Friday, April 30, 2010

The Grade 1 $2,000,000 Kentucky Derby

Not too long ago, it appeared that everyone would be touting Eskendereya as a possible Triple Crown winner following what was expected to be another brilliant victory following his romps in the Fountain Of Youth and the Wood Memorial. Unfortunately, things don't always work out the way they are supposed to and Eskendereya was pulled from the Derby with a minor problem. What that left us with, however, is a fantastic betting race for the 136th Kentucky Derby with the two favorites on polar opposites of the draw and a multitude of possibilities in between them. We also appear headed for a torrential downpour on Derby Day in Louisville, so the ability of a pick to like the wet surface could come into play. Here are my thoughts on the Grade 1 $2,000,000 Kentucky Derby:

My top pick is #13 Jackson Bend with Mike Smith aboard. Smith got his long-awaited Derby win with Giacomo in 2005 and might be ready for a second score here. Trainer Nick Zito has also been waiting for his next Derby winner since 1994 when he had Go For Gin. Jackson Bend has done nothing wrong in any of his nine races, finishing first or second in each of them. The only problem he had in the last two was that he was behind Eskendereya in each of them. However, he dug in both times and did not allow anyone to pass him for second place on either occasion. I like the moxie and heart this horse will be bringing into Derby Day, along with the fact that he is one of just three horses in the field with any Beyer figure of 100 or better in his career. For second, I will go with the horse that couldn't pass Jackson Bend in the Wood and that is #16 Awesome Act. Awesome Act's victory in the Gotham might be the most visually impressive of all the non-Eskendereya wins this spring. He had the excuse of losing a shoe in the Wood and gets the soon-to-be Kentucky legend, Julien Leparoux, in the irons. His Sire, 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, won the Breeders' Cup Classic over this racetrack, so you can even throw in the family history angle beneath the Twin Spires. I will put one of the two favorites next with #1 Lookin At Lucky. He is such an ironically named horse because the one thing he is not is lucky. He almost overcame a brutal trip to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall and was so brilliant anyway, he was still a runaway winner of the Juvenile Championship. He had to get past a bobble two starts back in the Rebel at Oaklawn and still managed to run down Noble's Promise there. He got closed off at the rail in the Santa Anita Derby and still gutted out a third-place finish. Now, he draws the rail in the Derby, exactly where he isn't supposed to be and a spot no one has won the Derby from since Ferdinand in 1986. To round out the top four, I will use the lone speed horse that might hang on to a piece of this in #12 Conveyance. His loss in the Sunland Derby was a little puzzling to me, not because he lost, but because of the ease with which the lightly-raced Endorsement blew by him. It is his only loss in five career starts, but his running style with all the speed in this race and a possible tiring, sloppy track on Saturday could combine to wreck his chances. Here is the play for the 136th Kentucky Derby:

$10 WP #13
$1 EX BOX 1-11-12-13-16
$1 TRI 13-16 with 13-16 with 1-2-3-11-12
TOTAL- $50

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Enjoy your Derby Day!! Tune in again on Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What The Voices Think... Part Deux

Last year, I had the brainstorm to inquire of some of my announcer friends as to who they thought would win the Kentucky Derby. Of course, no one came up with Mine That Bird, but two (Tom Harris and Frank Mirahmadi) selected PioneerOf The Nile, who finished second to the upset winner. So, in the continuing effort to find some announcer love (and a winner, hopefully), They Are Off proudly presents What The Voices Think... Part Deux:

Pete "The Anchor" Aiello (River Downs)- Make Music For Me
Jason Beem (Portland Meadows)- Ice Box
Pat Cummings (Manor Downs)- Stately Victor
John Lies (Lone Star and Hialeah)- Lookin At Lucky
Dan Loiselle (Woodbine)- Awesome Act
Frank Mirahmadi (California Fairs and TVG)- Conveyance
Vic Stauffer (Hollywood)- Stately Victor
Don Stevens (Delta Downs)- Ice Box
James Witherite (Harrah's Chester)- Jackson Bend

I must also add that I got a couple of "I don't knows" from a few other colleagues, which given the wide-open manner this Derby seems to have is totally understandable. Also, Pete Aiello self-glossed The Anchor to his pick and since his original pick was Endorsement, who was unfortunately injured and eliminated from the race the day after he made the pick, I had to buy in to The Anchor nickname. I must thank all my fellow announcers that responded with either selections or uncertainty and wish all of these gentlemen the best of luck with their picks.

As for my Kentucky Derby selection, well, that is what the Friday blog post is for. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Martha's Derby Thoughts

SureBet Racing News' Martha Claussen has contributed to this blog on numerous occasions before and even offered a pick or two now and then. So, I asker her to do the same for the 136th Kentucky Derby and here are Martha's opinions and a Derby Day play as well:

Very interesting challenges involved in handicapping Kentucky Derby 136! Even before the untimely defection of Eskendereya, I felt that this could be another Giacomo or Mine That Bird year. Prior to the post position draw, I was high on Sidney's Candy. Now the poor dude will think he is back in California with that post. I want Todd Pletcher to win; he is long overdue.

My sentimental choice will be Mission Impazible as his connections and my good friend Tony Patterson live in Ruston, Louisiana . Super Saver has been grinding away, gets Churchill Downs wonderboy Calvin Borel and a very accommodating post. My last Derby winner was Monarchos in 2001 and I have always loved the Florida Derby as a key prep. Ice Box shocked them this year, but with all the early speed types, the race could set up sweetly for Zito's charge.

Anyway, analysis, paralysis. Look what Michael Chamberlain did last year. He dissed Mine That Bird in the handicapping seminar, played his birthday numbers of 8-16 and cashed an exacta ticket for $2,000. If I play my birthday numbers of 8-2-5-4, I've got a 50-1, 15-1, 30-1 and Ice Box at 10-1. So my Derby credo this year will echo the immortal words of Tom Cruise in Risky Business who declared "sometimes you have to say, what the ____!" Why not take a shot with some longshots, birthday numbers or even the filly and go for the gusto?

Here is my suggested $1 Derby Pick 3:
Race 9: #1 Munnings; #7 Warrior's Reward; #10 Cool Coal Man
Race 10: #10 Blues Street (Javier Castellano is the BEST turf rider in the country)
Race 11: ALL, except #8, #9, #18,#19
TOTAL: $48, or hit the ALL button in the Derby for $60

Have a great Oaks and Derby!

Remember that They Are Off (and Martha) accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in tomorrow as some of the best track announcers in the country weigh in with their Derby selections. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Grade 1 $500,000 Kentucky Oaks

Yes, I know the race is not until Friday, but the next three days of They Are Off will be dedicated to The 136th Kentucky Derby. Tomorrow will feature the selections of SureBet's Martha Claussen, Thursday will be a comparison of picks from different announcers around North America, and Friday will be my personal selections for the Run For The Roses. So, in an effort to not ignore the Oaks, here are the selections for the 136th running:

I am going to go with a pair of Kentucky ace jockeys on my first two selections. I will start with the young lion and pick Julien Leparoux and #13 Amen Hallelujah as the winner of the Oaks. She really seemed to come into her own since the move off of synthetic to the dirt in her last two starts at Gulfstream Park. She won the Grade 2 Davona Dale and ran 2nd in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss behind Devil May Care, the Pletcher filly that will be starting in the Derby on Saturday. Her last three works have all been bullets, curiously they all took place on the grass at Gulfstream. I will put the old lion, Calvin Borel, in the place position with #8 Tidal Pool. It is entirely possible she will get the lead and never give it up, as she tried to do in the Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn before being passed by Blind Luck, the favorite today. She worked a sensational six furlongs on April 20 at Churchill, going the distance in 1:12.3. She is also one of just two horses in this field with a previous victory over the Churchill oval. I am going to put #5 Blind Luck in third, even with the amazingly low morning line of 6-5. That price would be difficult to swallow in an eight-horse field, but in a fourteen-horse field, there is no chance I could put her on top. She is an outstanding filly, but she has finished behind some of the company she will be keeping in the Oaks. Her last workout at Hollywood did not impress at all, going six furlongs in 1:14.4. She has three wins and a third in four starts with Rafael Bejarano aboard, but she is by no means invincible here, which the 6-5 price would seem to indicate. I am going to throw in a huge longshot to round out the top four with #2 Jody Slew. She has 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, on the Sire side and Housebuster on the Dam side, which should make for a nice combination of speed and stamina. She won two of three at Fair Grounds in New Orleans with Miguel Mena in the saddle and he rides again Friday. She turned in a decent work over a sloppy Churchill track on April 23, going a half-mile in 48.2 seconds. Her 30-1 morning line makes her a live longshot for me on Friday. Here is the play for the Grade 1 $500,000 Kentucky Oaks:

$1 EX BOX 2-5-8-11-13 and $1 TRI BOX 2-5-8-13
TOTAL- $44

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again tomorrow for Martha Claussen's selections for the Kentucky Derby. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Monday, April 26, 2010


When last we convened on They Are Off, Eskendereya was looking like he would be no more than a 2-1 favorite in a field of twenty which would actually have been him and a field of 19 pretenders to the Crown (Triple, that is) in the Kentucky Derby. Now, you might be hard-pressed to find a true favorite for the Derby with a flashlight and a bloodhound.

Obviously, the role of favorite will be inherited by Lookin At Lucky, the 2009 Juvenile Champion. The one thing that Lookin At Lucky doesn't seem to possess is any racing luck in 2010. His first race at Oaklawn featured him bobbling on the backstrech and just getting up to defeat Noble's Promise at the wire. His second race at Santa Anita found him checked out of the action by a hopeless longshot as he appeared to be gathering momentum on the far turn. His 2010 seems very reminiscent to me of the 2001 of Dollar Bill. Dollar Bill had all the makings of a "wiseguy" horse I alluded to in a previous column. However, the one thing the "wiseguys" couldn't give him was any luck. Dollar Bill got stampeded out of the Kentucky Derby in 2001 on the far turn and finished 15th in a field of seventeen. Lookin At Lucky had his final workout on Monday morning and the DRF called it the work of the day at Churchill, covering five furlongs in 1:00.38. Of course, when there aren't nineteen other horses around you to cause problems, anyone can look invincible.

The other major development with the removal of Eskendereya is that his trainer, Todd Pletcher, will now run a filly, Devil May Care, in his place in the Derby. That comes complete with John Velazquez in the saddle. The last filly to compete in the Derby was Eight Belles in 2008, who finished second behind Big Brown, but we all know what happened after she crossed the finish line. Devil May Care will be one of four confirmed Pletcher horses in the gate on Saturday, along with Discreetly Mine, Mission Impazible, and Super Saver. Pletcher has already yanked Interactif and Rule out of the Derby. The removal of Rule eliminates part of the expected pace scenario, which now will include Sidney's Candy, American Lion, and Conveyance. All along, I have been thinking there would be so much speed that it surely would collapse at the end. Now, maybe one of those speed demons can careen along on a lead and pull a Spend A Buck or War Emblem and go all the way up front.

So, Todd Pletcher with his inclusions and exclusions has already had a major impact on the way the Kentucky Derby of 2010 will shape up. This is also nearly a full week before the horses even hear the first few notes of "My Old Kentucky Home". Get ready for a wild week!

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Grade 3 $200,000 Cliff's Edge Derby Trial

Saturday is the absolute last chance anyone has to qualify for the Kentucky Derby next Saturday through their graded stakes earnings. Even then, there are really only two realistic horses that can make enough to get into the field of twenty for the Run For The Roses. Pleasant Prince and Eightyfiveinafifty both need a victory in the Derby Trial on Opening Day at Churchill Downs. It wouldn't be far-fetched for either of them to get in and actually be a factor next week. Remember, Don't Get Mad ran in the Derby Trial in 2005 and came back a week later to run fourth in the Derby itself at long odds. Here is the analysis for the Grade 3 Derby Trial:

I am going to go with one of the potential Derby horses as the winner on Saturday with #4 Pleasant Prince. It is now obvious he didn't care for the synthetic surface at Keeneland on April 10 in the Grade 1 Blue Grass. That was the worst result of his eight-race career. He has hit the board in half of those tries and was just a nose away from not being in this position as he could have easily held on to beat Ice Box in the Florida Derby and already be in the Derby. The last two workouts are both bullets and Julien Leparoux knows his way around the Churchill Downs oval very well. #1 Game On Dude is a lightly-raced Baffert trainee that is 10-1 on the morning-line in the Derby Trial. He ran a poor seventh behind Ice Box and Pleasant Prince in the Florida Derby, but has a win at one mile at Gulfstream in the maiden-breaker on February 27. The Sire is the same as Gotham winner, Awesome Act, with the 1998 Breeders' Cup winner, Awesome Again. Robby Albarado will ride on Saturday. I will put the other Derby hopeful in third spot with #10 Eightyfiveinafifty. His Beyers are excellent with two in the 100s in the last three starts. Of course, the other of those three races was the Whirlaway at Aqueduct when he bolted off the racetrack. There is just something I don't like about this horse, it might be his increasingly erratic behavior or whatever. If he does get into the Derby, he just becomes another speedball to go out and contest a ridiculously hot pace which will just set it up for someone from off the pace to win. Finally, I will go with #5 Hurricane Ike in the fourth spot. He will be ridden by Calvin Borel, who guided him to a second in the Grade 3 BayShore last time out at Aqueduct. Borel is also someone well-versed in the Churchill track. He has won two of the last three Derbies with epic come-from-behind confidence. Here is the play for the Grade 3 $200,000 Cliff's Edge Derby Trial:

$10 WP #4
$2 EX 4 with 1-5-6-9-10 and $2 EX 1-5-6-9-10 with 4
TOTAL- $40

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for Derby Week from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


It seems that every year during Derby week there is a horse that just seems to jump off the racetrack at all the observers at Churchill Downs, be it trainers, jockeys, media. There just seems to be that one horse that everyone falls in love with for whatever reason and that horse will be christened the "wiseguy" horse for the week. That is because all of the aforementioned groups are considered to know what they are doing when it comes to horseflesh, hence they are the "wiseguys" on the backside, and they ought to know what they are talking about, right?

Well, not so much. Some of the "wiseguy" horses of recent vintage haven't had much of a track record. Think back to 1999 when everyone got on Stephen Got Even. The wagering on the horse was such that his price plummeted all the way down to 5-1 at post time that year, making him the second favorite behind the entry of Excellent Meeting and General Challenge. Stephen Got Even finished 14th. Think back to 2005 when Nick Zito had five horses in the starting gate on Derby Day. He had the favorite in Bellamy Road and he also had the "wiseguy" horse in Noble Causeway. The experts that week felt that Zito would win his third Derby, but not with the front-line starter in Bellamy Road. Noble Causeway was the way to go. Well, the way to go finished 14th. It is interesting to note that in both of these years, 1999 and 2005, the Derby was eventually won by big longshots. Charismatic won at 31-1 in 1999 and Giacomo won at 50-1 in 2005.

So, who will the "wiseguy" horse be this year in the Kentucky Derby? I might not be the person to ask, since if you consult the people that know me best, I doubt they'll tell you I am wise. However, my guess would be Endorsement. The winner of the Sunland Park Derby this year has many of the hallmarks of a "wiseguy", including an undistinguished record before his graded score in New Mexico and don't forget the Land Of Enchantment angle. Mine That Bird ran in the Sunland Park Derby as his last prep race before his 50-1 shocker last May. I think the "wiseguys" will keep that in mind a lot in the next week or so.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More From Martha

Every so often, I turn over the content of They Are Off to SureBet Racing News writer Martha Claussen. She has submitted her latest story on recent Houston riding champion, Paul Nolan. Martha's story begins on Page 20 of the link:

Martha will be providing her selections for the 136th Kentucky Derby following the draw for the race next week, so be sure to keep an eye out for that. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

This will be the final version of the Super Six Derby Pix before the Kentucky Derby on May 1. There might be two further chances for someone to earn graded stakes earnings before the Derby with the Withers and Derby Trial this coming weekend, but it is likely that there won't be anyone wheeling back a week later to run in the Derby after whatever happens this weekend. So then, here are the final Super Six Derby Pix:

#1 Eskendereya-He turned in a very nice workout on Saturday, going five furlongs in 1:02.25 at Churchill Downs. He has the two highest Beyers of any three-year-old this season. I believe he will be no lower than 2-1 when the bell rings on Derby Day. Will he win the Kentucky Derby? It is entirely possible he is the real deal. Will he have my money on him? Only in exotic boxes since the price will not be worth wagering on, in my estimation.

#2 Lookin At Lucky- I think the Baffert trainee is going to be the second choice in the wagering, barring any of the inevitable "wise-guy" horses sneaking up on everyone like Endorsement or Mission Impazible. The 2009 Juvenile Champion has not had much racing luck this year, but he still has a win and a third in his last two starts. One thing any horse that wins the Derby needs to have is racing luck and he better get some sometime soon.

#3 Ice Box- Nick Zito scored the Roses twice in his career, but he also has his share of Derby disappointment as well. He sent five runners to the gate in 2005 and failed to hit the board with any of them, including the favored Bellamy Road, who was very Eskendereya-like in his Wood win. Will the Florida Derby winner enter the first category or will he be part of the latter? If all the speed we think is going to be there is there, it could be very interesting.

#4 Sidney's Candy- The Santa Anita Derby winner avoided all the mayhem behind him and won easily. Does anyone really think he will able to avoid the has-to-happen mayhem that will occur in the Derby? He will have to replicate War Emblem's win from 2002 to have a legitimate chance, in my opinion. He will have to get the lead and stay there all the way. I just cannot see that happening with speed demons like Rule, Discreetly Mine, and Conveyance in the Derby field.

#5 Awesome Act- I have been warming to his chances lately given the circumstances of his crushing loss to Eskendereya in the Wood. He had all kinds of problems in the Wood Memorial, but the winning style he showed in the Gotham could suit him well on Derby Day, especially if Eskendereya doesn't fire. Julien Leparoux in the saddle is another factor that I am particularly fond of with this Awesome Again offspring.

#6 Dublin- His Sire, Afleet Alex, was the best three-year-old of the aforementioned 2005 Triple Crown class. He won the Preakness despite being mugged by Scrappy T and then followed it up with a classy Belmont victory. The main issue I have with this Lukas trainee is that he seems reluctant to go past anyone. He tends to hang around with the company and that is not a trait I like my Derby winners to have.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Grade 2 $300,000 Lexington Stakes

Saturday might be the last, best chance for a horse that wants to run in the Kentucky Derby to earn the necessary graded stakes purse money for the right to get into the field. However, in the Grade 2 $300,000 Lexington Stakes, only one member of the field appears able to qualify and that is El Camino Real Derby winner, Connemara, and he has to win to get enough money for it to matter. With that said, here is the analysis of the Grade 2 $300,000 Lexington Stakes:

I am going to go with an upsetter in the Lexington Stakes and pick #4 Bushwhacked. He just broke the maiden last time out at seven furlongs over the synthetic at Keeneland and his Beyer speed figures have improved with each successive start. He has a strong last workout on April 14, covering five furlongs at Keeneland in 1:01. Rajiv Maragh has the mount for trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who is 5 for 7 in-the-money during the current Keeneland meet. I will put #10 Connemara second. He has never missed the money in five lifetime starts, all of them have been over synthetic surfaces. If he were to win, he would likely add to the already imposing Todd Pletcher contingent going to the Kentucky Derby. Russell Baze comes in from California for the riding assignment. I think that #1 Krypton could be dangerous on Saturday and not just if your name is Superman. He went turf to synthetic last time out on April 2 at Keeneland and scored a nice win at seven furlongs. This will be his first try ever with graded company and some facets of the breeding suggest that he should have done better than just one win in four tries over the turf. Finally, I will wrap up the top four with #2 Uptowncharlybrown, who failed miserably when given the chance to prove himself earlier this year at Tampa Bay Downs. The longer the races and the tougher the competition, the worse his performances got. His last work was a bullet and he gets Garrett Gomez in the saddle here, both positive signs. Here is the play for the Grade 2 $300,000 Lexington Stakes:

$5 WP #4
$1 EX BOX 1-4-10 and $1 TRI BOX 1-4-10
TOTAL- $22

They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Proud Clarion

For everyone who is already jumping on the Eskendereya bandwagon (and there are clearly a lot of you), you might take heed in the story of Damascus. Damascus was the absolute hammer-lock choice to win the 1967 Kentucky Derby. There was no one else in the field of fourteen that even deserved to be on the same racetrack with him the thinking went. He was sent off as the prohibitive favorite that day and finished third, behind Proud Clarion (pictured) and even behind the pacesetting Barbs Delight, whom he could not pass in the stretch. It was said the humidity that day in Louisville did him in.

However, let us not take away from the performance of Proud Clarion. Owned by John Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm (Galbreath also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates) and trained by Loyd Gentry, Proud Clarion would win the 93rd Kentucky Derby by a length in the then third-fastest time ever recorded in the Kentucky Derby of 2:00.3. Proud Clarion was sent off at odds of 30-1 on Derby Day and returned $62.20 to win. It was something short of a miracle that Proud Clarion won given that he had earned all of $805 as a two-year-old. Today, with the Graded Stakes earnings rule, it is likely that Proud Clarion might have been vanned off the property on Derby Day, much less be in the gate for the big race. Even rider Bobby Ussery's presence in the saddle was a confluence of events, since the regular rider for Darby Dan Farm until that time chose to ride another horse in that Derby.

In the aftermath, Proud Clarion would win six races in his 25-race career, all as a three-year-old. He did run third in the Preakness, but ran up the track in the Belmont Stakes. As for Damascus, he would become a latter-day Native Dancer and a precursor of Point Given. He was brilliant as a two-year-old, won the Preakness and Belmont, and was also brilliant after the Triple Crown series. Damascus won the "Race Of The Century" in the 1967 Woodward Stakes over the great Dr. Fager and Buckpasser. However, like Native Dancer and Point Given, on the one day he needed to be most brilliant, he was not.

Tune in Friday for a look at the Lexington Stakes. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Grand Canyon Crusher

My family has lived in Arizona for quite some time. I went to work in Texas for a dozen years, but even then, I still considered myself an Arizonan and have always had a tremendous fondness for the area. It was very important to me when the opportunity arose to return to Arizona and work at Turf Paradise, that I always put forth my best effort and make sure I enjoy every day I go to work there. I guess you can conclude that Arizona will always be a large part of me regardless of where I might be.

That is why the news of Uh Oh Bango's Derby dream-ending injury, which was announced on Tuesday, is such a terrible thing. No Arizona-bred horse has ever run in the Kentucky Derby. Not once in 135 previous runnings of the Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports has an Arizona horse been a part of the festivities. Uh Oh Bango currently sits in 21st place in graded earnings after his fourth-place finish in last Saturday's Arkansas Derby. He likely would have gotten into the field since it is believed that not all of the top twenty are going to go on and compete on the First Saturday In May. Unfortunately, the fracture to the left front cannon bone sustained in the Arkansas Derby ends all talk of an Arizonan in the Derby and it puts Uh Oh Bango on the sidelines for four to six months, according to his trainer Kory Owens.

I know there was quite a bit of excitement at Turf Paradise for an Arizona-bred horse to participate in the Derby and it was something those of us at the racetrack were looking quite forward to seeing. Nationally, this wasn't going to be a big deal unless Uh Oh Bango won. It probably would have been nothing more than something that Tom Hammond mentioned as a throwaway factoid about the horse when they showed him for a second or two during the post parade as the final notes of "My Old Kentucky Home" still lingered somewhere in the air above Churchill Downs. However, the possibility of an Arizona horse going for the glory in the Derby was something that the racing fans in the Grand Canyon State were clinging to for a bit of added Derby theatre. There was always the chance that he could have won the race. Certainly, crazier things have happened. Just think back twelve months for just such a scenario. After all, apart from Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky, does anyone or anything really set this Derby field apart less than three weeks out? I don't believe so.

So, a 136th consecutive year will go by without an Arizona-bred horse being a part of the Kentucky Derby. At least, the racing fans at Turf Paradise can still reflect on the fact that their longtime, top-notch announcer, my friend Luke Kruytbosch, gave that Arizona flavor to the Derby for a decade. Hopefully, someday soon another horse will come along to maybe represent the cactus when it comes to the roses.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

I must say that this last weekend's two prep races (The Blue Grass Stakes and The Arkansas Derby) really did not clarify the Kentucky Derby picture for me. Let me restate that, the Derby picture is now Eskendereya clear as a bell in the foreground and everyone else in a blur in the background. The last, best hope for anyone on the outside looking in now is the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes this weekend at Keeneland. So, with that in mind, here are the Super Six Derby Pix:

#1 Eskendereya- Seriously, what is he going to be on Derby Day? 8-5, 9-5, maybe 2-1. He stands to be an overwhelming favorite in the Run For The Roses and you know what, he deserves to be. He is the only horse that has really distinguished himself at all every step of the way this spring. Apparently, the plan is to work him twice more before May 1 to get him ready. I can only think that Todd Pletcher is grinning like the Cheshire Cat all the time nowadays.

#2 Lookin At Lucky- I have a friend who told me this weekend he is planning to play a $100 Exacta Box in the Derby of Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky. I really couldn't think of a good reason to tell him not to do it. Lookin At Lucky got totally compromised by a hopeless longshot in the Santa Anita Derby, which is not a good note to enter the big dance on, but remember, he did rally to get third after the incident. He reminds me of a college basketball team that loses in its conference tournament, will he get to the Final Four or lose in a first-round upset?

#3 Ice Box- I mentioned in the last edition of the Pix that this horse just keep climbing the ladder and really isn't doing anything of note. It is the truth since everyone else is falling by the wayside and he just keeps basking in the glow of his Florida Derby win. I think he is a live possibility in the Kentucky Derby given the fact that there will be so much pace in the race and his come-from-behind style might be perfect to pick up the pieces and get a piece of it, if not win the whole thing.

#4 Sidney's Candy- Had things all his own way in the Santa Anita Derby and braced for the challenge from Lookin At Lucky that never came. He merely sped off to win by nearly five lengths and posted a 100 Beyer figure. Will they send him to the front in the Derby (with Rule, Conveyance, American Lion, and all the others that want the front as well) or will they try to take him off the pace slightly and let him stalk in behind the pace and be the first on the scene when the pace collapses? Valid questions both.

#5 Noble's Promise- I knew as soon as the gates opened at Oaklawn Park on Saturday that he was done. His start was a standing one at best and he never really showed anything at all, finishing a completely non-threatening fifth. It was not a good time for him to throw in the worst race of his career. Unfortunately for those of us who were on his bandwagon, it is not a good time for a mystery. A little more certainty heading to Churchill Downs would have been nice.

#6 Dublin- D. Wayne Lukas has won the Kentucky Derby four times. This will be his best chance this year and the truest thing I can say about him is that he seems to not want to pass anybody. He had every opportunity to win the Arkansas Derby on Saturday and couldn't get past the winner, Line Of David, who set a near-suicidal pace, and Super Saver, who is another horse that should impress but hasn't. If Lukas can get him focused on finishing and winning in time for May 1, he might win it. If he can't, it might be the next in what is becoming a long line of not quite good enough efforts.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby

Oaklawn Park was host to maybe the best horse currently in training on Friday and Zenyatta did not disappoint, taking her 16th consecutive victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Invitational and doing it quite easily. Oaklawn is also hosting one of the key prep races on the Road To The Kentucky Derby with the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby. Seriously, what took so long to get this race Grade 1 status? How many champions had to pass through Hot Springs before the Graded Stakes Committee got it right? Anyway, there is a field of nine and here is the analysis:

Even with the amount of quality in this field, there are still some prices to be found. I will be using them underneath here because I really like #3 Noble's Promise. I have been touting his Kentucky Derby chances for a couple of weeks now and I think he will be able to earn a trip to that elusive Winner's Circle here. His last work was a bullet, this will be his second start off the last layoff, he is coming off a career-high Beyer figure. In short, there is a lot to like about his prospects on Saturday. Robby Albarado gets the riding assignment. For second, I will go with #4 Northern Giant, who hit the board in his last two graded efforts, a 2nd in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway and a 3rd in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Lukas has two in this race (including Dublin) and this one might be the better option, price-wise. I like the removal of the blinkers for #9 Pulsion. The Biancone trainee has not done much in his last three (two 6ths and an 11th), but the equipment change might get him back on course. Corey Nakatani was aboard last time when they sent him to the front in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and he got swallowed up by the closers, but still was in hailing distance at the end. Finally, my home state of Arizona is making a bid to have its first homebred run in the Derby and I think The Grand Canyon State might have a chance with #5 Uh Oh Bango. He owns the best career Beyer in the field (a 102 at Prairie Meadows in September). He did not disgrace himself in running fourth in the Rebel and any purse money he picks up here should punch his ticket to Louisville. Here is the play for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby:

$1 EX BOX 2-3-4-5-9 and $1 TRI 3 with 2-4-5-9
TOTAL- $32

Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Zen Master

2009 Horse Of The Year runner-up Zenyatta will get another chance to strut her stuff on Friday afternoon at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. You all remember the Grade 1 $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, right? Yes, this was the race that supposed to be worth $5,000,000 and be the Event Of The Decade with the two Horse Of The Year finalists from 2009, Zenyatta and winner Rachel Alexandra, finally meeting on the racetrack to determine who was the top lady in the land.

Well, the connections of Rachel Alexandra nixed that idea following her stunning loss to Zardana in the ungraded New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds. Oddly enough, Zardana is trained by John Shirreffs, who just happens to train Zenyatta also. It leads one to wonder if Shirreffs was too smart for his own good. It was obvious that Rachel's folks expected the Ladies to be little more than a public workout for the Horse Of The Year. They said all along leading into that race that she wasn't quite 100% and that they weren't going to exert her too much. So, what happens, she gets beat, everyone panics and the next day Jess Jackson announces that the expected meeting in the Apple Blossom is off. If Zardana had not been in the Ladies, Rachel probably beats what is left by about a dozen lengths and any attempt by the connections to exit stage left out of the Apple Blossom certainly looks like they are ducking Zenyatta. They would really have had no choice but to go to Oaklawn and run against her rival.

Now, full credit to the Mosses and Shirreffs for one thing. They said they were going to Oaklawn, Rachel or no Rachel, and they have done just that. It certainly appears that they are going to be true to their word and run Zenyatta in more than just California this year. Remember, she had gone to Oaklawn once before for one of her fifteen consecutive victories. The Apple Blossom does present a very possible case of deja vu, however. Rachel Alexandra's trainer, Steve Asmussen, has entered War Echo in the race as one of the four challengers to the throne. How delicious would it be if Asmussen returned the favor and defeated Zenyatta with one of the second string, just like Shirreffs did to Rachel Alexandra? Do I expect this to happen? Of course not, but as any horseplayer knows, they don't let you cash the tickets until the tote board reads "Official".

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

First off, I must apologize for being a day late with the Pix, but I was busy watching the NCAA title game last night and never got to get on the computer. So, instead of a Monday posting of the Pix, we provide it instead on Tuesday.

#1 Eskendereya- For the first time all spring, we have a new #1 following the weekend. It is now twice that Eskendereya demolished a quality field in a prep race. First, it was the Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream, and now, he crushed a short but sturdy bunch to win the Wood Memorial. He will go to Louisville as the unquestioned favorite in the Derby, given what else happened around the country. This could be trainer Todd Pletcher's best shot to get that ever-elusive Derby triumph.

#2 Lookin At Lucky- First of all, it was a horrible ride by Garrett Gomez in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday. Yes, he had the position on the inside and got shut off, but if you listen to trainer Bob Baffert, he never should have been on the inside in the first place. I must say, I was terribly impressed with the way the horse responded to the adversity and re-rallied up the rail after all was lost and still managed to finish a respectable third. While I end up giving him a pass on the loss, he still loses a spot since Eskendereya was so spectacular.

#3 Noble's Promise- He will get his final tune-up before Louisville this coming weekend at Oaklawn Park in the Arkansas Derby. As we all know, the Arkansas Derby has long provided high quality for the Kentucky Derby and I don't see that changing here. The horse posted a bullet workout last weekend as a final prep for the Arkansas Derby, going 5F in 1:00.80. He won't have to deal with nemesis Lookin At Lucky again at Oaklawn and a victory on Saturday will set him up as a legitimate favorite.

#4 Ice Box- This guy just keeps climbing the ladder and getting closer and closer to the top without really doing anything since the Florida Derby score at 20-1. Trainer Nick Zito is one mark in the plus column, but the thing I really like about him is the running style given what promises to be a hot pace on Derby Day. He will be coming from well off that pace and barring any unforeseen trip trouble, I think Ice Box will definitely be in the picture at the end. Whether that picture will also feature roses around him remains to be seen.

#5 Sidney's Candy- I have already declared the Santa Anita Derby a throw-out for Lookin At Lucky after the bad ride and bad luck he encountered. However, that should take nothing away from Sidney's Candy impressive victory on Saturday. He was never really challenged and just drew away to a decisive victory over the fast-closing Setsuko and the recovering Lookin At Lucky. The question does hover over him about his prowess on a regular dirt surface. All six of his previous attempts have been on the Southern California synthetics.

#6 Odysseus- He will get one more prep following his win in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 13. His effort will come in the Blue Grass Stakes over the polytrack at Keeneland on Saturday. He is already in Kentucky and been trying out the polytrack for a few days. Among those he might face should be Pleasant Prince, the runner-up in the Florida Derby to Ice Box. I am highly interested in seeing how much that big effort at Tampa took out of him and what it will mean going forward.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Grade 3 $500,000 Illinois Derby

There are three major Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday. The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct features a robust field of six with two betting interests destined to be very low (Eskendereya and Awesome Act). The Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita has a 4-5 morning-line favorite in 2009 Juvenile Champion, Lookin At Lucky. So, those two will not cut the mustard as far as wagering opportunities. So, we turn to Hawthorne in Illinois for the Grade 3 $500,000 Illinois Derby with a field of eight, none of whom have ever raced over the Hawthorne track.

I will go with #6 Dave In Dixie on top, even though this will be his first try over a regular dirt surface. All four of his previous tries were over synthetics in Southern California. He only won one of those, his maiden breaker, but his second in the Robert Lewis two back makes him an interesting choice in here, especially at decent odds of 9-2 on the morning-line. I also like that he topped my second choice, #1 American Lion, in that Robert Lewis at Santa Anita. American Lion is removing blinkers for this try on Saturday. His last race, the San Felipe, resulted in his worst finish of his career, a fourth. The distance certainly won't be an issue, either here on in Kentucky, since his Sire is two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Tiznow. His last work at Santa Anita on March 29 was five furlongs in one minute flat. I will put #7 Backtalk third in the Illinois Derby. His last workout was a bullet on March 25 at Fair Grounds. He had two graded wins last year at Churchill Downs and Saratoga, so he appears to have the money in the bank to make the First Saturday In May. His Sire is 2004 Derby winner, Smarty Jones. Also, Miguel Mena is four for four in the saddle of this colt. Finally, I will wrap up the top four with #5 Turf Melody. His last victory came in a stakes race at Remington Park in Oklahoma last December. His last workout was a bullet five furlongs in 1:01.1 on March 27. Here is the play for the Grade 3 Illinois Derby:

$5 WP #6
$1 EX BOX 1-6-7 and $1 TRI BOX 1-6-7
TOTAL- $22

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Grade 3 $100,000 Transylvania

Normally, I wait until Friday's blog post to offer a handicapping segment on a race (or races) of the week. However, I am just so darned excited that Keeneland will be opening up tomorrow for their spring season that I have decided to double dip this week and offer you a Race Of The Day for Friday and also do the normal Friday handicapping post that, hopefully, you have come to know and love. The Opening Day feature at Keeneland on Friday is the Grade 3 $100,000 Transylvania and here are my thoughts on the field of nine:

I love a good price and I think you will be getting a good price with #4 Strike The Tiger. The Wesley Ward-trained gelding barely missed last time out in an Allowance start at this same distance at Gulfstream on February 26. Johnny Velazquez has been aboard this horse twice, once was a win at Ascot last June and the other was that second mentioned earlier in Florida. He was the betting choice in his last three and his morning-line today is 8-1. For second, I will go with #6 Lost Aptitude. I think the connections here got swept up in Derby Fever in his last start, as they sent a horse that clearly loves the grass on the dirt in the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth and you can guess the rest. He finished dead last, 46 lengths behind Eskendereya. It was his first time off the board since his first start. He is back on his preferred surface here and he ran second in the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby at Calder on New Year's Day, so the competition shouldn't be a problem. I will take likely the best turf trainer in America today, Christophe Clement, and put his horse, #2 Nordic Truce, third. The colt is undefeated in two lifetime tries, both were at one mile so he is stretching out just a touch here. Julien Leparoux brought this horse from last of eleven in the stretch to victory last time out at Gulfstream. Watch for that closing kick in the Transylvania, it could be spooky. Finally, I will round out the top four with #7 Macias, who I think might get caught up in what promises to be a spirited run for the lead in this race and that might compromise his chances at the end. The Baffert trainee will have the riding services of Alan Garcia for the first time and his last work over the synthetic at Santa Anita was a scintillating seven furlongs in 1:25.4. Here is the play for the Grade 3 Transylvania:

$5 WP #4
$1 EX BOX 2-4-6 and $1 TRI BOX 2-4-6
TOTAL- $22

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!