A day after I declared “I’m freaking tired and I need to do some schoolwork before I bomb my classes” hiatus, the NYRA was nice enough to send me some pony goodies. Words cannot describe how hyped I am for the Belmont Stakes and then of course, the Saratoga meet. Summer was already my favorite season, but ponies always make it better. The calendar magnet is affixed to my fridge, the pen now has a home in my camera bag, and I’ll probably stick little Vyjack to my bag too. Thanks NYRA!
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.