05/05/2016 4:06PM

Let's talk Derby


We're only a couple of days out from the Kentucky Derby and I'm still mulling over my options. 

I just haven't found one standout prep performance that I can point to and say, "that's the one." This year's Derby, to me, is all about deciding which faults I'm willing to accept. 


Let's take a look at the field in post position order:


Maiden rallied from far, far back to finish second in the Wood Memorial. That race was run to suit Trojan Nation as a fast-early, slow-late affair over a sloppy track. He has a strong distance pedigree, but will likely be coming from out of it in a race where there are arguably better and stronger finishers. Upgrade slightly if wet, but the connections would be thrilled with a minor award.


I'm a fan of this horse. Thought he would have been much closer in the Rebel if not for being blindswitched and shuffled at a crucial moment on the far turn. Continued his string of strong rallying efforts with a second in the Arkansas Derby, but lacked the turn acceleration that main rival Creator showed in that race. It appears he is not a push-button horse and needs several strides before his engine turns over. The Arkansas Derby fell apart as well and that helped closers like Creator and Suddenbreakingnews. Adding a shadow roll can't hurt, I guess, but he needs a quick pace and a clean trip from the back of the pack. Boasts a nice pedigree for distance and can contend at a price.


It appears this horse is getting good at precisely the right time for Steve Asmussen. He was a low-priced disappointment on many occasions earlier in his career, but he put it all together in three big starts at Oaklawn. Was it the track? It's too early to make that determination. I'll take the stance that he's a late-developing 3-year-old that's figured it out. Creator has a strong pedigree. By all-world stallion Tapit, Creator is out of a dam that won at 12 furlongs in her native Peru. Creator shouldn't have any issue with the demanding Derby distance. As with the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass, Creator's Arkansas Derby was run in fast-early, slow-late fashion and closers absolutely dominated. There is no guarantee that Creator will get the same setup at Churchill. He has no early speed to speak of and, with that running style, is always at the mercy of race and pace luck. If Creator gets a trip, he should be charging hard in the stretch on Saturday. He's a prime contender, one of five strong ones that I see, and I'll use him in multiple-race exotics, at the very least. 

(4) MO TOM

Trouble-prone sort was stopped cold when beginning his run in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. He was probably second-best, at least, in both of those races. That's the risk that horses like Mo Tom and the rest of the closers face when attempting to rally through traffic. Acquitted himself quite nicely at Churchill Downs last year, but those Fair Grounds Derby preps were slow on the Beyer scale. Like the three to his inside, Mo Tom has no speed and will be lagging far behind hoping that things work out. He's a nice horse, but others entice more to win.


Unbeaten from four starts on fast going, Gun Runner boasts a maiden win at Churchill Downs, dominated the proceedings in New Orleans during the prep season and has a wonderful tactical gear. With four late-runners breaking to his inside, Gun Runner can grab a good forward position while saving valuable ground. Although his Beyers are nothing to write home about and he has an annoying habit of changing back to his left lead in the stretch, Gun Runner seems to be trending upward for Steve Asmussen. He has a nice distance pedigree and should be smack-dab in the thick of things when the field turns for home. He reminds me a bit of Funny Cide with his running style. I'm very much afraid of Gun Runner, but I'll lean elsewhere for the Derby winner as those Fair Grounds races just didn't do it for me.


Chad Brown's My Man Sam is pretty light on experience, but he has a good amount of talent. He's another closer that was aided by a fast pace in his final prep run. Earned a solid fig two back when his late rally fell just short against loose-on-the-lead winner Matt King Coal. Think he's going to be okay down the road, but I wonder if this race is a little too much too soon. 


Spiral winner makes his dirt debut in the Kentucky Derby and his pedigree is slanted to turf and synthetic surfaces. He looks like the kind of horse that will stay all day, but the reformed claimer's best numbers pale in comparison to the top contenders. He's in tough.

(8) LANI

Beautifully-bred son of Tapit has strong route bloodlines with several Japanese stayers close in the family tree. Didn't think the UAE Derby came back very strong this year, however, and Lani seems like a typical Tapit. That is, he's a bit of a mental case. Showed off some nice late moves in Japan, but it's possible the pace in the Derby will be faster than he's ever experienced, and he could be outrun early. Perhaps he picks up a piece if the race falls apart late, but it appears he has to move forward significantly to pull off the upset.


Handled three next-out winners in the Tampa Bay Derby (two of them in this field) and his last two Beyer Speed Figures are quick enough to put him in the hunt. Like Gun Runner, he has strong tactical ability and figures close to the expected moderate pace. While some might be concerned about the layoff - he hasn't raced since the middle of March - Todd Pletcher excels with these kind of horses (6 for 16, 38%, $2.91 ROI over the past two years with last-out winners returning from 45 to 60 day layoffs in graded stakes races). Destin still looks a little green as he hopped back to his left lead at the end of the Tampa Bay Derby, but he ticks many boxes. Contender.


Gave good efforts in all three of his prep runs in Arkansas, but fell short each time, losing ground from the stretch call to the wire. Although he's by stout sire Pleasantly Perfect, it's possible that Whitmore will appreciate slightly-shorter distances. Like Creator and Suddenbreakingnews, he received strong paces to attack in those races and was helped by the resulting meltdowns up front. Thought his Southwest was good (my Formulator trip note states "1/2 slow, pinched early, saved ground near back, steadied late backstretch, 5w bid final turn"). Wouldn't be surprised to see a forward move after pairing up Beyer tops, but a win could be just out of reach.


He's a blue-collar horse, the kind that shows up with a good performance just about every outing. He's battle-tested, professional and tries very hard. His last race, the Santa Anita Derby, was a career-best effort as he swept past the field en route to a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. Not only was Exaggerator fast, but he was very visually impressive. I'm not sure I trust the Santa Anita Derby as it was a quick-early, slow-late affair that played to Exaggerator's strength. Also, he seemed to really move forward on a wet track that afternoon. Still, even if you toss out his Santa Anita Derby, you're left with a horse that's certainly fast and talented enough to win the Derby.

I haven't been too thrilled with what I've heard and seen this week. When asked by track publicity where he felt Exaggerator would be situated in the early portion of the Derby, trainer Keith Desormeaux stated, "He’s going to be far, far in the back. He’ll be so far back, he’ll be behind the kick-back. You know these horses throw (dirt) kick-back when they run. I want that kick-back from the pack to go up and come down and then you’re going to see Exaggerator. Kent (his brother and the colt’s rider) will be back there counting cars.” 

I'm not sure I love that strategy, especially since Exaggerator has shown the ability to successfully adapt to any pace scenario. Also, I didn't love his workout the other day as he hopped back to his left lead, uncharacteristic for him, right before the wire. 

At the end of the day, I can't argue with anyone that makes a strong case that the horse is ripe for a bounce off a career-best effort in a race that was run to his benefit. On the other hand, his best performance puts him right in the thick of things. It all comes down to price. Exaggerator figures to be one of the top three or four favorites. I would need 10 to 1 in order to be him to win and I probably won't get that. I would certainly use him in multiple-race tickets as an 'A' as he looks like a very logical contender. 


I wonder if the Fair Grounds prep races were the weakest from a quality standpoint. Tom's Ready ran pretty well in both the LeComte and Louisiana Derby, and might have been on the worst part of the track when seventh in the Risen Star. His kick just hasn't been there since being stretched around two turns, however, and I wonder if he'll be better at shorter distances down the road. Expect him to be closer to the pace in the Derby, but others seem stronger win plays.


Undefeated juvenile champion is definitely the horse to beat, but I will try and beat him following a taxing try in the Florida Derby. That race was run over a slick surface and Nyquist had to run hard every step of the way, just as he did when vanquishing Exaggerator again in the San Vicente to kick-start his campaign. His good speed puts him in the first or second flight passing the stands for the first time and the race should be run to his liking from a pace standpoint. It's possible he's simply the best horse in this race, but I have some concerns regarding his pedigree at 10 furlongs, and he is going to probably be bet very hard at the windows. A dangerous foe, obviously.


It's amazing that the rats jumped off the ship en masse following one poor effort, on a wet track to boot. After rolling through his first five starts at distances ranging from 6 to 9 furlongs, from on the lead or from off the pace, at three different racetracks, Mohaymen was widely considered the best 3-year-old in the country. After flattening out in the Florida Derby behind Nyquist, he's the forgotten horse. From a trip perspective, he can follow next-door neighbor Nyquist out of the gate to a forward position and play off the champion while getting the jump on the deep closers. You'll get paid handsomely if you've kept the faith. I usually have trouble playing horses off poor starts, though.


Hulking colt might have the physical presence to overcome his mostly sprint/middle-distance pedigree. Did all of the running in the Wood Memorial and was still around at the end of the race. Unfortunately, he is being penalized for finishing ahead of a mere maiden, Trojan Nation, although that horse had everything go his way. Expect John Velazquez to be aggressive coming out of the stalls and he might take up a spot just off expected pacesetter Danzing Candy. He's going to be very prominent at a key juncture of the race. It's just a question if he'll stay or not.


He's been more sizzle than steak thus far as he's come into every race with a reputation and enters the Derby having failed to Beyer higher than 88 from four starts. He has a strong pedigree for distance as his dam is a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer, and I like how Chad Brown has gradually stretched him out in trip this year. Like Mohaymen, his only loss came over a wet track and it's possible he simply hated the surface on Wood Memorial day. The Gotham is probably the best, and toughest, running line for handicappers to analyze. He rode a gold rail for six furlongs before angling to the deeper outside footing turning into the stretch. Was he compromised by going wide late? Was he aided by saving ground early? Or, do we just take the 87 Beyer at face value and claim he's too slow. He's a fascinating entrant with his long-term potential.


Never out of the exacta from seven tries, Mor Spirit has excuses for his last two races. He missed a key workout leading up to the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, was very eager going into the first turn and had to check off heels. I don't think he was cranked 100% for that race and Gary Stevens took care of him once it was apparent that he couldn't catch Danzing Candy. I don't think Mor Spirit liked the wet track in the Santa Anita Derby and he couldn't step with Exaggerator when that one wheeled by him on the turn. Give Mor Spirit fast ground and he has a big chance to win this race. He's been working quickly at Churchill Downs leading up to the race for a master trainer and is a very dangerous horse in this spot.


Beyers are going the right way, but someone had to finish second in the Florida Derby once Mohaymen didn't fire. Shouldn't have any problems regarding foundation as he's run five routes since the middle of December, three of them at nine furlongs! He's an improving horse for an underrated trainer, but might be a notch below.


Disastrous performance in the Tampa Bay Derby was forgotten after he rolled down the stretch to take the Blue Grass. Broke his maiden over this surface last year, but is another one-run closer facing a dubious pace scenario after having all the best of it from a race-shape standpoint in his final prep. Certainly good enough to win, but might have to overcome more adversity this time.


Rolled in three consecutive victories including the Grade 2 San Felipe over Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. Simply went too fast early over a wet track he may have despised in the Santa Anita Derby so let's not treat him too harshly for one stinker. His dam is a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now so there is stamina in this pedigree. Mike Smith's plan is to likely break, make the lead, cross over as close to the rail as possible, and drop the anchor. He's the one to catch.


Maiden is stuck on the also-eligible list. Didn't think he ran poorly in the Blue Grass as he was the only part of the pace around at the finish. Had it all go his way in the Gotham, however, riding a gold rail  on an uncontested lead before coughing it up late to Shagaf. Pace factor if he gets in.


Bit of a wise-guy horse in the Blue Grass and he validated his 9 to 2 odds with a rallying third. He was yet another horse than was helped by quick fractions in his last prep and the pace might not be so kind here. 

In the paper, I picked:
Mor Spirit

I will fool around with those horses in multiple-race bets and will add Suddenbreakingnews to that list as well.

Good Luck!



Here are the top 25 WINNING Beyer Speed Figures from 4/26/16 - 5/2/16:
1. LADY SHIPMAN - 106 - License Fee Stakes - 6 Furlongs (Turf) - 1May16-8BEL
2. A LOT - 105 - Elusive Quality Stakes - 7 Furlongs (Turf) - 30Apr16-8BEL
3. ALERT BAY - 101 - San Francisco Mile (G3) - 1 Mile (Turf) - 30Apr16-8GG
4. SMOKEM KITTEN - 98 - Miami Mile (G3) - 1 Mile (Turf) - 30Apr16-7GP 
5. DREAM TEAM - 96 - OC 40k/N$Y -N - 1 1/16 Miles - 1May16-8LRC
5. NO HIDING PLACE - 96 - OC 80k/N3X -N - 6 Furlongs - 27Apr16-7KEE
5. WINTER GAMES - 96 -  Clm 32000 - 1 Mile - 29Apr16-6BEL
8. CAPTAIN DIXIE - 95 - OC 40k/N3X -N - 1 1/16 Miles (Turf) - 30Apr16-10LRL
8. RALLY CRY - 95 - Alw 80000N1X - 1 1/16 Miles - 30Apr16-7BEL
8. UNCLE LINO - 95 - California Chrome Stakes - 1 1/16 Miles - 30Apr16-8LRC
11. GOLDEN GLINT - 94 - OC 40k/N3X - 1 1/16 Miles - 29Apr16-8LRL
11. SIR ALFRED - 94 - Md Sp Wt 37k - 6 Furlongs - 30Apr16-4GP 
11. WHERE'S THE WIDGET - 94 - Alw 75700NC - 7 Furlongs (Tapeta) - 1May16-7WO 
14. BEN'S CAT - 93 - Alw 62608NC - 5 1/2 Furlongs (Turf) - 1May16-4LRL
14. STORMY VICTORIA (FR) - 93 - OC 62k/N2X -N - 7 Furlongs (Turf) - 29Apr16-7BEL
16. BROWN ALMIGHTY - 92 - OC 62k/C -N - 1 Mile - 29Apr16-7GP 
16. MAY B - 92 - Wcl 15000(8-7) - 5 Furlongs - 1May16-1LRC
16. OCCASIONAL VIEW - 92 - Clm 32000(32-30) - 6 Furlongs (Tapeta) - 30Apr16-2WO 
16. PRINCE GAGARIN (IRE) - 92 - Alw 56332N2X - 1 1/16 Miles (Turf) - Alw 56332N2X
20. OLORDA (GER) - 91 - Bewitch Stakes (G3) - 1 1/2 Miles (Turf) - 29Apr16-9KEE
20. WEEKEND HIDEAWAY - 91 - Affirmed Success Stakes - 6 Furlongs - 29Apr16-8BEL
22. CALI THIRTY SEVEN - 90 - Powder Break Stakes - 1 Mile (Turf) - 30Apr16-9GP 
22. GRANNY'S KITTEN - 90 - Alw 54820N2X - 1 1/16 Miles (Turf) - 28Apr16-7KEE
22. RIVERS RUN DEEP - 90 - Edward Bapst/Albert Palacios Memorial Handicap - 6 Furlongs - 1May16-5BTP
22. SATURDAYNITELITES - 90 - OC 20k/C - 6 Furlongs - 30Apr16-8TUP
22. STRUT THE COURSE - 90 - OC 80k/C -N - 1 1/16 Miles (Tapeta) - 30Apr16-8WO 

*LADY SHIPMAN's lifetime past performances are available at the bottom of this blog post.



Video stakes analyses for many of the weekend's major stakes will be available later this week at http://www.drf.com/videos

You can follow me on Twitter @DRF_DanIllman.

Matt Bernier, Mike Beer and I will be on for free and fun live handicapping analysis at live.drf.com for both Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby afternoon. We'll be on at 1pm ET both days.



Congrats to Dick W. for winning last week's HandiGambling challenge.

Rick M and SR VEGAS' HG scoreboard spreadsheet is available at the bottom of this blog post. 

Let's go with the Kentucky Derby for this week's exercise. 

Along with single-race wagers, bets for the following will be accepted: 

Oaks/Derby Double

Oaks/Woodford/Derby Pick 3



SR Vegas and Rick M. have graciously decided to update all of the HG rules in order to make them an easier read for everyone...

HANDIGAMBLING version 2016:

Let's remember WHY we began the HandiGambling races in the first place.

The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses and why we're betting them the way we are. We are not asking for a novel but SPARE A SENTENCE OR TWO outlining your HANDICAPPING ANGLES and/or THOUGHT PROCESSES about WAGERING .

1. Start your post with HG or HANDIGAMBLING to find your entry in a thread.

2. You have a mythical $100 to wager in whatever format you choose that is available for that HG race. Anyone going over the $100 limit will be DISQUALIFIED.

3. Post your WAGER and ANALYSIS to the blog prior to the start of the designated race. SIGN OFF WITH YOUR NAME/OR MONIKER AT THE END OF YOUR POST. Remember that posts may start as 'anonymous' or an 'alternate name'. You MUST SIGN YOURSELF AT THE END (even if it is the same) This enables the scorekeeper to identify who you are.

4. (1) ONE ENTRY per person for the Handigambling contest. If you have multiple email addresses, use just ONE for contest purposes. Multiple entries will be cause for disqualification.

5. Separate your analysis from the wager and use the PROGRAM # in your wager. Just like you would do in a real wager. No horse names.

6. If any of the rules listed above aren't met, the wager is subject to review which can lead to disqualification of your entry.

In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. Dan reserves the right to approve or deny any entries.

The winner will receive a "60-Card Quarterly Formulator Past Performance Plan"

As an example :

HG 2016

The speed in this race are #1 Alpha, #2 Beta, and #8 Ocho. I like the works for layoff horse #5 Cinco who can sit off the pace. Lots of speed in here, so this could set up for a closer like  #6 Six Flags and I like the trainer's stats in these conditions. I’ll put the closer over the speed.

HG wager:

$10 EX   6 /   1,2,5, 8  = $40

$5 TRI   6 /   1,2,5,8  /  1,2,5,8  =  $60

Total $100

Thanks Dan!





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