Month: April 2011

Putting in the Final Works

Shackleford Turns Heads This Morning

Only 7 more days until the 137th Running of the Kentucky Derby.  With the days winding down, contenders have been busy this week taking care of their final preparations.  Training in the sport of kings is no different from any other sport or endurance competitions — workouts are key to sustaining the fitness level and form that a horse has been building all season long.  The weeks or days between their final prep race and the derby is when a trainer can begin to get a sense that a peak performance may be beginning to blossom.

While workouts may not be as important to some, it is still an essential element of consideration for everyone that is visiting the betting window come next Saturday.  Over the last couple of weeks there has been a consistent variety of breezes and gallops that will be catching the eye of handicappers before they place their bets.  So lets take a look at a healthy amount of workout notes over the last seven days.

Today’s Track Condition at Churchill Downs: Fast, Dry

ArchArchArch: On Friday morning, the colt drilled quickly through 5 F, finishing in :59.40.  Under derby jockey Jon Court, he fired though his first 2 Furlongs at 11.60 and :23, followed by splits of :35, :47.60, and :59.40. In the end he galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80.  A solid one, this was the colt’s final work before The Kentucky Derby.

Animal Kingdom: Trainer Graham Motion got the answer he was looking for.  In his first work on the dirt at Churchill Downs, this morning, Derby rider Robbie Albarado got him through 6 furlongs in 1:13.  Galloping out,  he displayed the comfort level his connections wanted to see, so expect this colt to enter the field.

Dialed In: Staying within his comfort zone, Trainer Nick Zito elected to remain at a quiet Palm Meadows for the colt’s final work on Thursday. Sent out alongside stablemate Miner’s Reserve the two eased through the opening furlong in 12.09 and a quarter in 24.47.  Pulling away, Dialed In went 4 F in :48.40 before galloping out the final furlong in 1:01.46.  Coming out clean the probable favorite looked good.  Dialed In arrived at Churchill Downs today and is not expected to work again.

Mucho Macho Man:  Also taking to the track this morning for his final work, the colt went 5 F in 1:00.2 following :12.4, :25.2, :37.  With jockey Rajiv Maragh in the irons he galloped out 6 Furlongs in 1:14.1.  He responded well to the dry surface today after working last week over a wet track.

Shackleford: Fast.  At Churchill Downs this morning, he was the fastest of 36 total horses that trained at 5 F blazing through at :58.45 and galloping out at 6F in 1:12.25.  With fractions of :11.3, :23 and :34.2 it was a very strong work for the Runner Up in the Florida Derby.  Trained by Dale Romans, this one is picking up more and more attention.  It will be interesting to see where his morning line odds are set and how much they will change before post time.

Twice the Appeal: Trainer Jeff Bonde, sent his colt 6F this morning at Churchill Downs with Calvin Borel aboard.  Racing alongside Bonde’s other derby hopeful Sway Away, Twice the Appeal finished behind his stablemate at 1:15.3.  Bonde noted he and Borel felt the colt took well to the surface.

Breezing over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs earlier this week:

  • 4/24 – Stay Thirsty, 5F, 1:00
  • 4/25 – Nehro, 5F, 1:02.8
  • 4/26 –  Uncle Mo, 5F, 1:01.80
  • 4/26 – Midnight Interlude, 6F, 1:13.60

Todd Pletcher confirmed that Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo will go out together one last time before the Kentucky Derby.  Both are scheduled to breeze tomorrow at Churchill Downs and it seems that Pletcher is happy to see them get their final work in just six days before the derby.

Written by: Little Brink


Revisiting the Florida Derby prospects for the Kentucky Derby

Darren Rogers photo of the historic Spires

Right now, everyone is trying to find their smart bet or sure thing for the Kentucky Derby next week.  They want to demonstrate their superior handicapping and intellect as well as bring the bank to the doorstep.  In doing so, I thought it was important to take a closer look at the Florida Derby.  Why?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  First, the Kentucky Derby morning line favorite, Dialed In, came though in the race.  Secondly, a Derby favorite prior to the race, Soldat, threw a clunker and finally, this prep will produce more Kentucky Derby starters than any other prep (4).

Given the final quarter time, Dialed In was given every opportunity to win…and the bottom line is he did.  After racing in last through most of the race, his final move was impressive and ended with a driving rally past Shackleford in the final few jumps.  Shackleford ran as tough as a race as he could.  He led through quick fractions and battled off a challenge by To Honor and Serve before finally falling to Dialed In.  His performance was impressive and even more surprising at 68-1.

However, we know how these two ran and why they are leading contenders, but what can we offer about the two (Soldat and Stay Thirsty) that had disappointing finishes.  First off, Soldat was coming off an impressive victory where he had an early and easy lead in the Fountain of Youth.  In the Florida Derby, jockey Alan Garcia asked him to rate behind the leaders and then unleash his run past them in the stretch.  He had no run.  It was surprising because he had been training well behind horses and seemed unaffected by the dirt in his face.  However, the race produced a different result.  I think that this horse is still a contender for several reasons.  He is too talented, owns two victories at 1 1/8, Churchill’s track features limited kickback when compared to Gulfstream and the Derby has lost some of its early speed.

If you like Stay Thirsty, then act like this race didn’t even exist.  He looked uncomfortable or should I say ‘Thirsty’ in the paddock, sweating profusely.  He never got into the race and the blinkers did not help as he was out of the race before the far turn.  Not only that but a horse that he beat convincingly in the Gotham, Toby’s Corner, went on to run beautifully and win the Wood Memorial over a tiring Uncle Mo.

What have they done since the Florida Derby

Dialed In (1st) – Stayed in Florida and will ship to Kentucky this Saturday with Soldat.  He has worked superbly firing a couple of fashionable works (they always are aren’t they?) and finished his gallops strong.

Shackleford (2nd) – With the defection of several contenders, Shackleford made it in the field and has been at Churchill under Dale Romans’ watchful eye.  Recently, he worked in the slop and does own a victory over the Churchill oval.

Soldat (5th) – Stayed in Florida to work at Palm Meadows.  Working well and looks like a horse that is ready to run.  He worked well before the Florida Derby but obviously did not like taking the kickback in his face behind horses.  The good news is that Churchill doesn’t send as much back into stalking horses as Gulfstream and if the track is wet, then watch out.

Stay Thirsty (7th) – Moved to Churchill and promptly fired a bullet over the track with Calvin Borel aboard.  However, the mount was given back to Ramon Dominguez who rode him in the Florida Derby to an uninspiring finish.  Working well but could have been a great fit with a patient rider who knows the Churchill strip extremely well.

All of this sounds great but what does this mean for the actual Derby.  Well, I think that all four are contenders to run for a piece of the prize.  Dialed In has proven that he will not give up and can finish.  Shackleford and Soldat are proven runners with early speed and can be dangerous if they are allowed to control the pace and lead.  And Stay Thirsty, is a complete wildcard.

Is this finally the time that Soldat shows his turf form and the ability to rate behind horses and accelerate past them?  Does the added distance make Stay Thirsty a contender to pick up the pieces?

With a little more than a week till race day, these are questions that will be answered shortly.

Written By: Fundanichols

First Timers’ Club Is Open For Business

Kent Desormeaux Celebrates His 1st KYD Win

It was the mid ’90s when I really began paying close attention to the ins and outs of handicapping the Kentucky Derby and like a lot of others, I was always paying extra close attention to Jockey’s.  In those days the derby field seemed to be littered with legends and previous winners ranging from Pat Day to Chris McCarron, Jerry Bailey, and Gary Stevens.  It was always interesting to see who D. Wayne Lukas would choose as his guy, wonder if Pat Day would win again or see if another Jockey could sneak into the winners circle.

In 1998 it was Kent Desormeaux that burst onto the scene.  Claiming his first ever Kentucky Derby win aboard Real Quiet, he stole the thunder from his stalemate Indian Charlie and Jockey Gary Stevens.  After reaching the feat for the first time in ’91 with Nick Zito and Strike The Gold, Chirs Antely claimed his 2nd with Charasmatic the following year.  Then in 2000 Kent D struck again with Fusaichi Pegasus.  Going into 2001 I was beginning to think it was almost certain the winning rider would be one that scored for the 2nd, 3rd or in the case of Gary Stevens with Point Given, a 4th time.  However, after the cards fell, it was ’99 Eclipse Winner and long time NYRA leading jockey Jorge Chavez that wore the roses along with his colt Monarchos.

2001 began a chain of events that left the 90’s jockeys in the 1990’s.  The legends that I became so familiar with seeing on top began taking a back seat on derby day as the next six winning jockeys following Chavez were all first time winners.  After Calvin Borel’s 1st win with Street Sense, Kent Desormeaux ended the club’s streak and joined the short list of 3 time winners.   Calvin Bo-Rail would follow with back to back wins leading us to 2011.

It wasn’t until yesterday that the 3 time winner landed a mount with Twice The Appeal and it isn’t likely that he will go off at odds lower than 25-1 — Advantage: First Timers Club.  Former winner Mike Smith also just landed a mount with Twinspired who can potentially show odds of anywhere between 25-1 to 45-1 — Advantage: First Timers Club.  So, that leaves Victor Espinosa and Midnight Interlude as the club’s only other threat.  Only difference is that this colt could be seeing a little bit more action.  Although he fought brilliantly in the stretch to win the Santa Anita Derby (his only stakes race) his lack of experience against tough competition leads to — Advantage: First Timers Club.

Check almost any top five list out there and none of these horses will be included and only a few will list Midnight Interlude in the top 10.  Top contenders on everyone’s list, including our own, are carrying at least 9 riders with the intention of winning their first.  Even with all of their honors, success, and story book Kentucky Derby long shot winners, I think this year will open the door for another entry into the First Timers Club.

As we have mentioned countless times, this year is a tough one to handicap.  Regardless if naysayers feel the field is too unimpressive, the Kentucky Derby doesn’t lose any creditability with me.  Any jockey will tell you the same.  Ask any previous winner and they’ll tell you it wasn’t easy to get there either.  2011 is shaping up to be any bodies game and you can expect an all out fight to the finish.  Win or lose for me, it’s always rewarding to see a Jockey get their first and this year the odds are telling us — Advantage: First Timers Club.

Written By: Little Brink

The Triple Crown: Can It Be Done? (Part 2)

Dirt Tracks Vs. Synthetic Surfaces

As we have seen, breeding plays a significant role in the racing world and we have looked at its implications on the Triple Crown.  Our argument was that horses are bred for speed and looks rather than stamina and distance.  However, horses are also bred to run on different types of surfaces.  If a sire or dam was a dominant turf runner, those bloodlines are usually passed down to their offspring and more than likely the young horses begin training for turf races.  With the inception of synthetic surfaces, track operators are now trying to eliminate the amount of injuries to horses by installing softer surfaces rather than traditional dirt tracks.  This in turn affects breeding and training for classic races and contributes to the Triple Crown drought.  Horses who run well on synthetics often have trouble converting to dirt and it ultimately gives fans less hope of a Triple Crown.

Synthetic surfaces offer owners and trainers a desirable means to their work as horsemen and horsewomen.  The purpose of a synthetic track is most notably to reduce the amount of injuries to horses and horse fatalities.  The surfaces eliminate the amount of damage to a horse’s legs which provides a more stable racing career.  The all weather surfaces also keep track conditions consistent in inclement weather as opposed to dirt tracks that are often listed as sloppy or muddy.  As of today, many top tracks in North America have switched over to a type of synthetic track and three host derby prep races: Golden Gate Fields, Turfway Park, and Keeneland Race Course.  Santa Anita utilized synthetic tracks from 2007-2010 until recently reverting back to a dirt track this past year.  With Turfway Park being the first of the big three to install a synthetic surface in 2005, no horse has won the prominent prep race at one of these three courses and the Kentucky Derby. 

If you look at distinguished horses over the past few years, one is able to see the influence of synthetic tracks and how certain horses run on dirt surfaces.  I’m sure there are plenty of examples, but while examining classic races, I chose to look at two recent competitors.  Hard Spun, 2nd to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, had a very mild three year old season leading up to the derby.  After winning the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds, Hard Spun ran 4th in the Southwest at Oaklawn.  Trainer Larry Jones felt Hard Spun didn’t agree with the footing and dirt surface and sent his colt to Turfway Park.  He scored a 3 1/4 length victory in the Lane’s End Stakes and trained up to the derby.  In the Triple Crown, he ran 2nd in the KYD, 3rd in the Preakness, and 4th in the Belmont.  In the summer and fall season, Hard Spun had a productive year winning the G.2 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway and 2nd place finishes in the Haskell and Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Overall, Hard Spun started 13 races going 7-3-1 and earning $2.6 million.  Any owner or trainer would love to have a racehorse with this resume, but two of his biggest wins were over a synthetic surface at Turfway Park. Although he ran well in the classics, he still was not able to notch an over-the-top victory proving he can win at longer distances and over both types of surfaces.

Reigning Horse of the Year Zenyatta never competed in the Triple Crown races.  She was a champion mare who predominately ran and won on synthetic surfaces.  The majority of her racing career took place in California where synthetic surfaces were mandated.  However, you can make a case that she was able to win on dirt and at longer distances.  She won the Apple Blossom in consecutive years over Oaklawn’s dirt track and lost by a head to Blame in the thrilling 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, her only loss in 20 career starts.  Her style of running, last to first, gave her the opportunity to stretch out in the final furlongs and showed her durability as a racehorse.  Although she did begin her career later than Triple Crown nominated horses, she is living proof that a horse can be successful, in terms of wins, on both surfaces.  So why can’t this apply to the Triple Crown?

Zenyatta was more seasoned as she began her career later in life compared to derby starters. She benefited from training over synthetic surfaces.  She was also a freak of nature and could probably have won over any surface.  In terms of horses competing at 2 and 3, it is evident that horses who successfully compete on synthetic surfaces have trouble transitioning to dirt.  If you look at the Blue Grass Stakes winners from 2007-2010: Dominican, Monba, General Quarters, and Stately Victor, all four proved themselves worthy to compete for the derby crown, but all four were non-factors on derby day.  This year’s winner, Brilliant Speed, and Lexington Stakes winner Derby Kitten paid hefty prices after winning over Keeneland’s Polytrack and questions concerning synthetics to dirt will undoubtedly follow them to Kentucky and Maryland.  Synthetic racing is supposed to level the playing field.  However, to me it continues to be a mind-bending puzzle in relation to handicapping, especially leading to the Kentucky Derby.

Synthetic surfaces are good for the sport.  It re-emphasizes my belief that horses are living creatures that need to be taken care of properly.  It also re-emphasizes the fact that breeding is headed in a different direction, favoring speed over stamina and durability in terms of financial investments.  In relation to the Triple Crown, I believe if a horse is to have a legitimate chance to accomplish the daunting feat, the horse must run on dirt.  Street Sense had trouble competing on synthetic surfaces, but he proved he could win on dirt.  He won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby on the dirt track at Churchill Downs.  Santa Anita has re-instituted a dirt track to attract horses with a fighting chance to compete for the Triple Crown.  I think it is possible for a synthetic based horse to nab the first leg of the Triple Crown, but to win all three seems improbable.  To me the answer is simple, if an owner and trainer wants to win the Triple Crown, their horse must train and run at high level on dirt surfaces for the chance to walk among the 11 Triple Crown legends.

Written by Big Brink

Top Jocks Still Without a Mount

'09 & '10 Derby Winner Calvin Borel

The 2011 Kentucky Derby Prep Season has been nothing less than a mysterious one.  Throughout the country there are horse comparisons to previous winners and competitors but no entire prep season seems to match the wild ride of 2011.   Closing in on only ten days until the Kentucky Derby some people are wondering why some of the top jockey’s have yet to secure a mount.  During any other prep season that may be surprising but this year, it seems to fit right in.

As of today Victor Espinoza stands alone as the only Kentucky Derby winner with a mount in the 137th running.  Victor will return to Midnight Interlude after he guided the colt to a never say die stretch run victory in the Santa Anita Derby.  Calvin Borel, winner of 3 of the last 4 Kentucky Derby’s may be without a mount?  It may be hard to believe that the future hall of famer who knows Churchill Downs better than anyone is left out, but he is in the company of many other high-profile riders. 

Other Derby winners without announced commitments include Kent Desormeaux, Mike Smith, and Edgar Prado.  Further more, the list doesn’t stop at previous Kentucky Derby winners.  Reigning Eclipse Award winner, Ramon Dominguez along with ’08 and ’09 winner Garrett Gomez are also unconfirmed.   Expect announcements to start rolling in this week but the question remains; Who’s riding who?

Behind the scenes it’s very likely that almost all of these jockey’s have committed at less than 100% as they wait to see what other news transpires over the coming days.  With the amount of quality horses removed from Derby contention this year, it really delays the process quite a bit.  If any agent or jockey feels suspect about a horse moving forward on entering the Kentucky Derby then the general rule is to leave your door open for other owners and trainers who’s colt is without a doubt heading to the starting gate. 

A jockey’s agent job isn’t just to secure their client a mount but to get them a mount on horse with a live shot of winning.  Everyone involved wants to win the Kentucky Derby whether you’ve accomplished the feat before or are still looking for your first.  So now that we’re this close to the Derby, it’s a race to see who wins the mount on the top rated remaining.  The colts out there right now with an open saddle that agents are pushing for the most are:  Master of Hounds and Stay Thirsty.  Once the connections of these 3 horses make their announcements the dominos will begin to fall. 

Experience can make a world of difference in choices that will soon be made.  The Kentucky Derby has so much tradition and is the premiere horse racing telecast from the mecca of racing, Churchill Downs.  While all of these veterans are not confirmed today, the news of their mounts will be breaking soon.  The race seems wide open and could be the perfect place for a veteran to lead the way through a field of 20 and into the winners circle. 

Written by: Little Brink

For a look at the Colts with a confirmed Jock for the Kentucky Derby, click our Graded Stakes Earnings Tab.

Race Recap: Derby Kitten Upsets Silver Medallion’s Derby Hopes

Lexington Stakes Winner Derby Kitten

First to last is becoming a popular method of winning these days.  Dialed In continues to dominate 3 yr old racing in this manner and just last week Brilliant Speed charged hard on the outside to win the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.  Perhaps jockey Julien Leparoux was taking notes.  On Saturday, Derby Kitten rallied in the same manner, last to first, to win the G.3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (Replay) over the Polytrack at Keeneland.  Leparoux guided the bay colt to a 1 1/2 length victory over Prime Cut and Casper’s Touch. 

Sent off at odds of 9-1, Derby Kitten scored a big win for prominent owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker.  Although the pay day was not large enough to send Derby Kitten to the Kentucky Derby, it was enough to emmerge as a 3 yr. old contender.  Silver Medallion, the post time favorite at 6-5, was in contention throughout much of the race, but was never able to fire on the final turn and stretch drive.  He finished 4th and currently sits 24th on the graded stakes earnings list.  Silver Medallion’s connections must now sit and wait to see if any of the 23 horses ahead of him decide not to run. 

  1. #1  Derby Kitten      $20.40      $6.60     $3.60
  2. #3  Prime Cut                             $4.40     $3.00
  3. #6  Casper’s Touch                                   $3.00

In other news on the Triple Crown trail, Adios Charlie scored the win in the 1 mile G.2 Jerome Stakes (Replay) from Aqueduct.  Sent off at odds of 6-1, the son of Indian Charlie broke sharply on the outside before settling in second behind the 2-1 favorite Cal Nation.  On the turn Justin Phillip took the lead and looked to breakaway for a clean win, but Adios Charlie dug deep in the slop to overcome Justin Phillip and hold off the closing Astrology to win.

  1. #8  Adios Charlie       $14.60     $6.30     $4.90
  2. #1  Astrology                               $3.90     $3.20
  3. #7  Justin Phillip                                        $4.10

It appears that Astrology is pointed for the Preakness Stakes on May 21st.  No word yet if Derby Kitten is headed in the same direction or if Adios Charlie is as well.  We would like to congratulate the winning connections of Derby Kitten and Adios Charlie.  We hope that all of the horses returned to the stalls in good condition.  We are down to one final Triple Crown prep race, the Derby Trial on Saturday from Churchill Downs.  It appears that the derby field is set, but the Trial may produce a 3 yr. old threat down the line. 

Written by Big Brink

The Morning Line: The Coolmore Lexington Stakes

Home of the G.3 Lexington Stakes

The road to the Kentucky Derby is coming to an end.  Owners and trainers are scrambling to find enough graded stakes earnings to earn a shot to compete for the famous blanket of roses.  With three prep races left, it appears the Coolmore Lexington Stakes will be the last opportunity for one horse to possibly make the field of 20 on derby day. 

Silver Medallion headlines a six horse field in the Lexington on Saturday.  The Grade 3 race has been downgraded from $300,000 to $200,000 and it is a must win for Silver Medallion if he is earn to his spot in the derby.  The winner’s share is $120,000 which would secure a spot, but if he runs 2nd, the payday will only be$40,000; leaving him behind Santiva and Watch Me Go in the standings. 

The field also took a hit with the defection of the Bob Baffert trained Jaycito.  Jaycito was scratched from the April 9th Santa Anita Derby with a bruised foot.  Baffert had planned on shipping him to Kentucky for one final tune-up but to his chagrin, the horse does not appear ready to run.  However, Baffert has indicated that Jaycito may still run in the derby with only one prep race to boot.

Charismatic stormed onto the derby trail in 1999 with an impressive victory in the Lexington Stakes.  He then went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.  He finished 3rd in the Belmont in one of the more memorable story lines as the late Chris Antley cradled his leg in an attempt to save his horse from being euthanized.  His efforts were rewarded and Charismatic was retired to stud. 

$200,000 Coolmore Lexington (gr. III, Race 9, 5:20 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Miles (Polytrack)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Derby Kitten (KY), J R Leparoux, 117, M J Maker 4-1
2. Silver Medallion (KY), J Castellano, 121, S M Asmussen 8-5
3. Prime Cut (KY), E S Prado, 117, N J Howard 7-2
4. Hurricane Lake (KY), C H Borel, 119, J Bonde 6-1
5. Taptowne (KY), C J Lanerie, 117, W D Mogge 15-1
6. Casper’s Touch (KY), A Garcia, 117, K G McPeek 3-1

Silver Medallion returns to the synthetic surfaces after a disappointing 4th place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.  I expect him to rebound after this effort and give trainer Steve Asmussen his second derby starter along with Nehro.  However, after witnessing Brilliant Speed’s big upset last week over the same track, it would not be a shocking surprise to see a longshot jump up and steal the victory. 

Staying away from the win bets and playing exactas:  2,4     2, 5      2,3

Also in the mix this weekend is the Grade 2 Jerome Stakes from Aqueduct.  Familiar names are entered, but it appears that these horses are more likely pointing toward the Preakness Stakes if they manage to run big this weekend.  Asmussen has a pair of live ones with Astrology and Justin Phillip.  They will be taking on Rattlesnake Bridge, 2nd to Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer Stakes and Cal Nation out of Todd Pletcher’s barn.

$150,000 Jerome Stakes (gr. II), 3-Year-Olds, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Astrology (KY), M E Smith, 120, S M Asmussen 5-2
2. Cal Nation (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher 2-1
3. Gallant Dreams (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, T Albertrani 15-1
4. Isn’t He Perfect (KY), C Hill, 116, D Shivmangal 20-1
5. Rattlesnake Bridge (KY), J Lezcano, 116, K P McLaughlin 6-1
6. Starship Caesar (FL), J Valdivia Jr., 116, B Parboo 30-1
7. Justin Phillip (KY), R A Dominguez, 116, S M Asmussen 5-1
8. Adios Charlie (FL), R Maragh, 116, S M Hough 5-1

Astrology and Asmussen had plenty of time to prepare for the derby, but they just couldn’t piece it together completely.  If this horse runs big, he’ll be fresh headed into Maryland.  And if Mike Smith keeps the mount, he could be even more dangerous.  I’ll take an Asmussen double this weekend and bet $10 across the board on Astrology.

 Good luck to all of the horses, trainers, jockeys, and owners this weekend.  If their names do not appear in the program on derby day, we hope to see them competing this spring, possibly in the Preakness or Belmont or other high stakes races. 

Written by Big Brink

The Triple Crown: Can It Be Done?


Sir Barton (1919) The First Triple Crown Winner

The Kentucky Derby is without a doubt the greatest two minutes in sports.  It is the quintessential race that every horsemen/horsewoman dreams of winning.  The road to the derby is a long, hard journey that begins early in a horse’s life and if everything clicks on the first Saturday in May, it can be the ride of a lifetime.  Winning the Kentucky Derby would be comparable to walking on air.  Winning the Triple Crown would be comparable to walking among the derby gods.

 This May will mark the 33rd anniversary of Affirmed’s historic march through the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes or as it is known throughout the sporting world: The Triple Crown.  Not only did Affirmed win all three races, but he was the last to accomplish the feat in the world of racing.  Since that time 11 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but have failed to place their names alongside the 11 horses that call themselves Triple Crown champions.  The 1970s alone saw three of these champions compete: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978).  Secretariat’s dominating win in the Belmont snapped a 25 year drought without a Triple Crown champion; the last being Citation in 1948.  This past decade has seen four horses try to accomplish the daunting feat only to fail.  With 33 years and counting, the longest drought in Triple Crown history, one can only ask, can it be done? 

 As we count down to the Kentucky Derby, we will be examining some possible reasons as to why we have not had a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.   Most notably, we will look into breeding, track surfaces, and the derby field.  The Triple Crown is the hardest feat to accomplish in all of sports.  By altering the Triple Crown, it takes away from the nostalgia and history, but conditions can be implemented that can give America what it has been lacking: a Triple Crown champion. 

 The world of horse racing has dramatically changed over the years.  Racing conditions, equipment, medications, purses, training practices, and handling have all been staples in the racing world, but they have improved over time.  Multi-million dollar corporations now have a firm grip on the racing world and money is a driving force.  I’m not saying that money is the root of all evil, but it is the number one factor.  Everyone is trying to make money from the railbirds to the trainers to the track owners.  The only way to accomplish this goal is to offer solid racing with solid purses and solid fields.  And, the process begins with breeding. 

 For generations, horses were originally bred to run distance.  Now it seems that horses are bred more for their looks and speed.  They are treated as financial investments rather than athletes.  I’ve always been a big advocate for checking a horse’s pedigree before heading to the ticket window, especially in a race like the Kentucky Derby.  But now with the amount of cross-breeding, horses are more prone to hereditary defects that leave them more susceptible to injury and they are unable to run longer and further.  Longer distances, such as the Triple Crown races, increase the chance of injury which may lead to premature retirement or even death.  Trainers and owners are now limiting time between races at both 2 and 3 years old in order to protect their investment.  If a horse is lucky enough to win a Grade 1 or a classic race, their breeding rights immediately sky rocket leaving the owners financially secure.  Champions are now being bred with champions in hopes of producing the greatest horse of all time.  But this still remains to be seen.  Horses just don’t seem to be tough enough to handle the grueling schedule and distances which is a shame.   For instance, Citation ran nine times as a 2 year old and 20 times at 3.  He ran a total of 45 races in his career which lasted into 1951 at the age of 6.  Big Brown, winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, ran once as a two year old and only twice before the derby.  After winning the Preakness, he did not finish the Belmont Stakes and put his Triple Crown hopes in question.  He ran twice more before retiring due to injury.  This is a perfect example of how horses are bred more for speed over stamina.  They just don’t breed them like they used to. 

 I understand that horsemen/horsewomen are looking out in the best interest of their horses and I commend them for this effort.  They are in fact living creatures that deserve our respect.  I have seen some great horses compete in the Triple Crown and have benefited financially from the trainers/owners decisions to rest between races.  Barring injury, any horse that is lucky enough to win the Kentucky Derby is more than likely moving on to the Preakness in hopes of capturing all three races.  But, if they misfire and come back to the stalls in perfect condition, perhaps we should examine their pedigree and question whether or not breeding purposes cost the horse the Triple Crown before the horse even set foot on a track. 

 Breeding is a multi-billion dollar industry and all owners are looking for that special horse.  It absolutely plays a serious part in deciding whether or not a horse can make all three distances and conquer each rival along the way.  It is an interesting debate and one worth noting as we approach the Kentucky Derby.  I believe a special horse will emerge and give us all the surprise of a lifetime by winning the Triple Crown.  Will that horse be in this year’s field?  I don’t know, but I will definitely be looking at the bloodlines before post time.   

 Written by Big Brink

Off and On, The Derby Bubble Is Getting Crowded

Master of Hounds to run in the Kentucky Derby

After another weekend of unexpected results, three horses move into the top 20 from the outside and will be entering the starting gate at the 137th Kentucky DerbyArkansas Derby winner, Archarcharch, and 2nd place finisher Nehro are both are expected to arrive at Churchill Downs this week.  The other outsider is Bluegrass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed.  This is good news for Trainer, Tom Albertrani.  After a surprising last place finish in the 2010 Bluegrass his colt Odysseus was unfortunately taken off the derby trail and retired due to injury.  Welcome back to the derby hunt, Tom, it will be great to see you there.  The news that 3 horses are moving into the top 20 means no news is good news for last week’s Last 5 in.  Let’s begin with a few recent updates to the derby field.   

Will they run? Master of Hounds, welcome aboard the derby train.  At the beginning of the week it was confirmed that the colt will make the trip across the pond from Ireland and join the Kentucky Derby field.  After finishing 2nd by a nose to Khawlah in the UAE derby the young 3 yr old will return to Churchill Downs where he finished 6th in last years Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf.  Off the train, is Astrology. Trainer Steve Asmussen and Stonestreet Stables have confirmed their entry into the Jerome Handicap on 4/23 and have opted to wait until the Preakness Stakes before they make their Triple Crown Debut.  That leaves us with 2 remaining horses that have not yet been confirmed, Comma to the Top & Animal Kingdom

Last 5 In: Animal Kingdom, The Factor, Stay Thirsty, Jaycito, Santiva

After a disappointing 9th place finish in Saturday’s Bluegrass Stakes Santiva, considered the only Derby Contender in the field, lost his status and ended up on the outside looking in at #21.  However, with the news that Astrology will skip the derby, Santiva can breathe easy for the moment as he re-enters the field, taking the final qualifying spot.  Jaycito is the only horse with a chance to improve. He was listed as probable for this weekends final prep, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, but it’s now beginning to look very doubtful.  With his Jockey Martin Garcia scheduled to remain at Hollywood Park Saturday and the colt not scheduled to travel to KY until tomorrow, those are pretty good indicators that he will skip the prep on Saturday.  Due to a right front foot bruise, the Colt has not raced since 3/12 and hasn’t worked since 4/2.  At #19 he’s still in for the moment but the questions surrounding his health and his layoff will lead to a lot of speculation about weather he can contend or not.   

First 5 Out: The news around the backside this week is that after a Mile breeze in 51.40 at Churchill Downs, Trainer Steve Asmussen is considering Silver Medallion for the Coolmore Lexington Stakes as well.  At #24 his colt will have to enter and finish at least 2nd if he wants to see him race over the Churchill dirt on May 7th.  If so, the colt will look to rebound from a 4th place finish in the Santa Anita derby. 

At this stage of the trail, the other four horses basically represent the also Also Eligible list.  The first two on the outside will anxiously be awaiting the upcoming decisions.  If either of the two or any other horses decide the last minute to skip the derby due to injury or for any other reason, these are your horses in line waiting to take their spots.

21) Watch Me Go $235,500     22) Shackleford $212,000                                                        23) Twinspired $197,500    24)Silver Meddalion $184,344     25)Anthonys Cross $182,000

We’re now inside of 20 days until the 137th Kentucky Derby and derby fever is heating up.  While the picture on who will be the odds on favorite is still a little cloudy, the expected field of 20 is getting clearer.  However, surprises are just about everywhere right now so don’t be if another horse from the outside earns their way in this weekend. 

Written by: Little Brink

Race Recap: Brilliant Speed Leads to Brilliant Win

Brilliant Speed wins the Blue Grass Stakes

Brilliant Speed locked up a derby spot by showing his brilliant speed in the final quarter mile of the G.1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday.  Ridden by Joel Rosario and trained by Tom Albertrani, Brilliant Speed covered the 1 1/8 mile distance over Keeneland’s Polytrack in 1:50.92.  The win, only his 2nd career victory and first this year, secured him a post position in the derby and placed morning line favorite Santiva’s in serious jeopardy as he finished 9th in a field of 12. (Race Replay)

Breaking from the gate, Joes Blazing Aaron and Pratereo jockied for position and raced one-two in a pedestrian pace for the first half mile.  Twinspired, who had success on Turfway’s synthetic surface, moved in on the leaders and made a strong move in the final stretch, taking the lead at one point as they made their way toward the finish line.  Brilliant Speed received a few calls throughout the race.  He was in last position until rounding the second turn.  Rosario guided Brilliant Speed to the far outside and clipped Twinspired by a nose at the wire.  Santiva was never in contention.

5.   Brilliant Speed           $40.20      $20.80       $13.00

7.  Twinspired                                    $21.20        $11.80

2.  King Congie                                                      $8.80

Congratulations to the winning connections of Brilliant Speed.  We hope that all horses returned to their respective barns in good shape and in good health. 

I would also like to correct a mistake in last week’s morning line addition.  I reported that Spectacular Bid was the last horse to sweep the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby in 1979.  However, Strike the Gold accomplished the feat for trainer Nick Zito in 1991.  My apologies to Mr. Zito and the late great Chirs Antley.  Next up, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes from Keeneland on Saturday. 

Written by Big Brink