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Derby pace softens
It has been nine years since the Kentucky Derby was won by the pacesetter. The difference between the likely 2011 pacesetter and 2002 front-running winner War Emblem is huge.
War Emblem was fast. The 112 Beyer he earned in his final Derby prep was seven points higher than the last-start figure of any in the field.
Comma to the Top, likely pacesetter this year, does not possess a combined pace-speed advantage. Comma to the Top earned a 97 Beyer last out, same as Midnight Interlude and a point below the 98’s earned by Archarcharch and Nehro.
Though he may set easy fractions, Comma to the Top has no edge other than he should have the lead. That is not a bad place. Now, if Comma to the Top could only finish.
Decisive Moment has been positioned one-two all eight starts. Although his claim to fame is a pair of runner-up finishes in Grade 3’s, and his career-high Beyer is 91, Decisive Moment might be the key to the Derby even his chance to win is minimal.
Decisive Moment and first-time Derby jockey Kerwin Clark are likeliest to pressure Comma to the Top. The question is how much pressure can they apply?
Decisive Moment set the pace at minor Delta Downs and at Fair Grounds, when he went the opening half in 49.24 seconds. It is tougher at Churchill Downs against better horses. If he establishes a forward position, Decisive Moment may not be around long.
There are other pace-pressers in the field. None are particularly quick.
Uncle Mo, fast as a 2-year-old, dawdled on the lead both starts at 3. It seems he has lost his gas. Furthermore, it would be out of character for trainer Todd Pletcher to instruct Uncle Mo’s jockey to seize command. As for a finish, it has not happened yet this year.
Pants on Fire might provide pressure, yet the only races in which he made the lead were races that unfolded at an unusually slow clip. He will be forwardly placed, which might be the right spot.
Shackleford proved stubborn in the Florida Derby after he made the lead no one seemed to want. He could provide front-end pressure, though he hardly qualifies as a “burner.”
Barring an early duel between Comma to the Top and Decisive Moment, the pace of the Derby should be tepid.
If so, that will benefit two horses with qualifications that this handicapper initially perceived as sketchy – Midnight Interlude and Soldat.
The negative opinion of Midnight Interlude is based on a negative visual impression of his Santa Anita Derby win, and his lack of 2-year-old form.
But the biggest knock is Midnight Interlude’s Santa Anita Derby unfolded at such a slow pace. The notion was that in a fast-pace Kentucky Derby, Midnight Interlude would be unable to cope.
Perhaps it is time to reconsider. The defection of speedball The Factor, along with pace scrutiny of the remaining field, indicates Midnight Interlude might find himself pressing the pace in another slow-tempo race.
It remains doubtful that Midnight Interlude is good enough, but that negative “take” is less resolute.
Soldat was among the most over-rated 3-year-olds of winter. His reputation was based on easy, front-end trips in slow-pace races at Gulfstream.
When he did not get the same setup in the Florida Derby, he finished fifth as the favorite.
Ten days out, it appears that Soldat could benefit from an advantageous pace scenario under which he ran so well in Florida. And if it keeps raining at Churchill Downs, that is fine for Soldat. His career-best race was in the mud.
Attrition has slowed the likely tempo of the 2011 Kentucky Derby and boosted the chances of marginal candidates.
If the Derby unfolds with a slow pace, it might turn out premature to dismiss the chances of either Midnight Interlude or Soldat.
Start looking at the negatives of the horses, since none seem to stand out. Take history with just cause ... what horses out of what stakes race can win? What's due and overdue, after you have the Tomlinson and speed and all the bells and whistles of each horse, subtract negatives from that horse, and so on. at the end you'll be left with four to five horses if you do it right. Then look at track condition and jockey, that will knock out two more. Bam ... you will have three horses. (They are) Archarcharch, Dialed In and ... what's the third one? Leave that for you to figure out. Good luck ghost-hunting in this wild year of crazy jockeys at 52 and trainers who never won and some who won alot. It's a junk field of horses at this distance and it is a year off luck and homework gut shots.
This has to be the weakest Derby field in the last 20 years. How many entrants have ever received a triple-digit Beyer? Isn't the Derby par something like 105? Unless Uncle Mo has a miraculous recovery or one of the lightly raced horses suddenly improves by 5 lengths, Dialed In should prevail, irrespective of whether Comma runs a 45.4 or a 47.1. Hard to imagine him going any slower than that.
Well I agree with the pace, but it helps Uncle Mo the most, by far. He will jog just like Big Brown and Smarty Jones ... lay a couple lengths back in an easy pace and then go. Yes, Soldat and Midnight Interlude will benefit too, but neither horse shows they can beat Uncle Mo. The Uncle will make his move on the turn and just draw away from this group. The 108 Beyer will come out just like it did for Street Sense. Please keep knocking Uncle Mo so my price is 5-1 , because two weeks later I will end up with 3/5.
The left coast doesn't have any real threats this year. So the dreaded East Coast-based horses will probably have the advantage. If Maclean's Music was in the race he would be a standout in my opinion, this horse is a true monster!
Santiva - that's all I have to say.
Barbara hit the nail on the head re Mo's Timely Writer. Mo ran his final quarter in 22.80 - easily the fastest of the meet and I would wager perhaps the fastest at the one-mile distance since Mr. Stronach reconfigured the racetrack. Having said that, Uncle Mo has been babied along all winter and this is always a sign of soundness issues. Around Derby time, where there is smoke, there is fire. I believe a sound and healthy Mo would easily win this Derby but I don't think that is the "Uncle" that has arrived at Churchill. I think the key to unraveling this year's Derby puzzle is determining which couple of horses are going to produce a positive effort on the day. We can discuss pace and other factors from now until 6:30 on Saturday afternoon but it probably won't get us any closer to finding the winner. This 2011 Derby is no longer resembles the Derby that your grandparents or even your parents witnessed. This current breed of 3-year-old colts are very, very fragile and cycle off top form very quickly. If you are lucky enough (I am) to reside somewhere near Louisville, Ky., get over to the track in the morning and see the runners in the flesh. Most are going to look like they've been through the wringer-they have. Three or four of these colts are going to look the part and one or two of them will have had a very good breeze/gallop out in their final Derby tuneup with some past form good enough to win the race. Weather usually plays a big part in the Derby outcome. It has been an unusually wet spring here in the Bluegrass and we could well be looking at a sloppy surface on race day. There are a number of horses in the race with some positive "off track" running lines. Midnight Interlude, Pants on Fire, Soldat, Toby's Corner and Twice the Appeal all have some very nifty running lines on sloppy and wet fast tracks.
This is still Uncle Mo's race to lose. Pletcher is not one to make up BS, and he said he was sick. Looks to be healthy now based on the last work. 4-1 is a great price.
Shackleford was aided by the speed-favoring Gulfstream track. The fact that Dialed In didn't pass him on the gallop-out just shows how classy he was to win. He was probably all-out to the wire because he knows where the wire is. IMO the Derby exacta box is Uncle Mo and Dialed In. I know, I know, not the longshot scenario we all dream of as bettors but that's how I see it. This Derby has only two superstars.
I agree with your early account of the pace scenario ... it does appear to look like a slower pace than a normal derby. Matter of fact, I have been handicapping the Derby for 31 years now, with 11 victories, five seconds and four thirds. I am not bragging, just stating a fact. I started with Spectacular Bid and have been in the game since. I have had plenty of success on the first Saturday in May. Now, having said all this I ran my formula and have narrowed the field down to six horses. Weather will play a part in my final decision and this year's race will likely finish in a very slow time. I wish everyone good luck and have a happy and fun derby day. Oh, by the way take your pick - Soldate, Archarcharch, Nehro, Comma to the Top, Midnight Interlude or Uncle Mo.
Shackleford may not be the second coming of War Emblem, but he can provide true early pace heat, and should help keep Comma to the Top, Pants on Fire and Decisive Moment to early fractions (low 46s) that are fast enough to keep Midnight Interlude and/or Soldat from running their best. IMO, it sets up for a messy struggle home.