Friday, May 1, 2009

The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs
The Kentucky Derby (G1)
1-1/4 Three-Year-Olds $2,000,000

For a race fan I think the Kentucky Derby (G1) is the easiest race of the year to handicap; it is also the easiest race to get wrong. It is easy because one knows all, or at worst almost all, of the entrants. We know their PP’s. We have watched all of their races. So, we have marked their progress and have an opinion about their abilities. As a result my KD handicapping is more a watch than a study. I wait for the final works and let my impressions simmer. I find the overload of information during Derby week can be a distraction. It is a race to go with your gut. It is easy to get wrong because with a field of 20 and a crowd of over a hundred thousand it is impossible to account for all the variables. So it’s best to keep it simple. Will there be good pace? Can one of the pace horses win? If not which colt will benefit from the pace? Who may get a good trip? And lastly, what does your gut say?

I think unquestionably there will be a good pace. Regal Ransom and Join in the Dance -Pletcher’s rabbit- will see to that. If Papa Clem reverts to his usual tactics he’ll be close as will Friesan Fire and Atomic Rain. I don’t think any of this group will survive to cross the wire first, especially if the pace for the first three quarters goes in 23+, 47+, 1:12+, as I expect it will. In his last race Papa Clem changed tactics, he ran off the pace and as a result won his first stake, the (G2) Arkansas Derby. His works have been criticized this week. He’s been tagged as looking “tired.” But, perhaps, Gary Stute is just trying to get him to rate. He’ll need to if he is to win. If they can rate him he has a chance.

There are a lot of closers in this race and Dunkirk leads the list. He seems to have been the “wise guy” horse since his first start. I don’t see it. I agree that he is very talented, maybe even good enough to win, but I am not a believer. He is a slightly built horse so the physicality of the Derby will be an issue as will the 126 lbs impost. Other late runners include West Side Bernie, Mr. Hot Stuff, Advice, Hold Me Back and Summer Bird.

West Side Bernie is coming off of his best race, this is his third race back in the cycle and he worked well this week. But this will be his third race at 1-1/8 or better in 42 days. That just seems too much to me to get the effort necessary to win the Derby. I also believe he is a bit short at 1 -1/4. I think his connections would have been best advised to wait for the Preakness S. (G1).

Hold Me Back is a good price at 15-1. His pedigree is impeccable and he has exhibited moments of brilliance. However, in his lone dirt performance he tanked. He works well on dirt so I would not be shocked to see him move up here but I think he is a level below the best of these.

I really like Summer Bird. Like Dunkirk this is only his 4th race but I think his road has been a bit easier on him. He has responded with a better performance at each asking and of the closers I think he will be the only one to hit the board.

Of the nine mid pack/ press type runners I don’t believe Mine That Bird, Nowhere to Hide or Flying Private have a chance of winning. Chocolate Candy needs to improve more than he is capable of to win. I also don’t like his action for the dirt, so I’m throwing him out. That leaves us with 5 runners from which I think 135th Derby winner will come: Musket Man, General Quarters, I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile and Desert Party.

Of all the colts running Musket Man is the one that I liked best coming up to the race. He is 5 for 6 and still improving. He also possesses all the tools. He is agile, has tactical speed and a late turn of foot. But what sets him apart for me is the will to win he exhibited in his Tampa Bay Derby (G3). To me there is no substitute for heart. Yes, his pedigree is suspect but he’s already proved he can outrun its apparent limits. He breaks from post 2 but with West Side Bernie on his inside and Mr. Hot Stuff to his outside he should have no trouble gaining position on the break. The only horses that will be in front of him will be the speed. He can settle at the rail sixth or seventh on the backstretch and wait until they start backing up. Hopefully, he won’t be blocked and can start his move ahead of the closers. If he does I think he could continue to outrun his pedigree and all the other’s to the wire. Unfortunately with reports of him doing so poorly at Churchill (making one wonder if he is ill) I can’t back him. This is what I mean about an overload of information. If this were another race would he already be scratched? That is how it poorly the reports of his works sound. He is the colt I liked best but with such poor reports I can't bring myself to back him.

Desert Party took a step back in his last prep against Regal Ransom and may be headed in the wrong direction. I also don’t think the Dubai races prepare them enough for this race so I can’t support him.
If General Quarters and Tom McCarthy win it would be the best story possible. However, he isn’t the most agile of horses and he needs room to get his motor into overdrive. I don’t think he’ll get a clean enough trip to overcome his limitations.

I Want Revenge is one of the most agile as demonstrated by his Wood Memorial (G1) win. His last two starts have made him a star. However, those fields played right into his strength. That will not be the case here. His last two Beyer’s have been two of the best for any three-year-old this year and I think it unlikely for him to repeat those numbers. He did post a bullet at CD on 4/28 so perhaps he is still on his game. But I’m betting he won’t be able to shake loose of this field and he’ll wilt before the wire.

Pioneerof the Nile has been on everyone’s radar since his two-year-old season. Since moving to synthetics and Bob Baffert’s barn he hasn’t lost. He’s won four stakes in a row, two of them grade I’s. He has faced some of the toughest opponents in this field and has come out on top. But, he has never raced on dirt. His works at Churchill point to him handling the track but racing and training are not the same. Though doubt remains, without Musket Man being one hundred percent, I think Pioneerof the Nile is the best horse in the race. He will be breaking from post 16 and probably get caught back farther than he is comfortable. But Gomez will give him the best ride possible. If he moves up at all on dirt I think he delivers another Derby to Baffert in the year of his induction to the Hall of Fame.

The Picks:
Win: Pioneerof the Nile -Baffert goes into the Hall in style.
Place: Summer Bird -Skips Preakness to run in the Belmont
Show: Papa Clem -Lays just a little too close and can’t finish.


Amateurcapper said...

Great, detailed analysis as usual!

I hope that our weight on PotN doesn't cost him.

Best of luck.

Mark Ripple said...

Funny---I think the KY Derby is one of the toughest to handicap. Lots of traffic. Reminds me of the Grand National without the jumps!

I'm "dutching"

1. Hold Me Back
2. Chocolate Candy
3. West Side Bernie

Great luck today!

Mark Ripple
Handicapping the Wall Street Way

Amateurcapper said...


I heard on the Roger Stein Show here in Cali that BERNIE had a case of colic a week ago. I'm no trainer or veterinarian but that doesn't sound good, does it?