Well That Was Something – According to Dew

handicapper Justin DewA New Handicap Star in the Making

by Justin Dew

It may have been a mild step down in terms of graded status, but City of Light’s win in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday has put the rest of the handicap division on notice that there is a new force to be reckoned with as we move towards the Grade 1 dirt routes for older horses to be run between now and November.

Previously just a sprinter, City of Light had won back-to-back Grade 1s at 7 furlongs in California. His win Saturday at Oaklawn was not only his first start out of California, but also his first beyond 7 furlongs and his first attempt going two turns. He won like he was born to do it all along, earning a career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure. And while I have never been a huge Accelerate fan, you can only beat those who show up to face you. And looking ahead, it’s not hard to envision City of Light going heavily favored in some of this country’s top route and sprint races and possibly making a run at….dare I say it?…..Horse of the Year.

I think the early favorite for 2018 HOTY was probably West Coast on the basis of his solid efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus Invitational. And many observers will chalk up his Dubai Wold Cup loss to the speed/rail bias that has been firmly established. He is justifiably still #1 on most handicap division rankings. But how good is he? His signature win to date is his romp in the Travers last August, and while it was a visually impressive performance, and while I have respect for Gunnevera and the ill-fated Irap who ran behind him, I’m not so sure that field was super-tough. West Coast might be a grinder with a higher cruising speed than we are used to seeing in grinders. He’ll get his share of wins in 2018. But if I may steal and slightly alter a line from There Will Be Blood, “When it’s time for the showdown, he won’t be there.” At least that’s my opinion.

Belmont Park horse racingI bet on Sharp Azteca in the Pegasus, and while the start certainly didn’t help him, that wasn’t his distance.  I think he’s going to be most effective this year going a mile. I think it’s fair to put Accelerate a notch below the best based on what we saw yesterday. He’s just not an elite horse in my opinion. And I feel like we know, at this point in their careers, what Mubtaahij and Hoppertunity are capable of. Yes, they are useful horses. But they aren’t going to scare anyone away from anything. Diversify and Good Samaritan also come with class, but don’t seem to bring their ‘A’ game often enough.

So who does that leave as the potential big guns in the handicap division? Can Army Mule stretch out? Will he even try? I tell you who could have made some noise this year. Forever Unbridled. It’s too bad she’s been retired. I would have loved to see her in the Stephen Foster and then a couple of those New York Grade 1s in the summer.

Ok. Prediction time. In this murky fog of a discussion where we’ve touched on Horse of the Year, handicap division leader, and Forever Unbridled, I’m ready to call it….

2018 Horse of the Year: City of Light (unless, of course, Justify wins the Triple Crown.)

The Case for Good Magic According to Dew

by Justin Dew

Trying to apply the Transitive Property of Equality (or Inequality) to horse racing is amateurish, simple-minded, and a recipe for a lot of losing tickets. That said, I am going to use such methods now as a partial basis for my argument that Good Magic is the best horse in this crop of Derby contenders.

First, let’s forget about his win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Forget all the speed figures. Go back and watch his runner-up effort in the Champagne Stakes in his second career start (#6, yellow silks). Good Magic sat close to a pretty quick pace, experienced some minor traffic trouble, swung wide, took the lead, and drew off from everyone except for the winner, Firenze Fire, who would bounce back from his poor Breeders’ Cup showing to win the Jerome and run 2nd in the Withers. In my opinion, Good Magic’s Champagne was every bit as impressive as his subsequent win in the Breeders’ Cup. To do it in his second career start was quite a feat.

In the Breeders’ Cup, Good Magic soundly defeated Solomini on the level. If you want to argue that Bolt d’Oro had a tough trip, fine. But I’d in turn argue that Bolt d’Oro was on the best part of the racetrack and wasn’t going to get to Good Magic that day. And even if Bolt d’Oro HAD caught and beaten Good Magic in what was Good Magic’s third career start and first around two turns, I would STILL prefer Good Magic moving forward off what would have been back-to-back impressive losing efforts, including (what would have been) a losing effort to the more-seasoned Bolt d’Oro on that one’s home track after shipping from the East Coast.

Triple Crown trophy

Will someone win the Triple Crown this year?

Now for the Horsey Algebra. Coming out of the Breeders’ Cup, I don’t see how anyone can argue that Good Magic IS NOT better than Solomini. Good Magic blew Solomini’s doors off at Del Mar on the level. From there, Solomini crossed the wire first at Los Al, beating McKinzie and Instilled Regard before being disqualified. And then in his 2018 debut, he had a bit of trouble before running 2nd to Magnum Moon in a very honest effort.

Yes, McKinzie was giving experience to Solomini at Los Al. And yes, Magnum Moon was also lightly raced at Oaklawn. I’ll concede both points. But Instilled Regard came back to win at Fair Grounds. And McKinzie came back to win the Sham and out-gamed Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe. So my long-winded, somewhat-amateurish point is this: There is ample evidence to support the argument that Solomini is, depending on the day, on the same level as McKinzie, Instilled Regard, and Magnum Moon if we give Solomini some extra credit for needing the race and running into traffic. And since Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie were nearly inseparable in the San Felipe, it’s not totally absurd to put Solomini and Bolt d’Oro in the same sentence. Solomini beat him in the Breeders’ Cup, right? So, if Solomini arguably, and on the right day, equals (or almost equals) McKinzie, Bolt d’Oro, and Magnum Moon, and if Good Magic is better than Solomini, then you can logically make the case that Good Magic has demonstrated on the racetrack that he is, to this point, the leader of the pack.

Look, I get it. I’ve been following this sport for a long time. I understand that I am grossly over-simplifying the comparison of performances and talent and I’m not considering several other widely-accepted handicapping factors. But my argument is not totally baseless in an annoying college-Philosophy-professor sort of way.

Now for Good Magic’s 2018 debut. It was not anywhere near as poor as many observers said it was. Forget the alleged missed workouts due to the foot issue. He was wide all the way around, he tried to close into a slowish pace, made a move, and flattened out. But he didn’t stop. Word is by some speed figure measures, he ran better than the winner. So it did not darken his Kentucky Derby chances at all in my opinion. That said, he needs to show forward progress on Saturday in the Blue Grass against a tough bunch. I am not concerned about the Florida Derby efforts of the two horses who beat Good Magic in the Fountain of Youth. That pace was blazing and they had to finish at the back.

The horses that Good Magic beat in the Breeders’ Cup have since come back to do impressive things. Even Givemeaminit, a horse that Good Magic defeated by nearly 14 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup, came back to run within nine lengths of Derby contenders Noble Indy, Lone Sailor, and My Boy Jack in the Louisiana Derby. So I am choosing to look at Good Magic’s Fountain of Youth as exactly what is was: a prep for bigger things. And if I am right, we may just be looking at a defending champion who is primed for a big Spring. And depending on how things go on Saturday, he may be a big price in Louisville.

handicappers Dew Justin Rich Nilsen

 

— Editor’s Note: I got to know Justin Dew (left) when he was the official blogger for the very official Kentucky Derby website.  He’s an amazing father and fantastic gambler.  Just ask him.  He’ll tell you.  Welcome aboard, Justin!