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Friday, April 26, 2013

The Rule Rather Than the Exception

When I mentioned the 1983 Derby winner Sunny's Halo in the last post, I seemed to recall, through the haze of the accumulated brain cell loss of the 30 years since, that he did something that year that hadn't been done in awhile.  That he'd broken one of the "rules" that used to dictate a good part of our Derby handicapping, and which have now mostly fallen by the wayside.  Couldn't recall exactly what it was though, so I went to the trusty New York Times search engine, and came up with this, from Steven Crist's report on the race. 

  This year, the colt won the Rebel Handicap and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in his only two starts. It was the lightest 3-year-old campaign of any Derby winner since Jet Pilot in 1947.
(He was also the first-ever Arkansas Derby winner to get the roses.)  I was curious, but too lazy to research recent Derby winners to see how many races they've had at three; so I was particularly interested when reader August Song pointed out this article by Jeff Scott in The Saratogian.
  It should be pointed out...that while many of this year’s Derby contenders have had relatively busy campaigns at three, this is not the kind of prep schedule that has been winning the race in recent years. In fact, as was mentioned here in a recent column, the last six Derbies have been won by horses who had made just two prior starts at three. 
  And full credit to Scott for going on to provide the kind of critical context that I find missing in most sports writing and broadcasting: 
  (Horses with two prior 3-year-old starts made up approximately one-third of all Derby starters during this six-year period.)
Thank you!  We all know that the Classics game has changed drastically in a relative blink of an eye.  But this serves still as a pretty stark reminder; what was once a rarity is now such a regularity that it's just second nature, and not something I really even think about much anymore.  Maybe I should be?  I dunno.  Here's the list for this year. 
  This year’s Derby field will likely include five horses who have raced just twice in 2013: Revolutionary, Java’s War, Overanalyze, Normandy Invasion and Mylute.....A sixth expected Derby starter, Lines of Battle, won the UAE Derby in his lone outing this year.
I do like Revolutionary.  Not so much the other ones at this point in time, but guess we should keep this in mind.

One of those, Normandy Invasion, continues to attract the attention of the DRF clocker. 
The Wood Memorial runner-up looked razor sharp as he cruised around while kept out near the center of the one-mile oval under exercise rider Javier Herrera, stretching out beautifully, changing leads on cue, and keeping up the high energy from start to finish.
Trainer Chad Brown indicated how he felt about the morning not in words but by flashing a big thumbs-up as he passed by in the midst of a telephone conversation just outside his barn a short while later. [DRF]
I watched his Wood again, and still think his second place finish is being a bit overrated.  Yes, the pace was slow and he closed against the grain.  But it's not like he was far off the pace; he was just a length behind Verrazano at the half mile pole.  So I think he benefited from the slow pace too, had a relatively easy trip, never looked like winning, and had a spurt at the end that is visually impressive but may have been a case of the top two tiring late.  Not like they were flying home at that point; final furlong in 12.55.  Sure, on the theory (not to mention, the last six years of results) that the modern-day Derby favors a horse like this who is eligible to improve in his third start of the year, one can envision him moving forward.  But think he's gonna be overbet for a horse who's never won around two turns (and is eligible for an entry-level allowance).

Normandy Invasion is another successful son of Tapit, out of an otherwise nondescript Boston Harbor mare.  Some interesting horses under the 3rd dam though; and a fair amount of turf horses, including Gulls Cry and Navesink, and some Euro stakes winners as well.  And there is also Chumming, another member of that 1983 three-year old crop who ran 12th, for Woody Stephens, behind Sunny's Halo in the Derby.  So we're being drawn towards the Derby of 30 years ago, might as well embed the race.  I'm sure you always wanted to know what it would sound like to have Mike Battaglia call the Derby  ("like it was the 3rd at Turfway in early February," according to a You Tube commenter.)

That was Cavaet flying home for third; he'd won the Derby Trial a week earlier.

 - Another day,  another three winners for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and their trainer Michael Maker at Keeneland, as they continue their ridiculous domination of the proceedings there, with 22 winners each.  (Ms. Ramsey was hospitalized earlier in the day so let's hope everything is OK.)

The combo turns up at Belmont for opening day here with a couple of entries, so be aware and afraid. In the 5th 7th, their A Better Tomorrow is listed as the 2-1 morning line favorite despite not having raced on grass, but who are we mere mortals to suggest betting against him?  He's a half to a turf winner, we're told by A Closer Look in the Form; and has some grass winners deeper in the distaff pedigree as well.  But I'll tepidly and timidly suggest a look at the first time starter With Exultation (5-1), trained by Christophe Clement and bred by none other than the Ramseys themselves (sold as a yearling for $155,000).  So maybe they can get a taste of their own medicine here?  While we mentioned yesterday that Clement was winless at Keeneland, he's been quite sharp here in NY since wading back onto the NYRA circuit, with a record of 8-2-3-1, including Maximova, a debut runner on the grass.  Not surprisingly considering his breeders, With Exultation is by Kitten's Joy; he's out of a Cozzene mare and he's a full brother to two turf stakes winners (Cozy Kitten, Sisterhood) and another who is graded turf stakes placed (Becky's Kitten).  So definitely worth a peek in the paddock (or let Maggie do it for you) and on the tote.  If you dare.

1 Comment:

August Song said...

Well, yesterday it was the Lightly Raced Factor re: The Derby. Alan, how about The Strike Factor by Jon White today, to view it from another angle, perhaps?