04/14/2013 12:05PM

Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby, and Other Notes


We will find out for sure when it all plays out three weeks from Saturday at Churchill Downs, but the sense is Saturday’s Blue Grass at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park will fall well short of being the most impactful final Kentucky Derby preps we have had this year.

In recent weeks, it was immediately apparent that the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Florida Derby were top-level preps for this Derby because they either featured horses of obvious quality, or were strongly run, or both. But the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby? Not so much.

The Blue Grass has, for me, always been a strange race. You would think a final prep run a little more than an hour’s drive away would have a profound impact on the Derby. But for years, the Blue Grass was run on a dirt track that was heavily biased toward speed, and now it’s run on a synthetic surface that bears no relation to the dirt surface on which the Derby is run beyond the fact that both are some version of the color brown. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the last major Derby prep run in the state of Kentucky hasn’t produced a Derby winner since Street Sense six years ago, and hasn’t been won by a colt who went on to win the Derby since Strike the Gold 22 years ago.

As for this Blue Grass, my problem isn’t with the merits of the winner, Java’s War. Even if the Blue Grass’s final time of 1:50.27 resulted in a poor preliminary Beyer Figure of just 89, the final three furlongs was run in a robust 37.51. And Java’s War came from dead last of 14 and gained almost nine lengths into that fraction, which is some very good work. So I believe Java’s War is better than his Blue Grass Beyer might suggest.

My problem with Java’s War is with what he does, or specifically, what he no longer seems to do, which is leave the gate in any sort of timely fashion. Java’s War walked out of the gate when a fine second to Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby in his first start this year, but he was worse on Saturday. Java’s War borderline dwelt at the start, and was able to overcome it only because his opposition wasn’t especially strong. This is a habit, however, that Java’s War’s connections need to fix right now because this colt can’t expect to spot 19 stronger Derby opponents a head start and still win. He’s not that good.

As for the Arkansas Derby, Overanalyze drew off through the stretch to win by more than four lengths. Yet despite being clearly much the best, the clock was not nearly as flattering to Overanalyze’s performance. The final three furlongs, into which Overanalyze gained just over three lengths, was a painfully slow 39.37, and his final time was 1:51.94. That was a full 2.27 seconds slower than older males went in the Oaklawn Handicap two races earlier despite comparable initial fractions, and resulted in a preliminary Beyer of only 88.

If that isn’t enough reason for reservation, there is also Overanalyze’s good race, bad race pattern that has prevailed throughout his career. Overanalyze won his first start, delivered a dud in his second start, won his third start, was dull in his fourth start, won his fifth start, was empty in his sixth start, and won Saturday in his seventh start. If this pattern holds true, his people are going to wish they found a way to squeeze one more start in before the Derby.

In other matters, I really liked Horse of the Year Wise Dan’s comeback Friday in Keeneland’s Maker’s 46 Mile. It’s not often that a Grade 1 event like the Maker’s 46 is used as a means to knock the rust off, but that’s what this looked like with Wise Dan as he won with what appeared on several levels to be an eye on future engagements. Also, the horse Wise Dan beat on Friday, Data Link, is very, very good, and had a big recency edge.

Conversely, Fort Larned’s non-performance in the Oaklawn ‘cap was shocking. You have to think a legitimate excuse for him will surface because this was not the Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic winning Fort Larned we came to know last year. At the same time, you can’t take anything away from Cyber Secret, who ran huge in victory to make it 4 for 4 at the Oaklawn meet. The one cause for pause regarding Cyber Secret is he is now 5 for 8 at Oaklawn, and just 1 for 6 elsewhere. But four of those six other track starts were not on dirt, so they can be forgiven.

Roger Wiskavitch More than 1 year ago
Churchill Down is not Tampa Bay Downs and a 1 1/4 miles race is far different from 1 1/16...........but I hope everyone bets on Verrazano. It will make the payout even larger after the race.
Ron Gillaspie More than 1 year ago
Too many myths each year surround the Derby. Use to be that if you didn't run as a 2 year old, you had no chance. Today, it seems, if you ran as a 2 year old, you won't make the cut. Recent form, post, track condition, beyers, points, money won, and many other things don't mean sqat in the Derby. As many as 12 of the runners out of 20 could win. It all comes down to connections, racing luck, and improvement from past races. My pick at the moment would be Will Take Charge. Lukas, Court and improvement expected.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
"Today, it seems, if you ran as a 2 year old, you won't make the cut". All but one (that being Verrazano) of the 10 higher qualifiers ran at 2; in fact, most broke their maidens at 2. As of this morning, 20 March, the highest qualifiers, with their 2yo racing records are - 1- Orb 4/1-0-1 2 - Verrazano 0/0-0-0 3 - Goldencents 3/2-1-0 4 - Java's War 5/2-0-1 5 - Overanalyze 5/3-0-1 6 - Revolutionary 4/1-1-2 7 - Lines of Battle 5/2-1-0 8 - Vyjack 2/2-0-0 9 - Will Take Charge 4/1-1-0 10 - Itsmyluckyday 7/3-1-1 Of other likely runners, Oxbow 5/1-0-1; Palace Malice 2/1-1-0; Mylute 7/2-2-2; Normandy Invasion 3/1-1-0; Frac Daddy 3/2-3-0; Black Onyx 2/1-1-0. Racing at 2, not necessarily being a stakes type at 2, is still a major advantage for Kentucky Derby aspirants.
Sam More than 1 year ago
you nailed it , Ron
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Verrazano has yet to see what a whip looks like nevertheless feel one...this horse is special reminds me of Spectacular Bid hope Buddy Delp is watching from upstairs or in his case from down below
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
Tough to pick a closer isn't it? The statistical probability of a 2007 "Street Sense like" trip is long. Too many 3 year old colts bumping into each other. The issue this year is there are a few legit closers. That Vyjack (if he runs) closed nicely once and we know the others. Below a poster suggests Verrazano gets caught...may be right. Hard to figure the pace will be hot with this group.
Lourdes Franco More than 1 year ago
its funny to read these comments on who has the better horse, who will win, whatever. over the past decade, 50% of the winners of the KD have been horses that should have never pasted 10th place let alone won the race. And those KD races had far better horses than compared to the horses running in this years KD. These are the slowest horses and most inconsistent horses as a whole that i have ever seen. Post position will probably have more meaning this year than the past years. I hope to see a 500 gran super payout. With the winning ticket in my hand of course. LOL
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
I take it you weren't around to see the 1970 and 1974 Derby fields during the prep seasons. There is a reason there were 23 horses whose connections wanted to run in 1974; after all, 17 were already SWs with some form at 3.
Starr D More than 1 year ago
Ann, the 70's was far longer ago then the "past decade" that was being referred to....
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
"These are the slowest horses and most inconsistent horses as a whole that i have ever seen."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If Goldencent does go for the lead and someone comes at him early, both horse are the lambs for the Mid Pack closers. A lot of Horse haven't done well on different tracks, thats a plus for the ones that have. CD is different then other Dirt tracks. Plus we may have to deal with the Weather
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of posts here, you guys seem to forget Johnny V got the victory with Verrazano in the last and didn't want to use all of the Horse. He did the right as did Bejarano on Overanylize. Look at Oxbow now, he's tired and will bounce for sure. Don't under estimate Verrazano. We still don't have a pacesetter without Falling Sky and Super 99. Governor Charlie likes to run 3rd and it may be Goldencents up front and if he relaxed he could be very close late..
Infinity More than 1 year ago
Beyers were light. I'll have another went in with a 96 high, that will be my cutoff this year. Watch the works. 19-6-5-13-9 is my superfecta box without knowiing post yet.....19-6-5-13-8 last year. The magick is out there...go get it.......CONCERN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had the 19-6-5-13 super last year for $2 paid 48k for $1. Nicest hit I have ever had. Doubtful it comes in again but i will bet hose numbers every yer
Tiff More than 1 year ago
"" the final three furlongs (of the Blue Grass) was run in a robust 37.51."" I'm lost as to the above statement, for most know that the final three furlongs of the 2013 Blue Grass was the slowest in years by a full second!! I'm not sure you've been seeing the same races as were viewed by all of the rest of us. I just looked up the definition of robust, and doing so didn't help your cause.
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
A lot of people already have their Derby pics, but without knowing who their horse is running against (or even if their horse is running) what post your horse is in, how your horse is working how the track is playing, what the pace is going to be like, etc. how can it be handicapped yet?
matt More than 1 year ago
Me personally, I will never let post position say my pick. I was liking IHA last year, then he drew the 19.