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Questions, Questions, and More Questions
On paper, Sunday's Florida Derby looks like the season's strongest Kentucky Derby prep.
It's a race that poses some fascinating questions, as do many of the other stakes scheduled for the weekend.
Let's try to answer a few of them:
Excelsior Stakes - Aqueduct - Race 9:
Q1: Is UNDERSTATEMENT loose on the lead?
Q2: Is INHERIT THE GOLD merely an Inner Track freak?
I'll answer "yes" to the first question. Understatement breaks from the rail in this nine-furlong test, and he can go fast early when he wants to gun. In this short field, there aren't many other pacesetting options and Understatement could get brave if left to his own devices on the front.
"No" is my answer for the second problem. Inherit the Gold has really blossomed for his current connections, winning five of six at distances ranging from a mile to nine furlongs. Although he won all four of his starts over the inner this winter, he also took a statebred entry-level allowance race at Belmont on October 21.
Inherit the Gold is sharp, and he doesn't have to be too far off the leaders. Last time out, he made a strong three-wide bid entering the far turn, took over midway on the bend, and scored nicely over a decent sort in Yawanna Twist. I'm expecting Eddie Castro to keep Understatement in his sights from stalking range before unleashing the gray on the final turn.
As for Understatement, he'll make the lead, but I just didn't like the way he finished up last time out. Sure, he went fast early, but he was drifting through the stretch like he was looking for a place to lie down. That race was for a $50,000 tag, he wore front wraps for the first time, and he then went to a short freshening. He may not be as sharp as he's been in the past.
Selections: INHERIT THE GOLD, UNDERSTATEMENT, MODERN COWBOY
Rampart Stakes - Gulfstream - Race 10:
Q1: Will Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner UNRIVALED BELLE be fully cranked in her seasonal debut?
Q2: Will AWESOME MARIA be cooked early by PERSUADING?
Q3: Is this really just a "two-horse" race?
Let's go with "No, Maybe, I don't think so."
Unrivaled Belle is likely using this race as a prep for something bigger down the road, much like trainer Bill Mott used the Fountain of Youth as a prep race to get To Honor and Serve legged up for the Florida Derby. Unrivaled Belle certainly can win as she has a good amount of class and is comfortable at this distance, but she is going to be a short, short price.
Awesome Maria, a good 2-year-old that had been compromised by physical issues last year, was listed as a vet scratch on January 30. No worries, I guess, as she returned 20 days later to win the Grade 3 Sabin around a one-turn mile with a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. Awesome Maria got away with moderate fractions that day, but she's successfully stalked and pounced in the past. If Persuading decides to go, Awesome Maria will likely let her. The main worry may be if she regresses off that career-best race.
Most folks will look at this as a two-horse affair, but I'll take a longshot stab with STEPHANIE GOT EVEN, a filly that won five in a row in West Virginia and Arkansas between July 16, 2010 and January 23, 2011. Reportedly purchased for $200,000 after finishing second in the Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn on February 20, Stephanie Got Even made her first start for trainer Marty Wolfson in the Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes at seven furlongs. Racing against the grain of a speed-favoring track, as well as a razor-sharp Hilda's Passion, Stephanie Got Even finished an even third as Hilda's Passion scored in track record time.
Stephane Got Even won her only previous start around two turns, and her pedigree indicates she might like this additional distance. Her sire won the Donn over this track and trip and the dam is a half sister to Fantastic Fellow, a multiple graded winner at middle distances on grass. This will be a tall order, to be sure, but Stephanie Got Even seems sharp, is in good hands, and will offer nice value.
Selections: STEPHANIE GOT EVEN, AWESOME MARIA, UNRIVALED BELLE
Gulfstream Park Oaks - Gulfstream - Race 11:
Q1: Can R HEAT LIGHTNING succeed at nine furlongs?
I think she can under ideal circumstances, but I'm not sure I'm willing to find out for certain at a very short price. The problem with the race is that there only seems to be one other logical alternative, and IT'S TRICKY figures to be bet hard as well. Thus, I won't be investing a ton in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
R Heat Lightning looked good winning the Grade 2 Davona Dale under a wonderful ride by John Velazquez. Mired in-and-among horses for most of the way, Velazquez found an inviting seam along the inside turning for home and R Heat Lightning did the rest, drawing away to win by open lengths. She looked tired when second in her only previous two-turn try, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles, but R Heat Lightning may attempt to get a slight jump on her main competition from just off the pace. By Trippi out of a Gold Fever mare and considering her past running lines, however, one should be cautious.
It's Tricky could be any kind as she's a perfect 3-3 in her career. Her sire, Horse of the Year Mineshaft, usually stamps his foals with stamina so It's Tricky shouldn't find the distance too much of a hindrance. This will be the toughest test of her career, but she's looked good thus far. This race is a short-priced coin flip for me, and I'll use both of the favorites in multi-race wagers.
Selections: R HEAT LIGHTNING, IT'S TRICKY, BEST GRANDE
Las Flores Stakes - Santa Anita - Race 4:
Q1: Does GILDED GEM have the requisite will to win?
Good question, sensei. Over her last few races, she has run to the level of her competition, finishing second to the excellent Switch two back before placing second to the longest shot in a four-horse allowance field. I'm willing to give her one more chance if she doesn't wind up the favorite, and I think the public may fall for BROKEN DREAMS, who has done her best running on grass and is mired down on the rail.
In the Switch race, Gilded Gem tried to overcome a speed-favoring track as well as a very good horse by swinging five wide turning for home. Last time out, she started her move early when it looked like the winner would steal away to an insumountable advantage. A grinder, Gilded Gem should get pace to run at with CANDY'S PLEASURE and MOTHER RUTH likely to spar early. Now, let's see if she truly wants it.
Selections: GILDED GEM, SILVER SWALLOW, SUBSIDIZED
I only like one race on Sunday and it's not the Florida Derby. Before we get to the Skip Away, here are some quick and dirty selections:
Swale: TRAVELIN MAN, INDIANO, BLACK N BEAUTY
Appleton: LITTLE MIKE, SUCCESSFUL MISSION, COMMANDEERED
Florida Derby: FLASHPOINT, SOLDAT, STAY THIRSTY
Potrero Grande: CROWN OF THORNS, AMAZOMBIE, CAPTAIN CHEROKEE
For a more in-depth look at those races, please, please, please check out the video analyses that Mike Beer and I put together at the below link. I'll just go grab a sandwich until you're done.
Okay, that took longer than I expected.
On to the Skip Away:
Skip Away Stakes - Sunday - Gulfstream - Race 9:
Q1: Will DROSSELMEYER return to his Belmont Stakes-winning form?
Q2: Is JACKSON BEND over the hill?
Q3: Is JARDIM mainly a mudlark?
Q4: Who was the first Birdstone progeny to reach the winner's circle?
Many will disagree with me, but I don't like Drosselmeyer on Sunday. While he should improve in his second start back from the injury-induced layoff (and Mike Beer thought he ran well last time out) and could work out a good trip from the rail, his injury history makes me wonder if he'll ever be showroom-new good again. His reputation makes sure he'll get bet.
I hope Jackson Bend isn't over the hill as the pint-sized runner with the double-sized heart is fun to root for. He improved in his first start of the year although he was very late to change leads in the stretch. He breaks from a tough post position, but has enough speed to get into position going into the clubhouse turn. I won't write him off just yet.
Q3: Probably. Jardim is 5-5 on wet tracks and 0-9 on everything else. He ran okay on fast going when finishing ahead of Drosselmeyer last time out, and isn't the worst longshot in the world, especially if the track comes up gooey.
Q4: Before Mine That Bird and before Summer Bird, there was S. S. Stone, who won his debut over the Hollywood cushion track on June 29, 2008. I interviewed his owner, Bob LaPenta, on the old New York City OTB program after the race and LaPenta was very high on S. S. Stone. Unfortunately for the horse and his connections, S. S. Stone has been bogged down with injuries through most of his career. After finishing last in the Grade 2 Best Pal, he was laid up with a bruised foot. After two more so-so efforts, he went on the shelf for almost 13 months. He seems to be over his physical maladies now as he's 3-3 at the meet, and is unbeaten since blinkers were taken away from the arsenal. Sure, he got away with an easy lead last time out (first quarter in 26), but he's won from off it in the past, and the distance shouldn't be a problem. In a field full of question marks, I'll take a sharp horse that may be ignored as he leaps up in class.
Selections: S S STONE, JACKSON BEND, JARDIM
More importantly, who do you like this weekend? I want to know.
Jonah 1) I was not "chiming" (sp?) in on BSB's attack on Mike A, nor "congratulating" him on his attack, but rather the clever way he used musical lyrics throughout his post. I have nothing against Mike A, he seems to be a very knowledgable handicapper. And while he might be a tad too boastful about his prowess, he does back up his selections with results. 2) My MKB horse is Mucho Macho Man, hence the "M's". BSB pays tribute to Zenyatta with capital "Z's" throughout his posts, so I was simply returning the favor. Perhaps I was too clever for my own good. 3)"You haven't been young enough to defend bullying since that show was on the air." I have no idea what that sentence means. Who's defending bullying? I was bullied in grade school and junior high school, and hated it. Why would I defend bullying? I remember watching the Mary Tyler Moore show back in the 70's, so I guess that makes me young enough, or is it old enough?
No response.... I posted some Future KY Derby Future Prices after Pool 3 and not 1 response on this Blog??? What's up people?? Must be talking about other thing's... Well, the Red Sox are 0-4 and the Line is very long at the Tobin Bridge in Boston... Good Luck Today!!! Sorry to hear about S.S. Stone. Hard Game!!!! Whackymacky Out!!!
Annie Thanks for pointing out where most of the MKB horses will be this weekend... Some NICE races ! I'll add a couple who are under the Radar: JEFFREY'S Rockin Out - 6 1/2F 50K opt claim Gulfstream Parkb#6 Saturday STEPHEN TAYLOR'S Manicero - 7F 75K Sophomore S. Tampa Bay #5 Saturday DAVE K'S Ribo Bobo - 1 1/16M 75K Sophomore Turf S. Tampa Bay # 8 on Saturday ..and just one MKB Workout 4/6/11 Oaklawn Park - dirt/fast Elite Alex - 6F 1:11.60 Handily ( gate work) - Calvin Carter 'allyg knowledge' C - no problems , but this is being posted at the end of the day. Maybe the bugs are worked out?
"Finally, if it's hard to like Soldat and THAS, I have no idea why Stay Thirsty would be in the starting gate for Derby." -GunBow. I am assuming you are speaking from a performance based perspective, GunBow. You, me and my dear ol' Aunt Virginia all know WHY these horses are going to the Derby having shown little, or no, chance of winning. And I speak even more specifically of Stay Thirsty...who did show talent early on. Pletcher actually has stated on the record (Haskin's column) that ST is heading to the Derby (most likely) based on his "body of work" and not any Derby Fever by the connections. That is pretty funny...I used to think Pletcher was dry and boring, but that makes me laugh. The thing is in the Derby most of these horses (sadly) can not and will never get 10 furlongs. That leaves the exotics open to a horse to come out of nowhere and pass tiring horses and get 3rd or 4th. And that is what makes handicapping a challenge for this race. As for Soldat, we have no idea what kind of cruising speed this guy has. We know he is no fan of getting dirt up on him for 9 furlongs...and he did not like the rail. There are more questions than answers about Soldat, I agree, and I am not confident about his chances but stranger things have happened. Looking back on the 2009 Derby, Mine that Bird had changed riders and riding tactics going into the Derby. The horse had ALWAYS had tactical speed, heart and a nice turn of foot. The decision by his trainer and Borel to take that horse back and then come with one huge 4 furlongs sprint was genius--but crazy like a fox given that field. History has now shown us that the second best horse in the race that day was Musket Man and Pioneer of the Nile (and probably Papa Clem). None of those horses were really classic distance horses. And the track was a mess. The real classic distance horse in that race (Summer Bird) was simply too green to win, but ultimately proved after the Derby experience to be the best 3 year old of that entire group. And MTB did prove he belonged in the Preakness and despite that early move in the Belmont he ran big... Of course, losing to Big Drama at 9f did not help his image...but BD turned out to be a BC Sprint Champ he ran away from that field...
vicstu: Mine That Bird violated almost every "law" of Derby winners, so I'm definitely hesitant to speak in absolutes when looking back at statistics and applying them to current prospects. Thus, even though a Derby winner hasn't won after finishing 5th or worse in it's final prep, I am inclined not to dismiss Soldat solely because of that. Perhaps it was simply an experiment gone wrong. The larger problem with Soldat is that now that it appears he can't rate behind horses, that means he will need to be up front in the Derby. The problem is he hasn't shown the requisite speed in his two turn races to be up front in the Derby. Soldat is used to first halves in about 48; well, that's not going to happen in the Derby. He just doesn't appear fast enough to get the trip it appears he needs in order to win. I guess the one hope for Soldat racing midpack would be to get outside of horses so he's not getting any kickback. That would necessitate an outside post, but, of course, there is no guarantee of that happening. As for To Honor and Serve, I don't like his chances much at all. He needed at least one good start before the Derby and he didn't get it. The only Derby winner of the last 36 years to have not finished 2nd in either of its preps was Sea Hero. To make matters worse, THAS was a badly beaten 3rd in both. I never believed THAS's fade job in the FoY was by Mott's design. Yes, I don't think Mott had him cranked up, but he had to expect more than that(just like Unrivaled Belle). Either Mott miscalculated THAS's fitness for the FoY(and he was drawing rave reviews), or the horse underperformed. Am I to believe that THAS's repeat fade in the Florida Derby was also by design, simply another "step" in Mott's preparation to have him peak at Churchill? I find that hard to believe. First, these trainers and owners want to win million dollar races; they know the Derby is so unpredictable that you better take a shot at good money when you can. Second, I'm sure Mott realized that after the FoY, THAS needed a strong race, a race he would run relatively hard all the way to the wire. It didn't happen. Perhaps, like Soldat, THAS is struggling with the quicker paces? In his distance races at 2, THAS didn't have to face a sub-47 half. Finally, if it's hard to like Soldat and THAS, I have no idea why Stay Thirsty would be in the starting gate for Derby. However, and this is my big cavaet, if Uncle Mo disappoints, The Factor can't run past 9 furlongs, and the Santa Anita Derby comes up weak, then we could have a year like 09'(Mine That Bird) or 93'(Sea Hero) when anything is possible.
vicstu: And I agree, if I have to hear once again how great every horse is doing before the Derby, I'm going to puke. If every horse is doing "perfect", then why is about half of every Derby field eased across the wire, and why do half of them not run the rest of the year. Clearly, some owners, trainers, and jockeys see what they want to believe in their horse, not what actually is.
Molesap: Yes, in looking at recent Derbys I had found the same thing concerning the small number of horses even entered that had run worse than 4th in their final prep. However, I didn't have info on all starters going back to even 85' let alone 75'. The stats I provided are seriously statistically flawed. By looking at just Derby winners rather than all Derby starters, one is violating a major no-no of statistics, sampling on the dependent variable. Even while recognizing the statistics are flawed, what I found most striking was how many Derby winners, at least until recently, had run well in both of their final starts. Typically, Derby winners win one of their final 2 starts, or at least finish 2nd in one of their final two starts. Only Sea Hero finished 3rd or worse in both. Consider that 28 of the last 36 Derby winners ran at least 2nd in their final prep. That's a little more significant because there have been a number of starters coming off 3rds or 4ths in their final prep. I think also the small number of Derby starters that ran worse than 4th in their final preps perhaps reflects a more realistic approach from the past. It seems that when a horse did not run well in its final prep, its connections did right by the horse and pulled it from Derby consideration. These days, if a horse has the graded earnings, it's likely going to run in the Derby. In the not so distant past, there were many runnings of the Derby that didn't need to apply any qualification standards because there were fewer than 20 horses trying to get in. If there was not the graded earnings standards, would 30 or 40 horses be entered? Or maybe the graded earnings standards encourages some connections, who otherwise might be inclined not to run, to go ahead because their horse does have the required earnings and they wouldn't want to "waste" a "chance of a lifetime" given they have already qualified?
Aqueduct... Nice to see them dump in $19,807 out of $27,470 into the show pool in Race #2 on #7 Pewter. As we saw, the race ended up 4-3-5. Sorry boys and girls, no #7... The show prices were a little low. Paid $11.00 / $6.50 / $5.30. Winner paid $21.60 as the 4th choice in the 5 horse field. Keep an eye out for the funny $$$... How much do you all think will be bet on Uncle Mo to SHOW on Saturday?? The over / under is $1.2 million on my books. Hate to see a bad step... Good Luck All... Whackymacky Out!!!
Is anyone else having a problem on the site? For me, the page is constantly loading something or updating itself. I thought I might have a virus, but I don't... I think it's DRF.
GunBow, Excellent breakdown on Derby winners and prep race finish position. I decided that it might be interesting to look at how many runners actually ran worse than fourth in their final prep race, so I looked at 13 different Kentucky Derbies between 1990 and 2010. Why just 13? Those were the only races where I had past performances for the entire field. So here are a few things I found out: Of those 13 races I looked at, the average number of starters was 17.7 with the minimum being 13 in 1997 and the maximum being 20. In every race studied there was at least one, but no more than three horses that finished worse than fourth in their last prep race prior to the Kentucky Derby. There were a total of 230 horses entered over the time span studied and 26 of them had finished worse than fourth accounting for 11.3% of all starters. As mentioned in a previous post, there were no winners from that group as every winner finished fourth or better in their last prep race. In fact, unless I missed something because of incomplete data, you have to go back to 1957 in order to find a horse that won the Kentucky Derby who finished worse than fourth in the race prior to the Derby. To look at it another way, it may not be that strong of factor after all, as nearly 90% of horses starting during the time period studied fit the “finished fourth or better criteria.” Thus, it does not seem to be all that discerning as because of the relatively few entrants that had a chance to break this pattern.