alone on the lead, but I can ask how it is possible that Humble Deputy showed speed. OK, I know this looks really amateurish and I promise that I’ll never do this again. I'll learn how to do it properly from now on. But I just gotta ask you now how a horse with PP lines like this:

...could possibly be challenging my horse on the lead? Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Discreet Cat

- Discreet Cat could give this Derby season a real shot of pizzazz based on his spectacular win in the UAE Derby in only his third lifetime start. Barbaro is the only undefeated contender currently based in the U.S., but his wins have come on the turf and on a saturated dirt track. Discreet Cat has won all three of races spectacularly, showing speed as well as professionalism that belies his inexperience and youth (he’s a May foal). He rated kindly, exploded past the field when asked, and was all business as he never looked back, running straight and true to the wire. Walter, in the comments section, compared the final time to that of the World Cup and came up with a favorable comparison. Remember, he beat four-year olds too, as the race was open to Southern Hemisphere three-year olds. Fourth place finisher Invasor was foaled the previous August, and was previously undefeated, having won the Triple Crown in Uruguay.

It seemed strange to see Godolphin’s Simon Crisford question Discreet Cat's distance ability prior to the race, going so far as to say that “he may turn out to be a miler or a seven-furlong horse.” It’s hard to believe that Godolphin would purchase a colt off a maiden win at Saratoga if they had the least bit of doubt about his distance ability. If Crisford really had doubt, it certainly wasn’t based on his pedigree. He’s by Forestry, and Godolphin was almost willing to pay $16 million for one of those recently; they wouldn’t do that if they had doubts about him as a classic sire. Whatsmore, Discreet Cat is out of Pretty Discreet, who won the mile and a quarter Grade 1 Alabama; and his second dam is a half sister to Buryyourbelief, who won the Kentucky Oaks. His broodmare sire, Private Account, won the G1 Widener at ten furlongs. He’s inbred to Ribot and Buckpasser, and has a 2.67 dosage index.

Now the waiting game begins to see if he’s coming for the big day, even as, as reported by Walter, the UK books have installed him as the Derby favorite! Prior to the race, Crisford had said that he would have to “win and win well,” and added that “His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai will decide his next destination.” [Khaleej Times Online] That was quite a mouthful; do you think he'd mind if I just call him Al?
Crisford himself was still giving mixed signals.

"We have to decide which way to go now. He might not be a horse to backup too quickly and we need to decide if he is ready for Kentucky.

"He is still quite an immature colt but I think this race will have done him a lot of good." [Sporting Life]
On the World Cup telecast, Crisford even mentioned the Blue Grass as a possibility, though that seems to really contradict the prior caution he had expressed. The Blue Grass would be his third race in six weeks, and the Derby would be his 4th in two months. Perhaps a more cautious approach, as recommended by Chris McGrath of the UK’s Independent Online, would be more sensible:
This race [the Derby], above all others, could wreck this colt as soon as make him. It presents a savage test of stamina and maturity, and Discreet Cat has not come off the bridle in three starts. His physique remains adolescent. As a May foal, walking behind the beefy Chilean runner in the parade ring, he looked positively delicate. With that rival failing to run his race, moreover, the strict form is only a foundation.

Discreet Cat has as much charisma as any horse in the stable since Dubai Millennium, but if he does stay 10 furlongs at the top level then it would be kindest to postpone his first trip to Churchill Downs to November, for the Breeders' Cup Classic. On the way he could pick off exhausted Triple Crown horses in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, and he could even start off in its second leg, the Preakness Stakes - over a shorter trip, just a fortnight after the Derby principals have slugged it out in Louisville.

But it is hard to see his owner favouring prudence and caution over adventure and ambition. As a true horseman, he will abide with the stable's dictum to see how Discreet Cat has taken his race before making any decisions. As a sportsman, however, he has probably made up his mind already. [Independent Online]
- Great effort by The Tin Man in the Dubai Duty Free, but the dominanat winner David Junior is an emerging star, and trainer Brian Meehan said, "He's the best I've seen for a while and the Breeders' Cup Classic will hopefully be his main target for this year." [AP] David Junior is a Florida-bred; he’s by Pleasant Tap out of an Irish River mare who is a sibling to two stars; a half to Wild Event and a full-sister to Paradise Creek. Whatsmore, his second dam is a half-sister to turf champion and top sire Theatrical.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Saturday Morning Notes - March 25

- Dubai chat room is open now (during the races) at the TBA site.

- On Thursday, it was the fans’ turn to sound off to New York’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, and they sounded familiar themes – Leave Saratoga alone. And keep Magna away.

"The historic character of the Yankee Stadium of racetracks must not be compromised….The opportunity for fans to get close to horses must not be compromised. Saratoga must continue." [Thoroughbred Times]

'We need to look at what we have here and who's looking to get in on the game. You have to be very careful, whoever you allow to run this franchise.' [Saratogian]

"I was down at Gulfstream, and what (Magna) has done down there is a travesty. There isn't a grandstand in the place. Is that what we want up here? We have to keep the fans in mind." [Bloodhorse]
Prior to the fan forum, industry types addressed the committee and also sounded familiar refrains such as legalizing internet wagering, lowering takeout, providing rebates, and consolidating the OTBs with whoever gets the franchise. With respect to the latter, one can picture Steve Crist on his hands and knees, imploring the panel: "You have a unique, historic opportunity," Crist said. "I beg the Committee to rehaul OTB with the franchise renewal."

Just like the accounts you read of arguments before the Supreme Court, when reporters try to foretell the Court’s decision based on the comments and questions from the Justices, it’s worth listening to the committee members’ reactions. So far, Bernadette Castro seems to be the only one talking. I guess she’s like the Chief Justice here. So far, it seems as if at least she is listening: "It's all about the sport. The tail should not wag the dog, or in this case, the horse," she said in response to concerns that the franchise would be awarded to an entity more interested in casinos.
"I can tell you that this committee is extremely sensitive to the heritage of Saratoga."

"I don't think it is the judgment of anyone on this committee that (the next franchise holder) should be a for-profit organization. We are extremely protective of the three racetracks." [Bloodhorse]
Another forum is scheduled for right here in Queens on April 5.

- There were four maiden special turf affairs at Gulfstream on Friday, races that make for good betting and blogging after a dull week of claiming races. Three of them featured well-bet first time starters for Todd Pletcher, directing the action from Dubai, I'm sure. The 4th was won impressively by When the Saints (Saint Ballado), making his turf debut in his third start for Michael Matz, and drawing away while running the final three furlongs in 35 3/5. This four-year old is out of Outlasting, a stakes placed Seattle Slew mare, and his second dam is champion Outstandingly, the winner, by DQ, of the first-ever Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies. And though Outstandingly had a couple of stakes winners overseas, Outlasting was her only North American stakes horse. This is the family of Bernstein and Sky Mesa; and When the Saints traces directly back to La Troienne, his 7th dam. Twenty One Dollars (Mt. Livermore) ran 5th in his debut for Pletcher after a slow start at 7-2, ouch.

Bill Mott took the sixth with three-year old Stradivinsky ($10); this barn has run in the money 9 out of its last ten races at the Gulf, with three winners. He’s by Stravinsky, out of Canadian stakes winner Lubicon. In this race, Pletcher ran second with first-timer Half Mask, at 4-1. Another turf runner for More Than Ready, he has some unusual inbreeding for this day and age, being inbred to Naskra 4x2.

In the 8th, Pletcher had the 5-2 favorite with the first-timer Fairbanks in another three-year old contest. He’s by Giant’s Causeway, out of a mare by Time for a Change (Damascus), and he’s a three-quarters brother to Keats, the winner of the Lexington in 2001. The dam, Alaska Queen, is a half-sister to Darn That Alarm, the 1987 Fountain of Youth winner; and this is also the family of Blazing Rate. But it was 5th place and more money burned, as the close second choice, Carnera, got the win for Kiaran McLaughlin.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rock the Casbah

- Perusing the race charts and pp’s, I haven’t seen anything too interesting during this midweek of racing; perhaps things are on hold because everyone who’s anyone is over in Dubai and we’re left with the second stringers. Kinda like the spring training games before the World Baseball Championships ended.

As for Dubai, these races are just guessing games really. You guys aren't really going to get up early and bet these things, are you? I have enough trouble with "normal" races; here you have horses from different countries, the incomplete running lines, Timeform ratings, turf horses trying dirt for the first time, etc., Here’s an excerpt from an Andy Beyer chat session in the Form before the Breeders’ Cup on how to compare the European figures with ours:

The popular rule of thumb is to subtract 12-14 points from the Timeform numbers to get the Beyer equivalent. It's not perfect (and it doesn't work well with poorer horses) but it's OK with the type who come to the Breeders' Cup. For timeform, a superhorse might get a rating of 140; for us, a 126 would be superhorse material.
That’s about all the handicapping help you’re gonna get out of me – check out this page in the Form for free past performances and Alan Shuback’s analyses. John at Not to the Swift, brimming with confidence, bordering on cockiness, really, after his big scores last weekend, provides some picks and oh yeah, there’s also the excellent – and I mean excellent Dubai International Racing Carnival Blog, where you can read comments by a lot of trainers about how great their horses are doing.

Don’t think I’ll be doing much, if any serious wagering, but I will get up to watch for the quality of the telecast of nothing else. If we’re lucky, they’ll be a stewards inquiry like there was in the sprint last year, when we were treated to live coverage of the stewards advising the jockeys of their decision. I particularly like the sprint; six furlongs out of the chute, straight down the giant stretch – the longest quarter horse race in the world.

The UAE Derby is perhaps of the most interest here because of its potential to yield a Kentucky Derby candidate. I’ve been reading conflicting reports of whether or not Discreet Cat has any chance of running for the roses. Godolophin’s racing manager Simon Crisford told the Form:
"It's highly questionable whether a mile and an eighth is best for him....He may turn out to be a miler or a seven-furlong horse.

"He's short on experience and long on the hype. He strikes us as a colt who will get better as the year goes on."
Still, he didn’t rule it out "if he wins and wins well.” [Bloodhorse] Shuback likes Simpatico Bribon, who was seriously considered for the Dubai World Cup before [trainer Ian] Jory settled on this easier spot. He’s a Chilean colt who is actually four years old by Northern Hemisphere standards. He’s won seven in a row including a big race over the track in his last. Simpatico Bribon is by Election Day, a son of Sadlers Wells out of a mare by Sayaret, a son of Fappiano who is very closely (3x2) inbred to Dr. Fager.

Ouija Board is back as a five year old to take on the boys in the mile and a half Sheema on the turf. Though it’s her first race since winning the Hong Kong Vase in December, trainer Ed Dunlop is treating the race as the "her last of last season,” and will give her a break afterwards before campaigning her towards the Breeders Cup. He seemed to be hedging on this race however.
"Many good horses have come here and run badly, because of the time of year or whatever.

"It is a class race and she is no certainty on the formbook either.

"But she does look extremely well and she is now at the same weight as she was for her last two races....We won't know until she runs whether she is the same or not but at least we can say that the signs are good.” [Sporting Life]
In the big race, for an obscene six million bucks, a lot of people seem to like the Japanese invader Kane Hekili, and for good reason. He has eight wins in 12 lifetimes starts, and has taken six of his last seven starts with Timeform ratings that are tops in the field, and, based on Beyer’s criteria, more than competitive with the American contenders. He’s by Fuji Kiseki, a son of Sunday Silence, out of a Deputy Minister mare who is a half sister to the stallion Silver Deputy and U.S. stakes winner Buzzy’s Gold.

I followed Magna Graduate as he improved last fall, and I for one still have some capital to spend on him. He was crushed by Brass Hat in the sloppy Donn, but you can certainly excuse his performance (and explain Brass Hat’s big Beyer) based on the difficult conditions that day. Perhaps that could create some value on Magna Graduate on Saturday, and Pletcher expressed confidence, saying that the colt was “getting over the ground (at Nad al Sheba Racecourse) extremely well,” but pointing out that the best odds may be overseas.
“His American form fits very well with the other American horses here,” he added. “It looks like he might be a little bit of an outsider in the public’s eye, but he might be a shorter price at home.”

English bookmakers have rated Magna Graduate at 14-to-1, with Brass Hat tabbed at 11-to-2 and the third choice behind Godolphin’s even-money favorite Electrocutionist, who will be making only his second start on dirt, and Japanese champion Kane Hekili at 9-to-2. However, American fans would almost certainly not evaluate the 11-horse field and the five who will run under American flags in that manner. [Dubai Int’l Racing Carnival Blog]

Achilles' Heel...or Leg....or Back....

- First it was a sore right leg, then a hot left foot. Now Ernie Paragallo says that it was back spasms that were bothering Achilles of Troy, leading to him being vanned off of the Aqueduct track last Saturday. Tomorrow it could be hemmarhoids, and by the weekend we could be told that he needs root canal.

"He's just body sore…..We can't find nothing up front. It's exactly the same thing after he won that race by 14 lengths (the Count Fleet Stakes). Doc worked on him then and he came back to win his next race (the Whirlaway Stakes). He'll work on him again and hopefully he'll return to the track on Friday." [NY Daily News]
Gee, for someone who said “I'm going to tell the truth,” this story has sure changed a lot. He first blamed the trainer (who blamed the jockey) for not telling him about a foot problem that now doesn’t exist - that's the new trainer that replaced the one he said he wouldn’t fire. He also told us that Scanlon’s Song was better than Achilles of Troy, a notion that many people took to the bank, as he’s been a beaten favorite twice in allowance company now. (Of course, that didn’t stop Paragallo from proclaiming that he could run in the Wood.)

Recalling most recently the case of Noble Causeway at Saratoga this past summer, my experience is that horses aren’t usually vanned off the track for no reason. If Paragallo is really telling the truth and the colt is fine, maybe the truth is that Achilles of Troy simply isn’t as good as Like Now or Keyed Entry. Perhaps we’ll find out in the Wood, unless he goes in the Arkansas Derby instead.

- Corinthian’s Triple Crown-ending injury deprives us of one of the more appealing contenders, but it’s likely for the best, at least as far as the colt’s long-term future is concerned. He's obviously immature and has issues, and he can use the time to consult with a therapist. Of course, it’s not in the best interests of those who had him at 15-1 in Pool Two. This is the type of thing that caused Bob Neuimier at to ask:
Is it financially safer to toss cash out of your bedroom window and hope a wind blows some of the money back in or bet one of the three Kentucky Derby future pools? []
- Though the Form reported the other day that Henny Hughes would not be pointed to the Derby, Kiaran McLaughlin told Thoroughbred Times otherwise:
"I'm going to stay in Florida through the Florida Derby (G1) [on April 1 at Gulfstream Park], then go to New York, and he'll train toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) via the New York route."
I should have known not to believe the Form, since it made absolute perfect sense that a supremely talented colt who hasn’t raced since the Breeders’ Cup and who spent the winter in Dubai, not exactly a hot spot for Derby winners, would be carefully and patiently prepared for a potentially lucrative summer/fall campaign! What was I thinking, that something involving the Derby would make sense?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Beyer Upgrade Not Enough

- Lawyer Ron’s Beyer for the Rebel got revised upwards a couple of points to a 94, but that still makes him slower than the other prep winners. ESPN’s Randy Moss does the Beyers for Oaklawn, and this article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette provides some insight on the calculation.

.. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette handicapper Rick Lee, also part of the Beyer network, said Moss based the figure using a variant of minus-6 for the first 10 races, meaning the surface was six points faster than normal. What may have made Lawyer Ron’s number lower than expected, Lee said, was rainfall shortly before the Rebel, the 10 th of 11 live races.

“The rain made the last two races tricky,” said Lee, who corresponded with Moss about the number through e-mail. “But he decided to group the Rebel with the first nine races, and then he made the [11 th race] his race where he deviated from the minus-6. He thought the track slowed up quite a bit for the [11 th] race.”
Again, I’m usually wrong when I question the Beyer numbers, but I think it’s useful to keep in mind just how subjective the numbers can sometimes be.

- John Ward spoke to the Thoroughbred Times about the similarities (and differences) between his Derby winner Monarchos and Strong Contender, his prospect for this year.
"Monarchos was a medium-sized, compact kind of horse. Strong Contender is a great big, long, lanky kind of animal. As far as training the animals in the genetics, it appears like Maria's Mon puts a lot of stamina in these horses, and that's the similarity. It's amazing how deep they are as far as their stamina goes. ...[Monarchos] used every bit of energy that he had. This horse is the same way. He worked the other day and we really just wanted him to go easy, and he went 1:00 easily [for five furlongs]. Galloping out a mile, he went :59.80, 1:12.40, 1:26, and pulled up the mile in 1:38 and wouldn't blow out a match. So being able to use that long stride efficiently is what he and Monarchos both have." [Thoroughbred Times]
- The chairman of the Kentucky House committee that is considering legislation to mandate workers comp insurance for jockeys says that the bill is dead due to problems created by the compromise amongst jockeys, tracks, and owners to have the bettors pay the premiums via a .1% increase in the mutual takeout.
"As far as I'm concerned, we've said grace and given it its last rights," [Rep. Denver] Butler said of the bill, which would make bettors pay the cost of insuring riders.

Butler said the proposed bill has changed so much during recent weeks that members of the committee can't support it because they no longer understand what it does.

"That's a lie," responded the bill's primary sponsor, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Belcher of Owingsville….."There is absolutely no excuse for that bill to be dead this session…” [Lexington Herald Reader]
Belcher will try and move the bill to another committee. Meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Ed Whitfield is working on a federal measure in the form of an amendment to the Interstate Horseracing Act that would provide for workers comp for jockeys and all backstretch workers, including trainers, to be paid for out of simulcast revenues.

- Highland Cat worked five furlongs in 1:02.85, third fastest of ten at the distance. His race on Sunday didn’t fill, so we’re now looking a 50K maiden claimer on April 7. Christening may debut in a six furlong maiden special on the 12th.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tuesday Night Notes - Mar 21

- Sire Deputy Commander (Deputy Minister) had a productive day on Saturday; his Deputy Glitters took the Tampa Bay Derby, and Red Raymond was second to Lawyer Ron in the Rebel. This stallion was riding high in 2003, when his Ten Most Wanted was prominent in the three-year old picture, duplicating his sire’s feat of winning the Travers and Super Derby after his rousing second to Empire Maker in the Belmont. Accordingly, Deputy Commander’s stud fee peaked in 2004 at $30,000; but it’s been downhill from there. He’s available at Airdrie Stud for $10,000 these days. While Ten Most Wanted was one of nine stakes winner from that initial crop, each of his three subsequent crops to race through 2005 had produced only one stakes winner each; at least until Deputy Glitters became the second from the class of 2003. In fact, as far as I can tell, Deputy Glitters was the first graded stakes winner for Deputy Commander in North America since Ten Most Wanted.

Deputy Glitters is out of a mare by Glitterman, whose progeny have an average winning distance of 6.25 furlongs. He’s a total outcross through his first five generations, and there’s not much else in the pedigree that catches one’s attention. His owner, Joseph LaCombe, said that having a horse on the Triple Crown trail is "sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing." [Bradenton Herald] Sort of. La Combe also owned Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year who ran 7th in the Derby and now stands in New Mexico for $4000.

Deputy Glitters has certainly shown an affinity for Tampa Bay Downs; we hear about how some horses don't take to that surface and that can work both ways. Trainer Tom Albertrani mentioned the Wood and the Blue Grass as possible next starts.

As for Red Raymond, Deputy Commander’s first stakes winner from his 2003 crop (he won a stakes at Ellis Park last year), perhaps he does, as Scientific Sue suggested here the other day, deserve a closer look. He broke a bit awkwardly in the Rebel, and then, while already towards the back of the pack, got caught in a squeeze entering the backstretch and found himself dead last. He was still trailing as they approached the final turn, but Luis Quinonez swung him out six wide to circle the field; and this is the interesting part of the race to watch. He really just seemed to glide past horses on the turn, as Quinonez did not start his drive until he straightened for home; in fact, the race chart, which doesn't usually editorialize, called it a nice move. Bob Holthus now says that Red Raymond will stay at Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby rather than running in the Illinois Derby.

- Ten Most Wanted stands at Gainesway for $10,000. His first crop are weanlings this year, and they have a couple of foal pictures up on the Gainesway site. Check out this cutie.

He’s already my favorite for the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yahoo! The Stallion Register Online offers free hypo mating for Ten Most Wanted here.

- It looks like not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Keyed Entry’s effort in the Gotham. Watchmaker in the Form says of the Gotham :

..the reason why the Gotham is unlikely to be a serious factor come the Kentucky Derby is because none of the top three finishers looked like he could be effective, or improve, in a truly run race at a longer distance than the 1 1/16 miles they got on Saturday.
Bill Finley, on, opines: No excuses when couldn’t run down sprinter in Gotham. Not a mile-and-a-quarter horse. Haskin is more favorable, pointing out that he rated and was striding out well in the final furlong but you have to run pretty bad to get onto his list of disappointments. I dunno, Watchmaker and Finley may be right about his distance limitations, but I personally didn’t see anything in his performance that would rule out his being able to go longer. (And we’ve already established that Like Now is not necessarily just a sprinter.)

Slots a Dead End in Maryland

- Slots in Maryland and Kentucky seem to be firmly on the road to nowhere. In Maryland, a proposal by Governor Ehrlich is amongst about a dozen bills that have been introduced, but with an expected budget surplus in an election year, slots seem to stand as much of a chance as does Merv Griffin to be standing in the Derby winner’s circle. The House Ways and Means Committee convened last week to hear the proposals. But even the proponents and opponents who appeared before the....Committee seemed a little tired of the subject. [Washington Post]

Among them was a bill sponsored by Del. Galen Clagett, D-Frederick.

In presenting his bill Thursday, Clagett was realistic about its fate. "You might say I'm here to beat a dead horse," he observed. []
Even if a bill did make it out of committee, House Speaker Michael Busch is there like Henrik Lundqvist to swat it aside, as he has for the last three years. Though a bill actually made it to the House floor last year, the differences between it and the Senate version were too much to resolve, as Busch would not even try to negotiate a compromise. Senate President Mike Miller said he had never seen the leader of the other body take such a position. And though Miller insisted that slots are “still "absolutely, positively, unequivocally inevitable," Maryland horsemen, who compete at Laurel for purses totaling $160,000 a day as opposed to $350,000 in New Jersey (where purses are subsidized by Atlantic City casinos), and an expected $450,000 in Pennsylvania once slots get going there, are accepting the inevitable bad news and looking elsewhere for help
Now lawmakers are looking at small fixes to prop up the struggling operations at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and Rosecroft Raceway. They include measures that pump $10 million into the "bred fund" that rewards victories by horses born and raised in Maryland, expand the fund perk to purses outside the state and allow night racing for the first time.

"Slots is not happening, and we have to compete," Billy Boniface, president of the Maryland Horse Breeder's Association…
[The] bill is a far cry from the extensive changes that slots would bring to the industry, but at this point horse industry representatives are willing to take anything.__"It's one of the few options that costs absolutely nothing," said Dennis McCoy, a lobbyist for the breeders' association. [Hometown Annapolis]

McLaughlin Rules

- Kiaran McLaughlin will have a nice souvenir to take home with him from Dubai after this weekend’s races – Henny Hughes. What the point of the colt’s little sojourn to the Middle East was we don’t know, but he hasn’t yet run at three, and he’ll be aimed for a comeback well after the Kentucky Derby is run.

But the trainer has no shortage of Derby prospects, even if none of them are in the top tier at this point. One of them, Jazil, seemed to be off the trail after a dull 7th in the Fountain of Youth, but he was found to have bled afterwards, will be pointed to the Blue Grass, and is back on my list of closing-type sucker horses. That race seemed too bad to be true after he nearly matched strides with the talented Corinthian in the Holy Bull. [CORRECTION - That was an allowance race, not the Holy Bull, sorry.] Flashy Bull, placed second via DQ in the FOY, is hanging at the Gulf for the Florida Derby.

And then there’s Like Now, the upset Gotham winner who is headed for the Wood, where McLaughlin concedes he’s unlikely to be loose on the lead again. “That horse [Keyed Entry] next time will give us a little more respect, which is a negative for us."

Like Now may have looked strictly like a sprinter based on his prior form and physical appearance, but pedigree-wise it shouldn’t have been a 36-1 surprise that he could at least get the mile and a sixteenth trip around the Big A inner track. He’s by the late stallion Jules, a son of Forty Niner who passed on while standing stud in Brazil. He started his stud career in Florida, and it was there that he produced his best known U.S. runner, Peace Rules, the handsome Blue Grass/Louisiana Derby/Haskell/Suburban winner who ran an excellent third to Funny Cide and Empire Maker in the 2003 Derby.

Jules had a pretty fascinating pedigree, one that presented some juicy possibilities for mare owners. He has inbreeding to Tom Rolfe, Raise a Native, and the great broodmare Almahmoud; but most interestingly, his third dam is Natalma, the dam of Northern Dancer, through that sire’s unraced half sister Raise the Standard (Hoist the Flag). Not surprisingly, nearly all of Jules’ top winners that I took an unscientific look at descended from dams with Northern Dancer blood, as mare owners took advantage of a chance to inbreed to the super-sire's dam through different individuals. Peace Rules is amongst those, and so is Like Now.

Like Now is out of the mare Can’t Bluff Me, by Preakness winner Pine Bluff (Danzig/Northern Dancer). Also prominent in his distaff pedigree is Belmont winner Coastal, the sire of Like Now’s second dam. Can’t Bluff Me adds two more crosses of Almahmoud to the mix through Northern Dancer and Halo, to whom Like Now is inbred as well. His dosage is 3.40, under the once sacred Derby limit of 4.0. If you go back to his third dam, you’ll see that this is the family of El Corredor and Roman Ruler, as well as stakes winners Seducer and Fort La Roca. While nothing here guarantees that he’ll get a mile and a quarter, he’s certainly entitled on breeding to have won the Gotham and to be a tough competitor in the Wood as well.

- Peace Rules, one of my favorite named horses (Jules - Hold to Fashion [Hold Your Peace]) stands at Vinery for $15,000. Alan Porter, writing on the Vinery website, makes his breeding recommendations, and it's no surprise.

He has a double of Northern Dancer's dam, Natalma, and three crosses of Natalma's dam, Almahmoud. With just one strain of Northern Dancer, which will be in the sixth generation of his foals, PEACE RULES will be very well-suited by matings with Northern Dancer line mares.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Notes - Mar 20

- Got the Beyers for the weekend’s prep winners from a reliable source.

Lawyer Ron – 92
Like Now – 106 [CORRECTION: Correct fig is 104]
Deputy Glitters – 102
AP Warrior – 101

Yeah, that fig on Lawyer Ron is as much of a shock to me as was the way he was rated in the Rebel. I’ve gotten in trouble every time I’ve dared to question the sacred Beyers, but are you Beying that Beyer? (ugh, sorry..) It would represent a second consecutive step back from his 106 in the Risen Star that now sticks out like a sore thumb. One factor that could have contributed to that number is the way he was climbing early in the run down the backstretch; and also consider that he swept by the field four wide on the turn while in hand before McKee set him down for the drive, as well as the mere fact that he was changing tactics.

I’d love to see an explanation of the fig to see how much of that number is the guys projecting based on the horses that ran 2-3-4? After all, wouldn’t a big number mean that Red Reymond, Steppenwolfer, and Well Said all earned figures that would defy the logic of what you could expect them to possibly improve?

So, is Lawyer Ron tailing off after his long campaign, and defeating a group that is weaker than others around the country? Or do you disregard the number in favor of how impressive he was visually and tactically? Could make for another interesting test of the numbers come May 6 should the Arkansas Derby not come up faster.

Like Now’s 106 is a big boost for Keyed Entry (Honour and Glory) in my eyes. I’m getting a bit hepped up about this one, despite the fact that I don’t love Pletcher. Who said I can’t be objective? I mean, I think the Bush twins are kinda cute even if their father is an incompetent idiotic liar. This colt had every right to bounce big time in the Gotham after running a 110 in his third lifetime start. In fact, Jerry Brown of Thoro-Graph wrote in his race preview that “he is the kind we like to bet against: the big jump to a huge effort for an early season 3-year old is likely to take a toll, especially with a horse that previously went to the sidelines, and he’ll be trying two turns for the first time.”

While he did regress a bit, at least in terms of his Beyer, he rated professionally and rallied gamely against a lone speed setting a slow pace. I think it was an exciting effort, and sets him up for a Wood Memorial that may also include head case Corinthian; I think that those two could be the most intriguing horses in the picture. I think we pretty much know what we have in Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron, and while it’s very good in each case, but how much more, if any, do you expect either of those to improve? I think in each case, it's a matter of them not tailing off come Derby day. But in Keyed Entry and Corinthian, we have two horses with seemingly untapped potential, and that could very well make the Wood Memorial, right here at the BIG A (yay!), the most interesting prep yet to be run.

In this day and age, does anyone doubt that a son of miler Honour and Glory could conceivably win the Derby? The stamina in the distaff side of Keyed Entry’s pedigree is there – his broodmare sire is Cryptoclearance; his second dam’s sire is Avatar (Graustark/Ribot); his dosage is a tidy 2.60, and he has inbreeding to the influential mare Grand Splendor.

- Second look at the San Felipe: Perhaps Point Determined’s effort was worth more than just an honorable mention for the “winners” category. He proved his class in his first try against stakes horses, ran a lifetime best Beyer, and, having run just five times, would seem to have room for further improvement. A.P. Warrior’s 101 is his lifetime best by ten points, and he was solidly four wide throughout the final turn. Bob and John got some education and some dirt in the face, but still ran more than respectably after swinging into the stretch five wide. This could turn out to be a better prep than I originally thought.

- Ernie Paragallo is unfazed by Achilles of Troy’s unscheduled van ride, and said that X-rays proved negative.

"He's 100% sound," Paragallo said. "The digital scans showed nothing. He's perfect. He's mean again."

Today, Paragallo will fly in a foot specialist and is hoping to get the okay so Achilles of Troy can return to the track tomorrow. [NY Daily News]
- The Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita yesterday was as exciting a finish that you’ll ever see. Though pace setter Uncle Denny finished third by two noses, he just refused to quit as he was challenged by eventual winner Super Strut and the unlikely runner-up, 62-1 shot Mr. Wolverine. Well worth checking out on the Cal Racing site if you missed it.

- Todd Pletcher did it again! And I even bet the race, and didn’t listen to myself – how many times have I pointed out right here how uncanny he is off layoffs this year? It just gets to the point when I think, ‘well, he can’t do it again, can he?’ Especially with a horse like Black Snake in the 10th at the Gulf on Sunday, who not only hadn’t been out since last July, but his Beyers were a full 20 points lower than the fresher contenders in the field. Add in the fact that he was dull on the board at 6-1, and……well, I blew it again, man!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Winners and Losers (and in between)


- Keyed Entry (Honour and Glory) – You knew it was going to be a surprising day of Derby preps when Keyed Entry was rating several lengths behind Like Now, who was cutting out a moderate pace of 47.78 and 1:12.30 in the Gotham. The fact that the 8-5 second choice wasn’t quite able to catch the longshot winner, who came home from there in 24.38 and then a final sixteenth of 6.49, didn’t at all diminish his status as a leading Derby contender in my eyes.

"I thought it was a perfect trip," Pletcher said. "The strategy was to try and get him to settle. It might have backfired a little today, but it may prove to be the right thing in the long run." [Sun-Sentinal]
Exactly. The colt passed his two-turn and rating tests and the second place finish is meaningless in the long run. Remember, he was certainly entitled to bounce after his blistering Hutchenson too. Having displayed this versatility, I think he becomes a more serious contender in defeat.

- Lawyer Ron (Langfuhr) – Wow! So much for his being one-dimensional!
"He settled in real nice down the back side. I had three horses up ahead and while it looked liked like we were losing some ground around the turn I think the best part of the track was three or four lanes off the rail, which was exactly where Bob told me he wanted to see the horse."

"In the stretch he really kicked it in and gave me a big move," [jockey John] McKee said. [AP]
After tracking second and third quarters of 24 and 25 1/5, Lawyer Ron exploded to the lead in a quarter of 23.86 and coasted home in 6.33. Was that me who wrote that I had my doubts about him as a Derby horse?

- A.P. Warrior (A.P. Indy) – Call it the John Sherriffs effect, or maybe he’s a horse for the course; or perhaps the $1.2 million colt just ran to his ability. In any event, he’s back in the picture after two disappointing starts for former trainer Eoin Harty. Despite being four wide all around the turn, jockey Corey Nakatani said he had plenty left when challenged late. "When [Point Determined] came to me, he pinned his ears and dug in like I thought he would......He's a very, very versatile horse. I really think the sky is the limit with him. I'm excited.” [LA Times]

- Like Now (Jules) – And John, for picking him. Well, I really don’t think this colt is going to soon be able to again get loose on a lead with a moderate pace like he was allowed to in the Gotham, but Kiaran McLaughlin will press on and run him in the Wood. The trainer conceded that “[Prado](on Keyed Entry) had the horse to go past us, but he decided to sit off us."
"I thought [the pace] would be a little quicker," McLaughlin said, "and [Jara] did a great job; had a hold on him the whole way. The last time he ran the outrider had to pull him up so we thought he would get the distance. We thought he would be successful stretching out, but you never know until you try. [Newsday]
- Deputy Glitters (Deputy Commander) – Nice price ($18.80). After all, he only lost to Bluegrass Cat by a length and a quarter in the Sam F Davis. Without all the hype on Pletcher’s horse, beaten at 2-5, Deputy Glitters would have paid a price closer to his 5-2 morning line. Trainer Tom Albertrani mentioned the Wood or Blue Grass as his next start.

Honorable mention – Point Determined (Point Given) finished well and proved that he at least belongs in stakes company.


- Bluegrass Cat (Storm Cat) – No, a second place finish doesn’t mean he’s no longer a contender, but he certainly lost some of his luster when you saw Velasquez whipping and driving, to no avail, around the turn. The fact that he settled down and finished well, after giving a scare to the bridgejumpers who wagered over $300,000 on him to show, perhaps gives the excuses cited afterwards some credence. Pletcher said: "[Velazquez] said the ground seemed to slip away from him a couple times on the far turn.....He seemed to lose all position going into a pivotal point in the race." [Sun-Sentinal]
"It seemed like he was slipping a little bit going into the second turn," Velazquez said. "It was going well and then all of a sudden he couldn't get his footing. He lost his momentum. It was one of those things. He was not focusing today. I will throw [this race] out." [Tampa Bay Online]
- Achilles of Troy (Notebook) – A bad start, and a worse finish, as he was vanned off the track. The NYRA vet said that he "seemed a little sore in his right-front [leg]. We'll check on him tomorrow morning and talk to their vets. At this point, there was nothing we could see or feel." [Baltimore Sun] Even a bigger loser could be the colt’s new trainer, Frank Amonte Jr. It didn’t take long for him to draw the wrath of his tempestuous owner.
Paragallo said the problem surfaced Friday and he wanted to scratch Achilles of Troy but was talked out of it by his trainer, Frank Amonte Jr., and others. Amonte was hired a week earlier to replace Jennifer Pedersen.

"I'm not very happy with him," Paragallo said of Amonte. "I called him five times today to check on the horse, and every time he told me he was doing great." [NY Times]
Considering that, I guess the biggest losers of all were those who bet on Achilles of Troy at 3-2, not knowing of any concern about the colt’s physical condition. Shades of Sweet Catomine?

- Private Vow (Broken Vow) – So much for that strategy, which didn’t seem to make much sense to start with. Still, Steve Asmussen seemed undaunted. "It wasn't a bad race and one that will help him....We were stalking early and it looked like we were ready to pounce. I liked our position. He needed the race and will improve." [Daily Racing Form] This was the only one of the preps that I bet on, with the strategy to leave Private Vow out and find some value in the exacta. I missed by two necks with Well Said, and kicked myself a bit for not using runner-up Red Raymond (possibly headed for the Illinois Derby).

In Between

- Steppenwolfer (Aptitude) ran creditably for third in the Rebel. He always seems to fire, but doesn’t seem to be in the same class as the race winner. Still, he's another one whose pp's are starting to look like Giacomo's.

- Bob and John (Seeking the Gold) got off to a bad start and did pretty well to get third despite being five wide coming into the stretch. "I kind of lost my position right out of the gate," said jockey Victor Espinoza. "There was just a little too much ground to make up. I think it turned out to be a good experience for him, getting dirt kicked in his face and all." [AP] He can be credited with an excuse I suppose, but he didn’t really do enough after the poor start to get me excited about him; on the other hand, nor does the effort eliminate him.

- Sweetnorthernsaint (Sweetsouthernsaint) put in a really nice effort for third in his first try against top company. ""My horse was very impressive," Desormeaux said. "You don't have to worry about a longer distance. He had a lot more to give." [Baltimore Sun]

Friday, March 17, 2006

Brad and John on Bob and John

- There’s always more than one way to look at things in this game, and two writers who I like and respect very much take different views of Bob and John (Seeking the Gold), the likely favorite in the San Felipe. To the Form’s Brad Free, he’s part of what he terms a pleasant cast of allowance-caliber 3-year-olds taking part in the race.

Bob and John's last-start Beyer Speed Figure is 102, which would mean something if he earned it like a real stakes horse. But he did not. In the Grade 3 Sham, Bob and John pushed a weak pace and ran away from weak rivals.
I don’t know what it is sometimes with a race like this in which there’s a favorite that dominates his field. For one thing, what’s so weak about third place finisher Sacred Light, whose form is starting to resemble that of pre-Derby Giacomo? And he won by 4 ½, what was he supposed to do; how many lengths would make it acceptable? 15 maybe? It’s almost like Free is penalizing the horse for the sheer fact that he ran against a field that he deemed to be weak.

John Pricci, on takes a longer-term view of Baffert’s colt.
The fact Bob And John is about 6 lengths behind Derby par, more than that behind divisional-leading Brother Derek, can be a good thing: He has more room to improve, to grow into a serious Derby presence, the timing that might enable him to peak on May’s first Saturday. The San Felipe gets him to the Santa Anita Derby. He’ll need to be ready for the race of his life prior to the race of everyone’s life in Louisville.
I like Bob and John and I've been following his progress and anticipating more; I like his trainer and love his bloodlines. He’ll still face questions of class even if he beats this field, but it will set up the Santa Anita Derby nicely if he does.

A Freak Entry?

- I know that Patrick at PHBH popped the bubble on Keyed Entry (Honour and Glory) (and then wished he hadn’t). And the obvioius scenario for the Gotham is that he’ll catch some heat from the sprinter Like Now on the inside of him, and from Sweetnorthernsaint to the outside, setting the race up perfectly for Achilles of Troy (Notebook). I hope that is what happens, since I’m no huge Pletcher fan, and, especially, since Achilles of Troy is the home team.

The problem is that I don’t see either Like Now nor Sweetnorthernsaint running six furlongs anywhere near the 1:07 3/5 that Keyed Entry did in the Fountain of Youth, with a bad start no less. I know that the track was sloppy and that that time isn’t necessarily relevant here; but they could be hard pressed to keep up with him even if he runs two seconds slower than that. He looked like a possible freak, and I tend to take the attitude for wagering purposes that a freak is a freak until proven otherwise – exactly the idiotic logic that got me into trouble with Bellamy Road last year.

Having said that, his Hutchenson is hard to forget, and even Patrick, who was there, admits that he was hardly blowing afterwards. Pletcher is talking about rating, and if he can do that, it will change a lot of peoples’ perceptions about who the Derby favorite should be. (But having said that, I have my doubts about a mile and a quarter in a 20 horse field….any prospective rabbits out there this year?) Personally, I don’t see him rating in the Gotham; I think he’ll be in front as far as he can go, and I don’t see myself wagering my hard earned money that he can’t get this trip around the inner track. In perhaps the most idiotic statement of the year, Pletcher remarked:

... everyone seems to be presenting the question `can he get a mile-and-a-sixteenth in the Gotham?' If he can't do that, then we're going to have trouble getting a mile-and-a-quarter." [AP]
Achilles of Troy will certainly be the one to pick up the pieces if Keyed Entry falters. He can get a perfect trip here, and remember he was geared down when earning his 104 in the Whirlaway. Owner Ernie Paragallo, who we can only hope for the good of the sport gets to bring his big mouth to Kentucky, said “If he runs his `A' race, he's as good as anybody in the country." [Bloodhorse]

Sweetnorthernsaint was 12th by 24 lengths in his debut (on the turf), and trainer Michael Trombetta told the Washington Post that he made one of the great mistakes of his life when, figuring nobody would possibly claim him off that race, entered him for a $40,000 tag in his next race, which he won by a mere 16 lengths. He got away with that error, but who, really, would claim him with that running line? It's like if someone claimed Highland Cat (whose race for Sunday did not fill). I’ll just take a looksee at Sweetnorthernsaint in the Gotham, but this gelding could be a compelling Derby story if he acquits himself well here.

- Good to see that the folks at the Breeders' Cup have their priorities straight.
The [NJ racing] commission approved placing pari-mutuel machines in Monmouth Park's track kitchen on the condition that they would be operational only during live racing hours and during special events, such as Triple Crown races. Dowd said the request initially was made by Breeders' Cup Ltd. as one of the conditions for hosting the 2007 Breeders' Cup. [Thoroughbred Times]

Lawyer Ron Rules Rebel

- Private Vow (Broken Vow) is near the top of many prominent Derby polls despite not having started since Nov 26, and his trainer Steve Asmussen remarked, “If this keeps up, if we train Private Vow up to the Derby, he’ll be No. 1.” [The Downey Profile] He was kidding, of course, but how long before we actually see that? Barbaro will come pretty close to that, as he’ll have one race, the Florida Derby in the 13 weeks before the Derby. And should Private Vow win the Derby despite not starting until March 18 and having just two preps, it could start an unfortunate trend in which top contenders start later and run less. What would we do all winter? Haskin might have to start writing about something else, say, politics.

Though Hilary Clinton remains the clear front-runner, watch Wesley Clark, who finished a sneaky third in South Carolina, while Russ Feingold impressed observers in a mock debate the other day...
Private Vow’s form looks impressive when you toss out his Breeders Cup debacle, but he may have to improve upon his lifetime best Beyer of 96 in his first race in almost four months to compete with Lawyer Ron. That seems a lot to ask for a colt who made hay last year against mostly second stringers in the two-year old division. Asmussen admitted: "I can see how he might not be 100 percent." [Dallas-Ft Worth Star Telegram] The thought here is that he may be a bit overrated.

Lawyer Ron (Langfuhr) comes off his win in the Southwest in which his Beyer of 95 was 11 points lower than his lifetime best, earned in his prior win in the Risen Star. Is that an indication that his long campaign – 12 races without a layoff line since last July – is finally taking a toll? Or a masterful job by trainer Bob Holthus of tamping him down in preparation for a run-up to the Derby? The trainer, obviously, opts for the latter. "He's still maturing. Amazingly, he's putting on weight with training and racing, which is a pretty good sign." [Daily Racing Form] Lawyer Ron got a huge break when he drew the rail, and should be able to throw down the gauntlet as he did in the Southwest, when John McKee had his hands full rating him to a 48 second half. Holthus actually wishes there was more speed in the Rebel, so that the colt could get some more experience rating. "I was really hoping Keyed Entry would come here.....He would have given us something to rate behind."

Steppenwolfer (Aptitude) drew the outside post, and will be at a disadvantage if Lawyer Ron has his way up front. Trainer Dan Peitz expressed unease. “I am concerned that there will be enough early speed to help us....It takes my horse some time to get to running. He doesn’t pick it up on his own, but has to be encouraged to make his move." [Downey Profile]

Music School is entered, but is 50-50 to run according to Neil Howard. This is one of those horses I talk about when I wonder if connections have their horses’ best interests in mind when it comes to the Derby. He has just three starts, and despite his obvious talent and stellar pedigree, seems to still have a ways to go. However, Howard seems to be cognizant of that and I get the feeling that he’ll opt not to run.
“This a nice colt, no question about it.....Now, maybe his best is going to be later on, which, you have to remember, is pretty typical with 99 of out 100 A. P. Indys. It’s maturity. But he’s doing well.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
Red Raymond (Deputy Commander) has been getting a bit closer and could show further improvement if an unexpected speed duel materializes up front. Well Said (Aptitude) is on the improve, but may be outclassed here.

I remain extremely skeptical about Lawyer Ron as a Derby winner, but I sure like him in the Rebel. Not expecting any exotic surprises, with Steppenwolfer and Private Vow following him home.