Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Florida and Louisiana Derbies

GI FLORIDA DERBY - Honestly, I'm not sure how great of a betting race this is, but it might be an important event in how it sets up betting for the Derby. It's very likely that one of the three obvious horses--Union Rags (Dixie Union), El Padrino (Pulpit) or Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy)--will win. I'll probably use all three in the Pick 4 and simply hope to survive, but certainly wouldn't mind if the Union Rags gets it done as the favorite, even if it might deflate any potential exotic pay-offs.
   Unless Union Rags shows something he hasn't so far, I'm very eager to bet against him in the Kentucky Derby. He has yet to run faster than a 95 Beyer Speed Figure, but he's the consensus Derby favorite because his wins have been visually impressive and he had an admittedly brutal trip in the Breeders' Cup. He's all the way down to 3-1 on the morning line for the Derby Future Wager Pool 3 despite the fact that there have been more than 30 performances in 2012 by 3-year-olds that earned higher figures than the 95 Union Rags received for the GII Fountain of Youth S. last time. It's also not a great sign that the bay has yet to receive a figure faster than what he earned for his very solid 7 1/4-length success in the GII Saratoga Special last August. Horses' speed figures should improve significantly from age two to three unless they've reached their ceiling. Add to that a pedigree that doesn't guarantee success at Classic distances (his lone full-sibling was a decidedly better sprinter), and I'm happy to lay a much-too-short price on Union Rags come May 5--especially if the outcome of the Florida Derby deflates his odds further.
   A win play against Union Rags might be warranted here, but I'd need something like three times the price of the favorite to bet El Padrino and six or seven times the price on Take Charge Indy. I don't expect the necessary price on El Padrino due to the Pletcher factor (Discreet Dancer was actually odds-on over Union Rags in the FOY). While Take Charge Indy moved too soon and probably ran a better race than El Padrino when they faced off in an allowance here Jan. 29, he has been handled with a lack of confidence this Triple Crown season that makes me hesitant to back him without the right reward for the added risk.

Union Rags                                  A Coglianese

GII LOUISIANA DERBY - There's a good chance that Cigar Street (Street Sense) is in a different class than the rest of these horses, but there's an even better chance that he'll be forced to work hard to prove it. Enough confirmed speed is signed on here, even with the defection of Arm Force (Tiznow) (my original pick), to test the recent maiden romper. Reformed claimer Comisky's Humor (Sharp Humor) exits sprints in which he set the pace, so there's no doubt he'll be sent. Hero of Order (Sharp Humor) set fairly moderate splits in the GII Risen Star with Mark Valeski (Proud Citizen) in tow (that slow pace is the reason I'm against Mark Valeski), but he was part of an extremely hot pace in the GIII Lecomte S., so I'd expect Hero of Order to add plenty more fuel to the fire. I certainly won't be shocked if Cigar Street ends up cruising here from either on or off the pace, but he was tugging pretty hard when he romped last time and he's clearly not the type to take at a short price.   
   Since nobody else from the GII Risen Star looks particularly interesting based on trip analysis, I'll look to key off of two out-of-town closers. Despite Dale Romans's past success with horses switching from turf to dirt, I wasn't expecting much from Finnegans Wake (Powerscourt {GB}) in the Gotham, but the very late runner overcame a slow-to-average pace to complete the trifecta in that event at 25-1. He needs to improve significantly from a speed figure standpoint to contend in this spot, but he's still lightly raced and more ground should be to his liking. His pedigree screams very long distances on the turf, but since he took to the dirt reasonably well last time, maybe distance considerations will outweigh surface ones in this case. It's also worth noting that two horses he has been competitive with on the turf--News Pending (Harlan's Holiday) and Golden Ticket (Speightstown)--have run much faster on the dirt recently. The former, another example of Romans's turf-to-dirt prowess, was second in the Fountain of Youth with an 88 Beyer, compared to the 79 he earned when a length in front of Finnegans Wake in a Gulfstream optional claimer Feb. 5. Golden Ticket almost won the GII Tampa Bay Derby with an 87 versus the 73 he ran when second beaten two lengths by Finnegans Wake in a Gulfstream maiden Jan. 1. Don't be surprised if Finnegans Wake runs by them all at the end of that long Fair Grounds stretch at a nice price.
   I'll also use Rousing Sermon (Lucky Pulpit), who has been running reasonably well out in California, including a close runner-up effort in the GI CashCall Futurity late last season. His last two tries came over the Santa Anita dirt, which probably hasn't helped his cause, and the California horses appear to be a bit stronger in 2012 than in recent years.

Cigar Street                                 Lou Hodges

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