Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Which Derby Runner Looms as Orb’s Biggest Threat?
There’s two things we need, or would like to see, for Saturday’s Preakness. One is Orb winning, thus keeping the Triple Crown alive. Two, a dry, fast track.
If the latter holds true, then the former might have trouble.
Twenty horses go to Kentucky and maybe five or six travel to Baltimore. This year is no different with Orb, Oxbow, Will Take Charge, Mylute, Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents committing to Black-eyed Susan. That’s a whopping seven, including Orb, and kudos to those trainers, owners and the horses for being ready and taking a chance on short leave. Maybe they looked recent history.
Since 2001, the winner of the Preakness ran in the Derby 10 times in 12 tries
. Five of those won the Derby. Only two were Preakness new shooters. From the new shooters’ races, one was Bernardini, where the Derby winner broke down. The other won the Kentucky Oaks (Rachel Alexandra).
If the past 12 years are any indicator, the winner rests in that list of seven horses.
If I had to pick two that can beat Orb, who drew the rail vs. eight Saturday rivals, it would be Itsmyluckyday or Goldencents. I was very high on Goldencents coming into the Derby. I thought he was the fastest given his Santa Anita Derby was three seconds faster than every other horse that won at nine furlongs.
I like him coming into the Preakness for only one reason and you’ll have to watch the Derby replay to catch it.
At the quarter pole, Kevin Krigger, Goldencents’ jockey, stood up in the irons and tapped the brakes. Even before this, before the 3/8ths, he stopped shaking Goldencents for more. Krigger stayed low, but wasn’t exactly hustling his horse for more run.
Krigger realized at the quarter pole (probably earlier too thanks to Palace Malice running like he was being chased by the horse cops.), that his horse had no chance to collect a significant check, so he mailed it in.
He was in a nice stalking spot in the first flight, but they were running 1.5 seconds too fast through the half-mile and ¾-mile fractions that he folded like Origami paper. Goldencents had what was, in effect, a very expensive one-mile breeze.
Through the first quarter it looked like the plan was to send Goldencents to the lead, but Krigger ceded that to Palace Malice on the turn.
Itsmyluckyday turned in a wicked four-furlong breeze at Monmouth Park Sunday in 47 1/5, galloping five out in 59 3/5. He had to breeze between the third and fourth race at Monmouth since training hours were closed.
Still, as much as I like these two colts, recent history is not on their sides either. Lookin At Lucky finished sixth in the 2010 Derby and represents the worst Derby-finish-to-Preakness-win since 2001. In 2001, Point Given was fifth in the Derby. In 2011, Shackleford was fourth in the Derby. Every other horse either won (War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and I’ll Have Another) or finished third (Afleet Alex, Curlin).
What are the conclusions? The most likely winner is Orb or Revolutionary.
All right, so the Pletcher Industrial Complex won’t be wheeling back a Derby starter, but his mentor, the D. Industrial Revolution looks to saddle three—Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five
. Titletown Five can say one thing none of these other colts can: He beat Orb head-to-head. In a maiden special weight race at Saratoga, Titletown Five finished second to Violence, also beating Orb, who finished third in that race.
Oxbow is right on the fringe, having finished sixth in the Derby. He experienced a rather uneventful trip in Kentucky and could be fresh enough to contend here.
Lastly, based on our metrics, Mylute will be in the mix with this fifth-place effort in the Derby. Rosie Napravnik makes her return to Maryland where she got her start.
Looking at our recent history, the Derby winner is all-too-often in the mix, having won five times and finishing within a head in three other years (Street Sense, Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom) all of which points to Orb going home to Belmont with two flowered garlands.
But, then again, you already knew that.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Could Orb ‘Tell’ Shug to Pull the Plug?
The time after the Kentucky Derby feels like those boozy hangover-ridden mornings where the only cure is a chicken-fried steak and one of those memory-erasing sticks they use in Men in Black.
Just like the cure for the hangover is more booze, the cure the Derby hangover is more betting. So let’s move this narrative along to Maryland.
No sooner does the Kentucky Derby winner—Orb in this case—cross the finish line do the Triple Crown questions start. Orb has the running style to do it. He proved he can run on an off-track (though will an off-track at Pimlico or Belmont be equivalent to Churchill? Probably not. As we know, mud in the Kentucky is a better class of mud.).
Orb is lightly raced, but also has enough experience, too.
But I just don’t see him winning the Triple Crown, and it will be his trainer who pulls the plug.
Let’s assume Orb wins the Preakness, which, with the new shooters and some good Derby horses wheeling back, is no lock. Shug McGaughey always says let the horse bring him wherever—the Breeders’ Cup, the Derby, Applebees.
If Orb hangs his head a centimeter lower than he normally does, this horse will be at the farm faster than you can 1978.
Orb will run 19 ½ furlongs in the span of two weeks. His bones and body could be solid as steel and McGaughey won’t think twice about scratching him from Belmont consideration. It’s just like Laura Hillenbrand, author of Unbroken and Seabiscuit, said on her Facebook page
“I have revered Shug McGaughey above all other trainers since he campaigned the greatest racehorse I ever saw, Easy Goer, in 1988-90. Shug is an understated, contemplative, usually unsmiling man, but he speaks through his horses, for whom he cares with a father's protective, knowing and loving eye. He is a purist, the straightest of arrows, a hay, oats and water man. Thanks to his meticulous care and wise judgment, his horses have long, glorious careers and retire as sound as the day they were born.
"Shug has wanted to win the Derby all his life. He has trained numerous champions, and he could arrive at the Derby every year with a stack of horses to throw at the race, as some trainers invariably do. But Shug will never, ever push a horse beyond what he is prepared to do, and never put a horse in this most harrowing of races unless the horse tells him he's ready. 'Let the horse bring you,' is his maxim. For that reason he has had few Derby starters, and the blanket of roses has eluded him. But yesterday, Orb told him he was ready, and Shug let him go.”
That’s the most likely reason Orb wouldn’t win the Triple Crown. There’s the new shooters, and those well-rested horses manage to screw everything up. (Yeah, Birdstone, I’m talking to you.)
It’s an unfair advantage new shooters and Preakness-skippers or Derby skippers have. The only horses that wheel back as often as a Triple Crown-contending horse are the poor nags that have to fill a race card so these regal steeds may run.
I’d like to see the horses running in the Preakness and Belmont have run within the same time window as Orb.
For the Preakness, Orb should run against horses who have had no fewer than two weeks’ rest. For the Belmont, Orb should run against horses with no fewer than three weeks’ rest, ideally having run three times in five weeks as well.
It often happens in horse racing that luck is too big a factor. It’s a factor in Kentucky with 20 horses breaking together. The luck of the post position it too significant (based on rankings, trainers should be able to choose their post position. They’ve done all this work to get this far and then, at the shake of a pill, get Post 20. Bye, bye Derby. Use those points to grant better access to the gate.)
Now, when the sport starves for a Triple Crown winner, it has stacked the deck against itself in every imaginable way.
Perhaps that will make it all the more special when a horse finally does it (I never thought we’d see a Triple Crown winner in baseball again, and that happened in 2012). If a horse overcomes all these obstacles, it will be special indeed.
The hurdles the horse has to jump through in the modern-day style of training horses, taking breaks and taking fresh shots at tired three-year-olds seems unfair. Cornerbacks can’t grab wide receivers, guards have a 3-point-line to shoot from, the pitcher’s mound was lowered, all to make sports better events to watch.
Maybe Shug will pull the plug before Orb gets a chance at history because Orb tells him so. Even if that isn't the case, history may be too heavy a weight to bear, no matter how talented this colt is.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Will Pitino’s Magic Carpet Ride Continue?
I love professional bodybuilding. I train like one (though lack the genetics or the HGH to become a beast, not that I’d want to) and consider it my “sport” of choice. And the thing with Mr. Olympia—call it the Kentucky Derby of bodybuilding—once a bodybuilder has a formula for success, he usually rattles off several Olympias in a row.
Ronnie Coleman won eight in a row, Lee Haney won eight in a row, Dorian Yates won six in a row, Arnold won six in a row, Jay Cutler (not the Jay Cutler you’re thinking of) won four in five years, and now Phil “The Gift” Heath has won two and counting.
I say this because my 2013 Derby winner is following a formula that worked just a year ago and that’s Goldencents. All season I’ve been on Orb and should he win it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Yet, of all the penultimate Derby preps, Goldencents was the only one who ran a sub-1:50 1 1/8th miles and that sticks out to me as a key indicator that he’s the horse to beat.
I’ve watched a ton of replays the past week. All the contenders have their strengths, and if the clock wasn’t an issue, then maybe you start leaning toward Verrazano’s grit in the face of his early move, or Overanalyze’s nice kick in the Arkansas Derby, or Java’s War dropping in at the quarter pole in the Blue Grass, or Revolutionary’s dual down the stretch with Mylute in Louisiana.
(Footnote, has anyone mentioned that though Pletcher saddles five entering the Derby, that three of his horses all won two Grade 1s and a Grade 2 within the past month? I think we just come to expect that from the Pletcher Industrial Complex.)
Goldencents appears to be the speed in this field. He’s no Bodemeister (but, then again, who is?), but he’s got classy speed like War Emblem, Smarty Jones and Ghostzapper. In other words, he has the type of running style where every race is his race to lose.
Trainer Doug O’Neill used the Santa Anita Derby to propel a relative unknown to Derby stardom a year ago with I’ll Have Another. He wasn’t well known but had all the tools to be a contender.
Since O’Neill has last year’s experience in the can, he knows how to coax the best out of the horse for a Derby win and possibly a Triple Crown run.
Goldencents also benefits from the new Kentucky Derby Points System. The metric systemically eliminates the pure sprinters from the field. The Keyed Entrys, the Trinnibergs, the Join In The Dances, the Big Dramas, the Spanish Chestnuts, those rascally rabbits that have no business going two turns are gone.
All they did was ruin their own mental capacity and clog the front end. Six to seven furlongs into a route they’re toast. Six to seven furlongs in they may have dragged a legitimate front-runner along at too fast a clip opening up the possibility of a Giacomo or Mine That Bird. And for my own mental constitution, I just can’t stomach another one of those.
The horses on the front end in the Derby now will be genuine two-turn pace setters and that’s exactly what Goldencents can and will do. He’s also got the rich-get-richer Karma bomb in his corner.
He’s partially owned by Rick Pitino, who just won the National Championship in college basketball and was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Pitino already saw one of his athletes snap off of cannon bone so for that to happen again would be the universe trying to over-correct itself. If he wins the Derby he better thank Kevin Ware for being the sacrificial virgin at the volcano’s mouth.
Pitino also gets his star player back for another year
after having withdrawn from the forthcoming NBA Draft. Like I said, the rich get richer.
Every year there’s a tendency to over think this darn race, this McDonald’s All-American spectacle where most of them are talented but prove to be duds long term with maybe one or two gems.
Goldencents isn’t getting the love because he’s out West and perhaps that’s how O’Neill likes to have it. There’s a lot of good closers in this field, but it will be up to Goldencents and jockey Kevin Krigger to ration that speed and provide little to no window for the bombers to spoil the party.
Pitino brought Louisville one championship in early April. In early May, they’ll have another.
Written by Brendan O'Meara