04/10/2016 10:55AM

Watchmaker: Final preps fail to clarify Kentucky Derby picture

Shigeki Kikkawa
Skeptics are wondering how much the sloppy conditions helped Exaggerator dominate the Santa Anita Derby.

If you woke up Sunday morning more confused than ever about the Kentucky Derby picture, take heart. You have a lot of company. A lot.

Of course, there are some who will take the results of Saturday’s three huge Kentucky Derby preps – the Santa Anita Derby, the Blue Grass, and the Wood Memorial – as compelling evidence that when it comes to this Run for the Roses, there is undefeated Nyquist, and then there is everyone else. Hey, they might be right.

But for those of us who aren’t totally sold on a Derby favorite in Nyquist who right now is about the sixth or seventh fastest of this group in terms of two-turn Beyer Figures, we looked to Saturday’s major preps for some clarity, and what we got, in a general sense, were results as clear as the slop that prevailed at Santa Anita, and the mud at Aqueduct.

There isn’t any question that Exaggerator was much the best in the Santa Anita Derby. But it is impossible to avoid the question of how much of a role the track condition might have played in his performance. Exaggerator was the only member of the field to have previously won on a wet track, having done so in the Delta Downs Jackpot. He was also second in the mud to Brody’s Cause (winner of the Blue Grass) in the Breeders’ Futurity.

Exaggerator clearly loves a wet track, and it’s anyone’s guess how much the big 103 Beyer Figure he was assigned for his score Saturday is owed to that. And of course, you also have to wonder what the Santa Anita Derby will mean if the track doesn’t come up sloppy for the Kentucky Derby, because Exaggerator previously never came close to winning off by more than six lengths like he did Saturday.

In addition, you have to wonder how much Exaggerator’s huge move late on the far turn was a function of the Santa Anita Derby slowing down dramatically at that point, because it certainly played some part. The pace Danzing Candy set (22.15 and 45.24 seconds) was hot, and that wasn’t even with speedy stretch-out sprinter Iron Rob electing to get involved. The final three-eighths of a mile, when Exaggerator swept from sixth to blow his field away, was run in a very slow 39.54 seconds.

Speaking of fast early/slow late races, the Wood Memorial was the poster boy for such events. Matt King Coal set early fractions in the Wood of 22.91 and 46.93, which were very fast given how slow Aqueduct’s wet main track was playing. So give Outwork credit for pressing those splits and still prevailing, though it’s not like Matt King Coal gave up the ghost. He finished fourth and was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths.

But Outwork prevailed in a Wood in which the final three-eighths was run in a glacier-like 40.61, and his final time of 1:52.92 was the slowest in the 92-year history of the race. Moreover, Outwork just got the bob over the Wood’s rank outsider, the 81-1 Trojan Nation, a Southern California shipper who was a maiden after five starts going into Saturday and whose best previous Beyer was a 74. So while the same wet track concerns that apply to Exaggerator also apply to Outwork, Outwork didn’t receive nearly as strong a Beyer (he was given a kind 93), and he didn’t win decisively.

There were no wet track concerns in the Blue Grass, and the result was entirely logical. Brody’s Cause, returning to the track on which he won the Breeders’ Futurity and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, improved second start off a layoff, and bested two improving horses in My Man Sam and Cherry Wine. These three were the second, third, and fourth betting choices in the 14-horse field. But with all the logic at play, the Blue Grass still had issues.

The Blue Grass also fell apart late. The top three finishers were running 11th, 12th, and 14th early on, and advanced through a final three-eighths run in 38.76, which was forever on a Keeneland main track that was fast in every sense of the word. And the winning Beyer hung on the Blue Grass of 91 is uninspiring, to put it mildly.

Saturday notes:

Shagaf, fifth as the favorite in the Wood, had no excuse that I saw, and Zulu’s ground loss in the Blue Grass wasn’t enough to explain his weary 12th-place finish as the favorite. I was more disappointed in Mor Spirit, who I thought was the most likely winner of the Santa Anita Derby. He finished second, but was never really competitive. Despite a pedigree that says he should love a wet track and a second-place finish in the slop in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, I sense Mor Spirit is much better on a fast track.

Songbird won easily again in the Santa Anita Oaks. She is now unbeaten in seven starts, and still hasn’t even been remotely tested. I’ve admired her brilliance from early on, but I’m starting to wonder if she’s getting enough out of these ridiculously easy wins. She’s going to be tested someday. How will she respond then?

Tip of the hat to trainer John Servis for realizing that, at least at this point, Cathryn Sophia is not at her best at two turns. Cathryn Sophia was beaten just two necks in the Ashland, and it would have been easy to go on to the Kentucky Oaks. But Servis will shorten her up, and that’s smart, because that’s where she’s brilliant.

Oh, and like everyone else, I thought Rachel’s Valentina was gutsy narrowly missing in the Ashland to Weep No More in her first start since the Breeders’ Cup.

Sheer Drama, Stopchargingmaria, and Wavell Avenue all ran well finishing one-two-three in the Madison in their first starts since the Breeders’ Cup. All three looked primed for productive campaigns.

Unified could not have been more impressive than he was winning the Bay Shore on the Wood Memorial undercard, spread-eagling his field because he ran so fast. Unified, who was coming off only a quick debut score at Gulfstream, is by Candy Ride, from a Dixie Union mare. He will stretch out, and with health, he will win some big races.



John Zimpel More than 1 year ago
Why does the Wood remain a Grade 1 race?
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Want more mud? Well they're saying 10% chance of rain at Oaklawn on Saturday BUT this is spring in the Ozarks in an el Nino year. 
jartaius More than 1 year ago
Sure seems to me like Trojan Nation is only horse with enough guts and stamina to win the derby.  Did you see how he fought up on the rail after being squeezed in mid-stretch?  I wouldn't worry about the maiden angle.  The connections are very cagey and their only goal with this horse - the best bred one in all of the top 20 -   has been to win the derby.  The Wood was not a fluke...
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
One thing is certain: The condom manufacturer will be happy if he wins.
Joey Dekarski More than 1 year ago
Exaggeratorsn inflated beyers mean zero unless the derby is a rainy day ,which it probly won t be the two horse I liked were Swipe and Mo Tom ,Swipes more than likely out and I feel Mo Toms flying under the radar and he ll be my pick ..I see the louie derby as a plus ,he stopped 3 times in the stretch and still was catching the front 3 ,Mo Tom seems to have a lot of gears and with a CLEAN trip should circle this bunch easily , I m upset that the trainer didn t get a Mike Smith or someone else but maybe last ride with Lanerie woke him up ,he knows what his horse can do and he should be riding far more confident .I think theres alot of cheap speed and a closer should be there at the wire so Mo Tom for me and good luck to all who wager it s gonna be an interesting derby to say the least
John Stahl More than 1 year ago
Joey, I'm with you on Mo Tom, but right now he's sitting on the points bubble and could be bumped depending on the results of the Arkansas Derby. 
john g More than 1 year ago
I think Mo-Tom is safe with 32 points, although it does like it will take a little more this year than in recent years. 
John Stahl More than 1 year ago
Right now he's in a four way tie for 18th place in points.  That means if three horses currently below him hit the board in Arkansas he would fall to 21st.  Chances are someone above would drop out, but it's a little too close for my comfort.
john g More than 1 year ago
I like Mo Tom as well, and I could use him underneath in exotics. Like all closers, will be at the mercy of pace and trip, but every horse in the race is at the mercy of the trip, they can't be " unlucky", i.e. banged all around, boxed in, etc..and to get a clean trip in a 20 horse Ky. Derby is just luck at times. That's one reason I like a colt that breaks fast out of the gate for the Derby, maybe he gets out in front of most of the trouble, now all he has to do is stay there a 1 1/4 miles, lol 
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Anita and tampa had success
William McAlevy More than 1 year ago
I see a much clearer picture. Nyquist is clearly favorite in the derby. He doesn't need the lead and never lost. For derby bombs I like Brodie cause and Mo Tom. Take a picture of this and win first Saturday in may. 
Joe Trezza More than 1 year ago

Nyquist bearing out in the stretch tells me the mile and a quarter might do him in.

alex More than 1 year ago
Don't rely on speed figures to handicap the derby just look to last year MATERIALISTIC  won the Florida derby with a lofty 110 BSF and ran "up the track ion derby day
john g More than 1 year ago
Fla./Gulfstream park figures are exaggerated some, I think.
jeffmejia33 More than 1 year ago
SOOOO, if we are going with the Beyer 95 history---the Derby picture is pretty clear/only one horse truly qualifies--Exaggerator-103.  Out-- Nyquist-94/Outwork--93 one less than the beloved Nyquist and and Brody's Cause-91.--Do you really want to see such a pathetically low Beyer Fig earning horse winning America's premier race for 3 yo olds?  Especially when it follows a Triple Crown winning year?  I hope the 95 or higher Beyer fig tend continues--I don't like to see premier races cheapened.
alex More than 1 year ago
Nyquist has already put up 100 Beyer speed figure in the San Vicente @ SA in his 3yr. Old debut
john g More than 1 year ago
a 7 furlong race.
john g More than 1 year ago
Last year there were 8 different colts that combined for 16 triple digit beyers pre Derby, and this year, what? 2 or 3? and one in a 7 furlong race.
So, does that mean this years crop is slower than average? Just an ordinary bunch of colts? if so, pick you out a long bomb in the Derby, because anyone of them could step up there game and run a huge race. But, which one?
jeffmejia33 More than 1 year ago
So let's see if I understand this right.  Every year it is printed that since the Beyer fig era no horse has never won the Derby with a Beyer fig lower than 95 going into the Derby  This is well documented and the stats are there.  BUT Nyquist earned a paltry 94 Beyer speed fig in the FlorDerby and there are still people pining that he will win the Derby(or should we just forego the Derby and award his connections the trophy and money now?--since he's such a lock to win it) But Exaggerator wins on an off-track (as did Nyquist in the FlorDerby by the way)  earning a Beyer fig of 103 and suddenly there are "Yeah buts"?  I'm confused.  Seems that many people who throw the 95 Beyer fact ONLY throw it out when they look for a reason as to why a horse won't and shouldn't win the Derby.  The stats out there people--Nyquist doesn't make the cut and Exaggerator does--simple.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Birds 81 beyer won by many lengths
Frank Ruggirello More than 1 year ago
So the theoretical Beyer figure is a more important "stat" than beating Exaggerator 3 times?
john g More than 1 year ago
last year, 8 different colts combined for 16 triple digit beyers pre Derby.
alex More than 1 year ago
After the dust settled on "super Saturday" the Kentucky Derby picture has come into full focus. Barring a monstrous effort from Cupid in the Ak derby NYQUIST  looks better than ever he thumped his #1 rival MOHAYMEN  whipped Exaggerated 3 times already and peaking at right time not to mention a heart of a champion WAKE UP AMERICA THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL!