Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kentucky Derby Preview Part III: The Lower Tier

The post positions have been drawn, the jockeys assigned to their horses, and almost all of the final workouts have been completed. Yes kids, it's time to start scrutinizing this year's field for the Run for the Roses. We're doing our annual 2-day countdown, starting with the horses we think will be well out of it, and ending with our picks.

When reviewing our selections, bear in mind a couple of admitted biases. First, we're East Coasters, and as such, see more races with horses that run in this time zone. Second, we pay attention to Gowanus Speed Figures (GSF's), and use them a lot, but aren't strict adherents to them. Third and probably most importantly, we care about a horse's price on the big day. We'll prefer a horse that's 20-1 with a 5% chance over a 4-1 horse with a 10% chance any day, because value is key in betting the horses.

As good as the top tier looks this year, the bottom group of horses is absolutely horrible, as some of these guys wouldn't get a lot of action in some allowance races. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be examined, scrutinized and occasionally humiliated. Let's count these guys down from worst to first, while trying to say something constructive about those that should be running at Aqueduct.

Why Are You Here?

20. Mine That Bird. Finished dead last in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year, he comes into this race having finished out of the money in the Sunland Derby. We admit: we follow racing pretty closely, and had no idea where the hell the Sunland Derby is run. (Answer: right outside El Paso, Texas.) What's actually amazing is that this horse has never run a remotely fast race and still has earned over $370,000. Picking your spots is key in racing. Sadly, if he couldn't finish in the money in the Sunland Derby, there's pretty much no way he could be considered competitive in the Kentucky Derby.

19. Nowhere to Hide. The definition of a last minute entry, Nick Zito ran to the entry box to get him in once longshot Win Willy was declared. His breeding suggests he'd like the distance if he had a lick of speed or talent, which he doesn't.

18. Atomic Rain. One of two horses entered by Kelly Breen in this race, who we only learned a couple of weeks ago was male. Who knew? He finished a nautical mile behind General Quarters and Musket Man in the Sammy Davis, and was never really in contention in the Wood. He belongs in the Ohio Derby.

17. Join the Dance. Todd Pletcher's third-stringer ran a career best two races back in the Tampa Bay Derby where he set a dawdling pace and yielded late at odds of 35-1. He'll be a similar price on Saturday, and unlike several other horses here, you will hear his name called because he's a confirmed front runner. But there's no sign whatsoever that he belongs here, outside of to ensure a pace for stablemate Dunkirk. Good bet for your Last Place Pool, though.

16. Summer Bird. Trained by the immortal Tim Ice (we've never heard of him) and ridden by Chris Rosier (we've never heard of him/her either), the best thing you can say about him is that he has a lot of upside, having made only three starts. The fact that his clunk-up 3rd in the Arkansas Derby represented a 21-point GSF jump says more about the validity of the figure than it does his chances. He's also the fourth straight horse on this countdown running in the Derby despite having only a maiden win. Call this the Giacomo Effect.

15. Flying Private. D. Wayne Lukas generally runs two types of horses in Triple Crown races: talented horses with flashy pedigrees, good speed and a big shot (too many to name), or wildly overmatched longshots that run up the track. Since Lukas stopped getting good horses about 6 years ago, we leave it to you to figure out where this guy belongs.

14. Mr. Hot Stuff. The first of three horses entered by WinStar farms in the Derby, he's also the one with the least chance to win, as he's only been in the exacta once. Given that the other two WinStar horses are loitering just outside the Pigs-Can-Fly area of contention, that's saying something. There's a minor chance he could clunk up for the superfecta, but even that's a stretch.

This is a Long Drive For Someone with Nothing to Think About

13. Desert Party. One of two horses sent over from Dubai to run in the Derby, he's the more expensive and more highly touted of the pair, despite losing his last race at 1-5 odds with no excuse. He's well-bred and all, but has yet to beat a horse of consequence or run particularly fast. And now he's got a 5000 mile commute to contend with, and may actually get some action on the toteboard on Saturday. No pressure.

12. Regal Ransom. Rates slightly higher than his stablemate because he has tactical speed in what appears to be a Derby without a ton of pace. But unless there's an epic rainstorm on Saturday, it's tough to see him wiring the entire field. What's even more amazing is that Godolphin spent roughly $40 million on horseflesh to try to win this race, and this guy's their best shot. Ouch.

Synthetic Giants

11. Advice. This guy also ran in the Sunland Derby, which out of nowhere, has become a viable prep for the Kentucky Derby. By contrast, only one horse is running in the Derby that ran in the Florida Derby. What the hell is going on here? How did a glorified allowance race near Mexico suddenly start producing Derby starters?

Anyway, as to Advice's chances, he followed up a horrible run in the Sunland Derby with a fast-closing win in the Lexington, which has produced horses that have run well in the Derby (Charismatic, Proud Citizen), and horses that have bombed horribly in the Derby (Coin Silver, Keats). Given that his flop in the Sunland Derby was his only dirt start, his father and mother's father were both crackerjack sprinters, and he's not any fast, we're going to call him a polytrack beast and move on to more pressing issues.

10. General Quarters. Won the Grade 1 Blue Grass in his last start, and is definitely going to be the center of NBC's soft focus feature on Saturday: he's his owner's/trainer's only horse, his owner is 75 years old, he was claimed for a song, blah blah blah. To the point, he not only clearly benefited from a shift from dirt to Polytrack in his last, his workouts at Churchill have been abysmal so far. We've said it before: ignore the good comments, highlight the bad comments from Derby workouts. When you see negativity, run for the hills.

9. Pioneerof the Nile. Winner of 4 straight stakes races, including a pair of Grade 1's, he'll have a lot of supporters on Saturday. We're against. Here's why:
  1. All of his success has been on synthetics. While he may have the talent and breeding to run well on dirt, it's telling that his first trainer, excellent horseman Bill Mott, saw him as a turf/synthetics horse.
  2. He isn't that fast. Yes, GSF's on synthetics are a little goofy, but this horse is currently 6-10 lengths too slow.
  3. His pedigree doesn't suggest he's going to love 10 furlongs. Yeah, Empire Maker's as stout as you'll get on top, but his mom, Star of Goshen, was a sprinter, and his half brother Forefathers is a miler tops.
  4. Lastly, he's going to be around 6-1. With all of this against him, why take such a short price?
Coming up tomorrow: our top eight, with our selections and betting advice.


rk said...

I keep going back to the Dubai pair, you have to think he's winning one of these things. I don't want to be on the sideline when he does. As a rule, I cut about 10-12 points from the Racing Post Rating, and that puts Desert Party right in the mix. Regal Ransom will have the lead as soon as Join the Party fades into oblivion, he held off Desert Party last time, if he gets the lead and relaxes, he may be a big player in the exacta equation at 30-1. Both he and Desert party have been training very well here at CD. Last thing they have going for them is experience, both won at 2, and both have seen what 100,000 people screaming are like. When you see the IWR and POTN act the fool at times, that experience could come in to play.

Lastly, what a dagger that the likes of Old Fashioned, The Pamplemousse, Quality Road, and Square Eddie. To have to deal with the likes of some of these horses who's owners are just trying to get good seats or invited to a party or 2 is a disgrace. 20 horse fields are too big, 16 or 14 still is plently of intrigue, and adds a LOT to the safety of the horses and the jockeys. How much more different would this race be if we had Quality Road and Pamplemousse out on the lead setting fractions? THAT would have been a hell of a derby.

Looking forward to the top 8 Angelo. Interested in where you put Chocolate Candy and Hold Me Back (he of the last 1/8 of a mile he ran in the Blue Grass came in under :12)....

El Angelo said...

See next post. That final fraction for Hold Me Back impressed me too.