05/09/2009 8:47PM

Keyest Key Race Ever?

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Key When Mythical Power won the G3 Lone Star Derby today, he became the fourth horse who was beaten in the Sunland Derby to win a stakes race in his next start -- the most famous, of course, being Mine That Bird, who came off a fourth-place finish that day to win the Kentucky Derby at 50-1. 

In addition to Mine That Bird and Mythical Power, fifth-place Sunland Derby finisher Advice returned to win the G3 Lexington, and last-place finisher Valid Stripes won the Texas Stallion Stakes earlier today at Lone Star.

Does that make the 2009 Sunland Derby one of the greatest key races of all time, and mean that Kelly Leak, who hasn't run since winning it, might secretly be the best 3-year-old in America?

Not necessarily. Mine That Bird and Advice clearly didn't run up to their capabilities at Sunland and showed vast improvement in their next starts. Mythical Power ($4.20) and Valid Stripes ($4.00) were heavily favored in easier spots today. Another result today, in the G2 Peter Pan at Belmont (more on that race below), cast further doubt. Scorewithcater -- who finished a neck in front of Mine That Bird in both the Borderland and Sunland Derbies -- finished 5th, beaten 13 1/4 lengths, at a vastly underlaid 6-1.

The "key race" concept, first popularized by Steve Davidowitz in his seminal book "Betting Thoroughbreds," is a valuable one, and obviously the Sunland Derby had some horses of quality in it. But it's a concept that is too often applied uncritically by handicappers who believe that any race that produces two next-out winners is automatically an underrated event that must have been better than it first looked.  Given that every winner had to make his previous start somewhere, every race should produce on average one next-out winner, so there will be plenty that produce two or three virtually at random. There also can be overlooked reasons for the apparent richness of a supposed key race: If two horses badly beaten in a maiden-special-weight race win their next starts in maiden-claiming company, does that necessarily mean the maiden-special race was all that strong?

None of this is meant to denigrate Mine That Bird or the Sunland Derby, a race that fully deserves  graded status next year. But taking 6-1 on a legitimately 15-1 Scorewithcater, because he finished in front of horses who didn't fire that day, is taking an otherwise worthy concept one step too far.


--Charitable Man enjoyed a perfect trip winning the Peter Pan but it was a promising performance that suggested he has fully recovered from his injury and could be ready to join the top ranks of the 3-year-old class.

Charitable Man was a sensational first-out winner at Saratoga, scoring by 11 1/2 lengths, and then won the Belmont Futurity, beating Flying Pegasus and Friesan Fire, in his second start. A knee injury sidelined him for seven months until he returned in the Blue Grass, an impossible spot, in a desperate attempt to compile enough earnings to make the Derby. It probably worked out best for him in the long run that he floundered over Polytrack and ran 7th, sending him to the Peter Pan instead of Louisville.

He sat second early in the Peter Pan as an overeager Hello Broadway set nutty fractions of 44.89 and 1:08.93 opening an eight-length lead down the backstretch. Charitable Man inhaled the tiring leader in upper stretch, opened a two-length lead over Imperial Council after a mile in 1:34.36, and extended his margin to 3 3/4 lengths at the finish, with nine furlongs around one turn in 1:47.13. Next stop Belmont Stakes, a race his sire, Lemon Drop Kid, won in 1999 after finishing third in the Peter Pan -- which in those ancient times was run two rather than four weeks before the Belmont.

The time compares well to the three other dirt routes on the card -- all off-the-turfers at 8.5f, which were run in 1:41.48, 1:42.95 and 1:43.51 -- and earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 98.


--There's a neat new feature that debuted yesterday in DRF's Formulator: Changing live odds now pop directly into your past performances while you're looking at them online. They appear where the morning line used to be, with the original ML prices appearing just above them in smaller type.


--The Lone Star Derby and Peter Pan were two of only three graded stakes races around the country today. The other was the G2 Mervyn LeRoy, where 16-1 Ball Four led all the way under Joe Talamo to score by a length and a quarter over 3-5 Rail Trip in 1:41.58 for 8.5f.

Bill In Dallas More than 1 year ago
Steve, Having read Exotic Betting with great interest in the Pick 4 and Pick 6 sections, I'm curious as to what your opinion is on how to attack a wager like the .50 pick 5 at Monmouth Park. The pool sizes from the first two days were $28k and %$25k. The pool size is a "tweener" size to me when it comes to deciding whether to make a single caveman punch or to structure multiple tickets using the standard A/B/C matrix. Given that with the 50 cent minimum players can spread out some, one would think the possibilities for a nice return would be minimal. It appears from looking at the historical charts that if one can get just one double digit price at the chalkfest known at Monmouth, a good score can be made. I typically invest about $200-$400 for my $1 pick 4 tickets, and about a $1000 max for the rare occasion I play a Pick 6. I can reasonably play a large matrix Pick 5 ticket, but I question whether it's worth it given the times when a couple of odds-on favorites lose and there's only 5 tickets or so out there. Sorry for the rambling, just something I've been thinking about this past week.
Wayne C. More than 1 year ago
The Sunland Derby was a fast paced race and several horses were on or close enough to that pace to have their final time figure impacted negatively. That might was also significant for Mine that Bird who rallied wide into the hot after being off it early. On that basis, it was an underrated affair.
Keith Longey More than 1 year ago
Steven: Obviously, someone had to win that race down in Texas. If we were feeling bad for the good folks in Louisville when the defections started in the weeks before the Derby, we should also feel badly for those good folks down in Grand Prairie, who lost first Mine That Bird to the Derby, then Kelly Leak to an ailment, and Big Drama and Terrain to the Preakness lure. Still, two more stakes winner to go with the first two: quite a story. The interest still will be on the Beyer figures, and how the stakes winners compute against their efforts in New Mexico. A question is nagging me, and I hope your memory or data banks has the answer: Has there ever been a year when all three legs of the Triple Crown were run on an off track? Weather being what it has been lately, could be a possibility? On the Peter Pan, officially the track became rated as "fast" by the 8th Race, but for most of the card it was a moisture holding "good", the same type surface Charitable Man won the Futurity on last year. Noting his Wet Track Tomlinson is a very good 411, I am somewhat questioning if he might have benifited from the surface today, other than the return to dirt from poly. I also note that both Charitable Man and Imperial Council have some Turf potential pedigree showing by sire and dam sire lines: and is it possible this moves them up on a dirt track that could be holding some moisture, and a bit heavy therefore?
p ensign More than 1 year ago
Scorewithcater may have been vastly underlaid to you at 6-1, but Imperial Council at 2-1 and Hello Broadway at 3-1 also watched hopelessly as the overwhelming favorite romped here,(and the odds on those horses were far lower than the Sunland shipper). Underlays are in the eye of the beholder. Of course Mythical Power didn't finish in a three way dead heat for first with two other horses coming out of the Sunland Derby, so is that further indication that the race was not so good?
callmetony More than 1 year ago
Dogs Up reading that blog gave me a headache As did this years derby itself !!!!
dogs up More than 1 year ago
The point is, why did this race get everyone upset? He won, the horse did. And we challenge the data. Claims of drugs at first! Or, the horse shouldn't have been in the race. Then a gazillion alibis why the horse got there first and the others didn't. I'm saying, go back and review all the data and angles why this horse did win. He did get there. And review the information you had. And the info you didn't have. Like poly to dirt or d to p for one. Put it to good use and find the next Giacomo (2005 KD) or the next MTB. They are coming soon to a racetrack near you. When Gia won 50-1, the second horse was 71 to 1. It was Closing Argument and the Derby race made him hitting the board 8 out of 8 times. My point is why would we doubt what happened in these KDs, it is now a Past Performance to use and learn from. Past performances are based on past performances. When I was learning the game at the track, I would always go over to the guy yelling his horse home to a win, because I couldn't understand why he bet the horse and why it had just won. The person might say, third time back, 3rd on a drop, move from open to state breds, yada yada. And this I would put into my head. I always wondered how undefeated (8 for 8) Smarty Jones got beat in the Belmont in the last hundred yards. Did the jock on Birdstone, Prado know the track better, than Stu Elliot? Now, I'd say it was MTB’s sire Birdstone, (36-1) a tiny horse for the distance and course that day. Now I have a rising breeder to incorporate. There were two of Birdstone's sons in the '09 Derby. MTB was not an accident...
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
I can recall when keeping track of "key races" meant clipping the charts out of each days Form, taping them in a loose leaf binder, and dutifully backtracking with a red flair to circle subsequent winners. How things have changed! One thing that's still the same about the game is people of means purchasing race horses. We don't know any details about the cash involved in Jackson's purchase of Rachel Alexandra, and I certainly extend no animosity to the connections or horse, but I don't quite understand what they're trying to accomplish. The horse is a female. There will be no $50 million stallion syndication at career end. She may produce a dozen foals. The breeding produce record of stellar fillies/mares over the last several decades is iffy at best. The only financial upside I can see is selling her, in foal to a hot shot stallion, to another big money outfit down the road. In any case, if it's a race against colts they seek I don't see why they shouldn't point to the Travers. They'd have to go 1 1/4 miles in the Alabama anyway. I see that Andrew Beyer has joined the list of racing writers recommending a Preakness go. And if they do go and win what next? More clamoring for a Belmont run? Without a doubt. Whatever the connections decide, I simply hope it's what's in the best interest of the horse and not to expand the hat size of it's owner. Off topic entirely, but yesterday's announcement of Jan Rushton's resignation from her NYRA post takes something special away from a day at the races, especially Saratoga, for this racing fan.
mike transit More than 1 year ago
What's with this advertising of guarenteed pools!! pick 6, pick 4 ect.. they are all a hoax. The track is well aware of what the pools at there tracks will draw, thus at no risk to them the so called guarentee is reached in the pool....
Justin More than 1 year ago
I gotta tell you guys, I just don't like the idea of fillies at this stage of there careers running against the boys. History has told us that these races are very hard on them and most of them are never the same after the race, win or lose. Go chase Zenyatta, they are already gonna get an Eclipse Award, what do they need to prove? Why run the risk? This may not be the best group of 3 year of olds, but there are some good colts in this field, and she will have to be at her best.
Unitas More than 1 year ago
Dogs up, what exactly is your point? Underdogs do win at times, we all know that. What is your point? You made some obvious observations in regards to the track, the weather conditions, and a home field jock in regards to KD 135. What is your point? You refer to some people in the CD's infield who may have placed their first bet ever on MTB in the KD. What is your point? You come off sounding either bitter at horse racing in general, or come off being rather smug and writing in a condescending fashion towards traditional horsepalyers and handicappers alike. Whats your point?