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Dick Jerardi: Kentucky Derby prognosticating requires more guesswork
I feel far differently about the 3-year-old possibilities than I did this time last year. It was clear to me that the division was strong in 2012, that the racing would be competitive, that the 3-year-olds would improve all year and be major factors in the fall.
I want to get enthusiastic about this 2013 group, but when you were so wrong about everything, it is difficult to be confident about anything.
Even as the racing got serious in 2012, I was still certain it was going to be a wonderful group. The stars of 2011 were winning many of the Kentucky Derby prep races, confirming their 2-year-old form.
Then, Hansen and Union Rags got beat. That was the first sign that the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was not really the race I thought it was. Then, the good 2-year-olds did not get faster as the Derby approached. That was the second sign that the 2-year-old form was not going to hold up. By late summer, the entire crop had disappeared into the witness protection program.
So I am not ready to make any pronouncements about the Class of 2013. Given that the 2012 Derby and Preakness were dominated by I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister, two horses whose names I did not know a year ago, even basic assumptions are perilous.
The Derby is becoming a bit like the NFL playoffs, with far more than 12 possibilities. The hot team, not necessarily the best team, has won the Super Bowl in recent years.
Who liked Mine That Bird when 2009 began or Super Saver in 2010? Same with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and I’ll Have Another in 2012.
Mine That Bird and Super Saver were mostly forgettable after the Derby. Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another turned out to be legit.
Horse racing, like just about everything else, is cyclical.
It was not that long ago when a 2-year-old champion (Street Sense) could win the Derby (2007). Or a horse with great early 2-year-old form (Afleet Alex) could dominate the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (2005).
Recently, it has been about the late developers. That could change as quickly as it began. But that is where it is as we begin 2013.
Does that mean Shanghai Bobby could not turn out to be a superstar, sweep the Triple Crown, and get on the cover of Time, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek? Well, no Newsweek. Hard to get on a cover that no longer exists, in print, anyway. The Shanghai Bobby scenario is possible, just not very likely.
What’s not to like about Shanghai Bobby, the unbeaten winner of the Juvenile, a colt who held his form from April to November, won at five different distances and four different tracks? Other than the slow time of the Juvenile, there really is nothing not to like, except for the way the sport has evolved.
It is not about a specific horse any longer. It is about the sport and how it has changed so dramatically. Form lasts weeks not years. The way horses are trained (or not trained) has been altered completely. It is really hard to depend on anything over the long term, much less the short term.
I have certainly been impressed with Violence (can they please change the name?), another talented and unbeaten Todd Pletcher 2-year-old. He’s fast, versatile, and certainly looks to have the right bloodlines.
But what happens to all those Pletcher 2-year-olds between November/December and May? America’s dominant trainer seems to be able to do anything but win those May races they run in Louisville and Maryland. How do you explain that? I really can’t.
Visually, I really liked the one-two finishers in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Uncaptured and Frac Daddy. I am especially hoping Frac Daddy becomes a contender as his trainer Ken McPeek can then give national testimony to that Northeast Philly delicacy that is the Chink’s Cheesesteak. (When he was in town for Pennsylvania Derby last September, McPeek got a first taste. He will be making special trips just to get back there). Before I got too excited about that November race at Churchill, however, I noted the dreadful time that equated to a bizarre 76 Beyer and led to even more confusion.
So, as we begin the prep race season, my advice is to keep an open mind, a very open mind.
I always used to laugh at those people who bet the field in craps or Derby futures. Well, I know somebody who just spent hours betting the field at a hot craps table in Atlantic City and went from nearly broke to getting out of town with hundreds falling out of his pockets. At this stage, the only bet I like is the unknown. Sadly, I will take the Field.
Very good article, Dick. You made some excellent observations in it as well. With the exception of Royal Delta and Groupie Doll, a majority of the horses considered the best horses in thoroughbred racing were late bloomers, a factor in why they are racing in their fourth and fifth years and beyond. They were not 2 year old "wonder horses". It also true that Mr. Pletcher always has a leading contingent of talented 2 year olds, and his horses always dominate competition in their 2 year old seasons, but when it's time for Triple Crown competition they don't live up to their expectations, other less-known horses mature and come to the forefront. To me, this "not knowing what to expect" in 3 year olds makes racing exciting and more fun to pick and prognosticate. I look forward to 2013 being just as fun as 2012 to pick in the Triple Crown race. I hope so, 2012's race was a very exciting one.
if you want a healthy kentucky derby contender. dont have the horse run a serious campaign on lasix as a 2 year old. this will stunt the growth of the 3 year olds. good 2 year olds do not improve much if any, when running regularly on lasix. keep an eye out on the shock wave therapy horses. should be a good price.
And that’s another sore point. Just because a race has two turns doesn’t make it a route! A route is 10f minimum and in Europe routes start at 12f and the horses are celebrated and financially rewarded. A mile is NOT a route and neither is 9f – those are middle-distance races. We don’t card routes anymore so why breed or train for them? The Belmont Stakes is the ONLY Grade I race at 12f on dirt in the US. The only one - nothing for the older horses. And we have a limited number of 10f races too. Until we reward routers over sprinter/milers by offering them a place to shine and the $$ to make them alluring we won’t have a Triple Crown winner. Period. First of all, the horses that can actually get the distances haven’t been able qualify for the Derby these last few years as the money requirement rewarded two-year-old sprinters instead of true routers who generally mature later. Maybe the new system will help, I don’t know. I do know that I for one was not in the least surprised when Drosselmeyer won the BC Classic because he was the only horse in the race that had shown consistent ability at 10f or longer (his record was 6-3-2-0 ). Yet he was dismissed as a “plodder” in favor of the miler “beast” Uncle Mo. The problem was there weren’t enough races at Drosselmeyer’s best distances. The “problem” is system-wide in the US and until we look at it system-wide we won’t solve it. Stop the bullet breezes under tack before the yearling sales – this emphasizes sprinters to the exclusion of routers and pushes young horses before their bones can handle it. Card more races for more money at 10f and longer for older horses. Maybe we’ll see fewer horses given up on because they can’t sprint and find a few superstars along the way – like Kelso and his five wins in the then 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Horses like Dr Fager and Forego, who really could do it all, are few and far between. What kind of Thoroughbred do we want in America? The kind that can win the Triple Crown and stay sound enough to thrill us for two or three or even four years? Or a Quarter Horse wannabe, who flames out as a young three year-old? It’s up to us.
Part of the problem is the emphasis on Beyer figures etc and their expectations of :22 and change speed. That kind of speed works maybe up to 8f but can't carry to 10f. A horse that “plods” five consecutive :24 quarters runs 10f in 2:00! We're training horses to be sprinter/milers these days. When was the last time you saw a horse being prepped for a 10f race actually WORK 10f? No, they work 5 or 6f bullets and everyone is hyped into thinking they can carry that another half-mile. That just doesn't happen. My daughter ran cross-country in high school and college and her coaches (i.e. trainers) had them work TWICE the distance they were to race - so their training runs were six miles for three mile races. The drop in distance then seemed a piece of cake because they were so fit. Back in the day, Secretariat had timed works of 8 to 10 furlongs early in the week he raced, and his "bullet" work was a 3f blowout either the day before or the morning of the race. Todays’s former QH trainers are so wedded to the speed workouts they don't even think of just maybe finding out if their "routers" can actually run that far. (Continued on next post)
Unfortunately, we don't live in the days of Secretariat when it was typical to see everyday platers running 7 to 10 days when they were inside their form cycles. Due to drugs and inbreeding, the breed itself can no longer withstand the rigors of what used to be considered normal racing. Each of these preps in themselves are demanding, as graded stakes earnings become the gateway into the Derby. Every one of these preps demand a level of exertion that may not allow the winner...or possibly entrants in close combat with the eventual winner...to exit the race unscathed. What I used to find ironic, is that baseball players were pulled in front of congressional panels to testify on whether they used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs when at the same time these were being used in horseracing. Restrictions have only been implemented in the last couple of years. I hope that eventually we will be able to see racing return to what it once was, but I highly doubt it.
You have touched a nerve, Dick! I kept track of the 2012 sophomores, and over 30 who were on the Derby Trail in January 2012 were on the shelf by June! Heartbreaking! And, it continued to literally devastate the 3 yr old ranks, as more 3 year olds retired prematurely due to "issues". Thank goodness we were spared a Barbaro or an Eight Belles, but there were some catastrophic injuries, as well, just not the headliners. A handful did make it back, but for the most part, they have disappeared into the breeding shed to do what? Breed more of the same? Of course, this doesn't take into account those juveniles you talked about who aren't able to carry their form into their sophomore season. I particularly like your advice to keep an open mind. My advice is, it's too early to fall in love! I'm planning to watch things unfold, but with a jaundiced eye, so I won't be too disappointed when the object of my affections doesn't make it to the starting gate the first Saturday in May!
Mine That Bird and Super Saver are now trained by Baffert. Should be running soon for $12.5 once he finds the perfect spot for them for a confidence builder.
Mr. Jerardi: You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I found your objection to Violence's name to be absurd. Would you also have every other horse's name filtered through "political correctness," too? And once started, where does that end? Would horse racing have to go back and, say, change the name of every horse that had "gun" or "pistol" in its name? Anyway, in this particular instance, we're just talking about a horse's name, for God's sake. And I, for one, like it.
Where was I'll Have Another this time last year? He was a huge longshot in his first race of the year. Bodemeister hadn't even started yet. Went the Day Well? Where was Animal Kingdom, Nehro or Shackleford? What about Paddy O'Prado or Ice Box? The safest bet is that the new comers overtake the horses with good two year old form. I think that's one of the reasons Churchill deemphasized 2 year old races when it comes to the Derby and put more emphasis on races closer to the Derby.