Thursday, May 3, 2012

2012 Kentucky Derby Preview Part II: The Lower Half

The horses had been entered, the posts have been drawn, and we have the field for the 2012 Kentucky Derby!  (We will ignore also-eligible My Adonis; you should too.)  Let's get right to a countdown of one of the more interesting crops of horses we've had in a while.  There's no fewer than a dozen horses that would not be a complete shock if they won this year's Derby, but today, we'll look at ten horses that we don't think will finish in the money on Saturday.  As always, our predictions and picks are assuming the track is fast.

Below the Maginot Line

20.  Trinniberg.  When people talk about owners contracting Derby Fever, this is exactly what they're referring to.  This son of crackerjack sprinter Teufelsberg has never raced beyond 7 furlongs -- 3 furlongs shorter than the Derby itself -- has no breeding for the distance, and is a committed front-runner.  It would be one thing if the owner was entering him as a "rabbit" with the hope of using his speed to set up the race for a closer.  That's not the case, though, as the connections have no other horse in the race.  What we are guaranteed is that this guy will set brisk fractions, which will have some pretty clear implications for other runners we'll get to.

19.  Optimizer. Once the best trainer in the business, D. Wayne Lukas hasn't won a stakes race since Dublin won the Hopeful stakes in September 2009, a streak of over 110 races.  The streak will not end on Saturday.

18.  Rousing Sermon. He's a dead closer whose two wins were in races restricted to California-breds, and hasn't been competitive in a real race all year.  We're also trying to think of the last time a Northern California horse was actually competitive in the Derby and are stumped.  Usually they wind up at the back of the pack, which is where he'll be.

17.  Prospective.  Canada's best juvenile last year, he finished DAFL in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year over the same track at 41-1, and has won some money in minor races in Tampa this year without ever running particularly well.  There are shades of Mine That Bird here, but we'll bet that pigs don't fly a second time in 4 years.

16.  Sabercat. The mark of a good trainer is knowing where to spot a horse to give him a chance to win and make money for your owners.  This horse is Exhibit A of good handling--he's not that good or fast, but has won 3 races and nearly $800k because his connections ran him in the Delta Jackpot and some relatively easy races at Monmouth, where he flourished.  Since stepping up to face other Derby-caliber horses, he's lost twice by a combined 18 lengths.  He has the look of a horse who will win some Derbies in Ohio and Iowa, but not Kentucky.

Won Your Prep?  Bah!

15.  Done Talking. The old racing expression is "time only matters when you're in jail."  In other words, how long it took a horse to win a race doesn't matter, and often, the exact final time of a race is particularly meaningless because it's contingent on a number of variables (deepness and wetness of the track, pace, rail bias, wind, etc.), which is why they make speed figures to normalize for all these variable.  We normally agree...but we're ignoring this maxim for the winner of the Illinois Derby.  The stretch run of the Illinois Derby was painfully slow, and the final time was three seconds -- i.e., 15 to 18 lengths -- slower than the Wood Memorial.  Given that the only other race of note this guy ran was a 4th place finish in a horrible rendition of the Remsen as a two year old, we do not like his chances on Saturday.

14.  Went the Day Well. One of the worst bets you can make on Derby Day is chasing a horse that vaguely resembles the prior year's winner, because they're always overbet and lose.  In 2002, War Emblem won the Derby at 20-1 for Bob Baffert, when his prior race was a wire-to-wire win.  In 2003, Indian Express ran with similar credentials, and ran 14th at 10-1.  After Calvin Borel won 3 Derbies in 4 years, last year, Twice the Appeal was bet down to 11-1; had any other jockey been in the irons, he would have been 50-1.  He ran 10th.

This year's example is Went the Day Well.  Last year, Animal Kingdom was trained by Graham Motion, bred for the turf, and won the Derby off a win in the Spiral and zero success on the dirt.  This year, Went the Day Well is trained by Graham Motion, comes in having won the Spiral (on synthetic) and having won a maiden race on the dirt.  His odds should be about 30-1, they're likely going to be around 12-1 because the masses will see him as Animal Kingdom 2.0.  Don't fall for the trap.  Look elsewhere.

13.  Take Charge Indy. The line between no-hoper and possibility falls right about here.  We're against the next bunch of horses, but a win by any of them certainly wouldn't be a shock.  That said, we're against this impeccably bred son of A.P. Indy who we actually liked a little in the Breeders Cup last year.  Why?  Well, the presence of Calvin Borel means his price is going to be significantly lower than his chances of winning; we think he'll be no higher than 12-1.  His Florida Derby win came when he was on a very easy lead for the whole race and running on a track that was probably speed-biased: 30-1 shot Reveron ran 2nd the entire race, too.  The presence of Trinniberg, and others, guarantees that the pace will be stronger, which won't be to his advantage.  Unless there's a pronounced speed bias on Derby day, we think he's a factor early who's passed late by half the field.

12.  Daddy Long Legs.  He's had good success on the turf and synthetic, but absolutely bombed in his only dirt start (last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile).  On the plus side, he has a nice foundation as a 2yo, is bred fine for the dirt, and comes in off a win at 1 3/16, meaning he has run a distance comparable to the Derby.  But even his trainer, Aiden O'Brien, admits that he has a fair amount of catching up to do if he's going to win the Derby.  We're ranking him this high out of respect for how good a trainer O'Brien is, but think he's up against it here, especially since he's only made one start this year.

11.  Dullahan. There are a lot of reasons to like this horse--he's a dead closer in a race with good early speed, he's by the same dam as 2009 winner Mine That Bird, and Dale Romans remains an underrated Triple Crown trainer.  But we still think this horse has no real interest in running on the dirt.  His only two wins were both over Keeneland's synthetic track, and while he won the Blue Grass, since going to synthetic, that race has produced nothing besides Street Sense, who was already a proven commodity on the dirt.  He's run fairly well on the turf, with three in the money finishes in three starts.  But his dirt starts have been completely uninspiring: two no-shows as a maiden at Churchill, and a completely non-threatening fourth in the Juvenile last year, where he was closer to 8th place than to 3rd.

Now we're not against betting on horses to improve and do something they haven't done in the past.  But if you're going to take that kind of risk, you need to be amply compensated for it at the mutuel windows.  For example, while we think has Prospective has next to no shot, you're at least getting 40-1 or so to acknowledge this reality.  Dullahan, by contrast is going to be about 8-1.  His odds of winning the race are far, far worse than 12%.  We won't discourage you from using him in trifectas and superfectas, because he's a perfect clunk-up type to round out exotics.  But to win?  He's one of the biggest sucker bets in the race, we think.

Coming up tomorrow: the Top 10.


Anonymous said...

This preview is honestly the thing I look most-forward to on the entire internet every year. Love it.

Completely serious.


Some guy in Chicago

Anonymous said...

I second what some guy in Chicago wrote. Not even sure how I found this website in the first place, but look forward to it every year.

El Angelo said...

This means a lot -- thanks to you both.

Anonymous said...

Another GIANT fan here. Love your derby breakdown...wish it was even more detailed because reading it is a blast. Pick us a winner, plus a good tri. No pressure.

Another random Chicagoan