Thursday, May 5, 2016

2016 Kentucky Derby Preview Part I: The Lower Tier

Larry Collmus, the voice of the Derby.
The fields have been drawn, and it's time for our annual breakdown of the Kentucky Derby.  This is one of our favorite endeavors every year, even though it's often an exercise in frustration.  Let's get to it.  The usual rules and caveats apply: we're ignoring the also-eligibles, we're assuming the track is fast and fair, and we're taking you from the horses we see having the least chance to win to the most.  This year we get to start off with something of a novelty project.

Mine That Bird 2.0

20.  Trojan Nation.  It's not cheap to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby.  Assuming your horse runs, the entry fee alone is $50,000.  You have to get your horse to Kentucky, train him and secure a jockey, which yes you have to do even if you were running in some nondescript race in Pennsylvania, but is still a cost.  Then there's the cost of attending - as the owner, assume you're on the hook for tickets, flights, and hotels for yourself, your family, and your entourage.  That's easily another $20,000.  (Seriously - check out hotel prices in Louisville this week if you're bored.)  A trainer once remarked that if you run worse than 2nd in the Derby, you lose money on the weekend.

Given all this...what's the upside of running a maiden in the Kentucky Derby?  Yeah, he ran 2nd in the Wood Memorial.  And he actually has vaguely interesting breeding.  But he has, literally, ZERO wins.  The Kentucky Derby is not going to be his first win.  And it's going to cost the owners a lot of money for what is a colossal ego trip.

What's even more amazing is that this horse probably isn't going to be 100-1.  Given recent betting patterns in the Derby and the fact that two horses have won at 50-1 in the last dozen years, we think he'll be no longer than 50-1.  Ignore him.  And hope that he keeps out of everyone else's way.

Your Ambition is Admirable

19.  Lani.  It's this year's winner of the UAE Derby!  The first 15 editions didn't produce a single horse that finished in the top 5 of the Kentucky Derby, and there's no reason to think this will be any different.  What's equally notable is that it appears that even Godolphin has given up on hitting the Dubai-Derby Double.  Back in 1998 when they purchased Worldly Manner for $5 million and trained him up to the Derby, people were predicting it was only a matter of time before Godolphin figured this out and stole the crown.  Worldly Manner's experience went horribly - he was spent at the top of the lane and ran 7th, never to be heard from again.  (He did a lot better than Comeonmom, a modestly bred horse that Godolphin paid $3 million for after he won the Remsen at 30-1 and never won again.)  They didn't fare much better in the decade since then, as their best finish was China Visit's 6th in 2000.  Heck, they haven't had a horse tried to pull this off since Regal Ransom in 2009.

As to Lani, look for him guy to retreat early and return to Japan for the rest of the year.  And for us to go through this spiel again next year with some other non-factor.

18.  Oscar Nominated Everything about this horse screams grass runner.  Literally everything - his breeding, his connections, his successes on the turf to date, and his solid closing kick.  He did win on a non-turf race last out, but the Spiral is on a synthetic surface, which is not dirt.  Yeah we know Animal Kingdom pulled this off in 2011, blah blah blah.  We're not interested.  We'll get curious once he's on the sod again.

17.  Majesto.  Woody Allen did say that 80% of life is just showing up.  That's almost exactly true with this horse, who made about 80% of his career earnings in the Florida Derby where he clunked up for second when favored Mohaymen no-showed.  If people ever wonder why seemingly hopeless longshots enter races with decent sized purses, this is why - all you need is one horse to have a bad day to stumble into a good paycheck.  (This doesn't apply for Oscar Nominated, who needs 17 of his competitors to have a bad day to win.)  Horses like Majesto - longshots who outrun their odds in the Derby prep race for an obvious reason that have nothing to do with their actual talent - are some of the worst bets in the Derby.

Wow That Prep Was Garbage

16.  Danzing Candy.  This horse has exactly one path to victory: go to the front, hope that he isn't challenged early, pray for a speed bias, and hold on for dear life.  Given how badly he faded in his last, we're siding with "unlikely."

15.  Shagaf.  We like to note the line between no-hopers and possibilities; we think that it actually falls around here.  We're not in love with Shagaf for reasons we'll get to in a second, but this year's Derby is full of horses that have flaws, some of which are almost identical to each other.  Getting any of the next 15 horses into the trifecta isn't impossible, and we won't argue with anyone playing a multi-race wager whose stated goal is to get to the Derby alive to ten horses.

Shagaf won his first three races but all against suspect fields - he didn't beat a single horse running on Saturday (unless also eligible Adventist draws in).  He went off as the favorite in the Wood Memorial and had absolutely nothing on the turn and into the stretch, finishing a lackluster 5th, beaten by, among others, Trojan Nation.  Now there's a possible excuse: the track was muddy on Wood day, and maybe he just doesn't like the slop.  But the history of horses winning the Derby off a bad prep race is abysmal; they're usually some of the easiest tosses.  That's why we're against him, as well as...

14.  Mohaymen.  ...the horse that was our pick 6 weeks ago.  It's not that Mohaymen can't win, he has a nice pedigree, was 5-for-5 before the Florida Derby with some good wins, and has nice tactical speed in what looks like a race without a ton of early pace.  But his Florida Derby was just horrible.  He had the frontrunner in his sights and tailed off miserably in the stretch to finish behind Majesto and a horse that would be 40-1 if he ran on Saturday.  And there was no obvious excuse for his fade - he'd run well at Gulfstream before, was training nicely up to the race, and the track may have had a touch of moisture but wasn't sloppy.  We wouldn't strongly argue against someone using him in the Derby, but we think taking a short price on him (we think he'll be around 8-1) seems like folly.

No Mo

13.  Outwork.  Pedigree doesn't matter as much as it used to in the Derby, but it's still a factor.  Which brings us to Uncle Mo, who people may remember from our blog 5-6 years ago as the hotshot 2 year old that won the Breeders Cup Juvenile with ease, followed by a disappointing 3 year old season that was marred by injuries.  Uncle Mo was retired to stud following his 3yo season and his first crop of horses debuted in 2015.  It was a helluva debut crop: so far his progeny has won 10 graded stakes races,  5 Grade 1s, and a slew of other races.  At auction, his offspring have been some of the most-sought after.  He has been so successful in the stud barn that his sire fee more than doubled from $35,000 to $75,000, and nobody thought it was ridiculous.

All that said...we are completely unconvinced that Uncle Mo wanted any part of 10 furlongs - he never won beyond 8 1/2 furlongs - and that his progeny do either.  His father, Indian Charlie, was a good horse but was a miler and his other top progeny (Indian Blessing) was a miler.  The distance breeding is more likely to come from his mother's side (she was out of good distance sire Arch) but we're still unconvinced that this is a sire that's going to yield classic winners.  We think he's much more likely to yield a bunch of outstanding sprinters and milers.  And that's fine!  But it doesn't help Outwork on Saturday, a talented developing horse who also has to overcome the fact that he won the Wood by a shortening head over the execrable Trojan Nation.  And it also doesn't help...

12.  Mo Tom. ...this dead closer who constantly seems to find traffic trouble.  These horses are some of our least favorites: full of potential but also full of excuses in their past performance lines.  Sure, he's got a chance to get a clean run and close for a piece.  But in a race with several closers with better late kicks and stouter breeding, we're looking elsewhere.

Harry Nyquist
11.  Nyquist.  Okay, we will admit that we have bet against this horse repeatedly, and have repeatedly ripped up our tickets.  He's 7-for-7 with wins at 4 racetracks on both coasts, has beaten a decent number of these horses already, and has good tactical speed.  We get it.  But in addition to being not really bred for 10 furlongs, he's just not that fast.  His Florida Derby was slow.  His Breeders Cup Juvenile was meh against the clock.  His two fastest races were sprints; he's slowed down as the races have gotten shorter.  We're not that impressed with his Florida Derby because once Mohaymen no-showed, he was basically running against allowance-level horses.  His Juvenile win last year was good and came against a few horses higher on this list, but we can't help think that the wet track helped a little, and note that the horse he perennially beat (Swipe) still hasn't won a second race and was trounced in the Lexington two weeks ago.

Look, we were wrong about California Chrome two years ago.  And we'll be okay with being wrong on this guy on Saturday - it would be neat for the two year old champ to win the Derby and enter the Preakness 8-for-8.  It's about the only narrative that could try to match American Pharoah.  But we're just not seeing it.  We think he's a highly beatable favorite and won't be using him on any of our tickets Saturday.

Coming up tomorrow: The top half and our betting advice.

1 comment:

Mark Grabowski said...

My only dig here is T-Nation (my nickname)! The pace at the Wood was insane fast! 3 seconds faster to the first call than 2015 - which buried T-Nation several lengths behind the 2nd to last horse. But that bad boy found some life, bled into rail, and then almost nosed albeit a crappy horse in my opinion, Outwork, who flattened. The Derby this year will be slow with so many closers, and I think some developing weather in the late afternoon. I'm very interested in reading your next "tier", although I think Nyquist and T-nation should be in it.

Nyquist is a big horse with long strides, but agree on it's ability to go the 1 1/4 distance. It seems most of the other horses in the KD that Nyquist has beaten had a finish line come up too quickly. Swipe looked as though it could have beaten Nyquist in the Juvenile had there been another furlong. Lastly, Exaggerator could have beaten Nyquist in the San Vicente if it wasn't just 7f AND if Exaggerator skipped the Delta Jackpot. I still see Nyquist finishing in the top 5.

Interested in reading your next installment - thanks!