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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

IF SATURDAY IS A TRUE MEASURE, THE CURRENT LEADING 3-YEAR-OLD WILL NOT RUN IN DERBY-150

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 05, 2024 – In the lead-up to last Saturday’s four-prep bonanza, we hypothesized that the decision to not comply with this year’s rescheduled Baffert Transfer Portal could mean that Kentucky Derby 150 will not be all that it should be.

After Saturday’s results, hypothesis became fact. Further, after this morning’s release of the National Thoroughbred Poll that placed Robert B Lewis winner Nysos and BC Juvenile runnerup Muth 1-2, the notion of fact was underscored.

Yes, lots or preps, including the all important 50- and 100-point preps of March and April, remain, but if Nysos does remain undefeated through April and if Muth enjoys a successful repeat of his three-year-old debut and beyond, the landmark Derby 150 without question will be less-than.

Baffert and Amr Zedan dropped its Medina Spirit lawsuit in the hopes Churchill Downs Inc. would either drop its Baffert ban altogether or, at minimum, rescind its barn-transfer edict that moved up the transfer date by one month compared to 2023.

Neither wishes came true.

Could it be CDI did not wish to allow Baffert an opportunity to reach the seven-Derby all-time victory plateau on such an occasion at the expense of legendary Calumet hardboot horseman Ben Jones, a special occasion that includes the unveiling of CDI’s new multi-million-dollar paddock ring?

Could it be that Baffert knows exactly what he has and does not want a possible seventh Derby winner from his barn to be officially credited to a designated trainer, with the added benefit of muddying the Derby waters for Churchill, rendering their landmark renewal less-than?

FOUR PREPS, TWO WET TRACKS, AND WHAT IT ALL MEANS

Surfaces were wet and sealed in both Hot Springs and Queens, New York. Can we glean anything truly noteworthy after a deeper dive into the victories of Mystic Dan and Uncle Heavy?

At Oaklawn, Mystik Dan, saving ground throughout after shifting in from post 10, rallied up on fence on footing that might have been fastest on the inside, making the most of his perfect trip.

Mystik Dan kicked on with a strong turn of foot approaching the furlong marker, making a very favorable visual impression. Liberal Arts finished very well out in the center, his sixth money finish in as many tries, including a G3 Street Sense victory at Churchill Downs, OCT. 29.

In New York, meanwhile, Parx regular Butch Reid made another successful foray into the Big A with Uncle Heavy, getting up in the very last jump to nail Grande O. Even money favorite Lightline grinded up for third in late stretch.

All three have questionable 10-furlong pedigrees, but Withers overlay wants to beat you, winning his third start in four lifetime attempts with a long, sustained rally, all at graduating distances. He’s already outrun his pedigree with Saturday’s nine furlongs.

The track was fast at Gulfstream Park, so the surface wasn’t an issue for Juvenile champion Fierceness. But he did have a valid excuse with a much-troubled start when solidly sandwiched between rivals. Indeed, was that the reason he was flat the rest of the way home?

Was he a short horse with seven published works, many of which were on the softer side? Those questions won’t be validated until he runs next. Will the next set of workouts be meant to sharpen his speed and ignite his competitive fire?

The BC Juvenile and Saratoga maiden score were fast, true indicators of rare, raw talent. But until he makes two great efforts back-to-back, how can he be trusted to bring his ‘A’ game to every dance? He forfeited that right on Saturday.

Winning Hades was good, taking the battle to all with his speed from pole position in his two-turn debut. He withstood a turn challenge from two rivals including Fierceness before withstanding a serious late-stretch challenge from Domestic Product, who was making his season’s debut with blinkers removed.

The tack worked. He finished strongly and nearly caught Hades, but the short-stretch finish line got there first.

Based only on these four prep races, the worthy Derby favorite ran at Santa Anita over the weekend. It was a serious effort from a serious colt which extended his undefeated record to three.

Always under restraint while into the bridle throughout, Nysos blew the Lewis wide open with an eye-catching turn-move, turning a competitive Grade 3 into a Poll-leading, dominating romp.

So, thanks to betamethasone and Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Racing Commission, Churchill Downs and Bob Baffert, Derby 150 miss out on the added excitement of the best horses meeting the best between the fences in Louisville on May’s first Saturday.

It’s not shocking that the biggest losers are horse racing fans and their sport, which already is mired in an existential battle.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m glad that track conditions are mentioned in your input. To me, it seems that many horse players, both private and public ‘ talents’ , are mystified with the modern tracks , whether they are called all-weather , synthetic , rubber , sandy or anything else. Once again, I ask myself whatever happened to the Track Variants that many of us would, wrongly or rightly, use as another (small) angle. Pandicapping comes to mind as a Monday morning QB angle after a night s program in Harness,sorry,Bob Pandolfom. How good was it to note which and how many horses won by going in front or by closing off the pace ? There might be another book trying to explain how to decypher one new track condition from the other ,but to me, it ,would like a blind leading another person who cannot see anything.. Are the Beyer numbers,Thoro and other anonymous sheets able, and/or reliable enough to distinguish, add, subtract hints according to which track, distance a race is being run on ? For instance, are the inner parts of All Weather tracks, usually faster than the old traditional ones which ,depending on the muddy combing, would be like running on sand ? And if so , what should a bettor
    reflect on…… The Old Golden Gate , how much Different is it than Gulfstream ? Where would the New Belmont fit in among them all? Cannot just put them all in the same bundle.More Moving Targets, as if bettors did not have enough of them …….

  2. JG, There’s no question that racing must do a better job educating fans and bettors. Interested to learn that a sizable part of the sports betting audience is much more involved as a new betting audience. That audience grew up “knowing” sports. Handicapping horses races goes far beyond track conditions, late scratches, and jockey and trainer tendencies. It’s all of that.

    Maybe it should be explained to the younger sports betting audience that +400, +800, or plus +2000 is possible in every race, every day, as opposed to some of the more ridiculous props or four-be hookups offered by the sports books. There are jockey and trainer stats that can point the way for starters, requiring little more than common sense.

    Too bad racing remains a rudderless ship, hoping to cash in before an uncaring public sends horse racing the way of dog racing and the circus.

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