05/04/2010 3:45PM

True to the "Cru"


Thousands upon thousands of words have been bestowed upon last Saturday's Kentucky Derby winner, SUPER SAVER, as the entire racing world was captivated by Todd Pletcher's first score in the Classic as well as Calvin Borel's third impersonation of Cool Hand Luke. 

Fans on Opening Day at Belmont Park, however, lived vicariously through "The Chief."  There weren't any giants that needed slaying in last Friday's Westchester, but a 27-1 mutuel on an Allen Jerkens-trained runner in a graded stake isn't anything to sneeze at.

Add in a 106 Beyer Speed Figure for a professional effort against a decent field and LE GRAND CRU earned top billing for our "Performance of the Week."

Handicappers could be forgiven for not having Le Grand Cru in their Westchester top three.  Despite a pair of graded wins to close out his 2009 season, there were many that felt Le Grand Cru had been exposed against better competition.  His victory in the one-mile, off-the-turf Kelso Handicap on October 4 came in a scratch-filled field of three while only four opposed him when he prevailed as the longest shot on the board in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler on Halloween at Aqueduct. 

Purchased for $230,000 as a Keeneland September yearling of 2006, Le Grand Cru is a son of Dynaformer.  His dam, the unplaced El Gran Senor mare, Ice the Champagne, has also produced Ice Point, a multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina.  The second dam is a winning full sister to 18-time winner, and successful sire, Clever Trick. 

Le Grand Cru won his career debut as a three-year-old of 2008, winning a fast six-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park with a 94 Beyer.  Off for almost a year after that race, Le Grand Cru became something of a money burner, placing as the favorite in his next three starts.  After three more losses, Le Grand Cru finally found his best distance and surface, winning an entry-level optional claimer at Belmont Park around a one-turn mile. 

Considering Le Grand Cru's pedigree, it wasn't surprising that Jerkens tried grass once again in the Grade 3 Jaipur on July 18, but six furlongs doesn't seem to be Le Grand Cru's cup of tea, and he finished an even fourth.  A tiring fourth going two turns at Saratoga in the Albert the Great Stakes and another loss in a turf sprint followed the Jaipur, but the racing gods smiled upon Le Grand Cru when rains forced the Kelso to the Belmont main track. 

Jerkens, one of the greatest horsemen ever to saddle an equine athlete, turned Le Grand Cru back to seven furlongs for the Bold Ruler, and the Dynaformer colt defeated a pair of next-out winners. Cherokee Country, fourth in the Bold Ruler, returned to win the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap before closing out his season with a 101 Beyer tally in the Valley Forge Stakes at Philadelphia Park.

Sent down to Gulfstream once again, Le Grand Cru faced some very tough cookies over the winter.  He tangled with arguably the best handicap runner in the country, QUALITY ROAD, in the Hal's Hope Stakes on January 3, was beaten in a pair of graded events on turf, and then tired badly in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on the main track.  Although the winter was a disappointing one for Le Grand Cru, he did earn Grade 1 blacktype when placed third via disqualification in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on February 6. 

The Westchester was an eclectic group of promising up-and-comers and older, battle-tested veterans that had perhaps seen better days.  New York-bred IRONMAN JON, undefeated after a pair of blowout wins, went right to the front with Le Grand Cru racing off his flank in second.  Le Grand Cru turned up the heat with three furlongs to run and he finally put Ironman Jon away in late stretch.  CONVOCATION, second in last year's Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes and trained by Jerkens' son, Jimmy, rallied past a tiring Ironman Jon for the place.  Grizzled graded winners HONEST MAN and GIANT MOON finished fourth and last, respectively, while last year's Metropolitan Handicap winner, BRIBON, checked in fifth as the betting favorite. 

The Westchester is the local course and distance prep for the Met Mile and it is likely that Le Grand Cru will end up in that spot on Memorial Day.  With Quality Road expected to run that afternoon, Le Grand Cru will be up against it, but wouldn't be the worst exotic play at a big price.  For the long-term future, Le Grand Cru looks like an interesting prospect in one-turn routes at the Grade 2 and Grade 3 level. 
("Performance of the Week" has been added to National Simulcast Weekly)


Will you kindly tell us ahead of post time which "horsey" she likes to win?  From the mouths of babes, etc. etc.

Finally got the word from Olivia Katherine Duckworth (who, with her first Derby selection at the age of two last year, correctly picked Mine That Bird). 
She loves #10 Paddy O'Prado. 
Keep in mind that she still wears diapers (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that).
Dan Illman

Olivia was very pleased with PADDY O' PRADO's trifecta finish in the Derby.  She thought he had a big shot in upper stretch. Even after SUPER SAVER won the race, she had the last word for Uncle Danny and Grandpa.

"Beat'cha," she said. 

Rotten kid.


can tinky, steveT, or any knowledgable formblogger explain 2 me what pulled,pulled early, pulled bit, etc means? i see this often in the capsule review after the horse's running lines in the pp's.

When you see the "pulled" comment in the past performances, you can assume that the horse was eager, headstrong, and/or rank in the early portion of the race.  A "pulling" horse is one that is somewhat unreceptive to his rider's command to rate or relax.


Was trying to remember the name of the Zito runner, who defeated Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. I don't think that one did too much, after that particular race.
chicago gerry

That would be DA'TARA, who is 0-11 (including five races in optional claimers) since upsetting BIG BROWN's Triple Crown dreams in the 2008 Belmont Stakes. 


Wonderful job, as always. I don't know where you received your liberal arts education, but I'm assuming it wasn't at Binghamton

You can't beat the Liberal Arts program at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida.  Along with the requisite academic programs, there's Gulfstream, Calder, Hialeah, Palm Beach Kennel Club, and Dania Jai-Alai just a hop, skip and a jump away.  Plus, the weather and girl-watching wasn't bad either.


Dan, could you please list the past morning line favorites in the 1 & 20 hole (other than Big Brown) & how they finished in the derby.
Thanks, Hairy

I believe there have been only 12 Kentucky Derby fields with exactly 20 horses (some with more, most with less).  I don't have access to the morning line for these races, but here are the post time favorites from 1 and 20 (in races with 20 horse fields):

1984:  ALTHEA (5-2 odds, part of entry) - Post 1 = finished 19th
1937:  WAR ADMIRAL (8-5 odds) - Post 1 = finished 1st
2008:  BIG BROWN (2-1 odds) - Post 20 = finished 1st


Also, Mr. Illman, could you give a quick, easy-to-understand explanation of the thoro-graph sheets?
minnesota kid

I've never used any of the sheets.  You may want to go the following link to learn more:



DAN ILLMAN bumped early, urged himself along early and stopped.

I'm lucky I didn't go blind.


Dan, question for you not related to the race:
What happened to the always delightful cartoon that usually appears on the front page of the DRF on the days of the TC races?  I always look forward to seeing it.
Is it now only on the print edition, and not online?

Hi Katie,
On the bottom of the drf homepage, you could have accessed the cartoon by clicking the FRONT PAGE box (just to the right of the blogs). 


2)I have a question about the 6th race Saturday at CD. The race was 7 1/2 furlongs Looking at the 3 horse, Bell's Shoes. She shows 9 starts total, none at 7 1/2 furlongs.  Yet, when you look at the stat that shows a horse's success at the distance it says she has two starts at that distance and two thirds.  If she has never run at 7 1/2 how can she have two thirds at the distance?

Not 100% certain, but I believe that the distance stats for 7 1/2 furlong races also count prior races at one mile.


I meant to say earlier, that was a great pick of Buckleupbuttercup!!  Can you share your reasoning on that selection?
John N

Thanks for the kind words, John N.  I was trying to beat HOT DIXIE CHICK, the deserved favorite in the Eight Belles.  While she was brilliant as a juvenile filly, she was away for a long time after the Spinaway, was questionable at 7 1/2 furlongs, and her return race at Oaklawn was the slowest (from a speed figure standpoint) of her career.  She was very precocious last year, but I wondered if some of these fillies had caught up with her in the interim. 
I really liked BUCKLEUPBUTTERCUP's win two back against $35,000 starter allowance runners at Gulfstream.  She earned a good figure (89) and was up on the pace throughout.  She was outmoved a bit while down inside on the far turn, but grinded it out on the rail to best next-out Keeneland allowance winner JOCATA.  When Buckleupbuttercup shipped to Keeneland, I thought she ran well for second despite racing in and among horses on the backstretch and four wide on the far turn. 
It looked like Buckleupbuttercup didn't class up very well, but I think it's because she was expertly spotted by her underrated trainer, Eddie Kenneally.  I'm guessing the barn figured nobody would claim the daughter of Najran first-out at Churchill Downs for $30,000 and they stole that pot as the betting favorite.  Buckleupbuttercup was then hardly disgraced in two grass routes and Kenneally took advantage of her maiden claiming win to enter her successfully in a pair of starter allowances at Gulfstream.  On paper she hadn't run a bad one to date after the solid polytrack race and was worth a shot at good odds.


$50 Exacta Super Saver over Lookin at lucky/Ice Box
Alexander Morris

Congrats to Alexander Morris for finishing first in the Kentucky Derby HandiGambling exercise.  I didn't hear back from him regarding this week's race so will take cayman's suggestion for the ninth race at Belmont on Wednesday.

Here are the past performances:

Download HG

Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan."   Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.  Please post your plays and analysis to the blog. In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference.  One entry per person please.  I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place.  The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are.  I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.


Here are the top 25 winning Beyer Speed Figures from last week's racing action:

Here are the winning past performances of the past week's top Beyer earner;

Download Le Grand Cru