DEL REY BEACH, FL, April 13, 2023 — The Road to the Derby, which began September 17 with Churchill’s G3 Iroquois Stakes, ends on Saturday in Lexington, the finale of the 37-step run for the roses.
There are two camps when it comes to the the Kentucky Derby qualifying point system: Love it; Hate It.
Including me in the first category, points are a better metric than graded earnings which can be determined by tracks simply and arbitrarily increasing purse money, in many cases from non-racing proceeds.
Since its inception, Churchill Downs has made tweaks along the way. On balance, the parameters have improved, such as awarding points back to fifth for the first time this year, albeit at the expense of runners up in the pivotal 100-point qualifiers.
Most consider the G3 Lexington Stakes offered at Keeneland Saturday an afterthought following the final Super Saturday prep lineup. But, to invoke Lee Corso once again, not so fast my friends.
Steve Asmussen and Winchell Thoroughbreds are and have been major Triple Crown players, but as of last Saturday night they were on the outside looking in. Alas, their dream is still alive.
When last seen, Disarm was a very good second in the Louisiana Derby behind highly regarded Derby qualifier Kingsbarns. But despite the mere 20 points awarded to a Lexington winner, that would be enough for the colt to vault into a three-way tie for 10th with Rocket Can and Hit Show with 60 points.
And a place finish would allow him to sneak past Blazing Sevens, Reincarnate, Jace’s Road, Skinner, and Cyclone Mischief with 48 points, good for 17th on the current list.
From the first prep, in which current Derby qualifiers Jace’s Road and Confidence Game finished third and fifth, respectively, to a last gasp chance for Disarm, the Derby points program has done its job.
Now, may the best horse win.
FROM EAST TO MIDWEST, INTERESTING SATURDAY STAKES
Don’t look now but there’s a Preakness win-and-in test at Laurel Park; the listed Tesio Stakes at nine furlongs. But there are more than three-year-olds on the docket. Saturday is a major day at Keeneland while Oaklawn Park hosts the always competitive G3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses.
Note that the feature is the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, which has attracted a field of four, basically a match between Secret Oath and Clairiere.
G3 LEXINGTON STAKES Race 9
The Skinny: It’s fitting that the 37th Derby prep should be as contentious as any of the recently run major 100–pointers. But we’re not going to overthink this:. 6-Disarm (7-2) needs this race if he wants the run for roses in three weeks, and you know the connections want to be there. Yes, a money finish gets him in but does he want to go in off anything less than a very sharp effort? We don’t think so, either. His pace figures should keep him in hailing distance before he launches, and race-rider Jose Ortiz knows how to do this.
Competition surely will come from the fast, once-beat Brad Cox pair; 3-Demolition Duke (6-1) and 5-First Mission (3-1). The abundance of speed signed on should set the table nicely for the best finisher here, price shot 7-Denington (20-1). But, of course, California/Baffert-trained classy speed, 11-Arabian Lion (7-2), is always going to make its presence felt.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Disarm
WIN-VALUE PLAY: Denington to win at 12-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta key-box 6 // 184.108.40.206. Trifecta Key: 6 // 220.127.116.11.
G1 JENNY WILEY Race 10
The Skinny: A Grade 1 with international flavoras Yankee killer Charles Appleby crosses the pond with 5-With The Moonlight (5-2) to take on a pair of Chad Brown killers: favorite 2-In Italian (7-5) and 4-Speak of the Devil (10-1). Throw G3 Pegasus Turf winner Queen Goddess (4-1) into the mix and the race is on.
In Italian is a worthy favorite. She owns a devastating turn of foot which she used to win the G1 First Lady here then beat all her American rivals in the BC F&M Turf but could not hold off the late charge of Aidan O’Brien’s Tuesday. The last three runs coming off layups all resulted in victories and Irad will have her in this throughout assuming a clean break. Mate Speak of the Devil appeared short of top condition in her recent return and should benefit; gets switch to winning partner Prat here.
But all have Appleby to beat when he ships to the U.S. and comes in with a fit Frankel 4YO who won both recent starts at Meydan now travels here with a filly looking for her first U.S. Grade 1 with winning partner William Buick.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: In Italian or With the Moonlight
WIN-VALUE PLAY: Speak of the Devil to win at 6-1 or greater.
EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 2.4.5. Trifecta Box: 18.104.22.168.
MAKER’S MARK MILE Race 9 FRIDAY
The Skinny: Handicappers won’t need a search party to find the most probable winner here. Two G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile victories, surrounding a G1 Woodbine Mile score and G1 Queen Elizabeth placing at Ascot tell you all you need to know about 7-Modern Games (3-5). And in case memory fails, this is from the team of Charles Appleby and William Buick.
So the battle is for place and we’ve narrowed it to two value runners: 2-Up to the Mark (10-1) and 3-Chez Pierre (12-1). The latter raced very wide throughout the recent G3 Tampa Bay Stakes, make a strong turn move to lead between calls but understandably tired, Daniel Centeno taking care of him late. Looks like a pocket sitter with the switch to Prat.
Up to the Mark is the longer Pletcher and is preferred not because of the prize, or the presence of Irad, but for his turn of foot. This late developing four-year-old has that in spades. Check out either of his last two runs for yourself, both at Gulfstream. He would probably prefer firm ground.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Modern Games
EXOTICA: Exacta Wheel 7 // 2.3. Trifecta Wheel: 7 // 2.3 // 22.214.171.124.8.
Trifecta Wheel 7 // 126.96.36.199.8 // 2.3 [1-Speaking Scout (15-1), 6-In Love (30-1), 8-Cabo Spirit (20-1).
LIMESTONE STAKES Race 7
The Skinny: On our first pass, we left eight of the 12 three-year-old fillies open, then six, and then four. Are we comfortable with that? No way. Are we excited? Yes, because the three we whittled it down to—if correct—will pay handsomely. Take your pick among 6-Just A Care (8-1), 7-Alluring Angel (20-1) or 9-Lady Hollywood (10-1).
After breaking maiden in 3YO debut, she ran into Sassy Nature—pole sitting here—but was no match for her early speed. The added sixteenth fits this 6-Just A Care, she is reunited with winning pilot Javier Castellano, fits the speedy race shape for a barn that got off the duck in Thursday’s third race.
7-Alluring Angel (20-1) is back to sprinting, her best game thus far, to her winning trip, came back with a wide effort going longer at Kentucky Downs, not the desired trip in Franklin, before going long. Note that her winning debut was a today’s trip, so she goes well fresh, Jorge Abreu is profitable lifetime in non-graded events, and reaches out for Prat, another positive.
9-Lady Hollywood (15-1) ran much better than her fifth in the BC Juvenile Sprint indicates when beaten six lengths, choked down on the fence much of the way and was still running well at the finish in a race where the Euros took three of the top four spots. The outside draw may suit her perfectly and Johnny Velazquez will nurse her along until ready.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Lady Hollywood
POTENTIAL WIN-VALUE: Alluring Angel at 12-1 or greater and/or Lady Hollywood at 8-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta Box 6.7.9. Trifecta Wheel 9 // 6.7 // 188.8.131.52.8.12.
Trifecta Wheel 9 // 184.108.40.206.8.12 // 6.7
G3 COUNT FLEET SPRINT HANDICAP Race 9
The Skinny: Six of the 11 can win this always competitive sprint: 1-Edge to Edge (10-1), is an uncoupled Hartman who was z good third to early favorite Tejano Twist, his stablemate. Appears to need the lead and is under the gun from the pole. 2-Skelly (4-1) confidently handled while battling between throughout with reserves; drew off late while ridden out 4-Candy Man Rocket (6-1) enjoyed perfect GP trip but was impressive winner following late lead change; another promising late-develop sprinter for Mott.
5-Tejano Twist (5-2) has been a bold-finish terror sprinting at OP this spring; will get plenty of pace but spots weight (124) to all. 7-Surveillance’s (6-1) much the best listed win at FG followed up with two shorter sprints with last on grass. Fits race shape, nicely drawn, and gets five pounds. 10-Strobe (7-2) is lightly raced 4YO with plenty of upside. Outside dictates stalking trip, also gets five pounds, fresh and pointed here by Cox.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Tejano Twist
WIN-VALUE PLAY: Surveillance to win at 6-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 5-7-10. Trifecta Wheel: 5.7.10 // 220.127.116.11.10 // 18.104.22.168.7.10. Trifecta Wheel: 2.4. // 5.7.10 // 22.214.171.124.7.10
LAUREL PARK Race 10
The Skinny: Although early line favorite1-Coffeewithchris (5-2) has layover Thoro-Graph figures, this is no one horse race. He’s fast but does he have nine furlongs in him; I won’t pay to find out at those odds. The two with the best upset chance come out of the same barn, Brittney Russell’s. 9-Prince of Jericho (3-1) has a tough draw but his figures are competitive, the spacing is good and there’s stamina on the dam’s side; hubby Sheldon rides. 4-Circling the Drain (8-1) also has bottom-side pedigree and rates to reverse recent loss to ‘Coffee’ at today’s added trip; on a bounce-rebound pattern.
4-Ninetypercentmaddie (10-1) is a little light on pedigree but long on form. Robert Reid is 21% and profitable with shippers and Paco comes with the package; could be pocket-sitting here. 2-Time to Cruise (15-1) is an uncoupled Jamie Ness that’s improved off the claim, one a good line, and ships in sharp from Parx and Pennington sticks with him.
MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Price of Jericho
WIN-VALUE PLAY: Circling the Drain to win at 6-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 1.4.9. Trifecta Wheel: 1.4.9 // 126.96.36.199.9 // 188.8.131.52.9.
Per usual: Suggested exotic plays are at minimums available, straight wagers in $2 units
this is a live column that will be updated throughout the weekend
Some thought’s on tomorrow’s Lexington at Keeneland
11th race-The pick here is number 3 Demolition Duke (6-1), With a short run to the first turn, inside posts do have an advantage. Brad Cox trained, Jockey switch from CJ Hernadez to Flavian Prat, lost to Bishop’s Bay around 2 turns by a neck.He was born in February, whereas Arabian Lion (outside post) and First Mission were both born in May. That is a big difference in maturity. You want 3-1 or 7/2, it’s there, I’ll take the #6 with the #6,#7,#9. Note: This will be First Mission’s third race in less than 8 weeks. Godolphin will take money with Cox/Saez.
That’s a reasonable case, Vin O’. Go get those bad guys!
That odds move at the gate on the 3 in the Makers Mark going from 23/1 to 9/1 in one click was brutal. I’m on my 1st trip to Keeneland, and I had the 3 in the live money tournament. Sickening, but what can you do?
On the note of that race, i think Prat gave the ride of the year on the winner. Wanting to hold on to the lead, but not getting engaged when the Brant horse came firing up early in the backstretch was a great decision. He kept the horse relaxed and in tempo and eased him outside that horse, and let him re take the lead when the time was right. Seeing it unfold from down on the apron, it was just a terrific ride.
Tell you what, Doc. I’ve been around too long to be paranoid, given the nature of the racing beast, but I can be cynical and say this:
Officials need to talk to the riders of all the principals to determine what game plans each had going in and how they reacted to the race shape.
Yes, Prat wisely did not to fall into the pace trip, but I have a problem with how the dynamics developed; loose leaders and overly patient handling from those not involved with the early fractions.
When put together with an enormous 23-1 to 9-1 final flash, it was not a good look!
I had a small exotics saver wager on the trifecta only because of the 20-1+ offered on the winner throughout, but was a poor-sport disgusted winner because of yet another fleecing by the computer-assisted mob!
And the reaction of television analysts post race beyond a closing-odds mention? Crickets.
Oh, and will I be betting today, Doc?
Win or lose, right or wrong, four hours of research and writing went into today’s Tote Busters’ analysis, so yes, I’m already invested in the outcomes with respect to the HRI Faithful and will be playing.
Was looking forward to today’s feature races all week… When the hell will fixed odds come?!
I didn’t even realize the tv guys had nothing to say about that odds dip. I am not even sure you can omit something like that from discussion, and still be taken seriously as a tv crew.
Maybe taking a page from the Fox handbook, entertainers not journalists. In fairness, that’s what happens when you need access to do your job.
We’ll have something on this later today or tomorrow, watch this space…