Friday, May 6, 2011

Handicapping the Kentucky Derby Undercard

The Kentucky Derby has plenty of angles, but there are some fantastic betting opportunities on the undercard as well. Guest Handicapper Steve Thygersen takes a look at the card.


Race 6 – The Twin Spires Turf Sprint (Grade III)

#1 HENRY’S TIME (30/1) – has only one turf start (up the track), lifetime Beyer of 87 and they toss him in here… Works are solid, Lukas is 25% (1 for 4) in turf sprints, team is 3/31 and his only win was in his maiden claimer in March at Oaklawn. Cannon fodder.

#2 REGALLY READY (3/1) – this is one that was washing around in the allowance ranks on dirt and then they started him on grass and bang, he goes 5-4-0-1, including three straight victories on the downhill. He is one gutty little horse who is absolutely in peak form. He has one run on this course back in November where he won by 8 and it could have been 18. Team is 29%, works are slow but always are, and Asmussen is 12% in turf sprints. Think he will be tough to deny, the pick.

#3 CUSTOM FOR CARLOS (3/1) – last time he missed the exacta was in September… 2009, and the race he missed the board? It was his only turf sprint. Working well, team is 26% at Churchill and the trainer is 19% on the surface switch. He only has one start in 2011, but it produced his lifetime Beyer of 109. This is a really tough group to tackle in his second turf start. Think he is caught in a bad place, won’t get the lead and there are some closers that are stone cold killers. Too much risk at low odds, pass.

#4 SOUTHERN REGION (30/1) – has become a turf sprint specialist in the last year and was beaten in all three tries on this course. Works are very good, Werner is 22% in turf sprints, team is 18% overall. A nice horse that is in over his head.

#5 CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE (2/1) – the old boy just keeps winning, in fact 5 of his last 7 were wins; the only two misses were last out on a soft course and in the Woodford where he came storming from dead last to miss by 1 ½ lengths. He is 5-4-1-0 on this course and did win on a yielding course at Arlington last June. He is a horse they can run from the front, up close or as a total closer. His arch nemesis Silver Timber is missing from this contest, so expect him to be part of the exacta.

#6 SPECTACULAR KID (30/1) – well bred sprinter who comes into this race off of two wins, but in a $30K claimer and an N2X. He earned an 87 in his last two, but that will only get you a mid pack finish here. Interesting that they changed his style last out from a frontrunner to a closer and he got it done. Some chance he hits the board, but…

#7 EARLY RETURN (12/1) – hits the board three quarters of the time, his record for the last two years is 6-2-3-1 including an out of the clouds finish in the Bonapaw where he went from dead last at the 1/8th pole to second missing by 2 ½ to Due Date. Team is 31% overall, Margolis is 13% with turf sprinters. He is by Carson City so a turf sprint is not a bad place for him; he only has two turf starts, in the 2009 and 2010 Bonapaw, one with a poor effort and one where he finished fast to be 2nd. He is another who can take a shot from any part of the track. Think he is a solid bet to hit the board.

#8 BRIDGETOWN (5/2) – is 5/7 at the distance, has three straight bullet works and Pletcher is 36% in turf sprints. Has two runs on the course, a 2nd in his debut and then a 4th in the BC Turf Sprint to Chamberlain Bridge. He has been progressing well, won his last two, but has not been able to handle the “A” team. Will probably be overbet but he is going in the right direction and there is a small chance he could win in the top two falter.

#9 BERGERACE (50/1) – his last two are his best two, two runner up finishes in turf sprints but was thrashed when he went up against Regally Ready on this course. He is 7-1-2-2 at the distance, works are average and trainer is 7% in turf sprints. Rider change to Prado doesn’t help the case. Pass.





#7 EARLY RETURN (12/1)

Longshot: SPECTACULAR KID is 3/3 at the distance, has progressed well since his return from the layoff, the trainer is a very healthy 29% in turf sprints and the team is 32% with a $2.97 ROI. He flew by Backtalk in his last turf sprint and could be one of the few coming late. At 30/1, he is worth a look in the verticals.


Race 7 – The Humana Distaff (Grade 1)

#1 SASSY IMAGE (15/1) – she loves this track, no question (4-3-0-1), and has a win in the Grade 3 Pocahantas and the Grade 2 Golden Rod. Has not sprinted since Saratoga back in 2009 but did win a 5.5F race on a good track here at CD to break her maiden in June 2009. Works are spectacular with a :59.00, :59.40 and a :47.20 in her last three drills, a huge improvement over her works at Gulfstream. With her record at this track, including two graded stakes wins, she has to be considered. She won from the rail in the Golden Rod. Not sure who the pilot will be, scheduled to be Albarado but he was busted up pretty good a couple of days ago when a horse stepped on his face in a spill.

#2 STAGE MAGIC (12/1) – another turning back in distance, her last sprint was back in July at CD with a dull 5th and 6th to show for the efforts, although she did win an N2X on this track in November in a route. This will be her stakes debut, works are above average, Helen Pitts is 9% with sprinters and 0/4 in graded stakes. Last was easily her lifetime best, scoring an 88 in a local stakes at 1 1/16 down at the Fair Grounds. The only time she has missed the exacta since she broke her maiden was her lone turf race where she finished 12th. Helen Pitts has pulled more than one rabbit from her hat over the years, but this one is a tall order. Has some appeal as an under.

#3 EVENING JEWEL (5/1) – not sure she really wants to run any more, and has only one win in her last six races. Her last, the G-1 Madison was a weird race where she finished 4th to Shotgun Gulch and Amen Hallelujah. She just isn’t what she was last summer and hasn’t ever had a real break. Think there is a chance she mails it in. Has the talent, but question the desire. Unders on a few tickets.

#4 AMEN HALLELUJAH (5/1) – her last win was in the Davona Dale a year and a half ago, but has managed to finish second in five of her last seven. She should have won the G-1 Madison but was steadied late and still only missed by a head. Has one run over the track in the Kentucky Oaks, her worst finish ever, a fading 6th to Blind Luck. She is an absolute include in unders with a few savers to win.

#5 SHOTGUN GULCH (6/1) – can’t say she is ducking anyone with runs against Havre de Grace, Blind Luck, Switch and Malibu Pier in her last four and Gomez rode her to perfection last out, a serious out of the clouds special where she got up in time for the win in the G-1 Madison over at Keeneland. When you get a filly who responds like that to Gomez, look out because she will do it again. Think this is the perfect distance for her, Gomez is back and she shouldn’t be dismissed.

#6 TWELVE TWENTY TWO (8/1) – this is a mare I know very well. She debuted back in 2007 at Del Mar and was moving up when she was hurt in the Cal Oaks in early 2008. She was out for two and a half years and came back in a $25K N2L and just fell on her sword. But then they moved her to dirt… and she is 4/4 with an awesome progression (70-83-86-99), winning by 6,6,9,6 lengths. Look at the number of fillies who came back from those races and won, including American Story from her last race. What is really scary about her is the fact that she keeps running faster after each of her races including a blistering :58.80 in her last at Santa Anita on a very slow track! They aren’t getting within a zip code of her in her dirt runs and yes this is a huge class jump, but she is firing on all cylinders and could run away and hide. The pick.

#7 HILDA’S PASSION (6/5) – will be the favorite, came back from her 3 to 4 break and has been demolishing good fields. Unreal progression (91-94-100-109) and her record in her last five (5-4-1-0) make her a deserving favorite. Works are excellent, Pletcher is 29% in sprints and 26% in graded stakes; team is 30%. I think she and Twelve Twenty Two battle it out all the way down the stretch.

#8 TIDAL POOL (8/1) – has spent most of her career running against the big girls and has easily won her races outside the stakes arena, but has yet to win at the varsity level (although she did finish third to Blind Luck and Evening Jewel in the Kentucky Oaks last year). She wins from the front and that is where the problem lies, I don’t think she can beat the top two to the corner and when she doesn’t get the lead it usually is not pretty. Her last three speed figs (97-96-96) says she is competitive, but this is a tough task. Some unders.






Longshot: This is a tough spot for a longshot, being up against a bunch of fillies who are in top form, but 15/1 SASSY IMAGE with her record on this track and the cutback in distance could be the one, especially if Rosario takes the irons. The works say that the third off the layoff will be her best race. She has won at this level on this track.


Race 8 – The Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Grade 2)

#1 TAPITSFLY (7/2) – was the winner of the inaugural Breeders Cup Juvenile Filly Turf race at Santa Anita back in 2009, but then went on the shelf for 14 months. She faded badly in her relaunch, but since then has been running like a champion. First after the layoff was a 64, then an 87, last a 95, next ???. Very dangerous and could throw a 104 and make these run for cover.

#2 UPPERLINE (9/2) – another who came back at four a different filly, finishing second in her relaunch with an 82, then two wins in her last two; an 89 and then a 102 where she just drew away and won for fun. Works since her last are seriously fast (59.60, 59.20, and 59.20). She is very good and looks to be even better this time out. A turf horse on form and progressing is as good as it gets. Dangerous with a capital “D”.

#3 ZAPPARITION (20/1) – a marathon specialist cutting back to a mile, she fought Keertana all the way to the line in the Very One in February and then did nothing in her last, the G-3 Orchid at 12 panels. Works are consistently slow, Romans is 15% on turf, 11% in graded stakes and 11% as a team with Castellano. Don’t think she can run fast enough to threaten these. Pass.

#4 ICE MIST (30/1) – has missed being on the lead once at first call in her entire career, she was second in the Miss Revere… She is 5-2-1-1 at the distance but has been crushed when faced with runners like Upperline. She will set the pace but will fall back when the real running starts. Use her if you think she can hold out for a board hit, I think she is toast.

#5 VIVO PER LEI (30/1) – did absolutely nothing until they tried her on the lawn and she won at Tampa last month. They tried her at Keeneland in an N2X and she looked good until the final 100 yards and she faded back to fourth. Rider change to Borel, but just not a lot to like. She is in over her head here and will need to be forwardly placed to have any chance; about a 1 in 200 chance.

#6 ARUNA (4/1) – shipped over from France last fall and she has three straight wins since including the Grade 2 Mrs Revere last out on a good course at CD. Another nice progression (79-90-92) and has shown the ability to win on less than firm footing. Sits closer than most Euros, Dominguez has been aboard for all three wins, team is 26% and Motion is 19% with turfers and 22% in graded stakes. A very nice filly who sets up very nicely for this race. Live.

#7 FANTASIA (10/1) – has been the poster child for race problems, getting off slow, steadied, rank, you name it. She has only one win since coming over, last October is a local stakes at Woodbine. But she does own one of only two triple digit speed figures (with Upperline), a 100 earned in the Grade 1 First Lady in October. Rider change to Rosario could be huge here, these are the kind that he can motivate. Her run has to be perfectly timed but she can win. Nice longshot play.

#8 AVIATE (5/1) – came back from a five month layoff and a transfer from Europe and ran very well in the Honey Fox, finishing third and earning a 94 Beyer. This will be her second off the layoff, second time Lasix and Desourmeaux stays. She is a Group 3 winner in Great Britain and is 1 for 3 at the distance. Mott is 16% with turfers and 16% in graded stakes. It will all depend on how much she progresses in her second start off the layoff. But she does have to be considered.

#9 WILD MIA (10/1) – this is a deceptively good filly who has missed the exact twice in her career – in her debut and in a G-3 back in January. Her last eight races were all at 1 1/16, this is her first start at a mile. Plus she gets Garrett Gomez up and that could be a big deal with a filly like her. She is light in class and speed figs, but she is always up there. A nice unders play.

#10 KISS MINE (20/1) – her lst win was in December at Turfway in a minor stakes, and has been tattooed in her last three against graded stakes company. She is 7-1-2-2 at Chruchill, but is 0/2 with Maragh up, team is 0/6, they are adding blinkers (1 for 3) and the trainer is 19% with turfers. Maybe the blinkers will help, but then again maybe they won’t and she is too far back to get close. Don’t see it. Pass.

#11 NEVER RETREAT (9/2) – ultra consistent (94-95-94-92-93-97-97) with a record of 7-4-2-1 since last summer. She is coming into this race off of two wins in the G-2 Jenny Wiley and the G-3 Honey Fox where she beat Fantasia and Aviate. She is 5-3-1-1 at the distance and has never run on the track. She is an include on all unders and has more than a punchers chance of the win. She can win from a stalking or closing position, the team is 35% with a $6.06 ROI; trainer is 22% on turf and 24% in graded stakes. Her odds could sneak up to the 7-8/1 range as added incentive.



#2 UPPERLINE (9/2)

#1 TAPITSFLY (7/2)

#6 ARUNA (4/1)

Longshot: If FANTASIA (10/1) can avoid her usual problems and Rosario is a fit, she could win easily. Those are two big ifs, but her odds could be closer to 20/1 and she does have the chops…


Race 9 – The Churchill Downs (Grade II)

#1 AIKENITE (5/1) – couldn’t get to Apriority in his relaunch but strapped one on them in the Grade 2 Commonwealth last out at Keeneland after being steadied hard. He earned a 102 in each of his last two, and post race works are outstanding. Peaking at the right time for the race, will need to improve again, but he looks solid.

#2 SMILING TIGER (7/2) – had to have the lead, had to be up close… maybe not, after blowing the break Rosario had to turn him into a closer and low and behold… WINNER. Then they did it again at Oaklawn and WINNER! I think this has made him a much more dangerous runner. He never has broken well from the gate, bobbling and bumbling about half the time. Now he comes out relaxed, runs along smoothly and then makes his run. They may have taken a good horse and turned him in to a star. He has run this course once before in the Breeders Cup last year – and oh no, he bobbled the start… and still finished third. The rider change to Rosario and the change in running style to a closer makes him very, very tough.

#3 APRIORITY (4/1) – when he finished second to Amazombie back in January (also beating Cost of Freedom) he proved he was ready for the big kids. Next out he won for fun and then was caught late in the Carter. He has run a fair number of races for far this year and I wonder whether he peaked in that N3X back at Gulfstream in March. Has not run or worked on the track, in fact he only has one work in the last 30 days. I may regret it, but I am going to leave him out of the win position and use him on some tri’s in the unders.

#4 CAPTAIN CHEROKEE (6/1) – the brother of Midnight Lute has shown some maturity in his last four races, giving him a win and three straight seconds. He also set a lifetime Beyer of 102 in his last. He has always been much more passive than his brother, but he just missed beating Amazombie and Smiling Tiger by a head and ran a nice second to a wound tight Euroears. He likes the track (5-2-2-1), is 1-0-10 at the distance and has been working well. Could he win? A remote possibility, but he is of those killer unders – the ones you leave out and they come back and bite you in the ass!

#5 MYTHICAL POWER (10/1) – he is one strange pony, has incredible natural ability but has the mind that says “maybe I’ll run, or maybe I won’t”. I think Baffert was smart when he gave him another break after the San Carlos; even though he finished 3rd and was only ¾ behind, he looked like a horse that came back too quick. Like any of the good Bafferts he is working bullet after bullet. He is one that you just can’t race a lot. Garcia coming back is a big deal and this sucker could well jet out and never look back. He doesn’t normally get up front, but the closer he is, the better he runs. A very nice longshot play.

#6 CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN (9/2) – with the retirement of Misremembered, he is the sole Candy Ride with guts, and he has those in spades. He came off a long layoff and promptly won on a wet track and then followed that up with a nice win over Regal Ransom breaking the triple digit barrier. Has been working well since, he handles wet tracks with the best of them and he is really, really tough late. Just to make the case even further – he is 5/5 at seven furlongs.

#7 IBBOYEE (12/1) – if he wouldn’t have blown the break he would have beaten Capt. Candyman Can in his last. For him to come off a break and set a new lifetime speed fig of 100 is pretty good evidence that the next off that layoff could be a jaw dropper. And the ideal rider for him? That would be aggressive closer Garrett Gomez who happens to have the mount. He is the best at riding closing style sprinters in SoCal. Intriguing.

#8 CHOCOLATE CANDY (30/1) – at least Nakatani got him to do something last out, he is still a horse that hasn’t run well for almost two years (his last win was Valentine’s Day 2009). He is the only plodding Candy Ride I have seen, and there just isn’t any interest in his eye. He continues to score in the 90’s (93-90-96-90-90) but they are the most non-competitive 90’s you’ll ever see (6th-6th-4th-5th-8th-5th). Need to see some signs of life before I will even consider. Pass.

#9 DELONG ROAD (50/1) – I guess he liked his time in Arkansas, going 4-3-1-0, cleaning up his N1X, N2X, and N3X conditions. The problem is that he is making a mega leap in class and on their worst day these would beat him like a redheaded stepchild.

#10 NOBLE’S PROMISE (10/1) – another strange duck that has to be considered. He has won on about every surface there is, has a Grade 1 win under his belt and went to Ascot on vacation last summer… Here is why he is actually scary – he loves this track, seriously loves it. Remember that he led the way in the Kentucky Derby before cashing in his chips, then easily won a minor stakes here in November setting a lifetime speed figure of 102. His works here are the best he has. This horse has serious natural talent, but needs an aggressive rider to get the job done; Alan Garcia fits that bill. Just another that is live.

#11 LE GRAND CRU (50/1) – this is Chocolate Candy’s cousin, last one a year ago, has decent speed figures but a whole bunch of mediocre finishes since. They are trying shades again, didn’t seem to make a difference way back when, don’t know it will work this time either. He does have the capability to be competitive, but recent form says look elsewhere.

#12 HERE COMES BEN (10/1) – had four straight 7 furlong wins going in to the Breeders Cup, had a bad trip and they tried him in November where he did nothing. Now back after 6 months on the Binnacle List and he is working like a horse that will be dangerous on his relaunch. His most convincing win came in his only race with Leparoux up, and that was off of a five month layoff. He is 5-4-1-0 at the distance and 6-3-1-1 at Churchill. Team is 35%, trainer is 26% in sprints and 25% in graded stakes. Think he is live off the layoff and the return of Leparoux makes the case even more compelling.





#12 HERE COMES BEN (10/1)

Longshot: This is a very tough race and almost all have a real shot at the brass ring. I am really torn between #7 IBBOYEE and #5 MYTHICAL POWER. Mythical Power has better class but Ibboyee could get some great odds. Choose your poison.


Race 10 – The Woodford Reserve (Grade I)

#1 LITTLE MIKE (6/1) – if this was a mile race, you would have to love him with a record of 8-7-1-0 for turf races from 7 ½ to 1 1/16. His only miss on turf? His one try at nine furlongs. There wasn’t really any excuse for that defeat, he got the break, went to the front, slowed them down, then was pressured through the middle parts of the race and then they all (including three in this field) ran by him. He will be able to break and get the lead easily; the only other real speed in here is the 7 Get Stormy and his early fractions are slower than Little Mike’s. He will be first at the top of the stretch – at the wire, ???

#2 MEMORIAL MANIAC (50/1) – he is primarily a marathoner who occasional drops to 9F, where he is 1/7. He won a pair of turf races (9 and 13F) at Arlington last summer, nothing since. He is the kind that just wears you down and then he takes over – perfect at a mile and a half, not so effective at nine furlongs. Pass.

#3 TEAKS NORTH (20/1) – was a $50 payer in the Grade 1 GP Turf Handicap back in February with a career speed fig, but has regressed in his two races since, dropping to a 94 then a 90. They are trying blinkers again, first time he broke in and finished 7th, his worst finish ever. Works are strong, team is 36% with an eye popping $8.65 ROI. Don’t think he is found of soft ground either. Pass.

#4 MORYBA (12/1) – a Brazilian pony? There would be your soft ground runner, in fact he won his North American debut on good footing back in January. His second try was a head loss after he got the lead in March at the Fair Grounds. Very good works since that race, team is 25% at CD, Mott is 16% with turfers and in graded stakes. I think these might be a tad too tough for him, but if the turf is soft BET THE FARM!!!

#5 PRINCE WILL I AM (5/1) – an overachiever if ever there was one, he is another marathoner who is cutting back in distance; he is 2-1-0-1 at nine furlongs and this will be his first start at Churchill. His last two races were his best two, a win at 11F in the Grade 2 Mac Diamarda and then a 3rd in the Grade 3 Pan American at 12F. He is a deep closer, but really needs that extra distance to get there in time. Don’t think he can get enough ground to close effectively. Pass.

#6 SMART BID (8/1) – had a heartbreaking loss in the Grade 1 GP Turf Handicap and then a win in the Grade 2 Muniz at the Fair Grounds last out. They really didn’t figure out he was a turf horse until recently, but he is 3-1-1-1 in his last three, all on the lawn, and all in graded stakes. I watched him early in his career in Southern California, where he was a decent but unspectacular runner who was running primarily on synthetics. I think his best distance will be 10F, but he won by a nose and missed by a nose at nine panels. He is another who likes soft footing, missing by a neck in the swamp they called the Grade 3 Transylvania. He has always run 3-5 points higher in his second off the vacation, since the last was a 94, expect a 98-99 this time. He is also a true blue stalker and Little Mike will give him an ideal trip.

#7 GET STORMY (8/1) – the other frontrunner, he was hammered by Goldikova in the Breeders Cup Mile and in the three races since seems to be rounding into the form that gave him six wins in 7 races last year. Kind of uncomfortable that long time rider JJ Catellano is jumping to Expansion. He was very strong last out, a win in the Grade 1 Makers Mark at Keeneland on April 15th where they all came after them and he turned them all away. The downside to him is when he doesn’t get the lead he is beaten about 65% of the time, and I don’t think he gets the lead over Little Mike. He will be better this time but the distance and the need for the lead makes him a pass for me.

#8 DOUBLES PARTNER (6/1) – he is 2/2 at the distance and 2/2 on the turf track at Churchill Downs. He came back at four and ran a 95 in an N3X and then a 97 winning the Grade 3 Tampa Bay in March. Figure a 4 point jump from his last, or a likely 101 here. Don’t know what that will get you, but it is probably in the top three. The dam, Serena’s Sister? Yes indeed, she is full to super filly Serena’s Song. She is 6-4-1-0 on turf and looks to progress into the upper echelons of turf racing. Live.

#9 AL KHALI (10/1) – I was sure he was a easy winner last out, but he couldn’t quite get there, losing by a whisker to Citrus Kid in an Open allowance at this distance on April 9th. He is trending up but is 0/2 on the course and 0/4 at the distance. He is another whose slow closing style is ideally suited for marathons, and not surprisingly that is where they run him. Too many that are faster and he needs more real estate. Pass.

#10 STATELY VICTOR (30/1) – his claim to fame was the upset win in the Blue Grass last year, and that remains the highlight of his career so far. He does have a win since the Blue Grass, a three length win on Poly at Woodbine in a local stakes. At his best I don’t think he could take these. There are some that have a hangover love affair with him, I ain;t one of them. Pass.

#11 RAHYSTRADA (20/1) – was just beaten by Doubles Partner last out in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay, his last win was last summer at Arlington in the 10F Grade 3 Arlington Handicap. He has added something that could make him competitive, a new rider in Rafael Bejarano, an ideal choice to ride this horse. He needs a patient ride and someone who can keep him away from traffic trouble and then launch an early run from the start of the third flight. Think he is more fit this time and that Bejarano will be a major addition to the team. Nice longshot play.

#12 COURT VISION (4/1) – the probable lukewarm favorite here, he found a home the second they started him on grass. His form has been regressing since his win in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile (102-100-97-92), his last two being pretty disinterested fourths against mediocre fields. Think he will continue to regress and although even a second rate effort would give him a board hit, I think he may just mail it in.

#13 BATTLE OF HASTINGS (12/1) – another who is in the middle of a regressive pattern (98-95-94-91), his last win was here in November, the only time Rosario has ridden. He has one win in his last 12 races and is always there at the end, just not quite all the way there… He always goes at low odds and he disappoints more often than not. Pass.

#14 EXPANSION (12/1) – stuck out in no-man’s land is veteran turfer Expansion. He looked pretty spent out at Santa Anita but had two very nice races down at the Fair Grounds, winning the Fair Grounds Handicap by a head and losing the Grade 2 Muniz by a nose and he was flying at the end. Not sure the outside post won’t be problematic and he will have to start his close sooner rather than later. Not a no-hoper, but unlikely.



#6 SMART BID (8/1)


#1 LITTLE MIKE (6/1)

Longshot: The more I look at RAHYSTRADA, the more I like him. There are horse and rider combinations that are way better than their parts and I think this could be one of those times. Think he could be 30/1 by the time the gates open.