We have seen the late defections of Kentucky Derby favorites
and leading contenders before, but this was the most heartbreaking I can
remember. It has created a major void in the race. But it is still the Derby
and it is finally time to decipher all the clues we've been given, as puzzling
as they may be. One thing is for sure, opinions are scattered all over the
It is best to break it all down into categories and see who
fits where and how much you want to take out of each category. Do you put the
most emphasis on speed ratings or workouts or breeding or (and I hate to say
this again) the slop or the oldest methods -- eye test and gut feeling?
The horses with the fastest overall speed ratings on Thoro-Graph
and Ragozin are GAME WINNER, IMPROBABLE,
TACITUS, TAX, and MAXIMUM SECURITY.
Horses at a price on an excellent form pattern are COUNTRY HOUSE, SPINOFF,
and CUTTING HUMOR. Add TAX from the above group because of his
projected big odds. I would also add ROADSTER
to the top group if he can move forward a couple of points. He's not quite
The fastest horses on Brisnet are TAX, MAXIMUM SECURITY, VEKOMA, SPINOFF, TACITUS, and BY MY STANDARDS. I have to add that GAME WINNER'S fastest number puts him
right up there, but it was at 2 and he hasn't matched it yet.
The fastest horses on Beyer are MAXIMUM SECURITY, IMPROBABLE, and ROADSTER.
The only horse on all four speed ratings is MAXIMUM SECURITY.
The one horse who really has me baffled is LONG RANGE TODDY. On all four speed
ratings he was progressing with every start and one more similar progression
and he was right there with the leading contenders. Instead he took a big step
backwards in the slop, which was very surprising considering his pedigree is
geared for slop.
This is purely subjective, and the vast majority of the
horses are working exceptionally well, so it's difficult to separate them. So I
am going to concentrate on longshots who should be considered based on works and
overall presence. My favorite works have been turned in by CODE OF HONOR and CUTTING
HUMOR. The latter's was at Palm Beach Downs and was way under the radar. Code
of Honor looked sensational in his works at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Like
everyone, I had to be impressed with BY
MY STANDARDS' series of works and gallop-outs, and I thought TAX looked great in his work, but what
really caught my eye was Tax's gallop at Churchill Downs , especially his powerful stride and overall presence. I just loved what I saw, as I have with TACITUS, who is just floating over the track every morning and worked very strongly past the wire. Finally for
whatever it is worth, one of the strongest "gallop-outs" I saw was by IMPROBABLE. I had orginally included HAIKAL'S work, the way he was srtriding out at the end, but with his status in doubt because of a foot abscess I will not have him in any of my wagers, assuming he is going to be scratched.
This also is subjective, as we all look at different aspects
of a horse's pedigree. The two best bred horses for a mile and a quarter in my
opinion are PLUS QUE PARFAIT and TAX, as well as COUNTRY HOUSE with his RF inbreeding to the great producer No Class. It must also be noted that in WIN WIN WIN'S first five generations
are five Kentucky Derby winners, four Preakness winners, and four Belmont
winners. And GAME WINNER is a rare
outcross with a good combination of U.S., Argentinian, and French bloodlines,
which should be attractive to breeders.
The three horses I latched on to early and have stuck with
all the way are Omaha Beach and WIN WIN
WIN, and a bit later SPINOFF.
Omaha Beach and Win Win Win just had that look of class about them. But ow the
favorite is gone, leaving the race even more wide-open. I was extremely
impressed with the way Spinoff crushed a very good horse in Cave Run by 11 3/4
lengths at Tampa Bay and doing it with his ears up the whole way. He came back
with a terrific effort in the Louisiana Derby, which really moved him forward. But
he will have to get lucky breaking from post 18 (moving in one spot). At least
he should have a clear path and avoid traffic. With Win Win Win I am going
totally against Thoro-Graph and Ragozin and going strictly by the eye test. I
just love looking at this horse and watching him run. I also became a fan of COUNTRY HOUSE watching his amazing
maiden victory. One of these days the light bulb is going to go on. Breaking
from post 19 now he has no choice but to take way back, tuck in, and hope for a
fast pace. With TAX, the more I see
of him the more I like him.
Hopefully this category will not
apply. Good horses in general will handle all kinds of tracks, so most anyone
can win if they are best on the day, depending on what kind of slop we get -
packed down and firm on the bottom or sticky and deep. The type of slop should
also dictate the pace. In 2013 we had a fast pace that set up for the closers,
won by Orb, and in 2017 we had a fast pace where speed held. But that speed was
Justify. So which longshots would move up on sloppy track? First and foremost
there is PLUS QUE PARFAIT, who not
only has tremendous stamina but is bred for the slop and has already run well
on it at Churchill Downs, so he has two factors in his favor. The other two I like
a lot are TAX and SPINOFF, who should bohth love it. The latter has Darby Dan breeding on top and they all love it, and Private Account ad his sire Damascus on bottom, and that is excellent slop breeding, not to mention Epsom Derby winners Roberto on top and Nijinsky on bottom.
If you like IMPROBABLE and longshots BY
MY STANDARDS, COUNTRY HOUSE, WAR OF WILL or CUTTING HUMOR you should not be concerned
about the slop. As mentioned earlier, the big surprise to me was LONG RANGE TODDY'S poor performance in
the slop in the Arkansas Derby because he is certainly bred for it. So that is
a puzzler. And here is a little tidbit of information that may come in handy.
Looking at WIN WIN WIN'S grandsires,
Sunday Silence won the Kentucky Derby in the mud and Smarty Jones won the
Kentucky Derby in the slop.
I only included this category to
mention COUNTRY HOUSE, who is inbred
top and bottom (Rasmussen Factor) to the great Canadian producer No Class
through multiple champion Sky Classic and Classy N Smart, who is the dam of
Canadian Horse of the Year, Triple Crown winner, and Breeders' Cup Distaff
winner Dance Smartly and leading sire Smart Strike. No Class, who is also the
dam of champions Regal Classic and Grey Classic, is a daughter of Nodouble, one
of the toughest horses I have ever seen. You always want to have a tough horse
in the Derby and I have yet to see a horse with Nodouble in his pedigree who
wasn't tough as nails. And Country House is a big, strong brute of a horse who
has Nodouble in his pedigree twice. I also have to mention TACITUS after watching the Wood Memorial. If any horse has proven his toughness it is him.
PACE SCENARIO -
With Omaha Beach out of the race
it puts less pace pressure on those on or near the lead, which makes the
tactical speed horses more dangerous. That moves up MAXIMUM SECURITY, who can be on the lead or just off it. WAR OF WILL has been pulling in his
works and gallops and fighting the bit with his mouth open. He has pulled early
in his races before, but now he is a fresh horse, coming off a non-effort six
weeks ago. Breaking from the rail, he has to gun it and will either be on the
lead or just off it. Both of Todd Pletcher's longshots, SPINOFF and CUTTING HUMOR
will be in close attendance, also coming off six-week layoffs. Look for Spinoff
to be sitting right off the pace. And he will be tough. VEKOMA, BODEXPRESS and IMPROBABLE
will also be close, with TAX,
breaking from post 2, in the hunt. I can see TACITUS and GAME WINNER in an excellet position behind the first tier.
The only hope the closers have is
if the pace is contentious due to sheer volume. Remember, all these horses are
going to want to get position and you have to use your horse to do so. After
that it's not easy to turn them off, especially in the Derby cavalry charge.
POINTS OF INTEREST -
It's hard enough getting three
horses to the Kentucky Derby, but Bob
Baffert having three grade 1 winners in the Derby is pretty amazing.
Cutting Humor's sire First Samurai, was bred by John Gunther, who
bred Triple Crown winner Justify.
If you're turned off by Maximum Security breaking his maiden in
a $16,000 claiming race, 1970 Derby winner Dust Commander was beaten in a
maiden $7,500 claiming race as part of the 23-1 mutuel field.
Code of Honor's sire, Noble Mission, a full-brother to Frankel, is
by Galileo, sire of over 70 grade/group 1 winners, and his grandsires are
Sadler's Wells and Danehill, who combined to sire an incredible 672 stakes
Win Win Win's owner and breeder Charlotte Weber finished second in
the Kentucky Derby with Laser Light...37 years ago. The horse that beat her, Gato
del Sol, was co-owned and bred by Arthur Hancock, who co-owns and bred Roadster. If Roadster should beat Win
Win Win 37 years later, that is what I call history repeating itself.
One note on MASTER FENCER, in his last start, he showed a tremendous turn of foot on a very tight turn, so he is quick on his feet and don't be surprised to see him make a strong move around the turn.
So putting all this together, I
already have WIN WIN WIN and SPINOFF in the Derby Future Wager.
Unfortunately, TAX and COUNTRY HOUSE, who were in the Future
Wager in pool 3, were dropped in pool 4, so I was unable to bet them. I missed
that boat, but will be betting them to win on Derby Day and still should get
good odds. The more I look at Tax the bigger my bet on him gets. He is my NOW
horse. Another horse that is really starting to grow on me is CUTTING HUMOR, who made a grand
appearance on the track Wednesday morning. As I mentioned in my extensive
write-up on him in this week's Derby Dozen, all the pieces are starting to fit
and I have to put something on him to win as well at a monster price. If it
comes up sloppy I will add PLUS QUE
PARFAIT, who I believe will move way up in the slop. I normally don't like
betting six horses to win, but I like all six and they will all be huge prices.
My top pick, of course, was Omaha
Beach and now it is difficult finding one horse to put on top. I guess it would
have to be TACITUS slightly over GAME WINNER and MAXIMUM SECURITY.
I don't care how slow the pace was in the Florida Derby. When a frontrunner comes home his last three-eighths in :35 4/5 you have to take him seriously. But I just don't have a standout any longer. To try and make some money I will be
keying Tacitus, Game Winner, and Maximum Security in exactas with my top longshots Win Win Win, Spinoff, Tax, and Country
House, and lesser denominations on Plus Que Parfait, Cutting Humor, Long Range Toddy, and By My Standards. I also
will be keying IMPROBABLE with the same horses. I would put Code of Honor in
with the longshots, but I feel he is going to be bet down. I will have to watch the odds before deciding whether to include
one or both of them. If it comes up sloppy I will increase my wager on Plus Que Parfait.
If my best worker CODE OF HONOR is a short price I may add him as a key horse. If he is big odds I would put him on the back end.
Last October, I wrote a column
titled, "Is the Derby Winner in This Year's Juvenile?" in which I ranked the
horses as potential Kentucky Derby winners. No. 1 was CODE OF HONOR and No. 2 was GAME
WINNER, so I am going to box those two in a pretty decent size exacta and
hope Code of Honor doesn't get bet too much.
To summarize, I feel it is very wide open at the top and I would lean toward Tacitus and then Game Winner. But for my key horse I am sticking with Win Win Win, whose bandwagon I've been on for a long time. He would be followed by my other key longshots Tax, Spinoff, and Country House and a saver on Plus Que Parfait.