John Pricci

HRI executive editor John Pricci is going on the road to find out. Read Pricci's "Racing to the Kentucky Derby" blog exclusively on, beginning March 12.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Third Time’s the Charm

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 7, 2010--Sometimes, figures and trips don’t matter. All that matters is intervention, divine and otherwise.

How is it that you can lose your best chance to win a Kentucky Derby, reschedule a workout because for the last two weeks 20 inches of rain fell on my old Kentucky home, and win with an unknown quantity?

Which is not to say without portfolio, because stakes winners, horses that win over whatever surface they are asked to negotiate, have ability. What’s not knowable is what will happen based on the past.

So the rescheduled workout turned out to be a great one, the trainer told a national television audience on the walk over to immortality. Is that the kind of evidence you could take confidently to a betting window?

Then your jockey gets hurt, a leading Hall of Fame candidate becomes available because the near Derby favorite that he was about to ride was scratched for third year in a row, and all of a sudden you‘re being interviewed by Bob Costas on national television.

If you don’t think this game can get real crazy at times, and you don’t believe in things like fate, then the Kentucky Derby probably isn’t for you.

Actually, the best line to describe all this was written by a correspondent for the Associated Press: “John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby by a broken nose.”

And it wasn’t like trainer Graham Motion could have seen it coming either; probably didn’t know at the time that the people who own Animal Kingdom would replace the trainer who won them a Breeders’ Cup last year and traded him in for one that would win them a Derby.

You can’t make this up.

Well, now, Animal Kingdom goes on to Baltimore and Motion to his home state of Maryland for the black-eyed susans run in two weeks. Given the way he finished yesterday, who’s to say it won’t happen all over again.

Only this time without any intervention, divine or otherwise.

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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Just WinWinWin, Baby

SARATOGA SPRINGS, May 6, 2011--With protem Derby favorite safely secure inside the Todd Pletcher shed, his racing career shrouded by a shadow of doubt at this point, 19 three-year-olds will go postward when “that song” is played at Churchill Downs Saturday at 6:14 tomorrow afternoon, with post time for Kentucky Derby 137 scheduled for 6:26 p.m.

In a field where all the competitors have warts, it will be Archarcharch who leads them home. All have issues but not so Archarcharch whose only knock in our view--and it’s a significant one--is his rail post position.

The following is a look at some of the major contenders with a chance to win today’s roses run. A suggested wagering matrix is posted in today’s Feature Race Analysis.

Included in parenthesis on our not-so-short list is my projected odds line relative to its chances to win. The prices also should be considered suggested odds minimums for straight wagering.

With the exception of a speed duel on a wet track, the preparation and development of Archarcharch (6-1) has been textbook. His performance figures on the Equiform scale never have taken a backward step, the wet-track hiccup notwithstanding.

From an opening good-figure compression line in a 7-furlong maiden sprint at Churchill Downs, to a series of new pace tops and reversals--Equiform pattern-speak for excellent development--his pace-to-final-time-figure ratio indicates he’s getting stronger as well as faster despite racing longer distances.

What’s most impressive about his figure line is that the improvement has been incremental, and neither is he overly developed, going from a 70-½ final-figure debut to his 76-¼ in winning the Arkansas Derby.

Further, Archarcharch boasts a sparkling five-furlong breeze by all accounts and veteran handicappers love the old-school move of trainer Jinks Fires who brought him back for a speed blowout four days later.

As stated, the only knock against him is the pole. What the rider needs to avoid is becoming a Lookin At Lucky sandwich between the speed horses who will be angling in to save ground and the fence.

Take him back, Mr, Court, take him back! Then do your best impression of your good friend, Calvin Borel.

Nehro (7-1) has come to hand quickly as his figures indicate. The worry is that it might have been too much, too soon. But these are spring 3-year-olds when any big leaps forward are not only possible but probable.

Either Steve Asmussen is a genius having Nehro walk the shedrow in mid-week to pump up the colt’s energy level, or he had to, owing to his possibly going the wrong way as post time draws near. Unfortunately, the only time we’ll know for sure is what happens on Saturday afternoon. The Derby will be his third start in 42 days.

Dialed In (7-1) has not really developed on the Equiform scale from his winning 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull. There were extenuating circumstances in his second start given a laughably slow pace going two turns for the first time against elders.

Further, he was forced to race in close quarters between rivals a significant way. He finished the way you’d like to see a colt finish, especially if the intended target is a million-dollar Grade 1 five weeks later.

He won the Florida Derby, of course, coming from far behind a moderately sensible pace, again showing his electric turn of foot and finishing kick. He will improve with the added distance but would be hindered by a wet surface should that be the case.

Dialed In will run his race. Will it be enough? Even if it is, he looms an underlay.

Mucho Macho Man (12-1), the feel good story of Derby 137, has more than sentiment on his side. He never fails to fire, appears to be circling back to his 2-year-old top figure in the Remsen, is training very well and drew a perfect position.

But there is, of course, the matter of a six-week layoff, which means he has nearly six decades of history working against him. But, Ice Box nearly did it, so why not? The Macho Man is well named; tough, very honest, almost always certain to give his all.

Midnight Interlude (12-1) and Soldat (12-1) are wildcards. Midnight Interlude’s Santa Anita Derby was a big leap forward, but the fact he was in a drive a long way and is light on experience works against his obvious talent. And, of course, the 1882 Apollo thing.

Soldat is a tough read, his Florida Derby, when he was a victim of a tardy beginning, being that bad. But he is reported to be training well and is a must-use if the track comes up wet. That decision will come at game time.

Santiva (20-1) looms best of the extreme longshots. He was very good while needing his season’s debut in the Risen Star behind the Macho Man, then never had a chance to show anything near his best at Keeneland given the nature of his horrendous trip in the Blue Grass.

The concern is whether two races--more like one and a half preps--will be enough. But he is expected to rebound on a surface over which he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall. He is the price shot to win Derby 137 at anything north of 20-1.

At this point, we’re considering Pants On Fire and Shackleford to complete any exotic wagers.

Happy Birthday, Thoroughbred Fans!

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

They’re All in Line


The following is a thumb-nail sketch of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby 137 field in post position order with early line odds. Lifetime best route figure on the Equiform scale, site, date of performance, track condition and running surface if other than dirt in parentheses:

1 Archarcharch 10-1 (76-¼, OP, Apr 16, 2011) With one exception, a pace duel on a wet track, he’s never run a bad race and has improved incrementally from race to race. While kid gloves may be order of the training day, not this guy. He even had a speedy blowout four days after working a solid five furlongs. Has tactical speed to go with his high turn of foot but got killed by the draw. Solid contender should probably drop back early to avoid the Lookin At Lucky squeeze.

2 Brilliant Speed 30-1 (74-½, KEE, Apr 16, 2011, Polytrack) It takes a very good horse to come from where he did to win the Bluegrass, Polytrack-profile or not. He’s bred to run as long as they write races and had a meaningfully sharp recent work at Churchill Downs. The good news is that he had experience on the dirt going short early in his career; the bad is that he was beaten a combined 40-¼ lengths.

3 Twice The Appeal 30-1 (72-½, SUN, Mar 27, 2011) A gamer, given his 10-race career, and the Sunland Derby did produce Mine That Bird. But this year’s edition was run slowly. If the track comes up sloppy, he does have an open-lengths score in that going, owing to a pedigree that screams slop on both sides. The problem is that win came in a maiden-claiming sprint. Not here.

4 Stay Thirsty 20-1 (73-¾, AQU, Mar 5, 2011) Given his G3 Gotham win in his 3- year-old debut and the potential he showed for distance racing at 2, his recent form was so dismal Todd Pletcher experimented with blinkers. That only made things worse. The hood will be removed and he recently worked well in company with his celebrated stablemate. He‘ll run better, just not good enough.

5 Decisive Moment 30-1 (73-½, DeD, Jan 14, 2011) Gets more credit for his G3 Spiral Stakes placing to Animal House than he does winning the listed Jean Lafitte and rightfully so. Light on distance pedigree with low profile connections, he will be a huge price even though he’s been one of the training stars of Derby 137. He’ll gun to the front, but eventually will be crushed by the pace.

6 Comma To The Top 30-1 (75-½, SA, Apr 9, 2011) Like Archarcharch, a throwback. So much so that he’s run 14 times already, the equivalent of two careers for many of today’s top Thoroughbreds. His continuing penchant for bearing out is a screaming red flag but he usually runs his race. Speedy style does not augur well in this matchup. Also will be gunning early.

7 Pants On Fire 20-1 (73-¾, FG, Mar 26, 2011) It’s been clear since the outset that trainer Kelly Breen knew this Jump Start colt wanted distance and improved since stretching out. Came out of the Risen Star sick then won the La. Derby despite having one five-furlong work in between. Fast workout regimen since indicates good money prospects at fair early line odds. Post neutral but needs an alert start.

8 Dialed In 4-1 (73-¾, GP, Jan 30, 2011) Training in seclusion and he had better get a lot from his gallops, having one published work since the Florida Derby. Will be helped by anticipated strong pace. Has extreme turn of foot, powerful finishing ability, and surface familiarity. Slow on the Equiform figure scale but has paired up coming into this. Will run his race but will it be enough? Well drawn, he is a logical favorite but looms an underlay.

9 Derby Kitten 30-1 (74, KEE, Apr 23, 2011, Polytrack) Another local hero who ran his way into the field thanks to notable defections and his victory in the G3 Lexington two weeks ago. But like so many in this group, he lacks dirt bona fides. In his only dirt start he was beaten off by To Honor And Serve going long at Belmont Park. Too big a leap here but owner Ramsey will have fun anyway.

10 Twinspired 30-1 (74-½, KEE, Apr 16, 2011, Polytrack) Ran too good in the Blue Grass to lose, doing all the hard work only to be outfinished by a horse coming from the clouds--this after finishing a good third to Animal Kingdom at Turfway. But his lone dirt performance was sub-par and it’s unreasonable to expect the kind of improvement he’ll need to contend here.

11 Master of Hounds 30-1 *(71-½ turf, CD, Nov 6, 2011) Recently arrived from Great Britain for legendary connections and anyone who saw his narrow defeat in the UAE Derby had to walk away impressed. Remarkable route pedigree on the dam’s side and 2011 was a good year to ship over to win America’s race. Parimutuelly speaking, however, his first victory will be on me.

12 Santiva 30-1 (73-½, FG, Feb 19, 2011) Never got a chance to show what he could do in the Blue Grass when trapped on the fence a very long way. He definitely should improve here; the Risen Star placing in his 3-year-old debut speaks to that. The problem is that he might not be advanced enough to win this. Well drawn. Usable in exotics at early line odds.

13 Mucho Macho Man 12-1 (75-½, AQU, Nov 27, 2010) To dismiss this early developing late foal as little more than a touching human interest would be to sell the colt short. He’s fast enough, tough enough, tactical enough and is fresh enough with a good series of stamina works to get the job done. At some point in the race, he’ll announce his presence--maybe even at the wire. A puncher’s chance to win it all.

14 Shackleford 12-1 (73-¼, GP, Apr 3, 2011) If he hadn’t run so badly with a wide trip in the Fountain of Youth, his performance in the Florida Derby wouldn’t have been considered so shocking. He’s coming into his own at just the right moment and he’s been training very well on the track over which he broke his maiden. Speedy style is the knock on viable buzz prospect.

15 Midnight Interlude 10-1 (75-½, SA, Apr 9, 2011) Has accomplished a lot in a very short time which is the good news and the bad news. Lacks the all important 2-year-old foundation and struggled to get his motor running in moderately paced SA Derby. Field size and rodeo atmosphere not likely to help and victory would be a tall order. Well drawn to sit off Shackleford’s flank; that‘s the probable plan, anyway.

16 Animal Kingdom 30-1 (74, TP, Mar 26, 2011, Polytrack) Was an impressive winner via a big finish in the G3 Spiral, he’s 2-for-2 at 9 furlongs with a bottom-side pedigree indicating the farther he runs, the better he’ll like it. Earned his way into the gate with a good work on the Churchill surface but has yet to run on it in the afternoon. Very nice horse but not my Derby kind.

17 Soldat 12-1 (76-¾, GP, Jan 21, 2011) If Uncle Mo fans are willing to give him a mulligan, why not this colt? He’s earned two of the fastest figures going long this year and has shown class and consistency, the Florida Derby notwithstanding. For best effort he would prefer running outside in the clear and given free rein. Rating tactics following tardy Gulfstream start were disastrous. Helped by post draw.

18 Uncle Mo 9-2 (78-¾, CD, Nov 6, 2010) Deserves his Wood mulligan. If he were a normal contender, most would have thought the effort was OK but much more was expected. The concern is, pedigree and questionable 3-year-old development notwithstanding, that he was still being treated this week for his gastrointestinal issues. Significantly fastest on performance figures, his Juvenile score on Saturday’s surface was otherworldly. Can rebound in a big way if he gets a green light.

19 Nehro 6-1 (75-¾, OP, Apr 16, 2011) His last two late runs resembled a whirlwind. He has the right connections and developed rapidly to become an overnight sensation and serious Derby contender. The question is whether the recent rapid development is too much too soon, and whether three races in 42 days at this level will extract a toll; it usually does. Looms an underlay.

20 Watch Me Go 50-1 (70-¾, TAM, Mar 12, 2011) Third to Brethren before taking G2 Tampa Derby at an inflated 43-1. Like many horses, he disappointed at Hawthorne when he shipped in seeking to add the Illinois Derby to his resume. Reportedly has struggled on the Churchill surface and the post draw sealed his fate.

*European figures not included

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
Comments (8)

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