The three Kentucky Derby points races this weekend are an interesting contrast in coasts with the two East Coast races—the Withers at Aqueduct and the Holy Bull at Gulfstream—attracting fields of 10 and 9, respectively, despite the presence of possible odds on favorites in both races.
The Robert & Beverly Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park, however, attracted only five entries, but none are particularly interesting from a Kentucky Derby perspective (yet), and they only have five wins among the whole group (3 have one win, Term of Art has the field’s lone stakes win to go along with his maiden score, and Irap is a maiden, though he did finish second to Mastery in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity).
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El Areeb and Classic Empire will go heavily favored in their races but either would likely be 1-to-20 against the Lewis field, but at the end of the day each race is worth 17 points with 10 to the winner regardless of who shows up.
I expect both El Areeb and Classic Empire to win their races, and even acknowledging them as the most likely winners I’d maybe try to take a flyer against them, but my issue with trying to oppose them is that the most likely upsetters—J Boys Echo in the Withers and Gunnevera in the Holy Bull—are the obvious second choices. I’m fine with trying to beat a favorite and leaning on the second choice to do so, but if I genuinely like the favorite then if I get creative it won’t be with the second choice.
I have no strong opinion in the Withers other than El Areeb is the most likely winner. He drew well, is the only horse in the race with triple digit E1 & E2 pace ratings, and is the only horse with a triple-digit Speed Rating (which he’s done twice). I would actually be willing to bet El Areeb at 6-to-5 given he’s a 50% winner and so much looks to go his way from an actual race standpoint.
The Holy Bull is a little different. Classic Empire is better than El Areeb, but he’s facing a tougher field than El Areeb is, too. I liked Gunnevera’s Delta Jackpot—a race J Boys Echo might help us get a better line in (the Withers is before the Holy Bull). That Delta Jackpot victory earned Gunnevera a 96 Speed Rating, which is decent, but four others in the Holy Bull have already hit the 100 plateau: Classic Empire, Talk Logistics, Irish War Cry, and Fact Finding, but there are questions surrounding each of those performances.
Classic Empire has the highest Speed Rating of his generation, posting a 108 when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over graded stakes winners Not This Time and Practical Joke. However, that was a 14-point improvement from his previous two stakes wins, and maintaining that level off the freshening for his three-year-old debut is no give me.
Talk Logistics notched his 100 when winning the Buffalo Man Stakes going six furlongs. The positive spin there is that he did it at Gulfstream, but the cause for pause is that it came in slop and is much faster than his two other dirt numbers.
Irish War Cry won the Marylander by a nose at 3-to-10, and while barely winning when odds on isn’t a great look, the race did come back fast (100 Speed Rating), and it was 10 lengths back to third. The 100 also matches up well with the 99 he earned on debut, and being by Curlin out of a Polish Numbers mare there’s no reason to think two turns will be an issue.
Fact Finding is undefeated in three starts by a combined 13 ¾ lengths with his win in the Smooth Air Stakes last out his most impressive with a 101 Speed Rating. But that was the same day as Talk Logistics’ big win, which means it’s another big sloppy number (his previous winning ratings were a pair of 86s). The Factor is a 20% mud sire from a small sample, so it’s definitely possible that moved him up. Still, wins at Saratoga, Keeneland, and a Gulfstream stakes all as a two-year-old is a pretty impressive resume.
Of Talk Logistics, Irish War Cry, and Fact Finding, Talk Logistics is the one I want least. I’ll let the son of High Cotton out of a Trippi mare beat me stretching out on a fast track. Fact Finding might be too short to pair with Classic Empire. He’s the third choice at 6-to-1 on the morning line, but have to think he’s right there with Gunnevera as second favorite.
Irish War Cry at 15-to-1 definitely intrigues, though I think he’ll come down from that too (or even if he’s that high because Classic Empire is so low, from an exotics standpoint, he won’t be that much less bet than Gunnevera and/or Fact Finding). I love that he closed in his debut and attended the pace in his stakes win. It’s actually a similar vibe as Classic Empire, who was a deep closer when sprinting early but has sat closer to the pace in his two Grade 1 wins.
I’ll play Irish War Cry across the board at 10-to-1 or better and keyed underneath Classic Empire in exactas and tris assuming at least two of Talk Logistics, Fact Finding, and Gunnevera are taking more money in the vertical pools.
As for the Lewis it’s admittedly tough to get excited about the race from an exotics perspective, but if Sheer Flattery takes too much money off the big slop win (none of those previous losses on a fast track compete here as the favorite) then the maiden Irap becomes interesting as a horse who could take control of the race early. Royal Mo won his last gate-to-wire, but the pace ratings are behind what Irap has been capable of. I.e., an aggressive ride from Mario could steal this, and I’d make that bet at 3-to-1 or better.