Opportunities on the KY Oaks and KY Derby Undercards

By Art Parker

It will not be long before Kentucky Derby weekend is upon us. Derby Day and Oaks Day make up the big week at Churchill Downs. Naturally the talk on the Derby and the Oaks never stops but little is said about the undercards on both days, which are filled with great races and great opportunities.

On Oaks Day the big races on the undercard are the La Troiene for fillies and mares (8.5 furlongs); the Alysheba (8.5 furlongs); the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (5 furlongs on the turf), The Eight Belles for three year old fillies (7 furlongs); The Edgewood for three year old fillies (8.5 furlongs on the turf.)

On Derby Day the big races on the undercard are The Humana Distaff for fillies and mares (7 furlongs); The Churchill Downs Distaff Mile for fillies and mares (8 furlongs on the turf); The Pat Day Mile (8 furlongs); The American Turf (8.5 furlongs on the turf); The Churchill Downs Stakes (7 furlongs); The Old Forester (formally known as the Woodford Reserve at 9 furlongs on the turf.)

churchill downs ky derby dayWhat makes the undercards on these two days exciting is that a player can experience high quality racing with unusually good wagering opportunities. When examining these races over the last few years we find that favorites have won only 8 of 33 times for a subpar 24% win rate. Like so many big days at a race track, many novices and amateurs are in attendance and that usually means more money on the favorites.

Of these races the lowest price to win was Tepin in the 2016 Distaff Mile at odds of .30-1.00. The longest price was 18.70-1.00 by Camelot Kitten in the American Turf in 2016, oddly enough trained by Chad Brown (how many times do you get his horse at that price?)

The median of all winners is 5.30-1.00, which makes the median winner pay more than $12.00. That gets my attention.

Other than Todd Pletcher, no other winning trainer of the undercard races in the last three years has ever won the Derby.  Here are the trainers that have been in the Winner’s Circle after undercard races the last three year (multiple winners number of victories in parenthesis):

Todd Pletcher (4); Mark Casse (4); Buff Bradley (3); Brad Cox (3); Jorge Navarro (3); Chad Brown (2); Dale Romans; Brian Lynch; Bret Calhoun; Bill Mott; Vann Belvoir; Paul McGhee; Tom Amoss; Ian Wilkes; Peter Miller; Rusty Arnold; Ben Colebrook; Simon Callaghan.

I’ve always been told that horses that like the Matt Winn Turf Couse at Churchill Downs really, really like it. Upon examination of turf races we see some truth to that. Trainer Buff Bradley won three races on the turf course with the same horse, 2015-2017. Divisidero won the American Turf once and the Woodford Reserve twice. That happened to be three of his five lifetime wins. Trainer Mark Casse’s Tepin won back to back editions of the Distaff Mile in 2015 and 2016.

What isn’t true about the Matt Winn Turf Course is that far outside posts cannot win going short. The 2015 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs was captured by Power Alert that broke from the 10 post. In the same race in 2017 Green Mask won the race from the 12 post.

The dirt sprints have experienced one gate-to-wire winner, which was Private Zone in 2015. All sprint winners have been in the top three runners when they get to the quarter pole. The Pat Day Mile, similar to an extended sprint, has had the same results. A horse needs to be close and in contention when running one turn on the dirt.

Where do winning horses come from for the undercards? Keeneland has produced almost half of the winners over the last three years (16 of 33). Gulfstream is next (7 of 33), then Oaklawn and Southern California (each with 4 of the 33 total), Tampa and Fairgrounds one each. Strangely New York has not been the sight of a last race for an undercard winner during these years.

The undercards at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day and Derby Day are always outstanding. There are plenty of opportunities with the undercard stakes races. Remember it is just as nice to win money on something other than the Oaks and the Derby.

Final Look at Wynn Las Vegas KY Derby Odds

Final Look at Wynn Las Vegas KY Derby Odds – as of 4/27/18

OPEN CURRENT
AUDIBLE 200/1 9/1
BLENDED CITIZEN 225/1 75/1
BOLT D’ORO 40/1 8/1
BRAVAZO 200/1 75/1
COMBATANT 175/1 40/1
DREAM BABY DREAM 150/1 250/1
ENTICED 150/1 20/1
FIRENZE FIRE 75/1 75/1
FLAMEAWAY 100/1 30/1
FREE DROP BILLY 65/1 35/1
GOOD MAGIC 100/1 5/1
HOFBURG 200/1 35/1
INSTILLED REGARD 175/1 35/1
JUSTIFY 300/1 3/1
LONE SAILOR 175/1 50/1
MAGNUM MOON 200/1 6/1
MENDELSSOHN 150/1 6/1
MY BOY JACK 150/1 25/1
NOBLE INDY 125/1 28/1
PROMISES FULFILLED 250/1 75/1
RESTORING HOPE 200/1 50/1
SOLOMINI 150/1 30/1
SPORTING CHANCE 45/1 500/1
VINO ROSSO 150/1 14/1

Superfecta Strategies for the Kentucky Derby

The goal between now and Derby Day is to figure out how to maximize my coverage and opportunity based on the opinions I will have developed on the 20 Derby entrants.

by Justin Dew

Favorites have won the last five Kentucky Derby. In 2016, the top four betting choices ran 1-2-3-4 in order. As a bettor who likes to use the Derby as an opportunity at a life-changing score (or at least a year-making score), an edition dominated by low odds horses usually means a bad day for me. But that doesn’t have to be the case, and to my credit I feel I have learned from past mistakes.

Take 2004, for example. Smarty Jones and Lion Heart were the top two betting choices in the Kentucky Derby, and they ran 1-2 in order of favoritism. Imperialism finished 3rd at a modest 10-1. But the fourth-place finisher, Limehouse, helped to light up the tote board by contributing to a $41,000 (for $2) superfecta at odds of 41-1. The trifecta only paid $987. So let’s say you liked the two favorites to run 1-2, and then used every horse that was under 20-1 the 3rd spot, with all in 4th. As a $2 play, that’s $380 and a return of over $41,000…..with the two favorites running 1-2 in order!

Easy game, right?

Not so fast. Last year, I liked Always Dreaming as a top win candidate, but wouldn’t have had Battle of Midway or Lookin at Lee even WITH the ALL button (joke). In 2013, Orb was my top pick, and I used runner-up Golden Soul on all tickets, but didn’t match them up with the rest of the superfecta.

Thus, one of my goals for this year is to make sure I am in a position to cash a big ticket if I am right about the most likely winner and also right about a longshot who runs big. And I need to do it economically. But at the same time, how many horses can I confidently eliminate from superfecta consideration? Six? Seven? Can I trim down my selections near the top of the ticket and allow myself to use the ALL button? Do I need to just single my top pick in the 1st spot in lieu of a win bet on him, and then spread heavily underneath?

Maybe I’m looking at something like 1x13x12x11 at a cost of $1,716 (that’s one horse keyed on top over the other 13 in spots 2-4). If one of the seven horses that I eliminate from superfecta consideration runs 4th, then I guess I can just accept the fact that I didn’t deserve to cash. Or maybe the thing to do is play my top two in 1st and demand that one of my top five or six longshots runs somewhere in the 2nd and 3rd spots, with the other logical horses in there as well. So, something like this:

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top six longshots
3rd: Top seven overall (including the top two)
4th: Top seven plus top six longshots

So that’s 2x6x6x10, for a cost of $720. And then I play it with longshots only in 2nd and 3rd at a cost of $600, followed by using the top seven in 2nd with just the longshots in 3rd for another $720.

So overall, I would spend more on the superfecta that way, but I’d have my top two on top instead of just a single horse. And in exchange for having that extra coverage on top, I must have at least one of my longshots run 2nd or 3rd, with a big payday coming my way if I’m right about the winner and the non-super-contenders, AND I get more than one one my longshots in the 2-4 spots.

With the 1x13x12x11 approach, I could easily envision a scenario where I hit the superfecta but lose money. See: 2016. But with the “demand a longshot” approach, my top pick could win, spots 2-3 could be filled by logical horses, one of my longshots could run 4th, and I lose. Again, that’s the price (in this example) of using two horses on top.

Or…maybe I try this…..

Use my top two in first, trim it down to three longshots, and leverage the ALL button.

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top three longshots
3rd: Top seven overall
4th: ALL

That would run me $612, plus another $612 when I move the longshots into 3rd and the top seven into 2nd, plus another $510 when I play it this way….

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top three longshots
3rd: Top six longshots
4th: ALL

The $510 play gives me a big score if my longshots run 2nd and 3rd, with some extra coverage in 3rd.

I am not after bragging rights. And having been very lucky in recent years to cash some very large tickets at the track, I am not excited by the prospect of winning a few thousand dollars on Derby Day. Apologies if anyone doesn’t like the way that sounds. But I don’t want to see another $75,000 superfecta pass me by.  I feel like I need to be willing to spend the money to hit it.

handicappers Dew Justin Rich Nilsen

Justin Dew (Left) and AGOS Founder Rich Nilsen (Right)

The goal between now and Derby Day is to figure out how to maximize my coverage and opportunity based on the opinions I will have developed on the 20 Derby entrants. And I am willing to use all or most of my bankroll to take a swing at that payday. Because if someone guaranteed me I could double my bankroll on the Kentucky Derby, I wouldn’t sign up.

Now, if my Derby bankroll is $2,000, and the horse I like is 12-1, maybe the thing to do is abandon the entire approach that I just spent the last hour writing about and simply bet to win.

I have a lot of thinking to do.

Top Trainers Discuss their KY Derby 144 Hopefuls

Both Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott, two of the finest horsemen in the country, share their views on their starters in next Saturday’s Run for the Roses.  Of course, Pletcher is stacked with four contenders, and he seeks his third win in the Kentucky Derby.  Meanwhile Mott has longshot hopeful Hofburg.

Todd Pletcher on this four runners

Bill Mott on the attributes of Hofburg:

COMING NEXT WEEK!  NILSEN’S KY DERBY ANALYSIS

Revisiting a KY Derby Dark Horse

handicapper Justin Dewby Justin Dew

Word on the street is that this ‘dark horse’ earned a Thorograph number just a half-point slower than Magnum Moon in the G1 Arkansas Derby. This isn’t surprising considering how wide Solomini was throughout the race. So if you like Magnum Moon (and I don’t), or if you think Solomini is a fighter who will handles the distance (and I do), then perhaps you need to give another look to the “other Baffert horse” in the Kentucky Derby field.

In a previous post, we discussed how well Solomini has run against some of the more highly-regarded horses in this crop. But for a quick refresher…

He finished in front of Bolt d’Oro in the Breeders’ Cup…

He finished in front of McKinzie and Instilled Regard in the race at Los Al….

Off the layoff, he managed to run 2nd to the fitter Magnum Moon while encountering some trouble in the Rebel…

And he did what he did in the Arkansas Derby (see above).

Also, even though I’m not a fan of Combatant, it’s worth noting that Solomini was passed by Combatant in both of the Oaklawn preps, but Solomini came back and re-passed him both times. I’m not saying that demonstrates extreme talent, but it does show he isn’t a quitter.

If there is a negative with regard to Solomini, it’s that he hasn’t ever wowed us and it’s no guarantee that he has made the necessary jump from age 2 to age 3 that it usually takes to be competitive in the Kentucky Derby. That said, I get the feeling that if they take him a little further back in the Kentucky Derby, he might be able to make a sustained run and surprise some people. And we’ll almost certainly see odds of 20-1 or higher. He’s an intriguing longshot in my book. And he’ll be on most of my tickets.

2018 Kentucky Oaks Thoughts According to Dew

by Justin Dew

It seems pretty clear that Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou, both of whom’s names trigger my iPad to tell me that I misspelled a word, are going to be your favorite and co-favorite in the Kentucky Oaks. They’ve done impressive things on the racetrack, and bettors will wager on them accordingly. But the key to betting on any race is to find value, and I think there are reasons to take a stand against one of them while using the other with perhaps a bigger price in the exotics.

First, Midnight Bisou. My gut tells me she will be at her best around one turn. I realize she is a dual-graded stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles, but those wins came against questionable competition. And I’m also not a huge fan of taking a short price on a daughter of Midnight Lute at 9 furlongs shipping east for the first time, especially when I suspect she’ll try to come from behind. She’s good. But I don’t think this will be her best game.

Monomoy Girl confuses me a little. She has two wins coming from way back, and four other wins going wire-to-wire. My guess is she will be part of the Oaks pace, and the way she drew off in the Ashland suggests that she won’t have a problem with the additional 100 yards. The question with her is the price. She’ll be favored. Additionally, she won’t be able to coast alone like she did at Keeneland. So she’ll need to really be the best filly to win this, because I don’t see her stealing it.

As for who are the most logical alternatives, I think there are a few ways you can go. For one, I think it’s interesting that Kieran McLaughlin is pointing the very promising Sara Street to another race Derby weekend. Is that because he thinks Take Charge Paula has a big shot? And what about Coach Rocks, who just beat Take Charge Paula? Does she have another move forward in her? Or do we need to look to the Oaklawn and Fair Grounds preps? Or the Gazelle?

I can probably make an interesting case for five or six of the alternatives to the top two. And since I just don’t love either‘s chances, the key to cashing big on the Oaks, for me, is to figure out who is prime for her best effort at a big price.

The Derby Choices of Javier Castellano and John Velazquez

he now has the option to ride [him] in the Derby, and he’s passing.

by Justin Dew

My initial reaction to the news that John Velazquez was going to ride Vino Rosso in the Kentucky Derby, and that Javier Castellano had chosen Audible over Bolt d’Oro was probably the same reaction that many others had; JV thinks Vino Rosso is better than Audible and Javy thinks Audible is better than “Bolt.”  And it may just be that simple. But the more my mind wanders (as it always does during Derby Season), I’m wondering if JV [and his agent] simply chose to stay close to Mike Repole and the other partners in Vino Rosso who were also part of Always Dreaming last year.

As for Javy, maybe he spent a quarter mile trying to get past Justify on Bolt d’Oro and realized there is no way Bolt d’Oro or any other horses is going to beat Justify in the Kentucky Derby, so he chose to be loyal to Todd Pletcher and landed on Audible after Vino Rosso earned the requisite Derby points and won the services of JV. Or maybe he thinks he got the best that he could out of Bolt d’Oro, and thinks that one isn’t noticeably better than Audible, so why not ride for Pletcher?

Another early reaction I had was that all of this meant Vino Rosso was a Derby contender that needed to be taken seriously. This ran counter to my initial inclination, which was that the Wood Memorial wasn’t a strong race and none of the runners from that prep were Derby threats. For the moment, I’ve decided to split the difference. I don’t like any of the Wood runners as prime Derby contenders, but I can see Vino Rosso appearing at or near the bottom of my superfecta tickets.

Audible and Bolt d’Oro are both going to cause me some restlessness between the hours of midnight and 6am in the coming weeks. On one hand, I think both will be overbet in the Derby. But on the other hand, there is no denying that both have a major talent advantage over the vast majority of the prospective Derby field. As I mentioned in a previous post, Audible had a perfect setup in the Florida Derby, and really would have needed to throw in a total dud of an effort to lose. But that can’t be held against him when gauging his talent, can it? And if we assume that JV jumped on Vino Rosso for reasons unrelated to ability, then we are dealing with a Derby contender in Audible who really hasn’t done anything wrong.

Ok, now for Bolt d’Oro. Every year, there is at least one horse in the Kentucky Derby that I dismiss, and then hold my breath with a slight amount of regret and fear. I can’t remember a time that I have been wrong about one of those decisions. We know there are 20 horses, and we know we can’t use all 20. So some difficult decisions have to be made, and this year, it’s looking like Bolt d’Oro might be one that I don’t use. In three straight races, he has failed to run down the eventual winner. That’s the reality. Make whatever excuses you want, and I’d probably be hard pressed to argue with you. But Bolt d’Oro brings a fair amount of hype and low odds with him to the Kentucky Derby, and as I’ve said in countless articles and blog entires over the last decade or so, we have to draw the line somewhere.

handicapper Justin DewOne more thought about “Bolt” and Javy. Javy took the mount on him with the intention of HAVING THE OPTION to ride him in the Kentucky Derby. I think we can agree on that, right? If he always planned to stay loyal to Pletcher, I can’t see him even getting aboard in the first place. And he now has the option to ride Bolt d’Oro in the Derby, and he’s passing. That alone, in my opinion, is reasonable justification for dismissing Bolt d’Oro in the Kentucky Derby. But that doesn’t mean you have to be confident about the decision.

Gronk and Gronkowski Team Up for Kentucky Derby 144

“This horse is a winner and I love a winner,” Gronk (the person) said.

by Rob Gronkowski (for Gronk Nation)

There’s gonna be at least one Gronk at the Kentucky Derby next month — and probably a whole lot more now that the human Gronk has a stake in his namesake racehorse.

Rob has partnered with Phoenix Thoroughbreds Ltd. to get a substantial stake in three-year-old colt Gronkowski, who recently galloped his way to earn a spot in the biggest horse race of the year and the first leg of the Triple Crown.

One of the fastest tight ends in the NFL owning a racehorse (or least part of him), what could be more perfect than that?

“This horse is a winner and I love a winner,” Gronk (the person) said. “When I heard about the racehorse being named after me, I started watching and got really stoked when he started winning. He’s won his last three races and is now headed to the Derby. I’m all in: Welcome to the Gronk Family, Gronkowski the Horse!”

We sure hope this thoroughbred likes to party …

“I really can’t think of anything cooler than having a top-class thoroughbred named after me,” Rob added. “Except maybe having him win the Derby.”

Gronk and his entourage will be at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 5 for the 144th Kentucky Derby, and you can guarantee that all bets will be going on Gronk.

“We are very excited to have this talented racehorse running in the Derby and to have Rob Gronkowski join our team,” said Tom Ludt, who directs Phoenix’s global racing and bloodstock operations. “His involvement only adds to our growing credentials worldwide and can help us introduce the best of horse racing to a whole new audience.”

The pair actually share some similar traits as they are both fierce competitors and strike imposing poses on their respective athletic fields. They stand nearly the same size: Gronk the man is 6-feet, 6-inches tall, while the horse is 6-feet, 5-inches (although horses are officially measured in hands and inches).

While Gronkowski (the horse) is considered a “wild card” in this year’s Run for the Roses, so was Tom Brady when the Patriots picked him 199th in the NFL Draft 18 years ago, so never underestimate an underdog especially with a name like that.

The colt is a son of champion Lonhro, Australia’s Racehorse of the Year in 2003-04, and he was bred in Kentucky as the first foal from the mare Four Sugars, a daughter of twice champion American racehorse Lookin At Lucky. Phoenix purchased Gronkowski in 2017 as an unraced 2-year-old in training at the Tattersalls Craven breeze-up sale in England.

Trained by British-based Jeremy Noseda, who is well known in American racing as the trainer of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Wilko and European classic winners Araafa and Sixties Icon, Gronkowski will be ridden in the Kentucky Derby by his regular jockey, Jamie Spencer. The colt will be shipped to Churchill Downs from Noseda’s stables in Newmarket, England, a week before the Derby, and soon thereafter the football star will be introduced to his equine namesake for the first time.

It may be the horse’s first time at the Derby, but who can forget when Rob partied there over mint juleps in 2015 wearing this epic suit …

copyright Gronk Nation

Pletcher Derby Prospects Work Well

“To me it’s always really key who handles the Churchill surface,” Pletcher said

Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G2) winner Audible continued preparation for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Friday morning (April 13) when he worked a half-mile in :48.74 at Palm Beach Downs.

Owned by China Horse Club, Starlight Racing, Head of Plains Partners and WinStar Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher, Audible galloped out in 1:02.22 while working alongside the 4-year-old stakes winner You’re To Blame. It was Audible’s first work since winning the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby March 31.

Churchill winner's circle“For him I thought it was outstanding,” Pletcher said. “He’s not always an overzealous work horse, but today he seemed on his game and focused. I thought he did very well. He’s coming back in five weeks off a 1 1/8 mile race so I think we’re just trying to have him peak on the day and keep him fit without overdoing it. I thought this morning was an important step in that direction. I know sometimes he doesn’t work as well as others but leading up to this race you’d like all three of his works to be good and the first one was excellent.”

Approximately 30 minutes before Audible hit the track Pletcher watched his Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy work five furlongs in 1:01.19 with blinkers. Noble Indy, owned by WinStar Farm and Repole Stable, broke his maiden at Gulfstream Dec. 3 before winning an optional allowance over the track on Jan. 11.

“It was a good, solid five-eighths,” Pletcher said. “He’s never been a horse that’s a fantastic gallop-out horse, but I think today was solid.”

Pletcher added the blinkers to “keep him a little more in tune, a little more focused.”

Pletcher has four horses preparing for the Kentucky Derby. Along with Audible and Noble Indy, Pletcher has Vino Rosso, who won the Wood Memorial (G2) last weekend, and undefeated Rebel (G2) winner Magnum Moon, who won Saturday in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Pletcher said his current plan is to work Audible, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso next weekend before shipping to Kentucky on April 23.

“To me it’s always really key who handles the Churchill surface,” Pletcher said “It can be pretty quirky, so I think that final breeze at Churchill will give us a big clue as to who likes it. Hopefully they all do. That’s always one of my concerns because you see some horses who get there and don’t get a grip of that track. So I think the final work there will be something we’re looking forward to seeing.

“The good thing about the group of horses we have going is they have run over all kinds of dirt surfaces….none of them appear to be horses that need a certain surface in order to be successful.”

Source: Press Release

Early Look at the 2018 Kentucky Derby Odds

Now that the final weekend of Kentucky Derby 144 preps have taken place, the Wynn Las Vegas future book odds give us a good idea of what we may see on the first Saturday in May.  Justify is the prohibitive favorite in Vegas to win the Kentucky Derby.  You can get him at the low odds of 5/2 at Wynn, as of April 16, 2018.

OPEN CURRENT
AUDIBLE 200/1 8/1
BLENDED CITIZEN 225/1 100/1
BOLT D’ORO 40/1 8/1
BRAVAZO 200/1 50/1
COMBATANT 175/1 75/1
DREAM BABY DREAM 150/1 200/1
ENTICED 150/1 20/1
FIRENZE FIRE 75/1 75/1
FLAMEAWAY 100/1 25/1
FREE DROP BILLY 65/1 25/1
GIVEMEAMINIT 250/1 300/1
GOOD MAGIC 100/1 7/1
GRONKOWSKI 100/1 45/1
HOFBURG 200/1 35/1
JUSTIFY 300/1 5/2
LONE SAILOR 175/1 45/1
MAGNUM MOON 200/1 5/1
MENDELSSOHN 150/1 7/1
MY BOY JACK 150/1 20/1
NOBLE INDY 125/1 16/1
PROMISES FULFILLED 250/1 75/1
RERIDE 125/1 125/1
QUIP 125/1 20/1
RESTORING HOPE 200/1 150/1
SOLOMINI 150/1 25/1
SPORTING CHANCE 45/1 300/1
VINO ROSSO 150/1 16/1