12 Days to Derby: Hence’s KY Derby Outlook

Hence: by Street Boss out of Floating Island. Trip notes for Hence’s first three career starts can be found in the comments.

 

4th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, Maiden Special Weight, Oaklawn Park

Stumbled out of the gate some to no real consequence, 2W 1st T, outside in 3rd tier on backstretch, advanced outside 4W into contention midway on the far T, took over into the stretch with momentum, drew away, quickly ducked inside and steadied to not hit the rail, nearly came to full stop, corrected, outside foe went by to take the advantage, Hence came right back to take the lead, going away at the wire. What was shaping up to be a ho-hum easy victory for Hence turned into an amazing win, given that he nearly dove into the fence late in the race and still came back to emerge victorious after ceding the lead. Much the best, an extreme understatement here for Hence.

5th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G3 Southwest Stakes, Oaklawn Park

Hence is the #10

2/3W midpack 1st T, behind fast pace on the backstretch while in between some, angled out 4W midway on far T, kept on evenly in the stretch, very little late. Despite securing a solid position, Hence was completely outclassed in this spot, taking a steep climb in class from a special weight to graded stake.

6th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G3 Sunland Derby, Sunland Park

Hence is #9

Taken back very early, outside 2W 1st T in rear, behind fast pace on backstretch, steadily gained, overland route into the far T while passing many, took on leader Conquest Mo Money rounding into the stretch with all the momentum, put that one away near the 8th pole, drew off, finished up nicely. Having been given a quality setup with a very demanding pace up front, Hence made mincemeat of this field; showing up a different horse than his prior self. Conquest Mo Money was closer to the fast pace and was better than the 3.75 length margin Hence beat him by but Hence’s sustained rally for such an extended period of this race left us amazed to know he had this kind of ability.

 

With a non-effort in the Southwest in his first try against winners after breaking his maiden in extraordinary fashion (watch the replay), Hence did not appear as one that fit on the Derby trail. Steve Asmussen trudged on with him, sending him to the weakest annual Derby prep stateside, the Sunland Derby, where Hence rebounded in tremendous fashion, resulting in an eye-catching win. With a new jockey and different tactics that involved taking Hence immediately off the pace to make one late run when previously he displayed a bit of tactical speed, Hence stamped himself a Derby contender in just one afternoon in New Mexico.

Outlined in the trip notes, Hence’s smashing score at Sunland Park came as a great surprise to us. Sure, he hinted his ability in his maiden victory, but he did not show any class in his previous start in the Southwest. The Sunland Derby has already solidified itself as a useful Derby, when next out Irap won the Blue Grass at 31/1 and Conquest Mo Money ran a bang up 2nd in the Arkansas Derby at 17/1. These performances have obviously validated the competent speed figures that the race has been assigned, but still, we believe that the Sunland Derby cannot be thought of as being in the same class as most of the other final Derby preps.

Hence is one that seems to be putting things together at the utmost critical time coming into the Kentucky Derby and seems likely to fall into great early position behind a fast pace at Churchill. He has matured out of his juvenile antics, including his inability to break well from the gate. Regardless, without having demonstrated huge talent prior to, his last-out win must be deemed as an outlier; an effort so large we’re dubious he’ll be able to duplicate it. In fact, Hence will have to get a combination of a dream trip and setup and still slightly improve off of his win in the Sunland Derby to win the real Derby. Since it won’t surprise us if Hence doesn’t pan out and turns up in allowance company this summer, we cannot back him under the twinspires.

Having peaked so significantly last out, expecting Hence to improve once again would be borderline cruel. With a productive trainer on his side, Hence could sneak into the bottom of our selections if he is reportedly training well throughout Derby week. For now, Hence is still a bit of an outsider to us, as you’d expect from a 10/1 winner of the Sunland Derby.

Advertisements

13 Days to Derby: J Boys Echo’s KY Derby Outlook

J Boys Echo: by Mineshaft, out of Letgomyecho. Trip notes of J Boys Echo’s first three career starts can be found in the comments. 

 

4th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G3 Withers Stakes, Aqueduct, Inner Track

J Boys Echo is #10

Out fine from outside post, 4W 1st T, midpack on backstretch, advanced some midway on far T, lost ground while keeping on fine rounding into the stretch 4W, finished fine with some interest. Having raced wide throughout both turns, J Boys Echo ran much better than his line suggests as he was never going to catch the sharp winner, El Areeb, when covering 26 more feet than he.

5th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G3 Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, Inner Track

J Boys Echo is #1

Inside 1st T, midpack behind fast pace on backstretch, began advancing into the far T, angled out 4W midway on far T while advancing on top trio quickly, took over with all the momentum into the stretch 3W, opened up, finished fine. A visually impressive victory for J Boys Echo, turning the tables on El Areeb, but J Boys Echo had everything going his way this day with a perfect setup combined with a beneficial inside/out trip. This was a top effort from J Boys Echo that we cannot expect him to get back to without another perfect trip and setup.

6th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G2 Blue Grass Stakes, Keeneland

J Boys Echo is #3

Bumped and jostled around in between at the start, inside in rear into 1st T, behind slow pace in tight pack on backstretch, very mild advance in between, in very tight getting bumped around some towards far T, 2W around turn, angled out in the stretch, evenly to the wire. J Boys Echo did not get the best of trips here and faced a difficult setup that benefitted the 1-2 finishers. While facing better company than his breakthrough score in the Gotham, J Boys Echo was a bit disappointing in this spot. He never looked any kind of poised to truly get involved at any point in this event.

Equipped with a win in one of the major Kentucky Derby preps, a triple digit beyer, prior success at Churchill Downs, trained by one of Louisville’s stalwarts in Dale Romans, J Boys Echo makes for a fine candidate to wear the roses on the first Saturday in May. Although Romans’ Derby dreams may have dried up last November when his impressive 2nd place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Not This Time was retired, J Boys Echo has emerged from his barn as a serious contender.  

In his six career starts, making him a venerable veteran in this Derby, J Boys Echo has shown himself to be a professional colt that has demonstrated talent from day one. He has a fine closing punch with enough tactical speed to often set himself up with a desirable mid-pack trip which will be to his benefit at Churchill behind what we believe will be a fast pace. He also has a resume that features a fast, eye-catching win in the Gotham stakes which, if duplicated, could possibly win this edition of the Derby. Of his rivals, only Classic Empire totes another 102 beyer in his PP’s, which came six months ago in the BC Juvenile. Also, we believe that with his experience and running style, J Boys Echo will be equipped to handle the mile and a quarter in the Derby as well as any.

All of these strengths make J Boys Echo a prime win contender in two weeks but like every other horse in this bunch, he has his blemishes. For starters, his fast win in the Gotham was a bit of an optical illusion. As we discussed in the trip notes, J Boys Echo had everything his own way in that event with a fast pace that collapsed in front of him and a perfect, ground-saving journey. His Gotham competition was a bit suspect as well; heavy favorite El Areeb didn’t run his best effort and never appeared to be a legitimate KY Derby contender, and 2nd place finisher Cloud Computing, who is awaiting the Preakness, was making just his 2nd career start and ran just as well as J Boys Echo despite the final margin between the two. Although the Gotham victory was fast, J Boys Echo will actually have to improve off of that effort.

There is also the issue of J Boys Echo’s sub-par 4th place finish last out in the Blue Grass. Things were certainly not in his favor in that heat, but J Boys Echo wasn’t able to overcome the inequalities to factor much at all in that running. We’re inclined to toss that effort out considering how strange the Blue Grass turned out to be, but it does seem a bit damning that J Boys Echo needs everything in his favor to truly contend against the best of this crop.
With just one substantial score on his resume, and without a special turn of foot, we’re inclined to believe that J Boys Echo is a slight cut below his fellow closers who should benefit in the Derby. Since we’re expecting him to improve in the stretch below the twinspires, J Boys Echo will be on our tickets and may end up an overlay if sent off above 15:1. At this time, we’re definitely leaning against J Boys Echo as our top selection, but he’s got too many boxes checked to be completely throw out.  

14 Days to Derby: State of Honor’s KY Derby Outlook

State of Honor: by To Honor and Serve, out of State Cup. Trip notes of State of Honor’s first six career starts can be found in the comments.

7th career start: 1 mile, $100 Mucho Macho Man, Gulfstream

State of Honor is #10

Out fine, midpack, advanced outside 4W early on T while in hand, cruised up to leaders with momentum at quarter pole, commenced duel with Sonic Mule to the inside, lost slight edge at the 8th pole, came back, missed. Rounding into the stretch things were looking like State of Honor was going to blow this field away to complete a breathtaking move but having gone wide throughout the turn hurt him in the stretch when he was unable to put away Sonic Mule. State of Honor showed a new dimension coming from off of the pace here in his dirt debut but left us wanting a bit more despite a big effort.

8th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G3 Sam F Davis, Tampa Bay (blinks on)

State of Honor is #1

Speed from inside post, cut the corner into the 1st T to take clear lead, set solid pace, began to feel significant pressure midway on far T, dueled with Wild Shot into the stretch, kept on, won duel late, no match for Tapwrit going by in final strides. Equipped with blinkers for the first time while stretching out to two turns once again, State of Honor ran perfectly fine in this spot but was a clear cut below the top two (and Wild Shot for that matter) in this race. Aside from getting him to show more early speed, the blinkers did not improve State of Honor’s performance when taking on some of the heavy hitters in this division for the first time.

9th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G2 Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay

State of Honor is #8

Away just okay, had to hustle to get out to take the lead into the 1st T initially 4W, cleared prior to backstretch run, did best to settle, in hand with significant margin until midway on far T when taken on by Tapwrit, no match whatsoever for that one into the stretch, kept on fine to wire. This effort was a bit better than it looks considering State of Honor had to exert himself plenty when rushing up to make the pace from an outside post. This was an obvious second best effort to the winner.

10th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G1 Florida Derby, Gulfstream (blinks off)

State of Honor is #1

Away fine from inside post, a bit rank around the 1st T when forced to take back slightly while yielding advantage to Three Rules coming over the top, inside far T maintaining position until being forced to stay with no running room past the quarter pole, cut the corner into the stretch in large opening, mild rally into second, out fine. Shedding the blinkers, State of Honor was allowed to rate off the pace but still could do no better than turning in an adequate effort. Despite the possible look of things, State of Honor was actually never hampered rounding into the far turn as once he got clear, he did not have any fantastic turn of foot that would’ve ever enabled him to contend for the win.

 

After steadily improving while in hand around the turn in the Mucho Macho Man stakes at Gulfstream in January, when State of Honor sidled up to inside leaders, we’d have ventured to guess that he would easily succeed them into the stretch before opening up to stamp himself a major Kentucky Derby contender. Instead, State of Honor found himself entrenched in a duel with Sonic Mule (who later bombed off the Derby trail in the Tampa Bay Derby) and never got by. After such a depressing defeat it was apparent to all that State of Honor may possess a harmful defect that many thoroughbreds face when racing, that is the ability to go by horses in the stretch. Trainer Mark Casse smartly added blinkers to State of Honor in his next start in an attempt to amend this flaw but the tactic was unsuccessful. State of Honor, always one to break well and show quality tactical speed, was now a need-the-lead type who wouldn’t agree to rate kindly off an early pace. The blinkers did not improve State of Honor’s ability to finish in the stretch either, as he quickly ceded the advantage very early in the stretch in both of his starts with the hood on. Last out, with the blinkers off in the Florida Derby, State of Honor was now free to stalk the pace that resulted in him finding a fine spot just off the early pace. Still, with minimal abilities to finish strongly while passing horses, he was never able to compete with runaway winner Always Dreaming in the final stages. State of Honor has been left in an awkward position where his best features such as his ability to break, tactical speed, and consistency to keep on in the stretch have brought him to the Kentucky Derby, but he still retains fatal flaws that have prevented him from actually contending for a victory in all of his last three starts.
Although his limitations are clearly stated and he seems to be a measured cut below the best of this group, State of Honor is a commendable colt that improved immensely when introduced to dirt racing this year as a three year old. We’re quite convinced he doesn’t want any part of a mile and a quarter but he consistently tries hard and has already stretched himself around two turns admirably when stepping up in class multiple times over the past few months, so we won’t be surprised when he shows his absolute best under the twinspires. He doesn’t appear to have any flash or vast unfilled potential — in fact, his 2nd place finish in the Florida Derby was as drab an effort that you will ever see that resulted in a notable placing in a major race — so while things don’t bode well for him in the Kentucky Derby, we look forward to witnessing State of Honor’s hard-knocking self run for years to come.

15 Days to Derby: Irap’s KY Derby Outlook

Irap: by Tiznow, out of Silken Cat.

Trip notes of his first four career starts can be found in the comments.

5th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G3 Robert B Lewis, Santa Anita (blinks on)

Irap is #2

Broke fine, took others out wide into the 1st T, shifted inside pulling himself up to press pacesetter Royal Mo, rated back off that one a bit before turning the pressure up again into the far turn, in all-out duel around far turn, lost ground turning into the stretch, just held 2nd in final strides while thoroughly losing ground late. An improved performance sporting the blinkers for the first time which had him showing more speed, a tactic that was needed, but again he looked like he’d go on to take over early on the far turn and did not. For the third consecutive race, he finished poorly late.

6th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, Mine That Bird Derby, Sunland Park (blinks off)

Broke fine from inside post, steadied back under the wire for the first time, inside in 2nd tier before angling out 3W 1st T, just off top trio on backstretch before improving into the far turn, pressed leader Conquest Mo Money to the inside mid-turn, had all the momentum to go by at the top of the stretch, dueled before quickly losing ground past the 8th pole, finished evenly. Yet another carbon copy of Irap’s prior form, showing good tactical speed, advancing around the far turn, having momentum to go by but quickly shying away from a fight in the stretch, finishing just fine at best. Irap had no excuse to not get by or even duel to the wire with Conquest Mo Money who did much more dirty work on the front even before fending this favorite off.

7th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G3 Sunland Derby, Sunland Park (blinks on)

Irap is #5

Broke fine, settled in between 2W in 2nd tier on first T, improved into 2nd on backstretch before being readily passed by Conquest Mo Money to the outside into the far T, in the pocket with no running room mid-turn, angled out into the stretch, switched leads at 16th pole while on even terms with previous pacesetter Hedge Fund to the inside, dueled for 3rd, lost. Wearing the blinkers once again, Irap’s race was just about over when he wasn’t able to set or race right up on the early pace, which was wickedly fast in this event. He was unable to ever get involved aside from falling into a solid pocket spot on the far turn where he then had no room to run. He shifted out quickly enough to contend, but Irap’s issue of handling the turn into the stretch once again hurt him, which was when he was left for good.  

8th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G2 Blue Grass, Keeneland (blinks off)

Irap is #6

Broke fine, hustled some while in tight quarters early, stalked pacesetter Wild Shot while 2W 1st T, pressed that one intently and took the advantage into the far T, opened up a length mid T, 2W into the stretch, shifted inside while hopping along on left lead, taken on by Practical Joke on the outside in the final furlong, kept on, held. Losing the blinkers once more and again unable to switch leads for any point in the stretch, Irap was able to take advantage of a very soft pace in this Blue Grass and inherited the lead when pacesetter Wild Shot disintegrated early on the far turn. While this was certainly an improvement and his best effort to date, this was a weirdly contested race where only the top two finishers seemed to do any running. Our best conclusion was that the track was instrumental in carrying Irap’s left lead to the wire, which he finished through for the first time on dirt.

Handicapping the Kentucky Derby, comprised of an exorbitant amount of three year olds, many of who are far from reaching their full potential, running a demanding distance that just a small minority are actually built for, has always been difficult. Somehow, in recent years with the members running less and less prior to the first Saturday in May, it became more exasperating. Irap however (from the connections that brought us I’ll Have Another five years ago) with eight career starts, is an easily definable colt that brings us a breath of fresh air amidst a plethora of others in this Derby field whose true abilities and character are still indeterminable.

Irap is a dependable, professional actor who breaks well from the gate and has solid tactical speed with or without blinkers, which trainer Doug O’Neill couldn’t seem to settle on equipping him with prior to the Blue Grass. He often gains interest when advancing into the far turn but from there, even with momentum, his improvement is thrown off kilter. Unless he has a lead, like he held in the Blue Grass, he will take the turn into the top of the stretch as an excuse to back off an inside rival. From thereon to the wire, he struggles to switch to his right lead and is a very poor finisher in the final 8th.        

At Churchill, we expect Irap to show decent speed and get himself a fine stalking position within the second tier. Although, we feel that he should be immediately sent in an attempt to either set the pace or sit just off of an early pacesetter. These tactics worked for him in the R.B. Lewis and last out in the Blue Grass, but neither of those featured a particularly quick pace. In all scenarios, Irap needs a very slow early pace, which seems quite unlikely.

Nearly all of Irap’s five dirt races, which were all routes around two turns, were serviceable due to his early tactical speed that allowed him to acquire solid position, but left us wanting more due to his numerous issues from the start of the far turn to the wire. His faulty finishing abilities were most appalling that, if left uncurtailed, will get him beat an outstanding amount in the Derby. None of these races were fast nor featured top talent.

Irap is in this field because of his surprise score last out in the Blue Grass, where he beat the likes of McCraken, Tapwrit, J Boys Echo and Practical Joke, all of whom were considered top Derby contenders. As we discussed in the trip notes portion, Irap certainly improved in the Blue Grass, but he had everything his own way at Keeneland when racing up close to a slow pace that favored the speed horses. Pacesetter Wild Shot disintegrated early and had something not been amiss, we have serious doubts that Irap would have ever gotten past him. With Irap inheriting the lead, he did not visually look to be finishing all that strongly on his left lead throughout, but still held off the oncoming Practical Joke, leading us to believe that the track had much more to do with the result than Irap’s strong effort. The final result was a fluke victory in a race where too many horses ran well below their best for us to take too seriously.

Every edition of the Kentucky Derby has horses, in hindsight, that were not very good. Irap is very likely to draw this distinction when we look back at this field in a few years. Somehow, he was able to luck into winning this year’s Blue Grass where 31/1 was an underlay based on the past performances but Irap’s one minute and fifty seconds of fame are up.

16 Days to Derby: Fast and Accurate’s KY Derby Outlook

Fast and Accurate: by Hansen, out of It’s Heidi’s Dance.

Trip notes of his first three career starts can be found in the comments.

4th career start: 1 mile, $20-30k Maiden claiming, Turfway, Synthetic (first lasix)

Broke sharp, narrow lead into the 1st T before getting clear midway on the T, sizable advantage on the backstretch, kicked on into the stretch without having been asked, opened up when asked, finished nicely. Getting back on the synthetic surface while receiving lasix for the first time, Fast and Accurate was a new horse, showing newfound early speed when taking a significant drop in class.

5th career start: 7.5 furlongs, $60k Overnight stakes, Gulfstream, Turf

Out well, made the lead easily, inside and clear into the 1st T, got away some on the backstretch while setting an average clip, pressed some early far T and into the stretch but cut the corner and opened up, finished nicely through the wire, not yielding his wide margin at any point late. Taking a sizable step up in class, this was a breakout performance for Fast and Accurate making his turf debut, taking this stake easily.

6th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G3 Spiral Stakes, Turfway, Polytrack

Fast and Accurate is #3

Away fine, angled out in close contact with outside foe into 1st T but ultimately took up the pocket midway around the T, rated on backstretch behind pacesetter En Hanse before taking back a length and switching out prior to the far turn, came on steadily through T to tackle En Hanse rounding into the stretch, easily by at the top of the stretch, came out, yielded margin to inside closers, corrected, lasted. 

Fast and Accurate, while not visually impressive, was a much the best winner stretching out to a mile and an eighth after racing just off this demanding pace, which left the early 1-2 runners extremely well beaten, before holding off the closers who were benefited by the early tempo. For the first time in his career Fast and Accurate demonstrated an ability to rate from off the pace and score. The major concern with this victory is one we seem to have each year, which is who did he beat?

With an annual spot in the Kentucky Derby designated for the winner of the G3 Spiral stakes run six weeks out over the polytrack at Turfway Park, two of the last five winners have not even pressed on into Churchill due to concerns that the horses would be over-matched on a foreign dirt surface in the Derby. Fast and Accurate would fit nicely in that grouping but Mike Maker and Kendall Hansen seem excited to hold a lottery ticket on the first Saturday in May, maybe for good reason. Since the addition of blinkers combined with lasix, Fast and Accurate has rescued himself from a life in maiden claiming events at second tier tracks such as Turfway and Parx when going three for three, ascending as quickly as you could imagine for a horse that had been quite dreadful in his prior three career starts. Gambling that Fast and Accurate would make this edition of the Kentucky Derby when he stepped into the gate for a $30k tag in a maiden claiming race on a cold December 4th day at Turfway would have paid out the same as a winning Mega Millions ticket, so one can’t fault these connections for keeping on, attempting to have lightning strike twice.

In Kentucky, Fast and Accurate ought to be stalking the early pacesetters, no worse than 5th on the backstretch. He will need a slow pace to render effective which seems unlikely.

Under the twinspires, Fast and Accurate will be facing a plethora of obstacles, first of which will be the main track surface. While Fast and Accurate was a completely different animal back in October of last year at Parx in his lone start on dirt, he showed no affinity for the surface whatsoever. In fact, he began to turn his career around in his subsequent start getting back on the polytrack at Turfway. While his pedigree suggests that he ought to handle dirt, it does lean towards turf and synthetic success. Fast and Accurate doesn’t have the closing running style nor the long striding gait associated with turf and synthetic racing, so we’re inclined to believe he is likely still serviceable over dirt. However, it is a giant leap of faith to believe that Fast and Accurate will be at peak capacity switching surfaces once again.

Fast and Accurate’s class is also a significant matter in question with his lone graded stakes victory coming in the G3 Spiral, an event that was comprised of a subpar field that made for just an average edition of the race at best. His prior races were what sent him off at 24/1 in the Spiral and give no indication that he belongs in this field.

Boasting just a meager pedigree (he is Hansen’s best foal from his first crop), while emerging from some of the lowest echelons in racing to a Kentucky Derby start, Fast and Accurate is certainly a neat story. Nevertheless, he is in no way a contender for the run for the roses. Our best guess to this point would be that down the line, he will do his best running at a mile on the synthetic surfaces, leading us to believe he may have already peaked despite his youth. Fast and Accurate has proved to be a revelation, but if you’re contemplating joining his journey now, be prepared for the first stop to be off a cliff.

17 Days to Derby: Malagacy’s KY Derby Outlook

Malagacy: by Shackleford, out of Classiest Gem.

1st career start: 5.5F, Maiden Special Weight, Gulfstream, Sloppy Track

Broke sharp, hustled showing early speed, content to sit just off inside pacesetter, moved outside 3W early on T to get on even terms with inside duo, took advantage 3 furlongs out, opened up rounding into the stretch, switched leads near the 8th pole, finished nicely. A professional and visually impressive debut for Malagacy here, although the wet track had much to do with the enormous winning margin.

2nd career start: 6.5F, non-winners of one/$75k optional claimer, Gulfstream

Out fine, hustled and showed immediate speed, content to sit just off of inside pacesetter, steadily lost a bit of ground on backstretch before readily advancing early on turn, quickly went by pacesetter at the head of the stretch, opened up, not asked in final strides. Another outstanding, professional outing from Malagacy in this spot which, aside from losing some ground for a bit on the backstretch, was a near repeat of his flashy debut.

3nd career start: 1 and 1/16 miles, G2 Rebel, Oaklawn

Malagacy is #6

Fractious in the gate, speed, taken back to sit just off inside pacesetter into 1st T, under whip midway on far T 2W, passed pacesetter quickly turning into the stretch, pressed mildly by Untapped a few paths to the outside, maintained modest margin before getting away some past the 8th pole, finished up decently. This was a much the best win for Malagacy in his first route and stakes, using his plentiful tactical speed to sit a perfect trip. Most notably, Malagacy took the lead and held his margin for the entire length of the long Oaklawn stretch which speaks to just how much he towered over his rivals in this event.

4th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G1 Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn

Malagacy is #12

Out fine from far outside post, speed, outside in 2nd tier while 3W 1st T, advanced to pressure pacesetter Conquest Mo Money into far T, on even terms while in between with Untrapped to the immediate outside mid T, dueled into stretch, disposed Untrapped but continued duel with leader Conquest Mo Money, couldn’t go out in final strides, switched back to left lead, out-finished. While Malagacy has his excuses in this race, having been outside enough on both turns and having to put in an elongated and sustained rally since things heated up early on the far turn in a race that ultimately fell apart, pacesetter Conquest Mo Money faced these same challenges and still fended off Malagacy while remaining game to the wire, finishing 2nd. Malagacy ultimately ran fine but sank in the deeper waters of a better field and demonstrated that he is unlikely to improve with added distance.

Like so many well-meant Todd Pletcher trainees, Malagacy came to the races already assembled, with the ability to break from the gate without hesitation packaged with plentiful tactical speed to assure himself perfect trips. Along with his world class preparation, Malagacy has quickly shown himself to possess a bevy of ability, much of which was demonstrated in an outstanding victory in the Rebel in just his third career start. Now with just four career starts, Malagacy will look to break the curse of Apollo to become the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without starting as a two year old. Despite his quality connections and exponential ascension in his brief career, there is a great chance Malagacy’s performance at Churchill will be viewed as amatuer night.

In the Derby, look for Malagacy to be hustled out of the gate to stalk an inside pacesetter if possible. In no case should he be ever worse than 5th in the early goings. He will likely be contributing on a fast pace that will do him no favors late in the stretch.

Although Malagacy kindly stretched out when taking a key Derby prep in the mile and a 16th Rebel stakes in his first start around two turns, while also taking a giant leap in class, his last out effort in the Arkansas Derby where he tired badly in the final strides made it apparent he will not be suited to the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby where he will need to be at his best. Although he has just four career starts and should continue to be on the upswing given a superb score in the Rebel, his prior form isn’t good enough to win the Derby. In each of his Oaklawn preps, the fields were assuredly underwhelming which led to lackluster heats, so much so that we are exceedingly skeptical of all the horses coming from Arkansas, including possible favorite Classic Empire.

Malagacy’s four career starts are also a glaring issue, since he would need much more seasoning to peak at the mile and a quarter. Malagacy’s lack of experience is a steep handicap as he does not possess the superior talent needed to compromise for this defect. Like his sire Shackleford, Malagacy is much more poised to contend in the Preakness, with it’s shorter distance and smaller field size which can make for an easier pace. With Malagacy’s class is in question, combined with his distance issues, he is one of the easier tosses in this edition of the Derby and ought to be viewed as an underlay.

18 Days to Derby: Cloud Computing’s KY Derby Outlook

Cloud Computing: by Maclean’s Music, out of Quick Temper.

1st career start: 6F, Maiden Special Weight, Aqueduct (Inner track)

Broke a length slow, brushed, inside in rear on backstretch, readily advanced on rail early on T, angled out 3W rounding into stretch stalling his momentum a bit, switched leads at 3/16ths pole, steady advance from thereon in, easily by pacesetting leader late, finished fine. This was an excellent debut for Cloud Computing, running down a valid sprinter at this level in Mineralogy (who graduated next out) who had things his own way on the lead, despite a slow start.

2nd career start: 1 and 1/16 miles, G3 Gotham, Aqueduct (Inner track)

Cloud Computing is #9

Away fine, early speed before dropping over inside into 1st T, just off early duo of El Areeb and True Timber contesting the pace, in pocket in close contention on backstretch, switched out 3W early final T, advanced to contest El Areeb on the lead coming into the stretch while in middle with J Boys Echo to the outside, passed El Areeb easily but unable to match strides with J Boys Echo to the outside, kept on evenly to wire. This was a brilliant effort from Cloud Computing in his first start around two turns, considering how close he was to the El Areeb and True Timber throughout, who combined  set a blazing pace.  Yet, Cloud Computing went on some in the final furlong, while El Areeb and True Timber languished with Cloud Computing ultimately finishing 6.5 and 7.5 lengths better than those two, respectively. Cloud Computing was simply misplaced here and wasn’t given a chance to win this race with this difficult pace scenario that set things up beautifully for the winner J Boys Echo.

3th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G2 Wood Memorial, Aqueduct

Cloud Computing is #7

Broke a length slow, 3W towards rear 1st T, advanced into 2nd tier midway on backstretch, into top four (the rest were hopelessly out of it by now) 2/3W early on far T, dueled with True Timber to his inside throughout T while hard ridden, completely disposed True Timber at the 16th pole, evenly. After having too much tactical speed for his own good last out in the Gotham, Cloud Computing made sure to take himself off the early pace by breaking a bit poorly. His race ended here. On Wood Memorial Day, speed and the rail played especially well, which all but turned this race into a match race between the 1-2 finishers Battalion Runner (whom Cloud Computing covered 47 more feet than according to Trakus) and Irish War Cry. Cloud Computing was forced to chase outside in quicksand throughout here and actually ran very well to finish 3rd where the rest of the field, over-matched as they were, were extremely well beaten. Our only issue with Cloud Computing’s performance was his inability to break with the field, something he has now displayed in two of his three starts.  

On February 11th of any winter, the Kentucky Derby field is just beginning to come into shape, and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself immersed in a debate about the field with a fellow railbird like Stephen A. Smith and whatever white partner they give him. But unless you saw the 4th at Aqueduct on that day, your conversation was incomplete without mentioning perhaps the most talented runner in this edition of the Kentucky Derby, Cloud Computing. In less than two months Cloud Computing was able to accomplish what thousands of others in his 2014 crop could not, qualifying to the run for the roses in a whirlwind of just three starts at Aqueduct. Emerging from Chad Brown’s extensively deep barn, Cloud Computing has shown himself to be an exceptional talent that is extremely versatile. After running a fantastic 2nd in the Gotham in just his second career start, despite stretching out two and a half furlongs, Cloud Computing backed up that effort with a much better than it looks third place finish in the Wood Memorial last out. With just three career starts, Cloud Computing may not even have to improve on his recent running to be crowned this year’s Derby victory.

In Kentucky, whether or not Cloud Computing can break with the field, as he’s only done once in his three starts, will determine his early position. If all goes well, he will stalk the early pacesetters, but if not, look for him to settle in midpack. 

Like all of this year’s Kentucky Derby participants, Cloud Computing comes with major questions. One of which being, can he handle the added furlong at Churchill? While his Wood Memorial suggests he’ll handle it just fine, his pedigree deserves to be delved into.

Cloud Computing has a fine pedigree on the dam side, out of Quick Temper who banked $259k in her career and ran effectively at ten furlongs in graded company. However, his sire, Maclean’s Music, won sprinting in his lone career start and stands for just $8.5k. From his first crop of starters, just Cloud Computing and Wicked Lick have shown success routing on multiple occasions. Cloud Computing was purchased for $200k as a yearling, so there was obviously much to like from the onset, but while his pedigree is certainly serviceable, it won’t benefit him stretching out to a mile and a quarter.

There is also a question of whether or not he can get out of the gate as sharply as he did in the Gotham and not break a length slow which he did in both his first start and in the Wood. We’re not concerned with this issue because if he doesn’t break well, he will be regulated to mid-pack; likely behind a fast pace that will be to his benefit when the speed tires on the far turn. If ridden patiently, we believe Cloud Computing would be an apt finisher in such a situation, making one final run.

As we all know, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby with just three prior career starts and for good reason. Horses need experience to improve and peak for the first Saturday in May; to be able to handle the mile and a quarter of the Derby while in an absurd field with nineteen others. It will take a horse with immense talent to change this fact, and in his first three starts, Cloud Computing has shown just that. However infinite Cloud Computing’s ability, this is still as daunting a task as they come. In backing Cloud Computing in the Derby, you’re betting that he becomes a superstar. It is akin to betting Arrogate in last year’s Travers off of just a few abbreviated allowance races. We all knew he had vast potential, but how often do horses blossom into that? How many with infinite potential become all-time greats and morph into immortals?

Not many.

For now, Cloud Computing may not be our top selection, but he is who we are most looking forward to watching in the Derby. Going into the race with his top connections, outstanding prior form and massive capability, Cloud Computing will likely be quite the overlay on the first Saturday in May making him a must-use on all tickets. Of this field Cloud Computing is most likely to “wow” us all under the twinspires and, as unlikely as it may be, we’re rooting for him to do so.

19 Days to Derby: Battalion Runner’s KY Derby Outlook

Battalion Runner: by Unbridled’s Song, out of Tamboz.

1st career start: 5.5F, Maiden Special Weight, Belmont Park

Broke slow, steadied, left in rear after having lost five lengths due to trouble, rushed up into turn, quickly into 3rd while inside 2W,  switched out into stretch, clumsily switched leads, ran back to rail, finished evenly. This was a rare, unprofessional debut for a Todd Pletcher trainee but Battalion Runner did flash some talent as you’d expect advancing quickly early on the turn.

2nd career start: 7F, Maiden Special Weight, Gulfstream Park

Broke fine, easily made the lead, loose on backstretch well within himself, felt some very minor pressure briefly into the stretch before opening up, finished strongly while going away.

Off the 6+ month layoff as a 1-5 shot, this was nothing more than a leisurely stroll in the park for Battalion Runner.     

3rd career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, non-winners of one/optional claimer 75k, Gulfstream Park

Battalion Runner is #5

Away fine, set up shop just off of pacesetter Beasley early on 1st T, turned up the pressure into final T, took advantage midway on T while 3W when Beasley appeared to be getting out some, dueled maintaining narrow margin, finally got away a bit in the final strides in the short stretch. This was nothing more than a match race through sluggish fractions between Battalion Runner and Beasley (who came back to run 5th in the Tampa Bay Derby next out). While Battalion Runner did nothing wrong here in his first start around two turns, he certainly didn’t sparkle as he was unable to put away a marginal Derby trailer until extremely late after having things his own way while 1-5 once again.  

4th career start: 1 and 1/8th miles, G2 Wood Memorial, Aqueduct

Battalion Runner is #3

Broke well, immediately in front, inside 1st T, kept to task by True Timber early on backstretch, then Irish War Cry to the outside, ridden while taken on by Irish War Cry early on final T, lost narrow advantage near 3F marker, dueled, cut the corner, disposed at 8th pole, finished flat. Even at face value, this was a very underwhelming performance for Battalion Runner having lost the lead so early and never looking like he was going to come back on Irish War Cry beyond the final turn. One must also account for the speed bias that proliferated the main track at Aqueduct on this day, which made this loss all the more damning.

 

A $700k yearling that has recently morphed into a professional runner with fantastic tactical speed, ridden by John Velazquez and trained by Todd Pletcher, it is no surprise Battalion Runner has qualified for the Kentucky Derby. It should be. Battalion Runner missed the vast majority of his two year old season, got just one shot at cracking the Derby field in a qualifying stakes, and most significantly never displayed any notable talent. However, should he remain healthy, he will add to the list of 43 Kentucky Derby starters trained by Todd Pletcher.   

In Kentucky we expect Battalion Runner to be sent out of the gate. With a decent post position he ought to lay close enough to the early leaders, perhaps no worse than 5th early onto the backstretch. He needs a very easy pace up front which appears very unlikely.

Battalion Runner’s past performances read more and more like these days’ prototypical Kentucky Derby starter of the supertrainers with just four career starts and consistent high placings. While seasoning isn’t the most important factor when selecting a horse for the run of the roses, experience does count and Battalion Runner is up against it from that standpoint. His poor performance, despite being aided by a noteworthy speed bias, in the Wood Memorial ending with a lackluster finish in the final 8th of a mile, leads us to believe he won’t want any part of the mile and a quarter at Churchill. He may be bred for the distance, but we weren’t thrilled by Battalion Runner’s other try at a route at Gulfstream either. While he may not be a ‘need-the-lead’ type, Battalion Runner undoubtedly needs to be very close to the early pace to be effective in the stretch. However, with a full field of twenty expected, Battalion Runner may be forced to come from much further off the pace than he’d like, a recipe which reeks of calamity.

Due to Battalion Runner’s lack of experience, pinpointing his optimal task is an arduous one, but we believe with his quality speed, Battalion Runner could be a solid miler down the line. Between now and then, Battalion Runner appears to be just another colt that Pletcher got to Churchill, while not suited for the task, destined to add to his trainer’s awful Derby stats that are fulfilled by just one cheap win.

20 Days to Derby: Practical Joke’s KY Derby Outlook

Practical Joke: by Into Mischief, out of Halo Humor

Trip notes of Practical Joke’s first career start can be found in the comments.

2nd career start: 7F, G1 Hopeful Stakes, Saratoga

Practical Joke is #2

Inside, fell into pocket behind dueling leaders within a tight pack on backstretch, angled out into 3 path top of the stretch, sustained rally, drifted out a tad midstretch, up late to pass the prior dueling leaders in final strides.

An improved performance from his debut being able to solidify his tactical position in the early stages while still coming home with another powerful finish.

3rd career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G1 Champagne Stakes, Belmont

Practical Joke is #1

Ducked inside out of the gate which cost him plenty of early position, rushed up a bit midway on backstretch, inside turn, advanced into stretch while cutting the corner, angled out, quickly up to engage leader Syndergaard to the inside, dueled for final 8th, herded out some, won bob.

Stretching out to a route, this was a disappointing grade one victory, if there can be such a thing. Practical Joke’s poor break later benefitted him as he was able to take on a tired Syndergaard who had previously fended Big Gray Rocket off while setting quick fractions. Practical Joke should have won this race much easier giving us the inclination that he did not relish the added distance.

4th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Santa Anita

Practical Joke is #9

Jostled around some out of the gate to no real consequence, inside into 1st T, angled out 4/5W into the clear while in midpack, settled backstretch, came on mildly mid 2nd T, inside into stretch, angled out, evenly to the wire.  

A fine effort in Practical Joke’s first try around two turns, but ultimately outclassed by the top two finishers after pulling an average trip and setup. I’m not sure we saw the best Practical Joke here, considering he looked a bit rank into the first turn.

5th career start: 1 and 1/16th miles, G2 Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream

Practical Joke is #6

Outrun, steadied briefly early on 1st T while 2W, in the clear in midpack on backstretch, came on early on final T, weaving in and out of tired rivals, up to take the advantage at the quarter pole, dueled with pacesetter Three Rules to the inside, absolutely no match for eventual winner Gunnevera on the outside early in stretch, continued duel with Three Rules to the inside, maintained minor lead to wire while finishing evenly at best.

This was a very discouraging three year old debut for Practical Joke, considering his fine trip and exceptional setup that necessitated a horse from off the early pace, such as himself, win this race. While Jose Ortiz may have moved a bit too early for Practical Joke, he was still left standing still by Gunnevera coming into the stretch. Also, Practical Joke was all out to fend off Three Rules to the wire, who set the blazing early pace that left him severely compromised in the stretch.

6th career start: 1 and ⅛ miles, G1 Blue Grass, Keeneland

Practical Joke is #7

Broke sharp, contest early lead before taking back into midpack going 3W into the 1st T, advanced steadily into 2nd T 3W, brushed McCraken to the outside early in stretch, took dead aim on leader Irap 3/16ths out, attempted to engage in duel but ultimately never able to cut within 3/4s of a length of the winner.

While the Blue Grass may have been steered towards the early speed horses who were able to get away with a sluggish pace throughout, Practical Joke absolutely should have put away the outclassed Irap in the stretch. The Blue Grass is another example of Practical Joke disappointing around two turns; this his worst offense considering who he was attempting to reel in late after having breaking sharp, indicating he was in peak form for this event.

On one hand, the lone unrestricted grade one for two year olds at Saratoga named the Hopeful is an ode to the participants uninhibited potential that elicits daydreams of what unforeseen wonders these young horses may accomplish throughout their career. But more tangibly, it is the next year’s first Kentucky Derby prep. Rarely do the winners of the Hopeful pan out, much less make the Kentucky Derby. However, should Practical Joke make it into the gate in a few weeks, he will be the first Hopeful winner to make the run for the roses since Dublin in 2010. It is no surprise. Practical Joke is a very talented and consistent runner who boasts a quality resume. He displayed a powerful finish in each of his two sprint performances as a two year old in Saratoga and comes into this event having improved his ability to get out of the gate. He, along with Cloud Computing, will be attempting to give Chad Brown, who nabbed his first Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in January, his first Kentucky Derby victory; one that seems inevitable within a few years.    

At Churchill Downs, we foresee Practical Joke sitting anywhere from 8th to 16th through the first call and onto the backstretch. To factor, he will need a fast pace in front of him to fall apart late, which appears more likely than not.

The answer to “who was Chad Brown’s first grade one winner on dirt”, Practical Joke may be one trivia savants may want to remember for years to come, though as a Kentucky Derby prospect he may be one to quickly forget.

What made Practical Joke a special two year old was his ability to finish in the stretch, which he excelled at in his sprint victories in Saratoga. As the distances have gotten longer, especially in his three tries at routing around two turns, Practical Joke’s ability to finish has turned from a strength to a starch weakness. It is apparent he is nowhere at his best around two turns and will struggle greatly with the mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs. Practical Joke, unlike many others in the Derby field, has never run a breakout race that if replicated, would put him in the winner’s circle. Simply put he needs to improve, but with added distance, we feel he is more likely to substantially regress. Cutting back to sprints later in the year, we feel that Practical Joke will make good on all the potential he possessed last year and is our King’s Bishop horse at the moment. But for now, recommending Practical Joke to win the Kentucky Derby is merely a perfect example of his name’s definition.

Travers Selections

An exciting Travers with a big field of thirteen after the scratch of Majesto which pits some of the mainstays of this division in the Spring and Triple Crown  series against many up and comers. We expect the pace scenario to lead to a fairly run event which made making selections for this race very difficult.

Beginning with the current leader of the division, we’ll take a pass on Exaggerator as the favorite. We believe that while his Kentucky Derby 2nd place finish was solid, the best 3yos in the Spring will be eclipsed by those who are just hitting their best stride now. Exaggerator’s three G1 wins in the slop are excellent, but him moving up on those surfaces combined with favorable pace scenarios; those races must be put aside when evaluating Exaggerator’s chances on a fast track today. We believe that his numbers suggest that he isn’t the wet track freak that his record may ought to indicate, but instead the wet ground enables him to succeed a bit more readily at these route distances.

At this time, we believe American Freedom has the best combination of season and upside, coming into this Travers having dueled the accomplished Nyquist into submission last out in the Haskell. This was just his fifth career start and first versus the very best of this division on a sloppy track that he may not have been his absolute best on. In each of his last three starts he has unnecessarily gone up and taken the lead on the backside and we believe that Baffert taking the blinkers off American Freedom, a move he excels with, may allow him to continue to improve and succeed at this 10F distance.

Gift Box is an interesting entrant from Chad Brown. His 2nd place in the Curlin was a bit disappointing, as the winner Connect was clearly best, but Gift Box may have been somewhat up against it having been kept on the rail throughout the stretch. He should also enjoy being able to take back and make one run once again which is his preferred running style evidenced by his flashy allowance win at Belmont in May. He is much more suited to this race as opposed to the Curlin and is another that should continue to improve with just five lifetime starts yet.

Horses aren’t supposed to win G1 stakes in full fields at 10F in their first try in stakes company but if there’s a horse to do it Arrogate may be the one. All of his races have shown him to have immense ability and he should sit a perfect pocket trip from the rail. When it is all said and done, Arrogate may turn out to be the best of this bunch. Still, with his lack of season, make sure you get your price.

Connect was very good when finishing strongly in his win in the Curlin four weeks ago and is yet another up and comer with lots of talent and potential. He is drawn nicely to the outside with tactical speed and a versatile running style. He is a huge danger to win this race if he gets the distance.

American Freedom – Gift Box – Arrogate – Connect