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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


DEL REY BEACH, FL, April 7, 2023 — The last three 100 pointers are offered from coast to coast Saturday and finally, late defections notwithstanding, the starting 20 for Kentucky Derby 2023 will be revealed.

Virtual win-and-in races for the victors, the 40 points offered to the runners-up could be enough to vault them into the Churchill gate as this appears to be a year when more points might be required to qualify.

It does a horseplayer’s heart good to see all three races well supported, with the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass each attracting 11 entrants overnight, while the venerable Wood Memorial will have 13 answer the starter’s call.

A cursory look at the past performances eliminated roughly half of each group. We left five open in the Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby, six in the Wood Memorial. Favorable contenders will be listed from the inside-out.

Wood Memorial Skinny:  1-Dreamlike (7-2) is a short price for a maiden in a Grade 2 except for two things: His Gulfstream finale was a first rate effort and is trained Todd Pletcher. He’s pole sitting with Jose Ortiz and adds blinkers, equipment that might have made a difference last time out in our view. 5-Slip Mahony (6-1) had a awful trip when second in the G3 Gotham, trailing badly over a sealed muddy track before launching a bold 4-5 move on the turn, his momentum carrying him 8-wide at head-stretch.

7-Arctic Arrogance (6-1), who never runs a bad one, did the dirty work when second to today’s favorite in the G3 Withers; the superfluous blinkers are removed for this. 9-Crupi (12-1), a second Pletcher maiden, gave his lifetime best performance on this track two back–a huge and sustained run–missing by a head. 11-Classic Catch (10-1) was sharp winning his GP finale, making him 2-for-2 at today’s trip. 13-Hit Show (5-2) had a perfect ground-saving trip in the Withers, getting stronger the farther he ran, to win his Big A/nine furlong debut.


POTENTIAL WIN-VALUE: Game time decision, Slip Mahony and/or Arctic Arrogance to win, 4-1 minimum

EXOTICA: Exacta Box 5-7-13. Exacta Box 5-7. Trifecta Wheel: 13 // 5-7 // 1-5-7-9-11. Trifecta Wheel: 13 // 1-5-7-9-11 // 5-7

Santa Anita Derby Skinny: 3-Geaux Rocket Go (3-1) is a very fast Mandella runner with a long, two-sided pedigree that’s well drawn to trip-out in this spot, with Prat on the re-ride. 5-Practical Move (8-5) is 2-for-2 in Arcadia and has been the most impressive Derby prospect, the class of California. 6-National Treasure (3-1), after breaking maiden on debut ran into Cave Rock and Forte, then had a rough trip in lone start at 3; training very well for Team Baffert/Velazquez. 7-Skinner (4-1) rallied wide when third following a poor start behind Practical Move; third time usually the charm for Shirreffs. 8-Mandarin Hero (8-1) might be the best horse, who knows? Japanese import (8-1) is 4-for-5 lifetime, only loss was a second while prepping for this in his three-year-old debut.


WIN-VALUE PLAY: Geaux Rocket Ride at 3-1 or greater

EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 3-5 Trifecta Wheel: 3-5 // 3-5 // 3-5-6-7-8. Trifecta Wheel: 3-5 // 3-5-6-7-8 // 3-5

Blue Grass Skinny:  Will 1-Tacit Trice (5-2) leave the gate on time Saturday? Will it matter? He has the ability and determination to win a Derby, but will he have the manners? 3-Verifying (3-1) was a lights-out winner of an Oaklawn allowances then was flat for the Rebel; likely rebounder could easily win this. 4-Classic Car Wash (12-1) was disrespected by the linemaker after running second to Tacit Trice in Tampa—a good second at that. 7-Sun Thunder (10-1) was an excellent second in a very live G2 Risen Star then raced dully in G2 La. Derby, another eligible rebounder. 8-Blazing Sevens (6-1) G1 Champagne winner at 2 was beaten 26 lengths in his sophomore debut. Do you think Chad with Irad will be embarrassed a second straight time? Neither do we.


POTENTIAL WIN-VALUE PLAY: Verifying (at 3-1 or greater) and/or Sun Thunder (at 8-1 or greater)

EXOTICA: Exacta Box 1-3-7. Trifecta Wheel 1 // 3-7 // 3-4-5-7-8-10. Trifecta 1 // 3-4-5-7-8-10 // 3-7

this is a live column that will be upgraded periodically; value plays for the big three preps up next

We have handicapping dilemma. Two of our favorite fillies are meeting each other in a Grade 1. Gun to temple, we’ll posit that Juvenile Filly Champion 2-Wonder Wheel (8-5) is the better horse. But we’re dubious, as we also love G2 Demoiselle winner 4-Julia Shining (3-1). What to do?

Wonder Wheel, who is handier on the page, finished ahead of Julia Shining when both were making their season’s debut in the Suncoast on the Sam F Davis undercard. Both have trained well since, and both figure to improve, but what are we to make of Julia’s new blinkers?

And who knows, maybe 5-Punchbowl (2-1), off her giant run at Oaklawn will take the measure of both? And Brad Cox also knows how to get the money with non-stakes favorites, as his stakes-winning career ROI indicates.

Perhaps even 3-Guns n’ Graces (8-1), a comprehensive winner of her only two-turn run prior to her wild-horse finish when second in the G2 Davona Dale, her first start at three with Rosario on a re-ride. Time to go on record:


WIN-VALUE PLAY: Julia Shining to win at 3-1 or greater

EXOTICA: Exacta Box 2-4. Trifecta Wheel 2-4 // 2-4-5 // 2-3-4-5. Trifecta Wheel: 2-4 // 2-3-4-5 // 2-4-5.


The Skinny: Here is my trip note for Hurricane Dream’s U.S. debut in the G1 Pegasus: “Interesting betting, live at 8-1. Taken back following the break next to last; hard held behind cover 4-5 backstretch; ridden out urging between horses 3-wide turn; angled 5-wide entering; rallied gamely but never a clear run…”

This is a non-winners of 4 so 7-Hurricane Dream (3-1) getting significant class relief, Frankie accepts a return call, Motion 23% added first Lasix.

STRAIGHT WAGER: Betting Hurricane Dream to win at 5-2 or greater. Exacta Key Box: 7 with [1-Fancy Liquor, 10-1] – [2-Camp Hope, 8-1] – [3-Kentucky Ghost 8-1] [4-Duke of Hazzard, 4-1] – [8-Tiz the Bomb, 12-1]. Trifecta Key: 7 // 1-2-3-4-8

Per usual, suggested exotic wagers are at minimums available, straight wagers at $2 units

* * *

Call it Super Saturday 2, and why not? We’ve compiled a short list of probable/possible starters based on what we’ve seen between the fences thus far or the horsemen who have enjoyed uncommon success under the big top.

The always highly anticipated Keeneland meet opens Friday, which means the Grade 1 Blue Grass will follow within 24 hours. We are looking to see whether Tapit Trice can leave the gate with his field this time, although no one can argue with his chances the talent he shown.

Note that Classic Car Wash was looking very much like the Tampa Bay Derby winner until ‘Trice’ arrived very late on the scene with what the college hoop sage, Coach Raftery, would term the “blow by.”

Gotham winner Raise Cain is very likely headed home to Kentucky following his G3 score in Gotham City. Two disappointing runners also pique our interest to see if improvement is forthcoming: Verifying and Sun Thunder. Both should improve on their last-out runs in the Rebel and Louisiana Derby, respectively.

Out West, we ignored the Baffert-trainees due to their Churchill Downs ineligibility. Our interests lies with the impressive San Felipe winner, Practical Move, who needs only to hold serve to remain a major Derby player, and a second Tim Yakteen trainee via Baffert, Sham show-finisher National Treasure holds some interest.

We’re most curious about the speedy albeit lightly raced San Felipe runnerup, Geaux Rocket Go, due to Richard Mandella’s coaching, and Mandarin Hero, because it is unwise to ignore any Japanese shipper on an international stage.

The G2 Wood Memorial is fascinating not for its current star power but more due to a few who are on the make: Raise Cain (more likely for the Blue Grass but could be cross-entered), and two Brad Cox trainees—local G3 Withers winner Hit Show, and G3 Gotham runner-up, Slip Mahoney.

Todd Pletcher has three headed to New York, topped by Gulfstream allowance winner Classic Catch and a pair of maidens; Dreamlike, a competitive second at Gulfstream last out, and Crupi, a big-finish second to Slip Mahony before a non-factor Louisiana Derby seventh. All are seeking their proper present class.

Bill Mott is shipping Shadow Dragon north following his G2 Fountain of Youth fifth, and winter-meet leading trainer Linda Rice will tighten the girth on Arctic Arrogance, who never has run a bad one in New York against the best three-year-olds on that circuit.

Ladies First

We’re eagerly awaiting Friday’s G1 Ashland, arguably the best barometer to judge the most likely to take the Run for the Lilies. Will juvenile champion Wonder Wheel rebound from her seasonal debut placing in Tampa’s Suncoast Stakes and, even if she does, can show finisher and G2 Demoiselle heroine Julia Shining spring the upset?

Yes and yes.

Both fillies have the Kentucky Oaks in their sights but a Grade 1 win always looms large in the battle of divisional supremacy, so there is that.

Julia Shining is enroute to Lexington from Pletcher’s winter base with a set of blinkers in tow. He expects a forward move, as do we. However, Wonder Wheel is the champion, and she is handier than her main rival—hence the blinkers.

Our only interest in the Santa Anita Oaks is to see Faiza go 6-for-6 lifetime. She clearly is the class of California and might prove the division’s best at year’s end. Just like the Derby, there’s plenty of racing life after the Kentucky Oaks has been relegated to history.

Heading into the penultimate week of quintessential Kentucky Derby preps, the question was which trainer was better loaded for the ultimate test in five weeks; Brad Cox or Todd Pletcher.

After Saturday, a question may linger in terms of the eventual Derby champion, even if Mr. Pletcher is certain to saddle the favorite to win “America’s Race.”

But Mr. Cox remains loaded with possibilities and ,while Forte accomplished the near impossible in Florida, the win by Angel of Empire, who had less to overcome, was the more emphatic, albeit less dramatically compelling.

In head-to-head betting Pletcher would be a solid favorite, what with Forte [#1-190 qualifying points]; Kingsbarns [#5-100]; Tapit Trice [#11-50] and Major Dude [#16-40] to consider. The latter’s participation depends on how the graded-stakes turf winner handles his Churchill dirt trials.

At this juncture, Cox has the formidable Angel of Empire [#2-140] and a less intimidating Jace’s Road [#14-45]. All would appear to have stalls for the mother of all dances, but three 100-pointers–with 50 to the runner-up—remain. The G3 Lexington a week later can help the fence straddlers earn their spots.

With 12 runners having amassed 50 points including worthy Florida Derby runnerup, Mage, and with two spots afforded Japanese entrants Derma Sotogake and Continuar with the Europeans yet to be heard from, connections in the bottom 10 are not resting easy tonight.

While watching the Florida Derby replay, we enjoyed a personal moment of whimsy as we envisioned Forte walking past the stall of Tapit Trice and giving him the side-eye as if to say “so you think you had a tough at Tampa? Ha, I’m still the boss in this shedrow.”

When Mage rolled past Forte at mid-far turn, I turned to my wife and pronounced “the big horse is beaten.” When Irad Ortiz later wheeled him to the far outside, as he had in the Fountain of Youth, I thought, wrong, he still has some horse.

At the eighth pole, when Mage surged past Cyclone Mischief, Forte was coming. But after Sage separated himself from the eventual show finisher, it appeared Forte would run out of racetrack.

The draw-dropper came when many finally thought that the champion would prevail. With 50 yards to go he reeled in the challenger, lengthening his stride to do so, but remarkably had energy left as he crossed the line. His hard-fought victory was, at once, accomplished handily.

In Hot Springs, Angel of Empire won in a manner many expected of Forte. He circled them as if his solid rivals were not in his league, taking command in mid-stretch and reaching the wire in full stride in 1:49.68 with a final three furlongs in better than 37.44 seconds, Derby worthy, indeed.

On the Distaff side, Wet Paint became the first filly to sweep Oaklawn’s three-year-old filly series, making Cox the first trainer to win the Fantasy and Arkansas Derby in the same year.

Wet Paint is a throwback type, coming from as far back as she wants before running you down. Indeed, she may go favorite on May’s first Friday, depending on whether champion Wonder Wheel redeems herself in Keeneland’s Ashland on Saturday.

Affirmative Lady confirmed trainer Graham Motion’s confidence when he entered her in the nine furlong G2 Demoiselle as a maiden, in which she was beaten a neck. Remaining at Aqueduct, she was third in the Busanda next out, also in wet going, before re-routing her to Florida.

Going long for the first time on a dry track, Affirmative Lady broke maiden with authority and yesterday broke through to win a Grade 2 score after adding blinkers following her maiden breaker. Clearly she has been a work progress and that labor paid dividends in the G2 Florida Oaks.

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