Friday, May 16, 2014

The 139th Preakness Stakes

The Triple Crown trail has now moved on to Old Hilltop in Baltimore, where the 139th edition of the Preakness Stakes will take place on Saturday. The race drew a field of ten, including California Chrome, who won the 140th Kentucky Derby two weeks ago in emphatic fashion. The other Derby runners to come back and challenge California Chrome again are General A Rod and Ride On Curlin. That's it!! There will be a filly in the field in Ria Antonia, who is trying to duplicate Rachel Alexandra's feat of winning the Preakness fifteen days after running in the Kentucky Oaks. Of course, Rachel won the Oaks by twenty lengths, while Ria Antonia ran sixth in Louisville. It might have been more intriguing had Untapable, the winner of the Oaks, come back to run in the Preakness, but that didn't happen. So, let's take a look at the 139th Preakness Stakes:

I think it will be incredibly difficult for anyone to defeat #3 California Chrome in the Preakness at Pimlico. He has shown so far to be the best of this three-year-old bunch in 2014 and there really doesn't appear to be much to challenge him on Saturday. He has won five in a row, and while he did sit the garden trip in the Derby, the superb speed figures still cannot be discounted, nor can the expert handling he has received from trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza. All reports from Pimlico say that Chrome is handling that track surface very well and that is usually one of the key factors in picking the winner of the Preakness. I expect California Chrome to win the Preakness on Saturday and roll into Belmont with a shot to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in Thoroughbred racing history.

Bob Baffert has had some success in the Preakness in the past and he has a strong bullet to fire on Saturday with #5 Bayern. Baffert is taking the blinkers off this colt for the Preakness. Bayern crossed the line first in the Derby Trial the week before the Derby at Churchill Downs, but was DQ'd and placed 2nd. Baffert elected to wait the three weeks to run here, as opposed to wheeling right back one week later in Louisville. Rosie Napravnik rode Bayern in the Trial and gets the call again in the Preakness. Bayern might still have a bit of greenness in him with only four starts under his belt. While there does appear to be speed aplenty in this edition of the Preakness, Bayern might be able to withstand the early pressure and still produce a strong finish.

Linda Rice claimed #7 Kid Cruz for $50,000 out of a maiden claiming race he won at Aqueduct in late November. Since that claim, Rice and Kid Cruz have teamed up for two Stakes victories and a second in an Allowance start. The win in the Federico Tesio makes Kid Cruz the only horse to have started at Pimlico, much less picked up a victory. The Sire is Lemon Drop Kid, who won the Belmont back in 1999, so you would be led to believe that the distance will not be an issue for this longshot. His price on the morning line here is 20-1, which I find somewhat generous. If there does appear to be a preponderance of speed in the Preakness, Kid Cruz might be one of those closers who could be a factor when the finish line approaches.

Finally, I think of those horses that did run in the Derby to come back and challenge Chrome once again, #10 Ride On Curlin might have the best opportunity to do some damage on Saturday. He finished 7th in the Derby and closed well to pass some horses in the stretch, despite being nine-wide. He posted a bullet workout already this weekend at Pimlico, going a half-mile in 49 3/5 on May 14th. Joel Rosario has recent successful experience on the Triple Crown trail with Orb last year.

They Are Off Top 4 Selections: California Chrome, Bayern, Kid Cruz, Ride On Curlin

The best of luck to you all on your Preakness wagers on Saturday. They Are Off will return in three weeks with a look at The Belmont Stakes. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The 140th Kentucky Derby

For the 140th consecutive year, the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs in Louisville. While some of the more recent Derbies have featured wet or even downright nasty weather, that is not expected to be the case for this Saturday's renewal of the Run For The Roses. There has already been a scratch from the race, as Bob Baffert had to remove Hoppertunity from the lineup due to a bad foot. The 5-2 morning-line favorite has been established as California Chrome, winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in his last two performances.

I have now taken a strong look at all of the contenders in this year's Kentucky Derby and I have come up with three candidates that I think can wear the garland of Roses on Saturday afternoon. From inside out in the starting gate, they are #13 Chitu, #15 Tapiture, and #18 Candy Boy. Let's take a look at these horses one at a time.

#13 Chitu- I was quite surprised as I handicapped the race that this horse stood out to me as much as he did. He had been considered Baffert's "other horse" for this Derby until Hoppertunity dropped out. Now, he is all the three-time Derby-winning trainer has left for Saturday. However, I don't think that this should detract from his chances in the Derby itself. Chitu has won three of four lifetime starts and was second in the other one. His Beyer speed figures have improved with each successive start: 92 in the first two tries, a 95 in running 2nd to Candy Boy in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis, and a 102 in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby. Jockey Martin Garcia has already teamed up with Bob Baffert to win a Triple Crown race, the 2010 Preakness with Lookin At Lucky. The two workouts Chitu has over the Churchill Downs track are solid. I don't think Chitu should be ignored on Saturday, especially at 20-1.

#15 Tapiture- I suppose the big story if this horse wins the Derby will be his trainer, Steve Asmussen, given the recent bad publicity he has received. I would hope that would not be the case because Asmussen is a very good trainer that has won his share of big races over the years, including a Triple Crown race, the 2007 Preakness with Curlin. I am now going to put that whole discussion behind us and discuss THIS horse, because I think he has a big chance in the Kentucky Derby. His Sire, Tapit, has been producing winning offspring for some time now and is considered one of the top Sires in the sport. Tapiture has a victory over the Churchill Downs oval, the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, back in November. Since then, Tapiture acquitted himself quite nicely at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, winning the Grade 3 Southwest, finishing 2nd in the Grade 2 Rebel after a rough trip. Yes, he was a well-beaten 4th in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, but Danza was a powerhouse winner that day and it might have taken a really big effort to beat him. I don't want my Derby horse putting his biggest race up in the prep race. I want his biggest race to come on the First Saturday in May.

#18 Candy Boy- Gary Stevens has been on quite the "magic carpet ride" since coming out of retirement a couple of years ago. He won the Preakness last year with the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow, a horse I thought ended up having the best three races of any horse in the Triple Crown series last spring. Candy Boy won the Grade 2 Robert Lewis in February. He followed that up with a 3rd in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, behind California Chrome and Hoppertunity. I think California Chrome might get caught up in what promises to be a strong pace up front and Hoppertunity is no longer a threat to Candy Boy. This horse's style might fit the way this Derby is going to be run also. I think you might be looking at a carbon copy of the 2005 Derby. Bellamy Road was a huge favorite going in off a monster win (much like California Chrome is this year). Bellamy Road got caught in a heated pace battle up front and surrendered once the field turned for home, allowing the closers to race past and get a Derby win for Giacomo at 50-1. I'm not saying any of these horses will be 50-1 on Saturday, but they all stand a good chance of being there at the end of affairs.

So, which one factor will separate these three horses for me. I think it will be the men on their backs. Gary Stevens has won the Kentucky Derby three times in the past: 1988 with Winning Colors, 1995 with Thunder Gulch, and 1997 with Silver Charm. He knows how to win this race and as I referred to earlier, the "magic carpet ride" he is on doesn't seem to be ending. I have more faith in his ability to be a winner on Saturday than I do in Ricardo Santana Jr. or Martin Garcia, both of whom are still more than capable. That being said, here are my final selections for the 140th Kentucky Derby:

WIN- #18 Candy Boy
PLACE- #15 Tapiture
SHOW- #13 Chitu

I want to wish all of you the absolute best of luck with your wagers on the 140th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, whether you agree with me or not. Let's hope for a fun, safe race and let's also hope that this Derby lives up to the annual billing it has as the "Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports".

I will return in two weeks with in-depth analysis of the 139th Preakness, to be run Saturday, May 17 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!