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Friday, March 09, 2007

Louisiana Derby Day

- The weather forecast is perfect for New Orleans this weekend, and there's a great card in store for Louisiana Derby day at the Fair Grounds; so here are some thoughts and observations on the stakes.

The G2 New Orleans Handicap looks like a two horse race between Liquor Cabinet, starting for Richard Dutrow and Pletcher's Master Command (AP Indy), who won the Mineshaft easily over the FG course last month. The last time Richard Dutrow was at Fair Grounds was in 2004, and he was there to run Saint Liam in this same stakes. Looking at Saint Liam's past performances (pdf), you can see that his form at that point was remarkably similar to that of Liquor Cabinet now. They had both been pretty successful allowance horses for previous trainers, but improved drastically upon moving to the Dutrow barn (surprise). Like Liquor Cabinet, Saint Liam, a four-year old at the time, came into this stakes off of a lifetime high Beyer, and for both, the New Orleans Handicap was, or will be their third start for Dutrow.

Saint Liam went off at 5.60 to 1, and lost by a head to Peace Rules, a race that, though it is listed under Saint Liam on the Cal Racing site, it's not available because Churchill Downs DOESN'T MAKE THEIR ARCHIVES AVAILABLE, ARGHH!!!

Liquor Cabinet (Hennessy) actually comes into the race off a 113 Beyer, five points higher than that of the ill-fated champ. And Dutrow said that he did that with a foot problem.

"In his first start for me, he blew a frog....We put pads on him to keep the frog covered. He trains and races with them. The frog's still not 100 percent, but he wore the pad last time he raced and he was fine." [DRF]
Good and Lucky (Wild Rush) is a tough one to figure. He's improved big time since stretching out four races ago, culminating with a 106 Beyer in his last; but all the races have been on either Polytrack or slop.

- In the G2 Mervyn Muniz Jr. Memorial, Einstein (Spend a Buck) has a crummy post once again. You may remember his monstrous effort when way wide for three turns in the mile and three eighths Gulfstream Park Handicap; sure you remember it - it was only two weeks ago Saturday. I'm all for horses running right back, but that had to be an exhausting effort given all the ground he covered, and this seems like a lot to ask. Add the number 11 post in a race that starts on the far turn, and, as much as I loved his last race, I think I'll look elsewhere.

Frankel ship in the seven-year old King's Drama, and the trainer has nine winners from 32 runners at this meeting. He won the G2 San Gabriel at this nine furlong distance in his last on New Year's Eve. You can expect him to run well, but the nine post and likely favoritism are unappealing in a competitive field.

Sweet Return looks like the only speed horse in the race. He sprinted home against weaker in his 2007 debut after setting a snail's pace. I really don't care for his form of late. But since I don't see anyone pressing him early, he's gotta be included for a minor share in my opinion.

So here's a couple to consider at better value. Hendrix (Sultry Song) ran third behind King's Drama in the San Gabriel; but when he's good, he runs numbers that are tops in this field. And this horse looks good now, at least based on his lights out workouts, as he's just loving life over the Cushion Track. Naissance Royale (Giant's Causeway) is a mare facing the boys for the first time for the red hot Christophe Clement. She is tough man, right there every time with Beyers that make her competitive with a nice trip from a good post.

- In the Fair Grounds Oaks, John Velazquez sticks on Appealing Zophie despite the return of Pletcher's Octave, the latter making her first start since her second to Dreaming of Anna in the BC Juv Fillies. Octave followed the winner that day on the rail before unsuccessfully trying to pass the winner in the stretch. So if you buy Pletcher's contention that the rail was indeed a live one that day, hmmm, you might want to downgrade her chances (though she was in the two-path coming home). Then again, it is Pletcher off a layoff.

I've really liked Appealing Zophie since I saw her scoot home with much enthusiasm in the stretch of the G1 Spinaway at Saratoga. She ran pretty huge in the BC, and was on the outside from the 12 post that day. This daughter of Successful Appeal will try and repeat her wire-to-wire score over Total in the Silverbulletday, but I'm a bit concerned about her being pressed early by Whatdreamsrmadeof (Graeme Hall), stretching out for trainer Tom Amoss, who won't be enlightening us on The Works this year. But he is by far the leading trainer at the meeting with 49 winners. This filly ran very fast early fractions at six furlongs in her last, her first with blinkers on. Breaking inside of Zophie, she could give her a run for her money here, and she's run well at routes before.

That could set things up for Total (Forest Wildcat), if she runs straight in the stretch this time; she was all over the place last time. Trainer Albert Stall told Jerry Klein of
"She's been acting more focused since her last start....People asked if I've worked on that but there's nothing to work on because she doesn't do it in the morning...That was her first race around two turns and I'm hoping she just got a little lost. Hopefully, the rider won't have to hit her so hard left-handed."
- In the Louisiana Derby, I think that Circular Quay (Thunder Gulch) is going to be way overbet on the assumption that the incident in his last race cost him victory. Taking a stand against Pletcher is always risky, but I think it's the right way to go in this case, assuming that I'm right about his odds.

I don't know that Liquidity (Tiznow) will be much better value, but I'm way impressed with the California contenders this year, and his excellent efforts in the Hollywood Futurity and Sham point him out. Doug O'Neill said: "He's been a little bit of a challenge to figure out. … I think he is more talented than he's shown. He might be the most talented in my group." [Louisville Courier-Journal]

Ketchikan is owned by B. Wayne Hughes, who would normally have his Derby hopefuls with Ron McAnally out west. But he was sick with a high temperature at Saratoga after being purchased for $500,000 at Keeneland in April, so he was kept out east with Stall. "Maybe (his sickness) was a blessing in disguise....We didn't wring him out trying to run him in the summer and fall races." [Times Picayune] He won his last two impressively, but will be seriously tested for class here. He's by Mr. Greeley, out of a half sister, by Blushing John, to the 1997 Kentucky Oaks winner Blushing K.D.

Birdbirdistheword (Pure Prize) has a blog, and a trainer in Ken McPeek who seems awfully confident, almost to the point of being cavalier. He's raced just once since October, when he put in a quite decent 4th to Great Hunter/Circular Quay/Street Sense in the Breeders Futurity; and McPeek is planning just two preps prior to the Derby.
“There’s no pressure on me to figure out where he fits or force anything,” said McPeek, who picked out 1995 Kentucky Derby runner-up Tejano Run. “We haven’t even cranked him up yet. I can simply develop him....If this horse was a car, he’d be a Maserati.” [AP]
He's shown a nice closing kick in two turf tries, and in his last, the Delta Downs Jackpot on the dirt in December. But he got an extremely fast pace to close into that day - they went 45 to the half. They had some good stakes on that card, and some nice older horses went significantly slower than that. So while I wish John the best of luck (and I hope he survived his flight without drinking too much), and would be thrilled to see a horse with his very own TBA blog win, I'll take a cautious approach for now.

Oh my, we also have Soaring By here, stretching out for Pletcher in his third career start. What the hell do we do with this one? "It's time to get on the bus and get some graded earnings," Pletcher said of the son of Deputy Minister. [Times Picayune] There's not much in his pedigree that insists he'll love to stretch out - he's a half to a couple who have won at 1200 meters (about six furlongs) in Japan. So I think I'll close my eyes, toss him, and hope for the best.

I'd been leaning towards Zanjero (Cherokee Run), who I wrote about in this post here. But while reading it myself, I recalled that Asmussen said that he's not suited for the tight turns at Fair Grounds. Why he would run him here again if that's the case, I can't say. He does pick up Garrett Gomez, who may be able to better time his closing move. But I've also noticed that his workouts are considerably slower coming into this race than before the Risen Star, so I'm hedging on him at this moment.

Bill Kaplan sends out Imawildandcrazyguy, who ran a nice second to Notional in the Risen Star; but the trainer's bubble seemed to burst last week with Drums of Thunder and Storm In May.

I gotta go with Liquidity here, on my West Coast / working out on Cushion Track theory; and use Circular Quay, Zanjero, and Birdbirdistheword underneath. I'll try and put together a Pick Four ticket a little later on.

- We mentioned how well Tom Amoss is doing at this meeting, and in the third race, he starts Da Cardinal; it's his second race off the claim, and he goes from dirt to turf. Second off the claim is an incredible category for the trainer at this meeting. He's nine for 18, with 16 in the money overall! And he's had four winners out of 13 runners going dirt to turf there, all with similar patterns to Da Cardinal (sparse turf form, good prior dirt race). I Believe In Me is unbeaten in two tries on the grass for Paul McKee. He's by Giant's Causeway, out of the Hollywood Starlet winner I Believe In You; and this is the female family of Is Your Pleasure, who I well recall winning the Jerome at Belmont in 1984 for Edward I. Kelly with jockey Don MacBeth. I must have had him that day.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm only a "casual" and somewhat new fan of horse racing who's been enjoying your blog, off and on, for the last year or so. Since I know very little about horse racing, please forgive me if the question that follows is way off base.

Last Wednesday you wrote:

"[Nobiz Like Shobiz] . . . seems to have a long way to go mentally, and he has only one more race with which to get there. Tagg, who will try adding blinkers in the morning this week, said that he shies away from the crowd; if he does that at Gulfsream, what is he going to do with 140,000 people there?"

I've heard that trainers "school" horses for tense situations, like entering the starting gate, being saddled in the paddock, etc. Is it possible (or even a worthwhile idea in the first place) to try to school Nobiz Like Shobiz in getting used to screaming fans who are watching horses race down a homestretch?

What I'm thinking of is every day or so taking him for a little while to the infield of a major racetrack like Gulfstream where he could be walked around, calmed or fed while other horses race down the homestretch. He could thus learn to get used to (to be systematically desensitized) to the loud, close-up roar of an enormous crowd of screaming people.

Since I'm new to horse racing, I realize that there may be good reasons not to do this that I don't know about (e.g., it doesn't work, management wouldn't allow it, etc.) or, alternatively, that this is already well known among horse men and done all the time, but just isn't advisable or hasn't been mentioned with regard to "Nobiz Like Shobiz."

Any information that you can provide with regard to this idea would be most appreciated.

Benjamin Hemric

alan said...

Benjamin -

Thanks for reading, I appreciate it!

Yes, trainers do school their horses by bringing them to the paddock on race day...if you're at the track, you may sometimes notice a horse with a red 'S' tag being walked around there. The problem is that these days, there's very little in the way of "enormous crowds of screaming people" that would even come close to the atmosphere at the Derby, where there were more than 150,000 people last year. So unless a trainer pipes in crowd noise like football teams do, I don't think there's any comparable situation that would prepare a horse for that.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the information -- and the quick reply!

The information about the red "S" is very interesting and should come in handy when I make my one or two yearly trips to the race track. I hope to go to Aqueduct this year for the Wood Memorial. I also hope to go to Belmont once this spring -- this Manhattanite's once annual foray into the "countryside" -- but not for the "Belmont" itself. I made that mistake the year Funny Cide ran!

But back to schooling "Nobiz Like Shobiz" in crowd noise:

The feeling I got from the Barclay Tagg comment you quoted was that "Nobiz" veers inward (lugs?) to the LEFT in races to "escape" the noise of a cheering crowd (even those crowds that are relatively small compared to the Derby) that is on his RIGHT. That's apparently why he doesn't lug in during training (when he's running before empty stands), but lugs in during races. So the problem (at least to someone like me who is, admittedly, not that knowledgeable about horse racing) seems to be with the way crowd noise affects the DIRECTION of his running -- and his resulting speed (because the jockey has to "fight" the horse to get him to run straight and this uses up some of the horse's energy).

So even though it would be, obviously, impossible to duplicate the noise of a Kentucky Derby crowd, it seems to me that even schooling him in crowd noise in general (even at levels much lower than the Kentucky Derby) would be helpful in desensitizing and acclimatizing him to the "kind" of noise (although not the volume) that even now, apparently, comes as a "surpise" to him (since now he seems to only experience it during an actual race, when there isn't an opportunity to calm him down) and which forces him, as a matter of raw "instinct," off course to his left.

But then again, since the Kentucky Derby has those enormous mobs of people in the infield, maybe the noise on the left (the infield) will equalize and neutralize the noise on the right? (Or maybe it'll just make him "zig-zag" during the race or just freak him out altogether -- which I think is your point.)

- - - - -

By the way, if you have the time, another question:

If I remember correctly, when I went to Aqueduct for last year's Wood Memorial, I couldn't figure out what route the horses take to get from their stalls (wherever they are) to that below ground- level paddock. I suppose there is an underground tunnel, and I wonder where it is (and how long it is)?

Again thanks for the information (and for your interesting blog)!

Benjamin Hemric

Anonymous said...


I hope you enjoy the Wood, I have been attending annually since the 70's. Lately there are enough fans there to make it event worthy without being too crowded, although the fact that most of the grand stand remains closed for eventual construction may make it a little cozy.

There is a dirt path around the outside rail of the club house turn which is used to bring the horses from the back stretch to the saddling area. Right before they get to the clubhouse they have a choice whethar to continue to the paddock via the racetrack, in which case they parade in front of the clubhouse, or a tunnel that goes under the clubhouse to the paddock. The tunnel is about 100 yards, the lenghth between the beginning of the clubhouse to the paddock, and is restricted to horsemen and employees.

The good news is that once the weather warms most of the trainers send their horses to the paddock via the track. I like to sit on the benches in the front of the clubhouse on hopefully a beautiful spring day and watch them walk with their handlers before being saddled.

Was within six feet of Funny Cide last year and not a soul around me realized they were looking at a past Derby winner. In no other sport can you get that access.

Enjoy, and good luck.

Mr. Ed

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ed,

Thanks for the helpful info.

For me, part of the fun in going to Belmont is getting to see the horses, jockeys, trainers, etc. -- famous or not -- up close. I especially enjoy watching them "parade" through that "tunnel" through the grandstand. (During last year's visit to Belmont, I noticed that some of the outriders who were "parked" with their horses near the crossover were even letting onlookers pet the "ponies.")

When I saw the set-up at Aqueduct, I realized that Aqueduct probably wasn't designed to have any similar kind of tunnel. But it did get me to thinking how the horses suddenly appeared all of a sudden in that paddock!

It is remarkable, as you point out, how accessible and "one-big-family-like" the sport of horse racing is. That, along with the "event-like" quality of the Wood Memorial, made last year's visit to Aqueduct a lot of fun.