It's that time of the year again. The 2012 Kentucky Derby is quickly approaching, and everybody wants to know the key to cashing a big winning wager on the first Saturday in May. I am going to do my best to keep you posted on what is going on with all the three-year-olds who could possibly factor into those wagers you will be placing.
The ultimate goal for any handicapper looking to cash a big ticket in the Derby is determining which three-year-olds are improving their speed figures and show great endurance. As the Derby grows closer, the races grow longer, ending with the ultimate test at a mile and a quarter on May 5th.
Some of the best of 2011's two-year-old crop are unproven around two turns. During February, March and April, we will learn which horses have the goods and which don't. Some will stand out early, and others will become the hot topic after their last prep race.
Last year's winner, Animal Kingdom, came into the Derby with only four career races. He did not race in any of the traditional Derby preps, but his speed figures were improving. In his first race as a three-year-old, he broke badly from the gates and still mustered up a Beyer number of 83. He followed that up with a 94 and a win in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes from Turfway Park.
He had the pattern that good handicappers look for in a horse. His speed figures were on the upswing, meaning the horse was improving each time he stepped on the track.
Many people dismissed his victory in the Spiral Stakes because it is a non-traditional spot for a Derby contender's last start, and it also came on Turfway Park's poly-track versus the conventional dirt surface raced on at Churchill Downs.
Will there be another late bloomer like Animal Kingdom in 2012? Will the favorite be B.C. Juvenile Champion Hansen? Will Union Rags rebound as a three-year-old? Will there be another big injury like we had last year with Uncle Mo?
The answers to every question will take place over the next three months. Continue to check each Wednesday for updates in this series.
Since the three-year-old Derby preps have already began, let's recap a couple of notable races already run.
$100,000: Grade 3—Sham Stakes, 01/07/12 at Santa Anita
A five-horse field entered the one-mile event at Santa Anita, highlighted by Breeders Cup Juvenile Sprint winner, Secret Circle.
Entering his three-year-old season undefeated after a perfect 3-0 start as a two-year-old, Secret Circle was unproven. The question remained whether the colt by Eddington could sustain his two-year-old feats going two turns.
It looked to be going relatively well as Secret Circle headed for home with a half-length lead at the top of the stretch, but 10-1 longshot Out of Bounds gathered momentum in the final 70 yards to surge by Secret Circle and win by half a length.
Jockey Rafael Bejarano had ridden both Secret Circle and Out of Bounds in all of their starts, and no one can blame him for siding with the Breeders Cup Champion, Secret Circle. According to the Daily Racing Form, after the race Bejarano said, “He started looking at the horse to his inside and tried to lug in. He didn’t pay attention to the other horse.”
Out of Bounds, owned by Darley Stable and trained by Eoin Harty, settled behind longshot Longview Drive, swung three wide into the line and rallied behind a beautiful, well-timed ride by his jockey, Garrett Gomez. The three-year-old colt by Discreet Cat won in his first start around two turns, going the mile in 1:34.56, and earning a Beyer figure of 99.
After the race, according to the Daily Racing Form, trainer Eoin Harty said about Out of Bounds, “He’s come around mentally as well as physically. He seems to be learning what we’re trying to teach him to do, and it paid off today.”
Front-runner Longview Drive ran a huge race for jockey Joel Rosario as he battled with Secret Circle the entire way around the track, but had to settle for a tough-beaten third.
Steve Asmussen trainee and the second betting choice, Hierro was a complete non-factor from start to finish. He had to check heels twice around the first turn and from there just settled and regressed further as the quintet hit their high gears down the stretch.
The colt by Hard Spun will likely be given another shot later in the meet to redeem himself. He entered his three-year-old season coming off a nice seven-furlong win at Churchill Downs in November. It will be interesting to see whether or not Asmussen sends Hierro back into allowance races or continues to train him for three-year-old supremacy.
Fourth-place finisher Handsome Mike was returning to the track where he won his only start as a two-year-old. He won at six-and-a-half furlongs in his second career start under Mike Smith, and the Doug O'Neil trainee was tested going two turns in his previous two starts. He finished second at Hollywood Park in the Grade 3 Generous. He followed that up with a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity from Hollywood Park.
Out of Bounds $22.60 - $5.80 - $4.40
Secret Circle $2.80 - $2.10
Longview Drive $4.00
$2 Exacta (4-2) = $21.20
$2 Trifecta (4-2-11) = $91.40
$2 Superfecta (4-2-11-1) = $237.60
What Did We Learn from the Sham Stakes?
Personally, I have had a biased opinion against West Coast entrants into the Kentucky Derby. My feelings have changed since Santa Anita switched back to a dirt surface. I now consider any horse running in California to be worthy of Derby consideration if they have proven themselves on a dirt track.
I will still automatically throw out any horse who has not raced on a conventional dirt surface. It is just an angle in my everyday handicapping that I have done really well with, and I stick to my guns betting the Derby as well.
The Winner: Out of Bounds
Personally, I felt like the horse had the dream trip after early fractions of 22.3 and 45.4. He swung three wide and had every reason to have more left in the tank than both Secret Circle and Longview Drive. He didn't, though. It took all the urging from Garrett Gomez to pass the Breeders Cup Juvenile Sprint Champ, and we have to give him credit for doing so.
Out of Bounds' next start will determine if this was a one-race phenomenon or whether the horse has really improved to run with the best of the West Coast.
Look for Out of Bounds next in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 10th from Santa Anita Park. He will likely get a rematch with the beaten favorite, Secret Circle, who got in one start going a mile and is likely to improve in his second start around two turns. It will be a make-or-break race for Secret Circle, who will likely determine whether or not he is a sprinter or whether he can route.
$100,000: Grade 3 Le Comte Stakes, 01/21/12 at Fair Grounds
The $175,000 Le Comte Stakes for three-year-olds is run at a distance of one-mile-and-70-yards. Traditionally, races at the Fair Grounds produce multiple Derby contenders.
The ultimate goal for three-year-olds running in New Orleans is completing the Cajun Triple Crown before heading to the Derby.
The Fair Grounds hosts three races beginning with the Le Comte in January. This year, the Grade 2 $300,000 Risen Star will be run on February 25th, 2012. The final step, the Grade 2 $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby, is run on April 1st. Any horse winning all three would be among the top betting choices running at Churchill Downs on May 5th.
In a full field of 13 horses, the 68th running of Le Comte Stakes was anybody's race as the bunched field turned for home. The third betting choice at odds of 7-2, Mr. Bowling, patiently tracked the front-running Alexander the Great and Hero of Order. Jockey Robby Albarado moved the Larry Jones trainee out three wide into the stretch and gradually grew clear.
He held on grudgingly as co-favorite Z-Dager, a three year-old by Mizzen Mast out of a Wavering Monarch mare, was breathing down his neck. Eventual third-place finisher, Shared Account, looked to have a win in sight, but something happened in the final yards and the horse yielded late.
Second-place finisher, Z-Dager, a second-time starter for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Shane Sellers, broke his maiden on December 15th, 2012 in his only start as a two-year-old going one-mile-and-70 yards, the exact same distance as the Le Comte Stakes.
The other co-favorite was Dan and Sheila, a three-year-old by More than Ready, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by his go-to jockey, John Velasquez. Both favorites decided that it was time to run in the final 5/16 of the race.
Dan and Sheila was dead last after four furlongs and closed to finish within roughly four lengths of Mr. Bowling. Z Dager had every chance to win, but couldn't pass the stubborn Mr. Bowling.
Mr. Bowling $9.20 - $4.80 - $4.00
Z Dager $4.80 - $3.60
Shared Account $3.80
$2 Exacta (4-2) = $43.20
$2 Trifecta (4-2-11) = $242.40
$2 Superfecta (4-2-11-1) = $4552.20
What Did We Learn from the Le Comte?
To be honest, not a whole lot.. The entire field of 13 had a chance to win the race turning for home, and not one horse picked up their feet and kicked home with the necessary aggressiveness
The Winner: Mr. Bowling
Yes, he did win. His Beyer figure of 79 is not something to boast about right now, but if he can improve into the mid-to-high 80s in the Risen Star than he is worth watching closely.
At this point, I personally think every horse coming out of this race are "watch and see" types. I don't think any of them are worth considering on a Derby ticket. That's not to say they won't improve in the next two months, though. And of course, for many of these three-year-olds it was their first time around two turns.
The one horse I would keep a very close eye on is Dan and Sheila.
The fourth-place finisher showed some serious driving skills in the lane after being dead last about midway through the race. The pace wasn't that hot—she was running at some front-runners who went six furlongs in 1:12.1, nothing too impressive at this stage. The pace in the Derby is likely to be just as quick or quicker, and they go about an extra two furlongs.
$400,000 : GIII - Holy Bull Stakes, 01/29/12 at Gulfstream Park
Traditionally, Gulfstream Park is prime track for top Derby contenders to continue their path towards the starting gates at Churchill Downs in May. The Holy Bull Stakes is the likely first step for many of those horses.
In 2012, the 25th running of the Holy Bull was contested by a small but talented field of six horses. The two-year-old Eclipse winner, Hansen, would be making his first start since winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile.
Algorithms, a Todd Pletcher trainee, came into the race off a December tune-up in allowance company at Gulfstream. He was undefeated as a two-year-old in just two starts with no graded stakes earnings.
Note: A one-mile race at Gulfstream Park is only one turn.
Out of the gates, it was apparent that Hansen wasn't going to be his best. He stumbled badly out of the gate, a dagger in the foot before the race even began because of his front-running style. He burst out to the lead following the tough start and never looked comfortable under handling from Ramon Dominguez.
The first quarter was set in a respectable :23.3, but when the half number showed :45.3 it was obvious Dominguez couldn't get the horse to settle. He extended his lead to four-and-a-half lengths, but from that point forward he didn't look like the two-year-old version of Hansen.
By the six-furlong mark, Algorithms had tackled and passed the leg-weary Hansen, and he pulled away from there. Algorithms wound up a five-length winner over the two-year-old champion. Hansen had enough gets to hold off the late-charging My Adonis for second. Fort Loudon, Silver Max and Consortium also ran.
Algorithms, a three-year-old bay colt by Bernardini out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ava Knowsthecode, won for the third time in as many starts. The most likely next step for Algorithms is the Grade-2 Fountain of Youth from Gulfstream on February 26th. Look for Hansen to seek revenge in that spot as well.
Algorithms $7.00 - $2.80 - $2.40
Hansen $2.40 - $2.10
My Adonis $4.00
$2 Exacta (6-4) = $16.20
$2 Trifecta (6-4-3) = $50.70
$2 Superfecta (6-4-3-5) = $158.50
What Did We Learn from the Holy Bull?
Hansen can be beat, and Algorithms needs to be considered as a legitimate Derby contender for now. It was an extremely impressive win by Algorithms. Even with the tough break for Hansen, I feel that Algorithms was simply the better horse that day.
Todd Pletcher continually churns out multiple Derby contenders each and every year. The sire of Algorithms, Bernardini, has proven to have some trouble producing routing stakes winners, but Algorithms proved that theory wrong in the Holly Bull
The Winner: Algorithms
With these three Derby preps under wraps, Algorithms, easily the most impressive in victory, has produced the best race by a three-year-old in my opinion. Therefore, he needs to be at the top of your list for consideration on Derby tickets right now.
The Fountain of Youth Stakes in late February will more than likely draw a larger field with some better horses, and it will be interesting to see if Algorithms and Hansen both enter. If they do, I think they both could be in the same position coming for home. If Hansen breaks well, we should get to see who's best in the Southern Florida.
Note: Consortium, another three-year-old by Bernardini, finished second to Algorithms in their December allowance bout. Consortium bumped with another horse early in the race and finished a distant last. Keep a keen eye on what he does in his next start.
What's Up Next?
All information in the entries is from www.equibase.com. Please visit that site to purchase handicapping products, individual horse bios and all other information pertaining to horse racing.
Grade 3 - Withers (Aqueduct), 02/04/12
Owners: 1 - Meyerhoff, Harry C. and Tom O.; 2 - Team Stallion Racing Corp. and McConnell Racing Stable; 3 - Fein, Eric; 4 - McKee, Ronald, E.; 5 - Repole Stable; 6 - Sagamore Farm; 7 - Godolphin Racing LLC
Breeders: 1 - Claiborne Farm; 2 - WinStar Farm LLC, Polo Green Stable,Piacentino Farms, LP & Shannon Potter; 3 - Sugar Maple Farm; 4 - McKee Stables, Inc.; 5 - Russell L. Reineman Stable, Inc; 6 - River Bend Farm, Inc.; 7 - Darley
Grade 2 - Robert B. Lewis (Santa Anita), 02/04/12
|Santa Anita Park - February 4, 2012 Race 6 - 3:05 PM |
Owners: 1 - J. Kirk & Judy Robison; 2 - Arnold Zetcher, LLC; 3 - M. K. Cho Stables, LLC; 4 - Reddam Racing, LLC; 5 - Westrock Stables, LLC; 6 - Mr. & Mrs. Larry D. Williams; 7 - Heinz Steinmann; 8 - Everest, O'Brian, Valdez, Et Al
Breeders: 1 - Monticule; 2 - William A. Carl Estate; 3 - Cho Myung Kwon; 4 - Harvey Clarke; 5 - Jim J. FitzGerald; 6 - Mr. & Mrs. Larry D. Williams; 7 - Palides Investments N.V., Inc.; 8 - Adena Springs
Equipment Changes: 3 - Groovin' Solo - Blinkers On
Grade 3 - Sam F. Davis (Tampa Bay Downs), 02/04/12
Tampa Bay Downs - February 4, 2012
Race 11 - 5:10 PM
Owners: 1 - Team Valor International; 2 - Liam Benson; 3 - Michael B. Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier; 4 - St. George Stable LLC; 5 - Vic Carlson; 6 - A. Stevens Miles, Jr.; 7 - Deborah and Dennis Petrisak; 8 - Korina Stable; 9 - Harold L. Queen; 10 - Stipa Racing Stable, Inc.; 11 - John C. Oxley
Breeders: 1 - Stone Farm & Dell Hancock; 2 - Liam Benson & Mayo West Farm; 3 - Lakeside Farm LLC; 4 - St.George Stables LLC.; 5 - Jessica Nicole Wynn; 6 - A. Stevens Miles Jr.; 7 - Dennis Petrisak & Deborah Petrisak; 8 - Stonewall Farm Stallions; 9 - Harold Queen; 10 - Cabotaba Partnership; 11 - Spendthrift Farm LLC