04/29/2009 6:14PM

Oaks, Derby picks


Several weeks ago, I wrote this about the Kentucky Oaks:

"The gap between Rachel Alexandra and Stardom Bound continues to widen in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Oaks...Or does it?  Rachel Alexandra won the Fantasy without any sort of urging, but got an easy lead up front.  You have to think that someone will run with her in the Oaks, right?  At least Calvin Borel didn't do the hula dance as Rachel Alexandra cruised under the wire.  Stardom Bound didn't do much in the Ashland, but she'll be second choice in the Oaks, and maybe she'll like the dirt.  I'm beginning to look for Oaks longshots myself."

Then came the defections, and after looking at the race, I've come to the same conclusion that just about every handicapper has understood for six weeks.  Rachel Alexandra is not only the horse to beat, but the most likely winner by a long way.  I looked far and wide for Oaks longshots, and am not enamored by any, but I'm a man of my word.  Therefore, I'll pick GABBY'S GOLDEN GIRL to upset the apple cart.  She looks like a peanut on the video, but she couldn't have been more impressive in her first start on dirt in the Sunland Park Oaks.  She pressed the pace throughout before drawing away to win by thirteen.  Granted, she didn't beat anything, but she didn't beat anything the right way.  She'll be a price, but realistically needs to improve by many lengths.
RACHEL ALEXANDRA has never tried nine furlongs, but she seems the quickest out of the gate, and has valuable racing experience at Churchill Downs.  She was given the lead in her last two, and it will be interesting to see if anyone runs with her early.  FLYING SPUR has ability, but she's often her own worst enemy, and may freak out given the big crowd.  JUSTWHISTLEDIXIE is the only filly with a race (and a win) at nine furlongs, and that may be the key stat in this race. How can you count out a filly that's won five straight?  BE FAIR may not have cared for polytrack last time, and may crack the supers with her best effort.


SR Vegas
Heard Dan being interviewed live last Saturday morning for a half an hour.  Although he asked "not to be held to it", he was picking-------Dunkirk.  I'm sure he'll come out with that, and obviously the reasons for it, soon.

Thanks for listening, by the way.  I am going to pick Dunkirk...THIRD.  Ah, the old "not to be held to it," clause raises its ugly head once more.  Be forewarned before I continue that my last Derby winner was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 (he paid a whopping $6.60), and that I gave you Recapturetheglory in 2008 (heck, he ran as solid a fifth as anyone ever).  This year, I'm going to go with...


Desert Party has professionalism and tactical speed, and those are extremely important traits for a Derby horse to possess.  He handled the big crowd on Dubai World Cup Night without turning a hair, doesn't need a pony to tug him around in the mornings, and won't be bothered by all the pre-race hysteria at Churchill Downs.  He showed a tremendous amount of class by getting dirt kicked in his face in the Sanford in only his second lifetime start before poking through a narrow opening on the fence to win.  If you watch most of Desert Party's races, he usually assumes the pocket position in behind the leader, and is easy to switch off in the middle portion.  He probably won't save much ground after drawing post 19, but he may find a great stalking spot in the second flight with I Want Revenge.  I'm not expecting a blazing pace, and Desert Party should be threatening the pacesetters with three furlongs to go.  Desert Party was compromised by an inside, speed-favoring track and an overly-conservative ride by Frankie Dettori in the UAE Derby, and will be ridden more aggressively by Ramon Dominguez.  Best yet, his price should be acceptable.
Regal Ransom was aided by the bias in the UAE Derby, and I have serious concerns about his ability to stay the entire ten furlongs, but there isn't much pace in this race, and he may inherit the lead from Join in the Dance when that one throws in the towel.  He's another that will be a square price, and if he breaks cleanly from the gate, won't have to worry about traffic problems.
Dunkirk has the most upside potential of any Derby starter, but will have to rally into a moderate pace, and his inexperience is glaring.  While I don't adhere to the Derby "rules," Dunkirk will take a ton of money, and may not offer much value considering his inexperience.  He's a very good horse, and will make a big impact before long...if not on Saturday.
I Want Revenge's Wood Memorial was so visually impressive that I don't mind he dropped ten points on the Beyer scale.  He missed four lengths at the break, raced in and among horses throughout, was bumped in midstretch, and still won without being shown the whip!  I don't like that he was reportedly cast in his stall, and he came back with some scratches after the Wood.  There are few holes in this horse except for the short price.  He can certainly win.
FRIESAN FIRE's Funny Cide-esque speed may put him in the Funny Cide pocket trip given an alert getaway.  It's hard not to like his consistency and tactical speed, but he's never gone nine furlongs, let alone ten, and has been off since mid-March.


any opinions on IWR odds and how the press release that he has abrasions on his knee will effect the odds.
Stephen L. Taylor

I don't think this hiccup will affect his odds in the least.  Everyone in the world will see his triple-digit Beyers.  Nearly everyone in the world saw his trip in the Wood Memorial.  In the minds of horseplayers, those factors will outweigh the cuts and nicks on his body.  I think he'll go off at around 5-1.


I know you are busy this week, but if you have not left for Churchill Downs, and if you have not already done so, could you kindly post the pp's for the Real Quiet Derby.
I am thinking the 2009 Derby will end up like the Real Quiet Derby.
chicago gerry

Here they are:

Download 1998 Derby


Strange things happen in short fields - which brings up a point, why in the world can they only get 6 runners for this race???
Steve T.

Because the big filly scared them all away.


Looks like a chance of rain for Saturday.  Anyone have a mudder list in case it is wet this weekend?
Joe Private

Desert Party and Friesan Fire are the two Derby runners with previous wins on wet surfaces.  Advice, Atomic Rain, Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, Flying Private, General Quarters, Hold Me Back, I Want Revenge, Join in the Dance, Mine That Bird, Mr. Hot Stuff, Nowhere to Hide, Papa Clem, and Regal Ransom all have at least adequate off-track bloodlines.

I'm not big on West Side Bernie, Musket Man, Pioneerof the Nile, and Summer Bird if the track comes up wet.  Now, go box that super!


This may have been covered before and I missed it but isn't the Nad Al Sheba dirt a one turn racecourse up to 1 1/4 miles? If so, neither of the Godolphin entries have won going two turns yet.

Here is a visual layout of the Nad Al Sheba course courtesy of emiratesracing.com as well as the overview of the track:


"The left-handed Nad Al Sheba dirt track is 2,254 metres in circumference and 20 metres wide. It has three chutes to accommodate starting points for races scheduled over 2,000 metres, 1,600 metres and 1,200 metres. The 1,200 metres chute provides a straight course for races from 1,000 metres to 1,200 metres. The surface is comprised of a mixture of fine dune sand, silt and clay and 3 inches of cushion are harrowed up daily for training and racing alike. It is routinely harrowed, watered and graded to ensure the going remains constant."


Dan, do you think that the owners of Rachel Alexandra will ever sleep well again knowing that they might have the best horse Saturday?  I just can't imagine owning that horse, and not putting her where she belongs.  Do you think their decision is soley based on the eight belles tragedy, or is there something that they saw that told them she wouldn't handle running with the boys.

I agree with Ray Manley's post on 4/28 at 12:16 p.m.  I think they'll sleep just fine knowing they're 2-5 in a $500,000 race.  This is where she belongs considering she wasn't nominated to the Triple Crown, wasn't going to be nominated to the Triple Crown as long as other speeds like The Pamplemousse, Old Fashioned, and Quality Road were going, and has been pointed to this race all along..  Once the defections started popping up, the connections would have had to put up $200,000 to nominate.  Add in the Eight Belles tragedy from last year, and there are enough compelling reasons to run in the Oaks.


How do they say "if it ain't broke don't fix it" I have been tracking this dearby field since last october and this year I think I have the horse that if not fist is second. Friesan Fire! The horse is a monster. I bet him all three of his wins this year the Lecombe was a blast I hit everything from win to exacta to super. I don't see another horse in there except maybe for Chocolate Candy and I Want Revenge that could derial this beautiful animal. If racing lick has him within 3 lengths before they hit the far turn it could be over just as fast as Big Brown did last year. I say he wins by at least 2. Could it be three times a charm for Jones? What you think? The horse has done no wrong so far this year.

He's a very logical contender.  He's fast enough to win on the numbers, is tactical enough to find a great pace-tracking, ground-saving spot going into the first turn, likes a wet track (there's a possibility for rain in Kentucky on Saturday), is by one of the great stamina sires in A.P. Indy, and shows the quick five furlong work that is Jones' M.O.  The layoff coupled with the fact he's yet to go nine furlongs is a bit concerning, but Friesan Fire should run a good one on Saturday.


Dan, I see that Churchill is offering 50 cent pick 4s  every day except for the Oaks and Derby.   Is this correct, and if it is, why?

Randy - The 50 cent P4's are being offered on Oaks and Derby Day.


Also, much has been made about POTN's recent Churchill Downs worksout. I mean are there not any dirt tracks at Saratoga, Hollywood, and Santa Anita that are or were available? And isn't it like likey that POTN has worked on a dirt track in company sometime, somewhere, somehow. prior to Churchill Downs.
chicago gerry

There is a dirt training track at Santa Anita, but Baffert understandably wasn't going to tinker with what wasn't broken.  Prior to the two Churchill works, Pioneerof the Nile worked many times over the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga.  Here are the results of those workouts (times and ranking):

May 15, 2008 - 3F - 38.20B (7/25)
May 22, 2008 - 3F - 39.06B (17/29)
June 9, 2008 - 4F - 50.88BG (19/41)
June 19, 2008 - 4F - 50.74BG (17/33)
June 27, 2008 - 4F - 50.20BG (10/20)
July 11, 2008 - 3F - 38.55B (11/14)
August 16, 2008 - 4F - 51.67B (29/32)
September 12, 2008 - 4F - 51.05B (19/27)
September 23, 2008 - 5F - 1:02.85B (3/19)

One of Baffert's best lines of the year was when he said, "I can't make him like the dirt.  If he likes it, he likes it."  He has no idea if this horse will handle it on gameday...just like the rest of us.


Talk to you soon,