04/10/2008 7:09PM



--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:

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

Saratoga Springs (NY) - Saratoga Film Forum

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

Wayne80 More than 1 year ago
I thought the jockeys rode horribly in the ILL Derby, and the track was not to blame. Could not believe they were taking back off that slow pace, and racing wide to boot. They ALL overestimated the talent of their mounts.
Joe More than 1 year ago
Steve: For everyone looking for an excuse for why Denis of Cork was an overhyped favorite .. I would suggest that they look at his prior race that everyone incredibly seemed to like. Horses on the lead in that race went 45 and change. Dennis closed on them from way back and went the mile in 137 and change. Hardly a big time considering it was aided by other horses running a fast pace. More importantly, Sierra Sunset, one of the horses chasing the fast pace goes out past Denis after the finish. When was the last time a toasted pace chaser went out past a horse making a huge close after suicidal fractions. I just wish I had looked at the race more closely prior to the Illini Derby. And prior to Sierra's next race.
Dick W More than 1 year ago
James Thanks for the synopsis on Gayego. The Arkansas Derby will certainly tell us if he is in fact a viable Derby candidate. If I had to pick a horse to do a quick and simple (but probably not very intelligent) synopsis in the Arkansas Derby it would probably be Liberty Bull. He has the best last race beyer (but not by much) - a 95 earned with his victory in the Winstar Derby at Sunland (a $600,000 non graded stakes win). He has won at the distance (same race), and he has a couple of good efforts over the Oaklawn strip. He also broke his maiden at Churchill Downs. The knock on him might be that he got beat by Denis of Cork in the G3 Southwest by 5 1/2 lengths. Interesting fact about his sire, Holy Bull, is that in spite of his disappointing 12th in the 1994 Derby as the favorite, he went on to be both 3 yr old of the year and horse of the year that year. Like Gayego, the Arkansas Derby will tell us if he has what it takes to move on to the 1st Saturday in May.
matt smith More than 1 year ago
steve--i just wanted to thank you for the excellent observations---who knew womething that you were going to stop at the end of saratoga last summer would become such an excellent forum for horse racing lovers to post picks, vent or just say what they will (flip dawson, etc)----i hope you keep up the great work---i figured i throw out some picks as i have to work tomorrow and my online acct is barren---i like precious kitten all the way in the jw---rebellion in teh commonwealth, and halo najib in the blue grass---thanx again and see you at siro's--matt smith
Brooklyn Backstretch More than 1 year ago
Dave: First Saturday isn't currently slated to run in Toronto, but if you want it to, call your local indie theater and tell them that you want them to carry it. And call back, and get your friends to call, and tell Brad and John what you're doing at their website. http://www.thefirstsaturdayinmay.com/contact-us/
Flip Dawson More than 1 year ago
...Blog fans can now watch the WO entries very carefully. The first of Steve Asmussen's runners is out today at WO. He has 30 head of stock bedded at the Toronto plant. In the next few days, I will drop some info to this site re the Secret Play. The author Albert G. Illich calls it "the best play in racing". I have to agree. The rules work very well, and all that is needed is a win bet only.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the above reference to NJ Account Wagering, it is the ineptly run jobs program that substantively contributed to the NJ Sports & Exposition's losing millions of dollars sponsoring the Breeder's Cup last fall. Towards the end of March 2008, they unveiled their new web site design. It was an instant fiasco, and was yanked off the air about four days after its debut. They re-instated the previous system (introduced in November 2007, replacing the site that had calamitously failed on BC Day 2). Things proceeded somewhat smoothly for about a week, until... Incredibly, having learned nothing, they've-instated Site #3 about five days or so ago. The merry go-round of system crashes, etc. resumed. Today (04/12/08), they claim that the NJAW system was knocked out - on of all days, with the Blue Grass and the AR Derby being run - by their getting hit by a lightning bolt. This might well have happened. Some very big thunder/lightning storms did roll through our area @ midnight-1 a.m., Saturday morning The problem is, they don't have any credibility left, and so the possibility that the site was pulverized by their own incompetence cannot be dismissed. And how bad could the lightning strike have been, that nine hours later, they couldn't get their system up and running again in time for a big race day? Isn't this why we invented back-up electrical generators? Is NJAW really a front for a renegade arm of FEMA? I'd call them and find out - only, after the BC, they further poisoned their client relations by instating a rule that if you were having technical questions or had a finance discrepancy, all communications henceforth had to be put into writing and sent via email. Thus, problems that telephonically had the potential of being resolved in a few short minutes now took much longer to resolve, with an elongated, time-wasting process involving written inquires. One example - out of dozens - of how badly they have run their operation can be provided: I was having problems with their illegible type size throughout 2007 and 2008. Numerous - and I mean numerous - inquires about this was forwarded to them. SIX MONTHS LATER (from November 2007 on out), it finally dawned on them that they should let me in on the big secret - that while holding down the control key, I could then increase the type size by twirling the mouse wheel with my right index finger. Regards, The Mouse Twirler
Dave More than 1 year ago
Steve-do you feel, as I do, that there isn't a superstar horse leading up to the Derby?Any idea if "The First Saturday in May" is coming to Toronto?
jim More than 1 year ago
to whoever runs nj web bet: PLEASE GET A NEW SYSTEM OR GIVE IT BACK TO YOUBET.
Annie More than 1 year ago
Bearcatbob, Just click on the word "raved about" in Steve's article above and it will take you to his review, which I just read. And he does say that the Barbaro saga was used as an afternote, not the focus of the movie. I can't wait to see it!