Haskin's Derby Trail: Figuring it All Out...Not

After assimilating all the facts, handicapping tools, and observations, we can honestly say we don’t have any more of a clue than we did two weeks ago.

As everyone knows, we have had Creative Cause as our No. 1 ranked horse just about every week since we started the Derby Dozen back in January.

As a preliminary list, we listed our favorite horses based solely on pedigree. Those on that Jan. 21 list that have made it to the Derby are Alpha, Creative Cause, El Padrino, Liaison, and Sabercat. Of course, others have come along since who have top-class pedigrees. But these obviously have combined pedigree with a solid 2-year-old foundation

Looking back at the first official Derby Dozen list, we had 10 horses listed who are running in the Derby – 1--Creative Cause, 2--Union Rags, 4--El Padrino, 5--Sabercat, 6--Liaison , 8--Gemologist, 9--Hansen, 10--Dullahan, 12--tie between Alpha and Rousing Sermon.

Before we get into selections and wagering angles, we were able to watch every Derby horse on the track this morning, with training hours only until 8 a.m. This is relevant because there were several gallops that either confirmed what we’ve seen earlier or even surpassed them. The one conclusion we came to was that, regardless of the high regard we hold horses like Creative Cause, Union Rags, Hansen, and Bodemester, there just isn’t enough value there when there are so many horses at much higher odds that have almost or equal the chance of winning.

As much as we’ve liked Creative Cause all year and respect his toughness and consistency, there seems to be several issues surrounding him and rumors floating around, even though trainer Mike Harrington insists that the colt is doing well. On that front, we’ll take his word for it. Harrington says his normal practice following a work is to walk two days. Again, we’ll take his word for it. We were looking forward to seeing him gallop today, because he did get wet yesterday and his gallop was certainly nothing to rave about. He finally came out around 7:30 and stood beautifully for a short while, but did nothing but hack around the track the wrong way. It wasn’t even what you’d call a jog. Harrington was on the track waiting for him and was eyeing him pretty closely. When asked about the lack of activity, he said, “I’m saving him for tomorrow.”

Creative Cause - Photo by Steve Haskin

So, the bottom line is, we’re going to assume all is well with him. He has a great post, and if you had said all winter that our top pick was going to be 12-1 on the morning line, we would have jumped all over it. I will watch the odds closely and no doubt will play him to some extent, but more apprehensively than I had planned.

As for Union Rags, he’s had some huge moments, especially his final work and the way he schooled in the paddock. His gallops the past couple of days have been OK, and he had exercise rider Peter Brette pulling back on the reins this morning. We still feel there is a good chance he’ll be the favorite, and he obviously is a play in all exotics. But we would have preferred to see him a bit farther out than the 4-post, and there is an awful lot of value out there at much better odds.

Union Rags - Photo by Steve Haskin

Bodemeister is the morning line favorite, and although he could bust this race wide open, you’re having to take short odds on a horse who is coming back in three weeks following a monster effort in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), in which he earned a 108 Beyer, putting him in a class by himself. But the pace scenario, with Trinniberg and Hansen in there, might be the main thing he has to overcome. You can bet Hansen isn’t going anywhere, and with his natural ability, he’s going to be right there in the stretch. Of course, it all depends how fast they go early.

Trinniberg - Photo by Steve Haskin

Hansen - Photo by Steven Haskin

We have quoted the statistic that 18 of the last 20 Derby winners had at least one work over the track, and we are a firm believer that a horse is better equipped to win the Derby with a work over the track. So, of course, with the exception of one or two horses, the best gallops we’ve seen this week have been by horses who shipped in late and had their final works elsewhere. Today’s gallops just substantiated that, and in fact the late shippers looked better and stronger today than they have in past days.

Based on what we’ve seen over the course of the past three days, we have to give serious consideration to I’ll Have Another, Gemologist, Take Charge Indy, and Alpha, all of whom looked terrific on the track this morning. The highlight of the morning was Calvin Borel giving Take Charge Indy a stiff gallop, hugging the rail the entire time. Another highlight was I’ll Have Another’s vigorous gallop that may have even exceeded a two-minute lick. He was really motoring around there, and close to the rail as well, but not as close as Borel, who was right on top of it.

Take Charge Indy and Calvin Borel - Photo by Steve Haskin

Gemologist - Photo by Steve Haskin

Alpha - Photo by Steve Haskin

And we have to add Daddy Nose Best as the standout on a consistent level of the horses who have been stabled here. Based solely on how they are galloping and looking physically, this could be a solid and lucrative exotics box.

Daddy Nose Best - Photo by Steve Haskin

As we mentioned, Daddy Nose Best, as well as his stablemate Sabercat, have done nothing wrong. In fact, they’ve done everything perfectly and there is no doubt they love it here and are thriving. Daddy Nose Best has such a look of class about him and an eye that seems to be taking everything in. He could be a bet-down horse, but if his odds are even somewhat generous he is worth a bet.

This year’s Derby is loaded with potential bombs, due to the depth of the field. If you’re thinking along those lines, one-time rivals Liaison and Rousing Sermon at 50-1 are horses who can surprise and at least pick up a piece of it. No horse has steadily improved since arriving here more than Liaison, both in his coat and in his training.

But, of course, you can’t bet ‘em all. And we haven’t even mentioned several others who have done well here.

One other horse we have to mention from strictly a handicapping angle is El Padrino, who has put together a string of three consecutive Thoro-Graph figs of “2.” We love a horse who can run fast consistently and doesn’t regress. We never saw him in Florida, so we have nothing to compare it with, but  he does have a tendency to get hot. He’s sweated up in his gallops and was very wet schooling in the paddock yesterday. But again, that could just be him, especially being a son of Pulpit.

You never know what tools someone uses to pick their Derby horse, but if you go by pedigree, although there are a number of classy, stamina-laden pedigrees, our favorite is I’ll Have Another. Just look at the Who’s Who of names, both American and European, in his pedigree. From Europe: Nijinsky, Sea Bird, Roberto, Sadler’s Wells, Le Fabuleux, Ribot, and Lyphard. From America: Pleasant Colony, His Majesty, Stage Door Johnny, Hail to Reason, Alydar, Tom Rolfe, Princequillo, Arch, Kris S, Caucasus, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and Danzig. And how about top-class fillies such as Althea, Quill, Bramalea, and Patelin? There is more stamina and class in this pedigree than any we can ever recall.

If you’re looking for a long-range Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner coming out of this field, remember Went the Day Well on June 9.

So, who is the most solid win bet at a pretty decent price? Well, you can take your pick, but one horse, despite some question marks regarding surface preferences is Dullahan, and he is the horse we’re going to key on, based on gut instinct, and having liked him for a long time. His last work was nothing to get excited about, and his action looks more suited to grass and synthetic, but he has trained over this track last fall, ran well enough in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and has a long sustained run in him, yet has a powerful turn of foot if he needs to use it. We mentioned his last work, when his fractions appeared to be backwards, his opening eighth in :11 and change and final quarter in :25 1/5. Normally, I don’t like seeing that from a stone closer, but we know he can come home as fast as anyone, and that opening eighth might be an indication he’ll be able to put himself closer up than in most of his other races.

So, where does this all leave us? It leaves us with Dullahan as the solid value play, Daddy Nose Best as the most enticing middle-price horse, and playing those two with the top gallopers who have really taken to this track, Take Charge Indy, Gemologist, Alpha, and I’ll Have Another (despite the 19-post), all of whom look great physically. If you want to throw in a couple of monster longshots, I can also see Rousing Sermon and Liaison picking up a piece of it at huge odds.

Rousing Sermon - Photo by Steve Haskin

One horse we don’t have a clue what to do with is El Padrino, having been all prepared to bet on him as our overlay special, although that :53 1/5 final work at Palm Meadows was not what we were looking for. And as we mentioned, he’s had a tendency to get wet and was throwing his head in the air and changing leads in his gallop this morning. We probably don’t have room to include him in the exotics, but if he’s in the 20-1 range, we’ll probably put a few bucks aside and take a shot, ignoring those other signs like the fool we are when it comes to betting. Just love the handicapping angle.

El Padrino - Photo by Steve Haskin

I still have Creative Cause and Union Rags as my No. 1 and 2 ranked horses on Derby Dozen. But this is about wagering and value, and you’ll have to figure out for yourself what you want to do with those two. If the morning line holds true and Creative Cause is 12-1, I will have to place a win bet on him as well for old time’s sake, despite the rumors and unusual preparation. But I do it in a clueless state of mind.

Anyway, good luck deciphering all of this, and I hope everyone had a good time on the Derby trail. Let’s hope they all come home safely.

Late slop addition

It looks as if the Derby once again could be run on a sloppy track, unless Louisville escapes the predicted thunderstorms, as it did on Oaks day.

So, just in case, here is a look at the race with slop in mind, as it could change the entire complexion of the race.

Although many of the horses should like the slop or at least not mind it, there are three horses who look as if they should move up on a wet track, and we would box them in the exotics. They are Bodemeister, Went the Day Well, and El Padrino.

Bodemeister is by Empire Maker, who won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in the slop, and he is also inbred to one of the great slop influences, In Reality. In addition, he is out of a Storm Cat mare.

Another of the great slop influences is Dr. Fager, and Went the Day Well and El Padrino both trace to Dr. Fager in their tail-female family through the mares Quick Cure and Remedia. Quick Cure is the dam of Cure the Blues.

Went the Day Well’s dam is by Tiznow, whose grandsire is Relaunch, the most prominent slop influence sired by In Reality. With Mr. Prospector the paternal great-grandsire, Went the Day Well, who has run well on a good to soft grass course in England,  should relish the slop and would be a definite win bet. El Padrino broke his maiden by 12 3/4 lengths in the slop nd won an allowance over a good track, so he's proven on wet going.

Another horse who should be mentioned is Creative Cause, who is by Storm Cat’s Son Giant’s Causeway, and whose maternal grandsire, Skywalker, is by Relaunch.

Of course, you don't need me to point out that Union Rags' only race over a sloppy track resulted in a 7 1/4-length score in the Saratoga Special (gr. II).

We could pick out others, but we’ll concentrate on the top three, with a shout out to Creative Cause and Union Rags. For a price, we'd have to place a win bet on Went the Day Well and also El Padrino, and play them in the exotics with Bodemeister, as well as Creative Cause and Union Rags.

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