April 2012

Before we get started with the addition of sprinter, Trinniberg, to the likely starters of the Kentucky Derby, I think the likelihood of a very deep closer winning the Derby has gone way up – enough, in fact, for Dullahan to currently be one of my top three horses in the Run for the Roses. If the fast pace materializes in this race , it is likely that this year’s winner could come from as far back as 15th or even 20th in the pack. I will definitely be double keying this race (see blog titled Double Key).

Thursday kicks off the Hollywood Spring/Summer meeting. Here are some things to look for:

First and foremost, this is a synthetic all-weather track. It’s not like dirt (Santa Anita and Fairplex), and it’s not Polytrack (Del Mar); it is somewhere between the two. Closers clearly have a better shot to win here than they did at Santa Anita. All distances on the main track, aside from the two year old races at 4.5 to 5.5 which are dominated by speed, tend to play that way. Approximately 10% more races will be won by horses more than three lengths of the pace at this track vs. the track at Santa Anita.

One unique sprint distance that runs at this oval is at seven and a half furlongs. Surprisingly, this one has been a real fair distance. These races used to be dominated by closers; however, that has certainly changed. Speed horses do really well at this taxing distance. Route runners with speed can be especially effective here on the cutback.

One small thing to be aware of is that the main track can change here and with a few days off. It seems like we had several Thursdays that were closer bias racetracks. However, as the week goes on, the track seems to even out and becomes more fair. As far as the best path goes in sprints, the outside generally has a slight advantage (as expected). Routes are really pretty fair here with only a slight edge to the inside path around the first turn.

Horses that have been working at Hollywood Park will have a decent advantage over the horses working at Santa Anita. There will be some form reversals simply due to the switch in surfaces. This is clearly a case where horses for courses will come into play.

The grass course plays pretty similar to Santa Anita. Usually, early in the meet, the off pace runners will have a slight edge. As the course gets worn out, speed horses will have the edge. The grass sprints are unique. At six furlongs, there is a slight left hand turn fairly early and of course the regular turn coming for home. As always, rail position can be vital. (Remember – the further out the rail is, the harder it is for horses to find room on the inside.) A general rule I use: rails at 0’ – cover trip inside; rails way out (say 30’) – best trip is on the lead or more outside in the clear. Keep an eye out on the grass course as it was completely brown last fall. Hopefully, they have that under control for this meet.

Here are a few riders to watch other than the obvious. David Flores rode this track really well last year, and he brought in several nice price horses. He may not get many mounts, but he is worth watching. Joe Talamo may get off to a great start because he’s been hot, and the big boys will be out of town riding in the Triple Crown races. As for a wait and see approach, P. Val returns for comeback number???????? He may struggle to start, and he may be great. I heard he was on a new diet and is in great shape; however, he may be rusty.

Trainers sure play a big role in the outcome at Hollywood Park (as they do everywhere). Peter Miller was quiet at the end of the Santa Anita meet. I expect him to come out rolling, especially with the two year old races. Marty Jones will most likely generate a flat bet profit for the meeting, and he may be the only trainer you can bet blind every starter and make a profit. Michael Pender and Art Sherman are stabled here and both guys can train and win here with price horses. Walter Solis always does well here with the two year olds. It will be easier to go against Bob Baffert’s runners as he will be focusing on the Triple Crown races and getting ready for Del Mar. He won’t win at such a high percentage here as he did at Santa Anita.

Finally, there is night racing. Crazy things can happen with the Friday night racing cards. I like to look for a single and maybe a two or three and buy the rest in the pick four. It’s amazing how many Friday night carry-overs we had the last few years. Don’t be surprised to wake up Saturday Morning with a carryover.

Last Saturday was the final big prep day for theDerby. There was a horse in the Blue Grass that I particularly liked named Dullahan. I had many reasons to think this guy could win the Blue Grass, most of all because he had won a grade one race over the Keeneland polytrack surface as a two year old and looked very impressive doing it.

This guy was bet almost in half at post time so I played him in the exotics with the other runner I liked, Holy Candy. As I watched the race, I had a hard time figuring out which horse was which. After the horses crossed the wire I went back to my seat and told my friend Ed, “Boy, Dulahan didn’t run a step.” He promptly said to me, “That horse won the race, you dumb****.” Someday, maybe Keeneland will come out of the dark ages and color the saddle towels so you can actually tell where each horse is in a race. As it turned out, I had lost him mid-race and started watching a different horse (easy to do when they all look the same), but that is a topic we can discuss on another day.

The subject is simple – what do we do with Dullahan in the Kentucky Derby?  I will try to offer an unbiased but helpful opinion of how this guy will run the first Saturday in May.

Here are the plusses for this guy: With front runners such as Bodemeister, Take Charge Indy and Hanson as well as pressers (Gemologist, Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another, Secret Circle, Went the Day Well, Hero of Order and maybe even Union Rags), the race may set up  for a runner to come from far back and win the race. Dullahan certainly has as good a stretch punch as any runner in the race. His trainer, Dale Romans, is solid and had a Triple Crown race winner last year in Shackleford.Jockey,KentDesourmeaux, has won the Kentucky Derby three times with Real Quiet, Fusaichi Pegasis and Big Brown. The pedigree is certainly a plus, being out of a Smart Strike mare and sired by Even the Score. (He is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird). He has a solid foundation as a two year old with six starts, was given the time to blossom, and is still a relatively fresh horse.

In addition, HRTV had trainer Dale Romans on and he sounded very confident. (Most trainers do.) One thing he said that I did take note of was how well he thought Dullahan ran in the Breeders Cup Juvenile (obviously a key race to find this year’sDerbywinner). “The track was really speed-favoring that day, and he had quite a troubled trip.” When I heard that, my first thought was that maybe I had found myDerbyhorse.

My second thought was……………speed bias track on Breeders Cup day. Hmmmmmmm. What about Drosselmeyer, who came from the weeds to win the Breeders Cup Classic? How about Caleb’s Posse who was way back early in the mile?  Amazombie was six lengths behind at the quarter and three others won from well behind that day. Churchill was not a speed bias track on Breeders Cup Day for sure.

So with that in mind, I still went to my computer to watch the Breeders Cup Juvenile again. Dullahan had only minor trouble at the break and minimal traffic throughout the race. He ran ok at best, but those are two year olds who can get better, right? Absolutely; however several things bother me about Dullahan for the Kentucky Derby : First, he has three races over the Churchill Downs surface and none of them have been any good. In fact, he was soundly beaten in maiden races byDerbyhopefuls, Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat. He has never shown any ability to run on any dirt track in an afternoon race anywhere in the country. He truly looks like a polytrack/grass specialist. Second, this horse pulls up immediately after he crosses the wire as if he is being protected for some reason. MaybeKentis just beingKent, trying to save this guy or maybe the horse isn’t all that sound.

Finally, there will be comparisons to last year’sDerbywinner, Animal Kingdom, and 2009 winner, Mine That Bird. Rightfully so; however, Animal Kingdom came off synthetic and grass races and won the Run for the Roses. Two big differences are that Animal Kingdom didn’t have three negative races run on the dirt, and the field seemed a lot less talented than this bunch of titans. Then there is Mine That Bird. This runner not only caught a soft group but he got an off track and one of the greatest rides of all at Churchill Downs by  great rider, Calvin Borel. In addition, if my memory is correct, Mine That Bird never ran another big race the rest of his career.

What to do??? Unless we see a muddy or sloppy track, I am going to use Dullahan in my exotics but not as the key. His style is one that really makes me want to use him. There will be a strong pace in this race, and this year’sDerbycould easily be won by a deep closer. However, Dullahan’s dirt races show me nothing and he just may be a synthetic and grass specialist. So, in the end, I’ll keep looking for this years’ winner and, one way or another, keep a close watch on the rest of the talented Dullahan’s career.

It was the 2003 Kentucky Derby. I was inLas Vegasfor the week playing in a handicapping tournament at the Hilton. A large group of us were staying at the Suncoast, and five of us got up early each morning to drive over to the Hilton to play in the contest.

We were doing this drive each day  so while in the car going back and forth, the discussion built up. Two of the guys had such a strong opinion for theDerbyit was, apparently, a two horse race. One friend, Dennis, liked a horse named Atswhatimtalkinabout. My other buddy, Jim, was really high on a runner named Funny Cide. Both were amazingly confident and the discussion got pretty heated.

Finally, during one of our drives to or from the Hilton, they decided to bet each other heads up on which one would beat the other. The loser would pay for Saturday night’s dinner at the Suncoast steakhouse. I knew that, with drinks included, it was going to be at least $75 a person and there were at least fifteen of us.  Thus, it was somewhere near a $1000.00 wager.

I actually had an opinion of the race myself. I thought the favorite, Empire Maker, was a legit Triple Crown threat and would be very tough to beat. However, theDerbyfavorite hadn’t won in many years so there was certainly reason to believe he could be beaten. I was looking for something 10-1 or more, and I had been hearing all week how great both Funny Cide and Atswhatimtalkinabout were. So the night before, I went back to my room and used all my information to decide what I would play. Tapes, sheets, pace, breeding, connections – you name it – I went over it. To be honest, I couldn’t decide. Both runners had reasons to fire, and both seemed like value.

On the actual day of the race, we had a big table in the ballroom that the Suncoast  management had reserved for us. It was a great set-up right across from the Bingo Parlor. In fact, my good friend, Don, and I walked into the Bingo room to see how our wives were doing. Shockingly, he  yelled out, “Bingooooo.” You should have seen the look we got from the Bingo players. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen!

Anyway, the early races were over and the horses were on the track for theDerby. I had to make a decision between Funny Cide and Atswhatimtalkinabout. Frankly, I still wasn’t sure. Both Dennis and Jim were in the concentration zone. Dennis looked me right in the eyes and said,” Atswhatimtalkinabout is going to run huge!!!!!!!” I looked over at Jim, and he just had this grin that said he was very confident in Funny Cide.

Finally, I made my decision. I went with west coast runner Atswhatimtalkinabout. I keyed him with Funny Cide, Empire Maker, Peace Rules and two others. I played exactas and trifectas with Atswhatimtalkinabout first and second with the other runners.

Well one thing was for sure. Dennis was right – Atswhatimtalkinabout ran a huge race. He got trapped on the rail and to this day he swears that horse would have won. Unfortunately, he finished fourth, beaten less than two lengths by Funnycide. I had nothing but a few hundred dollars in losing tickets. But it wasn’t all bad . . .

I wish I had a video camera on Jim during the race. You have never seen a grown man with his stature, cheer for a horse like he did. It was awesome to watch. He was down on the floor cheering his heart out. Not only had his horse beat Dennis’ horse, but he had won the race. I had such a good time watching him that it wasn’t until later I realized what a big mistake I had made.

We had an incredible festive dinner. Everyone, including Dennis (who forked out around $1000.00), had a great time. Dennis took the loss pretty well. (Although, it’s ten years later, and he still brings up the trouble his horse had!) Jim just smiled in appreciation for what he, himself,  had just done. He picked the Derby winner and that in itself is an awesome thing.

It wasn’t until after dinner, when I was in the casino playing video poker with my wife that I realized I should have bet on both horses!!!!!!!!!  They both had wagering value, and I thought both had a really good chance. Had I keyed both runners, I would have cashed not only a nice win bet, but the exacta and trifecta too. All told, it cost me a couple thousand dollars. But I learned a valuable lesson that has since helped me at the windows and in several contests over the years. The bottom line is, if you have a race in which you feel there is more than one value horse, bet them both.

We have many nice, full field races coming up leading back to the Kentucky Derby and even Breeders Cup races later in the year. These races offer so much betting value that there can certainly be two horses to bet on in a given race. Don’t be afraid to key two horses in these races that offer that much value. It can lead to some very nice scores and will eliminate memories like the wrong choice I made in the 2003Derby!

Have a great week and remember Jason and I are back at Santa Anita for another seminar on Santa Anita Derby Day. We are planning on having another successful day. We will certainly have a lot of fun and would love for you to join us!