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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Last Chance Lexington

- Todd Pletcher will not be the decider as to whether Keyed Entry and Bluegrass Cat will run in the Derby until the Monday before the race, thus keeping other trainers who are hoping to sneak into the top 20 waiting until then. Thus, though he will not run Sunriver (#24) in Saturday’s Lexington, he may have a chance to control that colt’s fate himself if a couple others drop out. I’m starting to like Sunriver’s chances to hit the board more and more even as he doesn't run, and despite what will be a five week layoff.

A lot of people trying to get in will be rooting for Like Now (#20) in the Lexington, as he’s the only entrant who is already is assured a spot. With first prize money of over $200,000, anyone could leapfrog into the big race. David Hofmans would like to run Sacred Light in the Derby, but won’t run his closer in the Lexington for obvious reasons.

"Because of the horse's running style, even though he needs the money, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do, especially after watching First Samurai and Bluegrass Cat and Balance there." [Daily Racing Form]
As for Like Now, don’t expect the already sizzling pace scenario to dissuade his connections to run him in the Derby if he does well on Saturday. Kiaran McLaughlin said "If he were to win the race like Sinister Minister [won the Blue Grass], the heck with being smart and thinking it's too much pace." [DRF] "The heck with being smart" is a big theme when it comes to Derby Fever. As far as McLaughlin himself goes, the more speed the merrier for his dead closer Jazil, a likely beneficiary if the race really falls apart.

Dick Jerardi in the Form may be making the same mistake I did last year by thinking that the pace won't be as hot as people expect because many of the contenders being projected as speed are actually pressers. Fool me once, shame on……we won’t get fooled again. Jerardi writes: And if the jockeys hear enough times how much early speed is in this race, you can be sure they won't ride too aggressively. It is human nature. [DRF, sub. only] I would respectfully disagree with that; to me, human nature dictates that in the biggest race in the world, the jockeys aren’t going to let anyone get away; and besides, like last year, when the jockeys also heard how much early speed there was, the stalkers could be too close to a too hot pace. (I’ll try not to say that again for a couple of weeks.)

One thing we know for sure is that Sinister Minister will not be rated, as Baffert reiterated:
”He just runs off. He's just a run-off. His mouth was wide open down the backstretch (in the Blue Grass) and he went in :22, :45 and 4/5. That's not control. That's called a runaway train.” [Bloodhorse]
One horse who could definitely be within shouting distance of Sin Min is Sharp Humor. Churchill clockers got him today in 1:38 for a mile, but Dale Romans recorded him in 1:40.20.

Unbeaten Showing Up may be the favorite in the Lexington in just his third start, and Barclay Tagg is sounding a bit like John Ward before the Blue Grass: "He acts like he doesn't need much experience….He's a young horse, but he's very mature, very composed.” [Houston Chronicle] But like Strong Contender, he’ll be trying two turns and stakes company for the first time in just his third start; and though he’s not facing the same quality as Ward’s horse did in the Blue Grass, he still could be worth a bet against if he’s bet too low. Like Ward, Tagg is a guy who has a reputation for being cautious, but the heck with being smart. It's the Kentucky Derby.


Anonymous said...

It seems that both conventional wisdom and individual analysis point to a Derby pace scenario that is hot early. I have decided that despite what Steve Klein or Andy Beyer, or Brad Free say, there will be a hot pace this year and we will have a fast-early, slow late Derby. A deep closer will win, even though I used to love Sweetnorthernsaint.

I don't have the data or memory space handy, but how did the Monarchos Derby and Giacomo Derby look, at this point in the season? There may be something to learn there. Obviously, both of those runnings involved heated early fractions, including (in the Monarchos race) at least one horse who had no business being so close to a 44.4 half (Point Given).

If it can be determined that a closer has the advantage, then what? Who are the proven deep closers this year? (meaning they have closed from far off at least once in a two turn race against graded company) [stops to view the Downey profile G-money list, viewing qualitatively] I think they are Steppenwolfer, Jazil, Cause to Believe, and Storm Treasure (and Sunriver). Is that it? Wow. There are a ton of entrants that lay close to the pace. Hold onto your hat.

Also, if Greeley's Legacy earns enough this weekend, he could be the one to pounce, in the 9th and 10th furlongs, on a dying field of hell bent pressers.

For now my plan is to put the Silky Sullivans on top.

Anonymous said...

Here's something I wrote earlier today that reflects where I'm at right now with respect to some of the Derby issues you've raised, including pace:

Emboldened by last year's surprising succe$$ of Giacomo, many handicappers seem to be looking past the logical favorites with the expectation of making a similar score this year. I'm going to suggest here that such reliance may be misplaced, and that there are only three horses who have demonstrated that they are fast enough to win this Derby: Brother Derek, Sweetnorthernsaint, and Sinister Minister. (I might be willing to add Like Now to this list, depending upon what happens this weekend.)

I still view Giacomo's win as somewhat fluky, as a product of the circumstances of last year's race. Afleet Alex was the logical choice, and I still maintain that were it not for his coming out of his game -- ie. going too fast too early -- he would have had enough in the tank to win the race. But because Alex and others were compromised by the "stampede effect" of the race, a steady-but-not-spectacular horse like Giacomo was able to prevail.

The preliminary question, then, to ask before this year's race is whether any of the superior horses that I listed above can be expected to "come out of their game", or somehow have the conditions of the Derby compromise their chances. I think that many people are skipping past this question, and focusing on finding the best alternative horse. I think that approach is a mistake, and I'm making my choice from the top three (or four).

Of the three, I'm prepared to take a stand against Sinister Minister. I don't do this lightly, though, because his last race was impressive. However, I just can't envision him avoiding the type of pace pressure that will undo him, and so he'll be a toss.

Brother Derek, in my opinion, is the most consistent top-level horse in the field, and it will be no surprise if he wins. The one thing that concerns me somewhat is that his last race, in particular, seemed a bit too easy; I'd have preferred if he had banged heads in some larger fields as preps. I have visions of Empire Maker underachieving in his Derby, though Brother Derek may be good enough to move past that here.

Sweetnorthernsaint intrigues me, because he's fast and doesn't seem likely to come out of his game. Look at his remarkably consistent E1 and E2 Bris pace numbers for his last 3 races:

This horse appears quite capable of staying within himself, running his race, and prevailing in this Derby.

So while others look past horses like Brother Derek and SNS, I'll stick with those two and try to choose between them depending on the events of the next couple of weeks. There will be enough money spread around on this field to yield decent prices for these two superior horses, even if they are the top choices in the wagering.

Anonymous said...

Baffert could be sitting pretty, by announcing he has the runaway in the race with Sinister Minister, he may scare off anyone from trying him early, on the other hand, if they do try him early, he has a rabbit to set it up for his two come from behind runners. Point Determined and Bob and John, who by the way won the Wood looking green as grass, on the wrong lead, taking himself up when he hit the front inside the last 16th. Point Determined didnt get to running well and really stretching out till inside the 16th pole in the SA Derby. Sweetnorthernsaint may give the impression that he is a front end horse, I think he will rate, relax and run a huge race in the Derby. Wouldnt be the first time I ate my words. HAH! Nick

Anonymous said... know what really bothers me about the Derby?...the fact that every year, they get a full 20-horse field with even MORE horses outside the bubble, hoping to get in...i mean, if you've got a Brother Derek or Lawyer Ron or even a Point Determined, i can see why you'd want to run in the Derby...but why are the connections of the Jazils and Deputy Glitters and Private Vows so interested in running?...and more importantly, how is it that a race containing names like those is deemed so freaking important??? me, we'd all be a lot better off if they'd limit the Derby to 12 starters, and scrap the graded-earnings deal altogether...i mean, a lot of the horses who qualify under the graded earnings rule are simpply horses who were precocious as 2yo's, and bulit up a bankroll winning some some one-turn stakes last year...just do away with the graded earnings thing, and have the field selected by a committee, based on merit...that would allow horses like Rock Hard Ten to get in, horses who obviously deserve to run, but are excluded because they were either late-bloomers, or simply got a later start than some of the others...

Alan Mann said...

The graded earnings systems sucks, but short of making it an invitational, I don't know what the alternative would be. There should be a way at least to disqualify horses that lose by 50 lengths, like With A City, who is #9 on that earnings list. An invitational would certainly create a lot of controversy if nothing else.