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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Derby Fave Comes From Unexpected Source

- I thought that the Kentucky Derby favorite would emerge on Saturday, but not from the Arkansas Derby. The Blue Grass was a bizarrely run race to be sure, and everyone had their excuses, some of them legit - though none of them can detract from the performance of winner Dominican.

Having said that, Street Sense was arguably the best horse. He traveled furthest of all, according to Trakus - nine feet more than the winner, and 36 feet more than third place finisher Zanjero. But he certainly didn't dominate as I thought he would. He also ducked in during the stretch drive, perhaps trying to get closer to the more familiar rail. Whatsmore, I don't think that another grueling stretch drive is what Carl Nafzger had in mind.

On the other hand, as in the Tampa Bay race, Street Sense only really ran for about 3/8ths of a mile or so. The pace set by the unchallenged Teuflesberg was absolutely glacial early on, and the latter portion of the race was a sprint to the wire - 34.68, with the final eighth in 11.51. And he was right there despite his ducking in, and being carried wide by Great Hunter courtesy of Teuflesberg. If not for what subsequently transpired at Oaklawn, it might have been enough to make Street Sense one of the Derby favorites if not the top choice.

Curlin bounded home the final eighth in 11.91; that sub-13 second standard for the final eighth mile was shattered on Saturday. Even though that wasn't as fast as the last eighth for the Blue Grass, I think it's far more impressive. The Arkansas Derby had a legitimate pace, and for Curlin to come home in that time, running straight as an arrow on a track that was not producing fast times, and with the ease and aplomb that he did, almost makes you want to question the teletimer. On the other hand, the Blue Grass had an unnaturally slow pace that helped produce those fast final fractions. And note that the Keeneland track played similarly in other races during the day; in the following race, an allowance for older fillies in mares, they went even slower to the half, and produced a similar final eighth of 11.37.

Curlin may have only three lifetime races, none of them as a two-year old, but with his spectacular-looking form, which will include what I imagine will be an impressive Beyer for the Arkansas Derby, it seems as if he'll be the favorite for sure, doesn't it? (As of 12:20 A.M. Eastern time on Sunday, he's a solid 7-2 in futures pool 3; Street Sense is the second choice at 8-1.) Asmussen said he'd be surprised if Curlin was not the favorite. "He's beating them easy, and everybody loves that." [Daily Racing Form] Those of us who believe that the trends that Curlin is trying to break are founded in sound logic rather than the result of mere coincidence may be presented with a rare betting opportunity on the first Saturday in May.

15 Comments:

Walter said...

Somebody else mentioned to me they thought Curlin would go favored. I don't really see it, but it's obvious he'll pull a ton of money. As for his chances, i think Curlin is a virtual throwout. Don't get me wrong, i think he's an extremely talented horse. That much is obvious. And i thought he looked great today. The problem (as i see it) is that he had everything his own way today. He was in the clear while stalking an easy target through soft fractions. Not exactly the kind of experience that'll help him in the Derby. And this is a horse in dire need of racing experience. That's the other thing. Derby winners simply don't debut in February. When's the last time a horse who didn't race as a 2yo won the Derby? Maybe 75 years ago? (I'm sure we'll hear about it.) Obviously, the horse finished up like gangbusters today. But i think that's a product of the slow pace. Not real hard to finish strong when you hit the mile in 1:38. The other problem (if you wanna call it that) is that the Arkansas Derby is known for producing lightning-fast finishing times. Afleet Alex got his final furlong in 11 and change a couple of years ago. And i believe Cherokee Something finished up in similar fashion a year or two before that. It's even accepted in some circles (mine included) that the Oaklawn stretch runs slightly downhill. I don't follow the meet other than the big races, so i'm no authority on that, but surely there's something to those ultra-fast final furlongs. It happens too often to be a coincidence. So bottom-line, while i do respect Curlin, i think he's way up against it here. I don't see him hitting the board...

Nora said...

Both of yesterdays races were an example of "pace makes the race." It also makes me wonder where do the other major prep winners fit in? Where does Scat Daddy or Nobiz rate alongside Street Sense or Dominican? I can't seem to grab on to ONE horse for the Derby this year. There are too many with legitimate chances.

Anonymous said...

Well, as someone who loved DOMINICAN in that race, I think he can transfer his form to the dirt surface of CD. He has a wonderful long stride and should relish the extra furlong. That said, man did the Blue Grass look like a turf race. The way they all lined up and sprinted home. What an odd surface.

Hoping most folks dismiss DOMINICAN in 3 weeks. I think he's getting good at the right time.

alan said...

Anon - Hope you cashed a nice ticket on Dominican....and note that he's currently 24-1 in the futures pool.

Walter - Good point about final fractions in past Arkansas Derbys. But I think that Afleet Alex went on to prove that he was well capable of finishing up strong. And take a look at the charts of the other races run there yesterday....I'm not an expert on Oaklawn so I can't say for sure, but was 1:38 really such a slow pace there yesterday? I happen to agree with you re: playing against him in the Derby, but I think perhaps you're downgrading his performance too much?

Lenny said...

The stretch at Oaklawn is downhill, that is why the closing 1/8 is always sub :12. Curlin ran a monstrous race, but can he really topple two of the longest standing trends in Derby history in the same year? The last time a horse won with no juvenile races was 1882 (Apollo) and the last horse to win off only three lifetime starts was in 1915 (Regret). If he wins the Derby then he wins the Triple Crown because he surely would be a "super horse."

As for Dominican, he ran a monster race, got me out for the day and helped me make a few bucks (Win bet + the tri). He is however 0-4 on dirt tracks and has only two starts this year, not something you want to see come May 5th.

If the Derby were run today my pick would be Hard Spun. Aside from the six week layoff he meets all the criteria of the past 14 Derby winners.

Lastly, Doug O'neil has too feel like crap right now. Great Hunter ran poorly as had Liquidity and Cobalt Blue. Then last night it was reported that Notional was out due to injury. He has fallen from the top of the mountain pretty quickly. At least Pletcher's horses have been winning for the most part.

Lenny

Anonymous said...

I agree those are fair knocks on DOMINICAN, lenny. That all said I think he might be just as good on dirt. The November race at CD was highly credible. He picked up horses. The stride says he will love 10 furlongs. And he has some nice athleticism. This isn't a stone cold closer we're talking about. He can pounce at the top of the lane and keep on running. Here's hoping for 10-1+ on Derby day.

Anonymous said...

Dominican looks and strides like a mile and half turf horse, will love the distance but hate the surface at CD. May win the BC Turf though.

Curlin is a tremendous talent, would hate to be the guy that sold him the first time for 57k, but the one Derby trend that I can never see broken is the "never started at two" trend.

Gives up way too much in experience. Think he may be an Afleet Alex type, have a rough trip and get beat in the Derby (and did you notice Albarado pulling a S Elliot pushing him to the finish line?), rebound and take the Preakness and Belmont.

The Derby winner should come from one of the familiar faces. Every year we complain they can not stay sound, now when they all do we complain there is no standout.

SS, AGS, NLS, GH, CQ, SD!, the winner will come from that group, which is only 30% of the field. I will watch how they train up to the race, toss whichever one Johnny V rides (he really is in a slump!), then pick one with some value and pray to the mint julep gods.

jimhorse said...

Is there no futures betting on you bet? I would like to get down a derby bet.

alan said...

>>Is there no futures betting on you bet? I would like to get down a derby bet.

I'm not familiar with You Bet, but being that the Futures Pool is a Churchill Downs exclusive, I would doubt that you can bet it there. You'd have to bet at a track, or perhaps Xpress Bet is carrying it?

Walter said...

Lenny may be onto something. I took note yesterday before the Blue Grass that Dominican's Rushaway win came on the Lane's End undercard. And there's no question that Hard Spun's race was superior that day. So i definitely think Dominican's performance yesterday flatters Hard Spun.

As for Lenny's impression that Great Hunter ran poorly, i disagree. I thought he ran well. He certainly could've run better, but there's no question he would've been right there with the others if not for getting shut off in the late going. And you have to keep in mind, this was a prep race. He and Street Sense were not 100% cranked, that's a virtual guarantee.

Anonymous said...

HARD SPUN ran an extra sixteenth 6 flat slower, so yeah he was a touch faster than DOMINICAN, but the latter has a better running style for the derby. HARD SPUN might get used on the lead. And his price might be lower.

Beyer for Dominican came back 93 which is lower than I'd want. It will guarantee the price is >10-1 now, I think.

Walter said...

Hard Spun was stalking the pace in hand during the Lane's End. Highly impressive, if you saw it. I read that he seems to like the Churchill surface as well. Horse may be tough to beat, he definitely has the tactical speed to work out a decent trip. After Street Sense, i like him as much as anyone...

Anonymous said...

Anon,

Sounds like you are all over Dominican, but your assertion that he has the perfect running style for the Derby is just plain wrong. Deep closers rarely win the Derby, once in a blue moon the race falls apart and a horse like Giacomo gets a perfect trip, but as a rule a deep closer is in trouble in a 20 horse field on a one mile track.

Stalkers that make their move one mile into the race have the advantage, and while I do not like Hard Spun either his style is much preferable to Dominican.

I do agree the Beyer is artificially low due to the creepy crawly pace, no way could that race come up fast so the Beyer needs to be adjusted upward a touch.

If you want 10-1 on Dominican you will get it easily on Derby Day, Curlin will be 5-1 and with a wide open field there will be plenty of value if you have a strong opinion on anyone but Curlin.

Anonymous said...

Does Blogger ever work right?

Walter doesn't like Curlin's mile split of 1:38 going a mile & one eighth. Hell, Hard Spun has not run a mile in 1:38 in two one mile races on DIRT.

I'd be very surprised if Curlin doesn't finish ahead of Hard Spun on May 5.

Alan said...

>>Does Blogger ever work right?

Are you guys having problems leaving comments? Someone else complained to me about that too. Please let me know what problem you are encountering, thanks.