TimeformUS Derby and Oaks Day Analysis

 For Kentucky Oaks Day Analysis, scroll to the second half of this blog post

Saturday, Churchill Downs

Race 11
The G1 Kentucky Derby
By Robert Finnegan

Handicapping the Kentucky Derby tends to be nasty, brutish, and long, and handicapping the 2014 edition was certainly no exception for us. There are so many approaches one can take, so many angles one can embrace, so many rumors one can listen to...there is so much...well...everything.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector projects that the 2014 Kentucky Derby will be run at a fast pace, and that Uncle Sigh will have the lead at the opening half.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

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Now let's go over the field in post position order, with the morning line odds in parentheses:
Vicar's in Trouble (30-1): Many handicappers consider this post position to be toxic. We disagree. We think it is a dangerous post position, but one that could well end up working in this colt's favor if he breaks alertly. The Pace Projector shows him in fifth early. We think he could as easily be on the lead, for better or worse. His speed figures have been improving every start. He ran a 100 in winning the Louisiana Derby. He will need a new top to contend here, but off this pattern, he can get it, and he should be saving ground, too. His breeding for this distance is mixed, a question mark. We consider him a viable longshot.
Harry's Holiday (50-1): Shows no dirt efforts that would make any sort of impact on this field. Has run two decent efforts on synthetic but could not follow up on either of them.  We don't see much to like here.
Uncle Sigh (30-1): Exits strong New York prep races (the Wood earned a powerful Race Rating of 112), where he ran solid speed figures, 105 104 106, while losing to Samraat and Wicked Strong. Adds blinkers, and the Pace Projector shows him on a clear early lead. Like Vicar's in Trouble, he figures to be at the mercy of the pace. Has questionable distance breeding on the sire side. But he has put a string of nice efforts together and he figures to be a nice price. We will keep him in the exotic mix.
Danza (10-1): Pletcher colt saved all the ground in the Arkansas Derby, where he pulled off a 41-1 shocker. His speed figure of 106 is competitive in here but represents an 18-point top. He is exceedingly unlikely to get a trip that looks anything like his last one. His morning line odds are relatively low. We don't like him in here.
California Chrome (5-2): We believe that this California-bred is the most talented horse in this field. Visually, we prefer his races over those of any of his opponents. He cruises at high speed, watches his opponents come undone from their efforts, and then steps into his own, laying waste to field after field with consummate style. But there are a lot of question marks here--so many, in fact, that we cannot justify taking odds near 5-2 on him winning this race. He has never raced outside of California. He has looked uncomfortable in traffic. On speed figures, he is slower than two of his opponents. He has reportedly been a bit uncomfortable during his time at Churchill Downs. A contender? To be sure. But to us, he is an underlay.
Samraat (15-1): This colt has a gorgeous pattern of speed figures: 85 91 106 107 113. His 113 is the second-fastest figure any horse in this field has ever run. He, too, exits strong preps. He is 5 for 6 lifetime. His best speed figure was earned at nine furlongs, which, his breeding notwithstanding, bodes well for his chances of handling an additional furlong. He has a pleasing, stalking style that might get him a reasonable trip in this crazy race. We consider him to be very playable in here. (Note: Samraat is the top selection of our chief figure maker, Craig Milkowski.)

TimeformUS PPs

We Miss Artie (50-1): His dirt top is a 94.  His synthetic top is 98. He comes off an uninspiring victory in the Spiral. We don't see a lot of reasons for optimism.
General a Rod (15-1): Ran a 101 when losing the Fountain of Youth by a head. Lost ground racing wide when finishing third in the Florida Derby. Frontrunner/presser type could be disadvantaged by the pace, but this is a lightly raced colt who is in excellent hands (Maker gets a 96 trainer rating overall), is admirably consistent, and might just have in him the jump he'll need to compete with the best in here.
Vinceremos (30-1): Too slow on our figures and comes in off an awful effort in the Blue Grass.
Wildcat Red (15-1): As consistent as they come. Has victories in a Grade 3 and a Grade 2 and was only a neck shy of winning the Florida Derby. But his top speed figure, a 101, leaves him in a position of probably needing to improve significantly to win this.
Hoppertunity (6-1): Scratched.
Dance With Fate (20-1): He was visually impressive as he blitzed the field in the Blue Grass after a wide trip, but his speed figure was only a 96. Returns to dirt now. His previous dirt figures fit well enough with his synthetic figures--this despite his receiving a difficult trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. His Late Pace rating of 88 is fairly strong in here. He should be running on late and could get into the trifecta, but we don't love his chances of taking down the whole thing.
Chitu (20-1): Baffert speedster is another who has a nice pattern of speed figures: a 101 (on synthetic), followed by a troubled 94, then a 100 and a 104. There has been considerable speculation about what Baffert's instructions to his rider will be. The Pace Projector shows Chitu in second-place early. He has proven himself capable of stalking the pace. His breeding for the 10 furlongs is a little light on the sire side, but strong on the dam side. Add him to the list of horses who would surprise us, but not shock us, if he won.
Medal Count (20-1): This colt is getting good at the right time. He lost an awful lot of ground racing wide in the Blue Grass, where he paired his top speed figure of 94. He will need a big new top as he returns to dirt. A tall order, though his breeding is conducive to the 10 furlongs.
Tapiture (15-1): Keeps grinding away on our speed figures, working his way up to paired 101s. But was no match for Danza in the Arkansas Derby and may have reached the end of the line for now.
Intense Holiday (12-1): Has reportedly been doing very well this week in Kentucky. He had a deceptively difficult trip in the Louisiana Derby, a race in which he made a nice run that is partially hidden in the running line and ran another 95. He is another who will need to jump to contend, and given his connections, we don't like the chances that his closing odds will reflect the likelihood that he will produce this jump.
Commanding Curve (50-1): He is our favorite bomb in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. He has improved his speed figure in every start. He had a tough time of it at the start of the Louisiana Derby. He put in a big effort to finish third. A hot pace would very much work in his favor. He draws outside but figures to be taking back and angling over as soon as the gate opens. He has a powerful Late Pace rating of 93. He figures to be a huge price. We consider him a very interesting horse in this spot.

TimeformUS PPs
Candy Boy (20-1): Was no match for California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby despite running a lifetime-top speed figure of 102. Is reportedly going to change tactics a bit this time--try coming from farther off the pace. His speed figures have been improving. They need to improve more.
Ride On Curlin (15-1): Has suffered truly awful trips in two of his last three starts, racing extremely wide and losing his chance despite putting in big efforts. For this reason, we do not think his recent speed figures do him justice. A threat to get on the board.
Wicked Strong (8-1): He is our pick to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby. We feel that he exits the strongest prep: the Wood, which received a formidable Race Rating of 112. He won it by uncorking a visually impressive run. His speed figure for that effort, a 116, is better than the best number his competition has ever run. His Late Pace rating, a 98, is the best in the field. Are we concerned that he will bounce off that huge effort? Yes, this possibility has crossed our mind, but we feel this possibility is outweighed by the chances that he will win the race if he proves capable of putting up a comparable effort today. Moreover, we like the fact that his two best efforts occurred in his two nine-furlong races. No, we don't like his post position. But at morning line odds of 8-1, Wicked Strong has shown us enough to make him our selection.

TimeformUS PPs
Pablo Del Monte (50-1): Seems no match for these.
The play:

Win bet on Wicked Strong.

Use Wicked Strong, Samraat, and Commanding Curve in multi-race wagers.

In exactas, trifectas, and superfectas, use Wicked Strong and Samraat on top, and include Vicar's in Trouble, Uncle Sigh, California Chrome, General a Rod, Ride On Curlin, and Dance With Fate in lower holes.

Race 10
The G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes
By Robert Finnegan

The Grade 1 Turf Classic has a field of 10 horses, but Wise Dan is going to get the vast majority of the attention, and deservedly so. There is no need to go over his record again. It is right there in his past performances--in all its magnificence.

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According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, Bright Thought will be on a clear early lead, with Skyring in second place and Wise Dan close behind in third.

TimeformUS Pace Projector
Try though we did, we were unable to muster any genuine enthusiasm for trying to beat Wise Dan in this race. To us he simply looks too strong. Yes, horses can go bad out of nowhere. And yes, a bad trip can get any horse beat. But in the name of prudence, we will be conceding this race to Wise Dan.
At morning line odds of 20-1, Finnegans Wake has a chance to make a late run onto the bottom of the exacta.
The play:
Exacta: Wise Dan over Finnegans Wake.

Race 9
The G2 Churchill Downs Stakes
By Mike Beer

11 older sprinters are scheduled to enter the gate for this strong renewal of the Churchill Downs Stakes, 8 of them graded stakes winners, and 3 of them Grade 1 winners.  With our Pace Projector favoring horses on or near the early lead, it would seem that last year's winner of this race, Delaunay, is in a good position to defend his title.  However, Delaunay has won only 1-of-4 starts since that impressive triumph in the slop last May, and he is facing a much tougher field of horses this year.  Pace advantage or not, Delaunay is a difficult horse to take on top in this race.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

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The list of contenders in this race is long, but it must begin with Sahara Sky, winner of last year's Grade 1 Met Mile and a horse who has raced himself back into top shape quickly after a long layoff out of that race.  After getting in a proper prep race first back from that extended break, Sahara Sky powered up late to win the Grade 2 San Carlos over this distance, and then was an unlucky, but dead-game, second in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap last out.  We think that the Carter is going to be a key race going forward, as it featured a very easy pace for the level, and several top contenders were compromised while racing behind the surprising wire-to-wire winner that day.  Sahara Sky raced four-wide off of that slow pace, and emerged from his 1.5-length defeat with his reputation fully intact. 

While we like Sahara Sky's chances in this race, it is a horse who finished behind him in the Carter that interests us most, and that horse, Clearly Now, is going to be our key.  We look at Clearly Now as a horse who, but for a few legitimate excuses, could easily be sporting an elite sprinter's resume at this stage of his career.  Instead, he has more excuses than graded stakes wins to his credit, but we are resolute in our belief that this is about to change.  Despite enduring a troubled trip behind that slow pace in the Carter, Clearly Now still managed to put in a run through the stretch, and the fact that that race came in his first start off the layoff has us anticipating a step forward for him on Saturday.  A clean break is going to be key for him from his inside post, but assuming he has no mishap, he has the kind of tactical speed that is going to have him forwardly placed in a race shape that favors that running style. 

Of the others, we view Shakin It Up as a contender for Bob Baffert.  Shakin It Up took advantage of a pace meltdown to pick up his Grade 1 win in last year's Malibu vs. straight three-year-olds, but he has run well in every one of his one-turn starts, and we didn't think he got the greatest trip (or ride) in the world when 5th behind Sahara Sky last time.
The play:

We will make Clearly Now our key in this race, using him with Sahara Sky and Shakin It Up in vertical exotics, and we will cover Clearly Now, Sahara Sky, and Shakin It Up in multi-race wagers, while pressing Clearly Now. 

Race 7
The G1 Humana Distaff
By Alan Mann

The Humana Distaff, the first of three Grade 1 events on Kentucky Derby day, features a tidy and competitive field of seven four-year-old fillies, plus Judy the Beauty (#3, 3-1). This remarkable five-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper has yet to finish off the board in 15 starts (15-7-7-1).   Despite that consistency, we were foolhardy enough to pick against her in the G1 Madison at this distance on the Keeneland Poly.  Our excuse that day?  Her best distance is six furlongs, and she had fallen just short in her four races at longer.

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Oh well, so much for that.  So, what would be our excuse this time?  Well, we could point out that her win that day was aided by a track rated as strongly favoring closers.

Or, if we want to stretch, we could point out that trainer Wesley Ward's rating for horses going third time off a layoff is a cut below his general performance.  Yeah, that probably is a stretch. Suffice to say that we still believe that this mare is at her best up to six furlongs. Six of her seven wins, and her two best speed figures, have come at distances of six furlongs or shorter. While we wouldn't be daffy enough to eliminate her entirely, we think it's worth looking for an alternative at the top of the ticket.

Looking at the contenders:

Midnight Lucky (#8, 5-2) returns after a long layoff for trainer Bob Baffert. How long, exactly?  341 days.  (Notice our PPs provide days off between running lines).

That 115 that she earned after stumbling at the start in the Acorn is the top speed figure of anyone in the field. She defeated Close Hatches, who went on to win four of her next five, three of those Grade 1 stakes.  Her only defeat came on this track a year ago, when she faded after setting an insanely quick pace in the Oaks.  Forgiving that mishap, it's certainly hard to argue with her running lines. Pace Projector places her just behind Saturday NThe Park (#4, 20-1), whom we have in the "hopeless longshot" category, in a race favoring early speed.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

Midnight Lucky comes into this off a long series of steady works, including the highly impressive bullet works that one typically sees from Baffert horses.  If she returns in top form, she will be tough to handle. However, there is that layoff --341 days if we recall correctly.  One never quite knows how a filly will return from a break that long. We'd be willing to take a shot against her as the favorite in favor of a filly with sharp recent form...

..Such as Iotapa (#6, 7-2).  This four-year-old daughter of Afleet Alex comes off two fabulous efforts in two-turn graded stakes at Santa Anita.  After winning the G2 Santa Maria, she was a gallant second in the G1 Santa Margarita after being hung out three-wide around the turn for home.  She cuts back here to seven furlongs, a move she executed successfully in California last spring (and with similar spacing between races).

She also has that nice seven furlong race off the layoff three races back.  In fact, that second-place finish is her only loss in four tries sprinting.  She has stepped up the class ladder since her return, as shown by her ascending race ratings. After those three tough races in 49 days, trainer John Sadler gave her the same amount of time off, and her solid worktab indicates that she's ready to roll.

Iotapa has the tactical speed to stay within range, and the second-best late pace rating in the field.  She is our top selection.

Heart Stealer (#2, 5-1) has shown distinct improvement since transferring from the Baffert barn to that of trainer Martin Wolfson, and has found her niche sprinting on dirt. Her recent speed figures are on a par with those of our top selection, with the only blemish being two races back, when she was crushed by Groupie Doll. 

The 42-day layoff is right in the trainer's wheelhouse, and she has a win at this distance over this surface last year. This improving daughter of Speightstown is a threat on her best effort.

Scherzinger (#5, 7-2) defeated Iotapa in her last, when the latter was returning from her layoff.  She'll need to improve her speed figures to compete here off a 98-day layoff, but she has done exactly that in each of her last three starts on dirt.

Speedinthruthecity (#7, 15-1) has returned from a 245-day layoff with two smashing wins for trainer Steve Asmussen.  She also has two wins in two seven furlong tries over the Churchill strip last year.  She too needs to move up in the speed figure department, and could liven up your deep exotics tickets if she does.

The play:  Iotapa to win.  Exacta box with Judy the Beauty. 

Saturday, Belmont Park

Race 10
The G3 Fort Marcy
By Mike Beer

Saturday's running of the Fort Marcy over nine furlongs on turf may present a juicy wagering opportunity, as it features a pair of short prices on the ML who could be viewed skeptically, and contains a couple of contenders that are listed at big prices. 

The ML favorite is Summer Front, a talented if trouble-prone multiple graded stakes winner trained by Christophe Clement.  Summer Front is clearly a dangerous horse on his best form. The question is: What kind of form is he in?  Summer Front has been laid off since a total no-show effort almost three months ago in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf.  I don't know of any reported issues with him either during or since that race.  But I do know that taking a short price on him doesn't seem like a wise idea.

The second choice on the ML is Euro import Ghurair.  This well-bred colt kept good company overseas, and acquitted himself well while not appearing to want to stay a distance of ground.  His new trainer is Chad Brown, who sports nothing but perfect trainer ratings over a variety of categories with horses like this.  Ghurair is a contender, but not one we'd want to go too low on.

Pace Projector lacks enough data to include the two European imports in this race, but it does display a positive set up for one of the bigger prices we are interested in in the Fort Marcy.  That horse is Five Iron, who has the kind of speed that is going to put him either on the lead or tracking just off of Tetradrachm, a horse we do not consider to be of true graded stakes quality.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

Five Iron ran big turf races back to back as a three-year-old last summer before shipping to Illinois for the Hawthorne Derby, only to get stuck contesting a fast pace over a bog of a course and bottoming out late.  His first start back off the layoff left much to be desired, but we can only speculate that his rider was under orders to give this horse a race, as he showed no interest in using Five Iron's ample speed early and instead rated him wide to nowhere early.  This race sets up the right way for Five Iron, and if he is ready to roll second off the layoff, we think this may be the right spot for him to step forward at a big price.

We will also use some Swift Warrior, a reliably consistent horse who has races plenty good enough to contend here, and who has the right post from which to deploy his admirable tactical speed. 

Friday, Churchill Downs

Race 11
The G1 Kentucky Oaks
By Mike Beer

It isn't often that you'll pull a field of 13 together for a Grade 1 race and wind up with an odds-on favorite on the morning line, but that is the case for the 2014 running of the Kentucky Oaks.  Outside of the first-place finisher (ultimately disqualified to 2nd for interference) from last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, She's a Tiger, it seems as if every qualified three-year-old filly in the country has shown up for this race. So that morning line price on Untapable should give you an idea of just how good she has looked in her two starts at the Fair Grounds this year. 


TimeformUS Pace Projector

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Untapable made her seasonal debut in the Rachel Alexandra stakes on February 22nd, and after confidently tracking the leaders out in the clear, she moved up four-wide through the turn and settled things quickly with an eye-catching burst of speed.  Her final time for the Rachel Alexandra came in .22 seconds faster than what was required of Kentucky Derby contender Intense Holiday in his Risen Star stakes victory roughly an hour later on the card, and was good for a strong 106 TimeformUS speed figure.  Her second start of the year was much like her first: stalking a moderate pace in the Fair Grounds Oaks while out in the clear, moving up to challenge through the turn, and then dusting the field by over 7 lengths in the stretch.   She earned a 105 speed figure for that effort.

If you're looking for cracks in the facade of Untapable, there are a few.  First of all, she doesn't look quite as invincible on our data as she does elsewhere. On our data, in fact, one of her rivals in this Kentucky Oaks field (My Miss Sophia) has earned a faster figure this year. And we suppose that if you've been following the sport at all, you realize that her trainer, Steve Asmussen, has been in the midst of a media fire-storm over the past six weeks or so, meaning that his operation is sure to be placed under the microscope at Churchill Downs this week.  Will this scrutiny affect the performances of his horses?  That's difficult to quantify, and so, for us, anyway, can neither be formally factored into the handicapping process nor entirely dismissed.  And then there is the fact that Untapable drew the far outside post in this field of 13, which is far from ideal. 

After considering all of the factors above, we still will have a hard time going against Untapable in this race.  She just appears to be too good at this point, and we believe that if she runs her race on Friday afternoon, she will win the Kentucky Oaks. 

Since we are not betting her to win in this race, we will have to look elsewhere for wagering value. For us, that means trying to get some longer prices in the mix underneath Untapable.  The two horses we will key on, along with the favorite, are Thank You Marylou and Got Lucky.  With Pace Projector indicating a fast pace in this race, to be set by the aforementioned other fast horse in the field, My Miss Sophia (she earned a 110 TFUS speed figure for her maiden win at Gulfstream, and returned to win the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct with a 104), we want closers, and both of these horses fit the bill.  Thank You Marylou can be considered a question mark over a route of ground, especially after squandering a clean run into a ferocious pace in her last start, but she is talented, and we are willing to give her another shot to stretch out now that she's back on dirt.  Got Lucky, on the other hand, remains N1x eligible, and so still has to prove that she has the quality to win a race like this.  She is, however, a one-run closer who figures to catch the kind of fast pace here that she has yet to see in any of her previous races, and she is the top-rated closer in the field. 
The play:
Exotics with Untapable on top of Thank You Marylou and Got Lucky.

Race 10
The G2 Alysheba Stakes
By Craig Milkowski

The Grade 2 (G2) Alysheba Stakes drew a field of nine runners and will be run just before the G1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.  It is for horses four years old and up and is run at the distance of one mile and one sixteenth on the dirt.  The field includes G1 winners Will Take Charge, who is the morning line favorite, and Golden Ticket.  A TimeformUS speed figure of at least 115 is usually required to win a race of this class.

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Will Take Charge enters off a win in the G2 Oaklawn Handicap and will be the odds-on favorite at post time. Two races back, his runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Handicap earned him a lifetime-best speed figure of 125.  There is not much doubt that if he runs his best race, he will win, but will he run his best race?  Despite the win last out, there are some question marks.  This will be the nineteenth start of his career.  TimeformUS past performances indicate layoffs with blue lines for those of short duration and with red lines for those that are longer.  There are no such lines in the past performances of Will Take Charge.  His Oaklawn Handicap speed figure, a 112, is his lowest since the Pennsylvania Derby, which he ran in as a September three-year-old.  There are innocent reasons why he may not have run his best at Oaklawn Park,  losing several lengths while racing wide numbering among them, but perhaps he is just in need of a break.

Normandy Invasion is the horse many thought ran best in last year’s Kentucky Derby.  He moved early into a blistering pace to take the lead before tiring late to finish fourth.  His 113 speed figure that day was his career best, but the Kentucky Derby was also his last race of the year.  He returned to the races at Gulfstream Park with an easy score in an allowance race. Then he ventured to the Fair Grounds for the G2 New Orleans Handicap, where he ran a solid second behind G1 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.  However, neither race topped his Derby run.  He’ll need to improve third start off the layoff to win here.  It is possible he will do just that, but he will be the second choice in the wagering, and his odds will probably be lower than his accomplishments and current speed figures warrant

Golden Ticket was a dead-heat winner of the G1 2012 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.  He has yet to win at that level since, but has run very well in several top races.  He ran second in the G1 Foster over this track last year, and later closed from well back to be second in the G1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.  He ran well in his 2014 debut, finishing just a head behind Palace Malice in the G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap while earning a speed figure of 115.  He was then cut back in distance for the G1 Carter Handicap, a seven-furlong race at Aqueduct.  The race couldn’t have shaped up in a manner any more detrimental to his running style.  The pace was absurdly slow and uncontested.  He basically had no chance in those circumstances.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

Appealing Tale is designated as having a running style of “Leader”.  He is the only dedicated frontrunner in the race and should be able to assume command early.  Pace Projector shows him alone up front early.  He ships in from California having run very respectable TimeformUS speed figures of 117 and 118 in his last two outings, the top two figures of his career.  Despite his 15 to 1 morning line, he could be tough to run down if left unchallenged for too long.
If the goal were just to pick the most winners, Will Take Charge would be the selection.  He won’t, however, offer any betting value.  Normandy Invasion is similar.  His reputation exceeds his actual accomplishments and demonstrated level of ability. Consequently, he will be bet heavily as well.  Golden Ticket is the horse most likely to be an overlay--offering a price that exceeds his chances to win.  His last race looks poor but can be ignored.  He is a G1 winner and has run fast enough recently to win this race.

The Play:
Win bet on Golden Ticket

Top 4 Selections:

Golden Ticket
Will Take Charge
Appealing Tale
Normandy Invasion

Race 6
The G3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes
By Peter Kleinhans

The Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes, to be run at 5F on grass, presents quite a challenge to handicappers. It is a race in which every major contender has something in his corner and a major obstacle to overcome.  There's no horse with everything pointing his way.

Let's start by eliminating the less-likely contenders.

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1) Ancil has been taking on this competition and failing.  Last start, in against Marchman and Positive Side, who are both in today's race, he finished a dismal twelfth, with no real excuse.  Three starts back, he was blown away by Havelock and Stormofthecentury, both in today's race.  Sandwiched between those efforts was a win, but it was with a perfect speed trip from the rail at Tampa Bay Downs in a race with a TFUS race rating of 104, 5 points lower than that of today's event.  He does have the rail, and he might prefer 5 furlongs to 5 1/2, but he just doesn't seem to be of the quality of today's best entrants.

2) Undrafted is much better-suited to a mile.  Maybe 6 1/2 or 7 furlongs on the turf, but 5 furlongs?  He simply lacks the speed.  His figures are underwhelming against these as well, and it's very hard to see him getting seriously involved.

7)  Googleado has never competed on the turf.  His dirt and synthetic races are far below these in quality, and he'd have to be an undiscovered turf specialist in order to win this.  Possible, but highly unlikely.

This leaves us with six horses.  Let's go through them.

3)  Stormofthecentury.  I like this horse, who has been training up to today's race at Mountaineer for the red-hot Louis Ruberto, Jr.  He battled gamely in his last effort, fighting for and eventually getting the lead in the Woodford back in October, before finally coughing it up late and getting swooped by Havelock, who was coming from dead last.  He has excellent early speed, a good post, comes out of a race in which he did all the work and got caught by a fresher horse with an easier trip, and he probably prefers 5 furlongs to 5 1/2.  He makes sense.  His main issue is the pace.  Does he try to hold the rail and engage (the possibly faster) Sum of the Parts in a duel?  This might be a difficult move because he appears to be just a step slower.  Pace Projector shows Sum of the Parts clearing to the lead and Stormofthecentury sitting in behind the leader.  This is an ideal trip for Stormofthecentury, but it also means that Sum of the Parts would be on a clear lead, giving him a tactical advantage.  Neither scenario is perfect for Stormofthecentury, but neither dooms him.  He's a real contender here.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

4)  Marchman just won the Shakertown, defeating several horses who are in this race, but he did it on the lead in relatively slow fractions, and that won't happen here.  Both Stormofthecentury and Sum of the Parts are significantly faster.  Could he sit just off the lead and win this?  It's not impossible; his race two back showed him making a nice bid on the turn to take the lead in a minor stake at Fair Grounds before ceding ground late at 5 1/2 furlongs and just getting caught.  But he did get an absolutely beautiful trip in his last. Today's won't be quite as beautiful.  He's never gone this short, either, which could work for or against him.  Another possibility.

5)  Scatman is my sleeper in here.  He's easy to dismiss because he's never earned a figure better than 92 on the turf, in two tries.  But a closer look might excuse those relatively poor numbers.  His first try, back on May 4, 2012, was in the Grade 2 American at 1 1/16 miles.  He was up near the lead, made a bid against that good group of horses (Silver Max, an iron-tough turf speedster going long, won it) before tiring.  His other try, in February of 2013, showed him rushing up with a four-wide move and tiring in the Grade 3 Canadian at Gulfstream in a race that earned a 115 TFUS race rating.  Both those races suggest that maybe his problem isn't with the turf but instead with the distance.  Maybe making one run at five furlongs on the turf is just his thing?  He's been working brilliantly on the dirt as he prepares for his first try in almost a year, and his dirt form was quite good in sprints before he took the time off.  A very interesting horse to consider if he is entirely overlooked, which he almost definitely will be.

6)  Positive Side is razor-sharp right now.  He never tried sprinting on the turf until two starts ago, when he was let go at 38-1 odds in the Colonel Power stakes at Fair Grounds.  He raced very well, flying home for second, beating Marchman and Sum of the Parts in the process.  He showed that that was no fluke when he returned in the aforementioned Shakertown, where he was dismissed at 33-1 and finished an even better second (to Marchman, who had that perfect trip).  Now he's shortening up to five furlongs, though, and that could present a real problem.  I love closing sprinters on the turf, but this one may need that last 1/2 furlong to really assert himself.  Nevertheless, he's the clear 'now' horse.

8)  Sum of the Parts, discussed earlier in the Stormofthecentury analysis, is Pace Projector's pick to get the lead.  Will he?   If he crosses over to the rail, he loves five furlongs (just set the track record for the distance at Sam Houston) and could be tough to catch.  He did set very fast fractions in his loss to Positive Side and Marchman last time.  If he can set slower ones here, perhaps he can last at five furlongs.  If he's caught in a duel outside of Stormofthecentury, though, he'll have his work cut out for him.  The outside post is a real obstacle. It means his chances depend on his first couple steps out of the gate. And he won't be a price at all.

9)  Havelock won last year's Woodford, inhaling Stormofthecentury and a host of others in the blink of an eye from dead last.  But after trying the Breeders' Cup and falling short despite a valiant attempt, he was a disappointing seventh against Marchman and Positive Side in the Shakertown.  A case can be made for him in that he needed the race and the pace was slow. Fair enough.  But at the same time, at least he had 5 1/2 furlongs to work with there.  His last-to-first strategy isn't going to work at five furlongs unless there's an absolutely torrential duel ahead of him, which doesn't seem all that likely.  If he wins, it will look beautiful, but at 7-2, he just doesn't seem like good value given the foreseen trip.

So...what's the takeaway?  That this is as competitive a race as you'll ever find, with the pace scenario unclear, and each horse's proclivity for the exact distance critical.  I see this as an enjoyable race to watch with friends and maybe bet a couple dollars on--preferably on longshots.  It's not a race to step out on.  For the sake of argument, let's make our play:

Small win bet on (3) Stormofthecentury
Small win bet on (5) Scatman
Very small exacta box (3)-(5)

Race 5
The G1 La Troienne
Jason Perlmutter

Oaks Day holds a special place in the hearts of horseplayers.  The most coveted prize in American horse racing is but a day away, and the card at Churchill Downs is always loaded with great races featuring high-class horses.  The La Troienne is the lesser-known Grade 1 on the docket and is carded earlier in the day, when many of those fans lucky enough to be on the grounds are sipping their first mint julep of the day and enjoying the scenery.  Those who turn their attention to the past performances will find a modest field of six fillies and mares contesting this 8.5-furlong event.  To be sure, this isn't the best betting race on the card, but we will try to squeeze out some value with a filly who appears to be peaking at the right time and figures to go off at odds longer than her 5-2 morning line.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

TimeformUS PPs for Kentucky Oaks Day
The Kentucky Derby Package - PPs for ALL races at ALL tracks on Derby and Oaks Day

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, #4 Magic Union figures to get a good stalking trip behind the expected pacesetter, #5 Devil's Cave.   We feel that Magic Union is likely to be in the 4-1 range when the gates open, as so many punters will settle on the high-profile connections of #3 Unlimited Budget.  In Magic Union's most recent start, she ran a career-best speed figure of 109, a number that would be highly competitive in here.  Although that number represents a significant top for Magic Union, her prior numbers were on the improve. She gets a sweet 48 days of rest coming into this spot.  Her form at CD is quite good, with a win and a second  from two starts.  We feel there are signs that she is ready to win at this level. Magic Union is our selection in the La Troienne.

Part of our play is predicated on the feeling that all is not well with Unlimited Budget.  In her two starts as a four-year-old, she hasn't managed to run back to her best three-year-old numbers.  While this is her third start off a layoff, we can't help but think she will get pounded at the windows and go off at close to even-money.  If that happens, we recommend taking a shot against her.

Of the others, #6 On Fire Baby is consistently fast, but this is her third start in 48 days, and we wonder if a regression is coming off two grueling efforts.  #5 Devil's Cave is a threat to wire them and should be used protectively with our top choice.  #1 Molly Morgan is our upset candidate.  She's slower many of these, but we think she may be rounding into a good effort.  This mare has only four wins in her career, but three of them were at The Downs, and we think she will get a comfortable rail trip near the back of what figures to be a tightly bunched pack. Yes, she is unproven at this class level, and yes, a trip to the winner's circle feels like a stretch, but we give her a great chance to complete the exotics at double-digit odds and will use her accordingly.

The Play:  #4 Magic Union to win at 7-2+.

Exacta Box: #4 Magic Union and #5 Devil's Cave.

Straight Exacta: #4 Magic Union over #1 Molly Morgan.

Trifecta part wheel: #4 Magic Union in the 1-hole, with #1 Molly Morgan back and forth in the 2/3 slots and the ALL button filling the open hole.




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