05/06/2016 3:11PM

Cristblog: Derby Day 2016


Saturday, 7 pm -- The best horse won.

In a Derby that seemed fraught with uncertainty, the favorites ran 1-2-3-4 in order of how they were bet. The versatile Nyquist ($6.60) worked out a beautiful trip for himself, Exaggerator finished well to be second, at 5-1 Gun Runner was an honest third at 10-1 and Mohaymen was up for fourth at 12-1. The first four finishers were the respective winners of the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Louisiana Derby and Fountain of Youth.

The payoffs were tiny for a 20-horse race. The $2 returns were $30.60 for the exacta, $173.40 for the tri and $1084.20 for the superfecta. Due to earlier big prices, however, the pick-6 was not hit, the pick-5 returned $96,609 and the pick-4 returned $22,895.20.

Nyquist now heads for Pimlico for the Preakness May 21 as a likely odds-on favorite. There don't appear to be any scary new shooters awaiting him. Exaggerator's late spurt will make him the clear second choice if he goes.

Nyquist's record is even more imposing than American Pharoah's or California Chrome's were at this point in their careers. He is 8 for 8 with five Grade 1 victories. Six months ago he was the best colt of this crop, and he still is.

Not to worry: This blog will return for the Preakness and with two weeks to ponder, I'm sure I'll come up with some, goofy contrary opinion by then.

Saturday 5:50 pm: It's hard to tell, but it looks like there are no live pick-6 tickets heading into the Derby, and the willpays in the pick-4 and pick-5 are enormous.

Should Oscar Nominated win the Derby, for example, the pick-4 would pay $1.09 million, and nobody would hit 5 of 5 in the pick-5. Even should 2-1 fave Nyquist win, the $2 pick-4 would return $22,895 and the $2 pick-5 would return $96,609.

Saturday, 5:40 pm -- Divisidero, who won last year's American Turf as a 3-year-old, made it two straight Derby undercard scores with a narrow victory over World Approval in the W.R. Turf Classic. Slumber was third with Tourist fourth, while 2-1 favorite Big Blue Kitten made no impact. Divisidero, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, was 15-1 on the morning line but 6-1 at post time.

The race was marred by a spill at the top of the stretch when two horses fell and their riders were unseated. Kasaqui and Paco Lopez fell after clippoing heels, and then Triple Threat and Jose Lezcano tripped over Kasaqui. Both horses and riders walked away unscathed.

Next up: Derby in an hour.

Saturday, 5:20 pm -- Grand Tito scratched from the Turf Classic after rearing and hitting his head in the paddock during that brief squall. He walked away apparently unharmed.

Saturday, 5:10 pm -- The singing of the National Anthem was just completed amid high winds and infield attendees scrambling for cover. from a brief downpour. Things seem to have calmed down for now.

Saturday, 5 pm -- Forecasters have been saying all day that rain in the Louisville area would not hit until 7 or 8 pm, but the sky above Churchill has turned dark and gray as if it might happen before the Derby. There are unconfirmed reports that the Exaggerator camp is doing a rain dance.

Big Blue Kitten 2-1 with Bolo and Tourist next at 5-1 for the WRTC.

Saturday, 4:45 pm -- Sharp Azteca scored the second longshot victory of the day by a Jorge Navarro-trained Florida shipper as he contested a hot pace and then pulled away to win the G3 Pat Day Mile (formerly Derby Trial.) American Freedom, an absurdly overbet 7-5, chased from fourth and then faded badly through the stretch. The winner, a son of Freud, ran the opening six furlongs in a blistering 1:08.32 but no one threatened him even as he slowed down to finish the mile in 1:34.27.

Tough pick-4 result for me as I needed either 8-1 runner-up Forevamo or 14-1 third-place Star Hill to stay alive through Camelot Kitten. Oh well. At least it wasn't close.

Now the waiting begins -- about 45 minutes until the Woodford Reserve, and then an hour until the Derby. Don't forget: if you've been blown out of all the multis so far (not that I know anyone in that position) there's a final pick-4 on races 11 through 14. You probably didn't handicap the 13th and 14th. Neither did I. But there's still time if you hurry.

Saturday, 4:15 pm -- American Freedom, 6-1 on the morning line for the upcoming Pat Day Mile, has been crunched to 3-to-2. (Meanwhile, ML 5-1 co-favorite Unbridled Outlaw is 17-1.)

The Baffert trainee won his debut last month with a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 in the slop on the Santa Anita Derby undercard. That figure towers over today's field, but he makes just his second career start, stretches out, and meets stakes horses rather than maidens. If he can win this he's the real deal.

It's almost incredible how little the Derby odds have changed as the pool has grown from $1 million yesterday to $14 million as of 4 p.m. Majesto (now 57-1) has caught Shagaf (54-1) in the race to be the longest shot.

Saturday, 3:45 pm -- New Yorkers aren't used to getting 18-1 on Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz Jr, but that's what happened when Camelot Kitten rallied up the rail and outnodded Beach Patrol to win the G2 American Turf. The winner, a Ramsey homebred by (who else) Kitten's Joy, added blinkers today. Tough beat if you needed Beach Patrol, who ran a winning race collaring and drawing away from 2-1 Airoforce and 4-1 Shakhimat before Camelot Kitten slipped up the rail.

Time, unfortunately, to switch from NBC Sports to NBC proper. Bob Costas just told viewers that American Pharoah is responsible for a renaissance in horse racing, crediting him with a bigger foal crop this year. Never mind that all those horses were bred before American Pharoah won the Derby.

Saturday, 3:00 pm -- Taris blew away the field to win the G1 Humana Distaff, with early leader Stonetastic holding second, Enchanting Lady a tired third, and 2-1 fave Wavell Avenue a flat fourth. Taris,  a 5-year-old Flatter mare trained by Simon Callaghan, was turning back from two routes at Santa Anita. She was third to Wavell Avenue and Eclipse winner La Verdad in last fall's Breeders' Cup F&M Sprint.

Here's that pick-4 play:


Saturday, 2:15 pm -- Catalina Red ($30.20), coming off a stebred stakes win at Tampa Bay, outfinished Calculator to win the Churchill Downs as Speightster faded badly in his season debut. Kobe's back was up for third, with Salutos Amigos fourth.

Catalina Red, making his first start for trainer Jorge Navarro, had been off the board in his only previous graded-stakes tries but ran a career-best today, covering the 7f in 1:20.79 under Javier Castellano.

Churchill management must have been ecstatic with Catalina Red's victory. Track officials are rooting for a carryover, not just because management always roots for a carryover but also because of an ill-considered scheme that will kick in if there is one: Only half the carryover would be paid out when racing resumes Thursday, where there would be a 20-cent minimum and a mandatory payout. The other half would be used to seed a new Rainbow-style pick-6 that starts Friday. It amounts to stealing from one pool to promote another.

Next comes the Humana Distaff, where Wavell Avenue opened the 5-2 favorite with Taris at 7-2, Stonetastic at 4-1 and Birdatthewire at 5-1. In the pick-4's ending here, Stonetastic is the favorite ($1,746) over Wavell Avenue ($1,982) and Taris ($2,006.)

I'm going to give Enchanted Lady a try against them at 8-1. A big reason I passed the pick-5 was because all five of them can win this and I don't see anyone being particularly good value at less than 5-1.

Saturday, 1:30 pm -- Tepin ($2.60) keeps looking more and more like one of the world's best milers. She just won her fourth straight stakes since taking the Breeders' Cup Mile with an easy daylight victory in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. The 5-year-old Bernstein mare sat second early behind Isabella Sings through early fractions of 23.35 and 46.06, reeled her in at will at the top of the stretch, and drew off comfortably in 1:34.36. Rainha Da Batteria was last early but got up for second at 12-1 to complete a whopping $12.20 exacta.

In the pick-5 that ends with the next-up G2 Churchill Downs, the willpays range from $2,920 on Kobe's Back, $2,973 on Speightster and $3,087 on Salutos Amigos up to $15k on Calculator and $56k on Squadron A.

I can't wait to see Speighster run. This is not an easy spot to make your fourth career start and first in 10 months, but this 4-year-old WinStar/Mott colt looked like a very good one winning his three starts last year inclduing the G3 Dwyer. If he comes back well, the Met Mile on belmont Day seems a likely target.

The pick-6 starts here. Too tough for me. So is the pick-5 starting with the 8th. I'm instead playing the pick-4 of the American Turf, Pat Day, Turf Classic and Derby, and spreading like crazy in hope of catching 50 cents worth of a big one.

Saturday, 12:45 pm -- Five down, nine to go, and let the stakes racing begin: The next seven races, which will be run over seven hours, are all graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and that big race for 3-year-olds at a mile and a quarter. There's a pick-6 starting with the 7th (the Churchill Downs), a pick-5 starting with the 8th (Humana) and pick-4's starting with the 9th (American Turf) and 11th (Woodford Reserve).

Tepin, the day's heaviest favorite, is currently 2-5 to win her 6th straight G1 or G2 stakes  for the upcoming G2 CD Distaff Turf Mile. She's probably a cinch but I'm a little intrigued by Rainha Da Bateria at 10-1 as a backup.

The day's first pick-4, on races 2 through 5, returned $12,006.40 for $2 for winners who paid $38.60, $5.00, $14.40 and $17.80.

There were few changes in the Derby betting as the pool grew from $1 million to $5 million between last night and noon. Majesto(59-1) closing in on Shagaf (62-1) for longest price. It would be kind of funny for the Florida Derby winner to be the favorite (Nyquist, currently 2-1) and the Florida Derby runner-up, Majesto, to be the longest price in the race. 

Saturday, 11:50 am -- Jazzy Times ran to his works, scoring by two lengths over Asmussen third-timer Grand Candy, with Jimbo Fallon along for third. The winner's time was snappy 1:15.21 for 6.5 furlongs. As Jay Privman reported earlier this week, Jazzy Times got the stall in Baffert's Santa anita barn previously occupied by American Pharoah.

Here's the Derby betting so far, and I'll update this chart throughout the day. The first column are the morning-line odds set Wednesday by Mike Battaglia. The next column, labelled "Oaks" are the odds implied by the Oaks-Derby Double willpays. Succeeding columns are the prices from the actual win betting so far, a pool that stood at $1.08 million last night:

Two items of small note: Mohaymen was the one horse bet much more heavily in the Oaks-Derby double than he has been in the win pool, and Brody's Cause was bet from 22-1 to 16-1 between 7 and 11 pm Friday evening.

Whos' going to end up the longest shot on the board? At the moment it's Shagaf at 72-1 but by post time I think Majesto and Oscar Nominated could give him a run for it.

Saturday, 11:20 a.m. -- Happy Derby Day. They've already run the first two of today's 14 races at Churchill Downs, with allowance winners Rocket Time ($5.20) and Call the Colonel ($38.60) combining for a $102.80 early double on what looks like a pretty quick track: Rocket Time ran the mile in 1:34.28.

The upcoming third race, which starts the first of two pick-5's on the card, is a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race with a couple of intriguing Baffert trainees: 3-year-old Jazzy Times, a $460k Zayat firster who has been dazzling the clockers, and  Jimbo Fallon, a 4-year-old second-timer whose claim to fame so far is being Derby entrant Mor Spirit's morning workmate. He beat Mor Spirit one morning, which may or may not mean anything but adds some interest.


Friday, 4:15 pm -- Happy Derby Eve. I’ll be back in this space all day Saturday live-blogging the 9 ½-hour Derby Day card, but for now let’s preview the heart of it – the five straight graded stakes that include the late pick-5 and pick-4 that end with the Derby.

Here’s the lineup of multirace exotics on the card. Looks like the offerings are four pick-4’s, two pick-5’s and a pick-6:

About the only thing I’m sure of is that I won’t be playing the Derby Day pick-6. I could say I am passing solely in protest of what I consider Churchill Downs’s dodgy carryover plans – you can read about that HERE at the bottom of the column --  but it’s also true that I find the sequence way too difficult and too expensive to attempt a six-race bet with a $2 minimum. Instead, I’ll take the 50-cent wagers with one or two fewer races to navigate. I’ll be posting my tickets tomorrow.

I’m locked into my Derby selections – you can read my reasons for picking the race Mor Spirit, Nyquist, Mohaymen, My Man Sam and Creator HERE in the Saturday column – but if things go well early, I hope to get to the last leg with more than those five. I wouldn’t mind having a little Destin and Exaggerator as backups.

There are plenty of reasons Mor Spirit does not have to win tomorrow, but Post 17 is not among them – though you wouldn’t know that from the general news media. This meaningless McNugget was mentioned during the post-position draw Thursday and has been in a crawl on NBC Sports all day Friday. Also, a writer for a major metropolitan newspaper of record wrote today of Mor Spirit, “I nearly picked him to win – until he drew post 17, where no horse has ever won the race from.”

Please. Four of the last five Derbies have been won by horses breaking from posts 15 through 20, so clearly a wide draw makes no difference whatsoever. The fact that 17 was not one of those four winners, as opposed to 16 or 18 or 20, is the height of statistical irrelevance. Yet if Mor Spirit somehow wins, it is roughly 1-to-10 that his “overcoming” the accursed 17 post will be widely heralded.

My quick take on the other pick-5 stakes is that the two races for 3-year-olds (the American Turf and Pat Day Mile) are wide-open, require deep coverage and offer pricey possibilities. The two other Grade 1 races besides the Derby, the Humana and the Woodford Reserve, are more manageable mixes of legit Grade 1 horses and overmatched move-ups. It’s not easy but it should be fun. Famous last words.

Below is a horse-by-horse cheat sheet for the Derby Pick-5 that includes each horse’s last-out Beyer Speed Figure, career-best BSF on today’s footing (dirt or turf), highest winning level, and a comment on each.