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The 138th Preakness Stakes is coming (Video by Maryland Racing)

Weekend Stake Tip: Derby Handicapping Tips

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When I saw that it was raining in Florida, any temptation I had of entering into the Pick 4 was null. Wet grass and a sloppy going on the main can really mess with your picks when they are made with fast and firm surfaces in mind. But, at least Ron the Greek did win the Sunshine Millions Classic like I wanted. I considered Sprint winner Off the Jak a mild threat, with my second and third choices coming in right behind him. The Turf was of course off with the yielding grass, but I was glad to see Teaks North get the win as I’ve liked him in the past. As I’ve mentioned in past Weekend Stake Tips, the best horse on a yielding course is an able pacesetter; Teaks North wired this race while runner-up Doubles Partner struggled with the soft going to gain on him. The maiden claimer went to a decent horse Milwaukee Brew with most of my picks doing poorly.

I didn’t publish my Lecomte choices due to lack of time (thanks to newly-begun spring semester), but I favored the winner Oxbow, who was my #10 choice on my Derby Top Ten article, although favored Avie’s Quality got a bad trip. I also liked runner-up Golden Soul mainly because of his pedigree (by Perfect Soul [IRE], who I think combines the best of Europe and America together), and I’ll keep him on my watch list down the road. Oxbow won the 1 mile and 70 yard prep by a whopping 11 1/4 lengths in a wire-to-wire romp, looking like a top steed just like his full brother Paynter. D. Wayne Lukas is back… or is it too soon to say it? Lest we forget the long list of Lecomte winners who didn’t do a damn thing in the big Derby. The track at Fair Grounds was fast for the race, now let’s see Oxbow get some Derby points!

Heading into the Derby Handicap Contest later this week with the exciting Holy Bull Stakes (III), I want to just touch upon a few points I learned last year, which was my first year of really investigating all the prep races. It will be easier this year with the Derby points system (though not necessarily a fair process), and I hope to embellish upon a few good pointers as we continue down Derby road.

1) Don’t fall in love with anyone too early - Horses like Sky Kingdom didn’t fare too well and disappeared early on and possibly blinded me from potentially good horses.

2) History is made to be rewritten - Yes, we’ve been without a Derby winner that never ran as a two-year-old for quite some time, but as you can see, Bodemeister nearly did it and ran off with some incredible performances. I wouldn’t use the history angle ever.

3) Talent vs. experience - The two big factors in determining the ability of a three-year-old, particularly through mid-March. One matters more than the other, but be wary to not give one more importance than the other. A horse needs talent to win big races, but experience is indispensable.

4) THROW OUT THE TWO-YEAR-OLD YEAR - It doesn’t mean diddly outside of getting the horse some experience. If you were a good student in high school, does that mean you will be a good college student? Nope. Same thing applies to racehorses.

5) Losses can mean nothing - In my book, a horse needs to learn about losing, which is why I dislike undefeated horses that dodge challenging fields that would actually test them (Alpha, Gemologist). A loss can also indicate a horse’s strengths and weaknesses from a trainer’s perspective and allow for a better strategy next time. Additionally, if a horse loses because of a poor trip— by how much did he lose and how did the horse react? Did it give up in the stretch or did it try to finish fast? Look at these losing races hard.

6) Speed ability - The Derby is a long race, but the winner needs to have some potential to turn foot quickly when asked so the opponents they pass will have little to no time to react if they’re able to. I’ll Have Another had great speed he was taught to carry over a good distance in his workouts, as did many of the top finishers from last year.

7) Staying power - Now that I mentioned speed, a horse needs to also be able to stay running those extra furlongs. The addition of one furlong makes more of a difference than you think, with many horses who romped at 8 or 9 furlongs failing when stretched any further.

8) Pedigree matters - The ancestry of a horse comes to view in the stretch of the Derby. Breeders say it’s 50-50 between the sire and the dam, others say it’s 60% the mare that matters. Either way, look at both parents. At least one of them should hint at 10 furlongs— and no, I don’t think a win at 9 furlongs cuts it, it must be 10. With so many breeders concentrating on early talent and speed, I am quick to dismiss a lot of horses after a certain point with sprinter sires or who do not have bloodlines that spawn distance-getters… I’m looking at YOU, Indian Charlie.

9) Track conditions - Not all poly is created equal, and not all dirt is the same. A horse that raced in New York’s deep furrows may or may not be better equipped on a souped-up surface at Gulfstream. A horse that wins on dry, fast goings will likely struggle in mud. Even the shape of a track can matter. I’d like to discuss this further, but it’s a point that needs reminding.

10) Equipment changes - Usually noted in the entry book, these can be things like blinkers, Lasix, and the ultimate “equipment change”— the gelding of a colt. Whether or not these things actually will help the horse are up to your judgment, but they’re important to note in many cases.

The Unforgettable Races of 2012: #20-11

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The sport of kings played spectator to even more thrills and surprises in 2012, with favorites and unexpected surprises all playing their roles and making the crowd roar from California to Dubai. Of course, there’s no one right answer in determining which performance was best or which horse was most compelling in their victories. It was difficult sifting through so many races, and while I’m compelled to include more, I’ll keep it to twenty unforgettable races. Because I’m more an expert on North American racing, yes there will be a bias towards American races, so do be wary of what I wound up picking. Let’s get started…

20) Game On Dude gets redemption in Californian (II) blowout - “STRAIGHT AND STRONG!” After a disappointing 12th place performance in the Dubai World Cup (I), “the Dude” shipped back home to Santa Anita to go wire-to-wire in the 9-furlong Californian. He toyed with the field from the start, and ran away on the far turn to cement an incredible 8 1/2 length victory. Watch it here

19) Alpha and Golden Ticket dead-heat in Travers (I) - A jumbled race from the betting windows, longshot Golden Ticket refused to yield to encroaching favorite Alpha in the stretch of the three-year-old classic and the two colts hit the wire together for the first time in the race’s long history. Watch it here

18) Ron the Greek catches Wise Dan in unexpected Stephen Foster (I) result - The heavy favorite in a strong field, Wise Dan looked like the winner coming to the line of the 10-furlong Churchill Downs race only to be caught by rail runner Ron the Greek. It was Wise Dan’s lone loss of the year by a short head. Watch it here

17) Fort Larned runs to the nines, upsets Breeders’ Cup Classic (I) - Down but not out, the Ian Wilkes trainee celebrated his jockey’s birthday by wiring the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, deflecting a determined Mucho Macho Man in the stretch to register an upset win. Watch it here

16) Believe You Can leads Rosie Napravnik to first Kentucky Oaks (I) - For the first time since the race started in 1875, a female jockey prevailed aboard the Larry Jones entry with a name all too fitting for making history. The lilies fell to Believe You Can in an upset performance at the Downs. Watch it here

15) Groupie Doll much the best among the best in Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (I) - There was no denying that Groupie Doll was the “lock” of the Breeders’ Cup championships. She broke smooth and slow to creep up on the pacesetters and from there it was repetitive brilliance as the four-year-old filly romped to her fifth win of the year and third G1. Watch it here

14) Bodemeister turns Arkansas Derby (I) into a runaway - He was not the favorite, but by the looks of things he should have been. The rapidly-improving stablemate of Secret Circle took his stablemate head on in the Oaklawn stretch and poured it on from there, outclassing the more experienced colts to register a a nearly 10-length romp to become the Derby favorite. Watch it here

13) Little Mike notches yet another surprise ousting top horses in Breeders’ Cup Turf (I) - The cheap little gelding gave a big performance in yet another world class race, funneling through the inside rail from off-the-pace to upset some of the world’s best grass horses when he appeared to be off his game. Watch it here

12) I’ll Have Another catches Bodemeister once more in Preakness (I) - The Derby winner still had something to prove in the shorter, tighter second leg of the Triple Crown but replicated a similar sort of brilliance as he did in Kentucky. With Bodemeister jetting off to a widening lead in the stretch, I’ll Have Another caught his rival again in the waning moments of the race to stay alive for the Triple Crown. Watch it here

11) Royal Delta squishes top field, shows new front-running dimension in her defense of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (I) - The toughest race in the championships, returning champion Royal Delta made it look too easy to be real as she set her sights on the lead and held it down to discourage a field full of top G1-winning fillies in another brilliant performance. Watch it here

Stay tuned for races #10-1!

You Comment, I Respond

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Early Top 10 for Kentucky Derby 139

horseracingchick replied: “I’m glad I’m not the only one with Purple Egg toward the top of her list! He’s a serious talent, yet I always feel silly for bragging on a horse who has ran no further than 6 furlongs. Good list you compiled. It’s early, but I like your thoughts.”

Thanks! Like I mentioned, I have no concrete favorite heading into the Triple Crown trail. It’s just too early and I don’t think we’ve seen beyond the tip of the iceberg. I just know Bob Baffert has more than what he has shown us, and neither I’ll Have Another nor Bodemeister were worth mentioning at this time last year. I placed Purple Egg up high because he has the right moves and mindset to continue improving. His connections are obviously not in a rush to get him into the gate, which speaks volumes to me. I think he’ll go two turns no problem, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

maddiejacksontw replied: “How’d you leave S. Bobby?”

He’s probably one of the last horses I would consider as a good Derby horse for reasons: Great dislike for pedigree (I liked Harlan’s Holiday when he was racing, but he has very few good performers that last beyond the age of 2. His dam is by Orientate, who is a Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner. Eh!), great dislike for trainer (Todd Pletcher has messed things up for how many champion runners right before how many Derbies/Breeders’ Cups? If the race was in New York it would be a different story as well), and he looked like he was all-out to beat an improving colt in He’s Had Enough in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles. Many horses can do 9 furlongs, but will kick the bucket when asked to go 10. I think Bobby is a miler… probably a good miler if he is properly maintained… but he’s no Derby winner.

Looking Back and Looking Forward to 2013

exactagirl replied: “Congrats on your achievements; well done! And I KNOW you’ll exceed the goals you’ve set for yourself in the coming year. You’re just that kinda girl”

Thank you and thank you again! I hope to ace most of these goals, if not I’ll be pretty down-in-the-dumps!

horseracingchick replied: “Well done on maintaining one of the best racing blogs out there. I look forward to another great year in 2013! Keep up the great work.”

Thank you very much!

I’ll Have Another: Charging Toward History

Something That Bugged Me

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Opinion post warning! I wanted to bring up some questions about the NTRA Moment of the Year, which is voted on by racing fans. Here are the choices:

  • Rosie Napravnik becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks, guiding Believe You Can to victory (I’m okay with this)
  • I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez pull the upset from post 19 in the Kentucky Derby (Definitely okay with this)
  • I’ll Have Another runs down Bodemeister to win the Preakness by a neck (All right)
  • On the eve of a highly anticipated Triple Crown bid, I’ll Have Another is scratched from the Belmont Stakes (No)
  • For the first time since 1874, the Travers ends in a dead heat as Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together (Yes for the excitement, no as a handicapper/judge… what a disappointing Travers)
  • Haskell winner Paynter overcomes deadly battles with laminitis and colitis and begins rehab for a possible 2013 campaign (No… not really a moment…)
  • For the second straight year, Royal Delta wins the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic for trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith, who registers his record 16th Breeders’ Cup riding win (Okay with this)
  • Groupie Doll trounces her opponents in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (Yup, okay with this)
  • Shanghai Bobby digs in under Rosie Napravnik to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and remain undefeated (Ehhh… maybe for his fans this was a good moment, but as a handicapper I kind of have to snuff at this because he’s clearly no good for 10 furlongs and beat out a weak field)
  • Wise Dan breaks the course record in capturing the Breeders’ Cup Mile over an international field (Sure! But I think Animal Kingdom stole the show)
  • Fort Larned holds off Mucho Macho Man to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Okay with this)
  • Shackleford ends his career on a winning note in the Clark Handicap (Okay I suppose, but the Met Mile was his crowning moment)

Bob Ehalt seems to think judging by this article that the stand-out option is I’ll Have Another’s scratch from the Belmont. I personally question why that is even a choice. It wasn’t a real “moment” but a news story. It was a lack of a moment. Scratching a day before the Belmont sent ripples throughout the racing community, inspiring negative and sad emotions with a lot of controversy and sadness summoned from fans, connections, and even the competition. But it was not a moment, and to pick the scratch over his Derby and Preakness victories is actually kind of insulting if you’re a fan of IHA.

Generally I was kind of “meh” about this year’s Triple Crown because from the get-go, all the good three-year-olds seemed to misfire except I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, and Dullahan. Union Rags never had a shot in the Derby, which provided extra feel-good emotions when he edged by Paynter in the Belmont. THAT was the moment that should have been on the ballot: after all Matz and Wyeth struggled to get this horse in the clear during a major 3-year-old race plus the additional subplot involving Mike Smith and the Zayat team falling short of yet another Triple Crown win. What happened to Paynter later on was not just one moment, either, as triumphant as his survival was.

Also, why would I vote for something negative? I may have voted for it had it been a negative outcome, such as I’ll Have Another entering, trying his hardest, and losing, for the strong memory we’d all have of it. But a scratch? Not really memorable because you can’t remember something that never happened. I don’t see many people talking about scratches they remember in infamy. Maybe one could argue it’s an historic scratch, but really there are better historic choices here which leads me to whom I voted for…

Royal Delta

A star player all year long with several races being top-notch moments of her own career, Royal Delta conquered what many felt was the toughest race of the year and did it while showing a whole new dimension to her ability by going gate-to-wire which is unusual for her. Mike Smith wrapped up a Breeders’ Cup win record, and Royal Delta became the first mare since the legendary Bayakoa [ARG] to cap back-to-back distaffs.

Racing Beat: December 15

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Debating whether I want to make some kind of post on new sires for next year. Stay Thirsty looks to be the weakest link in my opinion… Maclean’s Music is better than I anticipated… I’ll be intrigued by future Hansens and of course Union Rags has the most to lose as well as Bodemeister.

I hope I’m not the only one who does this… sometimes, I play guess the headline while I’m handicapping races. For the CashCall: Violence is the Answer in CashCall! He’s Had Enough More Than Enough in CashCall! Saturday night edit: I’m waiting for it…

I hope someone names one of the first Sea The Stars foals Seasick.

Heartbroken about one of my all-time favorite fillies Awesome Feather retiring. Chad Brown, Stanley Gold, and Jeffrey Sanchez all deserve huge props and lest we forget Adena Springs for keeping her racing. I was half-expecting the news since she’s a rather finicky filly when it comes to her conditioning.

Another feared retirement come true: my dear beloved “Turby” aka Turbulent Descent has predictably been retired after a few rounds under Todd Pletcher. Such a gifted sprinter, and one of my favorite Florida-breds that was racing. She’ll be visiting her boyfriend War Front in the new year.

I have an odd habit of thinking horses older than 4 must be geldings (until yesterday for instance, I thought heart favorite Grassy was a gelding). I wonder why that is…

Oxbow gave me tons of hope in his super-wide 4th place finish yesterday in the CashCall (I). If he’s going to keep doing well I have to stop spelling his name “Oxbox”… this is Rattlesnack Bridge in the place of Rattlesnake Bridge all over again…

As long as I keep my emotions at bay, at this rate I should be able to pick the Kentucky Derby winner. AHAHAHAHA LAUGH AT ME AND MY FUNNY JOKES! I’m not hardcore in love with anypony yet though, so I’m still safe.

Perhaps Eblouissante was copying Royal Delta with the butt dent before her race.

Saginaw for New York Horse of the Year?

I will voluntarily retract my summer bomber statement that Stopderpingmaria wasn’t up to running. Stopshoppingmaria's back to winning. Maybe it was the curse of Saratoga that killed her chances.

Really digging my Christmas cards I had made this year for followers. Could very well be ego, though.

Tweet o’ the Week: I was going to reply “No, Last Gunfighter is” but then I thought better of the situation! #toosoon

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Racing Beat: December 2

The worst part about not having a laptop for the whole week? Not being able to update the weekend’s Racing Beat as thoughts come to me. Or, well, at least it’s one of the many worst parts about not having a laptop/accessible Internet. /dies

Smart Bid's to be a New York stallion. Yay and nay at the same time… he IS a 6-year-old this year and has some nice wins to his credit.

I’m not totally sure why some people are appalled that horses get electroshock therapy. I’m sure these offended persons are the same folks who think it’s abusive when we vacuum one of our horses. (She really likes it)

I should have guessed that Toby’s Corner was done after an unremarkable comeback from his poorly-timed injury last year. Not the prettiest horse, but I had him in my WinStar fantasy Derby stable and oh man, was I rollin’ in it when he beat Uncle Mo in the $1 million Wood Memorial. Mwahahaha. We’ll miss ya, Tobes, have fun in Japan.

YAY GULFSTREAM MEET’S ON! It’s like a fast, New York god-tier track set up in Florida.

He’s still got it: Game On Dude comes on again to flick away Nonios twice in the same race!

Overdriven goes the way of Bodemeister and retires with a shoulder injury. Seriously I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really that bad or if they really think they can turn a profit on a horse that has only won as a juvenile. I dislike most of Repole’s horses by natural instinct, but even I would have given him a chance. He works super nice and has some nice distance pedigree.

Confession: I didn’t care for Dance Card over Questing [GB] until I found out she was gray. OHMAIGURSH!

Mark Valeski needs to return already. Teeth of the Dog, too. Don’t get me started on Graham Motion teasing me with photos of Went the Day Well on the training track. #sigh #4yearolds2013

Well that had to be the shortest reign ever, Solemia.

Hope Damon Thayer lives up to expectations in the Kentucky Senate /boringpoliticalmentions

So much for the Clark Handicap! I saw you racing in the grass-bound Hollywood Derby (I), Golden Ticket! What gives! What you doing there? You know you can’t catch Unbridled Command! (Whom I’m shocked got away with 7-1 odds! And my own favorite Lucky Chappy [IRE] at a whopping 15-1! Missed huge betting opportunity for sure…)

For once, I actually agree with someone on DRF. Of course it’s Mike Watchmaker.

I’m glad I got to see Rule before he retired to stud, also in New York at Vinery. Not the most amazing runner, but he was so darn cute.

Gulfstream’s giving away 50 opportunities to “Meet Little Mike" for donating a dollar to charity. Gosh you Californian peeps got him for free before his Breeders’ Cup win, now it’s gonna cost you…

Tweet o’ the Week: A worthy wager

Racing Beat: Breeders’ Cup 2012 Edition

I think I might take a break from handicapping and slow up posts this week… call it a mini vacation or whatever!

I have a right to vote, and will be exercising that right tomorrow, but I wish I could vote in Wise Dan for Horse of the Year. Simply dominating no matter what the surface!

I HAVE REVERSE-PSYCHIC DREAMS! The horse I dreamed would win by open lengths for both this year and last year came in last in the Classic: Alpha and before that Stay Thirsty. Because of last year, I called for Alpha to repeat his brother’s performance and surprise, surprise. Maybe I should pause my dream next year and see who runs LAST!

On that note: that Bernardini curse I suspected before is being confirmed. His greatest sons Alpha, Stay Thirsty, and To Honor and Serve all blossomed in the summertime only to fold to last— and To Honor and Serve was the only horse to seriously “back up” in the Classic— in the fall championships.

This was going to be the best Breeders’ Cup of my lifetime aaaaaand look who didn’t show up. EVERYBODY!! But still… no injuries (that I know of), no breakdowns, and emphatic, stubborn winners and a couple records were made. It was a great year.

I hope I was not the only one too busy with the Breeders’ Cup to notice I hardly paid Halloween any mind. What? It’s today?

It kind of sucks knowing both Juvenile winners are likely to be sprinters if they amount to anything. Beholder is by sprint champion Henny Hughes (and obviously runs like she’ll sprint) and Shanghai Bobby is by one of my least favorite sires Harlan’s Holiday who rarely sires anything good that is older than 2.

So yeah, I just enabled the reply option for 2+ week long followers of the blog. How long has this thing been available? I feel very dumb right about now…

Only 55k in attendance for the Classic? That’s small change compared to the 85k at the Belmont this year!

Aw, Nereid! I hope you and Bourbon Bay are okay.

Good to see Damascus getting a stakes named after him on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. If only he had a G1 named after him, I’d be happier.

Mine That Bird and Dullahan's mama Mining My Own is being bred to Bodemeister in 2013. Aww yeah.

One statistic I’m shocked at myself for not using again to score higher in the Juvenile and Dirt Mile: Tapit has sired 3 Breeders’ Cup winners already including 2 juvenile winners.

I wonder how the Lasix issue will pan out from here… no 5-scale visual bleeders in the Juvie races, but there were a few minor bleeders.

If one can make an argument that Royal Delta should not be a candidate for Horse of the Year based on the fact she ran against mares (who generally looked tougher anyway this year), you can make the same point about I’ll Have Another who ran against three-year-olds.

I wonder if Bob Baffert will be calling up Chantal Sutherland anytime soon.

Tweet o’ the Week goes to the best horse who didn’t run: Bridleless Wyatt!

I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister duel in the 2012 Kentucky Derby (Photo by John McDonnell)

I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister duel in the 2012 Kentucky Derby (Photo by John McDonnell)

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