I didn't mention Wicked Strong in any of my posts about the Wood because I didn't like him at all. Guess I was wrong about that. Perhaps my judgement was somewhat clouded by the fact that I liked him in the Holy Bull and picked him on this blog; and he ran just horribly, barely lifting a hoof. I'll sometimes shut my mind to a horse that burns me like that, I must admit. Not that I hold grudges or anything, but he just really sucked that day.
However, my antipathy towards the Wood winner went beyond that. I liked Samraat and Uncle Sigh, thinking they could run back at least to their top figures earned in the Withers and Gotham (and, as always here, I'm talking about the TimeformUS figures. We had those two colts rated pretty significantly higher than did Beyer, and in this particular case - and I think I've been pretty fair about this - our numbers were far closer to the mark.) So, Wicked Strong would have had to run an 18 point top to be competitive with the horses I liked, and I just didn't - and still don't - sense from his running lines that he had that kind of performance in him. Sure, I know, he had his 'sneaky-good' 4th in Constitution's allowance race. But I'm looking this time of the year for 3YO's who have shown development since two and look ready to explode, and I just didn't see that here. I mean, his Holy Bull was so awful that I was thinking more in terms that he could run back to his Remsen, which wasn't that fast to start with, and is a race that wasn't looking all that great anymore between Wicked Strong, Honor Code's defeat in his return, and the indifferent performance by Cairo Prince in the Florida Derby.
What's more, a fair number of smart guys liked him - including our buddy Figless and, more significantly as far as the betting went, Andy Serling, who picked him second (and had the exacta box) - and he was bet down from his 15-1 morning line. I perhaps would have considered him at twice the price that he went off. Value, he was not, in my opinion.
So, I'm gonna go with 'Congratulations if you had him.' You know, what you sometimes see someone write when you get the feeling that he/she is just a tad bitter and, worse yet, trying to say that you were lucky! Something I've seen Steve Crist write in the past, and all of our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family at this time.
As it turned out, Wicked Strong ran a 25 point top on the TFUS scale (17 on the Beyers) and earned a figure of 117 which is top amongst three-year olds this year. Beyer gave him a 104, compared to 107 for California Chrome, and the 111 that Social Inclusion got for his allowance win; so still a strong number if not the top one. Is he a legitimate Derby contender? I'd say definitely. Could very well be that he just didn't like it in Florida and was maturing all along despite the lackluster performances in the afternoons. His breeding is fine, especially in this year of lackluster pedigrees amongst the contenders. He's by a Derby runner-up out of a dam by a Derby winner, and he has the mile and a quarter Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner Student Council in his female pedigree. (The second dam of Student Council is the third dam of Wicked Strong.)
So yeah, if he once again gets an excellent post, an honest pace to close into (nearly a certainty), a nice uneventful inside trip around the first turn, no horses outside to hinder him when it's time to make his move, and a clear path down the lane, then sure, he could win the Derby. But, at this point, a bit less than four weeks out, I'm thinking that I'd want something north of the 9-1 that he went off.
Anyway, I wrote more about the Wood at the TimeformUS blog here. And about California Chrome and his win in the Santa Anita Derby here. I got a little pushback in the office on my contention that the latter is the likely Derby favorite. It was pointed out that the public has actually done a good job of identifying false favorites; and that they gravitate towards horses working well and/or with classic pedigrees. But I don't know that there's anything about California Chrome that would make him a false favorite (as opposed to a beatable one, which I think he will be). He's going to come into the race off four straight daylight victories with a total winning margin of 24 lengths, a resounding win over the Rebel winner (for comparative purposes), and the top Beyers in the field (unless Social Inclusion gets in). [Should clarify here that I'm assuming that nobody in the Arkansas Derby jumps up to run an explosive number...and that I'm talking about dirt figures, in case someone in the Blue Grass does.] And while we know his pedigree is modest, who exactly are the 'pedigree' horses this year? I don't see any horse with the depth of stamina that we saw in the pedigree of Revolutionary last year. So, I do think that California Chrome is the likely post-time choice unless he works his way out of it and/or draws the 1 or 20 posts.
- I didn't take any pictures of the new Longshots simulcast room/bar area when I was there on Saturday; but I'm sure you know the drill. Tons of big screen TVs, with individual work spaces with their own TV. Here's a photo from the NYRA site.
Over to the left as you walk in, there's a smaller room called the Elite Players Club (though nobody stopped me from walking in, and I surely do not qualify as such); and, to the right, the bar area. A big rectangular bar surrounded by small (two-drink minimum) tables, and another big bank of big screen TVs. Those of you familiar with the old Kelso and Man O'War rooms that used to be back there will surely recognize the footprint. It's not particularly elaborate nor luxurious, but it's a solid job, just what the place has been lacking. We could sit here and wonder what took so long, but I suppose that's between NYRA and Genting, and I would be quick to blame the latter. As nice as it is, it's also obvious that it shouldn't have taken more than a few months to build....and, in fact, it didn't, once they finally got underway.
The $5 admission price (or free for NYRA Rewards members) will keep the crowd down. There won't be a more crowded day at Aqueduct (approximately 12,000 fans on hand.....silly to announce precise numbers when you know it's inexact with people walking in and out through the casino); and while it was crowded with all the workspaces taken, there was seating available in the bar area and at the bar itself. It was a good atmosphere, with people into both the racing and the sports; a big cheer went up when Ike Davis hit his game-winning grand slam HR. Yes, people were watching the Mets.
There are some kinks to work out. There was no wifi (I was told it would be in place by Monday); no audio of race calls; and, despite the card on the bar tables picturing a variety of liquors (such as Knob Creek and Makers), the selection was limited (Jack Daniels the only bourbon, ugh). But those are minor issues. (Not much in the way of food options, and I'm not sure whether that is temporary, or not.) All in all, I'd say it delivers what was promised and what we've been anticipating. I could definitely see hanging out there with a group on a hot sultry August day, playing the races while they're up in Saratoga.
On the way out of the track, I overheard somebody saying "Why does everyone say this place is such a dump. It's nice." Aqueduct, nice? But it is, for the most part. The renovation hasn't touched the seating outdoors on the apron or on the second floor, but otherwise, it's clean, freshly painted, and bright. Charging $3 to get up to the Equestris level on Wood day made it a second option to Longshots as a haven from the crowd downstairs (and caused some audible grumbling). And the bar in the Manhattan Terrace was actually open! You could definitely sense the Chris Kay hospitality emphasis, as there was a myriad of smiling NYRA employees around the track to answer questions and direct people to where they wanted to go.
And last, but certainly not least, a big shout-out to anyone and everyone involved in preparing the track for this day. It was as honest of a racetrack that one could ever ask for, as opposed to the nonsense we've seen at other tracks on their biggest racing days.