Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Transactions Analysis: The 2018 Draft

Back from the metaphorical dead, it's the TA!  I will confess: I almost approached Teddy about doing one last year despite being in the midst of my one-year fantasy sabbatical.  But it's good to be back.  So let's kick off 2018 with a recap of the first two rounds of this year's draft, which was very arm-heavy and Mets-lite.  As it should have been.

And lastly, congrats to my co-author on his 2017 victory.  How does it feel to finally wear the crown of toilet paper?  (El Angelo)

Turns out that all I need in order to win is ridiculous luck and a near-historic level of apathy among other owners. That sounds replicable! (Teddy)

1.  Wu Tang Financial: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals.

I'm not sure which is odder: that this is the first of 7 pitchers to go in the first round (and 10 of the first 15 picks), or that three #1 picks from the amateur draft went in the first round, all of which were starting pitchers.  I suppose it's a credit to our collective genius that Bryan Bullington wasn't one of them.

As to Straz, you know what you're getting at this point - an annoying injury that robs him of 5-7 starts, a bunch of frustrating no-decisions, a good K rate and around 15 wins.  His ERA dropped enough last year that it's reasonable to theorize that he's about to enter a 2-3 year peak, so I'm pro this as the first overall pick, especially with the lack of obvious alternatives in the hitting department.  Even if he hasn't developed into the second coming of Justin Verlander, he kinda fits as "starter with the fewest warts."  (El Angelo)

Let's set out the background here first: this draft is flatter than a [REDACTED BY BLOGSPOT #METOO FILTER]; Strasburg is the pointy center of the slightly raised area of the draft which, to extend the metaphor, makes him the [REDACTED BY BLOGSPOT #METOO FILTER] in the middle of her [COME ON, DUDE]. So, yeah, good pick.

In other news, WTF is actually going to win this year, isn't he? I'm only going to get to feel like a special boy for one year and then all the other longtime losers are going to show up and steal my shine. (Teddy)

2.  A Lovely Tea Party: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays.

This is probably the right pick for a team whose keeper list had only two "hitters" (and that's being kind to Billy Hamilton), but Donaldson scares me.  He's entering his age-32 season, literally every stat has declined over the last two years, and the Jays are going to suck this year, potentially sapping his Rs and RBIs.  It's unlikely that Donaldson will kill Scot - especially this year - but I'm suspect of taking an obviously declining asset at #2.  (El Angelo)

Again, I think this is an issue of calibration more than anything. Donaldson feels like a reach at 2, but I think he's the only real choice for a hitter-shy team in a draft this shallow. Giancarlo Stanton and Buster Posey aren't going to be the last two picks in the first round like last year.  (Teddy)

3.  The Darkest Timeline: Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants.
4.  The Darkest Timeline: Starling Marte, OF, Pirates.

Both Bumgarner and Marte are coming off their worst years: Bumgarner because pitching 9000 innings may have caught up to him, and Marte because he failed to speak with his local pharmacist at Walgreen's.  I actually like Marte this year and think he'll be a perennial All-Star going forward, and that Bumgarner has at 1-2 ASG appearances left.  So to say something I've never said before: good work by the commish.  (El Angelo)

At the risk of correcting my esteemed colleague, Bumgarner didn't miss time because of workload. He missed time because he is a ridiculous redneck. He appears in pickup truck commercials in the Bay area, which is not a terribly pickup truck-dense part of the country. And he hurt himself when he fell off a dirtbike for no reason. (Note: in the previous sentence "no reason" is being used as a questionable synonym for "shortly after murdering a party ball of Coors Light".)  But yeah, otherwise agreed. (Teddy)

5.  Angelo M. Grasseaux: Alex Wood, SP, Dodgers.

I have a very hard time getting a strong handle on Wood, who sprouted big last year and became rock solid.  The Dodgers are loathe to let anyone make 30 starts, and he had elbow tenderness in 2016, which as a Mets fan, automatically sets off warning bells.  On the other hand, he has under 700 total innings pitched and may just be coming into his own.  I kinda get it as an upside play, even if I like each of the next 3 pitchers more.  (El Angelo)

The question is whether Wood's stamina can be improved by medication. If not, Wood may have to be extended by surgery. That's always a dicey proposition. (Teddy)

6.  Murica Thirst: Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates.

As a regular reader of Joe Sheehan's newsletter, I'm in complete agreement that the move to Houston is the best thing that could have happened to Cole.  I have him as a dark horse Cy Young pick (18-1 right now!), so yeah, I like him a lot at 6. (El Angelo)

via GIPHY

7.  Stable Guinesses:  Jose Quintana, SP, Cubs.

To defend our pick, the guy's a horse for innings pitched, and strikes out plenty, and now gets the benefit of having an actual offense behind him to give him some run support for a full season.  He may not have the highest ceiling, but the floor is pretty low.  (El Angelo)

I was hoping he'd slide to me, so yeah. Good pick. (Teddy)

8.  Le Dupont Torkies: Jake Arrieta, SP, Phillies.

I guess it's because he just signed, but 5Dimes does not have odds on Arrieta to win the Cy Young.  For the NL, their longest shots are Anthony Discalfani and Clayton Richard, both at 500-1, and a quartet of pitchers at 300-1, including the hilariously misspelled "Hosmer Bailey."  That should be Tucker's team name.  (El Angelo)

By an interesting coincidence, "Hosmer Bailey" is the name of the old-timey prospector I referenced above!

Sigh.

Folks, it is not easy spicing up a list of #2 starters. Ang, why the hell did we decide to recap the fifth round of the draft? Can we just go back and recap the first round of last year's draft instead so that I can dunk on people? (Teddy)

9.  Paging Dr. Rumack: Lance McCullers, SP, Astros.

I recognize McCullers was lights out in the postseason, but there is next to no evidence that this guy can throw 140 innings a year, let alone be a #2 starter.  As someone who's watched Steven Matz toil between the mound and operating table for the last three years, I can attest that there are few things more frustrating than young starters who tantalize with talent and can't stay healthy.  (El Angelo)

[Shatters humerus] (Teddy)

10.  CentralMassAll-Stars: David Price, SP, Red Sox.

I'm trying to reconcile Teddy having a mashing Yankee outfielder and an overpaid, declining, misogynist Red Sox starter as the cornerstones on his roster.  There's no way this ends badly.  But hey, flags fly forever, even if they're made out of orange construction paper.  (El Angelo)

Yeah, he sucks and I hate him. Although I think it's more accurate to describe him as misanthropic generally than misogynist specifically. Whatever else you can say about Dennis Eckersley, he's hard to mistake for a woman. (Teddy)

11.  Stable Guinesses: Tommy Pham, OF, Cardinals.

I think in June you could have gotten fairly long odds on the proposition that Tommy Pham would be the third position player off the board in the 2018 draft.  I defer to Theodore for criticism of our pick, which I presume will be scathing.  (El Angelo)

So, Pham was one of the approximately 15 useful OFs I pulled off the waiver wire last year. He was genuinely great--contributed in all categories, didn't miss too many games, enabled me to shout "What up, Pham?" when I checked his stats after a good day, really a pleasure to have rostered. The issue is despite being close to a rookie in terms of service time, dude is 30. That means we likely just saw his career year. Among potentially useful OFs I discarded this offseason, I'd put him behind Domingo Santana. (Teddy)

12.  Murica Thirst: Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs.

Which should you believe: the three seasons of being a #4 starter, or the one season (half a season, really) where he was great?  Thought so.  (El Angelo)

Why did a NASCAR driver get drafted? (Teddy)

13.  Angelo M. Grasseaux: Ken Giles, RP, Astros.

I'm just going to put Giles' postseason line up here for review:

7.2 IP
11.74 ERA
2.217 WHIP
0-2 record
2 saves
3 HR allowed
3 Wild pitches

Enjoy Armando Benitez 2.0. (El Angelo)

Yeah, this guy was the anti-Pham on my team last year. He really makes you taste the whole rainbow as a fantasy owner. (Teddy)

14.  The Spam Avengers: Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals.

Oh, fuck you.  (El Angelo)

I can't quite explain it, but this is exactly the right spot for this guy to go. (Teddy)

15.  The Darkest Timeline: Dick Hill, SP, Dodgers

I found this TA from June 2009 where Scot released Hill, then pitching for the Orioles, for something called Randy Wells, who I have zero recollection of existing or playing.  A trip down a rabbit hole revealed that Wells was a Cubs starter who finished 6th in 2009 NL Rookie of the Year voting, trailing Casey McGehee (!), the next pick in this draft, Dead Tommy Hanson, the first iteration of J.A. Happ, and Chris Coughlan, who I completely forgot won that award.  (El Angelo)

Don't be modest: back in 2008 you referred to Hill as a "potential young stud". The "young" part of that sentiment never really materialized, but he's one of a very few guys from back then still worthy of drafting early in 2018. (Teddy)

16.  A Lovely Tea Party: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Giants.

And it's the 5th place finisher in the 2009 NL ROTY race.  (Pop quiz: who was the '09 AL ROTY?  He beat out the likes of Rick Porcello, Brett Anderson and Elvis Andrus, and earned 5.8 of his 5.9 career WAR in his first two seasons.  Answer below.)

As to Cutch, it all depends on what you want.  Assuming health, he'll be fine in most categories, but the days of a .400 OBP and 20 steals are long gone.  He's fine, I just have a hard time separating him out from the Jay Bruces of the world.  (El Angelo)

I like the pick--unsexy veterans provide decent value in this league because everyone is willing to take flyers on young guys in hopes of finding a keeper. And nothing is less sexy than late-period Cutch. (Teddy)

17.  Wu Tang Financial: Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners.

It is so, so refreshing that the years change but the owners never do.  Pre-draft, I would have put the odds on Cano being drafted by one of the Elders Brothers at 1-20.  They didn't disappoint.  We're all winners, really.  (El Angelo)

Wait wait, no, THIS is the best match of player and slot. In terms of raw value this is not great, but for a team that had guys locked up at pretty much every other position, getting the last playable 2B is a fine idea. (Teddy)

18.  Le Dupont Torkies: Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers.

Never my cup of tea as a middling OBP shortstop, Andrus did have the distinction last year of leading baseball in Caught Stealing at 10.  His spikes in doubles and HR seem a little out of place at age-29, query whether that was a combo of the juiced ball and career fluke, Brady Anderson-style.  (El Angelo).

Jesus, spicing up a list of middle-aged middle infielders is even harder than spicing up a list of #2 starters. I'm serious about retro-diarying last year to make up for this dreck. (Teddy)

19.  Paging Dr. Rumack: A.J. Pollock, OF, Diamondbacks.

I like this guy a lot as a rebound candidate.  Of course there's a huge injury risk, but the upside is 30/30 if he can stay on the field.  Nice pick at this point.  (El Angelo)

20.  CMAS: Edwin Diaz, RP, Mariners.

In a draft opener that lacked a Questionable Closer Run, it's a faint approximation of the same for my esteemed co-blogger to end this charade with a very good closer on a not-very good team.  I'm pro targeting a specific category at this spot, so simply adding 35 saves to the roster while trying to repeat seems like a sound short-term strategy.  In the words of baseball savant Chris Russo: "Good job by you Teddy!" (El Angelo)

He sucks and I hate him. (Teddy)

*           *           *

(Answer to quiz: Andrew Bailey!)

Friday, November 3, 2017

2017 Breeders Cup Preview Part II: Saturday's Races

We've got nine races to cover, so let's dispense with the chitchat and get on to it.

Juvenile Fillies

Synopsis:  1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 2yo girls.  Last year's upset by Champagne Room at 33-1 continued the theme that in this race, you're best going with either a favorite or a bomb.  Here is how the 33 winners have broken down by price:

Less than 2-1: 9
2-1 to 3-1: 8
3-1 to 5-1: 6
5-1 to 10-1: 2
10-1 to 20-1: 1
Over 20-1: 7

Even those stats don't tell the full story: of the three horses between 5-1 and 20-1, one was on a synthetic surface (She Be Wild in 2009).  While the average win pay in this race is $22, the median is $6.70.  In short, the worst play is a horse in mid-range odds.  Either go with the favorites or look for a bomb.

Favorite:  Moonshine Memories is 3-for-3 with two wins over the track and is a well-bred filly.  She's a solid favorite but at the same time, she's never run particularly fast, and seemed to be running out of gas at the end of her prep race.  Respect, but playing against.

Price Horse to Consider:  Wonder Gadot is making her dirt debut, but there's no reason to think that she won't take to the surface, as she's out of Medaglia d'Oro and a Vindication mare.  And we think she may sit a nice trip - ignore all the 1's in her past performances, because those were on slowly run turf races.  She's not going to outsprint some of these fillies into the first turn but won't be a stone closer either.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  Honestly, if you're playing a Pick-something, our advice is to use Moonshine Memories defensively but focus on some bombs.

Selections:  We think there's going to be a lively pace in this race, which might set up for a closer.  We're going to take a gamble that longshot Stainless is the one who gets up.  A well-regarded Todd Pletcher horse, her last race was a toss-out because it was on the turf, except that it showed that she's in good form.  But it's the prior start in the Adirondack Stakes that has us wondering if she's good and being overlooked: she fell to her face at the start and spotted the field at least a dozen lengths.  She actually wound up running a little after that, but went wide on a day with a golden rail, and the race basically a toss out.  As noted, since then she's worked well and had a useful prep that will likely throw everyone off the scent of a Pletcher/Velazquez horse with good breeding.  She's going to be completely ignored in betting - she's 20-1 on the morning line, and we think she'll be longer than that.  In a race without an obvious star, we think she rates as good a chance as any.

1.  Stainless
2.  Wonder Gadot
3.  Moonshine Memories

Turf Sprint

Synopsis:  5 furlongs on the turf for all comers.  This is only the 4th time this race isn't at 6 1/2 furlongs, but in fairness, it's also only the 4th time it hasn't been run at Santa Anita with their bespoke turf chute.  This remains an entertaining race to watch and a bear to handicap.

Favorite:  Lady Aurelia is one of the odder horses you'll see all weekend: trained by Wesley Ward, she's only made 2 of her 7 starts in the States, and has otherwise run in Europe.  And quite well: she won at Ascot both this year and last year, and has a Grade 1 win in France to boot.  She's fast and talented, which bodes well here.

Price Horse to Consider:  Cotai Glory had some success sprinting overseas, and ran so-so at Woodbine in his last, but that may be because he encountered soft turf.  Perhaps he rebounds on a firmer surface?

Betting Approach:  Narrow.  Usually we think this race is wide open for chaos.  This year, we think there are three standouts.

Selections:  Lady Aurelia and Marsha, who beat her last out, tower over the field on speed figures, and both like 5 furlongs.  It's dull, but we think they make up the exacta; gun to our heads, we prefer Lady Aurelia by a hair.  The only domestic horse we're interested in is Disco Partner, who's had a really nice year and is a good sprinter, but 5 furlongs may be too short for him.  We'll take him to round out the triple.

1.  Lady Aurelia
2.  Marsha
3.  Disco Partner

Filly and Mare Sprint

Synopsis:  7 furlongs on the dirt for the ladies 3 years old and up.  Three year olds remain horrible bets in this field, as they're still winless.  That factoid is going to get strongly tested this year by...

Favorite:  In March, Unique Bella was on everyone's short list of favorites for the Kentucky Oaks off her decisive wins at Santa Anita.  Then she was injured and off the trail.  Proving her quality, the horse she trounced in her last race, Abel Tasman, came back and won the Kentucky Oaks.  She resurfaced last month in a 6 1/2 furlong prep race that she completely dominated.  If she improves off of that, she'll be very tough to beat.

Price Horse to Consider:  Proper Discretion comes into this race with good early speed and at 10-for-17 record.  Now yes, she's really only been running in Ohio, which isn't known for its high quality racing.  On the other hand, she's going to be at least 30-1 and does like to sprint.  She vaguely reminds of us Work All Week, who similarly seemed to be keeping cheap company but was a distance specialist, and popped the field in the 2014 Sprint.  Just saying.

Betting Approach:  Narrow.  There are a bunch of horses in here that have spent the entire year beating up on each other and running blah speed figures - we're looking at you, By the Moon, Finleysluckycharm, Paulassilverlining, Carina Mia and Highway Star.  We're inclined to toss them all and go with horses with some upside.

Selections:  Our strategy here is to include Unique Bella both on top and underneath in exactas and trifectas along with a few who have been a little removed from the usual filly and mare sprint circuit.  The one we like the most is Ami's Mesa, who's great at 7 furlongs, but has never run on the dirt before.  If she adapts well, we think she'll get a nice trip just off the pace and could pull off an upset at a nice price.  Underneath, we'll use Curlin's Approval, who likes the distance, Bar of Gold, who's cutting back, and last year's winner, Finest City, in case she wakes up.

1.  Ami's Mesa
2.  Unique Bella
3.  Curlin's Approval 

Filly and Mare Turf

Synopsis:  1 1/8 miles on the turf for the ladies.  This is the shortest distance for this race, it's always been either 1 1/4 or 1 3/8 miles.  Del Mar's turf can't do a race at 1 1/4 miles because of its configuration, but it's odd that they chose to go to this short a distance, rather than longer.  We're not pleased.

Favorite:  Possibly the best story of the entire weekend is Lady Eli's attempt to win her second Breeders Cup race.  She won the Juvenile Fillies Turf three years ago, then in the middle of her 3yo season came down with laminitis and nearly died.  Not only did live and make it back to the track, she's been amazing: 4 wins and 3 seconds in 7 starts, including a loss by a nose in this race last year to Queen's Trust (who also returns).  She has an outside chance at Horse of the Year if she pulls this off.

Price Horse to Consider:  Time for our annual promotion of a Shug McGaughey horse that we claim has a chance.  War Flag is a regally-bred filly that exits a win in the Flower Bowl - a Grade 1 prep for this race - that is largely going to be forgotten because she's shortening up in distance and travelling across the country.  She has some knocks, but if she's 15-1 or higher, she's a must-use.

Betting Approach:  Either single or spread.  If you think Lady Eli is a lock, then just single her and move on.  If you don't, there are a lot of different directions you can go.

Selections:  We're squarely in the Lady Eli camp and think she's one of the most likely win candidates all weekend.  We think the real way to make money in this race is with exactas, trifectas and superfectas, because we don't love a lot of the other horses that will take money.  Specifically, we think Grand Jete is overhyped, Dacita wants more distance, Avenge will get cooked on the front end, and Queen's Trust is just not in great form.  We're much more interested in trying some bombs underneath, such as War Flag, Nezwaah (who might have just hated soft turf in her last) and Wuheida, who may be getting good fast.  But to us this race is all about Lady Eli.  Let's hope she does something special and memorable.

1.  Lady Eli
2.  War Flag
3.  Nezwaah

Sprint

Synopsis:  6 furlongs on the dirt for the fast and furious.  One of the biggest mistakes we perpetually make in this race is predicting a pace meltdown because of all the fast runners and picking a closer.  The truth is that front-runners and stalkers dominate this race, having won 17 of the last 20 editions.  Oddly, the only three closers in that time period (Midnight Lute twice and Secret Circle) were trained by Bob Baffert, who also trains...

Favorite:  Drefong, who won this race fairly impressively last year and is back to defend his title off a short campaign: a start out west where his jockey was thrown leaving the gate, and a decisive score at Saratoga in late August.  That's it.  That's his entire campaign.  We'd laugh at it, but Baffert's won this race five times, and his runners have had campaigns of 4, 4, 1, 1 and 3 races, respectively.  The man knows what he's doing.

Price Horse to Consider:  One of the most consistent themes in this race is to take a horse that has had a lot of success at 6 furlongs; horses shortening up or stretching out are terrible bets.  For the epitome of this, we give you Whitmore, who's won 7 of 9 starts at 6 furlongs, and finished third in the other two starts.  He was the leading sprinter in the country until early June, when he ran a bad 3rd in the True North, followed by a layoff, then a blah third in the DeFrancis at Laurel Park.  He did win his last race, so maybe he's rounding back into form.  At 15-1 or so, he's worth a second look, even though he's a closer.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  Honestly, we like our pick a lot, but we wouldn't be shocked with a win by about half the field.

Selections: Takaful seemed to lose his way on the Triple Crown trail earlier this year, so the excellent Kiaran McLaughlin gave him a rest, then brought him back at a sprint at Saratoga this summer, and was rewarded with an emphatic win at 6 furlongs.  He then ran him in the Jerkens at 7 furlongs, where he dueled through quick fractions and was passed late by Practical Joke - who is a typical example of a good 1-turn horse that would be a bet-against at 6 furlongs - and then backed it up in the Vosburgh.  We think he's developed into an ace sprinter, and think he validates it here with a wire-to-wire victory over last year's champ and Roy H, who's had a really nice year and is far from out of this.

1.  Takaful
2.  Roy H
3.  Drefong

Mile

Synopsis:  A mile on the turf for all comers.  While the Euros have done well in this race (having won 13 of 33 editions), the two biggest outfits, Coolmore and Godolphin, have never won this race in over 50 tries.  Given that they make up 29% of the field this year, this might be relevant.

Favorite:  Ribchester has had a solid year: a 3rd place finish in Dubai at a mile and an eighth to start the year, then 5 Grade 1 races at a mile in Europe with 3 wins and 2 close seconds.  He's a horse that's tough to toss, but is also tough to take at a short price.  Our interest in him is a lot higher if he's 3-1; if he's 7-5, meh.

Price Horse to Consider:  Bill Mott won this race last year with Tourist, and this year brings the improving Ballagh Rocks, who's run some nice races at a mile this year.  We think he's probably a year away from actually winning the race, but he's got tactical speed and we could see him hanging around for a piece of the trifecta.  For a complete bomb to hit the board, Om is a very unlikely win candidate but always runs well at Del Mar and likes a mile.

Betting Approach:  Narrow.  We're skeptical of some of the horses that will take action here.  World Approval seems to have woken up at a mile, but his win at Saratoga was over a complete bog, and he beat absolutely nobody in a paceless, oddly run Woodbine Mile.  We're not buying Suedois against better Euros.  Lancaster Bomber has still only won once.  Roly Poly has talent but she's going to go to the lead.  It's almost impossible to wire the field in the Mile, and we think she'll be fried by the far turn.  As will Heart to Heart.

Selections:  Ribchester merits respect, but we're even more interested in Zelzal, who last year was a highly touted and successful 3 year old but has had a trying season as a 4 year old.  He ran pretty well in her first start of the year on firm turf, closing well but failing to catch the excellent Tareef (who would probably be our pick here).  His next two starts were Grade 1s on softer turf that he didn't like, and yet, he didn't run horribly in either of them.  We think he'll appreciate the addition of Lasix, getting firmer turf, and having a strong pace to run at.  We'll take him to post an upset (he's 20-1 on the morning line) over Ribchester and Ballagh Rocks.

1.  Zelzal
2.  Ribchester
3.  Ballagh Rocks

Juvenile

Synopsis:  1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 2 year old colts.  One consistent theme when this race is in California is to ignore the New York horses - in the last 25 years, only Shanghai Bobby has shipped from the Empire State and won.  You're much better off staying with the locals or Kentucky horses.

Favorite:  Bolt d'Oro is likely the heaviest favorite on the weekend: three wins in California, including a blow out win in the prep for the Juvenile at a very fast time.  This looks like a serious racehorse.

Price Horse to Consider:  US Navy Flag might have been favored in the Juvenile Turf, but Aidan O'Brien has decided to run him here instead, even though all 10 of his starts have been on the sod and his dam was a pure turfer.  That said, whenever a European has won this race, he's been well-raced, and 10 starts as a two year old certainly qualifies.

Betting Approach:  Single.  Some will make a case against Bolt d'Oro.  It won't be us.

Selections:  Since we're pro a favorite that will be around even money, let's talk about underneath.  We're very meh on Firenze Fire and Free Drop Billy, the winners of the Kentucky and New York preps, and are much more interested in horses that finished second last out.  Good Magic is still a maiden but improved in the Champagne for Chad Brown, and we think he's ready to take a step forward.  We don't think Solomini will close the 8 length gap he lost to Bolt d'Oro in his last, but think he'll run well again.  This isn't the best betting race of the day - hopefully we can see stardom instead.

1.  Bolt d'Oro
2.  Good Magic
3.  Solomini

Turf

Synopsis:  1 1/2 miles on the turf for the long-winded.  10 of the last 12 editions have been won either by horses based in Europe or European horses that relocated to America for the year (Main Sequence).  Recently, their domination has been even more stark: they've swept the last four exactas, comprised the entire triple in 2014, and last year made up the entire superfecta.  If you're going to use an American horse, you'd best be hoping for weak Euros and a really good Yankee.

Favorite:  A couple of horses could be favored, but we think it'll probably be Beach Patrol, who's domestically based and won the Arlington Million and Hirsch Classic for trainer Chad Brown.  He's a perfectly fine horse, but we're not seeing greatness here.  In the Million, he barely beat Fanciful Angel, who was a third-tier Euro, and will be 30-1 on Saturday.  His Hirsch was marginally better as he beat Fanciful Angel by a larger margin, but largely because he just sat a perfect trip.  He looks like a good bet-against.

Price Horse to Consider:  There are a few, but let's focus for the moment on Cliffs of Moher, who is one of three horses Aidan O'Brien is sending and likely the one to get ignored.  Impeccably bred and very well-regarded by the Coolmore family, he was an excellent second in the Epsom Derby earlier this year, and has since had tough trips over soft goings while competing against the best of Europe.  He needs to move up a little on speed figures, but he should stalk the pace and may get first run on the closers.  At 20-1 or so, he's intriguing. 

Betting Approach:  Spread.  There are a lot of potential winners here.  We're not going to pick either Ulysses or Highland Reel - we're a little underwhelmed with the former's form, and think the latter will get cooked on the front end by Oscar Performance - but they're not without chance and we'll use them defensively in multi-race wagers. 

Selections:  In multi-race wagers we will use Cliffs of Moher and probably a little of Talismanic and Seventh Heaven, but our main interest is in Decorated Knight, who's had an excellent season with 3 Grade 1's in Ireland and Dubai, including in the Irish Champion Stakes last out, which has produced a number of BC Turf winners (Pilsudski, Daylami, High Chapparal, Fantastic Light) plus others who ran 2nd (The Fugue, Golden Horn, and if we're being cute, Giant's Causeway and Swain albeit in dirt races).  The knock on him is that he's never raced at the Turf distance of 12 furlongs, but we're not particularly concerned - the breeding seems fine for the distance, and we like that he has tactical speed.  We'll take him to post a minor upset.

1.  Decorated Knight
2.  Cliffs of Moher
3.  Ulysses

Classic

Synopsis: 1 1/4 miles on the dirt for whoever's brave enough.  Again we're pressed for time so we're not doing a separate post on the Classic, even though we think it's a neat race.

Favorite: The only thing that's gone wrong for Gun Runner this year was a ban that kept him from running in the $10 million Pegasus stakes in January.  Since skipping that race, he's won 4 of 5 starts, including dominating wins in the Stephen Foster, Whitney and Woodward, a very prestigious trifecta to pull off.  He's quick, has tactical speed, and should be at his best coming into this race.  A very tough, legitimate favorite.

The Defending Champ: Three months ago, people were saying that Arrogate was the greatest horse of the century, as his Travers-Classic-Pegasus-World Cup wins were all sublime in their own way.  Then he came back in the San Diego Handicap, and finished a well-beaten 4th as the 1-20 favorite, while showing no interest in running.  He ran faster in the Pacific Classic a month later, but still lost and had to be heavily urged to get to second.  We see a horse that's lost interest in running and is going to be wildly overbet.  We're against completely, while still admitting that we wouldn't be upset to see him run back to his earlier form.

Price Horse to Consider:  Some year, Aidan O'Brien is going to win this race with a European shipper.  He barely missed in 2000 with Giant's Causeway and was pretty damn close a few years ago with Declaration of War.  Now he brings two horses to the race making their dirt debuts.  We're not at all interested in Churchill, but the lightly-raced War Decree is very intriguing.  In his last, he raced on synthetic, showed some tactical speed, and annihilated his competition in the stretch.  At 20-1 or so, he's very interesting on the come.

Betting Approach:  Narrow.  We are against a few horses that are going to take some action at the windows.  In addition to Arrogate, we're not seeing it for Collected, who we think won the Pacific Classic because Arrogate wasn't operating at 100% (we're not buying the speed figure for either horse) and got a relatively easy lead.  Here, he's going to get fried by Diversify, who we think is a neat story with no chance.  We have no interest in Cupid, who's just too slow.  Finally, Pavel might be the horse we want the most in 2018, but he's making his 5th career here and has only a maiden and Grade 3 win to his name.  This is a tough spot to get your first Grade 1 win.

Selections: We think this entire race is going to be a cat-and-mouse game between Gun Runner and West Coast, who's coming into this race in great form with five straight wins, including the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.  While either can show early speed, we think both will sit off Collected and Diversify and make their moves on the turn to duke it out in the stretch.  We think West Coast has the slightest edge in upside and distance pedigree, which is why we're picking him to beat out Gun Runner in the stretch, and incredibly, gives Bob Baffert his fourth straight Breeders Cup Classic winner.

1.  West Coast
2.  Gun Runner
3.  War Decree

Enjoy Breeders Cup day everyone!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

2017 Breeders Cup Preview Part I: Friday's Races

It's time for our annual exercise in hubris, self-immolation and embarrassment: our Breeders Cup preview!  We are well aware that we're setting ourselves up for disaster by trying to preview 13 races, some of which we don't particularly like, but we're willing to take a chance of being wrong once in a while.

Speaking of which, how did we do last year?  We nailed two winners: Beholder in the Distaff and Classic Empire in the Juvenile.  And we hit the Juvenile exacta by picking Not This Time for second, which paid $39.  Beyond that, if you squinted, there were picks that could have made you money:
  • We picked Coasted and Cavale Doree to run 2-3 in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, which they did, at 23-1 and 15-1, respectively.  Unfortunately, our pick to win (Spain Burg) was horrible.
  • We picked Queen's Trust to run 2nd in the Filly Turf; she won at 8-1.
  • We selected Om to win the Turf Sprint; he ran second at 13-2, and was a nose from winning.
  • We gave Finest City our designation of "price horse to consider" in the Filly Sprint and picked her to come 2nd, she won at 8-1.
  • We picked California Chrome and Arrogate in the top two slots (once Shaman Ghost scratched), they ran 2-1.  Okay fine, everyone did that.
So let's get back to it and see if we can come a little closer to running the table this year, and break down the races by describing the circumstances, the favorites, some price horses we like, our thoughts on how to bet the race, and our picks.  We'll do Friday's 4 races today and Saturday's 9 tomorrow.  As usual, we're assuming the track is fast and the turf is firm both days, and without a major bias.  This year we're at Del Mar, which is a gorgeous track with smaller stretch runs, so we're largely shying away from deep closers.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Synopsis:  1 mile on the turf for 2 year old girls.  Domestic runners have taken 7 of the 9 editions of this race, with 3 of those winners coming from Chad Brown's barn.  What's curious is that the two foreign runners were trained by Charles Hills and Michael Delzangles - both fine trainers, but two men who have had limited runners and success in the United States.

Favorite:  Chad Brown is the leading trainer in America, has had a ton of success in this race, and saddles Rushing Falls, who is 2-for-2 with an explosive win at Keeneland last out.  She's a solid yet beatable favorite, as her speed figures give her no advantage over a bunch of horses here, including her stablemate Significant Form.

Price Horse to Consider:  Moon Dash lost by a nose at Santa Anita's prep race for this and cost $650,000 at auction.  If there's enough pace up front - which is questionable - then she's got a chance to rally stoutly and catch a piece.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  Chad Brown and Aidan O'Brien have the likely top 4 betting choices and we find it hard to draw a line between most of them.

Selections:  It's somehow amazing that O'Brien has won a gazillion Breeders Cup races but has never won this race or the Filly and Mare Turf.  And it can't be that he can't train fillies - the filly Found won the Turf two years ago.  Regardless, Happily is probably the most accomplished horse he's ever brought to this race - she owns 4 careers wins, including 2 Grade 1s, and is in top form.  Plus she's regally bred - she's a full sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Gleneagles and her mother is a full to the accomplished Giant's Causeway.  O'Brien has already broken the record for most Grade 1 wins in a season - our guess he pads that record right off the bat.

1.  Happily
2.  Significant Form
3.  Rushing Fall

Dirt Mile

Synopsis:  A mile on the dirt for all comers.  This usually is one of our least favorite races on the cards because we think it pulls interesting runners out of multiple races (Sprint, Classic, Filly Sprint, even the regular Mile) to put them together in a somewhat meaningless heat.  But this year it's attracted a nice collection of horses that actually belong in a 1-mile race, so we're kinda curious .

Favorite:  This could go a few ways, but we're going to guess it'll land on Mor Spirit, who's won the Met Mile back in June on Belmont day with a smashing performance and a very high speed figure.  The problem is that's the last race he won, and he hasn't been seen in nearly 5 months.  This is not an easy race to win off a long layoff.

Price Horse to Consider:  Iron Fist has not been winning at the best tracks in America - his wins this year came in Washington, Iowa and Oklahoma.  But he has never been worst than 3rd in his 7 starts at a mile, which also includes 5 wins, and reports are that he's working out well.  We love distance specialists, he's a solid one.

Betting Approach:  Narrow.  We think there are four horses a rung above the others in this race and are against two of them.  We don't love Mor Spirit off the long layoff, and are against Accelerate, who we think is going to get fried once he meets tougher speed up front.  Also, some people like Battle of Midway.  We don't.

Selections:  Sharp Azteca has a big shot if he runs his best race, but we're concerned that he's going to get fried up front with Accelerate and some others.  We really like Cupid, who is Bob Baffert's 5th or 6th best horse, that is to say, talented but a notch below the elite horses in America.  He has tactical speed and should rate a nice trip off the front runners.  For 3rd, we'll take 3 year old Practical Joke, who never wins at 2 turns but usually catches a piece.

1.  Cupid
2.  Sharp Azteca
3.  Practical Joke

Juvenile Turf

Synopsis:  A mile on the grass for 2 year old colts.  Remember how we said Americans did well in the filly edition of this race?  The exact opposite is true here.  Europeans have won 7 of the 10 races, and one of the other three was owned by the Coolmore connections and spent half his year in Europe.  Oscar Performance's win last year was the only time since 2010 that a "True American" won this race.

Favorite:  This looks like one of those races where any of 4 horses can be favored and we think we'll see a miasma of horses between 4-1 and 6-1.  Our guess is favoritism will land on James Garfield, which has to be one of the most unlikely names for a European racehorse ever.  We fully expect to see a steed named Millard Fillmore in next year's Italian Derby.

Price Horse to Consider:  Flameaway is going to be completely ignored in the betting, but that might be a huge mistake.  A $400,000 purchase trained by Mark Casse, he's won 3 of 4 starts but has never actually run on the turf, as twice he's been rained off.  His breeding is very good for the grass, and he looks to have tactical speed.  This looks like a horse that can make a huge move forward going dirt to turf.  Very, very live at a big price.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  You can make a case for over half the field here.

Selections:  Godolphin has been relatively quiet in the Breeders Cup recently - they did win this race with Outstrip 4 years ago, but they have entered far fewer horses than they did a decade or two ago.  Which is in part why we're intrigued by Masar, who ran a nice 3rd on the Arc undercard last month, finishing close to Happily.  If we like her, we probably should like him as well.  We'll take him over Voting Control, who we think will close into a solid pace for Chad Brown, and our bomb.

1.  Masar
2.  Flameaway
3.  Voting Control

Distaff

Synopsis:  1 1/8 miles on the dirt for fillies and mares 3 years old and up.  This race is usually a lot of fun for those of us that like the sport of racing, but it's generally a bad spot to make money.  In 33 runnings, only 6 winners have been at odds greater than 10-1, and there hasn't been one since Round Pond in 2006.  Some would argue that means we're due for a bomb.  Unfortunately, there are only 8 horses in this year's heat.

Favorite:  Stellar Wind has three grade 1 wins this year, is undefeated at Del Mar, and has consistently run higher speed figures than most of the field.  But there are some issues with her.  One is that she's clearly not as fast as last year, though it may not matter.  The second is she hasn't run since late July, and is coming in off a 3-month layoff.  Historically, that's not how you win this race: only three times has a horse won this race without running in the prior 5 weeks, and only twice has it been more than two months.  (Ironically, one of those was Stopchargingmaria's defeat of Stellar Wind two years ago.)  The third is that she's a 5 year old, and the only horses that have won at that age or older were Hall of Famers (Bayakoa, Beholder) or a bomb (One Dreamer).  Stellar Wind is neither.  We wouldn't toss, but are skeptical.

Price Horse to Consider:  There are nine horses running over the weekend that have won Breeders Cup races, and the first is in this race, as Champagne Room tries to pull off the Juvenile Fillies-Distaff double, which only Beholder has done.  She's only had two starts this year, but her comeback wasn't bad (albeit against nobody) and there's reason to suspect she'll improve here.  At 15-1, she's not the craziest idea.

Betting Approach:  Narrow.  There are only 8 horses in this race to begin with, and we don't think Mopotism has any chance at all.  We also don't particularly love either of Elate or Abel Tasman; we think the former earned her Grade 1 laurels beating up on subpar fields, and think the latter is going the wrong way, as evidence by her goofy rides in the last two races where she made odd middle moves.  Finally, Romantic Vision is in good form, but this looks to be a bit over her head.

Selections:  The big question is whether Paradise Woods will be able to  dominate this race on the front end.  Her Santa Anita Oaks and Zenyatta wins showed a horse that flaunted her speed and never looked back.  By contrast, in the Kentucky Oaks she was pressed every step of the way by another front-runner and was fried by the top of the stretch.  We're willing to look past the Kentucky Oaks in part because it was in the slop, but mainly, because California tracks are much more generous to speed than Kentucky, and the Distaff is usually won by horses with early or tactical speed.  We don't think anyone's going to really press her on the front end, and that she can simply wire the field.  Underneath, we'll use the favorite plus Forever Unbridled, who's not without chance, but we think won't love the shorter Del Mar stretch.

1.  Paradise Woods
2.  Forever Unbridled
3.  Stellar Wind

Coming up tomorrow: our preview of the nine (!) races on the main card.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

2017 Belmont Preview

Blaaaaah.

Cloud Computing's narrow victory
That's to both the Preakness and the Belmont.  We are eternal optimists when it comes to horse racing, but it's tough not to be annoyed by this year's result in the Preakness and the last leg of the Triple Crown.  Our pick of Classic Empire was spot on and our tapping of Cloud Computing as the lone outsider with a chance was good too.  But Classic Empire was sapped of just enough energy that he couldn't hold off the latter.  So much for a solid pick.

And now we have a Belmont that lacks both of those two horses plus Derby winner Almost Dreaming.  We're also missing other horses that took money in the Derby - looking at your Gunnevara, McCracken - and Derby third place finisher Battle of Midway.  That leaves us with an intriguing betting race but one that's probably not going to result in a coronation.  Nevertheless, let's take a look at it.

At Least the Weather's Supposed to Be Nice

12.  Hollywood Handsome.  (Morning Line: 30-1; Fair Value: 50-1) Dallas Stewart is known for having longshots run at huge prices in the Derby and Preakness - Golden Soul, Tale of Verve, Commanding Curve, to name three.  But he's never been remotely competitive in the Belmont, and this slow guy who was throttled at a huge price in the Illinois Derby by Multiplier seems unlikely to break the streak.

11.  Multiplier (ML: 15-1; FV: 50-1) Speak of the devil!  Purely sprint-bred, he clunked up for a boring 6th in the Preakness.  Adding blinkers will add speed, but it won't add stamina, which this guy needs in spades.

10.  Twisted Tom.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 33-1) On the plus side, he's trained by Chad Brown (Cloud Computing's trainer) and has three straight wins.  On the negative side, he's never topped 80 on the Gowanus Speed Figure scale.  If quite literally anyone else trained this horse, he'd be double the price he'll be on Saturday.

In a Word: No.

9.  Epicharis.  (ML: 4-1; FV: 50-1) We were against this guy before word came down that he's being treated with Bute because of lameness - the chances of him scratching are pretty high.  But putting that aside, this Japanese import that ran his last race in Dubai, he ran 2nd in the UAE Derby by setting a soft pace against 3rd-tier horses.  Either he's going to the front and should get fried on a quicker pace, or he's just not that fast and won't be a factor

8.  Senior Investment.  (ML: 12-1; FV: 33-1) Horses that run non-threatening 2nds and 3rds in the Preakness are dreadful bets in the Belmont, as they never, ever, ever improve in those 3 weeks in between and pull off the upset.  Some recent examples are Classic Cat ('99), Impeachment ('01), Hemingway's Key ('06), Ichabad Crane ('08), Tale of Verve ('15) and Cherry Wine ('16).  None of these horses did anything in the Belmont.  There's no reason to expect this steed will break that streak.

7.  Lookin at Lee.  (ML: 5-1; FV: 20-1) His regression in the Preakness was easy to see coming; he finished 4th basically because Always Dreaming spit the bid and the rest of the field stunk.  Dead closers like him are always at a disadvantage in the Belmont, as are horses that are pure "clunk up" types that never make a winning move.  Look for him to be nowhere near the picture at the end and to take a well-deserved rest.

6.  Gormley.  (ML: 8-1; FV: 12-1) We're still waiting for him to finish in the money in a difficult race.  The wait will continue on Saturday evening.

Stranger Things Have Happened

5.  Meantime.  (ML: 15-1; FV: 10-1) He is making his 5th career start and some upside.  We thought his Peter Pan was a decent effort, and are curious about him moving back to a fast track.  His breeding isn't as good for a distance but it's not inconceivable, and trainer Brian Lynch isn't terrible, to say nothing of jockey Mike Smith.  At a solid price, he's a little intriguing.

Contenders on the Rebound

4.  Irish War Cry.  (ML: 7-2; FV: 5-1) This has to be one of the weakest and strangest favorites we've had in a Triple Crown race in ages.  His last race was a 10th place finish in the Derby where he lost by 16 lengths and lost ground badly from the far turn on.  He's been brutally bad in two of his last three races.  But yet, he has run 2 quick races this year, was sired by Curlin, and beat Cloud Computing in his last race.  So he's far from impossible.  It just seems like an odd horse to take on as the favorite.

3.  Tapwrit.  (ML: 6-1; FV: 5-1) And here's your second choice, a horse that has lost consecutive starts by double-digit lengths and has never won outside of Florida.  There's a few things here to like if he rebounds and gets a good trip, and we admit, his Derby was something of a toss-out.  It's a pure question of price: at his expected odds, meh, but at double the price, sure.

2.  J Boys Echo.  (ML: 15-1; FV: 5-1) The owner of the best speed figure in the entire field, he ran a huge Gotham at Aqueduct 3 months ago, which put him squarely in the picture of possible Derby contenders.  He followed that up with an utterly blah 4th in the Blue Grass and a non-existent 15th in the Kentucky Derby, so it's not like he's coming in off good form.  But there's reason to be a little optimistic.  His breeding is fine for 12 furlongs.  He's run well in New York (albeit at Aqueduct).  Trainer Dale Romans is excellent, and is going to win this race one day.  He has tactical speed.  And he's getting back jockey Robby Albarado, who rode him to his best races.  We think hasn't had the chance to run his best race in three months and may sit a good trip at a price.

The Pick

1.  Patch.  (ML: 12-1; FV: 4-1) Way overmatched in the Derby (especially from the 20 post), he does have solid distance breeding - his sire and damsire both won the Belmont - and does have the Pletcher/Velazquez combination.  And this is only his 5th start.  He's as likely as anyone to make The Leap and pull off an upset if he moves forward, and we're banking on that by picking him.  We don't think he'll be as long as his morning line price, but even if he's 10-1, that's solid value.  We think Todd & John pull off one of the odder Triple Crown doubles this year, and take it in a small upset.

How to Wager

Well our pick is going to be a decent price, so make sure you bet him to win.  But this is truly a spread race - make sure you're covered well in your pick-everythings.  Good luck to all!

Friday, May 19, 2017

2017 Preakness Preview

Sometimes there's a narrative coming out of the Derby how either the winner was an inspiring tale, or how the best horse didn't win the race for X, Y and Z reason.  We have neither of those this year.  Always Dreaming was an emphatic winner of the Derby, and to steal a good friend's line, was "much the best."  Sure, a few of the also-rans behind him didn't fare so well, but it's hard to argue that a bad trip kept them from winning.  Always Dreaming was well clear of his second place finisher, and the 3rd place finisher was losing ground at the end.  It was a very nice performance.

But can he repeat?  Let's take a look at this year's Preakness field which, charitably, can be called top-heavy.  We'll assume the track is fast and fair again.

We're Not Interested

10.  Term of Art.  (Morning Line: 30-1; Fair Value: 100-1)  Well, he outran his odds in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year, when he was 90-1 and actually beat two horses in the field.  The only reason to back him is because he's adding blinkers and gets a new jockey.  A few will see that as a chance.  We see it as change for the sake of change.

9.  Senior Investment. (ML; 30-1; FV: 50-1)  Trainer Ken McPeek has been known for pulling rabbits out of his hat when it appeared that he had no chance - think of Golden Ticket in the Travers at 35-1, or more importantly, Sarava in the Belmont at 70-1.  That's about the only case for his horse.  By the way, that's now two horses and two dead closers. This is a theme you'll see here: this race is chock full of runners that like to come from well out of it and little in the way of pace.

8.  Multiplier. (ML: 30-1; FV: 50-1)  A slow horse that exits a 3rd-tier race and has crack sprinter breeding written all over him.  Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

7.  Conquest Mo Money. (ML: 15-1; FV: 50-1) Some will bet this guy because he finished 2nd in the Arkansas Derby on the heels of running decently at Sunland Park.  We're unimpressed.  His tactical speed means that he'll actually be prominent in this race, but we're of the opinion he's a Grade 3 horse that should be running in the undercard.

The Wrong Derby Horses

6.  Lookin at Lee.  (ML: 10-1; FV: 33-1)  His runner-up finish in the Derby was the perfect confluence of circumstances.  He had a solid pace to run at.  He drew a wet track, which he likes.  He drew the rail, which helped him on a track where the rail was advantageous.  And jockey Corey Lanierie gave him a perfect ride by never leaving the rail.  He rallied stoutly but never threatened the winner, and after all that, still didn't crack a triple digit speed figure.  A perfect candidate to regress.

5.  Gunnevara. (ML: 15-1; FV: 25-1)  It's looking like this guy peaked three races ago and is on the downcycle.  The switch to jockey Mike Smith might rekindle some effort, but what's more likely is he needs some time off to recuperate.

4.  Hence.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 20-1)  We're willing to completely disregard his Derby - bad start, bad trip, was much further back then he probably wanted to be, and had difficulty rallying in the  mud.  We think he may run back to his Sunland Park Derby, which would be fine, just not fine enough to win.  Keep an eye on him in wagering - if he does get near his morning line odds, a saver win bet on him is not the worst idea.

The Lone Longshot

3.  Cloud Computing.  (ML: 12-1; FV: 12-1)  If you're going to go with an outsider, this is the one to focus on.  Well-bred for the distance, this Chad Brown steed broke his maiden impressively at Aqueduct, followed up by a pretty nice 2nd in the Gotham, then a middling 3rd in the Wood Memorial.  Brown didn't bother entering him in the Derby or running him in some other race in between, deciding instead to train up to the Preakness, for which he's been working out splendidly.  And Brown is very good training a horse with this amount of rest.

There are some pretty clear holes here.  He's never won a stakes race, hell, he's never won anything better than a maiden race.  The Wood's form is suspect.  He's never run anywhere besides Ozone Park.  And recently, horses that skip the Derby are generally bad win plays in the Preakness: Red Bullet pulled it off in '00 - and he would have been the 2nd or 3rd choice in the Derby had he run - but other than that, it was only a phenom (Bernardini '06) or a Hall of Famer (Rachel Alexandra '09) who managed to do it.  We've seen nothing thus far to indicate that he's that good.  But he has tactical speed and upside - this is only his 4th start after all.  And it's not odd for a new shooter to finish in the money: while Derby horses have won 17 of the last 20 Preaknesses, a new shooter has finished in the triple 16 of the last 20 races.  He's the one we like to do that on Saturday.

Duh.

2.  Always Dreaming. (ML: 4-5; FV: 8-5)  We've generally been of the opinion that the criticism of Todd Pletcher's Derby record was overhyped.  We're kind of glad he got a 2nd win, because he's a great trainer and shouldn't be punished for doing a little less well on the first Saturday of May than he does the rest of the year.  We're not saying he's going to catch Ben Jones, who has an incredible 6 Derby wins, but Lukas and Baffert's 4 wins are certainly reachable (if Baffert doesn't win another).

But the Preakness...that's another story.  There's a damn good reason Pletcher is 0-for-8 in the Preakness: he usually doesn't bother trying to win it.  Of the 8 times he's run a horse, 5 were longshots who he didn't bother running in the Derby.  None of them were remotely competitive.  So let's look at the 3 who he did bother running in the Preakness after the Derby:

Impeachment ('00): Runs a clunk up 3rd that's almost identical to his clunk up 3rd in the Derby.  Snore.  Mind you, this was Pletcher's best result in this race, and it was at a time when he was still forging a name for himself.

Circular Quay ('07): At the time we noted that the Derby almost seemed like a Preakness prep for this guy.  That theory seems to have been dumb: he did very little in the Preakness, in part because he was an echelon below the two best horses.

Super Saver ('10):  Everyone and their brother will note how badly he ran in the Preakness after winning the Derby - hell, he never won again.  It isn't so much that he lost, it's that he was spent with 2 furlongs to go.  Pletcher never runs his horses back this quickly unless he wants to - he enjoys spacing out starts to give his runners time for a peak effort.

So the question is whether Always Dreaming is going to regress the same way Super Saver did 7 years ago.  Our feeling is yes - we don't love the quick turnaround, and are inherently suspect of a horse that has had 4 straight perfect trips.  Sure, he could be that good, and we wouldn't be surprised with a win.  But we think the better horse is...

The Pick

1.  Classic Empire. (ML: 3-1; FV: 7-5)  The parallels to 2010 continue here, as like Lookin at Lucky, this guy was a champion two-year old, was unlucky in his Derby start, and has had some trip issues in the past.  We like his draw in a more compact field, think that he'll use his tactical speed to make sure that Always Dreaming doesn't get away, and go by him at the top of the stretch.  While we know Pletcher's only here because Always Dreaming has to run, we like the confidence that Casse is showing by running Classic Empire in the Preakness - he has every reason to wait for the Belmont and give his horse the extra three weeks.  But we think he smells blood in the water.  He knows Pletcher isn't best on the quick turnaround, knows his horse is on the improve, and thinks this is the better spot to beat him.  We agree.

How to Bet

We're going to bet a couple of triples, with Cloud Computing in 3rd and the two obvious horses up top, and maybe one or two with Cloud Computing in the second place slot.  This isn't a spot to get cute and go heavy on Term of Art - we think either accept that the top 2 tower over the field and bet accordingly, or enjoy a drink with the race instead.

Good luck to all!!

Friday, May 5, 2017

2017 Kentucky Derby Preview Part II: The Contenders

Friend of the blog, voice of the Derby, and all around
great guy Larry Collmus with American Pharoah
We have two basic theses about this year's Derby.  The first is that there's going to be a solid or quick pace.  There are enough horses running that look like they want to be near the front that we think getting a :48 half mile is highly unlikely.  We're not just conceding the race to a closer, but we think those bereft of early speed have a good chance this year.

The second is that this isn't the best crop of 3 year olds.  Two years ago we were treated to not only American Pharoah but also some others who were obviously talented: Firing Line, Dortmund, Frosted, Carpe Diem.  This year, nobody's really stood out or has run that fast.  Which is why we're keeping an open mind and not blindly tossing...

Wildcard #1

11.  Thunder Snow.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 25-1) We have never bet a dollar on a Derby runner that ran in the UAE Derby.  We have never really loved taking turf horses in the Derby.  We've never heard of this guy's sire (Helmet) until now.  (He was a good turf performer...in Australia.)  And we're loathe to endorse front-runners in the Derby.

And yet...there's some intrigue here. If there's going to be a year a Dubai runner contends, it's when the horse has staying power and is competing against a bunch of mediocrities.  This guy has switched well to the dirt, despite the turf breeding.  He's already won at 9 1/2 furlongs.  And he has an excellent jockey, Euro Christophe Soumillion.  We would be a little surprised if he wasn't at least involved early, and it certainly isn't impossible that he's around late.

To us this comes down to price.  If he gets bet and is around 15-1 or so, no thanks.  But if he's ignored in the wagering?  He's interesting enough to throw into your bets.

Something Seems...Off

10.  Girvin.  (ML: 15-1; FV: 20-1) He's 3 for 4 and has the right running style for this race (off the pace, not a dead closer).  But he's never won outside of Louisiana or beaten a high-quality horse.  And he's been battling some minor injury issues, which we never like to see this time of year.  Sure he could improve at Kentucky.  At a relatively short price, we're not willing to take that chance.

9.  McCraken.  (ML: 5-1; FV: 12-1) Prior to the Blue Grass, this was your probable favorite - a perfect 4-for-4 record, solid breeding, good trainer, and an affinity for the track.  Then they went to post in the Blue Grass and he showed...nothing.  He sat in perfect position off a moderate pace, and failed to close an inch on the winner, maiden Irap.  Technically it's not a "bad prep" because he finished 3rd and didn't lose by a football field, but it was about as uninspiring a prep as you'll see, and makes us wonder if he's progressed at all since last year.  We'll use a horse in the Derby that had a poor prep race if he's going to be a price.  But this guy's going to be the second or third choice off essentially a no-show.  No thanks.

8.  Classic Empire.  (ML: 4-1; FV: 10-1) The two year old champ and probable favorite is not without chance, and if he won, we wouldn't be shocked.  He is talented and has the right running style to win, and Mark Casse is a good trainer.  But there are enough red flags to make us side against.  After a good 2 year old season, he was scheduled to have3 prep races starting with the Holy Bull, where he completely no-showed without a real excuse.  Then he suffered a minor injury and missed some training time.  Then he oddly refused to work out.  When he finally began to get healthy and behave, he went to Oaklawn, and he won the Arkansas Derby, but in a rather slow time over competition he should have dominated.  He's basically coming into the Derby off of one okay prep race and a smattering of odd works.  That's not inspiring a lot of confidence here.

Wildcard #2

7.  Hence.  (ML: 15-1; FV: 16-1) The Sunland Derby is generally not where we look for Kentucky Derby contenders, despite Mine That Bird's win.  This guy won it by 7 lengths in a mediocre time, which should relegate him to also-ran status.  But he's actually not badly bred and comes from the barn of Steve Asmussen, who's going to win this race one day.  Even more interestingly, the horses that finished behind him at Sunland Park have good subsequent form - Conquest Mo Money came back to run 2nd in the Arkansas Derby and Irap came back to win the Blue Grass.  A key race?  Eh, probably not.  But this is your likely wise-guy horse based on that theory.

Perfect for Underneath

6.  Lookin at Lee.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 33-1) A classic plodder, he has no early speed and will be somewhere between 17th and 20th early on, especially since he drew the inside post.  But we think there will be a lively pace for him to close into.  An outsider to actually win, but a definite horse to consider for trifectas and superfectas.

5.  J Boys Echo.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 25-1) Like McCraken, he entered the Blue Grass with high expectations and did absolutely nothing.  So why is he ranked here?  Price.  McCraken is going to be 6-1, this guy is going to be 4 times the price with about as much chance to hit the board.  Again, we're not optimistic about his chances to actually win the race.  But he has "rallies for a piece" written all over him.

Wildcard #3

4.  Battle of Midway.  (ML: 30-1; FV: 12-1) If we're going to use a horse out of California, it's this guy.  A well-bred horse - Smart Strike is an excellent sire; Rigoletta was a really good 2 year old filly whose career ended prematurely with an injury - he cost $410,000 at auction and was sent to the very good Jerry Hollendorfer out west for training.  After a solid maiden win, he was rushed into a stakes race where he had a tough trip and faded, but then won an allowance race around two turns.  Next was the Santa Anita Derby, where for reasons unclear, he was sent to the lead for the first time.  He battled through very quick fractions that fried every other front-runner except him.  He held on for a game 2nd to Gormley, who took advantage of the pace meltdown with a win.

Now there are some big negatives - no wins in stakes company, no starts as a two year old, and a possible propensity for being a front-runner.  But he also may be coming into his own at just the right time, and if he can stalk instead of flying up front, he might sit a perfect trip.  We think he's up against it to win.  But to hit the board at a huge price?  Very, very live.

Contenders

3.  Always Dreaming.  (ML: 5-1; FV: 8-1) We are at the point where we can just create a stock entry about Todd Pletcher's Derby entry that won his prep race.  Yes, this guy ran well winning the Florida Derby and may have come into his own since leaving Dominick Schetino's barn.  But we've seen this before with Gemologist.  Verrazano.  Carpe Diem.  Bandini.  The Pletcher horse that peaks the race before the Derby and completely no-shows in Louisville.  We think it's telling that his only Derby win was with Super Saver, who looked good in his prep but didn't win.

What's a little different this year is that we're not seeing any titans that Always Dreaming has to beat.  Carpe Diem had American Pharoah.  Gemologist had I'll Have Another.  Verrazano had the obviously improving Orb.  Bandini had...well, Giacomo, so bad example.  Always Dreaming's chief challengers are all horses with flaws and who haven't shown flashes of greatness.  So maybe he's just the best horse.  We do think he'll run okay, but will be outside of the top finishers.

2.  Irish War Cry.  (ML: 6-1; FV: 6-1)  Other than the 17 post, there's not much to complain about here.  He's perfectly bred for 10 furlongs, and has shown in two of his races this year that he can race on the lead or just off it and win.  What we are a little concerned about is that total clunker he ran two starts back in the Fountain of Youth.  There he pressed a moderate pace and faded badly in the stretch.  Maybe it was contesting the early pace that did him in, which he probably won't do on Saturday.  Or maybe it was a regression off his nice win in the Holy Bull, which happens.  If he doesn't go back to that good/bad/good pattern, he's very dangerous to win or finish in the money.

The Pick

1.  Gunnevara.  (ML: 15-1; FV: 5-1)  We've been on this guy's bandwagon for a while and are not getting off for the Derby.  He's well-raced with 9 career starts, which isn't a negative: California Chrome won 3 years ago with similar experience, and we've always liked horses with a good amount of 2 year old experience.  He's won on multiple tracks (Saratoga, Gulfstream, Delta Downs) at multiple distances.  He's bred for 10 furlongs.  And we do think his closing style is going to work - in case it wasn't clear, we think there will be a lively pace for him to run into.  Sure, he could have traffic trouble.  That's always possible with closers.  We're willing to take that chance.

The biggest negative is his last race, where he was the 6-5 favorite and was well-beaten by Always Dreaming.  We're willing to look past it: Gulfstream was kind to speed that day, Always Dreaming had a perfect trip, and this guy didn't.  Now sure, if Always Dreaming moves forward and Gunnevara gets caught 8 wide on the far turn, he's going to be up against it.  But this guy reminds us of Monarchos: a horse that had a great win 2 starts before the Derby, had a mild regression/consolidation start as his Derby prep, then exploded in the Derby with a peak performance as a closer.  He needs to run faster to get to Monarchos' level.  But we think the talent's there, and he flies down the stretch to win the whole shebang on Saturday evening.

How to Bet

This is a big reason why we included the fair value odds this year, it's our opinion as to the price where betting a horse makes sense.  For example, we really don't love J Boys Echo to win.  But if he's 30-1?  That's not terrible value to us because it's a longer price than his odds to actually win the race.

In addition to liking Gunnevara up top, we also think he's going to be excellent value.  He probably will be shorter than 15-1, but double-digit odds seems probable for a horse we liked anyway.  But regardless: do not ignore the win wager.  Classic Empire will be at least 4-1 as the favorite, and if you like him, just take a shot at quadrupling your odds.  If you're going to play exotics, we do think some of our goofy longshots have a chance to hit the board and make exactas and triple enticing.

Good luck and enjoy the Derby!!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

2017 Kentucky Derby Preview Part 1: The Pretenders

It's the first week of May, which can only mean one thing - it's time for the Kentucky Derby!

It's hard to believe, but for a long time, being the Derby favorite was the kiss of death.  Between Spectacular Bid in 1979 and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, every Kentucky Derby favorite lost, including Hall of Famers Easy Goer and Holy Bull.  Being the favorite was deemed a curse until FuPeg broke the streak in 2000.

In the 16 years since then, favorites have won 7 times, which is a little better than expected.  But it's actually even more chalky than that if you look at the last 10 years, which has had six favorites win, including the last 4 races (Nyquist, American Pharaoh,  California Chrome, Orb, Big Brown and Street Sense), plus a second choice (Super Saver).  Heck, of the other three, I'll Have Another was an obvious overlay at 15-1, and Animal Kingdom was only 20-1 because he had never run on the dirt before.  Really, only Mine That Bird counts as a true upset and longshot.

What's happened?  Well in the last few years, they've changed the eligibility rules to get into the Derby, which used to be based on earnings in stakes races.  This allowed horses that won money at sprint distances to qualify, even though they had no chance of staying 10 furlongs.  (Think of Trinniberg in 2012 for example - he earned a lot, but had no stamina; he won the Breeders Cup Sprint!)  Taking those no-hopers out of the race has made it a lot "truer" a race.  Traffic issues still exist but they're less of a big deal because you're not always dealing with an insane pace and badly tiring horses that closers have to avoid.  It's no accident that a lot of the recent winners have been very close to the pace early; of the last 10 editions, only Orb and MTB were dead closers.

This does not mean that you should pitch all closers and longshots, or skip the Derby altogether, because it's still the fricking Derby, and there's good money to be made.  Last year was about as boring as the results got, as the top three betting choices ran 1-2-3.  But everyone tries so hard to get cute in the wagering (us included), the triple paid $173.  Think about it:  that's 85-1 for simply agreeing with the wisdom of the crowd.  The Derby remains a prime spot for wagering if you have a good opinion or two, even if it's simply "the favorites tower over the field."  If you're right, you'll still get rewarded.

So let's get to our annual countdown of the 20 runners from the least to most likely chance to win.  (We are ignoring also-eligibles Royal Mo and Master Plan; you should too.)  Today are the horses that we think have basically no chance to win, tomorrow's 11 are all on the other side of the pretender/possibility line.  We're assuming the track is fast and fair on Derby Day - keep an eye on the weather forecast, which is a little dicey at the moment.  For fun, this year we'll also give you the track's morning line odds and our fair value odds - i.e., the price where we think a win bet might be in order.  Note that these are odds to win, not to finish in the money - as you will see, we have a couple of horses ranked higher mostly based on their chances to hit the board, not their chance to win.  As you will also see, we are not as nice as the track's oddsmaker.

Gate Fillers

20.  Fast and Accurate.  (Morning Line: 50-1; Fair Value: 100-1) To run in any of the Triple Crown races, you have to be nominated for the Triple Crown.  This is not a particularly onerous process; it requires filling out a form and writing a check for $600 by mid-January, which is not a sum of money you blanch at if you're a horse owner.  This year 418 horses were nominated to the Triple Crown.  In addition to the top 3 year olds, it included 5 fillies, 9 horses in Japan (!) and over 50 horses that had never run a race before.

You know who it didn't include?  Fast and Accurate.  That's probably because as of January, he had only won a maiden claiming race - the lowest level of race there is - and was beaten handily in his lone dirt start.  He followed those "efforts" up with a pair of wins in something called the Sage of Monticello stakes on the turf, then a slowly run Spiral Stakes at 24-1 on an artificial surface.  So to run him, his owner has to put up $200,000 in supplemental nomination fee.  Some could argue that's a sign of confidence.  We think it's a complete waste of money on a hopeless non-entity.

19.  Sonneteer.  (ML: 50-1; FV: 100-1)  To show you how little we think of Fast and Accurate, we're putting ahead of him a maiden who's winless in 9 races.  Don't worry, we don't think he has any chance either.

18.  Untrapped.  (ML: 30-1; FV: 50-1) A nicely bred colt that has gotten slower in every race this year.  That's not a good trend going into the Derby.  Of real interest, he's adding blinkers for the first time for the Derby.  That happened to Palace Malice in 2013, who then bolted to the lead and set insane fractions, leading to Orb coming from the back of the pack to win.  There's a chance he does the same thing.

17.  Patch.  (ML: 30-1; FV: 50-1) A one-eyed talent, he ran his first race in January, and as we've said a million times, there hasn't been a Derby winner that didn't run as a two year old since Chester A. Arthur was president.  Even for super trainer Todd Pletcher, this is a huge stretch, and resembles past no-shows like Coin Silver, Keyed Entry and Sam P.

16.  State of Honor.  (ML: 30-1; FV: 50-1) This guy's managed to earn nearly $350,000 by consistently hanging around for 2nd and 3rd in races where he set the pace, faded, and was never a threat to win.  We're still in Giacomo territory here.

Destined to Be Overbet

15.  Tapwrit.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 33-1) The second of four Pletcher horses in the field, this guy will get some play on the rebound from his bad 5th in the Blue Grass, as his prior race was a win in the Tampa Bay Derby.  We're not seeing it.  His two races at Tampa were flawed (if somewhat successful) in that he had perfect trips and was never that quick.  We're also skeptical that he wants any part of 10 furlongs - his mother was a good sprinter who didn't have the pedigree to stretch out.  Look for him to resurface in the Woody Stephens on the Belmont undercard.

14.  Practical Joke.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 33-1) A nice two year old that has made no progress this year.  He won the Hopeful and Champagne last year and looked like a possible Derby contender for excellent trainer Chad Brown.  But he's stalled out trying races around 2 turns - he was never really in contention in last year's Juvenile, and showed no punch in the stretch in either race this year.  Another horse that would benefit on a cutback to 1-turn and 7 furlongs.

13.  Irap.  (ML: 20-1; FV: 25-1) The winner of the Blue Grass, he did so as a maiden and at 31-1 over what everyone thought was a great field.  He had some decent races in his past, but we think he basically rode a conveyor belt around the track that day and nobody else did any running.  We think he goes to the front here and is done by the far turn.  But he's another that may ensure the pace is quick.

12.  Gormley.  (ML: 15-1; FV: 25-1) Every time he's run against the second-tier horses, he's been great.  But when he's gone up against the best in the Juvenile and the San Felipe this year, he's performed miserably.  Every year we get a horse like this: excellent at beating tomato cans and taking beatings against the best.  It's odd to say the winner of the Santa Anita Derby doesn't have much of a chance in the Kentucky Derby - it's produced 3 of the last 5 winners, after all - but we don't think this guy really has much of a chance at all.  Our random prediction: he will be switched to the turf before the end of the year, and be really good at grass racing.

Coming up tomorrow: The 11 who actually can compete for the win slot, and our pick.

Friday, November 4, 2016

2016 Breeders Cup Preview Part 2: Saturday's Races

Nine races to preview, let's get to it:

Juvenile Fillies

Synopsis: 1 1/16 miles for 2 year old girls on the dirt.  As always, we recommend that you either go with the chalk or a bomb in this race.  Picking a horse between 8-1 and 20-1 to win has been a disastrous proposition. Fortunately, the lowest price on the morning line is 9-2 and over half the field is below 12-1.

Favorite: It's a little unclear who's going to go off the favorite in this race, but we'll take a guess it'll be Noted and Quoted, who won the local prep (the Chandelier Stakes) in her last.  She's trained by Bob Baffert and has nice tactical speed.  That said, she doesn't hold much of an edge over the rest of the field.

Price Horse to Consider: Sweet Loretta is 6-1 on the morning line but we expect a higher price than that - she hasn't been out in 2 months, dead-heated in her last, and hasn't run particularly fast.  Whatever.  She's trained by Pletcher, cost a fortune at auction and is perfectly bred for this type of race.  If Todd's got her ready to run, she's dangerous.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  This race was a lot easier years ago when the runners actually had run a bunch of times and we could assess their form.  Here, the 12 entrants have run a total of 34 times - less than 3 starts per runner on average.  It's a lot of guesswork.

Selections: Let's do a little process of elimination.  We don't buy Jamyson n' Ginger repeating her gigantic speed figure when it's a fast track, and also don't like Rudy Rodriguez shipping cross-country (so we'll also toss Colorful Charades).  Union Strike's had 2 good starts but has a new trainer because the owner fired the prior trainer - who was also his daughter! - and replaced her with Craig Dollase, who stinks.  We don't love American Gal stretching out in the 12 post.  And Dancing Rags, Daddy's Lil Darling, Champagne Room and With Honors all look too slow.  We'll side with Yellow Agate on the improve and otherwise just cross our fingers.

1.  Yellow Agate
2.  Noted and Quoted
3.  Sweet Loretta

Filly and Mare Turf

Synopsis:1 1/4 miles on the turf for fillies and mares.  This race has developed into one of our favorites over time because it's had a mixture of everything: Hall of Famers, complete shockers, memorable performances and great stories.  Speaking of which...

Favorite: Lady Eli is going to be the focus of 800 soft-focus tales this week, and it's a great story.  She won the Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2014 over this same track, looking like an absolute star.  She confirmed that her three year old year, winning her next three races with aplomb, and people were talking Eclipse Award for her (which would be unusual - turf horses never win the 3 year old Eclipse Awards).  Less than a week after her big Belmont Oaks victory, she stepped on a nail, contracted laminitis and nearly died.  Trainer Chad Brown took a year and nursed her back to health, and she came back to the races in August, losing her comeback in Saratoga by a head but winning the Flower Bowl in her last.  The fact she's alive is amazing; the fact that she has won a Grade 1 this year is insane.

Price Horse to ConsiderSentiero Italia is about as hard-knocking a horse as you'll get.  She has good tactical speed, consistently runs a solid race, and is always near the front at the end.  We don't think she's good enough to win this race, but don't toss her from your exactas and trifectas.  If you want a total bomb, Japanese shipper Nuovo Record was running fabulously last year, but is not in the best form this year.  If she somehow reverts to her 2015 self, look out.

Betting Approach: Somewhat narrow.  We think only 4 horses have a legitimate shot at winning this race.

Selections:There should be a TON of speed in this race, including Catch a Glimpse (who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf last year), Pretty Perfect (who is basically a rabbit), Avenge, and Zipessa.  We think this sets up for a closer, and while we think Lady Eli has a shot, we're more interested in her stablemate, Sea Calisi, who had no shot in the paceless Flower Bowl.  We think she improves off that effort and mows down her stablemate in the stretch while holding off European imports Seventh Heaven and Queen's Trust, both of which have big shots as well.

1.  Sea Calisi
2.  Queen's Trust
3.  Seventh Heaven

Sprint

Synopsis: 6 furlongs on the dirt for the brave and the fleet.  Last year's winner Runhappy probably would have been the favorite here, but his connections went for the Dirt Mile instead, which is a tougher race at a distance he doesn't like for less money.  Sounds like a great plan.

Favorite: Masochistic is going to be the worst favorite of the entire weekend, especially if he's anywhere near his 2-1 morning line price.  Sure, he has two wins this year and has a pair of nice speed figures.  Those two wins came against a total of 6 opponents, and his last win was in a 3-horse field where nobody else challenged him for the lead.  They were also at longer distances; he has a career terrible record at 6 furlongs (5 starts, 1 win, 1 second).  He's as likely to finish last as he is to win.

Price Horse to Consider: We're not sure if his 15-1 morning line is realistic, but Limousine Liberal merits a very close look especially underneath.  He's been in the exacta 6 of 7 times at the distance, and ran a really nice second in the Phoenix last out.  Importantly, that was his first start with blinkers.  Solid chance they made the difference and made him a real contender.

Betting Approach: Narrow.  We're against the three year olds in this race - neither Mind Your Biscuits nor Noholdingback Bear has run fast enough to competitive, and we don't trust Drefong once he gets challenged on the front end.  Delta Bluesman looks too slow.  And in case it wasn't clear, we're against Masochistic.

Selections: We had a long exposition on how we loved Lord Nelson in this spot, but he scratched yesterday with an injury.  Bah.  To heck with it. We're going with our longshot to win..

1.  Limousine Liberal
2.  A.P. Indian 
3.  Drefong

Turf Sprint

Synopsis: 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill for everyone interested.  We usually crap on this race but this is by FAR the best field it's drawn since it was inaugurated in 2008.  There are multiple horses in here that would have been competitive in the Mile and have been competing in legitimate Grade 1 races the last two years.  It's not just a collection of Grade 3 horses trying to get a big paycheck.  That doesn't make it any easier to decipher, of course.

Favorite: This is another race where you could see favoritism going in a few directions, but we think it'll ultimately land on Obviously, who's run in the Breeders Cup Mile the last 4 years.  He was perpetually the pace-setter and usually faded after 6 furlongs, so you can see why they want to cut him back in distance.  That said we're dubious - he's getting a new jockey, hasn't had a ton of success at this track or at the distance, and he is 8 years old.  Wouldn't surprise us if he's won, but we're going to look elsewhere.

Price Horse to Consider: Two of the three horses we like are going to be a fair price and we'll discuss below.  For a total bomb, why not Calgary Cat, who won his last and seems to like the distacne?

Betting Approach: Spread.  In this race, it's always spread.

SelectionsOm has always been a horse that we've been high on and we love him on the turnback here.  He's extremely talented on both surfaces and we think the cutback suits him well.  He's also the answer to this random trivia question:

Yep, he's the horse to beat American Pharoah in his first start.  Underneath we like Celestine, who had a huge win in the Just a Game back on Belmont Day, and Home of the Brave, who's the best of the Euros.

1.  Om
2.  Celestine
3.  Home of the Brave

Juvenile

Synopsis:1 1/16 miles on the dirt.  After this race being fairly irrelevant for the purposes of the Kentucky Derby for years, last year's winner Nyquist won the Derby, and the winner two years ago (Texas Red) validated how good American Pharoah was.  So maybe it's back to being germane to three year old form?

Favorite: There are quite literally 5 horses we could see favored in this race, not because they all look the same, but because they all have different positive attributes.  The morning line favorite is Not This Time, who romped in the Iroquois in late September and has been the subject of a lot of chatter among horse cognoscenti.  We think favoritism is more likely to go to either Syndergaard, who ran an excellent second in the Champagne after hotly contesting the pace - and yes, we do think he'll get bet from casual fans because of the name - or Gormley, who won the Front Runner stakes handily in his last.  Californians often make California horses the favorite.

Price Horse to Consider: We had never heard of Jose Pinchin before a few weeks ago, but he comes in with Three Rules, who's undefeated in 5 starts in Florida, all in fairly convincing fashion.  Yes, he's never taken on horses better than Florida-breds, and he has early speed that might get fried here.  But he has sneaky-good breeding (we love Gone Astray as a sire and think he just needs better mares) and has been working out splendidly.  He'll be at least 10-1 and merits strong consideration.

Betting Approach: Spread.  We're not in love with the three longest shots in this race (Term of Art, Lookin at Lee, Star Empire) but can make a credible case for the rest.

Selections:  Working backwards again, we don't love Gormley as we think he basically lucked into an uncontested lead and walked to a win in the Front Runner.  That ain't happening again.  Syndergaard is probably a 1-turn horse.  Theory doesn't have enough distance foundation.  Practical Joke, who rode the best part of the track and a gift setup last time, doesn't seem fast enough to us.  We have some interest in Klimt and we'll probably use him defensively, but we don't love the rail draw and have to draw a line somewhere.  We're siding with Classic Empire, who would probably be in here undefeated if he hadn't lost his rider coming out of the gate in the Hopeful.  His Breeders' Futurity was really a nice performance, and we expect to see some improvement on it.

1.  Classic Empire
2.  Not This Time
3.  Three Rules

Turf

Synopsis: 1 1/2 miles on the sod for all comers.  In the last 20 runnings, 14 of the 21 winners (there was a dead-heat in '03) were Europeans that shipped in, and another (Main Sequence) was a Euro who campaigned in America all year.  Of the 6 Americans, 4 were prices (Buck's Boy, Little Mike, Better Talk Now and Johar) and only two were really considered championship caliber horses: English Channel and Chief Bearhart.  In short - be very wary taking a stateside horse to win, especially at a short price.

Favorite: Flintshire looks to do what Main Sequence did two years ago - spend the year in the US, win our turf races, then take the Breeders Cup Turf.  He was pretty dominant in his first three races, but ran a bad 2nd in his last to Ectot on a yielding turf.  Most will excuse that as a race where he didn't like the surface but we're a little concerned.  Clearly he prefers a hard surface (which he'll get Saturday) but he had a class edge on the field and really wasn't compromised by a bad trip.  Definitely need to use, but be wary.

Price Horse to Consider: Money Multiplier has never won a graded stakes race and finished 3 lengths behind Flintshire in his last race.  And yet, we're very interested at 20-1 or higher.  His Sword Dancer two back was really good, as was his allowance race before that, and he had a sneaky really good second in the United Nations before that, which was also not on a firm turf.  We think he's on the upswing and will benefit even more from Santa Anita's hard surface.  Very live.

Betting Approach: Narrow.  We think a chunk of this field has no business running this weekend (looking at you, Rallis, Twilight Eclipse, Ashleluvssugar, Texas Ryano), that Da Big Hoss has had a good year beating up on cheap horses, and that Ulysses isn't good enough.  We're also against Highland Reel, we know he ran 2nd in the Arc, but somehow this races seems like an afterthought to his connections.  Finally, Mondialiste is in the wrong race.  He should be in the Mile.

Selections: We have been very impressed with Found's 4 year old season, which in the last month and a half has included a win in the Arc (Europe's big race) and an excellent second to Almanzor in the Champion Stakes last out.  Heck, she beat Minding in September, and Minding may be the best turf horse on earth.  If she keeps her form and takes to the track, she should repeat, and lay waste to this Arc-Breeders Cup "curse."  Underneath, we'll use all of Flintshire, Money Multiplier and Ectot, whose win in the Hirsch last out shouldn't be overlooked.

1.  Found
2.  Money Multiplier
3.  Ectot

Filly and Mare Sprint

Synopsis: 7 furlongs on the dirt for fillies and mares three years old and up.  We have no idea why this is the third-to-last race on the card, rather than the Juvenile, regular Sprint, or frankly, anything else.  It's an okay race.  But hardly deserving of a prime time spot.

Favorite: Haveyougoneaway hasn't been out of the exacta this year and exits a nice win at the distance in the Ballerina.  She's 3-1 on the morning line and she's a good value play if she's that price.  By contrast, Carina Mia is going to get bet and we don't like her at all.  We remind everyone that 3 year olds are terrible plays in this race - they never win and are underrepresented in exactas.

Price Horse to Consider:  We don't understand remotely what the heck Ian Kruljac is doing with Finest City but she's not impossible here at a price.  Her start in the Santa Monica at the start of the year was a good 7 furlong effort, as was her sprint back in April.  Then for some reason he stretched her out to a mile, then threw her on the turf at middle distances where she was okay-not-great.  So she's turning back and switching surfaces.  We feel like anything between a DAFL and a romp at a big number is in play.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  Almost everyone is in the 92-99 speed figure range.

Selections: Not only do we not like Carina Mia, we don't see Wavell Avenue repeating last year's win, her form is just too spotty.  We like the horses exiting the Ballerina and will take them over our goofy longshot, and maybe a piece of Wonder Gal at a huge number.

1.  Haveyougoneaway
2.  Finest City
3.  By the Moon

Mile

Synopsis:1 mile on the turf for the fast and the strong.  Our favorite race every year somehow got the on deck circle again in the race sequence.  Whatever.  We think this race is a lot of fun.

Favorite: Last year's winner Tepin is back and has had a really excellent year: 6 wins in 7 starts over five different tracks, including Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Woodbine and Royal Ascot.  Her Queen Anne Stakes win at Ascot was a really neat victory, but since then she's had a workman-like victory in the Woodbine Mile and lost in the First Lady.  Has she tailed off from her best form?  Or did she just have good excuses in her last two (long layoff, front runner freaked)?  One of the toughest reads of the day.

Price Horse to Consider: There are a few.  Everyone is presuming Midnight Storm is going to get fried up front.  Maybe.  But don't overlook that he's won three straight in front-running style through tough fractions, and is working out well coming into this race.  Spectre has been competitive all year in Europe (if rarely victoriious) and adds Lasix.  Shades of Domedriver, who won this at 26-1 in 2002.  And then there's last year's Juvenile Turf winner, Hit It a Bomb, who's sown very litle this year in 3 starts, but maybe just needs to return to the US and a harder surface.  We simply can't dismiss him based on how well he closed last year.

Betting Approach: Spread.  To us, there are a two key questions in this race - what do you do with Tepin (discussed above) and what do you do with Limato, the European shipper who's excellent at 6-7 furlongs but not much of a performer at a mile?  We're leaning against both.  There's just too much good competition in this race to take horses with these flaws at short prices.

Selections: Our feeling on the race shape is that there's going to be a lot of early speed - Photo Call, Midnight Storm, What a View, maybe Tepin, maybe Limato - that a strong closer is the way to go.  There's none better here than Ironicus, who has had success at longer distances and ran a great 2nd in the Shadwell last out.  We are professed fanboys for trainer Shug McGaughey, but we think he's the best horse here and is sitting on a huge effort.  He's probably our best bet of the weekend.  Underneath, we like the best Euro, Alice Springs, and Miss Temple City, who's had a really nice year that's gotten overlooked and may sit a good trip just off the frontrunners.

1.  Ironicus
2.  Miss Temple City
3.  Alice Springs

Classic

Synopsis:1 1/4 miles on the dirt for all comers.  Yes we know, we usually do a whole separate post on this race.  But we admit we're a little pressed for time and besides, we think most of this field isn't competitive.

Favorite: 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome had something of a lost 2015 and was forgotten after American Pharoah's Triple Crown last year.  But he's had a great 2016 - after winning his first start at Santa Anita, he shipped to Dubai, won a prep race and the $10 million Dubai World Cup, then came back and won the San Diego Handicap, Pacific Classic and Awesome Again, each in dominating fashion over the best handicap horses, including Dortmund and Beholder.  He's living proof that horses really peak at age 5 and makes us wonder what other Derby winners could have done had they stayed in training (we're looking at you, Big Brown and Point Given).  Alas.

Second ChoiceArrogate came into the Travers having made 4 starts for Bob Baffert and showing some good talent in allowance races.  Then this happened:



Jesus.  That translated to a 122 Beyer, and was the fastest Travers ever.  It's a tall order to ask him to duplicate that, but man.

Price Horse to Consider: He's gotten no attention, but Shaman Ghost has turned into a nice horse. Last year he won the Queens Plate in Canada - their equivalent of the Kentucky Derby - and was given the rest of the year off after losing his next race.  He came to the States this year and after losing an allowance race, won the Brooklyn Handicap (at 12 furlongs!), overagressively ran in the Suburban and lost, before pulling off an upset in the Woodward, a Grade 1 at 9 furlongs.  He likes to run long, runs best fresh, is on the improve and has good tactical speed.  He's going to need some luck to win.  But to hit the board at 30-1?  We're very interested.

Betting Approach: Narrow.  We have now named every horse we think can win this race.  No, we're not buying Frosted, who ran a great Met Mile but we think wants no part of 10 furlongs, or Melatonin, who hasn't run in 5 months.

Selections:  We're not going to get too creative here.  California Chrome is the best horse in the world, and has had a great year.  Unless Arrogate duplicates his Travers, he should win this going away.  And it would be a great cap to a stellar year by the former Derby champ.

1.  California Chrome
2.  Shaman Ghost
3.  Arrogate

Enjoy the Breeders Cup everyone!!