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Critiquing the Contenders: Daredevil

By now, every skeptic has reason to be skeptical of any two-year-old storming out of Todd Pletcher’s barn. This past Derby season, he was loaded to the teeth with Constitution, Intense Holiday, and Danza to name just a few and where are they now? It seems to be a cycle that has been on repeat for some time, which often is the case for big name trainers with enormous payloads. With the “big” two-year-olds coming into beastly form, two names surfaced with smashing performances over the past weekend: Daredevil, winner of the Champagne Stakes (I) at Belmont, and Blofeld, winner of the Belmont Futurity (II) held the next day. 


Yearling Daredevil was athletic and good-looking (Image courtesy LGS Racing)

I was cautiously optimistic about this one’s chances coming into the Champagne, but he is a really visually appealing colt and ran to his looks in that race. I was witness to runner-up Upstart’s excellent maiden win, and he beat that horse soundly and flattened the rest of the field without digging in deep. I didn’t see anything that worried me too tremendously that he may be distance-limited in the near future, as he won very confidently. However, his record bears an asterisk as he is 2-for-2, but on muddy tracks.


Verrazano (Image courtesy LGS Racing)

Pedigree-wise, Daredevil may or may not be another Verrazano, who is also by More Than Ready and owned by the same connections. Impressive as a juvenile, Verrazano was built too heavily to convince me that he would want two turns, and while Daredevil doesn’t concern me at this point, things may change. More Than Ready, a brilliant juvenile who went on to win the King’s Bishop (I) at 3 and become a successful sire, throws his best in his progeny’s early years. However, on Daredevil’s dam side there are some gold flecks; dam Chasethewildwind is a daughter of Forty Niner— a son of speedy Mr Prospector, but one who could go the distance and pass that ability on— and out of Chasethewildwind, making him a half brother to millionaire G1 winner Albertus Maximus (an able distance goer, but most effective going 8-9 furlongs). Chasethewildwind is also a half-sister to the dam of Forego (I) winner Here Comes Ben. Chasethewildwind’s dam, Race the Wild Wind, a G1 winner at age 3 and 4.

Next: Blofled

California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes parade

California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes parade

Samraat, 2nd in the Wood Memorial (I)

Wicked Strong wins the Wood Memorial (I).
Yes I went a little crazy when this happened.

Wicked Strong wins the Wood Memorial (I).

Yes I went a little crazy when this happened.

Soapbox Time: Chrome’s “Slow” Beyer Doesn’t Matter


I’m talking to you, Mr. Andrew Beyer, who may I remind everyone openly doubted California Chrome's chances of doing remotely well in the Kentucky Derby because of his… *drumroll*… pedigree. If you reread my pre-Derby analysis, I was pleasantly surprised at the back-class of Chrome’s family tree. And any half-enlightened turf writer would know that out of the two, the dam side is the most important when sifting through pedigrees, and this colt has La Troienne written down multiple times and Numbered Account twice, who practically bled blue! COME ON!

And it comes out of absolutely no bias that I ascertain that California Chrome’s 97 Beyer speed figure for the Kentucky Derby— historically one of the slowest figures— does not matter. Let me count the ways factually and hypothetically:

  1. Speed figures are not the end all, be all to handicapping. In fact they should be used if you cannot determine who to pick after considering everything else, or are looking to see who has the slightest bit of edge in a wide-open race.
  2. Numbers are not indicative of potential, they only account for displayed effort. A horse who was kept in check, or like Chrome who was EASED at the end, will not give out an accurate speed figure that shows how good they really are. Only horses who are going all-out at the end will provide accurate figures.
  3. While many horses spit out the same figures again and again over their careers, three-year-olds in their spring season are at the stage where they are changing their form and showing their long-term potential as the distances change. A horse who ran a 100 Beyer going a mile in April can really take a nose dive going just another furlong a month or two later. This is how we get overhyped horses and upsets.
  4. There was a notably strong headwind in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby. I know because I keep hearing about it. That might help explain Chrome’s slow final time, why few horses were moving forward in the stretch, and the resulting slow Beyer. Again, he wasn’t all-out while most others were.
  5. If Chrome DID for whatever reason give a Beyer higher than his career best 98, we would all be biting our nails as to whether he could maintain that lunge forward heading into the Preakness and then the Belmont. 
  6. The old “let’s blame the track” always works. But honestly I’d rather have a slow track versus a fast one, the latter of which we’ll probably get in one or both of the next legs.
  7. Yes, the last quarter was run in a sedated:26 1/5. But if you can win in that kind of pace pulling up, why not save it for next time? 

Perhaps in a sense I am searching for reasons to excuse California Chrome, but at the same time, it feels unfair to assail the winner for not being a super horse straight out of the gate. It would be overkill to keep comparing him to Secretariat or even someone as recent as Barbaro. But make no mistake— Chrome is the real deal.

Go Chrome or Go Home


(Photo by Jamie Rhodes/USA Today Sports)

He came. He was questioned. He ran. He was celebrated. A seemingly unstoppable Californian horse shipped in from Santa Anita with an unreasonable amount of scrutiny, and showed them all up on the first Saturday in May. It’s been a while since I was happily able to watch a favorite lose while I sat quietly in front of the television set with a smile on my face. He did it. American racing finally has a new hero.

The pace was not too fast, but held up well enough to present a stiff challenge to anyone looking for a soft strategy trying to rally off dumb duelers or contenders with weak constitutions. Vicar’s In Trouble was wild and rank breaking from the inside, with New York-bred Uncle Sigh greeting Chitu at the crest of the first turn with Chrome in-between. Everyone broke just well enough to dismiss any serious thought that someone was cost the race at the very start. It seemed everyone was in a logical position, with Calvin Borel taking Ride On Curlin to the far back. Personal excitement mounted when Wicked Strong began his slow grinding rally, going wide as the field turned for home…

In perfect position, the question undoubtedly on everyone’s mind as well as my own: was Chrome the real deal, or was he beating up on sorry company all spring? The pretenders fell back; Samraat was holding his own as was Danza on the inside, and Wicked Strong was coming on but in an awkward swerve. Victor Espinoza fanned his stick, and the colt lengthened his advantage, spurring on from a stalking third position to clear by multiple lengths. Commanding Curve, darting out of the pack late, chopped that lead down considerably, but failed to darken the day that belonged to the California-bred.

Now that the brunt of the magic spell is over, it’s time to start thinking Preakness. Can Chrome win it? Yes; he has the running style, the experience, and the talent to do well as he appears to be recovering well from the demands of the Derby. However he won’t have it easy. While I’m confident he can blow out any of the horses he’s already beaten in the Derby once again, the “new guns” this year are worth watching out for more than they have been in other years. They say the Derby falls to the fittest horse, the Preakness the fastest, and the Belmont the best. California Chrome has shown speed, but will it be enough to outhoof the rest? Early thoughts from me, as a categorically reserved Triple Crown dreamer:

  • Chrome can win as his running style favors the Preakness. I’m holding out that he gets a good post. 
  • I don’t think any returning Derby horses like Ride On Curlin, will be a big problem.
  • Social Inclusion: not a problem. He’s not fit to go 1 3/16 miles and will only serve as pace. Even if he manages to slow it down, Chrome will be close and he’s better.
  • Bayern: I think he’s talented, but will face pressure from Social Inclusion.
  • Kid Cruz: Possible upset is there if he gets in. He could sneak up late.
  • Belmont beware: Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve loom big going further in a smaller field as horses who will be fresh in June. Mexikoma and Tonalist are talented newcomers who are set to challenge.

Dawna’s Kentucky Derby Top 5


The memory of fangirling over Juba is still strong in my mind, but Cigar Mile Day was the first of many instances in the Derby preps where a little voice in my head said “Perhaps you should look at the other stablemate!”

I really topped myself— perhaps unwisely in hindsight— by covering all 20 (plus the late also-eligible) Derby contenders for this year’s Run for the Roses, as opposed to the standard Derby Dozen I usually do. Many of you have also helped me learn the horses along the Derby prep trail by handicapping the races with me through the Derby Handicap Contest, which I actually didn’t totally bomb this year and made some good picks here and there while getting to watch the Remsen (II) and Wood Memorial (I) in person for the first time. All in all, I feel pretty good about my top choices for this year’s race after all that footwork, which have been unchanged since Hoppertunity’s scratch (I would have ranked Hop #6 or so), so do read on as they are ranked in order:

#5 RIDE ON CURLIN - I admitted I gave this colt next to no attention throughout the past several months, but he’s really coming together at the right time. He’s one of those diamond in the rough types who will probably be getting his photo taken a LOT MORE OFTEN after the Triple Crown races are done and over with. He could be something!

#4 DANZA - I was wishy-washy about this complete stunner of a colt for a long while, as there were so many little questions. However, I think he is a special colt and he’s been doing beautifully since that upset win in the Arkansas Derby. I don’t like using Pletcher horses, but I actually like this one a lot! Go Danza!

#3 CALIFORNIA CHROME - If Chrome wins, I will be happy. His story is so special and he’s a legitimate throwback to the old days of great racehorses coming out of figurative ashes and on to greatness. He is the picture of a happy, healthy racehorse with talent. However, as the favorite he will be watched and possibly crowded in from the #5 spot and has much to lose. If I were tuning in blindly, as I did when I was a kid and had no way of finding out about the Kentucky Derby until the day of, I would have picked him.

#2 DANCE WITH FATE - “WHO IS THAT!” I’m a heavy dissenter of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile mattering in the long run, but as soon as I saw this guy’s near-black butt on high-definition television in my living room, I was in love and have followed his career since as a believer. Dance With Fate is a multi-dimensional horse who is looking solid and ready to pop the cork in this race coming from post #12. In fact, I am scared for my #1, he is that good…

#1 WICKED STRONG - My personal bias for Wicked Strong aside, he is my Derby horse this year for overcoming all the little ifs, ands, or butts throughout the season. He closed like a freight train in the Remsen (II) and became the most under-talked-about horse of the year coming into the Holy Bull (II). It became apparent over time that Gulfstream was playing like horse dung, and couldn’t be trusted as a legitimate surface. Thus he became my Wood pick and off that big win, he looks to be chiming into true form right on schedule. His outer post doesn’t really bother me; I still picked Nehro despite getting one some years ago and didn’t understand the 15-1 on I’ll Have Another coming from the auxiliary gate. If the horse’s style matches— which it does— it doesn’t really matter. His late pace and Trakus figures put him right at the top, and he’ll be coming late and strong.

Additional “heart picks”…

SAMRAAT - I got to attend Sequel Stallions’ open house, and despite the impressive physique of his sire Noble Causeway, his dad was dismissed somewhat too readily as having done little. I say no!

TAPITURE - The first Derby contender I got to see in person before I knew it was him, squealing like a demon around the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. Go Tapits!

UNCLE SIGH - Another horse I got to see in person, and just the cutest guy ever. And also, I drove by Gary Contessa’s barn when I got lost at Belmont Park.

Derby Profile #21: Harry’s Holiday



  • G3-placed at 9 furlongs (Spiral Stakes)


  • Trainer: Mike Maker (Hansen, Stately Victor, Furthest Land)
  • Jockey: Corey Lanerie
  • Owned by: Skychai Racing LLC, Sand Dollar Racing LLC, Raymond, T. and Wagner, J.
  • Record: 8: 3-2-1
  • Earnings: $186,882
  • Best speed figures: 85 Beyer (Spiral Stakes), 95 BRIS Figure (Spiral Stakes), 100 Equibase

Background: The connections of Hansen (plus Corey Lanerie) return to the Kentucky Derby for another go at the great race with a less auspicious entry in Harry’s Holiday, who by the grace of the racing gods’ luck, was allowed in due to multiple defections late in the process. By the late Harlan’s Holiday, Harry’s Holiday ran huge to barely miss in the Spiral Stakes (III) before dropping a shoe in the Blue Grass Stakes (I) as a surprise longshot who hopes to surprise again as part of Mike Maker’s three-prong attack on the Derby this year (Vicar’s In Trouble, newly-acquired General A Rod).

Prep Schedule: The only horse in the field to have run in a claiming type race as a prep, Harry’s first race was a $30-$35k maiden claimer at Churchill Downs going 6 furlongs on the dirt, which he won easily by 4 1/2 lengths on the lead before being claimed by Mike Maker and Terry Raymond. Entered back 2 1/2 months later in November in a starter allowance at Churchill, he fell short to Ichiban Warrior going 6 1/2 furlongs, losing by just about that many lengths. He won his last start as a juvenile going 6 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream, prevailing by almost 3 lengths as the even-money favorite. Turned back to a stake 2 weeks later as a 3-year-old at Tampa Bay, Harry was wide in the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes to finish 9 lengths back in 5th, unenthused. Shipped to Turfway to debut on poly, a month later he was back in the winners’ circle, dominating by 8 lengths in the 6 1/2-furlong 96Rock Stakes before being 3rd in the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial. Appearing distance-limited, Harry proved doubters the contrary in the Spiral (III), where he missed the win by a mere nose to We Miss Artie as a 15-1 shot. Dropping a shoe in the Blue Grass (I) 3 weeks later at Keeneland, Harry could only manage to run 13th and second-last.

Pedigree: Multiple surface options are on the table with Harlan’s Holiday serving as the sire, who won multiple times at the graded level going 9 furlongs and passed on early ability and speed to his progeny more frequently than not, with most excelling at 9 furlongs or less early in their careers. Harlan’s Holiday is by the G1 winning sprinter Harlan out of the Affirmed daughter Christmas in Aiken. Harry’s Holiday’s dam, Daisy Mason, is a half sister to G1 winner and G1 sire Into Mischief being out of Leslie’s Lady. With Orientate as Harry’s damsire, that makes him not only a cousin of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I) winner Goldencents, but a 3/4 brother to Eclipse Award-winning juvenile Shanghai Bobby. 

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: N/A

Dosage Index: 2.00

Running Style: Just behind the pace/pacesetter

Pros: Packing in speed, Harry’s Holiday showed grit going 9 furlongs and dominance going shorter and could be up to the challenge of stretching his speed further. With the inner post, he could spring to the front early and try to stay there.

Cons: He has faced very few class horses head-on in his prep races, both of which came on poly so the company he faced is even more questionable. He also did not run a complete 9-furlong race in his last start which saw him hold back due to the shoe issue. Fitness, class are both big questions.

Final Word: He hasn’t beaten anyone in the Derby field before. Hasn’t raced at the graded level on dirt yet. Packs in a royal [sprinter/miler] family. He’s definitely hard to like, or even consider as perhaps the biggest longshot in the field.

Derby Profile #20: Candy Boy


(Photo by Benoit Photo)


  • G2 winner at 1 1/16 miles (Robert B. Lewis Stakes)
  • G1-placed at 1/16 miles (CashCall Futurity) and 9 furlongs (Santa Anita Derby)


  • Trainer: John Sadler (Twirling Candy, Switch, Sidney’s Candy) 
  • Jockey: Gary Stevens
  • Owned by: C R K Stable
  • Record: 7: 2-2-1
  • Earnings: $425,600
  • Best speed figures: 96 Beyer (Robert B. Lewis), 97 BRIS Figure (Robert B. Lewis), 97 Equibase

Background: John Sadler has had his fair share of experience with good Candy Ride [ARG] progeny, including G1 winner Twirling Candy and Sidney’s Candy, who both flashed early promise going longer, but ultimately disappointed when it came to the first Saturday in May. So it’s with the hope that the third time will be the charm with Candy Boy, who hopes to crack the Candy Ride curse that the stallion’s progeny can ace 10 furlongs well enough to win the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Gary Stevens will try the Derby on for size for the second time since returning from his retirement; last year he rode Oxbow to the winners’ circle in the Preakness.

Prep Schedule: It took four tries for Candy Boy to snap his maiden with his first two races coming on Del Mar’s polytrack— his maiden finishing a meek 4th going 5 1/2 furlongs, and his 2nd start finishing 4th again going a mile. He improved when switched to dirt at Santa Anita, making up ground on the turn but finishing a still-distant 2nd to Tap It Rich running a mile. Heading to Hollywood Park in November going 1 1/16 miles, Candy Boy aced his lessons and romped on the polytrack by 8+ lengths over a small group. Three weeks later, a still green Candy Boy ran sporadically well in the CashCall (I) as his stakes debut, making a good middle move too late to catch the winner Shared Belief, getting 2nd to close out his 2-year-old year. Back at Santa Anita for his 3-year-old debut, Candy Boy did not disappoint, rallying on the turn to be up in time to grab the Robert B. Lewis (II) win by a half length over Chitu. Getting a 2-month layoff, the colt bounced back into the 9-furlong Santa Anita Derby (I), getting 3rd without making too much headway on winner California Chrome and runner-up Hoppertunity.

Pedigree: Argentinean and a winner at 10 furlongs on American soil, Candy Ride [ARG] has had an imposing presence year after year in the Kentucky Derby preps without getting a legitimate good finisher when it comes time for the big race, although he has spun plenty of horses who could handle 10 furlongs: Clubhouse Ride, Twirling Candy, and Misremembered are but a few who had an impact. His damsire Candy Stripes is also noted for Breeders’ Cup Classic-Dubai World Cup champion Invasor [ARG]. Candy Boy’s dam She’s An Eleven was a fair stakes winner and offers some speed through her sire, the miler In Excess [IRE], and she offers the only source of early inbreeding with two crosses to the Virginia-bred stallion Somethingfabulous, a son of Northern Dancer and blue hen Somethingroyal (no introduction needed for the dam of Secretariat).

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++, Variant: 130.06

Dosage Index: 1.67

Running Style: Mid-pack, closing

Pros: Lightly-raced and coming with a 2nd race off the layoff approach, Candy Boy appears to be a horse who desires more ground and could feasibly blossom at 10 furlongs. The addition of Gary Stevens in the irons is a nice plus.

Cons: We haven’t seen much from Candy Boy since he learned how racing works in the Robert B. Lewis, although that shortness he displayed in the Santa Anita Derby could easily be improved upon next out. He may not be completely fit, and this is a race that demands the fittest horse as its winner.

Final Word: If he’s ready, Candy Boy could have the race fall to his advantage when the early speed fades and the track opens up to the true 10-furlong types. I’m convinced he’s going to improve with this race, but by how much depends on how good he really is and how fit he may be at this stage. 

Derby Profile #19: Vinceremos


(Photo by SV Photography)


  • G3 winner at 1 1/16 miles (Sam F. Davis Stakes)
  • G2-placed at 1 1/16 miles (Tampa Bay Derby)


  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Super Saver, Rags to Riches, Uncle Mo)
  • Jockey: Joe Rocco Jr.
  • Owned by: WinStar Farm
  • Record: 5: 2-2-0
  • Earnings: $225,266
  • Best speed figures: 90 Beyer (Tampa Bay Derby), 93 BRIS Figure (Tampa Bay Derby), 96 Equibase

Background: Freshman sire Pioneerof the Nile was passed in his own Kentucky Derby running in the waning moments of the stretch by 50-1 Mine That Bird. As a stallion, Pioneer has gotten a second wind with some all-star colts hitting paydirt on the way to the Derby including Cairo Prince, Social Inclusion, and perhaps the most unlikely of the three to make it to the gate: Vinceremos, a colt named for a therapy horse facility. Owner WinStar has already won the Kentucky Derby with trainer Todd Pletcher and Super Saver, and while their Florida Derby winner Constitution was their favored foot on the trail, they’ve still got a shot with Vinceremos.

Prep Schedule: Vinceremos ran 2nd in the slop at Gulfstream Park for the first time in November, beaten 6 lengths by the winner going 6 furlongs as the favorite. Stretching out to a mile as a three-year-old in January, Vince rallied on the fast dry going to prevail by a head and move on to bigger things. He made it 2-for-2 with a win in the 1 1/16 mile Sam F. Davis (III) at Tampa Bay Downs in his stakes debut, coming on again late and holding off a fast-closing Harpoon to win by a scant nose. Coming back for the Tampa Bay Derby (II), Vinceremos fought well on the inside, but could not catch runaway pacesetter Ring Weekend, running 2nd behind 3 lengths. Looking for more points and another prep, Vince ran poorly in his poly debut at Keeneland in the Blue Grass (I), stopping to be dead last by the time he hit the stretch.

Pedigree: Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and Bold Ruler pop up on both sides of Vinceremos’ family tree to lend Vince speed with the potential to hold on. A son of G1 winner Pioneerof the Nile, a son of Belmont winner Empire Maker, Vinceremos has strong classic dirt ability on top and a bit more speed on the bottom with More Than Ready daughter Kettle’s Sister as his dam. More Than Ready is a prevalent sire on all surfaces, with most of his progeny excelling at 8 furlongs or shorter. Damsire Double Zeus was an iron horse with 62 starts and a G2 placing. 

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++, Variant: 15.48

Dosage Index: 7.00

Running Style: Closing

Pros: Vince improved with each dirt start and was very game as he progressed; few horses can re-rally and do so in tight quarters to squeak out a win like he did in the Sam F. Davis. He’s got guts when it counts, and has the potential to take advantage of a fast pace.

Cons: He began improving early in the season, then took a layoff before a very unsuccessful Blue Grass (I) run, in which he quit. Of course, this could be excused due to poly, but it wasn’t an optimal way to prep a horse right before the Derby. And his speed figures are still minor-league ballpark.

Final Word: Another horse with class questions to answer, Vinceremos comes from a successful stamina male line and as an underdog who showed promise early in the season who could still make something happen by virtue of a collapsing pace. However, I would still count him as a longshot among the underdogs with good dirt experience.

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Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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