Time to commit to my Derby picks, and place my wagers. Our Penn National OTW facility here is insanely packed on Derby Day, as every idiot wanna-be horseplayer decides to go there that day and only that day (which is why it is closing on or before June 18—for lack of business on a day-to-day basis, so they say). In addition, Saturday is graduation day at school and since I won the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (aw shucks *blushing*) I have to be there to receive my gold medallion. Thankfully, the ceremony is at 1 p.m., plenty of time to rush home to watch the Derby. Therefore, I am off to the OTW tomorrow morning for Oaks Day. Please, somebody tell me why Churchill Downs does not have 10-cent superfectas? They could make a killing just on the Derby alone, with its 20-horse field.
I did make a few future wagers previously. In Pool 2, I lost $2 each on Ravel and Summer Doldrums, who fell by the wayside, but I do still have Great Hunter at 11-1 and Stormello at 22-1. I suspect that is about where both horses will be at post time, so I will not place any more single bets on them, and just be satisfied if they do well.
In my previous post, I eliminated six (Sedgefield, Bwana Bull, Imawildandcrazyguy, Storm in May, Liquidity, and Sam P). However, I often toss $2 on a horse for sentimental reasons and Storm in May is going to get that action from me (he is 2 for 2 in the money on off-tracks, and his Tomlinson number is a decent 371). I also have a soft-spot for grays (did I mention that like a million times before? Lol!). I suspect he will go off closer to 60-1—hey, a dear friend picked a 50-1 longshot two years ago to win…remember him? Giacomo?
What criteria do I use in deciding whom to back? Certainly the typical—breeding, record, previous competition, distance ran, stamina—but this year I am also looking for:
1. those who have been bumped and jostled around, and still won or performed well—those who can handle the traffic; and
2. those who have demonstrated improvement over the spring—not necessarily physical growth, but mental toughness through racing against the best and training well and regularly
Frankly, I still have not decided on a winner, as so much depends on track conditions and how the race unfolds, so I will be boxing some exactas and trifectas (again, if only they had the 10 cent super!).
Who do I like to be in the mix at the end?
• Street Sense (7) and Any Given Saturday (18). The one thing that really stands out for me about these two is the Tampa Bay Derby duel. Watch it again. Street Sense (with the quintessential rail ride by Calvin Borel) may have won the bob in that 1-1/16 mile race, but it was Any Given Saturday who had the wide trip and when passed by Street Sense came back again—had the race been the Derby’s 1-1/4 mile, he would have won, I bet. I like Garrett Gomez up, even though he has not rode AGS before—I think John Velazquez will come to regret giving up this mount. Both have been training perfectly, and each had a strong last race—Street Sense lost by a nose to Dominican in that strange Blue Grass, while AGS bounced a bit, wide in both turns and finished within four lengths of Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Wood Memorial, running back a full week earlier than Street Sense. If he had gotten that extra week’s rest, maybe he would have done better in his last race. Regardless, Pletcher gave him 2 weeks off after that before he worked a beautiful 5f in :58.4. Both SS and AGS have run at Churchill before (last November), as SS won the Breeders Cup Juvenile here and AGS finished just ½ length behind Tiz Wonderful in the Kentucky Juvenile Cup. I definitely see these two up there at the wire.
• Tiago (15). I freaking love Tiago! Watch his Santa Anita Derby win. He lopes along last or next to last, at least 15 lengths back from the leaders nearly the entire race, until Mike Smith starts moving him up as they make the final turn. He goes to the rail, then weaves through traffic passing them all last and continues running well beyond them as he crosses the wire. With Churchill’s long stretch, if he gets a good clean ride (and Smith does not flay him until he bleeds), Tiago should be able to close like that again. Unfortunately, because of the Giacomo connection, his odds will probably be shorter than I would like, but still at least 10-1. In an exacta or tri, that pays well enough. However, my only concern are comments such as those by DRF’s Mike Welsch that Tiago does not appear to be working well on the Churchill track since shipping in from Hollywood.
• Nobiz Like Shobiz (12). This is a beautiful animal—what a chest! Between him and Curlin (2), I am not sure which is the more physically impressive creature. However, while I am lukewarm on Curlin (mostly because he has never had anyone put forth a challenge to him…how will he handle one or more horses running with him rather than letting him pass?), I like Nobiz Like Shobiz. Head case that he may be, he has never finished out of the money in six races; in fact, he has never lost by more than ¾ length. All but one of his Bris speed numbers are 100+ (and the low is 97). He broke his maiden first time out, and then finished ¾ length behind Scat Daddy (14) in the G1 Champagne next out. He is the only Derby horse who went from a maiden race to nearly winning a grade 1 stakes! Scat Daddy broke his maiden, and then won the G2 Sanford, then placed in the G1 Hopeful before the Champagne, which makes Nobiz Like Shobiz’s achievement even more notable. Cornelio Velasquez has rode him in every race, and Barclay Tagg is a classy trainer. Actually, I am not crazy about his name, but I do like his Bris comments: “as rider pleased” “when asked” “all out” and “resolutely on rail.” A proven contender whose last two workouts at Belmont (5f :59.4 and :59.3) are impressive. He is flying under the radar of Pletcher’s brood, Street Sense and Curlin, so maybe he’ll stay up around his morning line 8-1.
• Zanjero (3). I am not sure I can articulate a compelling reason why I like this animal, just call it a hunch, a gut reaction. I am not a big Steve Asmussen fan, although I can admire his accomplishments with young horses, and this horse is getting better, in his workouts and performances, including finishing third by a head in the free-for-all that was the Blue Grass. Shaun Bridgmohan is back on him, and together they won two races last year, including a 1-1/16 mile race over this track.
• Scat Daddy (14). Damn, another Pletcher horse! However, you can’t argue with 5 wins in 8 tries, including 4 graded stakes (G2 Sanford, G1 Champagne, G2 Fountain of Youth, and G1 Florida Derby). The Kentucky-bred son of Johannesburg, out of the Mr. Prospector mare Love Style, has been training wonderfully, consistently, and has Edgar Prado up (one of my favorite jocks).
Just for kicks and giggles, I will put $2 on Teuflesberg (10) to show—just because.
I am leaving out some as a calculated risk. As PA bred, I should root for Hard Spun (8), and I will, but...that last workout revealed much (fast early, but slow late), he has not run in six weeks, and he has not run in a grade 1 stakes. Geez, he lost to Teuflesberg (10), and beaten only the likes of non-Derby entrants Joe Got Even, Forty Grams, and Officer Rocket. Pass. Cowtown Cat (6) ran a nice G2 Illinois Derby, but also who has he beaten? Reporting for Duty, Wafi City, Summer Doldrums…all non-Derby horses. However, he has been training significantly better at Keeneland, but I am still not a believer. Pass. The next one may raise some eyebrows, but I am leaving Circular Quay (16) out of my exotics. Eight weeks since his last race (Louisiana Derby) is too much and I don’t care if he is working out with Rags to Riches (and she is a hand-full). Pass. I’m also going to pass on Stormello (17) and Great Hunter (20), although I love them both. Stormello’s early speed won’t help him here, and Great Hunter is frankly screwed starting from post 20. Moreover, I already have those future wagers if they do happen to surprise.
After all that (sorry, but typing it out helps me think better), it looks like I am going with some combination of: 3-7-12-14-15-18.