Submitted by Hank Goldberg on Friday, April 26, 2019 at 6:21 PM
Hank Goldberg – National Race Masters
Friday, April 25
If you have only recently become a horse player, what I am going to talk about today might not be part of your method file. However, that does not mean that you should skip reading about this now abandoned but once locked-in-granite handicapping foundational blueprint players of a certain era once stood upon.
If you are a player who goes back more than a dozen or so years you will remember when less than a trio of 3-year old Derby preps was gospel and have clearly watched it crumble block by block since.
Now, since some of you will ask, why if this “Standard,” as I shall refer to it moving forward has fallen by the wayside, is it even worth the discussion? I will answer that right away. Because although this Standard is no longer a “default” position, it is far from useless when applied to an “overall” assessment of a three-year old’s possibility of winning the Kentucky Derby, the 145th edition of which will be run next Saturday, May 4, at Churchill Downs.
(THREE RACES AS A 3 YEAR OLD)
For a horse to run a mile and a quarter for the first time in its life and do so early in its 3-year old campaign demands foundation and stamina and until about a dozen years ago that meant racing.
Prior to Street Sense winning the 2007 Kentucky Derby no Run for the Roses victor had accomplished the feat with less than a trio of 3-year old prep races other than Sunny’s Halo in 1983, the only one over a 5 decade span prior to Street Sense. But it should also be noted that Sunny’s Halo ran 11 times as a juvenile in 1982, a figure, it is safe to say, which never come close to being matched on the part of a future Kentucky Derby prospect. As to only two preps in 1983 it was stress fractures in both shins which curtailed his early preparation that year.
So it was up to Street Sense and his connections (Owner-Breeder James Tafel and Trainer Carl Nafzger) to break through the three or more 3-year old prep races when he went into the Kentucky derby after winning the Tampa Bay Derby over Any Given Saturday and dropping a nose decision to Dominican (who finished 11th in the Derby) in the Blue Grass Stakes.
At the time that Kentucky Derby win after only two preps was considered a fluke, but it was a harbinger of things to come as it took a few more years before the industry and public in general began to realize that the increased 5 X 5 and 4 X 5 inbreeding and breeding for a mile was changing the game.
In fact, Street Sense was followed in succession by Big Brown (2008), Mine That Bird (2009) and Super Saver (2010) who won the Kentucky Derby with only two starts prior. And Mine That Bird (4th in the Sunland Derby) and Super Saver (2nd in the Arkansas Derby) like Street Sense, did not win their final prep before the Kentucky Derby.
Entering the current decade, the “new normal” continued as Animal Kingdom (2011) and I'll Have Another (2012) won the Kentucky Derby off two prior starts at age three. And they did so taking much different routes. I’ll Have Another came to Louisville after winning the prestigious Santa Anita Derby while Animal Kingdom’s two 2011 preps were the less than regarded Grade II Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park after a one mile allowance turf race at Gulfstream Park.
Orb (2013) was a three time starter at age three (won the Grade I Florida Derby in his final prep), and California Chrome (2014) also had three prior starts at age three, culminating with his Santa Anita derby win. American Pharoah (2015) a winner of the Grade I Arkansas Derby in his final prep and Nyquist (2016) who annexed the Grade I Florida Derby prior to the Run for his Run for the Roses triumph each started just two times before the Kentucky Derby
In the last two years Always Dreaming (2017) another Florida Derby Winner in his final prep and Justify (2018) who captured the Santa Anita Derby before moving on to Louisville, started three times at age three.
(SEVEN PROJECTED KENTUCKY DERBY STARTERS GO FORWARD OFF TWO 3-YEAR OLD PREPS)
As the industry moves forward on its less racing by speed bred animals there will be seven 3-year olds vying for Kentucky Derby honors following two 2019 prep races.
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Below are the seven contenders who will be looking to turn in a maximum effort in their “third start in the cycle.” While we have definitely established that these two time starters can no longer be ignored, this does not mean that the liability of conditioning cannot be taken into consideration. So let us wrap up by taking a look at each with a brief reflection on what those two races might have contributed to each 3-year olds moving forward.
TACITUS – A surprise winner of the Tampa Bay Derby in his 2019 debut he followed that up with a win in the Grade II Wood Memorial Stakes. A son of stud champ Tapit, he is one of only two of these who have won both their preps and the only one to do so in Graded Stakes tests. If there is any 1 ¼ mile chink in the armor it is the less than foundational blood in his female line. Although his dam Close Hatches was a champion she is the daughter of sprint speed influence in First Defence.
VEKOMA – Debuted this year with a third in the Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and then won as the 7-5 favorite in the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes. The Kentucky derby will be his 5th career start. He appears in good form, but like Tacitus, his female line, his dam Mona De Momma is a daughter of Speightstown, whose average winning distance was only 6.5 furlongs. Again, this is not necessarily a disqualifier but lightly prepped without a distance female family is a consideration.
ROADSTER – The other double winner of his preps, the son of Quality Road is the only Grade I winner of the seven with his Santa Anita Derby triumph. His sire was a game race horse who won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and might have been the 2009 Kentucky derby had injury not kept him out of the Triple Crown. To this point Quality Road has been a breeder of mostly mile speed and turf runners. Although Roadster’s late wake up after running in place early in the Santa Anita Derby could signify the best is yet to come, he did look a bit green in that race.
GAME WINNER – The 2018 juvenile eclipse award champ has yet to win in 2019, finishing a close up second in both the Grade II Rebel and Grade I Santa Anita Derby. With his exhibited talent and Bob Baffert connection he will continue to have his supporters. However, it is worth noting that even though only two preps (providing they were solid efforts) is as I have stated, part of the “new normal” you also need to take into consideration that of all the recent 3 race to 2 race paradigm game changers, only Mine That Bird in 2009 was a Kentucky Derby winner without winning at least one of his two preps. On the plus side, he is bred both sides (Candy Ride…Indyan Giving-A.P. Indy) to excel at 10 furlongs.
IMPROBABLE – A virtual Bob Baffert clone of Game Winner with two runner up finishes. His came in the “other” division of the Grade II Rebel and in the Grade I Arkansas Derby behind possible Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach. It os worth noting that he had considerable problems in the Arkansas Derby…everything from a tantrum in the pre-race preparation to a rough trip, so he is either ready to run his best or still green. It is also worth noting that while he has plenty of foundation on his female side he is a son of City Zip, who was essentially a sprinter.
TAX – Another who still has to prove he belongs with the best of his generation. He is far from a typical Kentucky Derby prospect. While his conditioner Danny Gargan is top notch, he is not a name that readily comes to mind in Derby circles. In addition, Tax is a gelding and exits the Wood Memorial, which hasn’t come close to producing a serious Derby challenger since Funny Cide in 2003. However, of not only the seven 3-year olds noted here, but of all the 2019 Derby contenders, Tax might b the best suited to handle the 1 ¼ mile distance from a running style/blood lines combination. He has exhibited solid tactical and stalking speed and versatility in his prior races and as a son of Arch (Kris S) out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Toll, he has the potential to run 24 second splits from start to finish.
SPINOFF – With Hard Spun on the male side and Gone West on the female side he is well bottomed to handle the distance. But at this point in his career his best attribute might be that he comes out of the Pletcher barn. He debuted in 2019 with an allowance win at Tampa Bay and the got the lead and gave it up late in the Grade II Louisiana Derby and finished second to last out MSW winner and upset champ By My Standards (23-1) while in front of show horse Sueno, who in turn followed that third place finish with a third in the lesser Grade III Lexington Stakes. Even more seasoning might not have helped him.
So in conclusion. Are this year’s two time prep runners viable? As the trend has shown, they cannot be discounted on that alone. Is it still a liability when other aspects are attached? Of course.
Check back with me next mid-week for my final Derby Analysis/Preview. In the meantime…every day I am building bigger bankrolls for players.(Check Out My Daily Best Bets Service Here)
HAMMERIN’ HANK GOLDBERG