03/25/2013 9:19AM

Spiral, Sunland Derby Thoughts


The urge to dismiss Saturday’s Spiral Stakes as any sort of meaningful prep for the Kentucky Derby this year is strong. After all, upset winner Black Onyx’s previous biggest claim to fame was an entry level allowance win on the turf at Gulfstream in his prior start. Hey, unlike 369 of his contemporaries, Black Onyx wasn’t even a Triple Crown nominee before the Spiral, and his final time was slow enough to result in an uninspiring winning Beyer Figure of only 90.

I suppose the second place finish by Uncaptured would be the Spiral bright spot most would point to as he was beaten only 1 1-2 lengths in his first start in four months. Okay. Then again, Uncaptured never looked like a winner, he is a noted Polytrack lover even if he did win both big 2-year-old stakes at Churchill last fall, and he remains something of a question at two turns. It could be that Uncaptured was around at the end of the Spiral only because the race was so slow.

If you’re looking for a real redeeming feature from this Spiral, maybe this is it:

In the wake of his win Saturday, Black Onyx does seem to have an analogous career profile to 2011 Spiral winner Animal Kingdom, who, of course, went on to win the Kentucky Derby at 20-1.

Black Onyx and Animal Kingdom were both unheralded juveniles who managed but maiden wins in two starts at 2. Like Black Onyx, Animal Kingdom started in a first-level allowance race on turf at Gulfstream prior to the Spiral (he was beaten a head in that race). They have similar Beyer progressions at this point in their careers – Animal Kingdom went from an 83 to a 94 in the Spiral, while Black Onyx went from an 81 in his Gulfstream win to improve nine points Saturday. And as Animal Kingdom did after the Spiral, Black Onyx will train up to the Kentucky Derby.

But before the Black Onyx fans get too excited, consider that in the judgment of at least two expert workout watchers, Animal Kingdom trained exceptionally well in the weeks leading up to the Derby, making tremendous strides, which is underscored by the fact that he took another Beyer leap forward to a 103 in his Derby win. A similar past performance profile certainly does not guarantee Black Onyx will rapidly develop in the same manner. And it should also be noted that Animal Kingdom’s Derby field was, well … let’s just say the first three betting favorites in that Derby were Dialed In, Pants On Fire, and Nehro. I know a lot can happen between now and this year’s Derby, but as of this moment, with Verrazano, Orb, and Itsmyluckyday out there, to name just three, it does seem like Black Onyx will be facing a tougher group at Churchill.

In many respects, the field Govenor Charlie crushed in Sunday’s Sunland Derby wasn’t any better than the one Black Onyx beat in the Spiral. So putting aside for a moment the fact that Govenor Charlie was a thoroughly decisive winner, it is probably wise to be reserved in this case, too.

Nevertheless, the vibe with Govenor Charlie feels totally different. Part of it has to do with how well connected he is (trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Mike Pegram), and part of it has to do with the real potential he showed at the start of his career at Santa Anita. But the main reason why Govenor Charlie seems more serious a colt is, he was making only his third career start Sunday. If he is this capable now, what might he do when he goes beyond scratching the surface of his abilities?

Govenor Charlie is reminiscent of another recent Sunland Derby winner, Endorsement. Endorsement decisively won the 2010 Sunland Derby off his maiden win, the same move Govenor Charlie made, although Endorsement did run faster (earning a 101 Beyer as compared to Govenor Charlie’s preliminary Sunland Derby Beyer of 95). In any case, it’s interesting to note that Endorsement was becoming a very popular wise guy pick into a 2010 Kentucky Derby field that saw Lookin At Lucky, Super Saver, and Sidney’s Candy wind up the first three favorites, only to suffer an injury a week before the race that eventually sidelined him for 21 months.

John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Fair analysis.
jttf More than 1 year ago
how many horses that ran on sunland's concrete are sore today ? that track was so hard, there wasnt any endurance test. in the spiral, how come jersey joe is asking his horse midway on the backstretch and continues to push all of the way to the wire. this is where there is a big difference in turfways' synthetic track and dirt tracks. jockeys start pushing their horses much earlier during the race. this is why i think synthetic tracks dont require as much endurance as dirt tracks. i dont think black onyx is my horse for the churchill dirt.
James More than 1 year ago
I'll take Beyers figures before the rag sheets, thorograph, trackmaster, equibase or BRIS. I love how all the players rip on the Beyer figures, yet race in and race out the highest Beyers are the favorite in most races. The highest figure isn't always the best play; must always take in consideration how the fig was earned. I remember when the DRF didn't have the "Beyers" and the Racing Today did, DRF players were getting killed and the Racing Today player where cleaning up. Why do think DRF bought exclusive rights to the Beyers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If Beyer numbers are so good, why is Beyer such a woefully bad handicapper? The same applies to Ragozin, Jerry Brown, et al. For the umpteenth time, the fact that these numbers are for sale (cheap) indicates that their creators can't make money over the long haul betting their own numbers.
charles b More than 1 year ago
Absolutely true and well said. Why in heaven would these guys sell the "Goose that lays the Golden Egg" to the public. I am a handicapper like most, but I do have one element that I have perfected over the years that I keep to myself. It gives me an edge over the rest of the bettors. Why would I ever think of selling it for public use? The more people that know what you know, kills the price.
Jordan Sickman More than 1 year ago
How is Governor Charlie's performance any less impressive than Verrazano's in the Tampa Bay Derby. And both have about the same amount of seasoning headed into the Derby. I'll be passing both.
Revenge16 More than 1 year ago
The comparisons with Animal Kingdom and Black Onyx are food for thought and like all variables in racing, probably far from relevant. Although I do not dismiss this line completely I give more credit to the handlers of the prospect, breeding and is there a big performance jump possible due to distance and training? Graham Motion proved it. Can Kelly Breen do the same? As they say, that's what makes a horse race.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Black Onyx has one qualification Animal Kingdom did not have - he has won on dirt.
Albert More than 1 year ago
It's hard for me to draw conclusion about a horse based upon who won the same race in the past, but there is one thing you can say about both Black Onyx and Gov Charlie. They both won fairly easily despite racing 3-wide the entire way in their races. You can add a nice premium to their numbers as a result. Since I am more interested in Equibase numbers, I'll wait to see what that means to me. Based upon the Beyers, neither of these two runners are at the same level as the Florida group.
Richard More than 1 year ago
I see The Sunland Derby as the first real prep for The Kentucky Derby since it was run at one and one eighth of a mile. Govenor Charlie ran a nice race with the Bob Baffert and Mike Pegram team winning again. Those two have sure done well together and I think Baffert works better with Pegram than he does with other owners. Some of those owners can be a real pain sometime when you are dealing with people that have had the financial success these people have had. These next preps in the following weeks will be the last at a mile and an eighth. We will see how they do.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
The Spiral S is also 9f and its 2011 winner also won the Kentucky Derby.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's interesting that the Spiral winner recieves a 90 Beyer and the Sunland winner gets a 95 after setting a new track record that stood for over 50 years. I think this is why the Beyer Rating system is so suspect!!!
David Sias More than 1 year ago
I'm not going to attck you like a lot of crazies on here would, but I will tell you to read up on Beyers some more. What they mean, how they're calculated etc. and you'll get your answer. I think that there were 3 track records set that day or something crazy like that. Track was a conveyor belt. My Aunt Tilly could have run 6f in 1:08 and change hahaha.
Joey W More than 1 year ago
First of all, Blac Onyx should have been closer to 5-1 than 15-1. Balance the Books had not run since the BC. My Name is Michael got beat by horses who got dominated in there next start. Uncaptured off long layoff. Capo Bastone would have got no play if not having Pletcher as a trainer. And anything that had been stabled at Turfway was a toss. Uncaptured will be a 7 to 8 furlong horse, never a classic distance runner. Congrats to Bravo and Breen and good luck in the Derby you will need it.
Sam More than 1 year ago
So it looks like the Derby is rounding out to be 10 front runners and 10 come-from-behind colts. I''m going with the come-from-behind runners.