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Oaks Day 2011
12:15 pm: Wake up already. It may be only 9:15 am in California, but they've already run the first four races on the Kentucky Oaks card, and it's just a little more than an hour until the first of six straight stakes races at Churchill Downs, culminating with the $1 million Kentucky Oaks at 5:45 p.m.
The news of the day so far was the official withdrawal of Uncle Mo from tomorrow's Kentucky Derby, making it three straight years that the Wood Memorial winner (and my Derby pick) has not made it to the starting gate (see I Want Revenge in 2009 and Eskendraya last year.) The scratch card was submitted to the stewards before Derby wagering opened at 9 a.m.
Whether you loved or hated him, Uncle Mo's defection makes the race even more wide open. There was some chance, however large or small, that he might run back to the juvenile form that might have dominated this field. Now, regardless of whom you like, it's hard to argue that there's a horse in the field who has established form that would make a dominant victory unsurprising.
His absence also means that all three finalists for the 2-year-old Eclipse -- Uncle Mo, Boys at Toscanova and To Honor and Serve -- failed to make it to the Derby. Of the nine horses who received even a single third-place Eclipse Vote, only two -- Comma to the Top (5th) and Santiva (9th) -- got to the race. The other absentees besides the top three: Pluck (4th), Kantharos (6th), J P's Gusto (7th) and J. B.'s Thunder (8th).
Not sure whether I'm getting involved in the Oaks Day pick-6, where there's no carryover following a $63k payout Thursday. The new 50-cent pick-5 on races 7-11 and the 50-cent late pick-4 on races 8-11 look more enticing at the moment.
The first two dirt races on the card went to favored Smooth Charm ($8.80 in the 1st) and Juanita ($6.80) in the third. Both winners wer near the pace, running second early, but the second and third finishers in the 3rd rallied from 7th and 8th. The track appears fair and only moderately quick.
12:50 pm: The turf course, which has taken plenty of rain this week, is listed as "firm" but produced slow early fractions in the first two of the day's four grass races. In the 2nd, maiden older fillies went the first six furlongs in 1:15.71 en route to a mile in 1:39.66. In the 4th, for older-male N3x allowance types, the first 6f went in a very pokey 1:16.31, then came home in 35.67 for a final 9f time of 1;51.98.
In the day's first dirt sprint, the 5th, the early fractions going 7f were a blistering 20.59 and 44.26. The N1x allowance race for 3-year-old fillies went to Might, a full sister (Arch-Liable) to Blame. It will be interesting to see how her fine time of 1:22.10 compares with the G3 Eight Belles later on.
1:10 pm: Here's the cheat-sheet for that all-stakes pick-6 I'm not playing. I would hav been extremely uncreative and started out with the two obvious favorites, Blind Luck and Unrivaled Belle.
1:40 pm: The stakes racing got off to a rousing start as Blind Luck recovered from an awkward start to circle the field and run down Unrivaled Belle in the final strides of the La Troienne, reversing the 1-2 finish of the Breeders' Cup Distaff 26 weeks ago. The first two finishers both turned in highly encouraging performances: Blind Luck got over her recent run of seconditis with a big win over a key divisional rival, while Unrivaled Belle ran extremely well for a mare coming off a six-month layoff.
Not sure what to make of the time of 1:42.93, which you would think would have been more than 0.93 seconds faster than the maiden race that kicked off the card, especially given the quicker pace (1:11.88 vs. 1:13.34.)
After last year's Unrivalled Belle-Rachel Alexandra finish and this Distaff rematch, you would think the La Troienne will be considered for an upgrade to G1 status next year.
2:00 pm: Here's the preliminary pick-5 play. The inscrutable race to me was the American Turf, where I've got eight of them as A's or B's:
There's some kind of a tote-related delay at Churchill. Post time for the 7th has been moved back 10 minutes.
2:12 pm: Make that 15 minutes. Post time for the 7th is now 2:22 pm.
2:25 pm: Diva Ash took them from box to wire in the Edgewood as the 7-2 second choice. Seven races, still waiting for the first winner to pay $10 or more.
Desormeaux, who rode Diva Ash, on HRTV regarding the turf course: "You can still hear the water squeegeeing out of it...Your horse better like it soft or yielding."
2:40 pm: With a mere $56k in the win pool, Dialed In is the 7-2 favorite in early Derby wagering with Nehro the 7-1 second choice.
3:20 pm: Oops in the pick-5. Victoria's Wildcat ($15.20), bet down from 12-1 ML to 6-1, rallied into a hotly contested pace and won the G3 Eight Belles for Hess/Desormeaux. Maybe the track's slowing down, but the winner's time of 1:23.03 was almost a second slower than Might's 1:22.10 two races earlier in a N1x for 3-year-old fillies.
4:10 pm: Not my day. My top four choices in the Alysheba neglected to finish in the top four as First Dude outbobbed Regal Ransom with Equestrio third and Awesome Gem fourth in a blanket finish. It's not often you can say this: First Dude was winning the first stakes race of his career -- and became a millionaire in the process.
Looks like First Dude may not want to be first early: After 11 straight defeats in races where he usually vied for the lead, he's now won two straight from off the pace.
Equestrio's close third at 17-1 may bode well for fans of Dialed In since Equestrio, a 4-year-old, is the only horse to have finished in front of the Derby favorite in his four starts.
5:00 pm: Banned ($8.60), fifth in the BC Juvenile as the 5-1 third choice and a loser at 3-5 in his sophomore debut, suddenly and impressively lived up to his potential with a runaway victory in the G2 American Turf for 3-year-old turfers. The Kitten's Joy colt came flying in upper stretch and shot past frontrunner Great Mills, then drew off by daylight as Close Ally nosed out Air Support for second.
Looks like there are live pick-6 tickets that would end happily with an Oaks victory by Joyful Victory ($12k), Summer Soiree ($47k), Kathmanblu ($31k), Zazu ($31k) and Plum Pretty ($95k). Otherwise, a $95k carryover into Derby Day.
It appears everyone's covered in the pick-5, at $1 willpays (according to TVG) ranging from just under $5k on Joyful Evening to $583k on Suave Voir Faire and Street Storm.
5:30 pm: Post time for the Oaks is now 5:58 pm. There's national coverage on Versus, the NBC-owned cable station that is carrying most of the NBC Sports coverage this week. Versus will carry Derby Day coverage tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when NBC takes over until 7 p.m.
6:20 pm: It didn't get me out for the day, but Plum Pretty's Oaks victory restored my faith in logic and mathematics. I have no idea how, coming off a towering top-fig 99 Beyer Speed Figure, she went off at 6-1 while Joyful Victory, sporting Beyers of 83 and 82 in two lengthy Oaklawn victories, was the 2-1 favorite. It's not as if the figs at Oaklawn were running low this year -- the Arkansas Derby got the highest Beyer of any of the final Derby preps, and Havre de Grace got a 108 in the Apple Blossom. Joyful Victory's two victories in small and unaccomplished fields were clearly subpar.
Plum Pretty barely made it over the fast-closing St. John's RIver for a 12-13 exacta but don't think that suggests there was an outside bias: Plum Pretty raced in the two-path most of the way and St. John's River went straight to the rail before the first turn, staying there until midstretch.
Plum Pretty ($14.60) completed (all $2 payoffs) a $6,178 pick-4, a $32,342 pick-5 and a $95,790 pick-6.
Thirteen chances to get it all back, and then some, tomorrow.
Jerry: Many tracks are open at night for simulcasting anyway, and a lot of tracks race at night as it is. Hollywood and Golden Gate would love a night Derby with a 9:30 PM ET or so post since that would allow the west coast tracks to go with a normal start on Saturday (plus the Oaks would be at night as well, allowing Hollywood Park to run it's very popular Friday night card that evening instead of switching to the daytime). Vegas would also love a nighttime (east coast time) Derby because they would not have to start Derby day anywhere near as early as the do now. Tracks would likely adjust, including tracks that can run at night, but normally race in the daytime on Saturdays running a night program that week. The potential handle from the Asia-Pacific region is why I think we're headed that way regardless of what NBC would want to do, especially since I think NBC more than anyone would want the Derby at night since the TV rating from it then qualifies for the prime time ratings during the "May Sweeps." It's also why I think this year's Breeders' Cup will be the first full-blown nighttime version.
All I can say is : The state of vetinarian medicine is really lacking integrity. How can the top vets in the thoroughbred industry not have a clue about Mo's ailment?
Sigh. Argh. @#%$*!. Took most likely my toughest beat ever in the Ky. Oaks. Was alive in the pick-4 and pick-5 to Zazu, Kathmanblu, and my top choice, St. Johns River. Had her(#13) keyed on top of the first 5 finishers in the Oaks in multiple wagers, plus a healthy win wager. Rosie ran a smart race, after SJR broke awkwardly and a few steps to her right at the start, she steered her steed over to the rail and saved all the ground, just missing it all by a diminishing neck. Plum Pretty was a definite overlay, and after witnessing Arienza, who finished 2nd to Joyful Victory in her last start run a lackluster race in the 8 Bells, I really didn't have much confidence in Joyful Victory in the Oaks, and while she clunked up for a minor award, had ni impact as the favorite in the Oaks. Don't know if I should be devastated or confident today in my selections? Good luck to all today, waiting on the weatherman to solidify my final selections for today.
If they run the derby at night, like many people seem to think, wouldn't the betting handle suffer? Would the betting outlets incur much more expenses having to be open in the evening AND all day. I am not sure how much racing the casual fan can deal with in a day. Seems that the derby ITSELF would be the focus for 1/2 an hour away from KY. Unless they feel they are losing that much money from the west. As for today; looking for Arch to save ground all the way and squeeze through in stretch. Seems almost anybody could be second or third.
Always easy to say after the race, but did you think Might (race 5 winner) would go off at 2-1. I singled her in the pick 4 figuring the win odds by racetime would be 3/2 or less. You would think the bettors at churchill of all places would know not to mess with Gomez and Stall when the team up. I really like Mission Impazible in the 9th, seems like he has improved over the winter and come back a new horse. Any thoughts on him? Good luck as always, love the blog.
Steve, Did Churchill Downs install Trakus or a form of it this year. I only ask because it looks different than the regular trakus system and at times is quite annoying when you see the numbers of the horses at the bottom of the screen look like they are being flung around on bungee cords. Bryan
Now that Uncle Mo is out, why can't they give Archarcharch a fair chance and use only the 2 through 20 spots in the starting gate?
This was originally sent to the previous blog before this one was posted: I wonder if the owners of Sway Away could go to court to get an injunction to allow them to run in the Derby, even if it were only as a non-betting interest running for purse money only, given it was widely expected Uncle Mo was going to scratch. Short of that, I wonder if they could sue Churchill claiming CD should have allowed those horses who had been bumped because of earnings to be on the AE list (something CD may have to now start doing next year) OR sue Repole and Pletcher for entering Uncle Mo knowing he likely was not going to run and keep them out. It will be very interesting to see what happens. [I can't imagine any legal basis for a suit. Everyone played by the rules and there is (wrongly, in my opinion) no AE list for the Derby. -SC]
Darn it, Steve. Now we'll have to have another explanation for Pletcher's predicted (in 2010, after the Juvenile) "incentive to anger," tomorrow. Glad you made up some lost ground with Ms. Plum, she's a peach. Go CommaPantsArchShack! LoveShack, by the B52-to-1's. Yes, this is how it stands, tomorrow: Pick a number. Remove blindfold. Unsmoke cigarette. Send the disarmed firing squad members to the tellers' windows. It’s another Derby, Kirby. Who do ya like on Sunday? It’s off to Golden Gate next week. Wish I had seen Bay Meadows before it sank.
Alive to the D/D with the 8,15,19 as well as the Pick-3 with the 6-8-12. Baffert