Month: March 2011

Florida Derby Field Taking Shape

Gulfstream Park: Site of the Florida Derby

Right now, there looks to be a strong field of nine to try the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Sunday (4/3).  The race will be led by several Kentucky Derby contenders including Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Dialed In (Holy Bull winner), Stay Thirsty (Gotham winner) and Flashpoint.  If I had to guess, Fountain of Youth winner Soldat will likely be the morning line favorite and with heavy showers predicted this week/weekend, his number could go even lower.

Soldat, Dialed In and THAS have all been training extremely well leading up to the race.  If Hutcheson winner Flashpoint goes in the Florida Derby, there should be plenty of pace for those behind.  It will be interesting to see if Soldat can take back behind horses like he has been in training.

Likely runners: Soldat, Dialed In, To Honor and Serve, Flashpoint, Stay Thirsty, Flashpoint, Bowman’s Causeway, Arch Traveler, Watch Me Go and Reprized Halo

Morning Line to come later this week.

Written By: Fundanichols


Race Recap: Pants on Fire Burns in Louisiana

Burning Up the Stretch

Despite a thrilling stretch duel, the favorite Mucho Macho Man was unable to put away Pants on Fire and finished a beaten third behind Pants on Fire and Nehro.  The Louisiana Derby victor took home $600,000 for the win and as long as he comes out of the race in good shape, he will be represented in Kentucky.

Pants on Fire was originally included in the entry to make sure that the race had an honest pace for the closer and barn’s #1 contender Nacho Business; however, there was more to his name than anyone knew.  He took a nice position behind the early leader Liondrive and coasted until the far turn.  Around the bend, followed closely by Mucho Macho Man and Nehro, he moved past Liondrive and pushed into another gear.  The three battled until M3 gave way and Pants on Fire held for a neck over Nehro.  Rallying from dead last and closing the final 3 furlongs in :35 3/5 was the late runner Elite Alex (one of these days Calvin Borel is going to time it correctly on this horse and have a nice payday).

1 – 1A Pants on Fire  $14.60   $7.80   $4.80

2 – 2 Nehro                                        $31.60   $11.40

3 – 4 Mucho Macho Man                                 $2.80

$2 Exacta – 1A-2 – $459, 2$ Trifecta – 1A-2-4 – $1785.40

Also Rans: Elite Alex, Machen, Wilkinson, Left, Nacho Business, Majestic Harbor, Le Mans, Mavericking, and Liondrive.

Congrats to the owners, winning trainer Kelly Breen and winning jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Mucho Macho Man did have an excuse as he lost a shoe breaking out of the gate.  It may or may not have cost him the race but it surely influenced his running.  M3 and Pants on Fire will train up to the Kentucky Derby on May 7th.

Next Week: The Florida Derby

This likely will be the strongest and deepest Derby prep this year.  In addition to many new challengers, it will feature Top 10 contenders Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Dialed In and Stay Thirsty.  Check back later this week for the preview.

Written By: Fundanichols

Sunland Recap: Twice the Appeal, 25-1 Stunner

Twice the Appeal Trumps the Favorite

In front of a record crowd of 18,571 at Sunland Park on Sunday, Twice the Appeal dominated down the stretch en-route to securing a huge 1 1/2 length win (Replay).  The payout on winning tickets were big but not nearly as big as Twice the Appeals take on the $800,000 purse.  Leaving Sunland Park with $400,000 in first place prize money, Twice the Appeal firmly planted himself inside the graded stakes earnings top 10 and into the conversation of Kentucky Derby contenders. 

Trained by Jeff Bonde and ridden by Christian Santiago Reyes, Twice the Appeal redeemed himself after being disqualified from 2nd to 4th for drifting down the stretch his last time out in The Turf Paradise Derby on 2/27.  He returned and made a bold statement.  Sitting in sixth early, the race set up beautifully for this late-running colt as the pace in front was just too fast for any horse with any ideas of winning.

Trained by Bafftert and ridden by Martin Garcia, the 2-1 favorite Sinai, took the lead before the quarter pole and set a blistering pace with fractions of 22.61, 45:03 and 1:10.89 for six furlongs.  As sprinters are known to do in thier first race going two turns, prior to the stretch, Sinai put himself behind the eight ball. It was there that Astrology took the opportunity to move 4 wide and claim the lead.  With veteran rider Julien Leparoux aboard, Astrology led the field at the top of turn as he looked able to fend off Twice the Appeal who began pressing hard just to the outside.  However, Twice the Appeal’s final charge would not be denied. Moving aggressively after getting called by Reyes at the three-eigths pole, his come from behind style really showed as he gracefully moved down the stretch.  Rounding out the top 3, was Ruler on Ice, who battled traffic and bid late to complete a trifecta that lit up the tote board. 

  • 9 Twice the Appeal $53.20  $14.80 $10.00                                                                              
  • 11 Astrology $4.00  $3.00
  • Ruler on Ice $4.60                                                                                                                              
  • $1 Exacta (9-11) Paid: $137.60 – $1 Trifecta (9-11-1) Paid: $1,274.30

Following the race Bonde indicated that his colt will be moving onto Kentucky.  There are no indications that he’ll race again until Derby Day, so expect him to join the likes of Pants on Fire, Mucho Macho Man, and Animal Kingdom as they enter into a six week layoff before the big one.  As for Astrology, this race was his 3 yr old debut.  Although he has definitely qualified for the Kentucky Derby after adding an additional $176,000 in graded stakes earnings, it may be best for him to race again before the Derby.  However, if and where that will be is up to  Stonestreet Stables, George Bolton and Trainer Steve Asumussen.  Stay tuned, as we’re sure to keep you posted. 

Congratulations to the winning of connections of Twice the Appeal, we wish you the best of luck moving forward and on to the Kentucky Derby. 

Written by: Little Brink

Race Recap: Animal Kingdom Runs Away with Spiral Stakes

Spiral Stakes Winner Animal Kingdom

Polytrack horses remain hot on the all weather surfaces, as Animal Kingdom scored a big win on Saturday in the G.III Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes  (Race Replay)at Turfway Park.  Owned by Team Valor and trained by H. Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom earned $285, 000 in graded earnings and secured a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on derby day. 

The race set up as a speed duel between 8/5 favorite Positive Response and 82-1 longshot Son of Posse.  The two stayed neck and neck through the first half mile in 45.51.  Decisive Moment made his move on the outside and moved up to challenge the leaders.  As expected, the pace set up for a closer to make their move once they hit the strectch.  Animal Kingdom, under Alan Garcia, took this role and won convincingly by 2 3/4 lengths.  I expected Decisive Moment to fade along with Positive Response, but the talented colt gave chase finishing second.  The winning time for the 1 1/8 mile race was 1:52.32 and Animal Kingdom earned a Beyer figure of 92. 

Animal Kingdom     $8.00  $4.60  $4.oo

Decisive Moment                $6.60  $4.60

Twinspired                                      $6.00

Congratulations to the winning connections of Animal Kingdom.  Team Valor has already declared that they are moving on to Kentucky.  Making the switch from polytrack to dirt may or may not be a difficult challenge for this talented colt despite the fact that he has never run on dirt in four races. The connections for Decisive Moment have also declared they are moving on to Churchill as well.  We wish both colts the best of luck as they move forward. 

In other news from Churchill, Swift Warrior won the Rushaway Stakes with Crimson China finishing second.  Both may move on to the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland next month. 

Written by Big Brink

The Morning Line: Sunland Derby

Southwest Racing at it's Best

Located on the south east border of New Mexico with El Paso, TX just east, we take you to Sunland Park, NM on Sunday.  Sunland Park Racetrack opened in 1959 and is known for a combination of thoroughbred and quarter horse racing.  It is also known to be a breeding ground for successful jockey’s.  The late legend Bill Shoemaker who was born in West Texas rode Sunland in his early days along with hall of famer Jerry Bailey, Pat Valenzuela, and Cash Asmussen, brother to trainer Steve. 

Introduced to the Derby Trail in 2003, the Sunland Derby wasn’t getting too much derby prep attention until after 2009 when almost everyone including myself went back to their KYD programs to figure out where Mine That Bird came from.  Although he only finished 4th in the ’09 Sunland, his success as a two year old, his trainer’s confidence, and jockey Calvin Borel steered the colt to become the 1st and only horse to ever to come out of Sunland before making their way into the winner circle at the Kentucky Derby.  What has happened once, can happen again and this years field has the potential to produce another derby threat. 

The early favorite, Astrology, will finally be making his  3yr old debut.  While it has been a long wait, trainer Steve Asmussen has had him working hard, completing 8 works over the last 8 weeks.  All works were at Santa Anita with his most recent at 4F in 49.4 on 3/23.  What’s most interesting to me along with many others, is that Steve isn’t the only big name trainer making the trip on Sunday.  Bob Baffert, Jeff Bonde, and  William Fires are there as well to see if their quite contenders can sneak into the 137th Kentucky Derby field with a win.   

$800,000 GIII Sunland Derby (Race 12, 5:45 p.m.), 3 Yr-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles  PP.Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds

  1. Ruler On Ice (KY) J Valdivia, Jr K Breen 8/1
  2. R Skydiver (CA) A Medellin H Dominguez 12/1
  3. Fusa Code (KY) J Shepherd S Asmussen 8/1
  4. It’s My Party (KY) J Bourdieu C Hartman 12/1
  5. Behold de Buy (KY) K Tohill J Salisbury 12/1
  6. Supreme Ruler (KY) J Court W H Fires 20/1
  7. Sinai (KY)   M Garcia B Baffert 6/1
  8. Nacho Saint (KY) J Bravo K Breen 7/2
  9. Twice the Appeal (KY) C. Santiag Bonde 15/1
  10. Beer Meister (KY) W Corbett M Ortiz Sr. 15/1
  11. Astrology (KY) J Leparoux S. Asmussen 5/2   

Though he’s definitely a bit behind schedule Astrology, is still well regarded. Highlighting his resume was the successful conclusion to his 2 yr old campaign.  In his last race he returned after winning the Grade III Iroquois Stakes and finished 2nd to Santiva in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov 27th.  As for Sunday, even though I will reconsider him and his success on Churchill dirt come derby day, I think the 4 month lay off and outside post will prove to be too much.  Asmussen will also be returning Borderland Derby winner Fusa Code, who cleared the field and held to win at Sunland on 2/26.  Son of Fusaichi Pegasus, he hopes to show his blood lines like Premier Pegasus just did. 

The second and third choice horses are both returning for the first time after missing the board in their previous graded stakes.  I don’t see either of these two winning but expect both to challenge.  Bob Baffert moves Sinai down from California after a disappointing 5th place finish in the Grade II San Vicente which was dominated by The Factor.  I think the jump from  7F to 1 1/8 will be tough for him because I didn’t see a late rally or stretch bid his last time out.  Moving from Aqueduct and the Grade III Gotham is Nacho Saint.  Ready for the distance I see him pressing towards the final turn but not having enough left to move past the leaders and claim the win. 

Let’s be honest……..this race is as wide open as the NCAA Tournament.  From the inside I will take a shot on allowance winner Ruler on Ice.  At what should be a nice price, I’m betting to see some VCU magic.  In case my upset bid is unraveled by the # 1 seed I will leave him out of my Trifecta.

1: Across the Board; Trifecta: 6-7-11                                                                                                Live longshot: Supreme Ruler (Shipping from Oak Lawn) stablemate to derby contender Archarcharch and also ridden by Jon Court. 

Good luck to all connections today in Kentucky and Louisiana and New Mexico tomorrow.  The Derby Trail is heating up and we look forward to a great two days of racing.

Written by: Little Brink

The Morning Line: The Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes


Turfway Park

Turfway Park takes center stage in Kentucky before handing off the baton to Keeneland Race Course in a matter of weeks.  The headliner will be the G.III $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes.  Inaugurated on April 1, 1972 as the Spiral Stakes, horses ran in order to “spiral up” to the Bluegrass Stakes and on to the Kentucky Derby.  The race has gone through several face lifts in distance and name; it was once the Jim Beam Stakes, the Stakes, and the Lane’s End Stakes.  Despite the many name changes, the race has become a staple on the road to the derby and figures to include a strong field with derby hopes looming on the horizon. 

Winners of the last four runnings of the Spiral Stakes have gone on to compete in the Kentucky Derby.  However, Hard Spun (2007) was the only horse to hit the board finishing second behind Street Sense.  In fact, the Spiral Stakes has only produced one Kentucky Derby winner, Lil E. Tee in 1992.  This was hall of fame jockey Pat Day’s only derby victory as well.  At 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs), this will be the 40th running and the 6th over Turfway’s polytrack. With a hefty purse on the line, it’s simple: win and you’re in.

$500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:31 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Preachintothedevil (NY), J Alvarado, G C Contessa, 15/1
2. Positive Response (FL), J Couton, W E Morey, 3/1
3. Thirtyfirststreet (CA), K Carmouche, D F O’Neill, 12/1
4. Animal Kingdom (KY), A Garcia, H G Motion, 5/1
5. Son of Posse (KY), R Mojica Jr., R Vitiello, 50/1
6. Rescind the Trade (FL), J Valdivia Jr., R A Violette Jr., 12/1
7. Beachcombing (KY), L R Goncalves, C C Brown, 12/1
8. King Congie (KY),  J Castellano, T Albertrani, 4/1
9. Taptowne (KY), R A Prescott, W D Mogge, 20/1
10. Decisive Moment (FL), K D Clark, J D Arias, 5/1
11. Twinspired (KY), V Lebron, M J Maker, 10/1
12. Glint (KY), G Saez, K Gorder, 10/1
All carry 121 pounds.

As said, the race boasts a strong field, but on paper the talent is unproven.  Thirtyfirststreet and Decisive Moment are the only two to compete in grade II races previously and they didn’t hit the board.  Positive Response is looking to extend his Turfway win streak to 2 and continue his dominance on all weather surfaces with a win on Saturday. Trainer Mike Maker is also attempting to win his 2nd consecutive Spiral Stakes and his 3rd overall with Twinspired.  So, there is plenty of excitement headed into the race, but it figures to be a handicapper’s nightmare. 

The race can be won from the start.  Positive Response may run an exact copy of his performance in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes if he breaks well and is untested.  However, I expect Decisive Moment to make a move early on to test Positive Response on the front end.  One or both may extend the lead and battle it out in a thrilling stretch finish or it may set up for a closer to enter the picture and upset the two runners.  The latter seems to be a more legitimate option.  Look for Twinspired to return to form and catapult his name into the derby picture. 

11 to win.  Tri Box – 11, 2, 4

Also on the undercard at Turfway is the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes.  This is an ungraded race, but could prove to be a potential stepping stone to the Preakness or Belmont Stakes.  Team Valor enters Crimson China, stablemate to Spiral starter Animal Kingdom and brings in Alan Garcia to ride. All nine starters are looking for their first stakes win. 

   $100,000 Rushaway Stakes (Race 9, 5:02 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Grandpa Gibby (KY),  J Lopez, 116, C W Rosin
2. Crimson China (KY), A Garcia, 118, H G Motion
3. St. Ivan (KY), V Lebron, 118, M J Maker
4. Disfraz (KY), K Carmouche, 116, E Kenneally
5. Ocasta (KY), F Lenclud, 116, D Miller
6. Swift Warrior (KY), J Castellano, 116, J P Terranova, II
7. The Ole Gen (KY), G Saez, 118, J L Jones
8. Sorgho (KY), E Martin Jr., 116, W D Bennett
9. Swagger Jack (VA), L R Goncalves, 116, D Miller
Blinkers On: Grandpa Gibby

Good luck to all connections this weekend.  Turfway will not be running under the lights, but the stars are sure to shine in the Blue Grass State.  Kentucky racing is in full swing with 43 days to the Kentucky Derby.  We look forward to a great weekend of racing.

Written by Big Brink

The Morning Line: The Louisiana Derby

The Rise Over The Grounds

I never thought that anyone would need another reason to head to the Big Easy for creole cooking, beignets and beads; however, there are 1 million other reasons to head to the Crescent City this weekend with the newly improved and extremely lucrative $1 million Louisiana Derby.

The backdrop may be a thriving, drinkable party scene but all focus will be at the Fair Grounds Race Course, where many fabled legends raced and won.  If you look closely, you may find the ghost of Black Gold (1924) wandering the track as he and Grindstone (1996) are the only Louisiana Derby winners to go on to win the Kentucky Derby.  This year, there are several looking to channel their greatness on the march towards the garland of roses.  Leading the way in Louisiana is the 17 hand behemoth and winner of the Risen Star Stakes Mucho Macho Man.

Mucho Macho Man will have a tough task as he tries to beat many highly regarded and lightly raced colts including Machen, Left and Oaklawn shipper Elite Alex.

$1 Million Louisiana Derby (gr. II, Race 10, 4:55 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer ML Odds
1. a-Nacho Business (KY), J Bravo, K J Breen, 10/1
2. a-Pants On Fire (KY),  A R Napravnik, K J Breen, 10/1
3. Nehro (KY), M C Baze, S M Asmussen, 30/1
4. Mavericking (IL), S Bridgmohan, N L Pessin, 20/1
5. Mucho Macho Man (FL), R Maragh, K Ritvo, 9/5
6. Liondrive (LA), J Graham, T A Ice, 50/1
7. Machen (KY), E S Prado, N J Howard, 7/2
8. Majestic Harbor (KY), C J Lanerie, P J McGee, 12/1
9. Le Mans (KY), R Albarado, S M Asmussen, 20/1
10. Wilkinson (KY), G K Gomez, N J Howard, 8/1
11. Left (KY), J M Campbell, A M Stall Jr., 10/1
12. Elite Alex (ON), C H Borel, T F Ritchey, 6/1
13. Populist Politics (LA), R E Eramia, T M Amoss, 30/1 SCRATCH
a – Coupled Entry
All carry 122 pounds.

The race has one star and tons of aspiring stars.  I would not argue with anyone that told me that they felt strongly about Mucho Macho Man, Nacho Business, Wilkinson, Elite Alex, Left, Machen, Mavericking, Majestic Harbor or Nehro but as a horseplayer, you cannot entertain the fact that you could be talked into 9 different horses in a 12 horse field.

I like Mucho Macho Man.  He is a huge colt, improving and is mature for a late foal.  What I do not like is his price.  I think that there are a number of horses that could challenge and with the long stretch, it should come from one of the stalkers/closers. 

Pants on Fire or Majestic Harbor should inherit the lead and be followed closely by Wilkinson, Left, Nacho Business and Mucho Macho Man.  Just behind the first group will be Machen and Liondrive and finally, bringing up the rear, Elite Alex, Mavericking, Nehro and Le Mans.  Turning for home, Mucho Macho Man and Nacho Business may edge up and start to pass a tiring Pants on Fire as Calvin Borel and Edgar Prado fire the engines on Elite Alex and Machen.  I believe that they will pull even with the pair and Mucho Macho Man and Elite Alex will draw off from the rest of the field.  The victor is anyone’s guess at that point.

The Pick:  11 Elite Alex – 4 Mucho Macho Man – 1 Nacho Business

Live Longshots (10-1 or higher): Left, Nacho Busines and Majestic Harbor

This weekend promises to be a busy one with four Kentucky Derby preps, the Louisiana Derby, Vinery Spiral Stakes, UAE Derby and the Sunland Derby.  Get your cigars and bourbon ready, I’ll even recommend a few.

Written By: Fundanichols

Race Recap: The Factor of One

Lots of Options to Factor

Well…it seems that I may have underestimated The Factor or severely overestimated the rest of the field.  I am sure that the truth lies somewhere in between; however, The Factor absolutely demolished what seemed to be a strong field of 13, only 9 by post time, for The Rebel Stakes.

Ridden by Martin Garcia, The Factor went to the front, as he always does, and set the pace through the first quarter of a mile in a tasty 23:33 and the half mile in 46:77.  At this point, the rest of the field had to worry as the stalkers and the lone other speed struggled to keep pace.  The Factor, followed by Saratoga Red, ArchArchArch, JP’s Gusto and Caleb’s Posse, exploded at the top of the stretch to take his two length lead to almost five in a matter of no time.  Unlike the last time out in the San Vicente, there was no gaining ground, The Factor was simply too good.

#6 The Factor $4.80 $4.00 $3.20            

#7 Caleb’s Posse $14.20 $6.80

#1 ArchArchArch $4.20

$2 Exacta (6-7): $112.60, $1 Trifecta (6-7-1): $255.70

Scratched: Alternation, Elite Alex, Dreaminofthewin and Glint

The rest of the field followed with Saratoga Red finishing 4th, JW Blue 5th and a disappointing Sway Away and JP’s Gusto in 6th and 7th.

Congrats to all the winning connections. 

Next Start: The Bob Baffert trained, The Factor, will likely ship back to California for some seasoning and rest until the April 16th running of the Arkansas Derby.  I am sure that there will be a few newcomers into that race but expect him to be a heavy favorite once again.  I still have reservations about him being able to get 1 1/8 let alone 1 1/4, but he has been very impressive in every race and challenge thus far.

Written By: Fundanichols

The Morning Line: Rebel Stakes

The Rebel Could Provide a Big Payday

Sliding down the Mississippi, the Derby bus heads back to Arkansas for the first time since ArchArchArch‘s shocking victory in the Southwest Stakes at 14-1.  The site is Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park which has a unique history as a resort of bathhouses and a once thriving gambling, gangster, prostitution and racing scene.  Oddly enough, this was a place that the executive branch of our government frequented thoroughout the 1800s and early 1900s.  At one point, Wyatt Earp was de-armed in town for being drunk and unhappy with his gambling losses.  It sounds like he may have been just ‘standing around and bleeding’ while having trouble ‘skinning that smoke wagon’.

Back in the prohibition days, Al Capone used to frequently visit Hot Springs and stay at the famous Arlington Hotel.  It is here that he brokered many of his liquor and moonshine deals in order to supply his growing number of speak-easys, mainly in the Midwest.  However, Arkansas is not just rich with stories of its history, people and land, but it is overflowing with champion racehorses.  In the last few years, the Rebel Stakes was won by Kentucky Derby champion and Horse of the Year Smarty Jones, 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin and the Derby 2nd place finisher and Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky.

This year’s Rebel Stakes features a few newcomers on the scene in addition to several Derby probables.  The under the radar ArchArchArch will try to repeat his form from the Southwest Stakes and will take on s0me of the top early 3-year-olds including California shippers The Factor and Sway Away.  Other notable contenders include Alternation, JP’s Gusto, Caleb’s Posse and Dreaminofthewin.

$300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II, Race 10, 5:31 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Archarcharch (KY), J K Court, 122, W H Fires 8-1
2. Alternation (KY), L S Quinonez, 117, D K Von Hemel 12-1
3. Dreaminofthewin (KY), M C Berry, 115, C R Trout SCRATCH
4. Picko’s Pride (KY), I Ocampo, 115, M Robertson 20-1
5. J P’s Gusto (KY), R A Dominguez, 117, J Petalino 5-1
6. The Factor (KY), M Garcia, 117, B Baffert 2-1
7. Caleb’s Posse (KY), E Razo Jr., 122, D K Von Hemel 20-1
8. Saratoga Red (KY), T J Thompson, 115, D W Lukas 30-1
9. Sway Away (KY), G K Gomez, 115, J Bonde 5-2
10. Elite Alex (ON), C H Borel, 115, T F Ritchey 8-1
11. Glint (KY), G Saez, 117, K Gorder SCRATCH
12. Bluegrass Jam (KY), M C Baze, 115, W H Fires 30-1
13. J W Blue (KY), J Rocco Jr., 117, A W Dutrow 30-1

Even with the lack of speed, I do not think that The Factor wants to go 1 1/16 and think he will be caught.  That being said, there is a chance that he could carry his speed in this race since there is no real threat to challenge him on the front end with the exception of Saratoga Red (looks like a 3rd place finish is more likely).  I expect JP’s Gusto to find a nice stalking trip and get an early jump on Sway Away, Alternation and Elite Alex.  JP’s Gusto has been working supurbly, as many of the contenders have, and has the look of a good horse peaking for this race.  If he were not boxed in the last time out, I think that he might have been able to pass ArchArchArch down the stretch.  I wanted to find room on my ticket for ArchArchArch but when he drew the #1 post, it made it easier to leave him off.  There will be several charging at the end, but I like JP’s Gusto to hold off Sway Away at the finish.  Good luck to all.

The Pick: 5 JP’s Gusto – 9 Sway Away – 2 Alternation

Live Longshots (likely 10-1 or higher):  Alternation and JW Blue

Written By: Fundanichols

Good luck on your brackets and watchout for Richmond, Oakland and Gonzaga.  Also, Washington could be very dangerous against North Carolina if they make it to the 2nd round.  Remember, it’s insanely easy to hit free throws but not everyone does it.

Final Note: Cal Nation has finally found an allowance race to draw in over the weekend and it should be a challenging one.  The race has also drawn Dance City, another one of Pletcher’s impressive maiden winners and the fast closing 4th place finisher from the Fountain of Youth, Bowman’s Causeway.  We will check in with the winners but expect CN and BC to both be very tough.

A Chance Encounter

Derby day has the tendency to attract big names and big stars to the Downs each year.  It is fun to see these people and shake their hands if possible.  But in all the glitz and glamour, the real stars take a back seat to the big names of Hollywood.  To me the real stars are the ones that shine the brightest on the first Saturday in May.  The real stars are the racing personalities.  One year, I was more excited to shake hands with 3-time derby winning jockey than former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.  And in a chance encounter, I met a racing star along the historic track at Churchill Downs in 1999.

We didn’t have seats that year opposed to my first two derby experiences.  We stood on the bricks; our meeting area.  My father had his owner’s license and arranged for us to meet a family friend, a fellow horse owner, on the backside.  As my family passed through the tunnel and out into the open air, the sun illuminated the sky and welcomed us onto the dirt track.  In an act of awe, we stood and gazed up at the twin spires and the overwhelming crowd of racing fans.  It was a familiar sight, but not from this perspective.  We tried to soak it in and relish the moment for as long as humanly possible.

We made our way along the first turn talking and laughing, enjoying the moment.  In a few short hours, the derby field would be making this same trip, but in a different manner.  As we continued along the outside rail, I saw a familiar face approaching.  Without hesitating, I reached out my hand and wished the gentleman good luck that afternoon.  It was trainer Elliot Walden.  He thanked me and returned the handshake without breaking stride.  It was a moment of excitement, a moment of pride. Many celebrities may only extend a smile and continue walking with their police escorts to their suites high in the sky.  But, the racing personalities recognize the fans because without them the derby would not be considered the greatest two minutes of sports.  Horse racing in general would not be where it is without the fans.

Walden finished second that afternoon with Menifee.  He later retired from training and is now the racing manager for Winstar Farms, owner of last year’s winner Super Saver and this year’s contender Brethren.  I stuck to my guns that year and bet 3rd place finisher Cat Thief.  Although I didn’t win that day, I took comfort in the fact that I am a racing fan and my encounter with Mr. Walden eclipsed my loss in the big race.  I may never have the opportunity to walk along the track again and witness the beautiful sea of spectators or meet a derby winning personality, but it’s moments like these that bring me back each and every year and fill me with hope of a chance encounter with a derby legend.