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"Before the Weekend" Derby Top 10

This will probably be my last Derby list before the profiles are started for the big race. This was a bit tougher to make since there are still a lot of major points races left to be run and things could easily get complicated. Ranked in order:

10) Commissioner - Got going too late after a bad start in the Sunland Derby to be up for second. If he can get a clear run to get some point gains in the Arkansas Derby, he’s a candidate.

9) Hoppertunity - Gets a big boost if Mike Smith sticks around as a horse who clearly wants more ground. 

8) Social Inclusion - If he shows something in the Wood— and by something I mean a first or second place finish— I’ll become a believer. Fast, late-improving son of Pioneerof the Nile.

7) Bayern** - Hope he goes to the Arkansas Derby and wins. He’s talented enough for it. I’m stubborn to completely drop him out of sight.

6) Samraat - Stays on the list if he can show me something in the Wood tomorrow. I need to see him not immediately go to the lead and try to hang on.

5) Strong Mandate - Whether or not this Tiznow colt shines in May, he’s a legitimate 10-furlong horse who doesn’t really display any pickiness in regards to surface conditions or what kind of trip he has to make.

4) Candy Boy - His win in the Robert B. Lewis told me all I needed to know. He’s been in my top 10 for the bulk of the year and there’s little telling me he won’t yield at 10 furlongs. My biggest concern is the Candy Ride curse…

3) Tapiture - This horse just needs a better jockey and he’s very game to do well and even show yet another dimension. His off-the-pace style and tactical speed speaks for itself.

2) California Chrome - Brilliant horse who I’ve been watching for a while… but I admit, I was too stubborn to include immediately in the very first top ten list as he hadn’t shown me enough to include a California-bred. He looks like he just needed some time just like another really good California horse who won a couple years ago…

1) Ring Weekend - I can’t really explain this one much more beyond a good feeling and all the right subtle winks. He’s chestnut, he’s by Tapit, trained by Graham Motion, and the thing that really sold me after his impressive Tampa Bay Derby (II) win was the fact he’s being sent to the Calder Derby instead of the Blue Grass. They’re giving this colt time to develop— not throwing him into a huge field in a big points race— and chances to boost his confidence before shipping to Churchill. He’s getting better and better and has some tactical speed to boot.

Social Inclusion Ships in for Wood Memorial

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Week 10/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest! Submit your choice of horse through this link by 5:20pm EST (20 minutes before post time). Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.

The finale of the Derby Handicap ends with the Wood Memorial, which I have the unique pleasure of attending this year for the very first time after struggling to make the trip for the past couple of years. And, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good race with a rematch of the mighty New York-breds Samraat and Uncle Sigh, the promising invader Social Inclusion, and a number of other interesting horses looking to pounce into the Kentucky Derby.

$1 million Wood Memorial (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Aqueduct Racetrack. Post Time: Saturday, April 5 at 5:40pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 123 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Kid Cruz - Manuel Franco, Linda Rice - An impressive closer in his two career wins, one being at Aqueduct at this distance, this Lemon Drop Kid dark horse romped in the 9-furlong Private Terms by 4 lengths despite breaking a bit slow and hanging wide, going from 16 lengths in last to first by daylight. Dismiss his turf debut, and his record is marred by just a 3/4 length loss. Certainly an interesting horse, Kid Cruz looks to close into the fast pace that will be almost assured. He’ll get his well-deserved class test here.

2) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, James Jerkens - A horse I liked early on and impressed me in the Remsen (II) whilst rushing in too late in 3rd, the Hard Spun colt’s recent efforts have been messy, with a hapless chase given way in the Holy Bull (III) and a 6 1/2 length loss in another Gulfstream allowance— albeit a very good allowance won by eventual Florida Derby (I) winner Constitution. He deserves more of a look than what his most recent efforts suggest. He ships back to a more reasonable surface which he appeared to excel on as a two-year-old. Jerkens has conditioned this colt to go the distance, and he should be fit to try again.

3) Noble Moon - Irad Ortiz Jr, Leah Gyarmati - The Malibu Moon son and winner of the Jerome Stakes (III) back in January has made enough recovery progress from a hoof issue to give it his best shot off a 3-month layoff.  Gyarmati has drilled Noble Moon through mile breezes in a last-ditch effort to get the colt to the Derby. He won the Jerome off a 2-month layoff— can it be done? I’m not going to favor it personally— the Jerome was run on the inner track which favors speed— and he went wire-to-wire in that effort. Too much too soon.

4) Harpoon - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - The same connections as last year’s winner Verrazano team up again with this dappled son of Tapit, who by the way is absolutely dominating this year’s Derby trail hopefuls! Harpoon scarcely lost the Sam Davis won by Vinceremos, then inexplicably lost the Gotham (III) by nearly 6 lengths in a non-effort. Harpoon’s been a notch below the rest just about every step of the way, and seems to be your typical Tapit headcase with green efforts. But who can stop the Toddster from winning this race for the third straight year and on the 10-year anniversary of Tapit’s victory here?

5) Los Borrachos - Cornelio Velasquez, Bill Mott - After failing to break his maiden with Richard Mandella out west, the Pulpit colt traded barns to Bill Mott’s to win his first time out on Aqueduct’s inner course, closing ground well to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Huge step up in class for a big longshot.

6) Kristo - Martin Garcia, John Sadler - Shipping out of California likely to avoid the Chrome menace who whopped him last out, the half-million-dollar Distorted Humor colt had a rough run of the San Felipe (II) last out, and before that couldn’t gain much ground on Midnight Hawk in the Sham (III). It’s possible he could have grown up a bit in the last few months, but at the same time he’s got some speed influence in his pedigree with his dam being a half to Smoke Glacken.

7) Schivarelli - Javier Castellano, Eddie Kenneally - 2-for-2 lifetime, the Montbrook colt ran to the nines with both of his starts coming at Aqueduct on the inner track. He romped in his last allowance one very foggy day, winning by some 12 lengths in the mud and has been burning the topsoil in his workouts. A very cool horse worthy of some discussion. Montbrooks typically excel as sprinters which could be the end of things as Schivarelli stretches out another furlong. But while he switches to the outer track, he picks up Javier Castellano.

8) Samraat - Jose Ortiz, Richard Violette - Undefeated in 5 starts, the Noble’s Causeway colt is considered the horse to beat after putting up some impressive and headstrong performances in the Withers and Gotham Stakes. Violette shipped Samraat down to Florida for his workouts, and then ships him back home to run in the Wood. Very very tough horse and a consistent competitor, he does not have to win and I would not be surprised if he doesn’t to save that gas for the Derby.

9) Effinex - Montanez Rosario, David Smith - Making his graded stakes debut after winning twice in 3 starts, the son of Mineshaft hopes to cash in on the fast pace with a closing style of running, most recently winning him a nice allowance win over 1 1/16 miles on Aqueduct’s inner to win by 6 lengths at 28-1. A class hike for a small-time outfit, Effinex is another with a mile breeze— among the fastest at 1:42 4/5— but will need to breathe life into his numbers to compete.

10) Uncle Sigh - Corey Nakatani, Gary Contessa - I’m not a huge fan of Indian Charlies, but Uncle Sigh is an easy horse to love after his game duels with Samraat and Wounded Warrior connections. He appears to be sharp for another go at Sammy. Uncle Sigh could take advantage of a building speed duel that might engage Samraat and Social Inclusion early while remaining off-the-pace. Indian Charlies can get 9 furlongs.

11) Social Inclusion - Luis Contreras, Manuel Azpurua - The hype horse of the bunch, the Pioneerof the Nile colt gained attention when he romped over Honor Code in a track record-setting allowance race at Gulfstream Park, wiring the field by 10 lengths and setting some blazing digits in the process. Pedigree says yes, but style of running says maybe. Social Inclusion has yet to be headed by another horse in just 2 career starts, both on Gulfstream’s hard and super fast main. While Florida horses fare very well shipping into cooler climate, he has some speed to contend with as he stretches out to 9 furlongs in his graded stakes debut. Food for thought.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Wicked Strong

2) Uncle Sigh

3) Samraat

Tough race! Because of the amount of speed in here and the post of Social Inclusion, I have to believe that multiple horses will be sent straight to the lead to do battle. Others will wait, and they will be rewarded if the brave do not prove their mettle— Wicked Strong has everything going for him if he’s good enough, and I’m saying yes to him here after he showed signs of class in that allowance race down south. He likes Aqueduct’s outer, his running style fits, pedigree fits, and he’s been training to make a big effort. I like Uncle Sigh a lot in this spot as well; he could sit behind a pace duel and make an honest shot at Samraat late in the game. Above all, I want to see what Social Inclusion is made of.

Value Pick: Wicked Strong (7-1 or better) 

Contest Pick: Wicked Strong

Flat Out gallops out one more time.

Flat Out gallops out one more time.

Woes of racetrack panning: when third place grabs your autofocus away from the top two finishers! Wicked Strong in the foreground, Cairo Prince and Honor Code in the background of the Remsen Stakes finish.

Woes of racetrack panning: when third place grabs your autofocus away from the top two finishers! Wicked Strong in the foreground, Cairo Prince and Honor Code in the background of the Remsen Stakes finish.

Constitution Snaps a Speed Duel

And remains undefeated to win the Florida Derby! Yet another Tapit colt that surged to victory, how happy am I!

Leaderboards are now updated, and we have a new leader! Le—pamplemousse leads the pack by 40 CENTS over Iadoreunna/Teamchlorine, with third place Marroquin within breathing distance. Le-pamplemousse and Thoughtsonracinglifeandmore both had Constitution for week #9.

Next week is the last week, barring the possibility of a tiebreaker round, with the Wood Memorial on deck. I will honestly say this in advance: I will not be able to announce the winners right away since I will be at Aqueduct for the whole day. Best of luck everyone!

Florida Derby Submissions, Updated Leaderboards

I dared to dream and stay afloat of maintaining the Derby Handicap for a third year while in production of my largest documentary project to date… and it was going ok for a while, but I wound up goofing and only just now updating the leaderboards! Don’t forget to submit for the Florida Derby by 6:28pm EST tonight!

As we head into the 9th week, Iadoreunna/Teamchlorine is still on the lead, but only by about $2 as runner-up Marroquin made up ground fast after selecting Harry’s Holiday ($22) while being closely tracked by Le-pamplemousse, who was our Breeders’ Cup contest winner, who chose Coastline ($7.40). Three players successfully picked winner We Miss Artie ($19.20).

At least one person picked each of the top 3 horses in the Spiral, so do check your status. We have 2 weeks left! Ample time to make a late charge, as I really do believe we’re going to see something crazy again today with Gulfstream’s cement-fast main.

Cairo Prince Laces Up for Florida Derby

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Week 9/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest! Submit your choice of horse through this link by 6:28pm EST (20 minutes before post time). Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.

A very key prep race in recent years, the Florida Derby is always at the forefront of the Kentucky Derby prep races with past winners like Barbaro, Orb, and Big Brown catapulting off to a blanket of red roses. Cairo Prince returns off the Holy Bull (III) as well as the top two from the Fountain of Youth (II) greet the likes of the Swale (II) winner Spot and two-for-two winner Constitution.

$1 million Florida Derby (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Gulfstream Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 29 at 6:48pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 122 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Wildcat Red - John Velazquez, Jose Garoffalo - D’Wildcat progeny typically do not go the distance, but the Fountain of Youth (II) winner aspires to prove that one wrong. Attracting Johnny V to the irons after that head win over General A Rod, the colt has won 4 of 6 starts (with 2 places), all at Gulfstream Park. A very strong entry made stronger with Johnny V, the real test for him will be duplicating the form he showed in the Fountain of Youth while stretching out.

2) Matador [ON] - Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse - Getting blinkers on, the Malibu Moon colt made up a bit of ground late in the Tampa Bay Derby (II) last out, finishing 5th beaten nearly 6 lengths. Oxley hopes the blinkers will focus Matador’s speed, if there is any.

3) Cairo Prince - Luis Saez, Kieran McLaughlin - Unraced since his Holy Bull (III) romp, the Pioneerof the Nile colt has been prepped carefully for this start over at Palm Meadows. A winner of 3 of 4 starts— one missed in a photo finish with Honor Code— he’s the class of the field. I strongly suspect that this is serving mainly as a prep for the big dance, and Cairo Prince won’t be too urgent to conquer all that speed. However, should the surface favor him, he could stalk and pounce.

4) Constitution - Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher - Lightly raced with 2 wins in 2 starts, the Tapit colt drew well clear of a very nice-looking allowance race back in February to win by 3 1/2 over Tonalist. Tapits have been racking up wins, and while Constitution gets a step up in class, he could also pounce late as a horse who could likely get 9 furlongs. Top jock Castellano gets the mount.

5) East Hall - Juan Levya, Bill Kaplan - “Showed little” in the Tampa Bay Derby (II) while running 8th, the Graeme Hall gelding has 2 wins at Gulfstream. He probably doesn’t belong here, and even if everything cracked down to allow for him to pass rivals late, it would take an awful lot of luck for that to happen.

6) General A Rod - Joel Rosario, Mike Maker - Renewing his rivalry with Wildcat Red, the Roman Ruler colt was battling in tandem until the wire of the Fountain of Youth, which he lost by a stubborn head. He loses Castellano to Constitution, which is interesting but probably political, and picks up Joel Rosario. He totes a ton of speed for the pedigree, and Mike Maker is 30%. Overall, he’s a pretty good bet to go far.

7) Allstar - Orlando Bocachica, Marcus Vitali - Always fun to see a Flower Alley join the fray. Allstar was claimed from Coolmore/Pletcher three races back, and since then has won 2 of 3 races, all at Calder and at a mile or less. His last start saw him whipping a Calder allowance field by 4 1/2 lengths. His best speed figures pale in comparison to the rest of the field, which is discouraging.

8) Spot - Corey Lanerie, Nick Zito - See Spot stretch out? It could happen. A gelded son of Pulpit, Spot is bred similarly to Bernardini and other distance goers following an upset win in the 7-furlong Swale while sweeping in late to overtake the rest of the field. Zito has Spot sharp for this race and he could very well stretch out as a proven closer in a speed-heavy field on a track he already likes.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) General A Rod

2) Spot

3) Cairo Prince

A favored horse, Cairo Prince will draw far more money than he should coming off a layoff in a very fast field. However, should General A Rod and Wildcat Red lock up again, the field could fall to an off-the-pace horse like Cairo Prince or even Spot who could come running late. Overall, I like the upside on General A Rod, who has the pedigree to stretch his speed out further than Wildcat Red. Spot has some potential to stretch out while pouncing on the fast-moving pace, and Cairo Prince should be in the mix.

Value Pick: Spot

Contest Pick: General A Rod

Leaderboard Update Coming, Florida Derby Jotform

Let me apologize for my lack of activity and general slowness to give updates about the Derby Handicap. I just had a ton of work from my 3 most neglected classes to do early in the week and then there’s the documentary which has been hogging my time. Submit away through here, and I will get the Jotform updated by this afternoon along with the Florida Derby analysis.

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