04/10/2008 7:09PM

Nuggets

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Nuggets
--The Last Post: I admire the passion evident in the 55 comments on my post about the Wood and Santa Anita Derby, but I also have to agree with some of the latter comments that wondered why everyone seems to be in a such hurry to make definitive Derby pronouncements with more than three weeks until post time. There are no more Futures Pools to bet, there are several key preps still to be run, plenty of homework still to be done, and when it's time to make picks and decisions, it's still going to be a great big mess of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Let me clarify: I have absolutely no idea who I'm going to be liking, picking,using, siding with or against on May 3. The point of my post was to provoke some further analysis and discussion about the two races, not to argue that Tale of Ekati is necessarily a better bet or a more likely Derby winner than Colonel John. It's still a long way until....

--"The First Saturday in May": This Hennegan brothers documentary about the 2006 Derby, which I raved about when it was screened in Saratoga last summer, is getting limited art-house distribution later this month:

OPENS FRIDAY, APRIL 18th
Austin - Dobie
Berkeley - Shattuck
Boston - Kendall Square
Chicago - Century
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky - Florence Cinemas
Cleveland - Cedar Lee
Columbus (IN) - Yes Cinema
Denver - Chez Artist
Detroit - Maple Art
Indianapolis - Keystone Cinema
Lexington (KY) - Kentucky Theatre
Los Angeles - Sunset Laemmle
Louisville (KY) - Cinema De Lux 20: Stonybrook
Minneapolis - Lagoon
NYC - Cinema Village
Philadelphia - Ritz at the Bourse
St. Louis - Plaza Frontenac
San Diego - Hillcrest
San Francisco - Opera Plaza
Washington, DC - E Street

OPENS THURSDAY, APRIL 24th
Saratoga Springs (NY) - Saratoga Film Forum

OPENS FRIDAY, APRIL 25th
Milwaukee - Downer
Muskegon (MI) - Harbor Theatre
Atlanta - Midtown Arts
Seattle - Varsity

The Hennegan brothers are donating 25 percent of the box-office revenues to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. Kudos too to Churchill Downs for getting involved in the promotion and distribution of the film. Go see it. And speaking of worthy racing documentaries, set your recorders on Kentucky Oaks day for....

--"Laffit: All About Winning," James Wilson's excellent look at the life and career of Laffit Pincay Jr. This 2005 feature will receive its first network airing May 2nd from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports Network nationally, and Wilson says Fox has promised additional slots if the ratings are decent. The premiere showing is up against ESPN's Oaks Day coverage, but try to catch it if you can.

--"Premier Pick Four": There were no national wagers linking last Saturday's raft of Grade 1 races and Derby preps, but at least Keeneland and Oaklawn are putting on a national pick-four this Saturday of two stakes from each track, including the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby. There's a $1 minimum on the bet and here's the scheduled lineup (all post times Eastern):

4:40 p.m. - G2 $400k Commonwealth Stakes - Keeneland
5:18 p.m. - G1 $750k Blue Grass Stakes - Keeneland
6:08 p.m. - $75k Instant Racing Stakes - Oaklawn
6:44 p.m. - G2 $1 million Arkansas Derby - Oaklawn

--Lone Star opens its thoroughbred meet tonight with a new Pick Five wager with a $1 minimum and, even better, a takeout of only 12 percent. The bet will carry over when it is not hit and will be run on the last five races of each card.

--Was Hawthorne speed-biased on Illinois Derby Day? Several pundits have dismissed Recapturetheglory's front-running triumph and relatively (for this season) high 102 Beyer in the Illinois Derby because he (unquestionably) got loose through moderate early fractions and (possibly) was aided by a track that some (including the owner of beaten favorite Denis of Cork) believe was playing very kindly to front-runners. Here's an interesting rebuttal from Mitch Demick, whose defense of the track surface may require a pinch of salt since he's Hawthorne's director of communications, but Demick is also a studious and enthusiastic horseplayer:

This year's Illinois Derby is getting ruthlessly bashed because the
first three finishers were one, two and three after the first quarter.
Huh? I'm not going to pretend that inside speed didn't play favorably,
but take a look at the day's results, and then tell me "a ridiculous
speed bias turned this year's running into a carousel," as Lauren
Stitch opined.

Absolutely nothing illogical won on April 5th, Illinois Derby Day.
Closers did emerge victorious on multiple occasions on the same day
some sort of injustice was perpetrated on the favorites. The winner of
the Derby, itself, Recapturetheglory, had run second to Cool Coal Man
as a two-year-old, and then returned at three to run a respectable
third in his grass debut. In addition, Recapturetheglory had won a
two-turn race over the Hawthorne surface, and had the services of a
jockey (E.T. Baird) who has made a pretty good living, at times, at
this same track.

That Denis of Cork, unraced in nearly seven weeks, and without previous
experience over the surface, and Atoned, winless since an off-the-grass
event in August '07, were uninvolved in this year's Illinois Derby,
could very well be circumstance and nothing else.

At the very least, let the race breathe for a month or so and see what
becomes of the "obvious" contenders. As a handicapper and as a
spokesman for Hawthorne, I believe the 2008 Illinois Derby will
ultimately rest on its merits.

Race 1: Last Samurai closed from 7 back behind the sole speed horse, Sapia Sika
Race 2: Saratoga Vicar was 5th and wide, and closed to win
Race 3: Skating Sam was 4 wide and raced in the second flight of runners
Race 4: Happiness sets extremely slow fractions and runs his race
Race 5: Distorted Groom runs big, High Expectations closes from over 12 lengths back to be beaten just over a length
Race 6: La Wildcat (Who has won over the track) runs a big race but Douglas has J Z Warrior in 5 path at 3/8ths pole, costing him ground
Race 7: Winner sets slow fractions, jocks on Z Humor, Atoned and Denis of Cork all have horses wide in turn, costing them ground
Race 8: Lazer Sun breaks from outside, rates wide and closes. Pacesetter runs 7th
Race 9: Lone speed wires bad bunch
Race 10: Bic Vic breaks 10th, rates in 7th and wins while wide. Pacesetter runs 9th