Projected cast for 2019 Preakness: How the Middle Jewel is shaping up

For the first time since 1951, the principals from the Kentucky Derby (G1) are all absent from the Preakness (G1). But if the Middle Jewel doesn’t lend itself so much to a “rematch” story line, Saturday’s classic in Baltimore is giving a few Derby competitors a fresh playing field versus several up-and-comers.

Leading the cast is Improbable, who aims to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record eighth Preakness. The 4-1 post time Derby favorite, he crossed the wire in a fairly even fifth (promoted to fourth via the disqualification of Maximum Security). That was the second straight sloppy track that the big chestnut encountered, following his runner-up effort to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Despite the fact that he was beaten only a length by the early Kentucky Derby favorite at Oaklawn, I didn’t get the sense that Improbable was in love with the slop. To me, he gave off the vibe of one tolerating it and plowing through on class. Then again, the blinker experiment had him all at sea from the beginning of the Arkansas Derby anyway, so I could be misreading or over-interpreting it. In any event, the blinkers-off Improbable did not really pick up in the slop at Churchill as he was beaten a shade over three lengths, and he’s manifestly better than that.

If the advance forecast holds, Improbable stands to get a fast surface at Pimlico, and we could well see him back to his best. The City Zip colt remains capable of the brute power he showed in last fall’s Street Sense and Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).

War of Will would like a word with Maximum Security after the fracas on the Derby far turn, but until he gets that opportunity, the Mark Casse trainee at least deserves a clean trip in the Preakness. While we’ll never know exactly how much the interference cost him, War of Will maintained his contending position for a long way before fading to eighth (elevated to seventh). And the immediate postrace quotes suggested he just got tired. Casse relayed what jockey Tyler Gaffalione had told him: “if he could have gotten him to relax a little he thought he would finish a little better.”

Indeed, War of Will had every right to feel it that last furlong even if he hadn’t been hampered or raced too keenly in the early going. Remember his awkward steps at the beginning of the Louisiana Derby (G2), where he lost his action and never factored in ninth? He got virtually nothing out of his final Kentucky Derby prep, six weeks ahead of the first Saturday in May. So War of Will had not had a proper race since his Risen Star (G2) victory back on…February 16.

Thus War of Will’s pattern of races – but not his overall profile – reminds me of Bravazo last year. Bravazo also won the Risen Star, got nothing out of a bizarre trip in the Louisiana Derby, ran a sneakily-good sixth behind Justify in the Churchill slop, moved forward a light year at Pimlico, and almost upset the Triple Crown winner. War of Will has the same entitlement to improve off the Derby, along with the advantage of being a naturally more brilliant performer than Bravazo.

The other two exiting the Derby are Win Win Win and Bodexpress. Win Win Win, who brought exotics appeal in the wake of a troubled but hard-charging second in the Blue Grass (G2), raced far back early at Churchill and got no closer than 10th (officially placed ninth). The Mike Trombetta pupil is eligible to return to his prior form, but still needs to step up to become a win threat. Bodexpress, part of the collateral damage on the Derby far turn, is still a maiden albeit one with a respectable level of form for Gustavo Delgado. Runner-up to Maximum Security in the Florida Derby (G1) two back, the Bodemeister colt aims to become the first to break his maiden in the Preakness since Refund (1888).

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The historical trends strongly favor Derby alumni winning the Preakness, but the 2019 Triple Crown trail hasn’t exactly gone according to script. This is just the type of year for a new shooter to defy the stats.

The most logical place to look is among the “bubble” horses who might have been a tad unlucky not to make the Derby field, and Bourbon War is Exhibit A. Trained by Mark Hennig, the Tapit blueblood brings the rich vein of Florida form that stood up well in the Derby. Bourbon War was a closing second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and fourth in the Florida Derby, where he had no chance given the race shape benefitting the front runners. (Saturday’s Peter Pan [G3] is an additional data point, with Fountain of Youth alum Global Campaign prevailing.)

Sometimes my penchant for counterfactuals can lead me astray, but just as a thought experiment, what if Bourbon War had been in the Wood Memorial (G2) instead of the Florida Derby? Isn’t there a reasonable chance he gets more points at Aqueduct than at Gulfstream (all he needed was a third in the Wood)? And gets in the Derby? In that alternate universe, Bourbon War might have brought a stronger resume into Baltimore. At a minimum, the talented colt is adding blinkers for the Preakness and figures to get an honest pace.

The “what-if” game applies to Marylander Alwaysmining in a slightly different way. He’s compiled a six-race winning spree capped by the Federico Tesio – a Preakness “Win and You’re In” – without venturing into Derby scoring races. Yet he’s turned in Brisnet Speed figures in the high 90s of late, implying that he would have been competitive had connections attempted Derby preps. Trainer Kelly Rubley’s patient game might prove wisest in the end, as Alwaysmining enters the biggest test of his life riding a wave of confidence. And he’s not without some collateral form, having beaten Win Win Win in the Heft last December. His defeat of Gray Magician, the future UAE Derby runner-up, in the Miracle Wood is less compelling but still noteworthy. A front runner in the first five races of his current skein, Alwaysmining proved he could stalk and pounce in his 11-length demolition job in the Tesio.

Bubble list veteran Signalman has perhaps the most gnawing what-might-have-been for his connections. Had they entered as an also-eligible, he would have drawn into Derby 145 upon the scratch of Haikal. Signalman had scored his signature win in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in similarly sloppy conditions at Churchill, following a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) over the same track. The same points don’t promise to carry over to Pimlico. Moreover, Signalman has yet to perform up to his 2018 form, most recently finishing third in the Blue Grass. He’ll have to move forward markedly third start off the layoff for Ken McPeek.

Owendale has the look of a rapid improver after capturing the Lexington (G3) with a monster circling move. The proverbial light bulb came on one start too late, unfortunately, to make the Derby. The Brad Cox trainee had made no impact in his stakes debut in the Risen Star, winding up eighth behind War of Will and promoted Kentucky Derby winner Country House. Although not as gaudy as the Gulfstream form, the Risen Star has its own graduate success stories, with Plus Que Parfait going on to take the UAE Derby (G2) and Mr. Money garnering the Pat Day Mile (G3). In hindsight, there was no disgrace to being unplaced in the Risen Star, and Owendale’s dynamic breakthrough at Keeneland came at the expense of several Derby trail veterans.

Chief among them is “bubble” horse Anothertwistafate. After dominating the El Camino Real Derby – the first “Win and You’re In” for the Preakness – on his home Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields, Anothertwistafate met with disadvantageous trips in his ensuing Derby points races on dirt. In the Sunland Park Derby (G3), Cutting Humor was already launching his winning move by the time Anothertwistafate could angle out, and his rally fell a neck short. Nevertheless, Cutting Humor had been summarily dismissed by Bourbon War in a Gulfstream allowance, so on a literal reading of form, Anothertwistafate has a gap to close with him.

Anothertwistafate’s gap with Owendale isn’t merely hypothetical, but actual, from his 1 3/4-length defeat in the Lexington. Although Anothertwistafate was temporarily in traffic, he did cut the corner into the stretch once clear, and it would be rash to claim he’d have outfinished Owendale. That said, Anothertwistafate didn’t have an ideal scenario on the turnaround. Marooned at Sunland when he couldn’t return to Golden Gate due to an EHV-1 positive back home, the Blaine Wright trainee actually worked in New Mexico before shipping again to Keeneland. Now Anothertwistafate not only has better spacing between races going into the Preakness, but he’s also been training in the friendly confines of Golden Gate. The son of Scat Daddy (sire of Justify) can put a better foot forward at Pimlico.

Like Anothertwistafate and Alwaysmining, Laughing Fox prevailed in a Preakness “Win and You’re In,” in his case the inaugural Oaklawn Invitational. But unlike them, Laughing Fox also competed in a major Derby prep, the Arkansas Derby, and finished a creditable fourth. Although Omaha Beach and Improbable were in a race of their own that day, Laughing Fox was only a length off the third-placer – Country House.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the flashy Union Rags colt had a productive meet in Hot Springs. Laughing Fox won two straight, including a Presidents’ Day allowance in a time comparable to the Southwest (G3) later on the card, before a troubled seventh in the Omaha Beach/Game Winner division of the Rebel (G2). Then he resumed his upward curve, and last out rallied stoutly to beat some useful sorts in the nine-furlong Oaklawn Invitational. The broad parallel is with Owendale, if without quite the same panache.

Oaklawn has produced two more Preakness contenders, both longshots. Warrior’s Charge, a stablemate of Owendale from the Cox barn, came to hand too late for a Triple Crown nomination. So Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stables must stump up $150,000 to supplement the Munnings colt, who will make an audacious stakes debut off maiden and entry-level allowance romps. Warrior’s Charge promises to contribute to the pace after both wire jobs in solid time.

Hall of Fame trainer and six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas pitched Market King onto the list Sunday. A distant third in Omaha Beach’s Rebel, he retreated to 11th after a wide trip in the Blue Grass. If you’re trawling for positive talking points, he’s a Niarchos Family-bred blueblood (like War of Will), bred on a similar cross to Owendale (Into Mischief over A.P. Indy), and training forwardly.

Preakness Starting Gate (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

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2019 Kentucky Derby leaves series of what-might-have-beens

The wild conclusion to Saturday’s 145th Kentucky Derby (G1) typified the whole trail – plot twists that left the three-year-old picture as sloppy as the Churchill Downs track.

The disqualification of a daylight winner in Maximum Security, and elevation of 65-1 shot Country House, polarized the racing world and angered many fans.

As my colleague Vance Hanson has ably summarized, Maximum Security committed a blatant foul in veering out and imperiling War of Will, who amazingly was not brought down in the process. That was the decisive point since War of Will was traveling smartly into contention, unlike the others hampered in the domino effect, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress. Inadvertent spooking, or otherwise innocent intent, can’t remove this central fact of the case.

Once we move from the “guilt” phase to the penalty phase, however, that’s where the controversy erupts.

According to the rules, Maximum Security’s infraction arguably cost War of Will a better placing than eighth, and therefore demotion is warranted. The stewards’ decision was completely commensurate with the law, although demoting him all the way below Long Range Toddy was less defensible on the evidence.

Yet in an attempt to do justice to the aggrieved, I’d argue that another injustice is being committed. The purpose of any race, above all a classic, is to determine the best horse. When the best horse on the day is disqualified in favor of the soundly beaten runner-up, it’s understandable for disagreement to break out.

As a number of industry voices pointed out in the aftermath, other major racing jurisdictions around the world operate under rules that would have allowed Maximum Security to keep the trophy. Under these “Category 1” rules, the standard isn’t whether the interfered horse was cost a better placing, but rather if there’s strong evidence that he or she would have finished in front of the horse responsible for the interference.

In this case, the stewards would decide whether War of Will was likely to have beaten Maximum Security if he hadn’t been hampered. That’s a much higher burden of proof for a disqualification than if he were cost a better placing, the current “Category 2” rules that guide stewards in the United States and Canada. Since War of Will regrouped, and raced in contention for much of the stretch before tiring, it’s going beyond the evidence to rule that he would otherwise have passed Maximum Security.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Steward, Kim Kelly, explained how the decision looks different from a Category 1 perspective in a May 5 South China Morning Post article:

Under the ‘Category Two’ rules as I understand them, the stewards in Kentucky were perfectly entitled to do what they did.

However, certainly in Hong Kong, there would be no changes to the placings. He was the dominant horse in the race. No case could be successfully argued that those horses, if not for that interference, would have finished in front of (Maximum Security).

At the top of the straight it appeared as though he was under siege but over the 200m (final furlong) he actually extended away from the field, so he was clearly the best horse.

I’d be surprised if any ‘Category One’ country would change the placings. It’s likely, from the shots that I’ve seen, that the jockey would’ve incurred some form of penalty.

That brings us to an alternative remedy to disqualifying the best horse on the day: fines or suspensions for the jockey aboard the offender, in this case Luis Saez. But does such a system promote the safety and welfare of both horse and rider?

In a paper supporting the United States’ changing to Category 1 rules, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation contends that it does militate against dangerous riding while offering a more consistent standard of adjudication. And consistency, after all, is what connections and bettors alike crave.

Protecting our equine and human athletes and preventing an accidental Derby winner like Country House? Sounds right to me, unless opponents of Category 1 can propose persuasive counterarguments.

Now moving away from the “third rail” and back onto less controversial ground:

Considering that Omaha Beach was two-for-two in the slop, the morning-line favorite had every right to deliver another top-notch effort in Derby 145, and his scratch looms as the most gnawing “what-if.” But for Omaha Beach’s entrapped epiglottis, the Maximum Security fracas may have been over a minor award. Or on a more sober note, perhaps Omaha Beach was spared potential disaster had he been alongside when Maximum Security veered out.

Game Winner was heroic despite a virtually hopeless trip. While I freely admit my bias in favor of my principal rooting interest, the objective evidence backs me up. Not only was he behind the eight-ball after his problematic start for Joel Rosario – color me shocked that he was next to last early – but he was also hung out unconscionably wide. According to Trakus, Game Winner negotiated 103 feet (!) more than Maximum Security. That’s far in excess of his four-length margin of defeat.

His never-say-die attitude rallying down the stretch to cross the wire sixth (elevated to fifth) reminded me of another Bob Baffert juvenile champion, Lookin at Lucky, who soldiered on after being clobbered in the 2010 Derby. (The racing fates must have had a good laugh since Lookin at Lucky is the sire of Country House.) With a halfway sensible passage through Derby 145, Game Winner quite possibly threatens Maximum Security, and owners Gary and Mary West might have had the exacta. Invoking the Lookin at Lucky parallel, might there be a rider change for Game Winner?

The work-in-progress Country House finally put it all together. A fan since his show-stopping maiden win at Gulfstream Park, I was delighted by his runner-up effort, even amid all the goofy lugging-in, in the Risen Star (G2). But the expected move forward in the Louisiana Derby (G2) didn’t happen, and it took a third-place swing through the last-chance-saloon in the Arkansas Derby (G1) to scrape into the Derby 145 field. So I’d infamously dropped him from my top 10 because he just didn’t appear to be progressing. The Run for the Roses was coming too soon, and maybe the light bulb would come on for Saratoga or even next year. Whether things just clicked under Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s tutelage, or the rider switch to Flavien Prat was a key factor, Country House worked out a far more sensible trip than imagined. And Game Winner got the trip I envisioned for Country House!

Master Fencer vindicated the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. I’ve been supportive of attracting Japanese participation, but would have preferred to see one ranked higher than fourth on the Japan Road leaderboard. My biggest hang-up with Master Fencer was that he wasn’t the best dirt sophomore in his homeland. But after his blistering charge, altering course from dead last turning for home, to snatch seventh (placed sixth) and nip at Maximum Security’s heels past the wire, he not only proved his merit. Master Fencer also prompted the tantalizing “what if” about his presumed betters. If we’d lured Japan Road winner Der Flug – or fellow unbeaten Chrysoberyl who missed the points races – might they have gone even closer? All the more reason to look forward to Kate Hunter’s recruiting efforts for 2020.

Country House in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Circumstances of Derby DQ less satisfactory than decision itself

I doubt anyone in racing likes the fact that disqualifications are sometimes necessary. Ideally, every race would be cleanly run and the better horse would win every time.

However, we’re dealing with thousand-pound animals that vary in intelligence, ability, maturity, and, during the actual running of races, various states of physical and mental fatigue. There is also, of course, a human element directly involved in these athletic competitions as well, namely jockeys.

Until Saturday, no horse had ever been disqualified from first place in the Kentucky Derby (G1) due to actions that occurred during the actual running of the 1 1/4-mile event. That was a streak of 144 years, and is one reason why reaction to the events of Saturday night have been difficult for some to process. None of us expect, much less desire, the outcome of racing’s signature event to be doubted once the field crosses the finish line.

As in all aspects of life, there’s always a first time. And that first time has triggered plenty of emotion, and much to chew on going forward.

I don’t have many qualms with the ruling per se. There was no valid reason for Maximum Security to have drifted outward several paths on the turn and interfere with War of Will, who was not a “beaten” horse at the time of contact, thus causing a chain reaction. I’m not so sure the same observation can be made regarding Long Range Toddy, behind whom Maximum Security was ultimately placed in the official order of finish.

Far more disconcerting was the path from Point A, the race, to Point B, the decision to disqualify the first-place finisher.

The stationing of patrol judges at various points around the racetrack, as occurred in the old days, has been made largely redundant due to improvements in video camera technology and footage. However, one could argue their absence was sorely missed when no public announcement was made that the stewards were instigating an immediate review of the incident.

That was a puzzling oversight in the eyes of this observer, who was stationed in the grandstand at the eighth pole and clearly witnessed suspicious activity both in real time and while glancing at Churchill Downs‘ Big Board, which provided viewers an overhead view of the action from a camera positioned ahead of the approaching field. The decision to apparently review the action only after two claims of foul were lodged was reminiscent of the situation I witnessed attending the 2016 Delaware H. (G1). In neither case can the lack of proactivity be considered satisfactory.

There was also much to be unsatisfied about in regards to who and who didn’t lodge a foul claim. The connections of War of Will, the horse most immediately impacted by Maximum Security’s errant ways, said Sunday that they chose not to lodge an objection as there would have been no material benefit awaiting them if Maximum Security had been disqualified. At best War of Will would have been placed seventh, which he was, but only the top five finishers earn purse money.

The claim of foul that the public was most aware of was that lodged by jockey Flavien Prat, the rider of Country House. In light of the stewards’ post-race statement, and the footage readily available, Prat’s objection was arguably frivolous. It was certainly one officials can take steps to dissuade others from repeating in the future.

Given what happened in the final quarter-mile between Maximum Security and Country House, I feel confident in thinking the record books will not acknowledge that the better of the two won the Kentucky Derby. That’s the thing that perhaps disturbs most those who disagreed with the decision to disqualify.

While feeling the disqualification was warranted, the “winner” was not the best horse. The outcome of a Kentucky Derby, or any big race for that matter, is most dissatisfying when your head and heart tell you the result does not accurately reflect the merits of the individuals involved.

One of my first thoughts after the disqualification was announced was a conversation I had just last month with retired Hall of Fame jockey Bill Boland, who rode Middleground to victory in the 1950 Kentucky Derby. When recalling his narrow loss aboard Sword Dancer in the 1959 Derby, and his claim of foul against Tomy Lee that was dismissed, he said:

“The first year I rode in the Derby, they called all the jocks in and they told us, ‘You know, we aren’t going to take a horse down in the Derby. It’s never been done. But if anybody causes any trouble, we’ll give you up to a year.’ So they weren’t going to take a horse down in the Derby unless it was really bad. I think they would now, but in those days they wouldn’t.”

How timely. I would never have guessed that statement could possibly define what was about to happen.

PHOTO: Maximum Security (pink hat) shies off the rail into the path of War of Will (black hat), resulting in his disqualification as the 145th Kentucky Derby (G1) victor and elevation of Country House (light yellow hat) to winner (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Dick Powell: The stewards got it right

After an interminable review by the stewards in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1), they got it right.

It was a long and circuitous path to get there but MAXIMUM SECURITY was disqualified and placed 17th, behind LONG RANGE TODDY, and I agree with the decision.

Luis Saez was able to put Maximum Security on the lead despite many challenges on his outside from Long Range Toddy and BODEXPRESS. They raced as a team through a demanding pace over an extremely wet track with WAR OF WILL stalking the trio of leaders down on the inside. Tyler Gaffalione was having trouble getting War of Will to relax as the son of War Front was throwing his head, full of run with nowhere to go.

The demands of the early pace and tiring track were taking their toll around the far turn as the pace slowed down. Gaffalione could potentially see that Maximum Security might not be backing up so he was going to have to go after him. Moving off the rail and bumping with Long Range Toddy, he found room to go after Maximum Security.

One stride later, Maximum Security in front of War of Will, drifted out. The NBC slow-motion cameras showed Maximum Security’s hind legs intersected with War of Will’s lead leg and for a fleeting moment, it looked like the sport of horse racing in America was about to come to an end.

Had War of Will gone down, it would have caused a chain reaction behind him on national TV with more eyes on our sport than any other time of the year during a crisis time for the sport. Thank goodness, Gaffalione was able to pull War of Will off of Maximum Security and avoid catastrophe.

No sooner had this incident happened, Saez seemingly went back to the inside and to tighten up on Johnny Velazquez aboard CODE OF HONOR. Straightened away in the run down the homestretch, the only real threat came from 65-1 longshot COUNTRY HOUSE, who had raced wide every step of the way. Maximum Security was able to hold his lead, Country House was an improbable second and Code of Honor held on for third over a fast-closing TACITUS.

Now here is where it almost went off the rails.

Despite everyone seeing the herd turning for home, there was no steward’s inquiry. Flavien Prat, rider of Country House, claimed foul against Saez aboard Maximum Security even though he was seemingly barely affected by what happened to his inside. According to the official chart of the race, that is the only claim of foul. Nothing from Gaffalione, who had the biggest issue, and nothing from Velazquez, whose issue was smaller. Nothing from Jon Court aboard Long Range Toddy.

At this point, the analysis focused on did the foul, which definitely happened, affect the outcome of the race?

Who is to say that War of Will was not going to pull up alongside Maximum Security and fight him to the wire?

At a crucial moment of the race, as he is basically out of oxygen, another horse forces his rider to pull up to avoid clipping heels. He gets penalized for not running stronger through the stretch and the horse that caused him to avoid clipping heels gets rewarded? I don’t think so but I know I am in a minority in my position.

There is a movement to adopt rules where the stewards, in all states, would have the right to determine whether the foul against the horse cost that horse a placing. It would have ruled that War of Will was not going to pass Maximum Security and would have let the result stand.

What is missing from that scenario is how do we keep the sport as safe as possible?

Breakdowns are not just horses getting injured. Sometimes they are caused by traffic problems and sometimes they are caused by errors from connections, jockeys and trainers. We can’t legislate against bad decisions but we can have a stronger deterrent.

If you know where the line is, you will go up to it as close as possible. If the line gets tighter, you will still go up to it as close as possible, but the line is now tighter. Riders ride to what they can get away with. Maybe after Saturday, where the stewards faced the ultimate challenge in a race that is sometimes viewed with the reputation that anything goes, all races will be adjudicated in a way that our sport is safer than ever.

PHOTO: Maximum Security (pink cap) comes off the inside and into the path of War of Will, with Country House on the outside, on the turn of the 145th Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2019 (c) Horsephotos.com/Lauren J. Pomeroy

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Nicole Schiveley’s Kentucky Derby 2019 Analysis

The road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) usually finds me head over heels in love with one contender, and I rarely sway away. This year has been the exception. For the first time in years I have not found a standout.

This has made my job more interesting and difficult, but a lot more fun.

With a crop of colts who look to be of similar talent, it has been like searching for a needle in a haystack to come away with the most likely winner. There is still a mix of contenders and pretenders, but the line dividing those two groups is less distinct.

Because the field appears to be evenly matched, there are two pressing questions.

Who drew well, and who will handle the crowd?

A horse can possess immense talent and lose all concentration once he steps into the paddock or turns for home to the wall of sound reverberating from beneath the twin spires.

Until then, who doesn’t love discussing which horses will peak on the first Saturday in May? I’m going to make a few predictions, because what is the Kentucky Derby without someone pretending they have a crystal ball?

1. War of Will WoWs.

He was the name on everyone’s lips until he wasn’t. After dominant victories in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2), War of Will ran a dismal ninth in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

It was soon revealed the son of War Front suffered a patellar injury at the start of the race. Trainer Mark Casse wasted no time in continuing the strapping bay colt’s training, with his target always the Kentucky Derby.

Since War of Will has arrived at Churchill Downs, he has looked as well as any, and appears to be the type of hose who is unfazed by the bustling surroundings.

He drew the dreaded No. 1 post, and most of the time he would be an automatic toss. But after favored Omaha Beach’s defection and news of Haikal’s foot abscess and a potential scratch, War of Will may move to the second gate, off the rail in a field of 19.

If he does, I think he gets away cleanly and assumes position on or near the lead. Casse has stated previously that War of Will’s strength is his ability to break quickly and efficiently, which is something he will desperately need to do Saturday.

I am going out on a major limb here at a big price. I’m picking War of Will to win the Kentucky Derby.

2. Game Winner won’t be a winner this time.

I have tried to figure out a scenario in which this son of Candy Ride claims the Garland of Roses, and I can’t. Game Winner is as tough as nails and his presence in the race is not to be taken lightly.

But he is not a horse who will make the lead with a final acceleration and draw clear. He is a horse who will grind his way down the stretch and either be passed or never pass the leader.

Starting from post 15 after Omaha Beach’s scratch, Game Winner could be in a better spot. He will now break from the first auxiliary stall and may not be able to avoid some serious bumping and grinding when the gates spring open. He also has a knack for finding wide trips. I don’t see much changing for him Saturday, only this time he will be running five or six wide for 10 furlongs.

Would I be happy to be wrong about his chances to win? Absolutely. I have immense respect for this horse, who has a ton of heart. With that determination, and a certain silver-haired trainer, Game Winner might prove me wrong, and I won’t be mad about it.

3. A win for Improbable is improbable

Improbable enters the Kentucky Derby off of two consecutive losses. The Baffert-trained colt is battle tested, and in post 5 he should be able to break cleanly and relax into position without much incident.

But there is concern over his breeding. A son of City Zip, there is a possibility 10 furlongs may be outside Improbable’s comfort zone.

I’m also not fond of what I have seen during his morning training at Churchill Downs. Typically a powerhouse mover whose fluidity never fails to be eye-catching, he has appeared to be less fluid in Louisville.

Dragging his rider around the oval in a manner I am not used to seeing from him tells me the pressure of the atmosphere may be having an impact. In addition to added energy he is exerting physically, he is having difficulty keeping his head forward on the task at hand. Looking around while galloping isn’t something that brings me much comfort just days before the Derby.

While I am certain Improbable has a bright future, I do not see him winning the Kentucky Derby.

4. Tax flies under the radar and grabs a piece

Why is no one talking about how well this horse looks in the morning? On the muscle and happy to be doing his job, Tax is going unnoticed by most—and that’s fine with me. At morning-line odds of 20-1, the son of Arch seems a very live longshot.

He drew post 2, but if Haikal scratches, he will move to the third gate from the inside. This small change in position will only help him, since he prefers to be forwardly placed. He breaks well enough to get clear of traffic early. His mental maturity will come into play, allowing him to sit back, relax and let others do all the hard work up front.

Is Tax a win contender? Probably not.

But with a ready-to-rumble appearance in the mornings and double-digit odds, he’s worth a shot.

5. Maximum Security is a win contender.

After his Florida Derby (G1) victory, I haven’t been drinking the Kool-Aid.

Until Omaha Beach’s scratch, I hadn’t given much thought to Maximum Security as a possible winner

If he goes to the lead, I do not like him. But if he can rate off of the leaders, he goes from a place possibility to a win contender.

He possesses a fair amount of acceleration once he makes the lead, and if he is able to position well, he may find himself on the lead at the top of the stretch.

Be sure to play your thoughts on Kentucky Derby day!

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2019 Kentucky Derby Field with odds

145TH KENTUCKY DERBY

PP HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY ODDS
1 War of Will Mark Casse Tyler Gaffalione 20-1
2 Tax Danny Gargan Junior Alvarado 20-1
3 By My Standards Bret Calhoun Gabriel Saez 20-1
4 Gray Magician Peter Miller Drayden Van Dyke 50-1
5 Improbable Bob Baffert Irad Ortiz Jr. 6-1
6 Vekoma George Weaver Javier Castellano 20-1
7 Maximum Security Jason Servis Luis Saez 10-1
8 Tacitus Bill Mott Jose Ortiz 10-1
9 Plus Que Parfait Brendan Walsh Ricardo Santana Jr. 30-1
10 Cutting Humor Todd Pletcher Corey Lanerie 30-1
11 Haikal Kiaran McLaughlin Rajiv Maragh 30-1
12 Omaha Beach Richard Mandella Mike Smith 4-1
13 Code of Honor Shug McGaughey John Velazquez 15-1
14 Win Win Win Michael Trombetta Julian Pimentel 15-1
15 Master Fencer Koichi Tsunoda Julien Leparoux 50-1
16 Game Winner Bob Baffert Joel Rosario 5-1
17 Roadster Bob Baffert Florent Geroux 6-1
18 Long Range Toddy Steve Asmussen Jon Court 30-1
19 Spinoff Todd Pletcher Manuel Franco 30-1
20 Country House Bill Mott Flavien Prat 30-1
AE Bodexpress Gustavo Delgado Chris Landeros 30-1

PHOTO: Rain sprinkled roses on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs (c) Horsephotos.com/Rickelle Nelson

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Final Kentucky Derby works round-up: notes and quotes from coast to coast

With the exception of Japan Road invitee Master Fencer, who continued his routine exercise at Keeneland, the other 19 Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders turned in workouts between last Thursday and Monday.

MONDAY, APRIL 29

At Palm Meadows, unbeaten Florida Derby (G1) winner Maximum Security was credited with a half-mile move in :53.80. In trainer Jason Servis’ methodology, however, that was simply the finale to a gallop.

“He went a mile in 1:58 and came home, I want to say, in 25 (seconds) for the last quarter,” Servis said. “He galloped out a mile and an eighth in 2:12 and cooled out good. All systems are, ‘Go.’”

Servis commented on how the Palm Meadows clocker timed the move.

“They’re getting the last (half-mile) when the horse is breezing a slow mile,” Servis said. “That’s something that probably needs to be addressed at some point.

“I think it was after his second race that I took him off the rail, so to speak, and started doing the open miles. It’s just a maintaining thing, trying to avoid injuries that would set us back. Maybe in a fast breeze there is more risk than what I’m doing.”

At Churchill Downs, Long Range Toddy, victorious in the first Rebel (G2) division before a sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1), breezed a half-mile in :47.80. The Steve Asmussen pupil was caught in fractions of :12.60, :24.20, and :35.80, and proceeded to gallop out five furlongs in 1:01.20 and six in 1:12.40.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a fast track like we had (Monday) morning,” the Hall of Fame trainer said, unlike the sloppy going in the Arkansas Derby. “He worked beautifully this morning. At this time of the year, the three-year-olds have to step up. He stepped up big time in the Rebel and hopefully can continue to improve. He’ll need to put up the race of a lifetime in the Derby.”

SUNDAY, APRIL 28

Churchill’s Sunday worktab was busier with six Derby hopefuls out for major moves.

Bill Mott’s duo of Wood Memorial (G2) hero Tacitus and Country House commenced a five-eighths drill in company, bursting through to the inside of Maryland shipper Win Win Win and his workmate as they tooled along. But Win Win Win sailed past the Mott duo in deep stretch in his half-mile work. Tacitus and Country House caught back up with Win Win Win entering the clubhouse turn as they matched strides until Win Win Win eased to the outside with his task accomplished.

Country House on the rail, and Tacitus flanking him, clocked five furlongs in 1:00. The tandem posted fractions of :12.20, :24.20, :35.80, and :48, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80, seven furlongs in 1:26, and a mile in 1:39.80.

“My team was ready to break off,” Mott said, “and they (Win Win Win and workmate) probably didn’t know we were going to work. All the riders did a really good job and I really have to commend all of them. It’s not going to hurt them and they better get used to (traffic) if they’re not already or they’ll get a surprise on Derby Day. It’s pretty crowded out there.

“We have a week to go until the Derby and we look like we’re in good shape. They finished up right together. They may have been a head apart. I told them if they could work together, that would help each other during the work. Both of my horses have pretty laid-back dispositions and they probably needed their company to encourage each other. For me, it worked out perfectly.”

Win Win Win, who dusted his company in :47.60, was caught in splits of :24.20 and :36. The Mike Trombetta trainee galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20.

“That was a little different, but it worked out well,” jockey Julian Pimentel said of the work that unfolded unexpectedly when the Mott pair barreled through on the inside, when Win Win Win surged by, and when they all re-engaged. “He went about his business and he wanted to go get them.”

Louisiana Derby (G2) winner By My Standards continued to tout himself in the mornings with a strong half in :48.40. After initial fractions of :12.40, :24, and :36.40, the Bret Calhoun pupil galloped out with good energy, covering five furlongs in 1:00.60, six in 1:12.80, and polishing off seven in 1:26.60.

“Well, that couldn’t have gone any better,” Calhoun said. “It’s just a blessing how well he’s doing entering the Derby. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do and just moves so effortlessly around the racetrack.”

Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) hero Improbable, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby, rolled through five furlongs in company in 1:00.60. A touch overeager early as he dragged Florent Geroux up to, and past, his workmate, the Bob Baffert runner recorded splits of :11.80, :23.60, and :36.40. He kept motoring six furlongs in 1:13 and galloped out seven, in hand, in 1:25.60.

“He loves this track,” Baffert said. “I just love the way he kept on galloping out today.”

“I don’t think he was rank,” said Geroux, who will ride stablemate Roadster in the Derby as Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up Improbable. “He was just maybe a little bit keen and feeling good. He’s very easy (to ride) actually. Down the lane he was responding exactly to what I was asking him to. I could have gone faster if I wanted to. I could have gone a touch slower if I wanted to. He was just very cooperative.”

Fountain of Youth (G2) victor Code of Honor, third in the Florida Derby, zipped four furlongs in :46.80 to post the second fastest of 76 on the day. The Shug McGaughey pupil reeled off splits of :11.80, :23.20, :35.20, and galloped out five in :59.40 and six furlongs in 1:13.20.

“I told (exercise rider Brian Duggan) to go in :48,” the Hall of Famer said, “but the track was pretty good this morning.”

SATURDAY, APRIL 27

Arkansas Derby star Omaha Beach likely solidified Kentucky Derby favoritism by working five-eighths at Churchill in :59. The second best of 43 at the distance, eclipsed only by four-year-old multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie’s :58.60, Omaha Beach showed push-button tractability as he rated off workmate Kowboy Karma before dismissing him rapidly.

“He felt good, very good,” said Julien Leparoux, who was subbing for Derby rider Mike Smith after the work was postponed to the weekend for better weather. “When I asked him, he went.”

Omaha Beach recorded fractions of :12, :23.60, and :35.40, and capped the move with a six-furlong gallop-out in 1:12.80.

Hall of Fame horseman Richard Mandella, looking for his first Derby victory, was delighted.

“I just wanted him to have one more good work; that’s all he needed,” Mandella said. “He got it today. They were supposed to go off together, but it all worked out fine. He went and got him. I really liked that he settled right down after the work. He acts like a professional racehorse. I don’t think this work took much out of him at all. It couldn’t have gone better. It’s all working out just right.

“I’ve never had a three-year-old doing this well this early. He’s just special. Since (capturing the second division of the) Rebel (G2) he’s filled out and just gotten better. He’s pure class. And he’s a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.”

Trainer Mark Casse was likewise happy with War of Will’s bullet half in :47.60, joint-fastest of 79 on the day. His company no more than a target, the Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3) hero was caught in :12, :24 and :36.20 with jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard. War of Will opened up at will as he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 and six furlongs in 1:13.60.

“What you got to see this morning, if you weren’t impressed with him this morning, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Casse said.

UAE Derby (G2) winner Plus Que Parfait also bested his company in a five-furlong move in 1:02.00. Trainer Brendan Walsh was satisfied that after opening splits of :12, :23.60, and :36.20, he settled down to clock a half in :49.40 and stayed on steadily to gallop out six furlongs in 1:15.60.

“He has become more aggressive now than how he used to be, which I think is a good thing to see,” Walsh said. “He went a little faster than we wanted early on and the last thing I wanted to do was do too much with him right now. Then, when he left the lead horse, he lazed a little bit and it was fine. I wanted 1:02 and out in 1:15 and that’s exactly how he went.

UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician, tuning up at trainer Peter Miller’s San Luis Rey base, worked five-eighths in 1:00.40. With Derby rider Drayden Van Dyke up, he overtook his workmate and drew off.

“He worked super and came home really well,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier with how he did it. He came home (his final quarter-mile) in :23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth (to get six furlongs) in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.

“Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own. He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead.”

FRIDAY, APRIL 26

At Santa Anita, Baffert’s one-two from the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Roadster and Game Winner, pulled away from their respective workmates in a pair of stiff drills beneath Martin Garcia. Each was positioned on the inside and set the pace themselves on the deep surface.

“I had them inside just to keep the pressure on,” Baffert said.

Roadster went out first, after the 6:45 a.m. (PDT) renovation break, and covered six furlongs in 1:13.80.

“I loved the way he went,” Baffert said. “Martin said he felt great and didn’t take a deep breath. That’s one thing about this horse – he’ll go a mile and a quarter. We just don’t know how fast. He handles a deep track, and the really good ones will do that.

“He’ll be fit when he leaves here, because I think the Santa Anita Derby got him pretty fit. After that, I could see a big change in him. He really needed that race.

“As soon as I told him to pick it up, he took off. He was controlling the work and just cruising along…if the horse is good enough, he’s ready.”

File photo of Game Winner working at Santa Anita April 20

Game Winner, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion at Churchill, took to the Santa Anita track after the 7:45 a.m. break and strode relentlessly through seven furlongs in 1:27.

“Game Winner looked awesome; it was perfect,” Baffert said, significantly for a horse who’s not the flashiest worker.

Friday’s other three Derby works came at Palm Beach Downs.

Blue Grass (G2) winner Vekoma breezed a bullet five furlongs in :59.95 in company with fellow George Weaver trainee Majestic Dunhill, who shared the bullet. Derby jockey Javier Castellano was astride for the joint-best of eight moves on the day.

Todd Pletcher’s duo of Cutting Humor and Spinoff also geared up at their winter base.

Sunland Park Derby (G3) winner Cutting Humor blitzed a half-mile in a bullet :48.01, fastest of 15 at the distance. Posting fractions of :13 and :24.80, he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.80.

Louisiana Derby runner-up Spinoff tied workmate Last Judgment when clocking five-eighths in 1:00.77. Splits were reported in :13, :25, and :37, followed by gallop-out times of 1:13.60 for six furlongs and seven in 1:27.

THURSDAY, APRIL 25

Belmont Park hosted both Derby workers, Tax and Haikal, the respective second and third from the Wood.

Tax, the Withers (G3) winner, sped a half in :47.80 on the training track while blowing by his workmate. His time was the fourth-best of 79 on the day.

“I thought he worked really tremendous,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “We put a target in front of him because he likes to run at something and :47 and change is fast today. I worked a few horses earlier today and no one worked that fast. Divine Miss Grey went :48 and change and she’s a good work horse. The gallop-out was impressive and he’s training really well.”

On the main oval, Gotham (G3) hero Haikal negotiated five furlongs in company in 1:01.21, matching strides with Taamer before edging clear.

“I loved what I saw this morning,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He kept going out and finished strong. It was an excellent work.

“He went a little fast last week (bullet half in :47.59 on April 19), but it was probably the track. This week was really nice. The way he galloped out and the way he worked he looked really good. In hand. I really like this work better this week.”

Top photo of Omaha Beach in routine exercise April 22 (c) Rickelle Nelson/Horsephotos.com

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Five things to know about the 2019 Kentucky Derby

With less than a week to go before the 145th Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 4, here are five things to know going into what must be considered a fascinating and contentious renewal of the 1 1/4-mile classic.

1. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has the gloves off in his quest for a record-tying sixth victory in the Run for the Roses as reigning juvenile champion Game Winner, Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Roadster, and the Grade 1-winning Improbable all figure to be among the top four or five betting choices. While Game Winner and Improbable were his two leading prospects entering the winter, both finished second in their respective two preps, and no Baffert trainee has turned in his first win of the season in the Derby since Real Quiet (1998). Roadster, on the other hand, has perhaps come to the fore after defeating Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby and belatedly living up to Baffert’s reported belief last summer that he might be the best colt in the barn. The record Baffert seeks to tie is that of Ben Jones, who won six Derbies from 1938 through 1952, primarily for the Calumet Farm juggernaut.

2. The streak of winning favorites could be extended to seven if, as seems quite possible, Omaha Beach goes favored and runs to the positive vibes he’s given off since arrival at Churchill Downs. Owned by Rick Porter, whose horses have run second in the Derby on two previous occasions, Omaha Beach is trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, a highly-respected member of his profession but one who hasn’t taken too many serious shots at this race in the past 30-plus years. Mandella’s enthusiasm for this colt as been evident and infectious in many respects. Though Omaha Beach lost his first four races, three of which were on turf and two of them in photo finishes, the son of War Front has turned the corner with three straight victories over a variety of surfaces including a division of the Rebel (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1) against two of the Baffert colts.

3. Bill Mott, who from 1986 through late 2017 held the distinction of being the all-time winningest trainer in Churchill Downs history, is taking what many consider his best shot at winning the Derby for the first time with Tacitus. Owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms has also come close without winning, and in Tacitus they’ve given Mott a colt with the genetic tools to get the job done. By superstar sire Tapit, the gray is the first foal out of Eclipse Award-winning mare Close Hatches, who Mott also trained. After a career-opening fourth last October, Tacitus has reeled off three straight wins, including the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2). Avoiding much of the trouble that compromised others in the latter prep, Tacitus has thus displayed a touch of maturity and gained valuable experience running in a race where congestion and problematic trips can arise.

4. The only undefeated colt in the field has so far proven to be one of the fastest and yet he remains a bit of a mystery and isn’t attracting much pre-race buzz. Maximum Security‘s background has much to do with the latter. The son of New Year’s Day wiped the floor with his rivals in his first three outings, but those came against $16,000 maiden claimers and in two starter allowances. However, he proved up to the challenge stepping up in class in the Florida Derby (G1), setting a moderate pace and storming home to a 3 1/2-length score in his first start beyond seven furlongs. Seeing out a 10th furlong against a much stronger field will be demanding, especially if the tempo will be significantly quicker as many expect. But whose to say Maximum Security wouldn’t be able to run the rest off their feet if allowed to a la Spend a Buck? Trainer Jason Servis seeks to emulate his brother, John, who trained Smarty Jones to a Kentucky Derby victory in 2004.

5. There are several intriguing contenders expected to start at double-digit odds. By My Standards, who seeks to become only the third horse to win the Kentucky Derby after taking the Louisiana Derby (G2), has visually impressed observers since arriving from his winter headquarters in New Orleans. A maiden graduate only five weeks before the Louisiana Derby, the Bret Calhoun-trained colt is coming to hand at the right time. Code of Honor hopped on many people’s Derby lists last year after an impressive debut win and troubled second in the Champagne (G1), but flies in under the radar after a win in the Fountain of Youth (G2) was book-ended by relatively so-so finishes in two other preps. Owner Will Farish, the master of the famed Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, last won a Triple Crown race way back in 1972 (Preakness Stakes [G1] with Bee Bee Bee). Also looking to bounce back to better form is War of Will, who dominated the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) before disappointing as the odds-on choice in the Louisiana Derby. He virtually lost all chance a few strides out of the gate when his hind end gave way, resulting in a muscle injury. Back in better health, the colt displayed eye-catching cruising speed winning his first two preps and figures to be forwardly placed.

PHOTO: The 2019 Kentucky Derby trophy (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Don’t rely on Dosage for Kentucky Derby handicapping

While no longer as much in the spotlight, the modern Dosage system of pedigree shorthand still gets trotted out in the build-up to the Kentucky Derby (G1). It’s understandable that horseplayers, and fans uninitiated into the mysteries of Thoroughbred bloodlines, want to latch onto a figure that points to a horse’s ability to handle 1 1/4 miles on Derby Day. But please don’t.

Before explaining why, a preamble: I’m limiting this discussion to the Dosage Index (DI) as developed by Dr. Steven Roman, and applied as a handicapping tool for the American classics since the 1980s. Although the deeper history of Dosage goes well beyond the scope of a blog post, it’s vital to know that Roman was modifying a theory pioneered in Europe by Lt. Col. J.J. Vuillier and further adapted by Franco Varola. (If you’re interested in a simplified historical background, and Roman’s approach, see the postscript.)

As a pedigree enthusiast, my immediate problems with Dosage as a Derby prognosticator are the stallions who count (or not) and the deliberate exclusion of any mares from the equation. Its fundamental problem is a mechanistic approach that fails to reflect the complexities of inheritance. Since that scientific critique’s best left to pedigree professionals and geneticists, I’m concentrating on the first two. These observations are hardly new or unique, but worth highlighting as we look to the 2019 classics.

Dosage is supposed to recognize the most statistically influential sires in a pedigree, but Roman ceased to update this list of chefs-de-race upon which his formulas depend. Indeed, three of the last four Derby winners have had Dosage Indices in excess of the magic 4.0 cutoff – Triple Crown champion American Pharoah (4.33), Nyquist (7.00), and Always Dreaming (5.0). The old sires are fading beyond the fourth generation, the limit of Roman’s calculations, without new faces to keep the chefs-de-race current.

But based on Roman’s curious methodology, the list has been problematic for quite a while. He already didn’t see fit to include titans like Storm Cat or Danehill (based on rather forced reasoning) while adding a few sires of lesser merit that haven’t stood the test of time. Among the significant omissions are Sunday Silence, Distorted Humor, Seeking the Gold, Deputy Minister, Unbridled’s Song…I could go on.

So as you can see, the Dosage Index is based on an aged selection of sires that excludes some of the leading progenitors of recent years – the very ones we’d look to for classicity.

Yet even if it were being continuously updated, the very fact that stallions would arise on the scene to become chefs-de-race shows the limits of Dosage as a predictive tool for handicapping. The numbers were always going to be subject to revision based upon new data. A Dosage that’s “too high” one day can be within the parameters the next.

A memorable case in point is 1991 Derby winner Strike the Gold: he entered the starting gate with a 9.0 Dosage Index. But his sire was Alydar, the near-misser to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Roman fixed that by making Alydar a “Classic” chef-de-race, bringing Strike the Gold’s DI down retroactively to 2.60.

Still, Strike the Gold’s broodmare sire, Hatchet Man, never counted at all. Not that he has claims to be a chef-de-race, but Hatchet Man figured to add stoutness if you’re just trying to gauge the distance capacity of an individual runner. A slavish adherence to Dosage, however, would hack Hatchet Man right out of the equation because he’s not elite enough to have a statistically determinable influence.

And mares don’t count at all as progenitors, based upon their limited number of offspring compared to stallions. But again, it’s unwise to airbrush half of the ancestry out.

One glaring example is Crème Fraiche, whose Dosage Index was astronomical when he won the 1985 Belmont (G1). Roman’s questionable solution was to make his paternal grandsire Crème dela Crème a “Classic/Solid” chef-de-race to bring the numbers into line. I’d rather look to Crème Fraiche’s dam, the prolific racemare Likely Exchange, winner of the 1979 Delaware H. (G1). (Her own broodmare sire, Swaps, doesn’t count in Dosage either.). Horses don’t automatically produce offspring who can stay at least as far as they do on the racetrack, but Likely Exchange descends from the potent female line of Escutcheon, ancestress of Shuvee among others. That matrilineal factor simply isn’t accounted for in Dosage, yet it’s arguably why both Likely Exchange and Crème Fraiche emerged from otherwise forgettable sires.

Real Quiet (DI 5.33), who came within an eyelash of the 1998 Triple Crown, is another whose family must be mentioned in any discussion of his classic performances. His second dam was a full sister to 1969 Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince. That actually rendered his Dosage higher because the mare’s sire Raise a Native and broodmare sire *Royal Charger count as speed influences in the “Brilliant” category.

Similar issues must be borne in mind when considering the Dosage Indices for the 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders.

Win Win Win (DI of 4.50) summarizes the problems inherent in a Dosage calculation where Lost Code (?!) counts as a chef-de-race and Sunday Silence doesn’t. Moreover, ancestor Unbridled is credited under the “Brilliant/Intermediate” categories – not Classic – as if he were pushing the dial more in the direction of speed. That strikes me as inherently illogical for a stallion of his import on the American classic scene. Unbridled’s classification is also contributing to the over-the-threshold DIs of Long Range Toddy (4.33) and Gray Magician (5.0) (both of whom descend from the uncounted Unbridled’s Song).

Also exceeding the theoretical limit is Improbable (4.23), despite being out of an A.P. Indy mare. Even if you don’t want to give Improbable’s sire, City Zip, credit for getting Collected and Dayatthespa, I’d invoke his deep female line. Improbable hails from the immediate family of Hard Spun, and tracing further back, his maternal relatives include Darby Dan’s dual classic heroes Chateaugay and Little Current. That’s not to deny the influence of their sires, but a female line so productive over the long haul can’t be discounted.

Finally, notice that horses of such divergent pedigree profiles as By My Standards and Maximum Security have the same DI of 3.0. By conventional standards of pedigree analysis, By My Standards would have more questions to answer at the Derby distance. Even viewed through the prism of Dosage itself, his entire Index leans on a threadbare three chefs-de-race while Maximum Security at least has a few more classic-oriented ancestors on the list.

Reading the pedigree tea leaves is never easy, especially with the overall trend toward more speed, and less redoubtable stamina influences than in the past. Still, relying on a questionably derived number isn’t the solution.

***

Postscript on the history of Dosage

In the early 20th century, Vuillier undertook laborious work on the pedigrees of classic winners in Europe, discovered the elite stallions (chefs-de-race) who factored repeatedly back to the 12th generation, and quantified their standard amount of representation. His calculations made clear if a stallion or mare’s pedigree lacked the right amounts of certain chefs-de-race, and accordingly helped identify mates who could redress the balance. Vuillier also heeded the extraordinary influence of the 19th-century mare Pocahontas and included her as a key ancestor – unlike the subsequent spinoffs from his theory. Vuillier’s novel Dosage system was put into great effect by the Aga Khan (grandfather of the present one).

The next step came courtesy of Varola, who built upon Vuillier’s concept of chefs-de-race. Instead of just updating the list of prepotent sires, Varola had the inspiration to classify them according to the essential quality transmitted to their offspring, their aptitudes. He began with five groups – Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Stout, and Professional – then realized the need to refine further. Not only did some sires warrant placing in two categories, but Varola also began to split up categories to reflect variations even within the same aptitudinal group.

Roman picked up on Varola’s five groups, and in an extreme modification of Vuillier’s method, assigned points to chefs-de-race in a pedigree going back only four generations. He used a sliding scale to allocate the highest points for a first-generation chef-de-race and the fewest for the fourth. The points were arranged in a linear Dosage Profile, spanning the Brilliant through Professional categories (roughly, speed through stamina spectrum), and Roman created accompanying formulas – the Dosage Index (DI) and Center of Distribution (CD) – to sum up whether the pedigree was tilted toward speed or stamina. More details on Roman’s method are available in the old Brisnet library.

For Derby handicapping purposes, a DI of 4.0 was the cutoff, with anything above that believed to be lacking in stamina for the classic distance. Roman’s twist effectively popularized Dosage into a barometer of staying capacity, a direct contradiction of Varola’s intent.

Roman’s adaptation gained currency through the columns of the late Leon Rasmussen in Daily Racing Form. But note that Rasmussen had long been involved in Dosage pre-Roman, having helped Varola in assessing American sires, as Sid Fernando has described in his eponymous blog.

Nyquist wins the 2016 Kentucky Derby (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Kentucky Derby Trophy

Kentucky Derby works round-up for April 21

The general rule for many horsemen training toward a big race is that the last timed workout isn’t the most important. The big work often comes the week before, while the final breeze serves as more of a tune-up.

With that in mind, the weekend’s works for Kentucky Derby contenders around the country were notable.

The only timed Derby work at Churchill Downs (although expected favorite Omaha Beach, off his victory in the Arkansas Derby [G1] galloped over the Churchill main track Sunday) this weekend came from a horse who would need help to get into the field – Blue Grass Stakes (G2) third Signalman. The General Quarters colt trained by Kenny McPeek needs two defections from the current field of 20 to get in, but logged at bullet :59 3/5 five-furlong drill Saturday. Sunday morning, UAE Derby (G2) winner Plus Que Parfait breezed a half-mile, but the fog prevented clockers from ascertaining a time.

Seventy miles or so down the road at Keeneland, Code of Honor logged his second work since his third in the Florida Derby (G1) with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 Saturday. A day before, War of Will flashed some nice speed at the same distance in Lexington and went on the worktab at 1:00 1/5.

Out West the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Game Winner and Roadster put in stiff drills at Santa Anita Park on Saturday. Roadster, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner, logged six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 from the gate, while 2018’s champion 2-year-old male Game Winner covered five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. Farther south, UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician put in a half-mile work in :48 2/5 at San Luis Rey Training Center for trainer Peter Miller.

On the East Coast on Friday, Wood Memorial (G2) third and Gotham (G3) winner Haikal put in a half-mile breeze in :47.59 at Belmont Park, and Blue Grass second Win Win Win covered five furlongs in 1:01 on the synthetic track at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland on Sunday, but the lion’s share of workouts took place in Florida.

Palm Beach Downs hosted Blue Grass winner Vekoma (four furlongs in :50.17 Thursday), Sunland Derby (G3) victor Cutting Humor (five furlongs in :59.58 Friday), and Louisiana Derby (G2) second Spinoff (five furlongs in :59.99 Friday), while claimer turned Florida Derby winner Maximum Security galloped his way to a :42 clocking for three furlongs at Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday.

 

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