Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fighting For A Derby Spot

The last of the major Kentucky Derby prep races will contested on Saturday, April 14. Some colts, like Hansen Sabercat, Dullahan, Secret Circle and Prospective currently have the cash to pay for a berth in the Kentucky Derby. Isn’t He Clever and Optimizer need wins or possibly second place finishes to jump on the Triple Crown bandwagon. Scatman, Howe Great, Jake Mo and Bodemeister must win their respective races to have a shot in the Kentucky Derby.



HansenPhotoDavidKohlIn the five years since the Bluegrass Stakes has been contested over Polytrack, only one horse, Street Sense, has finished in the top three in the Kentucky Derby. HANSEN, this year’s probable favorite for the Bluegrass Stakes, proved his affinity for Polytrack in the early stages of his career, but he’ll receive a distance test. His pedigree indicates that he can handle the distance, but will other speed factors in the race be his undoing?

SCATMAN last seen finishing a tiring third in the Rebel Stakes after making the entire pace, may find himself on the lead again in the Bluegrass. The son of hot second crop sire Scat Daddy won his maiden over the Keeneland surface, so like Hansen, Scatman will find himself tested for distance. He hasn’t been successful past six furlongs and to complicate matters, he’s stuck in the far outside post.

DullahanHighly touted DULLAHAN (Even the Score – Mining My Own, by Smart Strike) is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby shocker Mine That Bird. Unlike his older sibling, Dullahan likes the Polytrack. He scored a surprise victory in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity last year to win his maiden. Dullahan was a fast closing second in the 1 1/8 mile Palm Beach Stakes over turf in his three year old season debut. There’s no doubt that he’ll handle the distance and track, making Dullahan a legitimate threat to the top horse, Hansen.

HOWEGREATHOWE GREAT (Hat Trick - Ginger Sea, by Western Winter) is less than four lengths shy of being undefeated. He won the Palm Beach Stakes at 1 1/8 miles in his last start, but this will be his first foray onto Polytrack. The son of second crop sire Hat Trick has handled dirt and turf, and there’s no reason to think he won’t handle synthetics. His sire has winners over all surfaces and his offspring should improve with maturity and distance.

ProspectivePhotoMichaelBurnes2Two Derby winners are receiving no respect from the morning line. PROSPECTIVE (Malibu Moon - Spirited Away, by Awesome Again) battled through the stretch to score in the Tampa Bay Derby by 3/4 length. He has the pedigree to run all day and won the Gray Stakes (G-3) at Woodbine, so he should handle Keeneland’s Polytrack.

HeroOfOrder1Louisiana Derby shocker HERO OF ORDER (Sharp Humor - Ocean Sprite, by Ocean Crest) barely held on by ½ of a length in the 1 1/8 mile race. The son of second crop sire Sharp Humor has miler speed over stamina pedigree. Hero of Order was third over the Keeneland Polytrack in his debut. He may try to take them all of the way on the lead again, but it’s doubtful that he’ll be able to pull off another shocker against this well-regarded field.

GUNG HO (Kitten's Joy - Glory Dancer, by Honour and Glory) stumbled at the start of the Spiral Stakes in his three year old debut, but fought bravely finishing only a ½ length behind the winner. He’s proven over Polytrack and has the pedigree to handle 1 1/8 miles.

RussianGreekPhotoVassarRUSSIAN GREEK (Giant's Causeway - Sand Dollar, by Grindstone) has the pedigree to run all day, but threw a surprising clunker in the Spiral Stakes, winding up over nine lengths behind the winner. Although he has a strong, classy distaff family, at this point, Russian Greek’s class is suspect, as he’s been out of the money in both graded starts. He recently switched to the barn of Gennadi Dorochenko, who pulled a fast one winning the Louisiana Derby with Hero of Order.

POLITICALLYCORRECT (Kitten's Joy - Exceedexpectations, by Tale of the Cat) was five wide in the Gulfstream Park Derby in January, but returned to score over optional claimers in a sprint. His sire’s offspring do well over the Keeneland Polytrack and Politicallycorrect owns a recent strong bullet move over the Keeneland surface.

EverSoLuckyEVER SO LUCKY (Indian Charlie - Bally Storm, by Summer Squall) tuned up with a so-so run in the Swale Stakes, passing tired horses to finish a non-threatening third. He has the pedigree to handle 1 1/8 miles and his sire is a good producer of Polytrack runners. Ever So Lucky has been working well over the Polytrack.

HeavyBreathingHEAVY BREATHING (Giant’s Causeway – Takesmybreathaway, by Gone West) a full brother to Suburban Stakes (G-1) hero Frost Giant, disappointed in his Polytrack debut in the Spiral Stakes, tiring in the last quarter to finish over four lengths behind the front runners. Heavy Breathing has the stamina to handle the distance, but his sire and damsire’s offspring usually don’t care for Polytrack.

MIDNIGHT CROONER (War Chant - Midnight Kiss, by Groom Dancer) is a full brother last year’s Santa Anita Derby victor Midnight Interlude. The lightly raced colt blew away a maiden field at Golden Gate, and then finished an even third on the lawn in the Pasadena Stakes. His sire has a few winners over Polytrack, but overall, they prefer dirt and turf.

HolyCandy1HOLY CANDY (Candy Ride - Spooky Minister, by Deputy Minister) won his maiden in his last start. His full sister Holloween Candy handles all surfaces, but she’s a sprinter. The offspring of Candy Ride are best up to 1 1/16 miles, but he does have a few winners at 1 1/8 miles. Holy Candy should handle Polytrack and the distance may be at the top of his range, but he’s taking a huge leap in class.


Track bias: It’s still early in the meet and the track appears to be playing fair.

Eight of the thirteen entrants like to be on or pressing the pace. That’s a lot of speed. Two colts, HOWE GREAT and HERO OF ORDER have been successful at 1 1/8 miles, while DULLAHAN was second and closing at the distance. The question on everybody’s mind is whether HANSEN will carry his speed. He’s already assured a post in the Kentucky Derby, but will need to answer the distance question. His low odds don’t make him enticing and there are others in here that should relish the extra real estate. GUNG HO might be one to consider for the exotics. He’s making his second start off of a layoff and his late speed figures fit.




#3 PROSPECTIVE – longshot


Arkansas Derby (G-1)

Five horses in the last eleven years have used the Arkansas Derby as a springboard to victories in Triple Crown races. Last year’s victor was the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but Archarcharch was injured during the Churchill headliner.

Secret CircleFive horses exit the Rebel Stakes (G-2), the precursor to the Arkansas Derby. SECRET CIRCLE ( Eddington - Ragtime Hope, by Dixieland Band) will attempt to emulate Lawyer Ron and Smarty Jones, who swept all three Oaklawn preps, the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby. There’s no doubt that Secret Circle is fast and tenacious, but his sire’s progeny have not been successful in this country past 1 1/16 miles. There’s always a first time and Secret Circle’s distaff line carries stamina.

OptimizerThe well-bred OPTIMIZER stormed down the stretch to just miss catching the tiring Secret Circle in the Rebel. The son of English Channel had been a disappointment on dirt up to that point. Optimizer is bred to enjoy distance and improve with maturity. Did we see the light bulb go on?

BodemeisterThe buzz horse of the Arkansas Derby is Secret Circle’s stablemate, BODEMEISTER (Empire Maker -- Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat). The lightly raced colt slightly lost focus in the San Felipe Stakes (G-2) in his last start, but was only ½ a length off of Creative Cause. That one came back to be beaten barely a nose in the Santa Anita Derby (G-1). There are talented stakes winners sprinkled throughout Bodemeister’s pedigree and there’s no doubt that he should enjoy going long. Baffert takes the blinkers off of the talented colt.

ISNT-HE-CLEVERISN'T HE CLEVER (Smarty Jones - Sharp Minister, by Deputy Minister) grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch in the swiftly run Sunland Derby, but couldn’t hold off the determined Daddy Nose Best. Still, Isn’t He Clever finished over seven lengths in front of the third placed horse. The colt gets a jockey change and takes the blinkers off.

CozzettiThe pretty gray COZZETTI (Cozzene - Lemon Drop Cello, by Lemon Drop Kid) made a mild bid for third place in the Tampa Bay Derby. It’s doubtful that he was cranked for his first effort of the year and he should improve with time and distance.

STAT (Unbridled's Song - Di's Time, by Gilded Time) should be cranked for his graded stakes debut. The pretty gray colt is a half-brother to two stakes placed runners and his dam was a good mare, winning the Correction Handicap and placing in two graded stakes. Stat is borderline for 1 1/8 miles. His sire gets plenty of stakes winners at the distance, but Stat is a little light on stamina through his distaff line. Still, he’s been working forwardly and one should never discount a Pletcher horse.

Stat’s stablemate, RACONTEUR (A.P. Indy - Miss Kate, by Storm Cat) has no lack of endurance in his pedigree. He’s a ¾ brother to stakes winner Katerbug. Their dam is stakes placed. She’s a half-sister to multiple G1 winner Clear Mandate, who won from a mile to 1 ¼ miles. Another half-sister Dream Scheme is a G2 winning miler. The second dam Dream Deal won the Monmouth Oaks (G1, 9F). This distaff family produced Belmont Stakes hero Crème Fraiche. Raconteur had a rough trip in the Gotham, but came back two weeks later to win the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel. He’ll receive a major class test in the Arkansas Derby.

JakeMoJAKE MO made a modest run to grab fourth place in the Rebel last time out, passing tired horses. He doesn’t appear to have the speed to compete, but he’s a steady runner and could clunk up for a piece of it.

NajjaarNAJJAAR (Jazil – Hasheema, by Darshaan) is bred to run all day and the late-running colt should enjoy the extra real estate. He’s slowly maturing, but disappointed in the Rebel, winding up sixth.

ATIGUN and last year’s Delta Jackpot winner SABERCAT showed nothing in the Rebel Stakes. To be fair, Sabercat was making his first start off of a long layoff. He’ll have to improve by over six lengths to have a chance here.


Track bias: Only three races have been carded at the Arkansas Derby distance of 1 1/8 miles. Two races were won by mid-pack runners and one went wire-to-wire.

BODEMIESTER has the pedigree and speed to win here. They may try to rate him off of his stablemate SECRET CIRCLE who is at a disadvantage, distance wise. ISN’T HE CLEVER takes the blinkers off and with the right trip, could surprise them. The two pretty gray horses, STAT and COZETTI could also have a say in the outcome. Both should improve and will be sitting close to the pace. I’m not convinced that OPTIMIZER is the real deal, but if he duplicates his Rebel yell, watch out!






Friday, April 6, 2012

Wood Memorial More Than Just A Two Horse Race

Alpha and Casual Trick, two sons of third crop sire Bernardini headline the Wood Memorial. The young sire’s progeny are already winning at classic distances and he is proving to be a worthy successor to his recently retired sire, A.P. Indy.

AlphaPhotoCoglineseALPHA (Bernardini—Munnaya, by Nijinsky), the more accomplished of the two, owns two dominating stakes victories over the Aqueduct course. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlan, Alpha has the class and pedigree to handle classic distances.

CasualTrickAfter a second place finish in the Gulfstream Derby, CASUAL TRICK (Bernardini - Casual Look, by Red Ransom) threw two clunkers. He had issues at the break in both races, but not enough to warrant his poor performance. Casual Trick’s dam placed in a Group 2 as a juvenile and won the Epsom Oaks (Gr.1). This distaff line produced the brilliant Magnificience, who set a new stakes record in the Santa Paula. Casual Trick needs to step it up if he wants to compete with this group.

gemologistThe buzz horse expected to give Alpha all he can handle is the Todd Pletcher trained GEMOLOGIST (Tiznow - Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector). The undefeated colt earned an easy victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G-2) last fall and laughed at Hopeful Stakes (G-3) winner Currency Swap in their three year old debut. Gemologist should handle 1 1/8 miles. He’s a half brother to two stakes winners and his dam is a full sister to the multiple graded stakes winner Withallprobibility. That one is the dam of the Grade 1 winning mare Summer Colony.

TheLumberGuyAlso untested and undefeated is THE LUMBER GUY (Grand Slam - Boltono, by Unbridled's Song). The pretty gray colt grabbed the lead in both starts and never looked back, defeating his opponents by a combined 14+ lengths. Like Gemologist, The Lumber Guy is a half brother to two stakes winners. The Mike Hushion trainee is jumping from seven to nine furlongs and stepping way up in class.

StreetLifeSTREET LIFE (Street Sense - Stone Hope, by Grindstone) has improved in each of his starts since winning his debut in January. The late maturing colt has the pedigree to run all day and may be a logical candidate for the Belmont Stakes. His unraced dam is a half sister to Jefferson Cup (G-2) hero Brilliant and this distaff family produced Jerome (G-1) winner Furiously.

MyAdonisPhotoSteveQueenThe distant bridesmaid in his last two starts, MY ADONIS (Pleasantly Perfect - Silent Justice, by Elusive Quality) has the pedigree to stretch out. His Bris speed figures are improving and he could surprise if the top two falter.

TigerWalkPhotoVanessaNgTIGER WALK (Tale of the Cat - Majestic Trail, by Kris S.) made up ground in the stretch of the Withers and Gotham, but finished well behind the winners. He has the pedigree to improve with distance. His unraced is a half-sister to Norfolk Stakes hero Supremo and to a German stakes winner. His third dam is top mare Andover Way, dam of the international stallion Dynaformer. So far, Tiger Walk hasn’t been competitive with the top level dirt horses. He won his maiden by five lengths on the turf, so perhaps we’ll see him on the lawn this summer.

TeethOfTheDogTrainer Michael Matz is aiming high with the promising TEETH OF THE DOG (Bluegrass Cat - Deputy Reality, by Deputy Minister). The colt is only one of two of Bluegrass Cat’s offspring to be successful at 1 1/8 miles. Other than his stakes winning second dam, there is little blacktype in this immediate distaff line.


Track Bias: Ten races have been held at 1 1/8 miles this meet. 70% of them have been won by pace setter/pressers. No rain is forecast and the track should be fast.

The race appears to boil down to ALPHA vs. GEMOLOGIST, but not so fast. The lone stalker STREET LIFE has the most distance oriented pedigree in the field and he could fly by them all late. MY ADONIS is improving and should love the extra distance. THE LUMBER GUY is an intriguing long shot. He could go straight to the front and stay there. He has the pedigree to stretch out, strong speed figures, and his trainer is 28% winners with the sprint to route angle. TEETH OF THE DOG is the only horse in the field who has been successfully tested at 1 1/8 miles.




#4 TEETH OF THE DOGlongshot


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Handicapping Precocious Babies

KeenelandSpringFriday is opening day at Keeneland race track and that means the most precocious of this year’s two year old crop will make their debuts. I know, I know. Everyone is in the midst of Derby Fever and too busy to worry about a bunch of early maidens. Besides, those races are impossible to handicap, right? Wrong.

The majority of handicappers avoid maiden races like a communicable disease, but there are ways to determine live horses in these races and doing your homework can potentially pay off with big bucks.

Pedigree is one of the most important factors in handicapping early maiden races. A working knowledge of which sires and damsires get winners first time out is invaluable. Many past performance papers and software include information on the sires, dams, siblings and damsires of the first time starter. Here is a Precocious Sires List of stallions who have a lifetime average of 17% or higher juvenile winners.

Besides the sire stats, don’t neglect the records of the dam and siblings. Dams that have blacktype (stakes wins) or siblings with stakes victories are a strong sign of class, especially if they won as juveniles. If the dam or siblings all won or placed in their debut, chances are strong that the new two year old will also.

A factor in play at Keeneland is which sires get not only early season winners, but offspring with an affinity for Polytrack. We’ll be tracking Polytrack sires at Keeneland this Spring and publish the results at the end of the meet. Meanwhile, take a look at the Del Mar Polytrack Sire Performance Records for 2007-2011. Many of the same stallions have offspring running at Keeneland.

2YOinTrainingBecome familiar with the auction abbreviations, such as OBS, KEE, BARR, and FTF. Look at the sales prices of two year olds in training. Speed sells and these babies do well in the very early maiden races.

Pedigree isn’t the only tool in the arsenal of the handicapper contemplating a maiden race. Below are eight dependable tools to remember.

1ppFirst, a debuting maiden in the 1 post is usually not a good bet. They tend to break inward or become intimidated on the rail. Some will be used coming out of the gate in sprint races to grab the lead. A good horse can sustain it, but most will fold in the stretch. Additionally, a horse breaking from the far outside post will often break to the right, losing valuable ground while his jockey sorts him out.

2ppSecond, a horse adding two or more furlongs against contenders with previous experience at the race’s distance is suspect unless the horse has several solid stamina works of at least 5 furlongs or longer. That just sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many trainers don't give their horses stamina works and prefer to rely on long gallops to get their horses fit. Yes, it works in England, but the race fractions are typically slower and their horses only sprint the final three furlongs.

3ppThird, look at the works. A horse that has fired a current or second current 4 furlong bullet when there are at least five or more works at that distance is live, especially a first time starter. A horse with a "live" work pattern (fast/slow/fast or slow/fast/slow) of 4 furlongs and farther is also live. This is especially true of horses from conservative barns that normally don't win first time out. If their horses are working in the top five, it's a good bet the horse will finish in the money. Often these horses go off at attractive odds.

4ppFourth, the majority of maidens tend to regress, even slightly, in their next race out. This doesn't mean they cannot win while regressing; it's just something to be aware of when the horse is facing winners for the first time. I find this to be true even with horses that have taken two or three tries to break their maiden. Some horses, mainly stakes caliber, will actually move forward off of their maiden race. How do you find them? There are clues to determine which horses will improve in their second start.

Trip handicapping is an important part of finding that diamond in the rough second time starter. If possible, review the debut race video of the second time starters. Horses that finish in mid-pack but showed interest, either closing the gap or maintaining position is a positive, no matter the running style. Also, did the horse blow the break or find some other type of trouble? How did they respond? An intimidated horse or one that quit early is still immature. If your second race prospect made up ground or didn’t let physical contact bother them, chances are that they will show improvement in their next start.

Look closely at the breeze pattern of a horse making its first start after breaking its maiden. If the works aren't equal to or faster than works before he broke his maiden, it's a good bet he won't move forward.

5ppFifth, get to know which trainers win with a good percentage of babies. Wesley Ward and Ken McPeek excel with precocious babies. Look at the trainer stats and use them in combination with the other tools listed.

6ppSixth, be wary of a horse attempting two or more new things in a race. Shipping to a new track, farther distance, stepping up in class and new surfaces should all be taken into account. How many times have you seen a horse who has broken their maiden impressively, then ship in for a stakes race at a longer distance, go off at short odds and finish out of the money? This holds true for young maidens because they are still learning, however, later season two year old or those with more than two races under their girth stand a better chance of overcoming new factors.

7ppSeventh, there is nothing like experience. In a field with mostly first timers, if there are a couple of horses with previous starts, keep an eye on them. Even if they finished out of the money in their first attempts, they are better prepared than the rest, especially if they are working well in the morning. This holds true with a horse that ran out of the money first time out, or found trouble during the race, then didn't start again for more than a month. Often the baby needs time to grow and will be better next out.

8ppLast, - but more important than the other rules - races aren’t won on paper. Learn the language of the horse and how to use physical handicapping to your advantage.

In the world of internet gambling, you are at the mercy of the cameraman and can’t always to see the horses in the paddock or post parade, but when one bets a maiden race, it is crucial to see how the horses are behaving. Or not. A little sweat never hurt anyone, especially on a hot, humid day. A first time runner looking like a shampoo commercial can be tossed. So can the horse with the rolling eyeballs that looks like he’d rather be anywhere but here. Look for a horse that has a bounce in his step, he’s eager, on the muscle (dragging his groom all over the place) yet not kicking, rearing or causing general havoc. There’s a shine to his coat and you can tell he’s having a good day. On the track his neck may be bowed and he has a spring to his step. A horse trying to bury his face in the mane of the lead pony is not a good sign. The contender who looks like his afternoon nap was interrupted and he’s in serious need of a wakeup call can also be a poor bet.

There are no steadfast rules in the world of handicapping, only general guidelines. Using the above tips can net some decent payouts, but remember, anything can and will happen in a horse race.

Want to know if that second time starter has a legitimate shot? Read Predicting Maiden Progressions.