Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Case Against 'Chrome': Handicapping the Preakness

--Brian DiDonato

Victor Espinoza celebrates aboard California Chrome
   When a lower-priced horse wins the Derby, we tend to think that all the questions leading up to the first Saturday in May have been answered. Take last year, for example. Orb seemed off his Florida form like he could be the best 3-year-old in that crop, so when he won the Derby by a convincing margin, the result appeared to be definitive. Most (myself included) dismissed, or at least minimized, the fact that the Derby was run over a sloppy surface and featured a complete meltdown pace. Orb had been anointed the latest sure-thing Triple Crown winner (proud to say I don’t think I went quite that far). Then Derby also-rans Oxbow (15-1), Palice Malice (13-1) and Will Take Charge (9-1) took the Preakness, Belmont and Travers, respectively, with Orb going down at low odds each time, and things looked a whole lot less cut-and-dry.
   There is the distinct possibility of a similar phenomenon occurring this year. Yes, California Chrome had the best form coming into the Derby, and as he pulled away from his competition I thought to myself, “Okay, he’s just too good for these horses.” But then the timer didn’t stop until 2:03.66, and everyone’s figures came back slow. And then I watched the replay a few times and realized that the favorite enjoyed a dream trip in a race that was full of rough ones.
   Nothing about the Derby necessarily proved that California Chrome isn’t a stand-out in this bunch, but the same reasons that were there to play against him at 5-2 in the Derby are still there and now he's going to be 3-5 off of two weeks' rest. The pace that never materialized over a speed-friendly surface at Churchill looks like a sure thing here, and that could certainly hurt the chalk’s chances. If he wins again, you tip your cap (and triple down in the Belmont), but I’m not ready to anoint California Chrome just yet--and I'm certainly not taking 3-5 on anybody ever.
   See below for my horse-by-horse analysis.

1. Dynamic Impact - 12-1 - Certainly took a while to break out of the maiden ranks, but as soon as he did, he went on to upset the GIII Illinois Derby. It’s hard to know how much credit to give him for that effort, though. He sat a pretty dream trip just off of heavily favored Midnight Hawk, and may have benefitted more from that one’s distance and mental limitations than anything else. Still, he’s by Tiznow out of a Smart Strike mare who, though she was a sprinter, hails from a stout enough family. So the distance looks up his alley, and he could be moving in the right direction. Might just sit the trip--not completely out of this.

2. General a Rod - 15-1 - Reminds me of last year’s Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday, but with maybe a less advantageous style in relation to the projected pace--unless he comes from farther back like he did in the Derby, which you’d think his connections might try. His Derby trip was definitely less than perfect. He was really running late, and would have likely been maybe fifth or sixth if not for running into traffic. Still came home fourth-fastest of anyone in the race (:26.26)--behind only California Chrome (:26.21), Commanding Curve (:25.57) and Ride On Curlin (:25.73)--so there’s reason to believe he can be an effective off-the-pace threat. He’s run fast before, and is definitely one to use.

3. California Chrome - 3-5 - Already touched on him above. . . Going to try to get him out of the exacta, but certainly won’t be surprised if he wins. Then I’ll just liquidate my assets and take the Tonalist/Danza Belmont exacta box for the max.

4. Ring Weekend - 20-1 - Seems very much up against it. His front-running upset win of the GII Tampa Bay Derby seems more like the exception than the rule, especially after a disappointing showing in the Calder Derby. Then he had to miss the Derby due to a fever. Can’t envision a scenario in which he can win--his best game is using his speed, and that’s just not going to work here.

5. Bayern - 10-1 - Set a super slow pace when he won that one-mile Santa Anita allowance by 15, and regressed when third as the chalk in the nine-panel GI Arkansas Derby. Hard to love his stretch antics that led to a disqualification when dropped back to a mile for the GIII Derby Trial. Likely pace casualty who doesn’t want to go this far.

6. Ria Antonia - 30-1 - Next. . .

7. Kid Cruz - 20-1 - This is who I’m going with, though it's starting to look like he's a bit of a wise guy horse. He still hasn’t run fast enough on speed figures, but his style fits the way this race has to be run if we’re going to beat California Chrome and he’s been very visually impressive since Linda Rice claimed him for $50,000 in November. He came from out of the clouds to take Laurel’s Private Terms S. Mar. 8 over 1 1/8 miles, and looked like a legitimate GI Wood Memorial threat before having to miss that race due to a sore shoulder. Seemingly no worse for wear, the Linda Rice trainee flew home again into a slow pace to take this venue’s Federico Tesio S. last time Apr. 19. A win over the strip can’t be a bad thing, and the distance shouldn’t be a problem. He still needs to prove he’s good enough, but he has upside and should get the right set-up.

8. Social Inclusion - 5-1 - Possibly the toughest read in the race. He’s shown just about as much talent as any 3-year-old this year, and it’s easy to excuse his tough-trip third in the Wood--he was wide, pressing a hot pace and still looked like the winner until very late. But isn’t he going to run into the same problem here? His connections seem to think his best chance is to try and run these horses off their feet--and maybe they’re right or at least they’re aware that Social Inclusion doesn’t want to rate--but they’re going to have to hope that all the other speeds decide not to send for that strategy to work. Not tossing out completely, as I think it’s hard to deny his talent and could see him winning a race like the Haskell later on this year, but fear he might be up against it again this time.

9. Pablo Del Monte - 20-1 - Seems very likely that he’s a better synthetic horse and doesn’t seem to want this trip. Adds more fuel to the fire.

10. Ride On Curlin - 10-1 - Somewhere between on the lead and dead last early is where he wants to be, but anyone who was surprised with Borel taking him back to last in the Derby just doesn’t pay attention. It may have actually been his best bet considering the potential there for a collapse, but the pace just didn’t quite materialize and he still ran on well to be seventh. He finished faster (:25.73) than everyone but Commanding Curve, and just needs to work out a trip one of these days.

The play: Win bet on Kid Cruz and an exacta box of Kid Cruz, Ride On Curlin, General a Rod and Dynamic Impact. Will also play a Social Inclusion over Kid Cruz exacta saver and will probably use the four from the exacta box, plus Social Inclusion and California Chrome in the pick four if I decide to play one on a somewhat uninspiring undercard.

Kid Cruz draws off in Pimlico's Federico Tesio S.
Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Black-Eyed Susan Day Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

PIM 7 - Rollicking S. - It’s like the Wesley Ward Futurity. . . The 2-year-old specialist has half of the eight runners entered in this very early juvenile stakes race (maybe he’ll scratch one or two? I hope not.) One of the most important things I look for in these races is the length of time between now and the horse’s debut or most recent start. These very precocious babies are usually fully cranked to win first out, and the more time they have to recover after their debut, the better. Debt Ceiling, for example, the 5-1 winner of this event last year, debuted so early (Mar. 30) that he already had a lay-off line coming into this race. The two runners I like happen to be tied for most time off between starts, and are also both trained by Ward. Hootenanny assumed the role of the “other Ward” when he was let go at nearly 5-1 for his Apr. 17 Keeneland unveiling, only to best 2-1 stablemate and return runner-up Circle the World by an easy 4 1/4 lengths. I thought he did it the right way, and he looks like he can switch off and rate--something he’ll be well-served to do here. Hootenanny also had a very sparing worktab coming into his debut, so perhaps he’ll move forward off that effort. The other Ward horse I’m interested in--and the one I’ll be betting to win--is Bessie’s Boy. Shipped here for his debut Apr. 17, the 3-5 favorite chased the pace well out into the track and ultimately prevailed over the re-opposing pair of Pret Say Eye and Governmentshutdown. The latter returned to romp here May 3 with a field’s-best 82 Beyer, which flatters Bessie’s Boy, but makes me very dubious of Governmentshutdown’s likelihood of replicating his best while making his third start in a month. I also like that Bessie’s Boy received a relatively low 51 Beyer for his debut, as early juvenile figures reveal very little in terms of actual ability, and lower figures often mean more is left in the tank while inflating the odds (Beyers, of course, are not produced for Keeneland’s 4 1/2-furlong races because of the configuration used, but I’m pretty sure the Keeneland winners here would have earned higher than a 51 on the Beyer scale.) Play: Win on #5 Bessie’s Boy (10-1), exacta box with #6 Hootenanny (5-2).

Joint Return                                            Joe Labozzetta

PIM 10 - GII Black-Eyed Susan S. - She may be too slow, both in terms of pace and final time, but I have to give Joint Return one more shot to handle tougher competition. The John Servis trainee first caught my eye with two wins at Parx in which she overcame very slow paces to blow by her competition with ease. Let go at 7-1 for Aqueduct’s Feb. 1 Busher S., the dark bay again mounted a head-turning bid, inhaling her competition in last-to-first fashion while covering plenty of ground (albeit against a pretty average group). I was sold on Joint Return as a legitimate Oaks contender at that point, but she never lifted a hoof when fifth in the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks Mar. 29. I am willing to excuse that effort, however, as we’ve seen plenty of recent examples of closers simply not taking to the speed-friendly Gulfstream main track this year. Dropped in class for the Apr. 12 Calder Oaks, Joint Return was back to her old self, looking like she might be eased early before cruising by every one of her foes like they were standing still. While the first quarter of that race was very quick, the frontrunners really slowed it down after that and still ran second and third, so it seems Joint Return’s performance was reasonably legitimate (again, not the strongest competition). She earned a career-best 76 Beyer, which is by no means quick, but there really aren’t any fast fillies in this race (average Beyer top for the rest of the field is just 81.2), and as a deep closer, she’s never going to really run a fast number unless she gets a hot pace. I’m not expecting exceedingly quick early splits here, but Joint Return shouldn’t be at a disadvantage and she still has every right to be much better than she looks on paper. Play: Win on #1 Joint Return (15-1), also using #2 America (8-1), #8 Sloane Square (5-1) and #9 Fortune Pearl (12-1) in pick threes.

PIM 11 - Miss Preakness S.  - Here I go right back to a slow-looking John Servis runner. Stormy Novel is basically Joint Return with the added positive of a cut-back in distance. She was very visually impressive taking a Parx allowance Feb. 2 at 1-9 odds, but faded to sixth after setting the pace in Turfway’s GIII Bourbonette Oaks over a mile of Polytrack. Being by Bernardini, one might think she should prefer going long, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that she’s back at a more suitable distance. Her speedy, but 0-for-2 dam is by Forestry, and also produced Stormy Novel’s full-sister Bridgehampton, who was second in the GIII Victory Ride S. last June and who has never been sent beyond six panels in five career tries. If the morning line on her holds, 8-1 shot Miss Behaviour will also be a significant overlay. Her dirt sprint form was extremely solid at two, and she would have beaten Miss Preakness entrant Tea Time in last October’s Sharp Cat S. if that filly hand’t been allowed to set a laughably glacial pace. Miss Behaviour’s two most recent races came going a mile and over turf, respectively, but this is her game and I look for her to run big. I’ll also toss in 2-for-2 Our Lesmis, whose win in the mud last time is a positive considering the very wet forecast for Friday. Chalkier horses Jojo Warrior and Tepin should also be respected, but I’ll only use them as back-ups. Play: Win on #1 Stormy Novel (15-1), exacta box with #4 Miss Behaviour (8-1) and #5 Our Lesmis (5-1). Using those three in pick threes as well as #8 Jojo Warrior (5-2) and #6 Tepin (9-2) as back-ups.

PIM 12 - GIII Pimlico Special H. - I don’t have any particularly strong opinions here, but it’s nice to see this once-prestigious race attract a competitive field. Morning-line choice Revolutionary feels like he should be pretty tough if he shows up with his best--he had that traffic trouble thanks to Will Take Charge in the GII Oaklawn H., and more ground plus a potentially wet track both play to his advantage. If there’s an upset, I think it’ll come from either Revolutionary’s stablemate Golden Lad or Prayer for Relief. Golden Lad was clearly already beaten when he was bumped in Arkansas, but he seemed washed out and maybe not on his game before that race. He was on an upward trajectory before that, and earned a career-best 102 Beyer two back over a wet/fast track in Oaklawn’s GIII Razorback H. Mar. 15. I’ve never been a big fan of Prayer for Relief, to be honest, but he does have some fast races that stack up well with these and I didn’t like the ride he got last time in his first start switching from Steve Asmussen to Dale Romans. He was left out unnecessarily wide early, dropped back like he was done on the turn, but re-rallied in the stretch to finish only 2 1/4 lengths behind Revolutionary. If Oaklawn had Trakus, I would think the ground loss adjustments would put Prayer for Relief ahead of Revolutionary. If he goes off at or above his 12-1 morning line, he’s probably worth a small win bet. Play: Odds-dependent win bet on #8 Prayer for Relief (12-1). Using him, #6 Revolutionary (5-2) and #4 Golden Lad (6-1) in pick threes.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Derby Undercard Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

CD Race 3 - MSW, 6f - There are some very telling stats for trainer Ian Wilkes that make #10 Boss Gone (8-1) pretty much an automatic bet here. The gelding was sixth with a fairly rough trip on debut over the Keeneland Polytrack Apr. 12, and is likely to improve drastically under these conditions. For one, according to DRF Formulator, Wilkes is just 7% on synthetic tracks (5% at Keeneland) over the past five years; and only 2% with his first timers. Combining those two categories, he’s 0-for-29. Wilkes does much better second out, however—especially recently. He’s 7-for-30 (23%) with maiden second timers over the past 12 months with a very strong $3.70 ROI, and an even-better 6-for-22 (27%) with a $4.83 ROI when that stat is restricted to dirt starters. There’s plenty of speed signed on here, and Boss Gone actually fits pretty well on speed figures. Maybe that means the 8-1 morning line quote is unrealistic, but regardless, I’m expecting a much-improved performance from this Wilkes trainee and think anything around 9-2 or better is fair value.

CD Race 6 - GII Distaff Turf Mile - Centre Court is a very worthy favorite with a three-for-three record over the Churchill strip, but #6 I’m Already Sexy (10-1) has a chance to spring the upset. The Wayne Catalano pupil put together a pair of solid winning efforts over the Arlington turf course this summer, including a 3 3/4-length victory in the GIII Pucker Up S., but was up against it in her last two trips to the post as a sophomore. She failed to make the lead when drawn wide in a very quick-paced renewal of the GI QE II Challenge Cup, and had a similar problem in this venue’s GII Mrs. Revere S. over good ground. There isn’t really much speed signed on here, however, and if I’m Already Sexy is gunned to the lead, she could get brave over a one-mile distance that should be to her liking.

CD Race 8 - GII American Turf S. - I’ll spread pretty wide in here to kick off the pick four, but I’m most interested in #2 Chief Barker (5-1). I know, surprise, surprise, I’m picking the Euro. . . But he kicked off his career with three well-rated victories in Britain last Summer, including a score over the ill-fated Chriselliam. She annexed the G1 Fillies’ Mile and GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in her next two outings. Chief Barker hasn’t been seen since finishing sixth in the G1 Racing Post Trophy for Richard Hannon, but it didn’t look like he loved the soft ground that day and he appears to be working very well for new conditioner Larry Rivelli. This is the type of horse that gets more lost on days when there’s more casual money in the pools.

CD Race 9 - GII Churchill Downs S. - This is another race with a number of possibilities and live prices, but I have to go back to #2 Clearly Now (9-2). I loved him in the Carter (analysis here), and obviously wasn’t alone as he went off the 5-2 favorite, but could only manage third. He got a really terrible ride in a race full of bad rides--I’ve never seen a Grade I sprint run like a 12-furlong turf race before, but that’s pretty much what happened. Anyway, Clearly Now should have been right up there pressing the pace instead of being strangled in and among horses--now he gets a rider change to Javier Castellano, who’s never afraid to put his horses into the mix early. The lay-off was the main concern for Clearly last time, as he always seems to fire best second off the bench, and he should be ready for a peak effort here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reliving My First Kentucky Derby

--Drew Rauso

May 3, 2013
8:15 a.m. (34 hours to post)
   Excited chatter outside the door. Wiping away the grogginess but still dealing with hazy vision, you stumble up the creaky stairs, trying not to wake up the sleeping roommate whose room is between yours and the stairs. The dufflebag hoisted over your shoulder keeps slipping and banging into the railing, making any attempt at a quiet escape essentially nonexistent. Grabbing the keys as you open the door and slide out sideways, you are greeted with brisk May air, along with four 20-somethings and way too many bags for a weekend trip. The sound of car doors slamming shut is soon replaced by doorbells ringing as the five bodies meander into Bagel Place in College Park, Md. While there is an air of excitement, the clock reminds everyone of the early hour, which slightly diminishes any attempt at energetic conversation.  Bagels purchased, seating arrangements established and torsos scrunched into an unfortunate Saab 9-3’s limited amount of legroom, the journey began.
Welcome to KY
   For some (albeit, most) people, ten hours on the road would disqualify any destination on the other end, no matter what the presumed outcome. When dealing with foreigners, however, distance, time, money and convenience aren’t exactly make-it-or-break-it factors. Skipping a long and somewhat bromantic tale, I befriended several UK and Australian citizens while they spent their year on exchange at the University of Maryland during the 2012-2013 school year. I had just returned from Rome the previous spring on my abroad trip, and had signed up to act as a college buddy to the incoming exchange students (though they may tell you I went looking for them, a truer tale may be found in my acknowledgment of simply looking for an Italian ragazza--girl--to partner with back in College Park, which did not happen).  Near the end of our time together after a long school year filled with inside jokes, somewhat insightful cultural commentaries and downright stupid decisions, I was persuaded to join Max, Tom, Tim and Jack and go to the 139th Kentucky Derby.

10 a.m. (31.5 hours to post)
   The early-morning haze is now long gone, replaced by various pitches of English accents excitedly discussing what possibly lies in store at the end of this long trip. Having been on the road for barely an hour and a half, everyone is settling in, trying to get comfortable in a perpetually uncomfortable scenario. Enter The Big Hill, the first setback in your journey, and it is occurring much earlier than you had hoped. As the little Saab carried its cargo up a massive hill in western Maryland, the engine seemed to give out. Speed rapidly decreasing, at first no one but you, the driver, notices.  
  Soon enough, as 70 mph turns to 50 which turns to 40, everyone sits up and asks questions at once, which of course is always the best possible solution to any problem. You pull into a rest stop at the top of the hill, frantic to look under the hood and check out your beloved vehicle of choice. While everyone else enjoys a quick stretch of the legs, every possible worst scenario rushes through your head: “What if it’s broken down?  Do we need a tow to get home?  Everyone’s going to think I did something wrong!”  Fortunately, under expert analysis of our very own Aussie, you come to the conclusion that it is merely huffing and puffing in fifth gear with a large cargo, and when going up hills, the car should go down to fourth or even third (common knowledge for most manual drivers; alas, I learned the hard way). Crisis averted, you hop back in, groans are exchanged about said little leg room, and you’re back on the road.
   The crazy thing about this whole trip is that when I tell American friends, they are shocked I decided to just hop in a car and drive more than ten hours and go to the Derby. For most people, the event is just something you don’t go to. For Maryland students, many make the trip to Baltimore not long after to go to the Preakness, which has prompted the creation of the shirt, “Get your Preak on,” (I’m not kidding). But the Preakness has morphed into something of an abomination, a cross-breed between a music festival and a college tailgate, with performers headlining the day, the infield a sea of drunken college students and little appreciation for the races.  That’s why, when confronted with the question, “Do you want to come with us to the Kentucky Derby?”  My first thought was, “We have the Preakness in our backyard, why don’t we skip the ten hour drive?” I was met with the reply: “That’s not the race that stops the world, mate!” And so it was decided. There is an unfamiliar edge of adventure when with foreigners staying in your country. They want to see places you’d never think of seeing, go to events you’ve never heard of and make the most out of their trip, for good reason. It’s exactly what I was doing six months prior in Italy, and why I loved having them as friends; I didn’t want to go back to a mundane college lifestyle; I wanted to DO things. Well I sure got my wish.

7 p.m. (23.5 hours to post)
   After five more rest stops, a newfound love of Sheetz gas stations and entirely too many crude jokes, you are pulling into Louisville, stopping the clock at a cool 11 hours on the road. Greeted by a downpour brought on by Zeus himself, you clutch the wheel so tightly it’s possible you’ll never let go, fearing any sort of vehicular mishap now would be truly demoralizing. The rain makes it hard to see, but you can just make out the University of Louisville basketball arena to the left as you slowly creep into downtown and all of its wonderful Friday night traffic. There are fleeting images, hints that something major is happening this weekend, but if you were born under a rock you might not know what it is. A sign here, a restaurant special there are just glimpses of what’s to come. 

May 4, 2013
10 a.m.  (7.5 hours to post)
   You look around at the fifty other people huddling under a roof as there is a collective sigh of relief when the shuttle bus arrives. Having already been awake since 7 to fully appreciate the hotel’s complimentary breakfast services (prompting a certain Englishman to call you the personification of the fattest country on earth), you are fully awake and ready for the day. Hopping on the bus, careful not to slip on the stairs after giggling at two friends in front of you who do exactly that, you slide into a seat and cannot contain your excitement. And then, in a flash (literally, we turned a corner and saw a lightning bolt) there it is. Churchill Downs. A glistening cathedral of an ancient sport on its most important day. Sure, the glistening is from the nonstop rain, but the metaphor is there for the taking. After stopping to take a group photo (yes, the inner tourist in all of us jumped at the chance), you scamper over the puddles and eagerly await the gate-checker, clutching the ticket under your jacket like the Holy Grail it is. 
   The “general admission” ticket gained entry into the underbelly of the grandstand, a crowded, damp and musty area that feels like the basement of an outdated baseball stadium, and speaking of baseball, you see the ticket allows permits entrance to the infield. Ahhh, the infield. A modern-day World’s Fair, complete with circus acts (drunkards sliding down mud swaths), acrobats (drunkards somehow staying upright while swaying back and forth) and tokens from the Far East (that would be you, seeing how far away home in New Jersey feels at the moment). At times the majestic beasts could barely be seen, so crowded the space along the fence is. While you didn’t drive all the way to Louisville to be a target for champion mud-tossers, there is something to be said about just how outrageous the enclosed zoo is ( a term coined by a friend describing the animals inside the fence, not the ones racing outside).
   Do you ever envision yourself in places you’ve never been, then actually get to go and see them and realize your dream was nothing like reality?  For me, the Derby fell somewhat into that category. I had spent the nights leading up to our drive lying in bed picturing the famous track and the beautiful people populating it. Instead, we played witness to far too many drunk college kids, pointing at us in our suits and making us feel like idiots for expecting more. It is truly disappointing that the weather was so bad, because the entire event was just screaming for a beautiful day. Now, unfortunately, my memory is skewed and my idea of the race tainted. While fully aware of the grandeur and large-scale that Churchill Downs evokes, May 4, 2014 was a day built around filth, precipitation and just plain sloppiness. For one thing, the infield was so muddy and gross (I’m not talking about plain dirtiness here; this was stage-five clinger type of wet terrain) that it was not uncommon to see drunken Derby-goers completely caked head to toe in mud. Even with all this slop, I remember wanting to believe that this was not truly the Kentucky Derby, the greatest two minutes in sports and the pinnacle of the sport of kings. Something was missing…

5 p.m. (2.5 hours to post)
   Underneath the seats, away from the downpour and drunken arguments and mudslides, you find yourself in a much happier place. Sure, the pants of your first-ever suit are muddy and you had to defend yourself for buying a $5 poncho (still believe it was a great purchase), but you are dry and sipping on the nectar of the gods, otherwise known as a mint julep. While one member of the group quips that the real race outside is the first to the bottom of a julep glass, you peer meticulously at the program, only half-knowing what you’re looking at. Mind made up, exacta boxed placed, gun goes off, mud thrown everywhere, and all of a sudden, your two horses win and place! Quickly walking to the betting window, expecting a $40-50 payout (being the frugal college student, a $4 bet was all that was wagered) your quiet excitement blossoms into full-blown pandemonium when the machine flashes $275. Not a bad payout for the cheap kid from New Jersey.      
   Looking around, stuffing the wad of bills into an inside suit pocket, you see the “true” Derby crowd all around you, and the flashy suits and big hats make the inside of the grandstand seem much farther than a stone’s throw from the mayhem that is outside. “I fit in here,” you say to yourself, even though that may be a bit premature. And then, all of a sudden, it’s time. Race 11.
   I don’t like roller coasters. They make me sick. Well, I like the thrill of being on a roller coaster, but I don’t like being sick afterwards. And that was my experience in Louisville. Up and down, up and down, then illness (maybe the last part was from several extra mint juleps, but at least it fits the metaphor, right?). All day, I was excited, then partly let down, then excited again. Waking up on Derby day, then having to pay for an hour-long taxi ride. Finally arriving at Churchill, then being stuck out in the rain. Hoping for the classiest of days, being part of a mudbath. Mad at the world for taking my money, winning almost $300. In many ways, the day exemplified what it must feel like to be a gambling man, which I am most certainly not. Earning a paycheck and taking it right to a casino is something I have never done, but for some reason earning a paycheck and heading to a track is something I have. Why? There is something about horse racing, the social gathering, the sport spectacle, that I appreciate and long for. You don’t find the same sort of community at a casino, and you certainly don’t find the same experience there. 
   The Derby for me was much less about the actual race as it was about the entire day, the trip, the city of Louisville. Standing outside, being one of the 150,000+ people all cheering and screaming for two minutes only to see a moving cloud of wet dirt around the track made me think. The 139th Kentucky Derby was the end of the day, but it wasn’t the climax. You see, watching Orrrrrrrrrbbbbbbbbbb win was exciting, but it was just like the other races. I was at Churchill Downs! I just drove over 11 hours with friends whom I became closer with. Every minute was spent waiting to get to that one race, but in reality, I didn’t have to wait. The experience was all around me. The 139th Kentucky Derby, my first one and hopefully not my last, gave me a clear definition of a word that gets used a lot (I’ve already said it here): spectacle. The day was spectacular, it was grand and it was a show, but for reasons other than watching a two-minute race at the end of a very long day.

Oaks Day Late Pick Four Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

GI Kentucky Oaks - The whole world knows that this race goes through Untapable. Her two efforts
this season tower over the competition, and she’ll probably win. But being drawn out in the 13 post makes her a little vulnerable, and she’s not absolutely guaranteed to get the distance—plus she does have a target on her back. I’m not crazy enough to toss her, and many of my bets will use her on top, but I do think there’s some value to be had here—either on the win end if the favorite falters, or at least underneath.
   The horse I’m most interested in is Thank You Marylou, who’s an extremely generous 30-1 on the morning line. The Mike Maker trainee is by Birdstone—whose progeny almost universally prefer a conventional main track, and who are better the longer they go—out of a Menifee mare who was much better on dirt and a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles. Yet this will be the first time Thank You Marylou routes on dirt, and the first time she goes beyond 8 1/2 panels. A late-on-the-scene third (promoted to second via DQ) in the GII Saratoga Special in August, the chestnut resurfaced to take Gulfstream’s seven-furlong Any Limit S. by 2 1/2 lengths over a decent field Mar. 9, good for a 95 Beyer Speed Figure (that makes her the third-fastest horse in the race, believe it or not). Perhaps she should’ve finished better than seven lengths behind the top two when third in Keeneland’s GI Ashland S. in her first route attempt last time, but she was much closer to that insane early pace than those foes were and she just never figured to prefer the synthetic. She should run a new Beyer top under these conditions, and that puts her right with pretty much anything besides Untapable’s best.
   I’ll also include Unbridled Forever, the daughter of 2006 Oaks upsetter Lemons Forever who should also appreciate this trip and figures to move up off her third behind Untapable in the GII Fair Grounds Oaks; Got Lucky, who continues to let me down, but has had some trip excuses and is best at nine furlongs; and a tiny bit of GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner-via-DQ Ria Antonia, who ran ok first-time Baffert last time in the GI Santa Anita Oaks and could take a step forward.
   The Play: Win on #5 Thank You Marylou (30-1). Exacta box key w/ #13 Untapable (4-5) (pressed), #9 Unbridled Forever (12-1), #12 Got Lucky (20-1) and #2 Ria Antonia (10-1). Trifecta 13 w/ 2,5,9,12 w/ 2,5,9,12. In the pick four, 5,13 as A’s; 9 as B; 2,12 as C’s.

Thank You Marylou                                       Kenny Martin

GII Alysheba S. - This looks like a very good spot to oppose odds-on favorite Will Take Charge. He danced lots of dances last year, and has already run three times this year—in Florida, California and Arkansas. He did not look like his best self when barely winning the GII Oaklawn H. last time and nearly being DQ’d, and the 103 Beyer he earned was his lowest in eight starts. This 1 1/16-mile distance is also much shorter than optimal for him. Normandy Invasion is the obvious alternative and figures to take some beating—his runner-up finish behind Palace Malice in the GII New Orleans H. while attempting to close into a slow pace takes this a large portion of the time. I’ll also use the other obvious horses: Golden Ticket, whose close second to Palice Malice in the GII Gulfstream Park H. looks particularly good in hindsight and whose last race in that embarrassingly run Carter can be ignored; and Mylute, who still has some upside. I’m also going to use a little Coin Broker because he’s still unexposed and trainer Dale Romans is always sneaky.
   The Play: Exacta box #5 Normandy Invasion (3-1), #7 Golden Ticket (6-1) and #3 Mylute (10-1), w/ 5,7 box pressed. Smaller exacta key box #4 Coin Broker w/ 3,5,7. In the pick four, 3,5,7 as A’s, 4 as a C.

Edgewood S. - This morning line seems a bit off to me, but if it were to hold, Little Journey would be a very big overlay at 10-1. Trainer Chad Brown is just SO deadly with these European fillies, and they don’t always get bet—Sweet Acclaim was a fast-closing second at 8-1 in last month’s GIII Appalachian S. According to the Keeneland clocker report, Little Journey out-worked Pleuven—a GSP 3-year-old colt who would crush these—over the turf there Apr. 17. Plus she was third in September behind Flamboyant, who took her own Stateside debut in Santa Anita’s La Puente S. two weeks ago. The other two I’ll use are Istanford and Resistivity, who were part of that complete meltdown in the Ashland I alluded to earlier. Both are much better than that and I don’t think they’ll be ridden quite so aggressively this time, though I wasn’t expecting them to be the second and third choices on the morning line.
   The Play: Win bet on #5 Little Journey (10-1) at 5-1+, also using #7 Istanford (7-2) and #10 Resistivity (3-1) in the pick four.

Eight Belles S. - What a surprise, a 3-year-old race at seven furlongs comes up super interesting. . . There are tons of ways to go in here—the obvious players like She’s a Tiger, Fiftyshadesofgold and Our Amazing Rose have to be respected, but there’s at least one longshot who interests me a lot. I discussed Mufajaah here a bit before the Fantasy, where she never quite seemed to recover after a rough start, checking in seventh in what was a bit of a merry-go-round race. She still has every right to prove extremely talented, though, and I love the cut back to seven panels for her and the addition of Lasix. Lots of Tapits seem to do well with this move, and her dam Carolyn’s Cat (Forestry) was a speedy MGSW sprinter. Plus there are enough fillies in here who want to be forwardly placed that I think her late kick could prove very dangerous.
   The Play: Win bet on #8 Mufajaah (10-1). In the pick four, using her, #7 Fiftyshadesofgold (3-1) and #10 She’s a Tiger (5-2) as A’s; #4 Our Amazing Rose (3-1) and #5 Jojo Warrior (9-2) as B’s; #1 Whomping Willow (12-1) and #9 Milam (12-1) as C’s.