Calling All Closers; Where Are You?

We’re taking a poll. Here is a list of 14 leading Kentucky Derby hopefuls – Wildcat Red, Vicar’s in Trouble, General a Rod, Uncle Sigh, Samraat, Tapiture, Strong Mandate, California Chrome, Chitu, Social Inclusion, Constitution, Ring Weekend, Bayern, and Bobby’s Kitten.

Now, check off the horses who have shown they want to come from a half-dozen lengths back or farther. Actually, you can make that four lengths or farther. How about three?

The truth is, there have been 19 major stakes on dirt for 3-year-olds so far this year, and only one winner – Intense Holiday in the Risen Star Stakes – has come from farther back than two lengths.

Four have won wire-to-wire, six have come from second, five have come from third, and three have come from fourth. In a number of these races, including the Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth Stakes, Withers, and Gotham, horses ran either one-two the whole way around or one-two-three the whole way around.

So, where the heck are the Orbs, Golden Souls, Revolutionarys, Normandy Invasions, and Mylutes, who came from 17th, 15th, 18th, 12th, and 18th, respectively, to fill the first five spots in last year’s Kentucky Derby? Yes, the track was sloppy, but these were all established closers anyway.

With three major preps still to be run, the Blue Grass Stakes on Polytrack excluded, the favorites in all of them are horses who want to be on or near the lead. Come to think of it, Bobby’s Kitten, who could be the favorite in the Blue Grass, also wants to be on the lead. Or maybe Gala Award will be favored, who wants to be right up on the pace.

So, as of now, the only horses who have shown they can come from relatively far back are Intense Holiday (who actually was no farther back than 2 1/2 lengths in the Louisiana Derby), Candy Boy (who was no farther back than two lengths in the Robert Lewis Stakes), and longshots Conquest Titan, Commissioner, Kid Cruz, Commanding Curve, and Wicked Strong, none of whom have enough points to get in the Derby as of now. I have no idea how Hoppertunity wants to run. He was 10th early in the Risen Star after going wide on the first turn, eventually finishing fourth, but came from third, one length back, to win the Rebel Stakes. Ride On Curlin came from eighth, 10 lengths back, to finish third in the Champagne Stakes, but pressed the pace the whole way in the Rebel Stakes.

Perhaps Vinceremos can pull a Palace Malice and pick up enough points in the Blue Grass Stakes to get in the Derby. Although he won the Sam F. Davis from close up, he, he has at least shown the ability to come from off the pace. And then there is We Miss Artie, who we know can close…on Polytrack. He’s never been close in his three starts on dirt.

So, even the horses who have come from out of it have not established themselves as pure closers. In other words, we have absolutely no idea how the Kentucky Derby is going to be run at this point.

Are we going to have a blistering pace where one of the more versatile pace horses gets pushed back in the pack and is forced to come from off the pace, like Barbaro, who had never been worse than second at any call in his entire career? Or are we going to see a War Emblem performance, where one speed horse simply outruns the other speed horses, leaving virtually no one to come get him. In War Emblem’s year, the first three finishers ran one-two-three the whole way around. And War Emblem came home his final quarter in :24 3/5, and most pacesetters who can come home that fast will be virtually uncatchable.

So, if either California Chrome or Social Inclusion or Samraat or Uncle Sigh win their respective races Saturday, where is that going to leave us as far as figuring out this year’s bizarre Kentucky Derby picture?

Needless to say, we sure could use Top Billing or last year’s Honor Code or Mexikoma right about now. Or even New Year’s Day or Bond Holder from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Or Tamarando, who got swallowed by Turfway’s Polytrack instead of sticking to the dirt.

In short, we’ve got the proverbial crap shoot going here. So, make your call, roll the dice, and close your eyes and hope for the best.


Leave a Comment:


Just going to hold out hope and pray that Commissioner

,  Commanding Curve or Ride On Curlin makes it to the Derby. Thought provoking post, Steve. Another reason I read your posts, they make me think.

02 Apr 2014 12:51 PM
Rusty Weisner

Steve Haskin,

I had the same question over at your Derby Dozen blog.  I could only picture Intense Holiday and Conquest Titan, if he manages to get in (by the way, do you have any knowledge of why he's in the Arkansas Derby and not the Bluegrass, which I thought would be the better fit?).

I think people want to play closers, especially because of what happened last year, but last year's crazy pace was a freak accident.  I am thinking the Derby may look a lot like 2012 with a leader and a stalker, maybe even both from California, getting a couple of the top spots.

02 Apr 2014 12:59 PM

Dont forget the closer Cleburne – Iroquois Stakes winner came from nowhere has a good angle for return race on sat at Calder. Will run in Bluegrass loves CD dirt.

02 Apr 2014 3:19 PM

I think there are closers hidden in plain sights. There are two horses from the 14 leading Kentucky Derby hopefuls that I think can be taken back and close. They are Strong Mandate and General A Rod. Both have been running on the front end without much success. They are neither separating from nor passing opponents with their current efforts.

The blinkers need to be removed from these colts to discourage them from tugging for the lead and to be much kinder to riders. It is in conceivable that either can win the Derby from on the front end.

Strong Mandate has the pedigree for 10F and the speed to record a time of either 2:01 or 2:02.

Something needs to be changed with this colt as he is not realizing his true potential. He is using himself a lot on the front end and not finishing his races even with moderate fractions. Take the blinkers off allow him to rate off the pace and come running.  

General A Rod won on debut closing 9L. He also has the pedigree for 10F and the speed to record a time of either 2:01 or 2:02. Since blinkers have been added he has become a need to lead type. He looked lost and green in the last furlong of the FL Derby. He didn’t seem interested in passing his opponent and did not look tired. He is a definitely blinker off candidate.

The remaining preps could produce some closers is certain horses step up i.e., Commissioner, Ami’s Holiday, Harpoon, Los Borrachos, Kristo.  

02 Apr 2014 3:35 PM

Hello Steve!  There is at least "one" closer in The Wood Memorial!

02 Apr 2014 3:44 PM
Christine Sanchez

I think Strong Mandate is that horse.

02 Apr 2014 4:30 PM
Monarchos Matt

I am always a sucker for closers in the Kentucky Derby, no wonder I'm as confused as I can ever remember as to who I like. I can't back Intense Holiday anymore after that Louisiana Derby, I don't care what his excuses where, 38.9 final 3/8= I'm off him. The opening fractions weren't even fast so I don't care that he was closer to the early pace than he should have been. Gotta get home faster than that.

Rusty, for what it's worth, I'm glad that Conquest Titan is going to Arkansas, because we'll get to see and know for sure whether he has a shot here and if he can make a real move from off the pace against top quality horses on dirt. The Blue Grass winner tends to always throw up freaky looking fractions (Java's War's final 3/8 was the best in the field last year) that don't translate to dirt. If Conquest Titan had run there and romped, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with him. If he makes a strong move from off the pace in the Arkansas Derby, I can forgive his Tampa Bay Derby clunker, he doesn't even need to win, just make a strong move and make a jump figure-wise (he's WELL below consideration right now based on that measure). He's immediately usable in that event, in my opinion.

Also, I want to point out that from a pedigree standpoint, my "Oxbow" this year is Ride On Curlin. I totally agree with Steve that he needs to take back and run off the pace. He hasn't been bad on the lead either, just seems to lack a turn of foot in the stretch. Maybe he just doesn't want to win, but I'm hoping they change tactics in the Arkansas Derby and we see a new side of him. Needless to say that's going to be a huge race for my Derby pick.

Conquest Titan would be the other horse whose pedigree for 10f I can't get past. Very scary. But like I said, I need to see SOMETHING out of him that erases that debacle at Tampa Bay. I'll give the pedigree Bronze to Strong Mandate, but he's just a mental disaster at this point and totally should not be.

Who knows, this may be a year where I have to bite the bullet and go with a horse that runs closer to the pace. The way that Florida Derby unfolded with such slow fractions makes me think this year's Derby may be slower than some expect, and in a year with so few closers, looking toward those types may be the play.

02 Apr 2014 4:39 PM

just a thought but watch the calder derby and see if they practice closing with ring weekend. he has shown good cruising speed and stamina so far. he don't need the points so if a closing experiment works, could just train up with dogs for the derby.

02 Apr 2014 4:47 PM
Mister Frisky

If The Commish gets a clear run at the 1/4 pole,you will have your closer Steve.

02 Apr 2014 4:50 PM
Monarchos Matt

Interesting draw in the Wood, with Samraat, Uncle Sigh and Social Inclusion all drawn wide. Something tells me we may see a closer emerge there. Noble Moon has been largely forgotten but has the pedigree to be impactful, as does Wicked Strong...pretty intriguing race.

02 Apr 2014 4:52 PM

I think Hoppertunity will be a mid-pack runner or will be able to close from farther back if he has to by what happens at the start of the Kentucky Derby because he is able to settle nicely, or until they straighten on the backstretch.I also think Gen-ARod will have his blinkers adjusted so that he can also come from midpack or farther if he can settle.

If it is an off-track Im hoping Conquest Titan gets in especially now with Borel up or maybe Commissioner these were my two deep closers that I played in a box with all others in the 2nd derby future wager which was MY First this season.I think November is too far out although Commissioner was in the first derby futures in November.My reluctance to make a bet in November has turned out pretty well so far as NONE of the top 23 betting interests in pool 1 has qualified for the KD,that could change this weekend with Noble Moon running in the Wood.

02 Apr 2014 4:57 PM
food fight

You should get your answer April 12 in the Arkansas Derby with Commissioner. He should sit about 6 lengths off the pace and if he doesn't encounter traffic problems he should come home fastest of all.And this should set him up to be a major player in the Kentucky Derby.

02 Apr 2014 5:32 PM

With a either 1st or 2nd place finish the following horses from Pool #1 still have a good chance of qualifying for the Derby:

Bobby’s Kitten, Commissioner, Noble Moon, Ride On Curlin and Strong Mandate.

Cairo Prince has 24 points and also has a good chance of making it. If Tamarando takes a shot at the Blue Grass and does well he could get in as well.

02 Apr 2014 6:08 PM
White Plains Eric

Perfect timing, Steve, as I recently had a conversation with my father on this very topic.   We're a month away, but the key to this years derby may be to find the one who is going to close.  You nailed it that there are a lot of horses who want to be on the lead or just off it.   Gulfstream and Santa Anita have been playing fast so that hasn't helped the closers cause in accumulating points.  From past posts, i am a fan of vicars in trouble and liked him coming into the la derby for the sole reason that nothing went his way in the risen star but he still finished 3rd (ahead of hoppertunity).  As you noted, he'll be close to the pace in the derby.  In the la derby, nothing went intense holidays way, yet he sti finished second.  I think if he lays further off of what should be a swifter pace in the derby, he could pick up everything late when those front runners begin to tire.  I also like Cairo prince off his fl derby.  He looked like a short horse who needed one, but the top three didn't come back to him either on the track that has favored speed.  

02 Apr 2014 6:20 PM

Hi Steve.

Was wondering when someone was going to focus on 'the speed and where are the closers' least heading into this weekend.

You're absolutely right.  Many of the faves seem to be front-runners, although, come Derby day, they all can't be on the lead.  And like many of your knowledgeable and interesting pieces, there's very few around with your historical perspective.  And that doesn't mean you're just 'old'!   You're a smart 'old', and likely younger than I am.

But what a great sport thoroughbred racing is and what a story the Derby would become if horses like California Chrome and Social Inclusion not only make it to the 'Run for the Roses', but do so as favourites.  

One trained by a 77-year-old with his first Derby starter, the other by an 85-year-old with his second Derby entrant (Evidently his first was 40 years ago).

What other sport would have such aged yet important participants?  Maybe it's the fresh air that keeps them healthy and 'young'.  Or the horses themselves.

Just read Hovdey's piece in DRF about Sherman...sleeping with Swaps on the train en route to the 1955 Derby.  You can't buy that kind of history.

And as for Azpurua...85 and counting.  Another great story. You couldn't make this up.  Hope the owner sticks to his guns and lets Manny train the horse through the Triple Crown, if Social Inclusion is good enough.

Hope springs eternal...and the longer you last, the better chance you have.

Re the Apollo curse, if it will ever be broken, there's no better opportunity than this year, at least at this moment, with Bayern, Constitution, Hoppertunity and Social Inclusion.

Good luck to all of them.  This could be a helluva crop, who knows.  

Or, it could all go up in smoke on Saturday.  That's the beauty of the game.

02 Apr 2014 6:27 PM

I think Candy Boy wants to be a closer from mid-pack or farther back. I just hope he's not taken out of his game in the S A Derby. Then there's Kobe's Back-should they decide to continue on the trail and run in the Ark. Derby, or at Keeneland. Decent next start showings by Candy Boy, Kobe's Back and Hoppertunity make them my trifecta in the KY Derby-no matter how well (in next starts) California Chrome and Social Inclusion perform.

02 Apr 2014 7:38 PM

Closers have no shot in this year's Kentucky Derby ...the few are outclassed. Plain and simple.

02 Apr 2014 8:47 PM

Sssh, Steve. Don't give the secret away.

02 Apr 2014 8:50 PM

Good article Steve.

Now that Kid Cruz is going in the Wood, I'll have a little on him to close into the expected speed.

02 Apr 2014 9:27 PM
Paula Higgins

I think this weekend will tell us quite a bit. Plus, they can't all be on the lead in the Derby, whether they are true closers or not. I think it will be a leader and a stalker or two.

02 Apr 2014 10:20 PM

Steve ~

 You got it! Thank you for confirming my thoughts.

We should run this race in the opposite (miz) direction!

This Derby seems more like a "smoothie" conconction than a "Mint Julep". Hopefuls as you mention, are just that and a major ingredient in this Derby recipe. We are intoxicated and becoming delusional and confused.  Suddenly sprinters look like they could do the 1 1/4; speedsters are running away with the race and succeeding at 1 1/4; pacesetters are in a panic by the 1 1/4; fraction makers need pacemakers after the 1 1/4 and the closers are sleeping awaiting the locked door to open at a 1 1/4. Points and PPs are beginning to look like chemistry class. Ghost are appearing from the past as imagination runs wild.  This might be the first Derby where the call will be "It's War Emblem, coming from nowhere, in front!"

Looming in the back are those three preps that you mention that will soon be part of this Derby maize.  

And, yes we do need a "Top Billing" for this upcoming Triple Crown.

Steve, the historian in you is such a relief as is your current analysis and honest opinion. The reality of facts is a good prep for those here that are "Seeking the Gold" and a mint julep.

03 Apr 2014 12:11 AM

If it's fast and sunny like 2012 easy pickings, California Chrome pips Social Inclusion with 3 lengths to go, maybe a closer picks up 4th running past tired horses.

If wet like 2013, with all that speed, anyone's race, I think a horse like Candy Boy or Commanding Curve could be very dangerous, coming off the pace.

I am hoping for rain and upset.

May put some place on Kid Cruz at 20-1 in the wood, but one work in a month, sure sounds like a case of Derby fever.

03 Apr 2014 7:05 AM

watch out for Kid Cruz he comes from the clouds. Waiting to see what he does in the Wood. He may be too slow and too far back but he sure can close.

03 Apr 2014 8:01 AM
Pedigree Ann

As usual in the Derby, the horses who are only two or three lengths back in the preps will end up in mid-pack or farther back because of the press of horses trying to get to the front early.

03 Apr 2014 9:52 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

Thanks for putting into words what we Derby fans are all feeling.  Good article. I don't know a lot but I do feel three-year olds are full of surprises.  As you said, it's hard to make predictions. But what a fun ride it is.  Looking forward to the Arkansas Derby.

03 Apr 2014 10:36 AM
Rusty Weisner

Monarchos Matt,

I think you are a very astute Derby handicapper and I took your advice on Oxbow last year, which I don't regret.  

We seem to be on the same wavelength on Conquest Titan - it seemed like the Bluegrass was optimal, and Oaklawn can be unkind to closers.  

I'm on the fence about Intense Holiday: I might be guilty of evaluating those Louisiana runners through the prism of last year, when it could be a weak crop like it usually is.  On the other hand, yes, the race was slow, but I wasn't expecting an optimal effort out of him this time and I think he's eligible to improve in the Derby based on a predictable pattern of progression.

I will keep an eye on Ride On Curlin:  I put a lot of money on him in the Rebel and got off there, but it's interesting to see Steve Haskin and you sticking with him.  I also view Strong Mandate through the prism of Lukas's treatment of his two TC horses.  He did a switch-up in style with Oxbow as an experiment in the Arkansas Derby, and maybe the front-running bid by Strong Mandate will be similarly switched; as Coldfacts reminds us, watch to see if the blinkers come off.

I actually feel strongly about Hoppertunity as of recently, ever since we learned he'll be in the ultra-competitive Santa Anita Derby.  I took that as a good sign that this is Baffert's top hope.  I don't think he wins it, but as long as he's competitive and on the board I consider him eligible to advance.  Bayern will provide a useful gauge of the strength of the California contingent.  So, now I'd like to hear from any and all on Hoppertunity's pedigree.

03 Apr 2014 11:04 AM
Rusty Weisner


I think these points about General A Rod and Strong Mandate are very persuasive.

03 Apr 2014 11:05 AM
Rusty Weisner

I don't like the Florida Derby.  It reminds me of the 2012 edition, where the horse who was supposed to be so dominant, Union Rags, was listless, and second stringers won.  That's my reservation about General A Road, and those blinkers haven't even come off, anyway.

03 Apr 2014 11:07 AM

It sure is setting up for a surprise, eh?

03 Apr 2014 11:32 AM
Rusty Weisner

Monarchos Matt,

"The Blue Grass winner tends to always throw up freaky looking fractions (Java's War's final 3/8 was the best in the field last year) that don't translate to dirt. If Conquest Titan had run there and romped, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with him."

This is exactly my thinking on this horse (and on the Bluegrass; I tossed Java's War and took Palace Malice based on last year's).  I am "rooting" for him to come very hard late and just miss in Hot Springs.  I'm also rooting for Bayern to hit the board.

03 Apr 2014 11:36 AM
Rusty Weisner

For pedigree, the Churchill Downs website has nice rundowns of all the contenders.

03 Apr 2014 11:39 AM
Karen in Indiana

Was it Julio Canani who was asked whether one of his horses who had always won on the front end could stay back and pass to win and he answered 'Who cares?'

I could see California Chrome getting out front and outlasting the speed balls. The easy way he moves makes me think he could go a long way with that speed.

03 Apr 2014 1:16 PM
Fran Loszynski

Constitution and Tapiture are my picks this season, Tapit as sire is on a roll and Javier is hot. Either one is going to be impressive. So happy for Gainesway, a movie from Mine That Bird (Birdstone) and Tapit's kids. and someday Afleet Alex's kid will win the Triple Crown.  sooo there it is.

03 Apr 2014 1:24 PM

As far as closers go I say look out for Effinex in the wood. He is well bred and looks to have a good closing kick to him.

Needs to step up his performace but hey that is why he is 50-1..

Rusty enjoying your comments.

03 Apr 2014 5:48 PM

Not sure if connections for Mr. Speaker will keep him off the dirt, but as a probable starter in the Bluegrass, I have to wonder if they haven't totally closed the door yet for a Derby start. Assuming he does well in the Bluegrass, he is one possible closer if he goes in the Kentucky Derby.

03 Apr 2014 11:51 PM

If no legitimate closer makes the derby, then the trick is picking who amongst the speedsters can adapt and pull back.  I think the two are Samraat and Tapiture.  Samraat has already learned this and I think Tapiture is a very smart horse that works well with his jockey.  I think these two will be midpack, about 4 or 5 lengths back of Ring Weekend and will have first crack at the lead at the top of the stretch.  

This is of course, all dependent on what post they get....anything 5 or inside I won't bet either.

04 Apr 2014 1:49 AM
Monarchos Matt


Thanks for the kind words. I'm at a bit of a loss this year as it appears we all are! But I'm hoping to use the next two weeks as education rather than trying to break the bank. I agree on Hoppertunity, and am probably more interested in his race than anything else this weekend.

04 Apr 2014 10:30 AM
Old Timer

Good article, Steve. However history shows us that at times, closers have been overrated. If the horse does not have the tactical speed to go with that, he isn't going to get the job done. Looking at last year the speed fell apart big time. However we have seen War Emblem; Spend a Buck; Bold Forbes; and numerous others who have gone out and stayed in front. Heck Bodemeister almost did it as well.

I can't even count the number of horses in my memory bank who finished in the money on Derby day and were closing fast and then we heard the refrain... "wait for the Belmont. He'll catch them at the longer distance."

And it just does not happen.

Having said all that, it is my humble opinion that this year the Derby will be won by a horse who is close to the pace for most of the race.

California Chrome is a fast horse but his pedigree does not seem to say that he is a mile and a quarter horse. Then again Funny Cide (by Distorted Humor) and Smarty Jones (by Elusive Quality) did not seem to have it either!

Social Inclusion may not have much experience, but his pedigree screams classic distance.

As you say, it is a "bizarre Kentucky Derby picture".  Will this year's Derby pacesetter be more like Bodemeister or more like Palace Malice?

It will be a very interesting year. You always give us great analysis and food for thought. Keep up the great writing!

04 Apr 2014 1:34 PM
Your Only Friend

Think many trainer /riders are afraid of getting boxed or going too wide..... Go to the front and hang on......also the breeding maybe factor lot of speed showing up....

04 Apr 2014 3:50 PM

Rain...Steve, with climate change a reality there appears that, unfortunately, we may be getting more sloppy tracks on average than we once did.

If it does rain this year, will a closer have a better or worse chance to win? Mind you, Churchill drains brilliantly.

04 Apr 2014 7:15 PM
Your Only Friend

Maybe this set of riders are afraid of tight holes....not many riders will ride...and squeeze thru holes like "Calvin"....takes guts too come from behind and try too fit between horses or horse and rail.

04 Apr 2014 8:34 PM
joseph alva

Excellent topic, Steve.  A lot of us seem to have been thinking about this as the trail has unfolded.

Of the horses that appear will get in, I think the classiest one that can close is Candy Boy (assuming he runs as expected in the Santa Anita Derby and picks up the needed points).  I agree with Ranagulzion -- the closers left this year seem outclassed.

Therefore who can win this thing?  I think it may likely be whichever stalker draws and breaks well and gets a decent trip.  That is so unpredictable!  With mostly speed types in the race, whichever ones do not break well may throw in the towel sooner than expected because they will be in unfamiliar crowded surroundings (speed types and stalkers are used to running for the most part without being crowded and without much hindrance since their tactical speed affords them general clearance).  Not so in the Derby if you break bad or draw poorly!  You will be immediately smothered and banged around and that is likely to cause some freaking out.  I predict that some top favorites with speed, if they don't break well, will finish way up the track and hugely disappoint because of that.        

Consequently, I think Candy Boy will run very well in the Derby (unless he draws the one or two hole).  He is tactical enough that he can sit in mid-pack anywhere (he has already done that) or he can even come from way out of it (he has done that too) and seems to not mind running between horses.  He may or may not win it, but he will run well regardless because he has successfully handled a variety of challenging circumstances whereas most of this field has enjoyed success with things going pretty much their way.  

We still have a bit more to observe with a few important preps left to go.  I wish Commanding Curve would run in another prep and secure points to get in.  He is a classic closer getting good at the right time who can make some noise if he were to go in the Derby.  That unfortunately seems unlikely.

Happy belated birthday, by the way, Steve!  

05 Apr 2014 2:05 AM

I periodically watch Secretariat's Triple Crown races. To this day they are thrilling to watch and still give me chills. Ron Turcotte never lifted his whip, he just simply asked for Secretariat to make his move. Speed, endurance, stamina and that agility he had? He was poetry in motion when he ran and how he loved to run.

Someone mentioned on another blog that I frequent that it was 50 years between Man O' War and Secretariat. I guess we have another 10 years to wait for the next great horse.

Where are the horses that can come even come close to Secretariat?

05 Apr 2014 9:13 AM
malcolm lawrie 1

Social Inclusion is a lot like War Emblem, big figs that nobody believes!!

05 Apr 2014 9:29 AM
Sail On

Steve, from my observation there are no closers, in the classic sense, because there is no real speed. Unbelievably, many of those horses that won by huge margins, who ran away from the field, did so in relatively slow pace. For example, Vicar's In Trouble's last win was slower than his previous third place finish, in a race that was not especially speedy.

Another example, in watching Samraat stalking behind Uncle Sigh, (Gotham?) who was pressing the horse on the lead, it is hard for me to see him as the pace setter in the Wood, or the Derby.

So, Steve, do you thing the points system has the unintended consequence of eliminating speed horses from the Derby Trail? Which then results in no classic closers?

05 Apr 2014 9:55 AM
Eric Rickard

Their are two whom might fit the bill. California Chrome and Candy boy. California Chrome has shown the ability to rate in the past. His last race was a tour de force but in my opinion it was not his best style. The pace of the Santa Anita Derby might be slow and CC most likely will be in the lead. If this happens , forget that he can rate at your peril. As for candy boy, He has shown he can close. In his race against Shared belief; he tried to make an Arazi move and flattened out. In his last race he sat perfectly and then pounced. If Gary Stevens can time his move correctly, and we know he can, Candy Boy can close. The only thing I don't like about him is the time off. It all depends how they take to the Churchill Dirt. Hope to see all in Kentucky. I will be in a walking boot this year and hope it dosen't rain.

05 Apr 2014 10:07 AM

Mine That Bird won't be running in the Derby but if I was hell bent on backing a closer I certainly wouldn't discount any colt ridden by Calvin Borel.

05 Apr 2014 3:13 PM
Sail On

Steve, we have a closer! Boston Strong! er, Wicked Strong. Samraat also running from mid pack, noses SI for second. It would be a real shame if SI cannot qualify for the Derby :(

05 Apr 2014 5:52 PM
Jeffrey Simes

Steve looks like you have the right horse on top in California Chrome, he was very impressive today winning the Santa Anita Derby. A lot of people will be rooting for him.

05 Apr 2014 10:16 PM
Rusty Weisner

There's another closer for you, Wicked Strong.  Good job, Steve Haskin, keeping faith in this one.  I thought he was a wise-guy horse.

05 Apr 2014 10:25 PM

Two words:

Wicked Strong...

The son of Hard Spun out of a Charismatic mare should have no issue with distance and his late run in the Woods was very strong...I think the extra furlong will do nothing but flatter him and he is yet another runner who is bothered by the racing strip at GP but does fine elsewhere. And he does have some tactical speed (how could he not, out of Hard Spun)? He does appear to be a stalker with a strong late kick and he found another gear in the Wood. Considering what the mile was run in, Samraat is a warrior and SI would have fared much better in the FL Derby (he may have won with the slower fractions in that race). But, it is what it is...

06 Apr 2014 1:41 AM

Perhaps your question was answered in the Wood Memorial yesterday, Steve. Wicked strong played the part well. We all love a great closer, those who come from behind to close like a freight train. With each beat of your heart they pick off another pony, nothing like it. Love those closers.

06 Apr 2014 1:54 AM

Windolin, I think Secretariat set the bar for the prized triple crown races. I doubt his performance in 1973 will ever be emulated. That being said, we have been blessed with many great thoroughbreds before and after Secretariat. None have come close to his awesome magic in the triple crown run, but just the same, they were as "great". John Henry ran over 80 times, Kelso, more than 60. Yes, they were geldings, but longevity makes a legend in my book. There were others who entered the starting gate dozens of times, hitting the wire in the money most of those times. Big Red ran 21 times, losing 3. How would he have fared had he ran 50 times? Yes, he was a marvel, but don't exclude all the others who were also great, as much so as Secretariat. Yes, I'm sure I'll get some blow back for my comment, but it's how I feel. I think it's difficult to rate horses with true accuracy, so much needs to be considered.

06 Apr 2014 2:34 AM

Some of us never gave up on Wicked Strong and were rewarded yesterday. 1:17 faster than the ladies earlier.

Should love Churchill's stretch

06 Apr 2014 8:27 AM
Rusty Weisner

We've got another one now.

06 Apr 2014 9:31 AM

Steve, thank you for input on horse racing, especially the DERBY. All the DERBY preps have been won by colts racing on speed favoring tracks. Is this a planned program leading up to the DERBY? The Wood showed us our first closer, hopefully that is going to give us better insight for the DERBY, unless Church Hill comes up favoring speed. George Costancia angle has given me the exacta the previous two years so maybe again this year. See you at the wire.

06 Apr 2014 11:13 AM
El Kabong


You are close with Cleburne and the race, the Iroquois, but it is his stablemate, Smart Cover, who is the better closer. He finished second and was burning up the ground. Of the two, who both suffered set backs, Smart Cover recovered faster and is still on the Derby Trail. He will run in the Arkansas Derby. Keep an eye on his works. He will be a great horse to key and he only needs a 2nd place finish to get in to the Derby. He has a great closing kick if he is fit, sound and ready. Keep your fingers crossed here and look for a good work at Oaklawn to signal his readiness.

06 Apr 2014 2:08 PM

ksweatman - I was asking or trying to ask a rhetorical question in response to Steve's comments. I do not for one minute think that there have not been great race horse since Secretariat. Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Barbaro, Zenyatta, Wise Dan, Rachel Alexandra, Smarty Jones, Curlin, Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, Game on Dude...are just a few that come to mind.

Secretariat was a closer, at least in most of his races. He had speed, agility and endurance that seems to be missing in most of the racehorses running today. In my opinion and that of many others I might add, the focus has been on speed and I think that the industry has suffered for that.

06 Apr 2014 2:40 PM

Windolin, so right, the goal for breeders and trainers seems to be speed. It's much less a risk if your horse can take the lead and keep it, rather than the worry of getting him from the back to the front in a few seconds time. So much can go wrong, and usually does. That's why Zenyatta was such a marvel. Her style made her special. Coming from off the pace, often far off the pace, and then nailing the wire before the others, not an easy feat. To avoid traffic, she would just go around the field on the far side, she lost ground doing that, but that's how good she was. I think trainers prefer horses with speed who can run wire to wire. They didn't call Silky Sullivan the "heart attack" horse for nothing. It has to be sheer pressure when you have a pony who runs like that. Yeah, closers are wonderful. The fans love them and they earn every bit of that love.

06 Apr 2014 9:35 PM

At this late date, seeing trainers playing with blinkers and placing makes one point clear:  these horses do not have enough starts to become even mildly professional.  The relatively slow times of all the stakes mentioned points to the lack of seasoning, as do the short works, often weeks apart.  Speed horses?  Nah, front runners who lack the conditioning to show real speed.  Let's see who works a horse, or breezes, seven furlongs or a mile in the coming weeks.  Baffert might do that, but the great majority will come off five furlong works, perhaps galloping out nicely, but not enough conditioning to threaten breaking two minutes.  Hothouse flowers will wilt in the sun.  Which of these trainers will realize that they are not training quarter horses?  That person will have the closer, simply because the rest are not that fit.  It is not so much running style as it is fitness; trying blinkers in stakes?  There have been plenty of allowance races to have accomplished those experiments way before entering a major stakes.  Hopefully Swaps exercise rider remembers how it was done.

06 Apr 2014 10:20 PM

Do you think running Swaps in an allowance the week before the Derby was insane, or brilliant?  Will Sherman have his horse as fit?  What happened to Indian Charlie after only four preps?  Since this group as a whole appear somewhat under-conditioned, and certainly lacking experience, the most fit horse will have a better chance.  Quien sabe?  Compare the past performances of this group with winners of the past.  Mr. Haskins, how does this thesis fit with your view?

06 Apr 2014 11:00 PM


“In my opinion and that of many others I might add, the focus has been on speed and I think that the industry has suffered for that.”

I must respectfully disagree with the opinion above. From all indications the Thoroughbred Industry tries to strike a balance between speed and stamina as one compliments the other. Are there any guarantees that the balance sought will result every mating? Certainly not!

Let’s examine two examples from the Derby class of 2014:

Commissioner: He was ideally bred for the Derby distance and longer. He was sired by a Belmont winner and out of a mare sired by a Belmont winner. He is devoid of tactical speed but appears to have an abundance of stamina. He has a grinding running style and he has been easily beaten by horses with far more speed but with suspect stamina in their pedigree. Was he bred for too much stamina at the expense of speed?

Top Billing: He likewise was ideally bred for the Derby distance and longer. He was sired by a Belmont runner up and BCC winner and out of a mare sired by a Belmont  and BCC winner. He is also devoid of tactical speed but appears to have an abundance of stamina. He is a ferocious closer as compare to Commissioner the grinder. He was defeated in the FOY by a colt with very suspect stamina in his pedigree. Was he also bred for too much stamina at the expense of speed?

Striking the right balance is very difficult despite years mating expertise as all result are influenced by Genetics Science. The following definition of Genetics Science should shed some light on the difficulty:

‘The branch of biology that deals with heredity, especially the mechanisms of hereditary transmission and the variation of inherited traits among similar or related organisms. The scientific study of the principles of heredity and the variation of inherited traits among related organisms.’

The variations of inherited traits cannot be accurately pre-determined and in many instances does not saatisfy expectation's.


The tracks in the US are more the culprits than an industry that is at the mercy of Genetics Science. Most US tracks provide a distinct advantage to horses with speed. A horse with stamina limitations can be trained and conditioned to carry speed over a long distances. A horse void of tactical speed and has an abundance of stamina is always at the mercy of the pace and distance of a race.

07 Apr 2014 7:20 AM

Windolin, I agree with you.  The focus has been on speed and the industry is suffering.  I believe that at some point in time since 1973, there was a horse like Secretariat.  Unfortunately he was lightly trained and ran in just a few races, maybe even claiming races like Seabiscuit, therefore his full potential was never realized.  Too bad these magnificent creatures are handled by mere mortals.

07 Apr 2014 9:53 AM

Steve: Now you have your longed for, legitimate closer in Wicked Strong with a very competent jock, Rajiv Maragh on board to navigate through the wall of pacey front-runners ..and he does have the class to be very dangerous in the Derby (making me eat the words of my previous post). I did fancy him as a contender earlier on after his very promising Remensen performance but gave up on him after the Fountain of Youth. I'm happy for Jimmy Jerkens having a live horse in the Derby.

07 Apr 2014 10:00 AM

Coldfacts, I will have a response to you when  I get home from work this evening barring severe thunderstorms. I do know a thing or two about genetics and breeding horses.

07 Apr 2014 1:16 PM

Stevens agent will have to call an audible at the line of scrimage after the trouncing by CC,he will have to jump ship onto another colt and leave Sadler and his ofer record alone.Keelerman what is Sadlers record for grade 1 shippers when they ship outside of California?

07 Apr 2014 2:32 PM

Stevens agent will have to call an audible at the line of scrimage after the trouncing by CC,he will have to jump ship onto another colt and leave Sadler and his ofer record alone.Steve Haskin what is Sadlers record for grade 1 shippers when they ship outside of California?

07 Apr 2014 2:34 PM

I think after seeing the FL Derby Constitution def can pass horses. I mean they went 48 and he was about 2 back down on the inside. No way they go that slow in the derby which should put him about 7 back down the backside ready to make that important move to the lead coming out of the final turn. Just hoping he draws an outside post where he isn't going to be down inside and he should run a nice race. He is def one I am considering as my key horse in the gimmicks. Also he passed horses in his debut. I am def playing against the Wood winner and hoping cause he is such a big closer he is the wise guy horse that gets way to much money on the win end of the tote.

07 Apr 2014 2:35 PM

Horses have to show versatility, and the ability to overcome adversity. In California Chrome, i saw all of the above, and then some. He has what every legitimate Derby contender needs, that all important 2 year old seasoning. Now at 3, he is putting it all together and is undefeated going to the Derby. He is showing Maturity. He is now allowing his rider to rate him, before pressing the go button. You have to have a horse peeking at the right moment going into the Derby, and from all appearances, California Chrome, is exemplifying that. He broke tardily in the Santa Anita Derby, bumped, jostled before settling going towards the stands for the first time. Now, some horses would get rattled by that, along with their riders. But not Victor Espinoza or California Chrome, they both shrugged it off, bullied their way into contention, let everyone know that they were not going to be intimidated, and the horse respond with one of those wow performances every racing fan would be in awe of. I wish the connections all the best in Kentucky on Derby day, and hope and pray the horse stays healthy for the big dance.

07 Apr 2014 10:47 PM
Greg R

Ride On Curlin's trainer says they want to revert to the horse's previous style, sitting back and making a stretch run.  Trainer thinks RON would prefer to run that way.  

11 Apr 2014 12:20 AM

If  Commanding Curve gets in he will be ultra tough in the Derby.  It will be his third race off the layoff and it sets up for him as well.  He is already at Churchill working out as well.  My other horse is Ride on Curlin who is a grinder and ultra consistent.  Good luck to all but I would definitely play a kentucky trainer!!

14 Apr 2014 11:05 PM

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