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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blinkers + Cotton = Ticket To Derby

- With blinkers on, Nobiz Like Shobiz ran straight down the Aqueduct stretch, cotton balls in his ears to drown out the noise from the few thousand (maybe) out of the 7,848 reported to be in attendance who were gathered outside to watch. Barclay Tagg may have to fit him with an IPOD to try and drown out the noise four weeks hence in Kentucky, but at least he's made it there with a solid, if unspectacular performance. He turned back the challenge of Any Given Saturday, and then Shug McGaughey's Sightseeing, the object of the Head Chef's affection and attention before the race (I may never hear the end of that one).

Todd Pletcher professed to being letdown after the race - “I was disappointed in the last sixteenth of a mile.” [NY Times] But I think that the race should serve him extremely well...if, that is, he's as good as I think he is. It was just three weeks after the Tampa Bay Derby, a blink of the eye in Pletcher-time, and John Velazquez somehow managed to have the horse four wide in a six horse field around the first turn. He continued wide around the second turn, engaged the winner coming into the stretch, but I don't think even the late, great Chic Anderson would have thought that he ever had a head in front. Any Given Saturday tired late, but he should benefit from the conditioning and be a much better horse after getting the rest that Pletcher prefers.

It reminded me somewhat of Genuine Risk's third place finish in the 1980 Wood, which at first prompted her trainer Leroy Jolley to declare that she wouldn't run again against the boys. "I found out what I wanted to learn," Jolley said the next day. "There's no sense in shipping her 1,000 miles to find it out again, as long as I couldn't beat him [Plugged Nickel] yesterday." (The Wood drew over 44,000 that year, thanks in part to a mailing of free admission coupons and daily double bets. NYRA didn't spend one red cent on promoting the race this year, perhaps because they had to spend $100,000 on Spitzer's integrity review.)

But she ran and she won, and I'm certainly not counting Any Given Saturday out of the Derby picture based on this race. True, the race was not particularly fast at 1:49.46, and the final eighth was a mediocre, at best, 13.44. (By comparison, Magna Graduate took the Excelsior in 1:48.10, final eighth of 12.80.) But the ground loss seemed pretty significant and Velazquez said “I had to go sooner than I wanted to at the half-mile pole to get up with him.” Add in the fact that I just don't think he was fully cranked for the effort, and I'll hold my spot on the bandwagon while others bail out.

Cornelio Velasquez had a real handful trying to keep Nobiz Like Shobiz from dashing off down the backstretch. Breaking from the rail, the rider found himself in an awkward spot, trying to maintain a stalking position behind two front-runners that weren't going very fast - 47.26 to the half. "He was really pulling me the whole time." [NY Post] Tagg said:

“(He) throttled him back a little bit....I’m glad that he did. I didn’t want him to get into a duel. I thought Cornelio handled everything really well and the horse handled everything well.” [Bloodhorse]
The trainer is hoping for a better scenario in the Derby: "I'd like him to sit fourth or fifth." [Washington Post] That would be nice, but it's usually wishful thinking to hope for any particular scenario to play out to one's liking on Derby Day. It's going to be a whole different ballgame for this still-developing colt in that 20 horse maelstrom than it was in the familiar surroundings of the relatively serene Aqueduct.

- Cowtown Cat won the Illinois Derby for Pletcher, and though the final time of 1:51.21 is rather slow, he finished strong after setting a slow pace, coming home in 12.75 for the final eighth, 37.65 for the last three-eighths. Fernando Jara said: "He was still strong after the wire." Cobalt Blue was nowhere at even money in what was a bad day for Doug O'Neill. His Liquidity had a rough day, enduring a slight bobble at the start, and a wide trip to end up 4th in the Santa Anita Derby. "He's still a little green," jockey Corey Nakatani said. "I don't think we've got to the bottom of him yet."

As for Tiago, I welcome his appearance in the Derby; as a half-brother to Giacomo, he's a nice story which should generate some good publicity, and also hopefully entice a lot of people to bet on him too. Mike Smith said "He finished today like Giacomo did in the Kentucky Derby." [LA Times] I can almost guarantee that, come May 5, if Tiago finishes like Giacomo did when he staggered home to win his Derby, he will finish well out of the money.


Anonymous said...

Isnt AGS short on earnings? Didnt he need to run second?

If so, he will have six weeks to prepare for his role as Preakness spoiler.

Alan Mann said...

He earned $75,000 for finishing third, which I think should be plenty enough (though he was subsequently passed by Cowtown Cat, Tiago....King of the Roxy was already ahead of him, and I don't think he'll run anyway). It puts him around #15 on the list, which had Jack Junior, who's not coming, and at least one other in Birdbirdistheword who may not run). Barring something bizarre happening in the Blue Grass or Ark Derby, I think he's fine.

Alan Mann said...

The list coming into this weekend can be seen here.

Anonymous said...

"NYRA didn't spend one red cent on promoting the race this year"

not true...they did a mailing promoting "The Big Race at the Big A" with and enclosed NYRA Cash Card worth $2 to $10000.

Unknown said...

Can you clarify the Chic Anderson comment. Are you saying that Alydar never "got a head in front" ?

Anonymous said...

I think you're underestimating Tiago. Although he was a huge longshot yesterday, his win didn't come as a complete shock. His fantastic effort in the DQ maiden win was pretty well-publicized, and the colt has been highly-regarded all along. He just threw in a clunker in the Bob Lewis, for whatever reason. I have no idea why he ran as well as he did yesterday (could've been the blinkers off, i suppose), but i do believe the horse can be a factor in Kentucky. Obviously he won't be one of the favorites, but stranger things have happened. I would be mostly concerned about his deep-closing style, which could lead to another brutal trip. I put this colt in the same boat with Circular Quay, although that one is probably a little better.

Btw, i was very disappointed in Sam P. yesterday. He's gotta be the laziest horse on the grounds. I really thought the blinkers had solved that problem (judging by his workout reports), but they didn't make a shred of difference. Unless perhaps they had him a bit sharper early, resulting in him TAKING THE EARLY LEAD??? I was flat-out shocked to see him up there. That couldn't have been the plan, not with all the speed in the race. Anyway, despite all the whipping and the shoving, he held on reasonably well after doing the dirty work up front with Black Seventeen. Maybe a better trip in the Derby (assuming he runs) would afford him a chance. He does have a nice win over Chelokee @ Churchill, so he has that going for him. Whatever the case, this horse is in need of a serious wake-up call. I don't know what else they can do, but he just doesn't seem interested in running.

Anonymous said...

have any of the major players put up a beyer number of at least 105 yet? to date, no one seems to have made a major statement number-wise, and i'm not sure if any of yesterday's victors did anything to change that.
i'm curious what number Cowtown Cat gets. i re-watched his gotham, where he closed real strong after sitting on the rail through slow fractions (what was his bsf for that one?). yesterday, he also seemed strong to me in the end. in both races, he broke well, which is useful for the derby. his competition hasn't been much, but i like his performances nonetheless.
also, is Hard Spun definitely skipping the derby for the lexington-preakness route? and was his last figure 102?

Anonymous said...

Regarding Tiago, if the race falls apart late like Giacomo's did I think Sightseeing is a better candidate to pick up the pieces. Was getting to the winner late.

Alan, thanks for the earnings post.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll offer two thoughts from the weekend:

1. Any Given Saturday's race was a solid prep. My thought from the beginning is that Pletcher has decided that the Tampa route is the best way to go with his best Derby shot (note I didn't say most hyped horse...I said the horse Pletcher perceives as his best shot, i.e, Bluegrass Cat last year). I'm still not sure why he called the audible to go in the Wood, but the race was good enough to move him forward to the Derby. I will not leave him off my tickets, at what will probably be a price of about 12-1, maybe more.

2. In Illinois, I managed to fall in love with Bold Start, who was literally strangled the entire way in what had to be an effort to teach the horse how to ration his speed and sit in traffic. This is a horse that was good enough to run well in route stakes at 2, ran a troubled second in a very fast Hutcheson, and is bred to handle the distance. I pray that he gets into the Derby, because he is going to be the bomb on my tickets.


Anonymous said...

Nobiz not getting nearly enough credit here. Everyone seems will to give AGS a break for his dual with Street Sense. But Nobiz had a very tough match in the FOY (of his own doing, in part), and he still won.

It would have been completely reasonable to expect a bounce of him. We should now expect a move forward.

El Angelo said...

David Flores should be banished from NYRA after those execrable rides on Les Grande Trois and Latent Heat yesterday. I haven't seen jockeying that poor and misguided since Phil Teator roamed New York.