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The Blue Grass Stakes Saturday was the 13th time an American Grade 1 race has been run on Polytrack -- and the 13th time the favorite has lost. What's more, even-money Pyro became the 7th of those 13 favorites to finish fifth or worse:
Thirteen races is a statistically iffy sample, but the results certainly mirror most horseplayers' confusion about these races: What, if anything, do we learn about these horses when they prep for major events on Polytrack? Last year's Blue Grass, a four-way photo-finish among horses who returned to run 11-1-12-17 in the Derby, was entirely misleading: Those who remained loyal to Street Sense did so in spite of rather than because of his performance, while those attracted to Dominican, Zanjero or Teufelsberg had been given the false impression that those horses were within necks and noses of the Derby winner in ability.
Monba was one of my six in my anti-Pyro Premier Pick Four play, so I'm not speaking from the perch of a "disgruntled horseplayer," which is how those of us with concerns about the validity of racing on this surface are usually marginalized by its defenders. (I also know I got lucky because I didn't use Cowboy Cal, who just as easily could have won.) Nor do I lump all synthetic surfaces together; the Cushion Tracks at Hollywood and Santa Anita have taken some getting used to, but don't seem to play utter havoc with dirt form the way that Polytrack does.
There was no satisfaction in seeing Pyro run a dismal 10th. I thought he was being overrated and underpriced off two slow-figure victories, but he might as well have lost his rider coming out of the gate. At least if you liked him before, you'll get a better price on him on Derby Day now. Nor was he the only accomplished dirt horse to spin his wheels in the Blue Grass: The winners of the Fountain of Youth, Louisiana Derby and Tampa Bay Derby finished in a three way photo -- for 9th, 10th and 11th.
And who knows what to do with Monba? I've liked him since his strong finish in the Hollywood Futurity, but it's very hard to gauge the quality of his race Saturday. The race, run in 1:49.71, got a Beyer Speed Figure of 92. That may seem low, but it fits perfectly with the day's other Polytrack route, a similarly-paced N1x for 3-year-olds timed in 1:43.80 for a mile and a sixteenth, only six Beyer points slower than the Blue Grass. And how much faster can you rate the Blue Grass when 68-1 Stevil is beaten just 2 1/2 lengths despite, according to the chart, going "ten or twelve wide" around the stretch turn?
The Arkansas Derby came up a stronger race, getting a preliminary Beyer of 103 though there's some question about whether the track speeded up a bit toward the end of the card. It was a highly formful race, with the two fastest and most accomplished entrants running 1-2 and leaving the rest behind. Gayego ran a strong, pace-pressing race and will join what's starting to look like a crowded potential first flight of Derby runners including Big Brown, War Pass and Bob Black Jack. Z Fortune chased pretty well while losing ground on both turns, though the memory of the real Pyro blowing past him in the Risen Star lingers strongly.
I was trying to root Z Fortune home given the likelihood that that the Premier Pick Four would have paid more than $1083.60 for $1 with a 6-1 rather than a 2-1 in the last leg, but you're a lot more resourceful than I am if you ever found or saw probable payoffs for this so-called national bet. Despite having 75 minutes to fill between races, the 90-minute ESPN telecast never mentioned the wager or displayed the will-pays or payoffs. The pool was $371,724, more than the final round of Derby Futures and Oaks Futures wagering combined.
One other comment, some people say Momba should be ignored unless the Derby is run on synthetic. But didn't he break his maiden pretty impressively on this very Churchill Downs surface? PS - I hate the Pletcher and Asmussen constant drug violations which the racing authorities treat with kid gloves. The sport has lost a lot of integrity and fan base because of this IMO.
All I'll say is this about this Saturdays Kentucky Derby and Big Brown. If you like Bog Brown and think he's a monster just remember two words: Bellamy Road. That's right Bellamy Road. Just like BR, this horse is undefeated and just like BR he won his big pre Derby route on the front end against a weak field with no real pace pressure. And like BR I suspect that BigBrown really wants no part of 1 1/4 at all. I'm guessing that Saturday he does not even hit the board. Seriously, not even the board. I think this horse is so eeerily similiar to Bellamy Road in how he runs and his pre derby races that its insane. Very few pre Derby preps just like BR. Biggest pre Derby win in a route against a weak field with no pace pressure, remember BR's Wood win? And now lots of hype just like BR. Maybe worst is that like BR he will be favored or near favorite and unlike War Admiral who snuck up on the field and stole his Derby by setting very moderate early fractions, favorites are seldom permitted to steal Derby's on the front end. My guess: Saturday he either breaks poorly and or faces real early pace pressure and wilts bigtime. This horse is no Smarty Jones. Like Bellamy Road, he'll hate 1 1/4.
River Flyer, Bellamy Road was NOT undefeated going into the Derby. In fact, I don't even think he was the favorite in the Wood.
Pyro will beat Big Brown Saturday and is my pick to take it all. So far in his 2 dirt routes, Big Brown has run sub 46 opening halves both times. That does not indicate a horse who can ration his speed properly for the Derby test or is really all that rateable despite what the hypesters say. And sitting briefly a single length off a horse going a 1 turn mile at Gulfstream when you yourself run the opening half in 45:2 does not indicate a horse who is reasonably rateable, again despite what thee hypesters would have you believe. His opening turf half appeared to be nicely rateable, but thats turf and unless something really wierd has happened that ain't what he is running on Saturday. 2 dirt races and sub 46 opening halves each time = derby disaster IMO. Add in the fact that BB now for the 1st time in his life faces decent quality other early speed from Cowboy Cal, Bob Black Jack and Gayego and I think this horse BB will be wildly overbet and won't even hit the board. Pletcher has multiple entries and one of them, Monba, is a classic stalker type. With that in mind I see little chance of Cowboy Cal his mate letting BB have any type of uncontested early easy lead even if the opening half is 45 and change which I think it will be. I'll be playing a Pyro/Gayego exacta and win bets on both Pyro and Gayego. Gayego's only dirt race in the Ark Derby was the best race of his life and he should fire big on Saturday at a decent price as the TC dreamers will pound the overhyped BB. :-)
Bellamy Road was the favorite in the Wood Memorial in 2005, http://horseracing.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=horseracing&cdn=sports&tm=82&gps=51_346_1020_567&f=10&tt=2&bt=1&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.drf.com/row/charts/05wood_chart.pdf However, you are correct in that he was not undefeated going into the Derby, he was 4-5 with one loss as a 2 year old. Like Big Brown, Bellamy Road's "Big" 3 year old pre-Derby route wins were on or very near the lead against weak fields, going pretty fast the 1st half mile - one at Gulfstream Park and the other the Wood. Like Bellamy Road, Big Brown appears destined to want to run very fast early in his routes, but also does not appear to really want 1 1/4 or seem destined to excel at it. He will also attempt to win the Derby having only 3 lifetime races. At low odds and the likely postime favorite, an easy toss IMO. In fact, I'll guess now that he does not even hit the board this Saturday and then the excuses will start to fly. LOL, good luck with your wagers all.
"Pyro, no excuse except Polytrack, no scoop no blood work or worries about him that says a lot to me, they didn't care if he won that race or not, they want the Derby and only the Derby, 0-13 says everything to me and I will reap my rewards on Derby day when Pryo sets CD on fire. Although my confidience is a little softer I am sticking with my Pyro. Antman" You are very confident in Pyro... I am leaning a different way, but it should be interesting.. some monster horses.
you know your having a bad day when pletcher pretty much tells you This is Cowboy cat's Derby so you bet him and you get beat by his stable mate with not a Dime to spare on the stable mate :(
I agree with Doc. There are good betting opportunities being created by synthetics. Wasn't there a general complaint that the dissemination of so much handicapping info had made finding value difficult? As for value of The Blue Grass as a prep, first no trainer has to run in the Blue Grass. There are plenty of other opportunities. Second, the Blue Grass(Polytrack version)is currently one for one when it comes to producing the Derby winner. Keeneland was also the training site for Curlin before the Breeders Cup. And in 2006 those who raced and trained at Keeneland in the fall did very well at Churchill in the Breeders Cup.
Polytrack is a joke and will completely destroy the game. It already has at a number of tracks. The bottom line is that their is little if any logic to synthetic races too much of the time, and people—very skilled people— have been studying it now for awhile. The reasons for its installation are also transparently bogus; how about all those horrendous pileups on turf—are we going to install fake lawns now too? Polytrack=casino. As a relatively young but experienced horse player, I can only hope it is a temporary trend, 'cause I don't go to casinos, and neither do the handicappers I know of my generation. From where I and others sit, if NYRA, Churchill etc. go to poly eventually ala Keeneland, it's OVER. Would it REALLY be that much harder to make dirt courses better? I don't think so.
This is Churchills wagering menue.I don`t know if it`s up to date or changes any on Derby day Exotic Wagering Format $1. Daily Double on 1st & 2nd races 9 & 10 and races 11 & 12. $2. Exacta on all races. $2. Pick 6 on races 5 through 10. $1. Rolling Pick-3 beginning on 1st race. $1. Pick 4's on races 1 through 4, 3 through 6, 7 through 10 and 9 through 12. $1. Superfecta on all races with five or more betting interests. $1. Trifectas on all races with six or more betting interests.