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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Morning Derby Notes (Before the Draw)

As you might have noticed, I'm writing about the Derby here and also in my Today in Racing column over at the TimeformUS blog.  And yes, I'm repeating stuff.  So, please forgive me if you're reading both, and some of it sounds familiar!

Tapiture was the other worker besides Hoppertunity, who we discussed in the prior post, on Monday.  It was a "typical Steve Asmussen work" we are told - a nice and easy half in 50.16 seconds.  Of course, there's little 'typical' around the trainer these days.  While there's a pretty good chance he'll be standing in the winner's circle on Friday with Untapable, I'd be quite surprised if he wins the Derby with this colt. I know many people would consider that to be a "nightmare" scenario.  However, I've seen Asmussen interviewed this week, and he seems quite relaxed and happy.  I'm sure he would do a perfectly fine job addressing any questions and putting a rational and human face before the cameras amidst the controversy swirling about him.

I watched Tuesday's Pursuit of the Crown telecast on HRTV, and they are pretty much down to mostly filler at this point.  General a Rod was the only horse who worked out.  If you missed it, he was sold on Monday.  His prior owner, one J. Armando Rodriguez, relinquished all ownership interest in the colt.  If that's not a direct message as to how he feels about his Derby chances, I don't know what is!  You gotta love that....take the money and run, while you can!  Anyway, that was supposedly the final timed workout of the week.  I've heard of scheduled three furlong "blowouts" for Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong on Thursday; but Contessa says nothing of the sort regarding the former in Tuesday's Churchill Downs Derby report (also filled with filler); just that he'll school in the paddock before the fifth race.

Uncle Sigh was equipped with the blinkers in which he will be outfitted for the first time, and The Mig reported on HRTV that he has been reshod to deal with "minor" foot issues. No, you don't want to hear about foot issues at this point.  Both Mike Welsch and the Mig said he looked "better" on Tuesday than he did on Monday, whatever that means; he was just doing a light jog both days.  This horse figures to be overlooked in the wagering, and I'm going to have at least a few bucks on him at 20-1 or something in that vicinity, hopefully higher.  I'm tossing his Wood, in which he was off a beat slow - he schooled in the starting gate on Tuesday - and was significantly wide on both turns.  Prior to that, he'd done little wrong other than failing, narrowly, to beat Samraat.  He's earned competitive TFUS speed figures; we have both he and Samraat rated higher than does Beyer, and, as I've said, I think that Samraat's Wood vindicates our numbers.  Uncle Sigh has the tactical speed to gain good position in the chaotic run to the first turn.  Barring another misstep at the start, of course.

My concern is that he could be a bit too one-paced to make the kind of finishing move needed to win this thing.  But he sure has a some interesting stamina influence on the female side of the pedigree.  By the solid middle-distance sire Indian Charlie, he's out of a dam by the 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff, whose progeny have an average winning distance of 7.36 furlongs.  Uncle Sigh is a half-brother to a couple of middle-distance stakes winners in Slew by Slew and Percussion.  And though the latter was second in the mile and a half Brooklyn Handicap, that was a horrible race from which I wouldn't necessarily draw conclusions.  More interesting if you delve back further: the dam is a half-sister to Symphony Sid, who won the 12 furlong Carlton F. Burke on the turf in front-running fashion.  Underneath the third dam, besides the champion 2yo filly Storm Song, is Better Life, a "champion stayer" in Japan who won up to about 1 3/8 miles; Balladry, stakes placed in marathon turf stakes up to a mile and a half; and Midsummer Fair, another Japanese distance winner, at a mile and a quarter.  Peak back even further, and you'll find Flit-to, a multiple-graded stakes winner on the grass from the 70s who won up to ten furlongs. And his 5th dam, Fleet Victress, was a fabulous turf filly who was a huge favorite of mine back in the 70s.  (Perhaps we'll see Uncle Sigh run on the turf some day.)  So yeah, I'm feeling this colt as a longshot play.

Mike Welsch was not happy with the demeanor of Wicked Strong on Tuesday.  Gave him a pass the prior day for being distracted on his first visit to the track.  But he said that, on Tuesday,  the colt continued to lack focus and was looking around, particularly at the new giant screen towering over the backstretch.  Now, perhaps this qualifies as "too much information."  But, as we know, the horse has not run well outside of his familiar surroundings in New York.  As I've been saying, he's getting a lot of attention from his Wood win, in which he had a lot of things go his way.  Consensus is he'll be second choice off of that race.  I think he'd be horribly overbet if so.  And in any event, I don't think he will hit the board.

Another horse getting talked up on Pursuit of the Crown was Dance With Fate.  He's getting raves for his workout at Santa Anita - a sharp half mile in 47 seconds - which you can watch here.  I've already gotten some blowback for dismissing him as a synthetic specialist.  (Just to clarify, when I wrote "what a joke," I was referring to his standing at #3 in the points based on a win on synthetic, and not to those of you who like him.  I disagree with those of you respectfully.)  Perhaps I underrated his dirt race last year in which he was second at Santa Anita, ahead of Tamarando (who I don't seem to notice in the Derby field), earning a modest TFUS speed figure of 91.  However, I cannot get past the remarks of his trainer, Peter Eurton, who, in the immediate aftermath of his G1 win in the Blue Grass, when he should have been basking in the fact that his horse qualified for the Kentucky Derby, said: “He doesn’t have the power to get through dirt. It will break away from him. I’ve seen him train over synthetics, and he gets over it so much easier.”  We all would pay good money to hear that kind of insider stuff from trainers, and here he said it right out in public.  Besides, that workout would not even have been on dirt had it not rained - it was scheduled for the turf.  It's one thing to work out on dirt - Eurton said he's always worked well on the stuff - and another thing to "power through" it in a race.  I'm throwing this horse out completely, and if he beats me, then very well.


Figless said...

Realize we all need something on which to hang our hat when tossing 16 or so horses in a 20 horse field, but remember that CD dirt surface plays much differently than SA, where DWF trains and has run, and GP, where Wicked Strong underperformed.

Also remember to toss WS really bad GP performance when he was lacerated.

I think you are trying too hard to toss Wicked for value, he beat or has run very close to horses you favor and should love the distance.

I believe he is legit, with my lone concern being his running style in a big field.

As for value, Chrome is the horse to try and beat.

Figless said...

And by the way thanks much for summarizing the various media reports here.

Steve in NC said...

Going 4 wide on both turns gave Uncle Sigh a top on Sheets and a nice forward moving pattern. I think he's my play.