04/07/2014 2:28PM

Derby Prep Thoughts


*Let's take a look back at the two major Kentucky Derby preps contested last Saturday.

WICKED STRONG improved his career-best Beyer 17 points to a 104 while showing greater stamina than his rivals in the Wood Memorial. Ridden by Rajiv Maragh, Wicked Strong saved ground in midpack for the first half-mile before being taken to the far outside on the final turn. He was hard-ridden with five-sixteenths of a mile to run and appeared to be in a bit of trouble while four wide, but rallied resolutely to wear down the leaders. He didn't change leads until inside the eighth pole and still appears a bit green, but this form seems more trustworthy than the two previous losses at Gulfstream, a track that probably didn't play to his late-running strength.

"I thought he was training well enough in Florida, but he didn't show up in the afternoon for some reason," winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens told NYRA Communications after the Wood Memorial. "The horses that come from behind in Florida, the kickback really bothered him down there. When I saw him laying five lengths off the lead, just galloping, I really felt we had a big shot. He was really comfortable laying relatively close behind a pretty fast pace."

"He ran awesome in the Remsen, but he was a little green and that might have cost him the race," winning jockey Rajiv Maragh remarked to NYRA Communications. "I felt like I had, probably, the horse to win that day. Today, he was really more mature, more settled, and it made him have a lot more to finish with, I think."

Wicked Strong is by Hard Spun, a Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs that finished a game second to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. According to Formulator, Hard Spun has had nine North American starters at distances longer than 9 1/2 furlongs. Those foals have earned four wins from 12 starts (33%).

The dam (by Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero Charismatic) notched her only victory at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Pimlico and is a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 turf winner Gulch Approval. The second dam, Classic Approval (by With Approval), was stakes-placed on both turf and dirt.

While there are a bunch of turf influences in this family, Wicked Strong can obviously run on dirt and he seems stout enough to last the 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs. I'm not in love with him, but the Wood was obviously a step in the right direction.

SAMRAAT ran his usual solid race. He broke well and settled beautifully in between horses just behind the leaders. He went after SOCIAL INCLUSION when the favorite attempted to break the race open on the turn and finished gamely to nail that one for second despite failing to switch leads until the final 100 yards. He's a deserving Kentucky Derby entrant with a record of 6-5-1-0, but I believe he's going to have to move forward if he is to win at Churchill Downs.

"It's his best race," trainer Rick Violette remarked to NYRA Communications. "It's the first time he's been surrounded and covered up, and he handled it. He came back three times. I thought he was going to be fourth the entire [stretch run] and he kept finding more, finding more. Other than win, he got a huge education. We kind of did it the hard way. We made the first charge against the horse on the lead and did everybody else's work, and [Wicked Strong] - who's shown signs of talent - came and ran everybody down."

Social Inclusion was the "buzz" horse coming into the Wood Memorial following two eye-popping wins in South Florida and he lost nothing, save a Kentucky Derby berth, in defeat. He seemed a bit hot going to the gate and broke outward from the far outside post position. Forced to hustle with a short run into the first turn, Social Inclusion battled with eventual 4th-finisher Schivarelli while racing in the two path. Perhaps jockey Luis Contreras moved for home too soon as Schivarelli backed out on the turn and Social Inclusion took a clear lead into the stretch. He battled hard all the way down the lane and showed moxie for a 3-year-old making only his third lifetime start.

"I had so much horse before the quarter pole, I just tried to open up, and he just kind of ran flat," Contreras told NYRA Communications. "He was trying hard. Today he was so nervous in the post parade."

Despite the loss, trainer Manuel Azpurua retained supreme confidence in Social Inclusion.  "It was very good. Next time he'll win; he'll kill them," he told NYRA Communications.

Before we proclaim the Wood Memorial an ultra-key race, it must be noted that Schivarelli, a beaten horse on the turn, was only defeated five lengths for all of the marbles and 1 1/2 lengths for second money. With the exception of Wicked Strong, none of the others were making up meaningful ground in the stretch.

*After his smashing 107-Beyer win in the Santa Anita Derby, CALIFORNIA CHROME is justifiably the flavor of the day and the Kentucky Derby favorite. He's won his last four races by a combined 24 1/4 lengths and absolutely obliterated two nice horses in CANDY BOY and HOPPERTUNITY. If there is any knock, it's that he's grabbed his last two races in pace-pressing style over speed-favoring tracks. But, boy, was he visually impressive yet again.  His excellent natural speed put him in the two path on the first turn, just off longshot pacesetter DUBLIN UP. When it was time to go on the final turn, he went. In the blink of an eye, the race was over with California Chrome gliding away under a mere hand ride. He is a very talented horse, but I just can't get past this feeling that it's not going to be as easy going an additional eighth of a mile at Churchill Downs.

Nonetheless, wow, what an effort.

"I got a little spooked leaving the gate," winning trainer Art Sherman told track publicity after the Santa Anita Derby. "He got banged around pretty good, but I really think he’s a better horse stalking. When he won the San Felipe, he was on the lead all the way which is something new to me, but I really prefer this type of race where he’s right off the lead."

I know that some folks are going to question California Chrome's pedigree as his sire never won past 5 1/2 furlongs (0-8 in routes, has only had two runners make three unsuccessful starts past 1 3/16 miles) and the dam's lone win came in an $8,000 maiden seller over Tapeta at Golden Gate. The second dam is a half-sister to a nice turf mare named Amourette (won a couple of times at 1 3/8 miles), however, and the third dam was a multiple stakes-winning router in New York for Wayne Lukas. I'm thinking California Chrome is more of a freak that's outrun his pedigree than a horse that's going to be hampered by the bloodlines.

While my opinion will probably change a million times between now and the first Saturday in May, I really think HOPPERTUNITY is going to move forward off this race. He was tracking the pace along the inside, was in behind horses on the final turn, and was easily second best. I really liked the way he galloped out after the race and distance shouldn't be a problem. He's a true Derby sleeper and may simply need a track that's a bit kinder to stalkers and closers.


What Beyer did WICKED STRONG get?

Wicked Strong earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure
Later gator


*Just want to thank everyone for sticking with me as I begin to blog more often. The links to the previous blogs (and blog comments) are listed below.





You can follow me on Twitter @DRF_DanIllman


Congrats to Biggar W for finishing first in last week's Wood Memorial HandiGambling race.

Rick M's scoresheet is available at the bottom of this blog post.

On tab 2 you will see each HG Race we've held and they are color coded to denote if the race was run on Turf, Dirt or Poly.




Copy of Formblog Wood Memorial 4-5-14.xls71.5 KB
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drayton Nay try not to take stuff said on the blog too personally. if you can give&take you'll do just fine there are major blow up's from time to time but things settle back down after awhile and people are once again lovey-dovey sharing thoughts, opinion, info and when no one's looking * Blowing Kisses One To Another* if your into *Red Boarding* you'll think you died and went to heaven it's a way of life on the blog some people even *Red Board Loser's* ( the big score that slipped through there finger's) years back they can't help themselves it's in there blood you just need to separate the *Chaff From The Weat* everybody has a Role to play on Formblog including you Get The Picture now quiet on the set..action..roll it Hot 'N' Nasty
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JJ Strobe Light Beams Create Dreams Walls Move Minds Do To On A Warm San Francisco Night Hot 'N' Nasty
AZ Wildcat More than 1 year ago
JJ, The correct answer is B), err I mean C) or is it D), yeah definitely D). What was the question again?
Penguin ymous More than 1 year ago
silly susan and Dick W Thanks. I'm having the time of my life! JJ and Okiesharp The 2nd race at Aqu on Saturday produced a watch list horse for me, though I generally don't put N2L $12,500 claimers on my list. Ice Wagon WL comments: Bit tight start turn, drop back a little, alter course, some finish to good finish, no quit The no quit part is usually the most important for me when in my WL comments. I too, found the comments by Brad Free a bit humerous. So he thought the track was fast!! It has been since I first found out about Santa Anita in 1975. When it used to rain in SoCal in the winter, the track would slow down for a while until it dried out and then back to the concrete highway. So what? Calder and the Fairgrounds are just a mud road that always runs slow times. We know that. We adjust for that when we compare horses from different venues. Since Pioneer of the Nile and MIne that Bird have been brought up recently, the 2009 Derby won by MTB and PON 2nd. The tracks in order of finish where they last raced: Sun, SA, Haw, OP, SA , OP for the top six finishers. Three of them from two tracks with concrete highways and three of them from two tracks where you grow a beard tracks while you watch the races. When they race on a fast track like SA, they all speed up. When they run on a slow track like Hawthorne, they all slow down. As competent handicappers it is up to us to make the determinations in our mind which horses are best equipped to handle all of the conditions presented in the race at hand. RonZ
Drayton Nay More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the welcome guys and yes I am passionate about horse racing. But I explain my opinion and why I feel the way I do. Am I always right ? No. But being right 30 to 40% of the time makes you better than most in this sport. Todd calls me a Troll but unlike nearly everyone else on horse blogs you know who I am www.facebook.com/draytonnay is me. I don't hide and I give you my opinion. I do not call people names I just give you my thoughts without the filter. If you can't back up your pick just say you have nothing don't turn it around and make me sound like I am attacking you. I am still waiting for a few people to explain to me how on earth they thought Spot was going to win the Florida Derby. I am trying to get some of those people to respond but it has been tough. I would like all the CC fans to explain to me how Kristo hits the board in back to back races in California and comes out to the Wood and gets creamed by 20 finishing a very very distant 7th.... what does that tell you ?
Penguin ymous More than 1 year ago
Pat Gavin Thanks for the story of Mr. Diz, the racetracker. I say go for the tournament. It's in your comfort zone both for the wallet and the surroundings. Probably won't attract a large amount of the professional tournament players and if you make it to Sunday, I think you have an edge, being that is your home track. Best RonZ
Penguin ymous More than 1 year ago
vicstu wrote: " Pletcher's Derby record speaks for itself: 36 entries, 1 win" and "Until Pletcher works his horses like they are running in the hardest dirt classic race these 3 year olds will ever have to run in, and has them super fit and fully cranked, I will pass" By that, you are implying that Pletcher's record will eventually be 2/72. I'm pretty sure Bernard will lay you good odds that it will be at least 3/72 or better. If he won't, I will. As far as workouts, what about Bill Mott? His charges are almost always in the bottom 10% as far as times. I have no idea what Mott's TC record is, I know he wins his fair share of G1's. Without watching the workouts, I don't think you can get an idea of how fit a Pletcher horse is or what kind of turn of foot they have without seeing them in person. Now, I do use workout information in my handicapping by knowing how a particular trainer usually works her horses. I am neither defending nor touting Pletcher, just that I thought that was a very broad blanket to throw over Toddy with what is a fairly small sample. So, when Chip Wooley gets back to the Kentucky Derby, he will be an automatic bet because he is undefeated? RonZ
Penguin ymous More than 1 year ago
To Drayton Nay Welcome and bring it on. Don't worry about the "wreck it all with false bravado and insults." That stuff goes on here all the time. Probably me included. But we are adults here and some of us are able to separate the wheat from the dog doo. RonZ
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Drayton Nay - Don't listen to that guy Van Savant . He's one of those goody two shoes guys .... Did you see what that guy Mike Turfmonstr said about our, er , I mean , your horse ?? You should give that guy Mike Turfmonstr a good finger lashing for that ! Don't let his name scare you ... He's only a Monster on turf & synthetic .... On dirt or cement he's just a big kitty cat :) ... Speaking of big kitty cats ... watch out for that Wildcat dude when you're tangling with the Turfmonstr . He's a Naval Intelligence black ops guy with his finger on the button at all times :) He's liable to submarine you right when you think you have the Monstr slayed :) And don't forget about that Hot 'N' Nasty chick. Sure everybody knows she's hot & she's nasty & she likes to play rough :) but don't let that scare you. Be a man. JJ
CMathieu66 More than 1 year ago
Dick W The answer to your question is not simple. I will need a bit of time to properly respond.