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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Wood Produces Vulnerable Fave

The weather wasn't nearly as hot, nor as sunny as it was supposed to be; a sea breeze phenomenon we're told by the weather folks, and the fog that obscured the view of the 11th race was evidence of that. But the (announced) crowd of 8,553, as paltry as that figure may seem to outsiders, certainly exceeded my expectations given the complete lack of marketing and media coverage, and the relentless skewering directed at NYRA by the press and politicians; particularly, and unfairly, amplified over the past year as it has been.

For Eskendereya, I couldn't help but be reminded of Bellamy Road's similarly facile Wood Memorial win; though minus the theatrics by the jockey (Johnny V was too busy looking behind him to be clowning around); and some 11 points lower on the Beyer scale (Eskendereya earned a fig of 109). And I believe the comparison is an instructive one, and one I will keep in mind when I am all...and I mean against him come Derby Day four weeks hence.

Joe Drape, reporting for the Times from Santa Anita (odd isn't it that the New York Times' top racing writer would be in on the left coast reporting on a race of dubious value as a prep for a race run on a different surface rather than at a local prep which has proven to be historically significant...perhaps he's busy working on some kind of toxic story to be published on Derby Day) wrote: Better yet, Eskendereya was hardly taxed.

However, considering that the Kentucky Derby is by far the most taxing race this colt will participate in to that point, I don't consider races like the certain post-time favorite's Wood to be an ideal prep. It's kind of a conundrum; kinda like I'm penalizing the horse for being too good. However, this son of Giant's Causeway gained nothing in the way of dealing with the kind of adversity he's likely to encounter at Churchill. Again. Because, as in the Fountain of Youth, he was able to stalk an easy pace - in this case, 24 1/5 and then a breather! - a second quarter in 25 flat (all after a clean break and uneventful aftermath), behind a hopelessly outclassed NY-bred and Zito's bridesmaid Jackson Bend. So, and again as in the FOY, while there's no denying the impressiveness of his bold move to the lead; nor of his closing splits of 24.11 and 12.24 while under restraint, it's easy to comprehend why he had that much left.

No doubt that this Derby favorite has earned the distinction on merit, and that he has displayed the most talent in the crop by a comfortable margin. If Johnny V can work out the kind of trip behind slow fractions, then all power to him and his horse, and he'll probably win for fun. But we all know that that's a scenario which is highly unlikely. Far better chance he takes a bump or two after the start and, unless he picks up his pace early, is around midpack going into the first turn. Then, he'll be asked to do several things that he's never done before. And that makes him a terrible bet as a decisive favorite in the race.

On the other hand (and coast), the reviews for Garrett Gomez' ride aboard Lookin at Lucky are about as good as those for the new MGMT album.

“His ride was horrendous,” Baffert said of Gomez. “He took him back, and he was fighting him.” [NYT]
The trainer didn't want to hear any excuses about how his horse cut shut off and shuffled out of the race when Victor Espinoza, riding 24-1 Who's Up, dropped in on him approaching the second turn.
“He’s using that as an excuse....It doesn’t matter. Whatever. Victor did what he did, but I mean, ‘cause I took him off of Misremembered. He gets like that. He pouts.

“But he (Gomez) shouldn’t have been in that spot. ... When I saw him on the rail, I said, ‘What is he doing?” He must not have seen Jerry Bailey’s (educational) tape. We’re going to buy him some DVD’s.” [SignOnSanDiego]
Our game would be a more popular one if there were more trainers as animated as Baffert, wouldn't it? Maybe Gomez was doing him a favor though. Hard to imagine that Lookin at Lucky could find much more trouble even in the big race. He recovered extremely well in rallying for third, and might just be better for the experience at a price which should be more generous than if he had run off like Pletcher's horse. Front-running winner Sidney's Candy earned a Beyer of 100 (for whatever that's worth); nice job by Joe Talamo slowing the half to 48 2/5 (3/5th slower than the maiden race which was the only other two-turn main track race on the day); but again, he ain't likely to replicate that at Churchill. Setsuko flew home against the pace grain in 11.75 seconds to get the place; money prospects for Derby day.

- I was off on Good Friday, and spent the day at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art for you non-New Yorkers). Yes, the Tim Burton exhibit was way cool; better, in fact, than I expected, a legitimate exhibit of intricate and creepy drawings and not just a show of set pieces from his films. But it was the wacky Marina Abramovic show which will certainly be the more memorable, whether or not it truly qualifies as art.

Let me be right up front here. 1) Yes, I chose, of my own free will and volition, to enter via the passageway that is blocked by two butt naked people facing each other not much more than a foot apart. 2) Yes, I was quite pleased that both of the "performers" when I was there were women. And 3) Yes, I turned to face the more buxom of the two as I squeezed between. Yeah, so? What of it?

I fully intend to return on a less crowded day - not to slide between naked women again....OK, maybe....but also and especially to participate in the ongoing performance in which museum goers can sit across a table from Ms. Abramovic and engage in a staring contest for a period of time of their choosing. She will be there every day, all day, each day the museum is open through the close of her exhibit on May 31; some 700 hours of staring in all. Bet you can't even look at the Derby pp's for that long. The odds are 6-5 I can last a half hour, wanna bet?


Anonymous said...

One person who won't be complaining about the easy win is Pletcher. The FOY was a huge effort, despite the easy appearance, and another would have set the horse up for the infamous bounce.

Looked more like a fancy workout. He did get caught between horses a bit in the first turn, and was moved outside.

One thing the Beyer won't tell you is that Esky was 6 pounds heavier than the G3 Excelsior winner, and didn't have the rail on either turn.

Agree about Setsuko. The horse will be in my super.

A.J. Kreider

El Angelo said...

By all means bet against Eskendereya. But on who? Besides LAL, there's nobody else who's remotely impressive, unless you're going to make a hackneyed case for Dublin.

Happy Easter.

ClopClop said...

So, I'll make a not-so-hackneyed case for Dublin - and also for Sidney's Candy if Joe Talamo is allowed to introduce him to dirt. Sidney's daddy was awe-inspiring.
Very much enjoyed your non-horsey museum comments too, Alan! Good writing.

Chalk Eating Weasel said...

I don't think you can fault Eskendereya for his less than stellar Beyer considering he didn't need to go all out to win the Wood.

Lookin at Lucky showed me all I needed to see in the Rebel. I wrote before the race that LAL was not likely to win the SA Derby. I did not think he was well intended from comments Baffert had made in an interview before the race.

Having watched replays of the race, I did not feel LAL had such a difficult trip. Just didn't get the feeling Gomez was trying all that hard.

Did not think Sidney's Candy would win because I thought there would be more early pressure on him. That pressure never really materialized. If anyone got the dream trip, it was SC. Talamo did a real good job of controlling the pace once on the lead.


Anonymous said...

I don't really get the comparison to Bellamy Road. Bellamy Road popped a total freak effort in the Wood Mem on the lead and was thrust into a Derby loaded with speed. Esky is a stalker. Of course he can get beat in the Derby, but he seems very solid. We're looking at the biggest favorite since Point Given, maybe since Arazi. Besides being a very grand horse, Esky has good stalking speed. If you want to knock him, point to those soft half miles he was able to stalk in his last two races. Most likely, to win the Derby he'll have to come from mid pack, or risk being too close to a hot pace. Either way, he's a hard horse to go against. Lookin At Lucky will be the horse to throw out. He could have taken that hole yesterday but he didn't want to.

Anonymous said...

Alan raises some good points about Eskendereya being a vulnerable favorite and certainly better horses than him have gone Down to defeat in the Derby. But at this point I think Eskenderaya has to be looked at as very legit with a HUGE shot to not only win the Derby, but win it rather easy. One of the benefits of not having a taxing race 4 weeks before the Derby is that this horse might be ready to deliver a peak performance on Derby Day. Distance does not appear to be any problem whatsoever. I have no problem that he has stalked relatively slow paces and then blown away the field in the stretch..Depending on the Derby pace Eskenderaya will just be further back. Yes he will have to pass more horses, and deal with Traffic but so will the other stalkers/closers.

And maybe most important, where are the other FAST horses for this Kentucky Derby that Eskenderaya will have to beat. I believe that most Derby winners don't usually "jump up" so to speak and run a significantly higher Beyer figure than they have been running. Yes sometimes a 100 Beyer can win it like a Giacomo or Mine that Bird but if that is the case this year than Eskenderaya will either have to regress ( which seems unlikely) or be the victim of traffic or a bad ride ( which is certainly possible since John Velazquez has never seen a wide trip that he didn't like)

I just don't see Eskenderaya as a " bet against with both fists" type of favorite. To me, the likely second choice, Lookin At Lucky has a much better chance at not hitting the board. Yes he shows up and runs his race every time, but Lookin at Lucky has never run extremely fast ( no beyer over 100 ?). and I don't see any evidence that he is peaking, and he has found trouble in his last 2 races ...


Steve Zorn said...

So, apart from enjoying the entranceway, what did you think about the Abramovic exhibit? My first reaction was that she's a seriously disturbed person, and my second was that art is something that's made, not acted. Guess that makes me an anarcho-syndicalist reactionary.

El Angelo said...

The parallel isn't Bellamy Road, it's Fusaichi Pegasus, who won both his stakes races as a 3yo with ease before winning the Derby. He had similar tactical speed and a pace to run at, which Eskendereya will get.

There's still 26 days to go, but now, the value play in the Derby isn't going against Eskendereya, it's going against Lookin at Lucky and Sidney's Candy, who will be the 2nd and 3rd choices.

Anonymous said...

Thursday you made a pretty good case for Schoolyard Dreams. Foundation, bullet work(he always has bullets) and a new jockey with improved tatics. That horse and his backers were in agony Saturday when it came time to launch that move. Nothing. I would think that a sound beating like that would at least give Eskendreya some props.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty good at staring contests, so if I hire a few "actors" to stand nude at the front door of my home and dress like a vampire I can consider myself an artist!!

And New Yorkers will pay to see it!

Of course, if I wanted to be a true artist I could hold the exhibit in Brooklyn and smeared feces on a picture of Jesus Christ, or convinced a bunch of folks to undress in a public place and snapped a few photos.

Pretty ironic that the same elite NY'ers that mostly look down their noses on the rest of the country for watching reality TV just love this stuff, which is nothing but the same crap, untalented narcissistic people displaying their lack of talent for all to see and managing to get a pay day in the process.

El Angelo said...

Pray tell, what elite New Yorkers thumb their noses at the rest of the country for watching reality TV? Because I am an educated NYer, know a lot of people in the same boat, and all of us either watch or just don't care about reality TV. Not a good example.

IanLozada said...

I don't get the need to downgrade Eskendereya's Wood. Look, the horse rated kindly, took dirt in the face on the first turn, responded to a challenge from Awesome Act on the second turn, cruised up to the lead on his own, and when 3 lengths ahead, JV shook the reins once, ever so slightly, and the horse was gone and didn't pull up until the backstretch. In short, he did everything you'd want him to do in the final Derby prep, all while leaving something in the tank.

He is clearly not Bellamy Road, a horse who needed the lead to feel comfortable. That was a clear vulnerable favorite. The better comparison is Barbaro, a horse with the tactical speed to stay out of trouble and the power to draw away at the top of the Churchill straightaway.

Sidney's Candy is much more vulnerable-- he's not going to get :24, :48 and 1, 1:12 type splits in the Derby, but I think he can be in the money if he rates. Remember-- Rule, Conveyance and A Little Warm will all want the front end as well.

Lookin at Lucky? I'd like him better if he wasn't always Lookin for Trouble. More importantly, I was concerned by the fact he looked stiff and sore in the SA Derby post parade. Didn't move smoothly, back legs weren't reaching close to the spot the front hooves were leaving.

As for Setsuko, I just don't see how he gets in the gate on May first. The money isn't there.

alan said...

I'm not faulting, downgrading, degrading, or otherwise criticizing Eskendereya's win. (Well, OK, maybe downgrading a bit.) Just saying that when the gates open on May 1 and 20 horses break, stumble, lurch, or veer from the starting gate, a perfect trip win against five others, two of whom didn't belong in the race at all, goes out the window, and racing luck takes over to a significant extent. And, in my humble opinion, 2-1 or less on this horse is a bad bet. Having said that, El Angelo makes a fair point regarding the quality of the competition here too. I mean, if we've all ridiculed many of these preps as being allowance races, then what does that make the Derby itself? A high-class allowance race?

That said, I'll be looking for a horse with an improving pattern and a stellar pedigree, and keeping a close eye on Mike Welsch's workout reports and The Works in search of a horse eligible to improve and surprise with a clean trip. If I don't find one, then maybe I'll - gasp - actually pass the race!

Steve - "Disturbed" is a description I won't argue with....though I thought that most of it was harmless and silly fun. (Yeah, the self-mutilation I could do without.) Profundity was in short supply. Is it really art? Don't know. Does it matter?

Anonymous said...

Add Duchamp to the list of people Steve Zorn disagrees with.

Personally, as usual, I see it the other way. Once again, Alan, your blog is an artistic success.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure SC beats Esky.


El Angelo said...

The 2 horses that he's most comparable to based on how he's coming into the race, Fusaichi Pegasus and Empire Maker, both went off at 5-2. I expect he'll be at similar odds. To say he's a bad bet at that price means you think he has less than a 28% chance of winning the race. Reasonable minds can differ, and I agree that anything can happen once the gates open in a field of 20, but 5-2 would be very, very fair odds in my book.

Anonymous said...

Fusaichi Pegasus went off at 2-1 ($6.60). Empire Maker was only 5-2 becuase there were physical questions (I forget exactly what).

It's early, but I predict Esky will be the biggest Derby favorite since at least Point Given (who was 9-5), and there's a chance he goes lower than that.

Alan, you aren't passing the derby. -JP from SD.

alan said...

>>but 5-2 would be very, very fair odds in my book.

Don't disagree (though I agree with JP that he'll be lower). But the Derby, with all of its uncertainty - remember, we can all assume that Esky can get a mile and a quarter but no one knows that for sure - and random chances for bad racing luck, is not a race to settle for merely fair odds in my opinion.

El Angelo said...

We can split hairs, but $6.60 is closer to 5-2 than 2-1. I forgot about Empire Maker's foot issues--good point.

Alan, there's a difference between questioning whether the horse will be a fair price and whether you're "all in against him" as you posted. I agree he can lose, and may well lose. The two possibilities are that someone jumps up and beats him (a la Funny Cide over Empire Maker or Monarchos over Point Given) or he throws in a total clunker and chaos determines the winner (a la the 2005 Derby). The former is appealing but it's next to impossible to figure out who that horse is going to be. The latter is quite possible, but at that point, why not just bet numbers?

DiscreetPicks said...

I'm curious as to why people think Eskendereya has been any more impressive than Sidney's Candy.

Might it have to do with the fact he runs on the East Coast and is trained by Pletcher?

As for the Beyer differential, when are people gping to realize that West Coast synthetic horses ALWAYS get smaller Beyers? I heard the same argument about "never running fast" before Zenyatta was much the best in the Breeders Cup. This has been going on for a long time now, and it's a complete non-issue as far as i'm concerned. Anyone who thinks Lookin at Lucky and/or Sidney's Candy are "too slow" to win the Derby are simply deluding themselves.

Anonymous said...

DP, the major NEGATIVE I have with Esk is Pletcher.

You are correct about the Beyers not meaning a thing, but the real reason folks are more impressed with Esk is he is running on dirt.

Its not an East Coast bias, its a dirt bias.

To me, visually he just looks like a super star.

El Angelo said...

DP, I don't like Sidney's Candy because he's a committed front-runner. There's always a lot of pace in the Derby and with Rule and others, this year will be no exception. I can't see him waltzing around the track in soft fractions and holding on.

Anonymous said...

He's not a "committed frontrunner," simply a fast horse. He has rated very nicely before.

Looks good to me. Solid field there too.


El Angelo said...

He sat a length of a pace of 21 3/5 on a synthetic. I think this helps my point.

DirtyShirt said...

I'm just not sold.

You don't think Sidney's Candy would have beat that Wood field by at least 9 if allowed 6f in 1:13 and change? He beat a much better field by 5 after 1:12 and change and drew off nicely.

I'm just trying to get you a price on a good horse...

Anonymous said...

And "committed frontrunner" and "sat a length of a pace (sic)" are two completely seperate things.

Anonymous said...

Not if the pace is 21 and 3! You aren't "sitting" off a 21 and 3. You're running your eyeballs out and outlasting the front running horse.

And I think Sidney's Candy is interesting. His breeding indicates dirt might not be a problem. On paper, the Derby looks loaded with speed, but a lot can change between now and 5/1/10.

Anonymous said...

You're mistaken. He wasn't "running his eyeballs out and outlasting the front running horse." In the race call Trevor even notes his impressive turn of foot at the top of the lane. He's showed the same thing twice now in stakes races at two turns, and he looks really nice doing it.

DiscreetPicks said...

I agree 100% that you don't want the pacesetter in the Derby. On rare occasion they'll win, but far more often they get toasted and finish well-beaten. I disagree however that Sidney's Candy is a "committed frontrunner". Has he gone wire-to-wire in each of his two-turn prep races? Sure. But in his entire career, he has sat behind the leader more often than he's been on the lead himself. And even during his recent frontrunning win, it's been obvious that he relaxes well. Btw, if you have access to the NBC broadcast, right before the race started they went to Donna Brothers on horseback, who said that she just spoke briefly with Talamo, who told her that it doesn't matter if Sidney's Candy is on the lead or not. He said that in a perfect world, he's be on the lead, but that it didn't matter either way. So there you have it, straight from the jockey's mouth. Do jockeys lie sometimes? LOL, sure they do, but i think you can tell from mthe horse's PP's that he appears to be telling the truth here. Sure, Sidney's Candy enjoyed very soft leads in both the San Felipe and SA Derby. But the way that those races unfolded, Talamo would've been foolish not to take the horse to the lead. That's pretty much exactly what he said in the Brothers interview, if they gimme a soft lead i'll gladly take it. It doesn't mean the horse is committed to the lead, it's just the way things have worked out recently. Sure, he's fast, but that's generally considered a good thing. And ponder this for a bit. If the pace in the Derby is fast, who has more experience handling that type of thing? Eskendereya or Sidney's Candy? Maybe i'm flat-out wrong, but i think it's highly unlikely that Sidney's Candy goes to the lead in the Derby. Will he take the lead if no one else wants it? You bet your ass he will. But i think it's more likely he stalks.

Hey, you guys wanna hear something funny? After watching Sidney's Candy's debut @ Del Mar last year, i was incredibly impressed by the Sadler colt. I thought he was the best 2yo i had seen all year. I wouldn't have been surprised at all if he turned out to be one of the Derby favorites. What's funny about that? The Sadler colt i'm talking about is not Sidney's Candy. It was his barnmate Samardo, who finished right behind him in third. Unfortunately, Samardo was injured a few weeks later and never ran again. Funny how these things work out.

El Angelo said...

I stand corrected, he's not a committed front runner. He's a horse that's only won races when either on the lead or a length off the lead, and in those races he was a length off the lead, he ran opening quarters in under 22 seconds. So yes, he doesn't *have* to be on the lead. But you want to take 9-2 (his probable odds) on a horse trying dirt for the first time and who either needs the lead or will be a mere couple of lengths off a hot pace?

Anonymous said...

Sidneys Candy will be in my super, for sure. Being on the front at least keeps you out of trouble. Don't really care what Esky goes off at, as real Derby money is made on the exotics, not win bets.

Get a couple of 20-1s in there and he can win at even money as far as I'm concerned.

AJ Kreider

DiscreetPicks said...

It seems to me Eskendereya has been racing close to the lead also.

Will i be betting Sidney's Candy? I don't know, maybe. I do like a few others horses as well, some of whom i've mentioned here in the past. I'll tell you this however, i'd be far more willing to back Sidney's Candy @ 9/2 than i would be to back Eskendereya @ 5/2. Personally i don't think that any horse hads better than a 4/1 chance of winning the race in any year. There's just too much peripheral bullshit attached to the race, most importantly the 20-horse field, the fact that NONE of the horses have ever attempted 1 1/4 miles before, and the fact that the overwhelming crowd noise can spook some of the horses. The Derby is an educated guess, like any other race, but it can turn into a crapshoot very easily.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the few who is not sold on Eskendereya either. His FOY win was also off of slow fractions, though he picked up the pace considerably after 6f. Plus, the only time he has been in a crowded field and had to handle bumping, in the Breeder's Cup last November, he ran terribly and never recovered from being bumped around at the start.

I don't know who is going to win the Derby, but I am pretty confident saying it won't be Eskendereya, in fact I doubt he'll even show--there are too many horses in the race with his running style who have shown they can handle early pace, which he has not.

I think that the winner will wire this year--or it will be a pure closer with the pace-setter hanging on to place, but it seems unlikely we'd have two pure closers in a row.

There is only one front runner in the field so far that has shown he can handle fast opening fractions and still wire, going two turns, consistently, and he is a horse nobody is talking about (Rule). I think his opening fractions are going to destroy most of the field, including Eskendereya, who are used to a plodding opening 6 furlongs. In fact, I look for the Derby to be a two horse race going into the stretch between Rule and Sidney's Candy, and I'm betting that the fact that Rule has always raced on dirt, gives him the stamina to finish ahead of Sidney's Candy.

Anonymous said...

El Angelo,
I just watched a replay of Bold Forbes* waltzing around the track on the lead in the 1976 Derby. And going in everyone thought Bold Forbes was a sprinter. I'd rather turn from home in front with SC than be wide or blocked with Esk.

(*Or as Angel Cordero called him, Bold For-Baze.)
Mike D.

Anonymous said...

Next, I just watched a You Tube clip of Spend a Buck wiring 'em in 1985, winning by 4-5 lengths.
(War Emblem deserves a look, too.) Mike D.