Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest Post: Is 2012 the Year of the Triple Crown?

By Kelsey Riley

The countdown is on for I’ll Have Another and his loyal legion of fans. On June 9, the plucky chestnut will attempt to become American racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. The press is awash with opinions on whether the son of Flower Alley will complete the elusive hat trick, and while I am not here to throw my speculations into the fire, I would like to point out that the Triple Crown has been trending in racing around the world in 2012.

America isn’t the only nation with Triple Crown fever. England caught a raging case of it when Coolmore’s undefeated colt Camelot ran away with the English 2000 Guineas on May 5. The son of the late great Montjeu has subsequently been installed an overwhelming odds-on choice for this Saturday’s Epsom Derby. He will take on eight other colts over Epsom’s uniquely challenging course while jumping up to a mile-and-a-half for the first time. While this seems a daunting task, a great many European racing pundits have unwavering faith in the star colt. Shortly after Camelot won the Guineas, gossip grew that the Aidan O’Brien charge may make an attempt at the Triple Crown. Believe it or not, England has experienced a longer Triple Crown drought than America. The English Triple Crown (the 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger) has not been won since Nijinsky swept the series in 1970. In fact, the English Triple Crown has gone rather out of fashion. It is a rare occurrence for a horse to attempt it, and many Guineas winners will bypass the Derby itself in favour of shorter contests. Only two horses have doubled up in the Guineas and Derby since 1970: Nashwan in 1988 and Sea the Stars in 2009. In turn, the St. Leger has lost its lustre, and has not been a significant target for top three-year-olds in a number of years. Although Sea the Stars won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2009, his connections opted for a schedule that included the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Coolmore has yet to indicate their plans for Camelot, and while there is doubt over whether he will even get his chance at the Triple Crown, we can dream.

The dream has already come true for Australian racing fans this year, as Pierro became the first horse in eight years (sixth in history) to sweep Australia’s two-year-old Triple Crown of the Golden Slipper, Sires’ Produce, and Champagne Stakes. The undefeated son of Lonhro has serious star quality, and while we’re dreaming, who’s to say he won’t go on next year to win that country’s three-year-old Triple Crown, which consists of the Randwick Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, and AJC Australian Derby? That trio has been won by just four horses, but the most recent winner was Pierro’s paternal grandsire, Octagonal. Pierro has the pedigree to go a route of ground and to improve with age, so it's exciting to think of how good he could be.

Pierro winning the Champagne Stakes

Another nation that has tasted the excitement of the Triple Crown this year is Singapore. Super Easy completed the sweep on May 18 when he won the Singapore Guineas, remaining undefeated in 10 starts including the Three-Year-Old Sprint and the Three-Year-Old Classic. If his courageous win in the Guineas wasn’t enough, the New Zealand-bred’s form was justified when Ato, a horse he has beaten twice, got up to win the Krisflyer International Sprint (G1), the fourth race in the Global Sprint Challenge, last weekend.

Across the map in Japan, three-year-old filly Gentildonna continued her dominance of the female sophomore division when she took the May 20 Japanese Oaks by an easy five lengths. The Sunday Racing colour-bearer was following up on her win in the Japanese 1000 Guineas on April 8, and she looked to be the real deal while stepping from 1600 metres to 2400 metres. The Japanese fillies Triple Crown consists of the Oka Sho (1000 Guineas), Yushun Himba (Oaks), and the Shuka Sho in October. The series was won in 2010 by Apapane. If any horse has the genetics to complete the sweep it is Gentildonna. Her sire Deep Impact took the colts’ version in 2005.

Gentildonna winning the Japanese Oaks.
Courtesy Japan Racing Association

Whether or not it influences anyone’s opinion on I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown chances, the topic is clearly trending in racing around the world this year. It is interesting to observe how the various Triple Crowns are perceived in different countries, and it is important to note that some of these series have been altered over the years, or have otherwise become insignificant. Regardless, it is exciting to see so many equine stars around the world. If anyone knows of any current Triple Crown stories that I haven’t listed, please share them.       

-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Post: Welcome to New Jersey

My name is Sarah Fishback and I am lucky enough to be a member of the 2011-2013 class of Darley Flying Start. Over the next 5-weeks I will be completing my American work placement with the Thoroughbred Daily News.

Following an intense week of learning the ins and outs of balance sheets and income statements and the financial implications they are attached to it was finally time to begin my much-anticipated work placement. As excited as I was about heading off I was dreading packing and the long drive ahead.

Daunted by the thought of driving 12 hours straight from Kentucky on Memorial Day weekend I decided to make a stop in Pennsylvania on my way to Red Bank, New Jersey. This worked out quite well since my cousin’s son was being baptized on Sunday morning at our family church near Philadelphia. Following a morning spent with family and horses I got back on the road for the final short leg of my journey. Arriving in Red Bank I found myself in a far more picturesque version of New Jersey than had been led to believe by MTV, HBO, and Bravo television. I had been to different areas of the state before but really did not know what to expect from Red Bank itself.

During my time here I am lucky enough to be sharing an apartment with the son of a TDN employee and his girlfriend. Luckily for GPS and John’s good directions I managed to find the apartment with only a few confused moments and no u-turns, which for me is an impressive feat.

The one thing that struck me the most on arrival was the summer heat, which was intensified by the lack of air conditioning in the apartment. They had just moved in a few days prior and had yet to have a day off to remedy this sticky situation. I received the warmest welcome of all from Nicole’s dog Indigo, who may be as sweet as my own dog. Luckily once the sun went down so did the temperature and the humidity.

Deciding it was cool enough to venture outside John, Nicole and his younger sister and her fiancé gave me a brief tour of Red Bank on our way to dinner. Pointing out important landmarks such as the cupcake shop and where the film Dogma was supposed to be based on, as well as the main street of Red Bank, which was surprisingly quiet and peaceful according to them. I was most impressed by the fact that I could walk from the apartment to the office when it came time to start work on Tuesday morning.

Red Bank, NJ
(TDN's office is right by the orange flag) 

Monday was spent running errands and getting acclimated to my new home away from home and also included a visit to Monmouth Racecourse. While plenty of people spend Memorial Day on the beach there was still a nice crowd on hand for the races. This to me was a much better alternative than roasting on a crowded beach. Nicole gave me a tour of the facilities and introduced me to one of the local restaurants at lunch. All in all New Jersey was beginning to grow on me. A relaxing evening spent at the apartment allowed me plenty of time to rest up and prepare for my first day at the TDN.
My original plan of walking to the office for work soon changed when I awoke to hot and humid weather and was already sweating prior to leaving the apartment. Luckily I found my way and a parking space easily, again an impressive feat for my directionally challenged self.

I have now settled into my new 5-week home and am looking forward to what this time will hold including many learning experiences and hopefully a new Triple Crown winner.

--Sarah Fishback is a first year trainee on the Darley Flying Start course.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Blog: When is an accidental death acceptable?

by Mark Cramer

We can ask this question about race horses and we can ask it about human beings. Perhaps we can learn something by comparing our attitude to accidental deaths on the race track with how we accept deaths on the road. If you bear with me, you will see in the conclusion why this comparison can be made.

According to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, there were 1.92 thoroughbred deaths per 1,000 starts between November 2008 and December 2011. Separated by surface, there were 2.07 deaths on dirt, 1.28 deaths on synthetic and 1.67 deaths on grass. Filtered by tracks, some tracks do better than others. Keeneland’s website states that their track has half the number of deaths per thousand in the “all surface” category. Dirt, of course, is not applicable. Keeneland had 0.88 deaths on synthetic and 1.17 on turf, per thousand starts.

Based on these or other similar stats, we can make choices about which surfaces are more acceptable to race horses on.

I have not been able to find stats on horse deaths which compare horses racing on pain-killing medication versus horses without pain killers, but the death rate appears to be significantly higher in countries where horses are allowed to race with pain killers. If this proves true, we could choose to ban race-day pain killers.

The point is that we have information available that could help us make choices that would significantly reduce the percentage of race-day thoroughbred deaths.

But similarly, we could provide choices to human beings that would reduce on-the-road deaths.

For example, according to a Dartmouth study, there are 11.7 deaths per billion passenger miles by car while there are 0.88 deaths per billion passenger miles on Amtrak. The difference is significant. But just as horses cannot choose the surface they race on, in most regions of North America, human beings cannot choose the surface they travel on, because there is no train service.

Lest you doubt the above Dartmouth stat, here’s another more convincing one. The French high-speed train (the TGV) has been in operation since 1981 and there has not been a single travel fatality. Not one death by train! We could choose to have high speed trains in places like Texas and Florida, but we choose not to offer a travel alternative.

Human travelers in places without trains are like thoroughbred runners: they have no choice of surface.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), train commuters walked an average of 30% more steps per workday than car commuters. The CDC recommends a daily physical activity standard of 10,000 steps; 40.4% of train commuters walked at least 10,000 steps while only 14.8% of car commuters walked that much. Train commuters end up with a higher life expectancy than car commuters.

In conclusion, for both human beings and race horses, we choose not to reduce death rates, even though we could do so. This suggests that our choice to allow race horses to die needlessly is not really a question of our attitude about animals but of our attitude about life itself.

Mark Cramer is the author of the crime novel Tropical Downs and the bicycle racing chronical Handicapping on the Road. He lives in Paris.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Preakness and Undercard Thoughts

--Brian DiDonato

GI Preakness S. - I'll be honest, I have nothing particularly insightful to say about the Preakness other than that I think those who are taking an extremely negative view on Bodemeister (Empire Maker) are trying too hard. I doubt anyone could seriously argue against the notion that he was much the best in the Derby, so I guess it comes down to an expected regression. Personally, I'm not one who subscribes to the bounce theory for the most part, and I doubt Bodemeister's a candidate for such a thing. His connections have been around the block enough times to know whether or not a very valuable horse like this with immense potential can handle short rest following a tough effort, and I just can't see them running Bodemeister back without every indication that he's doing very well. After all, they certainly didn't have to run here. They could've waited for the Belmont (a race which I think Bode might be even tougher in) or regrouped for a summer campaign. The presence of Trinniberg was the only thing that got Bodemeister beat in the Derby, so without him or another comparable speed present, I have a hard time envisioning anything but an easy lead for the Derby runner-up.
Bodemeister Galloping at Pimlico
   If, somehow, the fractions do get too hot, it'll probably be I'll Have Another (Flower Alley) playing the antagonist out of a legitimate fear of letting Bodemeister get away. For that potential outcome, I'll use Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway) as my lone off-the-pace back-up in the pick four. He was just hopelessly wide in the Derby, and had every right to stop a bit late after making that eye-catching move. His prior form fits, and while I'm not crazy about the fact that he shipped back to California before coming to Maryland, I'm going to trust veteran Mike Harrington, who seems to be getting fed up with the media's second-guessing. All those rumors about Creative Cause's pre-Derby condition seem to have been pretty inaccurate, after all. For a trifecta or superfecta spicer-upper, I'll toss in Zetterholm (Silver Train), who overcame slow splits to win going away against New York-breds last time. He should be running late and is bred to get the distance on his dam's side.
Air Support   Coady Photography

GII Dixie S. - This is definitely a spread race, but I'll look to zone in mostly on a pair of runners in the 6-1 to 8-1 range. While Casino Host (Dynaformer) will take plenty of play for good reason, it's worth noting that Air Support (Smart Strike) bested him in last year's GII Virginia Derby and should be the better price of the two. He returned from a long break Apr. 7 in a Keeneland allowance that easily could have been a Grade II or III, and endured a wide, no-cover trip before fading to fifth. According to Trakus, he covered 24 feet more than winner Al Khali, which cuts the five-length gap between them at the wire more than in half. According to DRF Formulator, trainer Shug McGaughey boasts absolutely gaudy numbers second off the lay-off in graded turf routes--he's hitting at a 32% clip with a $3.60 ROI over the past five years.
   Trend (Sligo Bay {Ire}) took 10 starts to break his maiden, but he seemed to blossom down at Gulfstream this winter. He bested subsequent GIII Appleton S. winner Corporate Jungle in a Jan. 19 allowance before running second in a salty renewal of the GIII Canadian Turf S. Mar. 3. Showing more speed than usual in the Canadian, Trend dueled the very quick Little Mike into submission--that runner came back to upset the GI Turf Classic S. on Derby day. Third-place finisher Data Link returned to annex the GI Maker's 46 Mile S., benefitting from a troubled trip for Canadian winner Doubles Partner. Trend was second again in the Appleton, but from back off the pace--a jockey switch from the always-patient Julien Leparoux to Alex Solis for this could mean a more aggressive ride, which would prove key.

J W Murphy S. - I don't know what to make of Done Talking (Broken Vow) running in this spot. He never struck me as having a turf action, and it seems like a flat mile is probably a bit too sharp for him. I'm certainly not going to let him knock me out of anything but, believe it or not, I'm not picking him to win. I'd love to lock in 8-1 on Hammers Terror (Artie Schiller) right now. He pressed a very hot early pace last time (13 points above par on the Moss Pace Figure scale for the opening quarter) in the GIII Coolmore Lexington S. while three-wide in no-man's land, but still dug in to be third. Longshot winner All Squared Away and runner-up Summer Front both disappointed in subsequent efforts, but the also-rans, including fellow Murphy entrants Gold Megillah (Purim) and Skyring (English Channel) returned to run well. So did pacesetter Johannesbourbon, who was an unlucky runner-up on the turnback in Tuesday's Tom Ridge S. at Presque Isle. A better trip puts Hammers Terror right there on the wire in this very wide-open affair.

Guest Post: Darley's Midsummer Dream

--by Kelsey Riley

While American eyes will be fixed on Pimlico this weekend for the 137th Preakness, across the pond in Japan, another classic race will capture the attention of the locals: Sunday marks the 73rd running of the Japanese Oaks, and 18 fillies will line up for the international G1 event.

One of those fillies is Midsummer Fair, a homebred for Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Japan division.  

Sheikh Mohammed has made great strides in the racing industry since investing in his first thoroughbreds in the 1970s. His multinational Darley empire has achieved success with satellite operations on four different continents, and last month Midsummer Fair helped Darley reach an important milestone when she became the first group-level stakes winner owned and bred by Sheikh Mohammed in Japan.

Midsummer Fair recorded the important victory in the April 22 Flora Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse, improving her record to three wins from five starts.

The Darley homebred certainly has the pedigree to reach classic stature on Sunday. She is by Tanino Gimlet, who is best known as the sire of the brilliant filly Vodka, winner of the 2007 Japanese Derby and 2009 Japan Cup and Yasuda Kinen (all G1). Her dam is Strawberry Fair, a daughter of Kingmambo and American champion filly Storm Song.

Midsummer Fair

Midsummer Fair is the product of the persistence and careful planning of her owner. Sheikh Mohammed started his foray into the Japanese industry more than 10 years ago. After basing a handful of mares in Japan in the late 1990s to be covered by Sunday Silence, the ruler of Dubai decided to keep a few two-year-olds to race in that country in 2002 on the National Association of Racing (NAR) circuit. The NAR carries less prestige and prize money than the celebrated Japan Racing Association (JRA) circuit, but requires a licence that had never before been issued to foreigners. The JRA offers a rich racing program, and authorities are not keen to see their money go offshore.

So Sheikh Mohammed set out to reaffirm his intentions to support and help grow the Japanese industry. While racing horses in the NAR, he continued to be active at public auctions, and also established the Darley Japan stallion station and associated stud farms. During this time, he bred G1 winner Danon Chantilly. He also won the Japan Cup, an international G1 open to foreign competitors, in 1996 and 2007 with Singspiel and Admire Moon. Sheikh Mohammed’s efforts came to fruition in 2009 when he became the first non-Japanese to earn a JRA licence. The licence allows horses to compete in the JRA under the name of Sheikh Mohammed as well as his wife Princess Haya and his son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.

Today, Darley Japan numbers six farms, 130 mares, and stands seven stallions, including Admire Moon, American-raced Pyro and British and American G1 winner Storming Home. In the beginning, the focus was on creating quality, which meant selecting and cultivating a select broodmare band to bring to Japan. Strawberry Fair was one of 50 mares shipped to Japan from the various other Darley satellites in 2007, with about 20 added and the same number culled for the next four years. The Darley Japan broodmare band now stands at 138, with 15 of the original mares still there, including Strawberry Fair.

“We’re now at the mare numbers we want,” said Shane Horan, Group Bloodstock Manager for Darley. “We want to put 100 two-year-olds in training each year, and this is the first year we have over 100 yearlings, and we’re expecting about 120 foals. We’ll sell 15 to 20 of those each year.”

With breeding operations in America, Europe, and Australia, Horan noted that it is sometimes difficult to decide where a mare may be best suited. In the case of Strawberry Fair, she was from a great American pedigree being out of Storm Song, but that mare has thus far been a disappointment as a producer. Banking on the idea that greatness can sometimes skip a generation, and that maybe the bloodlines would enjoy the Japanese soil, the decision was made to bring Strawberry Fair to Japan in foal to Darley stallion Singspiel. 

The resulting foal was the winner Sunrise Fair. After producing two non-winners by stallions Marienbard and Fantastic Light, Strawberry Fair struck gold with Midsummer Fair in 2009.

Although favouritism on Sunday will likely to go Gentildonna, the winner of the chief prep race in the Oka Sho, there is reason to believe in Midsummer Fair. While Gentildonna will be stepping up from 1600 to 2400 metres for the first time in the Oaks, Midsummer Fair has improved with added distance, her last two wins coming over 1800 and 2000 metres respectively. Those close to Darley Japan are enthusiastic about her prospects.

“She was an impressive winner of the Flora Stakes in April and has shown a lot of improvement during 2012,” said Darley Japan Managing Director James Hall.  “She is a very professional filly and we hope she can rise to the occasion on Sunday in the Japanese Oaks.”

Connections are hoping that Midsummer Fair’s success is just the beginning for Darley Japan.

“Going forward we are aiming for the progeny of our stallions and Sheikh Mohammed`s racehorses to be a regular part of the top Japanese races.  There is a great deal of public interest in racing in this country and we are committed to playing a part in the future development,” said Hall.

Strawberry Fair, now one of the gems of the Darley broodmare band, produced a filly by Darley Australia shuttler Commands earlier this year, and she will be covered by Admire Moon this year.

Darley is also set to have a runner in next weekend’s G1 Japanese Derby, in the form of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Snowdon, a son of Admire Moon from the Lemon Drop Kid mare Snowlynx. Another potential runner of American interest in that race is Spielberg, a two-time winner by Deep Impact out of the Lycius mare Princess Oliva. You may recognize that mare as the dam of Flower Alley, sire of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another. Could Flower Alley’s brother win a Derby on another continent? Tune in next weekend to find out.

For more information on Japanese racing, including previews and past performances for the Derby and Oaks, visit

-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start course. She will join the TDN staff in July.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Black-Eyed Susan and Pimlico Special Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

GII Black-Eyed Susan - While I don't expect a longshot winner in this race, I do think there are plenty of reasons to play against two of the favorites, Mamma Kimbo (Discreet Cat) and In Lingerie (Empire Maker) (her 5-1 morning line quote seems unrealistic--she'll be lower).
   The reason not to like In Lingerie is pretty obvious--she could not have possibly gotten an easier lead in the GIII Bourbonette Oaks. The Pletcher trainee got her opening quarter in :25.24, good for a Moss Pace Figure of 44, or 18 points below par. There's no way she'll get that easy a trip this time, and the Bourbonette looks just as weak after the fact as it looked before it happened. Runner-up and stablemate Dancing Solo came back to run third at 3-2 in a Keeneland allowance, while third-place finisher Toxis finished two more slots back in the same heat. The rest of the Bourbonette also-rans didn't fare any better.
   Mamma Kimbo is much more dangerous than In Lingerie, but she shouldn't be the even-money or 6-5 shot that the Baffert faithful will make her. Her sprint debut was excellent and hard to argue with (101 Beyer), and while I wouldn't hold a seven-point Beyer regression in the GII Fantasy S. against her, she had everything her own way that day. It seems likely that the Oaklawn track was speed-favoring Apr. 11, as front-runners took half of the day's 10 events, including winners at 12-1 and 19-1. Mamma Kimbo got an uncontested lead through average splits in a merry-go-round type race, and simply found the line first. Runner-up Amie's Dini and third-place finisher Jemima's Pearl didn't do much to flatter the Fantasy in the GI Kentucky Oaks, as they checked in eighth and 10th, respectively. It's hard to take the decision not to run Mamma Kimbo in the Oaks herself as anything but a minor knock (granted, she does have two very fast works in the interim), and she's bred more like an eight-furlong horse than a nine-furlong one. She could very well get loose again and score at a short price, but she'll definitely be an underlay.
   Welcome Guest (Unbridled's Song) is the play both by default and on her own merits. The up-and-comer was second in the GIII Comely S. last out behind subsequent Oaks runner-up Broadway's Alibi, and she probably ran a bit better than it looks on paper. She was fourth in a six-horse field early off a pace that was below average and controlled by the even-money eventual winner, and she was forced to cover a lot of extra ground on the turn when making her move. The grey earned an 88 Beyer for her effort--probably not quite good high to win this--but there's reason to believe that that figure could have been higher. Without considering variants, etc., a quick look at the past numbers earned by Comely participants reveals something very telling. The figure that every single runner received represented a regression of three to 12 points from their previous figure. Broadway's Alibi, the only horse to have run back so far since the Comely, earned a 99 Beyer in the Oaks--a four-point improvement over what she got in the Comely under much better circumstances--and one point off the 100 top she earned two starts back. Welcome Guest probably ran more like something in the low 90s in the Comely without considering her somewhat disadvantageous trip. More distance should be another factor that helps put her into the winner's circle. Her second dam is GI Ashland S. winner Glitter Woman, making her dam a half-sister to Political Force, who happens to also be by Unbridled's Song. Political Force's signature win came in the 1 1/4-mile GI Suburban H. in 2007. Since the surrounding races are so wide-open, I'll single Welcome Guest in the pick four and hope to get some separation from those zeroing in on the chalk so that I can spread more in other legs.

GIII Pimlico Special - It's nice to see this race return to the Preakness weekend wagering menu, and while it may need a few years to regain its Grade I status officially, this is close to a Grade I-caliber line-up. Note that the Special, rather than the Black-Eyed Susan, makes up the first half of a daily double with the Preakness. That was definitely a good decision as this is a more competitive heat. Like in the Black-Eyed Susan, I'm against the shorter-priced runners, but in this case I don't see a strong reason to like one of the alternatives over the others.
   I've always been a fan of Alternation (Distorted Humor), but he's clearly a play against here. His three-straight wins at Oaklawn came with very advantageous set-ups and, while he took the GII Peter Pan S. last May at Belmont, it remains to be seen just how well and how consistently he will run outside of Hot Springs. Alternation came from off the pace to take the Essex H. Feb. 4 with an extremely hot pace in front of him (14 Moss points above par in the opening quarter), and he enjoyed very easy leads in both his Mar. 10 GIII Razorback H. and Apr. 14 GII Oaklawn H. scores. There's not much chance of an easy lead here, so I'll let Alternation beat me.
   I'm also against Mission Impazible (Unbridled's Song), but I might use him in the pick four defensively. His best races obviously make him plenty competitive, but he never wins. His career record is 17-3-7-2--that conjures up the dreaded "H" word a bit, doesn't it? He's also run some clunkers at short prices, and seems like a perpetual money burner. I'm not going to let him beat me in exotics, but I'm certain that his odds will be shorter than they should be.
   Now for the horses I'll be looking to beat the favorites with in post position order:
   When the entries for this race went up, I was expecting to love Toby's Corner (Bellamy Road). The GII General George H. that he was third in was at a distance shorter than what he prefers and has been flattered by subsequent results. It seemed at the time that Fair Grounds just had to be speed biased when last year's Wood winner was third from off the pace in the GII New Orleans H. Apr. 1, but outside of Nates Mineshaft's romp in that race and the improbable victory of 1000000-1 shot Hero of Order in the Louisiana Derby, the day's results offer little evidence that there was an obvious advantage to being on the lead. Tracks change and I certainly can't rule out the possibility of a bias during that part of the card completely, but I've gone from being very interested in Toby's Corner to simply using him based on some standard fundamentals. I could probably be enticed into a win bet, though, if he were to drift up to 8-1 somehow.
   Endorsement (Distorted Humor) seems to be making up for lost time since an injury forced the 2010 GII Sunland Derby to miss the Kentucky Derby and almost all of his 4-year-old season. He keeps getting better with every start since resurfacing in December, and while he enjoyed a nice drafting trip in the GIII Texas Mile last time, there's reason to believe he can keep moving forward--especially with more distance to work with.
   Hymn Book (Arch)'s merits are pretty obvious--he ran a very big race to take the GI Donn H. (besting Mission Impazible), and he was compromised by a slow pace in the Oaklawn H.
   Cherokee Artist (Cherokee Run) will probably be the longest-priced horse on my tickets, so I hope his connections opt for this spot over the Joseph French Memorial S. at Delaware Saturday. He was a pretty promising dirt horse way back when, but it seemed as though his best days were behind him during a long series of turf and synthetic tries. He's been better in three recent starts on the conventional stuff, and his local optional claiming romp Apr. 27 (103 Beyer) came with a premature move into a break-neck pace. He'll have to handle a giant step up in class, but stranger things have happened.
   Nehro (Mineshaft) seems way too slow this year, but he did improve on his first-out figure when hopelessly far back in the Oaklawn H. last time. He was fast enough last year, so I suppose there's no reason he can't cycle back up towards his top. A win would give trainer Steve Asmussen back-to-back Pimlico Specials... four years apart.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Post: A Hard Way to Own a Racehorse

--Mark Cramer

   Gina Rarick is the only American trainer in France. She grew up in Wisconsin dairy country and was schooled as a journalist--not the usual backgrounds for a racing career. She became a jockey in France, perhaps the oldest apprentice in racing history. Thus, she could ride in a race and then write about it. Eventually she settled in as a trainer.
   Film directors take note--Gina Rarick is an unusual character and in the treatment we also have a most unusual horse: Hard Way. No novelist could have conjured up a more symbolically accurate name. In August 2010, after 16 races, Hard Way endured a crushed first vertebra and was basically lucky to be alive. Rarick sent the horse to friendly pastures, gave him time off. Treatment involved only one pharmaceutical product, Tildren, for improving bone density.
   Six months later, an MRI scan showed that the damage was healed into a bony mass and nothing was touching the spinal cord. “Oh, and by the way,” Gina explains, “he also has a slight case of wobbler’s syndrome.” 
   Hard Way was given the green light to resume training, but Rarick hesitated: “One day he had a stiff neck and I decided not to take the risk.” She retired Hard Way.
   But Hard Way did not adapt to retirement. Back in his days after foaling, he was raised with a nurse mare who was a draft horse. Rarick believes this is why he didn’t socialize with the other Thoroughbreds.
   “I’m pretty convinced that he thinks he’s a draft horse, too,” she says. Over the winter, Hard Way grows so much hair, as if he were ready to pull a milk cart. "He was absolutely miserable turned out with the other retirees,” Rarick recalls. “When I saw him last fall, he seemed pretty much begging me to take him back home.”
   So she took him back. By January of 2012, he seemed ready to race. A few months later, he was given two prep races at a country track called Lisieux, the Penn National of Normandy, where he finished mid-pack.
   Hard Way’s real test came on May 5, Kentucky Derby day, 21 months after he had been sidelined. He was entered at the beautiful Paris track, Saint-Cloud, in a handicap for 20 horses, on a surface labeled “very soft.” It was at 1 1/2 miles, but Hard Way’s one previous win was at a longer distance.
   Back in November 2009, Hard Way had finished third at longshot odds in a field of 20 over a heavy surface at the same Saint-Cloud at 1 9/16 miles--close to his May 5 distance/surface: a positive clue. He also once finished second for rider Christophe Lemaire, who was back aboard. His odds were 13-1.
   There are several subplots. Two of Hard Way’s original three owners stuck with the horse, and the third owner was on hand to bet him.
   Another subplot revolves around Gina Rarick’s advocacy of drug-free racing. The only doping you can find at her beautiful stable in Maisons-Laffitte (a town where street signs tell car drivers that horses have the right of way) is the caffeine that Madame Rarick swigs down before sunrise in preparation for her sunrise gallops.
   Rarick wrote on her blog:
   We barbarians here in Europe and most of the rest of the world are abusing our horses by forcing them to run with absolutely no pharmaceuticals in their system on race day. Really. How could we? How could we possibly wait until our horses are sound without the aid of drugs to race them? We should be ashamed of ourselves. 
   Rarick also counters the argument that drug-free racing would push the little guy out of the sport:
   I’ve got a yard full of ‘little guys’ who are having plenty of fun racing horses at lower levels on hay, oats and water. Yes, they see an occasional vet bill. They will never, ever spend a fraction of what the 'little guy' in America has to spend on vet bills alone, never mind the training fees.
   Rarick adds:
   I am very lucky to have owners who are in the sport for the right reason: to enjoy themselves in the company of the noble Thoroughbred.   Some 8 hours before the Kentucky Derby, the supremely patient owners and trainer of Hard Way were rewarded when their horse galloped to an easy victory. It was their Derby and Hard Way did defeat 19 other horses.
   Rarick concludes:
   It’s great to have him back. He’s always been sort of the yard mascot, and we’re all looking forward to seeing what happens this year. He gets to decide where and when he wants to race. We’re just along for the ride.

Mark Cramer is the author of the crime novel Tropical Downs and the bicycle racing chronical Handicapping on the Road.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

And They're Off! $4,000 Thoroughbred Jumper Classic at the Garden State Horse Show

-Sarah Andrew

The last time I was at the Garden State Horse Show, I was 17 years old and I rode my horse, Alibhai's Alibar, in a little jumper class. We were reserve champions that day, and when the next edition of the Chronicle of the Horse was published, I excitedly flipped to the show results and beamed when I saw our names.

17 years later, I returned to the show, this time on assignment for the TDN. I found myself back in the jumper ring, with a camera in my hands instead of reins. I photographed about 25 Thoroughbreds in the $4,000 Thoroughbred Jumper Classic. You can read my preview of the class at this link:

This year, the Garden State Horse Show awarded bonuses and hosted Thoroughbred hunter and jumper classes for the first time, through the support of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Industry, New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the TAKE2 program (an initiative of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc.).

On Friday, Star Street, a handsome son of Empire Maker who raced under the name Open Space, won the Thoroughbred Hunter Classic. I wasn't able to attend the show on Friday, but this photo by Reflections Photography illustrates exactly how he won the class. His form and style are remarkable, and everyone who saw his round said he embodied the quintessential show hunter.  

©2012 Reflections Photography
 On Saturday, the TAKE2 jump was proudly displayed in the Grand Prix ring, and was the centerpiece for the win photos.

In my preview of the jumper class, I introduced you to Smithwick, aka Hennessy, aka Bob's Big Bunch. The chestnut gelding was expertly piloted by Melissa Monti, but he pulled a rail and did not make it to the jumpoff.

As I watched the jumper class, I heard and saw a few common themes. The horses were quick, game, and eager. Some were a little too eager, and I heard many riders speaking soothingly to their mounts as they careened past, "Eeeeeasy, whoa, eeeeasy..." During the jumpoff, the rounds got faster and the riders handled the courses as accurately as possible, as illustrated in this photo of Jaclyn Loprete and Mostly Mine.

I saw a range of sizes and builds in the jumper class, and these horses came from very different backgrounds. Tug's Lucky Stripe, ridden by Heather Roth, was bred in England, never raced, and was an upper-level three-day event horse and jumper before he was imported to the United States. He competed at Badminton, Rolex, and in various mini prix jumper classes.

  Loquita, racing name Sheza Raisinet, was purchased from the Camelot Auction feedlot in New Jersey, and is now owned and ridden by Wilhelmina "Willie" Horzepa.

Charlene Benson's Jersey Girl (racing name Cat's Flag) was a test mare for breeding after she retired from the track.

West Side Story, ridden by Noelle Bianculli, was an eventer before she started showing him in jumper classes.

Some horses, like Smartenique (ridden by Abby Barrett), showed under their racing names.

Nine horses made it to the jumpoff, including Less Is More, aka Lester, aka Mommie's Luke, who was featured in my preview. Linda McBurney handled the nimble bay with surgical precision, and they finished the class in third place.

Cheer For Me ("Cheers") and Kate Gearhart finished in second, only a fraction of a second behind the winners. Cheer For Me's Jockey Club name is Cheer For You. After he was retired from the track, he was a very successful Young Rider's level eventing horse for a client of Buck Davidson's. According to Kate, "Cheers truly loves the game of horse showing and we are very grateful for the opportunity that the Thoroughbred classes present".
Four's A Charm, aka Jinx (racing name Ruslan), and Kacey Rovere won the class in style, and in addition to the prize money, picked up a beautiful bridle from Five Star Tack.
Four's A Charm (right) and Jamboree (left, racing name El Derechos, seen here with Rebecca Krampen) retired from the track without ever winning a race, but both have more than enough talent to bring home ribbons in the show ring.

The Thoroughbred Jumper Classic was a real treat for spectators, from the nerve-wracking first rounds, to the gritty jumpoff rides, to the proud riders taking a rousing victory gallop after the class had ended. The Thoroughbred classes across the country are growing in popularity. As a rider and a Thoroughbred owner, I was inspired by the class, and I hope to find myself back in the show ring again sometime soon, this time in the saddle and without the camera.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More Kentucky Derby Day Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

Be sure to also check out my Oaks thoughts as well as Steve Sherack and my Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet. Good luck at the windows this weekend!

GI Kentucky Derby - Much of the talk surrounding this year's GI Kentucky Derby has come down to the pace scenario, and rightly so. The relatively late addition of Trinniberg (Teuflesburg) added lots of fuel to the projected fire, and I'm in the majority who see the longshot's presence as a serious issue for several contenders. Trinniberg does not guarantee a Giacomo-type meltdown, but he certainly makes it a possibility. 
   There is little doubt that Bodemeister (Empire Maker) is the most talented runner in this field--his Beyers tower over his competition, and he seems to get even stronger the farther he runs. His pedigree screams 10 furlongs on both top and bottom, and his sheer dominance and the way he has reportedly trained give me no reason to fear his lack of 2-year-old foundation. The pace is the only thing that will beat him, so I'm playing this race horizontally to account for two possible scenarios. If the pace doesn't materialize or if Bodemeister rates effectively, he will win at a reasonably short price (better for those of us who got him at 22-1 in the third round of futures). But if he gets into a tussle early, all bets are off, and there's a very good chance that Hansen (Tapit) among others will also be compromised. The rest of the horses I'll use in the Pick 3s and 4s are mostly runners who would benefit from the second scenario. I'll also play trifectas based on the second scenario because that's the one that has the potential to yield giant pay-offs if a horse like Done Talking (Broken Vow) or Rousing Sermon (Lucky Pulpit) gets into the number.

Done Talking      Four-Footed Fotos
   I've decided to stick with my original pick from way back in November and go with Done Talking on top. I know it sounds kind of crazy. On paper, he looks much, much too slow. But I think he's capable of running faster, and I know he's going to get the distance and be running late if the race falls apart. Done Talking is the prototypical grinder. He's never going to win by open lengths, and he seems to be a horse who requires a lot of rider encouragement to do his best. When he feels like it, he comes running late, but he'll never do more than he has to. That's probably not exactly what you want to see from your Derby horse, but it also might explain why his figures are so low and why they can improve to a level that is competitive if the set-up is right. I'm not investing too much on him in win money, but I'll take a shot with him at upwards of 50-1 and use him as an "A" in the Pick 4.
Dullahan    Reed Palmer
   My third main Pick 4 include and a horse who I will anchor in meltdown scenario trifectas is Dullahan (Even the Score). There just doesn't seem like much not to like about him. The half-brother to Derby winner Mine That Bird (Birdstone) runs as if more distance will suit him quite well and I'm not sold on the notion that he won't be as effective on dirt. His fourth-place finish in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile from much too far back was fine enough to show that he can handle the surface, and his very powerful GI Blue Grass S. victory showed he has improved from two to three. He was a horse early on who always gave the impression that he had more to give once he figured it out, so it's no surprise that the hulking chestnut has gotten better as time has gone on. He just fits the profile in so many ways, and I wonder if Dullahan ends up being the shorter-priced morning line horse who gets lost on the board a bit. It seems as if I've heard much more chatter about some of his competitors, and I'm not sure he has the attributes that capture the casual wagering public's attention in a race like the Derby. I'll be happy to see him drift up, and would consider a second win bet if he were to somehow float all the way up to 12-1 or higher.
   The second-tier win candidates I'll use as "Bs" or "Cs" in the Pick 4 are Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy), Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway) and Gemologist (Tiznow). As I mentioned on the Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet, my original inclination was to dismiss Take Charge Indy as a horse who got an easy lead last time and who would be in trouble with hotter expected fractions in the Derby. But I've come to the realization that there's simply no way he's sent close to the early lead by Calvin Borel. I generally think jockeys are an irrelevant handicapping factor, but when it comes to Churchill Downs and particularly the Derby, Borel does seem to have a tactical edge. He's bound to take money due to Borel's presence, but I wonder how much room mathematically there is for Take Charge Indy's odds to go down considering how some other contenders figure to be bet. I could never bet him to win, but I'm not going to get beat by a Borel-ridden son of A.P. Indy in a 10-furlong race. I'll also use Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway), who has done little wrong in his career. My main concern with him is that he'll find someone a little bit better. I thought his win over Bodemeister in the GII San Felipe was in part a product of a fairly quick pace and I'm not crazy about the figure regression he showed when taking off blinkers (which will stay off in the Derby). But his best races fit well enough and his consistency is an attribute we rarely see these days. Gemologist is hard to argue with on paper, but the way he has been handled this year makes me slightly hesitant. I'm also not sure where he'll find himself early. If he's in a stalking spot and the pace is less than suicidal, he's not beating Bodemeister. Some minor knocks have me thinking he's an underlay at 6-1 or so, but he's too obvious to toss completely.
   I discussed why I wasn't sold on Union Rags (Dixie Union) before the GI Florida Derby here, and nothing about his much-talked-about trip in that race did anything to change my mind. I suppose he could have moved sooner, but he saved all the ground and should've made a bigger late run despite the slow pace if he was really deserving of favoritism here. There's an idea floating around that he doesn't like being inside of horses, and the four post won't help matters if there's any validity to that notion. I still say he's too slow to be favored or close in odds to Bodemeister, and I'll let him beat me.

GI Turf Classic S. - The flashy Get Stormy (Stormy Atlantic) looks to be in some trouble as he tries to defend his title. He'll have to contend with Little Mike (Spanish Steps) and Turbo Compressor (Halo's Image) early, and it seems likely to be the undoing of all three speedsters. The most interesting closer from a value perspective could be Brilliant Speed (Dynaformer). He ran a huge and somewhat surprising race to be third in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Turf, and the stretch-out to nine furlongs from the mile of the GIII Appleton should suit him well--he might be better going even longer, but he took the GI Blue Grass S. last semester over Polytrack.

GI Humana Distaff S. - There are an awful lot of closers in here for a seven-furlong race, so I'll take a small shot with huge price Mildly Offensive (Sharp Humor). She dueled through quick splits last time when taking an Apr. 5 Santa Anita allowance and the Moss Pace Figures say she'll get the lead if she wants it. Her recent Beyers are woefully slow, but she did earn a 98 in the slop last year. Maybe that surface moved her up, but at 20-1, I'm willing to gamble that she can control things early and cycle back up towards her top.

GII Distaff Turf Mile S. - I really, really like Hungry Island (More Than Ready) in this spot. She never got the credit she deserved last year when stringing together four victories, and she comes off a pair of troubled trips behind Marketing Mix (Medaglia d'Oro). The Emory Hamilton homebred was shut off and stymied on the inside when full of run in the Nov. 12 GII Miss Revere S. over this course, but got through late to be third. She had the opposite problem in a Keeneland allowance allowance Apr. 11 when putting in a sustained rally from what the chart caller labeled as seven wide. According to Trakus data, Hungry Island lost 1 3/4 lengths worth of ground to winner Marketing Mix, who beat her by 1 1/4 lengths. That doesn't factor in the pace dynamics--Marketing Mix was up close to reasonable fractions whereas Hungry Island came from far back. Hungry Island should have more to run at this time, and I'll look for her to come flying late, probably with Aruna (Mr. Greeley) alongside.

GII Churchill Downs S. - He won't be any sort of price, but Shackleford (Forestry) will be tough to beat. I've seen pictures from the GI Carter H. that show that he was bleeding pretty noticeably, which might explain why he couldn't hold on after setting easy fractions. He still earned a very solid 106 Beyer for his third-place run and likes the track--chalky, but rightfully so.

Thoroughbreds on the First Saturday in May... in New Jersey

-Sarah Andrew

We all know about Hansen, Bodemeister, and Union Rags, but the real wiseguy horses this week are Mommie's Luke and Bob's Big Bunch.

Last week, I photographed the workouts of two Thoroughbreds who are prepping for the first Saturday in May. One is a handy bay with a distinctly Northern Dancer-esque neck, eye, and head. His taller stablemate is a powerful chestnut son of Perfect Soul, out of a Hennessy mare.

Both geldings aged out of Kentucky Derby eligibility years ago, and have a new goal in mind. These ex-racehorses are now show jumpers, and this Saturday, they will compete at the AA-rated Garden State Horse Show in the $4,000 Thoroughbred Jumper Classic.

The Garden State Horse Show, in its 61st year, is awarding bonuses and hosting Thoroughbred hunter and jumper classes for the first time, through the support of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Industry, New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the TAKE2 program (an initiative of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc.).

When I visited two of Saturday's equine competitors at Crewe Hill Stable in Morristown, NJ, and I asked the riders and trainers why we are seeing this renewed attention and support for the Thoroughbred in the show ring, the response was always the same: legendary trainer and chef d’equipe for the United States Equestrian Foundation, USEF, show jumping team, George Morris. His 2011 quote was heard round the equestrian world: “Thoroughbreds are the best. They’re lighter, quicker and more intelligent. The best of any breed is the Thoroughbred horse, the best of that breed is better than any other breed."

In 2010, Morris discussed his impressions of "The State of Our Sport" with Bernie Traurig:
Well, I think we have to start looking inward because we’re just being so passive with outsourcing, outsourcing. The first one, which is the most difficult in a way, would be internal horse supply. Even if people had a couple of mares or went to these places where they take thoroughbreds off the track. If enough people did enough of that you’re talking about a lot of horses. Start looking inward to our vast reservoir and resource of horse flesh here that they’re giving away or sending to “the killers” because there’s just a glut in the market. There are horses out there, there are horses, horses, horses.

Together with a big push from the top of the sport, the racing world has made an organized, concerted effort to support racehorses after their racing careers end. According to New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President Rick Violette Jr., “The welfare of our equine athletes, both during and after their racing careers, is of the utmost importance to the owners and trainers competing at NYRA’s tracks. NYTHA and NYRA have long offered financial support to organizations such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, but we are now expanding our initiatives. We want to give our retired racehorses the opportunity to find new vocations in different equestrian disciplines. This is our Jobs Program,” Violette added. “Thoroughbreds are healthier and happier when they have jobs to do.”

There is nothing new about the love affair with Thoroughbreds both as racehorses and as sporthorses, but the marriage between both worlds is what is exciting to me. I proudly represented the TDN in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania for the Retired Racehorse Training Project's Trainer Challenge, and in the future, I hope to see more writers and photographers from racing publications standing alongside me, supporting events and projects like these.

When it comes to responsibility to racehorses both on the track and after retirement, trainers John Forbes and Pat McBurney are walking the walk. Less Is More (show name), aka Lester (barn name), aka Mommie's Luke (Jockey Club name) retired a sound maiden after it became clear that he was not competitive as a racehorse.

Pat's wife, Linda, owns and shows Lester in jumper classes from Saugerties to Wellington. According to Linda, as a racehorse, Lester was always quick out of the gate, which turned out to be a hint of his future talent in the jumper ring.

Lester is about 15.2 hands tall and wears a jaunty "milk moustache" of white on the side of his muzzle. His intelligence, game personality, and playful demeanor make him quite a charismatic horse.

Smithwick (show name), aka Hennessy (barn name), aka Bob's Big Bunch (Jockey Club name) is owned and ridden by professional trainer Melissa Monti. He sold as a yearling for $22,000 but also retired a sound maiden.

 When he was in training at the track, he always carried himself more like a sporthorse than a racehorse, and his trainer's keen eyes saw this. Because he was retired sound, Hennessy's future as a show horse is much brighter and his value is higher. Serious competitors are interested in horses off the track, but in order for the horses to be considered for the AA show circuit and be considered for resale projects, they must be sound.

 If you'd like to cheer on these horses and riders in their class, you can attend the Garden State Horse Show in Augusta, New Jersey. The class will start around 2pm. And if you're like me, you'll be very pleased to learn that they broadcast the Kentucky Derby at the horse show, so you won't miss a thing. You can root for your Derby horses, as well as Lester and Hennessy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet

--Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack

Looking for a short and handy rundown of all GI Kentucky Derby contestants to take to the track or OTB? Look no further--see below, or click here for a downloadable pdf version of our Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet.

1 - DADDY LONG LEGS (Scat Daddy--Dreamy Maiden, by Meadowlake) - 1st G2 UAE Derby - 30-1 - SS: Follows the same blueprint as Master of Hounds (better-than-expected fifth in '11 Derby after a close second in Dubai), but hard to forgive the lackluster performance in last year’s Juvenile in his lone try on dirt... No thanks. BD: Think he's a really nice turf/synth horse, but not interested in him on this surface... Stride looks extremely grassy to me and post is far from optimal.

2 - OPTIMIZER (English Channel--Indy Pick, by A.P. Indy) - 9th GI Arkansas Derby - 50-1 - SS: You really didn’t think that they’d run the Kentucky Derby without D. Wayne Lukas, did you? Inconsistent homebred fired nicely when second at 27-1 in Rebel, but has to answer for double-digit defeats in Arkansas Derby/Risen Star, and last year’s Juvenile... Even if he feels like running Saturday, it won’t be enough. BD: His one competitive dirt race was an optical illusion--he wasn’t “full of run” like the chart says--leader Secret Circle was slowing... Would be a complete jaw-dropper.

3 - TAKE CHARGE INDY (A.P. Indy--Take Charge Lady, by Dehere) - 1st GI Florida Derby - 15-1 - BD: Original inclination was to toss well-bred runner as a pace casualty, but think he'll find himself off the leaders here with Trinniberg in... Borel factor could be both a positive and negative--should get the right trip, but might be over bet. SS: Was handed the Florida Derby on a silver platter, and will take much more tote action than he deserves because of the pilot... Will let him beat me at an underlay.

4 - UNION RAGS (Dixie Union--Tempo, by Gone West) - 3rd GI Florida Derby - 9-2 - SS: If you think Leparoux gave him a bad ride in the Florida Derby, wait and see what happens if he doesn’t secure early positioning in a 20-horse field... Have been a fan since the debut victory and he won’t have a problem staying the Classic distance, but career-best 95 Beyer just isn’t going to cut it. BD: Still trying to figure out what was so bad about his trip last time... Hate that he hasn't improved from two to three figure-wise... Reportedly working up a storm, but he'll be my shortest-priced toss.

5 - DULLAHAN (Even the Score--Mining my Own, by Smart Strike) - 1st GI Blue Grass S. - 8-1 - BD: Not as concerned about dirt as others--his Juvenile performance was fine... Figures to love the distance and certain to be rolling late; a must use. SS: Is much more developed since decent fourth over track in Juvenile, and hard to argue with what Romans has accomplished during the Triple Crown series the past three seasons, including a third-place finish from near carbon copy Paddy O’Prado in 2010... A major player.

6 - BODEMEISTER (Empire Maker--Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat) - 1st GI Arkansas Derby - 4-1 - BD: Hard to argue with what he has done so far... Almost certainly the most talented runner in the field and deserving of top billing--getting caught too close to a hot pace could be his undoing, but if not, the race is over. SS: If he can keep his cool while Trinniberg runs wild early, I don’t care how many years it’s been since an unraced juvenile captured the roses, the rest of them will be running for second.

7 - ROUSING SERMON (Lucky Pulpit--Rousing Again, by Awesome Again) - 3rd GII Louisiana Derby - 50-1 - SS: Jerry Hollendorfer didn’t get inducted into the Hall of Fame by spotting his horses where they don’t belong... Stone-closer is only a neck removed from being a Grade I winner at two, and will have plenty of pace to run at here; live longshot. BD: Think he's been up against it in a few of his races, and wouldn't be shocked at all if he clunks up for a piece... Can't see him winning, though.

8 - CREATIVE CAUSE (Giant’s Causeway--Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer) - 2nd GI Santa Anita Derby - 12-1 - SS: Remarkably consistent gray is one of a select few in the field to crack triple-digits on the Beyer scale, and is tactical enough to land in the garden spot... Has shown immaturity at times despite solid foundation at two, but can put on a show as an overlay if he remains focused. BD: Have no major knocks on him other than that I think he'll find at least one horse better on Saturday... Agree that his consistency is an asset, but not sure he'll be an overlay on the win end--likely to finish towards the top, though.

9 - TRINNIBERG (Teuflesberg--Bella Dorato, by Goldminers Gold) - 1st GIII Bay Shore S. - 50-1 - SS: The 2012 example of the extremely talented sprinter that was never the same after trying his hand in the Derby. BD: Nice horse, wrong spot...

10 - DADDY NOSE BEST (Scat Daddy--Follow Your Bliss, by Thunder Gulch) - 1st GIII Sunland Derby - 15-1 - BD: Could not have had a better set-up at Sunland and the 100 Beyer he received seems inflated... I guess he could fall into a similar trip here, but it's hard to project something like that and think he's a cut below. SS: Has made a big jump from two to three with a pair of wins, albeit in second-tier prep races... Capable of further improvement for top barn, but just don’t think he’s good enough to make an impact at this level.

11 - ALPHA (Bernardini--Munnaya, by Nijinsky II) - 2nd GI Wood Memorial - 15-1 - SS: Missed valuable training time after emerging from valiant second in the Wood with an infected wound... Seems to have overcome gate woes, but big crowd could lead to another meltdown. BD: Thought he was a bit slow and dressed up before the Wood... Seemed to improve there, but again had things his own way... Not sold, but do fear him a bit on the basis that he should get the distance.

12 - PROSPECTIVE (Malibu Moon--Spirited Away, by Awesome Again) - 6th GI Blue Grass S. - 30-1 - BD: His best races have come on synthetic and the very quirky Tampa dirt and still wouldn't be enough... Would be shocked if he won. SS: Registered a career high when the hood was added in the Tampa Bay Derby, but has flopped in his two attempts against the big boys, including a last-of-13 effort in the Juvenile... Can’t toss quick enough.

13 - WENT THE DAY WELL (Proud Citizen--Tiz Maie's Day, by Tiznow) - 1st GIII Spiral S. - 20-1 - BD: Was aided by a fast pace at Turfway against a pretty weak bunch... Doubt he's another Animal Kingdom, and comparisons to his stablemate might deflate his price. SS: Don’t think he’s half the horse Animal Kingdom was at this time last year, and figures to go off at similar odds... Next.

14 - HANSEN (Tapit--Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat) - 2nd GI Blue Grass S. - 10-1 - BD: Respect his ability and he ran better than I was expecting in the Blue Grass... More distance and more company up front can't be good for him, though--think he's up against it. SS: Always nice to see the Juvenile champ come back to perform at a high level at three, but pace scenario and Classic distance will prove too much for the flashy gray.

15 - GEMOLOGIST (Tiznow--Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector) - 1st GI Wood Memorial - 6-1 - SS: Speed Figures continue to rise with each trip to post as he remains unbeaten, and seemed to be toying with Alpha in narrow Wood victory... Two wins over the track are a major plus, and connections know what it takes to get it done on the First Saturday in May. BD: Not crazy about how he has been handled , and wonder how his fitness will be with such an easy campaign so far in 2012... Enough positives for me to use defensively somewhere, but think he'll be over bet.

16 - EL PADRINO (Pulpit--Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway) - 4th GI Florida Derby - 20-1 - SS: Just wasn’t the same horse in the Florida Derby after beginning 2012 campaign with a pair of highly-regarded victories... Price should be right to find out if he can bounce back, and gets a major upgrade if the track comes up wet. BD: Win over Take Charge Indy in GP allowance came because TCI moved too soon... Risen Star was okay, but no excuses in the Florida Derby and workout reports have been less than stellar... Could be another Bluegrass Cat, but I doubt it.

17 - DONE TALKING (Broken Vow--Dixie Talking, by Dixieland Band) - 1st GIII Illinois Derby - 50-1 - BD: I know, I know--he's really slow and got a nice set-up in a weak race last time... But I've been a believer since day one, and think he's perfectly primed for big improvement... Probably won't be enough, but he'll be a giant price, so why not take a shot? SS: Stretch runner handled big fields, traffic, and slow fractions like a pro in the Remsen and Ill Derby... Speed figures say he doesn’t belong, but minor award isn’t impossible if it falls apart.

18 - SABERCAT (Bluegrass Cat--Miner's Blessing, by Forty Niner) - 3rd GI Arkansas Derby - 30-1 - BD: Has the earnings thanks to a pace meltdown in a historically negative key race for the Derby... Was better last time, and might fall into another dream trip, but just not sold and can't use them all. SS: Son of '06 Derby runner-up will prove once again why the Delta Jackpot shouldn’t be a "Win and You’re In" event for the big dance.

19 - I'll HAVE ANOTHER (Flower Alley--Arch's Gal Edith, by Arch) - 1st GI Santa Anita Derby - 12-1 - BD: Just enough knocks against for me to toss him at his expected price... Seems a bit fragile and have a feeling this will prove too much to ask of him. SS: Validated 43-1 Lewis score with narrow tally over Creative Cause in a thrilling renewal of the Santa Anita Derby... One of the feel-good stories of the year with Gutierrez staying aboard, but light campaign and recent shockwave therapy report are major concerns.

20 - LIAISON (Indian Charlie--Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop) - 6th GI Santa Anita Derby 50-1 - SS: CashCall Futurity winner hasn’t done a thing since turning three, but clearly three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert is thinking... I have no clue what he’s thinking!!! BD: Didn't love him even when he was winning... Distance probably won't do him any favors; hard to fathom.

21 (AE) - MY ADONIS (Pleasantly Perfect--Silent Justice, by Elusive Quality) - 7th GI Wood Memorial - 50-1 - BD: Has been inconsistent in both running style and overall performance... Rushing here last minute can’t be a good thing, either... Not using if he gets in. SS: On the outside looking in, and hard to support following dismal effort in the Wood... Off track is his only hope.

DiDonato's Top Five:             
1-Done Talking
4-Take Charge Indy
5-Creative Cause
Wild Card: Rousing Sermon

Sherack's Top Five:
1-Creative Cause
5-El Padrino
Wild Card: Rousing Sermon