Wait Before You Make the Movie

Preakness-Stakes-Logo-2014California Chrome

by Art Parker

California Chrome’s victory in the Kentucky Derby is a great story. Unusual owners, questionable or unfashionable breeding, and a trainer way up in years have brought gossip about making a movie. If Chrome cannot win the Preakness, the story will probably stop there and it will always be a good memory for the American Turf community.

But the chestnut from California that could turn out to be a movie star should continue the underdog tale in Baltimore. Hardly any from Louisville will be in Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown.  The seventh and eleventh place Derby finishers, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod respectively, will be the only ones from the Derby Dance to participate in the Preakness. Neither of these horses have won a graded stakes.

Five of the top six finishers and eight of the top ten finishers in the Derby are graded stakes winners. But the only graded stakes winner from the Derby to show up will be the Derby winner himself. Normally that would probably mean that others are scared, but in reality, the Derby field was very weak.

The official split times of the 2014 Kentucky Derby are: 23.04, 47.37, 1.11.80, 1:37.45 and the final time for the 1 ¼ is 2:03.66.

The quarter mile intervals, after the initial quarter, are: 24.33, 24.43, 25.65 and 26.21.

The track at Churchill Downs, after looking at all the races on the main track, appeared to be fast and offers no excuses for the slow Derby time(s).

California Chrome had a picture-perfect trip. He won by a couple of lengths and was getting a little tired at the end. On a track that fast with a perfect trip, the final time and the final two quarters are very dismal for a horse that is supposed to be the best in the nation.

The only other real contenders before the race were Wicked Strong and Danza (my opinion). Wicked Strong stumbled from the gate closest to the parking lot and had a pretty rough trip while Danza was bounced around like a ping pong ball early and encountered more trouble late. Danza ran third and Wicked Strong finished fourth. Commanding Curve finished second courtesy of the all new “Stewart Second place Syndrome” (Trainer Dallas Stewart finished second in 2013 and 2014 with big longshots considered outsiders).

Those that gave the best account of themselves, despite trouble, will be absent in Baltimore.

California Chrome won the Derby (again, my opinion) because the best of the three year old crop missed the Derby. That’s not to say that this crop is all that good. It doesn’t appear to be. So, my final analysis is that Chrome won the Derby because of a weak field that comes from a weak crop.

Back to the Preakness. Chrome should win it.  If the field at the Derby was weak then he gets an even better group of lightweights to slap around at Pimlico.

As of today, a few days out from Preakness Saturday, the entire race probably depends upon a colt named Social Inclusion, another who has yet to win a graded stakes, but does bring some good history into the Preakness. The son of Pioneerof The Nile has the breeding to go a long distance with grandsires Empire Maker and Saint Ballado being major contributors to stamina breeding. But what makes this colt different is that he can really turn the engine on from the gate, which is what he is expected to do. If he gets away he may be hard to catch. If California Chrome gets too close he may get caught up in a fast pace, and remember, if Chrome’s last two quarters at Churchill are indicative of his distance ability then going to fast too early will be a problem for the Derby winner.

Who can come get the pieces? General a Rod, if he is intentionally ridden from off the pace could be a nice late running surprise and he has the breeding to do that. The other is Dynamic Impact, winner of the Illinois Derby, who didn’t beat much in Chicago but certainly has the genes to relish a route of ground.

The other option for Social Inclusion is to rate off the pace, if possible, and try to let other speed set the pace then try to get first run before California Chrome.

I’m not crazy about California Chrome and certainly won’t wager on his nose in the Preakness. There is a part of me that is cheering for him simply because a win will bring much needed attention to horse racing and I’m all for that.

And I’m pulling for him so that he can go to the Belmont and run for the Triple Crown. And that is when all the monsters will show up, fresh and ready. Also present will be all the demons any three year old could ever have. And if Chrome conquers at Baltimore and manages to overcome the greatest challenge of all in New York over ‘Big Sandy,’ then I guess I will eat my words and say, “Let’s make a movie.”

But not until then.

Kentucky Derby 140 Contenders, Borderline Horses & Throwouts – Part V

GENERAL A ROD (Speed horse/stalker, 10/1)

I’ve like this Mike Maker trained horse for quite some time.  The son of Roman Ruler was a very impressive winner going 7 furlongs in his debut at Keeneland last fall.  He proved that was no fluke by stepping up to face winners and running a strong 2nd to Conquest Titan in a full field of allowance runners at Churchill Downs.  He then had two back-to-back duels with Wildcat Red at Gulfstream Park, which resulted in a split decision, before finishing a close third in the G1 Florida Derby.


He did the dirty work in that final prep race, as he tried to keep Wildcat Red honest on the front end. In the process he forced a quicker 2nd quarter from that speedy foe.  When they turned for home, the highly regarded Constitution scooted through an opening at the rail and that decisive move got him the victory.  General A Rod never gave up and finished willingly for the show spot.  His is proven over the track, owns good tactical speed, and has a great trainer and jockey in his corner.  Plenty to like  on a horse that figures to be a square price.

KYD General A Rod

Form: Sharp

Status: Contender

Value Line: 10/1

COMING THURSDAY: Rich Nilsen’s Kentucky Derby Analysis & Wagering Strategies

UNCLE SIGH (Speed horse, 50/1)

One of two New York breds who will try to emulate Funny Cide, this colt exits a lackluster fifth in the G1 Wood Memorial, his biggest test to date.  As a son of Indian Charlie he will want no part of ten furlongs, so his only chance to ‘move up’ would be an off track (solid pedigree on both sides for wet).

Trainer Gary Contessa is a good horseman but he has a dismal 3% win record in graded stakes.  This guy is not going to help that cause.  Uncle Sigh will add to a fast pace before folding up on the backstretch.

KYD_ Uncle Sigh

2014 copyright Equibase and Brisnet.com

Form: Fair

Status: Throwout

Value Line: 50/1

Kentucky Derby 140 Contenders, Borderline Horses & Throwouts – Part IV

CANDY BOY (Stalker, 25/1)

The John Sadler trainee made a smashing three year old debut, rallying from just off the pace to score in the G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.  Off that solid performance he was one of the betting favorites in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, where he stalked the pace in third throughout, faded at the top of the lane, and then came again to narrowly get the show spot.  He crawled home in :38.2 and was beaten nearly 9 lengths by Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome.  Stevens has indicated that they will take him further off the pace this time around.

Candy Boy is out of a dam who was a minor stakes winner in California going long, but there is little in the pedigree to predict a top performance in the Kentucky Derby.  You have to like Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens being in the irons for a top California barn, but this colt has never set foot outside of Southern California. You simply can’t include everyone, and Candy Boy is a toss based off his last race.

KYD_Candy Boy

Form: Questionable

Status: Throwout

Value Line: 25/1

VICAR’S IN TROUBLE (Speed horse, 15/1)

Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, this colt exits a smashing win in the G2 Louisiana Derby.  Despite what some other sources have reported, this colt set a very honest pace in that Fair Grounds race as he took the field gate to wire.  What I don’t like to see is the way he finished, coming home in a slow :38.3 for the final three furlongs (3/8ths of a mile).  In his prior start, the Risen Star Stakes, he made a big move from off the pace to contend at the 1/8th pole but collapsed in the final furlong.  In both of these starts, he switched back to the ‘wrong’ lead in deep stretch, typically not a good sign.

On the positive side, he is one of only two horses in the race (the other being the favorite California Chrome) who sports two triple-digit BRIS Speed Ratings this year of 104 and 103, respectively.  He is trained by Mike Maker, who on a national scale is one of the best horsemen in the country.  The media is probably praying that this horse doesn’t win, as Maker is a man of very few words.  He lets his horses do the talking, as evidenced by his 26-percent win rate.

A lot people question this horse’s ability to get the distance, with his sire Into Mischief being one of the questions.  Into Mischief was a really nice horse who never ran worse than 2nd in six career starts.  He won going long in the 2007 G1 CashCall Futurity and he is a half brother to superstar and route horse Beholder, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Vicars in trouble PPs

Form: Sharp

Status: Contender

Value Line: 15/1

Kentucky Derby 140 Contenders, Borderline Horses & Throwouts – Part III

MEDAL COUNT (25/1, Presser)

The runner from classic Spendthrift Farm was wheeled back in only 8 days and ran an excellent second in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack.  The top three finishers were over 5 lengths clear of the fourth horse in a large 14-horse field.  This son of Dynaformer is a talented horse but he appears to be much better on turf or synthetic, or at least proven over those surfaces.  His three career dirt efforts were all sub-par, as he ran 89, 73 and 76 BRIS speed figures, respectively.  He can handle the dirt, as evidenced by his 6 1/4 length win in his debut at Ellis Park, but the big question remains if he can do so against a Grade 1 field.  The colt is somewhat reminiscent of Dale Roman’s Paddy O’Prado, a confirmed turf runner, who also ran second in the Blue Grass Stakes before finishing a fast closing, troubled third in the Kentucky Derby.

Medal Count is a half sibling to Garden District, who won or placed in two stakes races on the main track at Churchill Downs.  His dam, a daughter of Unbridled’s Song, was a very versatile runner who won multiple times on both turf and dirt, while placing in stakes out West.  Both of these facets of his pedigree bode well for him duplicating his sharp current form in Louisville.

KYD Medal Count

Form: Improving

Status: Borderline contender

Value line: 25/1

Kentucky Derby 140 Contenders, Borderline Horses & Throwouts – Part II

SAMRAAT (30/1, Early/Presser)

This New York-bred son of Noble Causeway was defeated for the first time when making his sixth career start in the G1 Wood Memorial, a race won by Wicked Strong.  The colt tracked the pace closely throughout and then finished gamely. He had trouble switching leads and only did so yards from the wire.  That helped him edge out the over-hyped Social Inclusion by a nose for the place spot, while no real threat to the winner.  He was hurt by the fast pace, and it was the first time Samraat was not in the lead turning for home.

His dam (mother) has produced five route winners from only six starters to race, and he is already proven around two turns. However, his difficulty in switching leads, coupled with the speed influence of broodmare sire Indian Charlie, raises doubts about ten furlongs (1 1/4 miles).

KYD_ Samraat

Samraat’s consistency, talent, and heart certainly give him a chance of hitting the superfecta, but a Kentucky Derby victory would be a huge surprise.

Form: Solid

Status: Borderline contender

Value line: 30/1

Watch the Grade 1 Wood Memorial



INTENSE HOLIDAY (20/1, Closer)

This horse is not an easy one to gauge. The Todd Pletcher trainee has improved with each start dating back to last fall. He started the year breaking from a tough outside post in the G2 Holy Bull, where he finished a distant third to Cairo Prince while finishing against the grain of the track.  That was actually a sneaky good effort as he made a strong middle move, passing Wicked Strong in the process as if he were standing still.  Intense Holiday then ran an outstanding race, rallying behind a slow pace to get up at the wire in the G2 Risen Star, an effort that earned him a 99 BRIS Speed Rating.  At the time this was a career best number.

In the Louisiana Derby he ducked in and brushed the rail at the top of the stretch and then failed to switch leads until late. However, the son of Harlan’s Holiday continued on willingly to be a clear second as the lukewarm favorite.  Despite an effort that wasn’t as impressive as the Risen Star victory, he earned a career best 100 figure for the runner up performance.  This colt has the right running style for the Kentucky Derby and he has the push-button type of acceleration you want to see from a contender.

KYD Intense Holiday

Form: Solid/Improving

Status: Contender

Value line: 20/1

Watch the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby


Kentucky Derby 140 Contenders, Borderline Horses & Throwouts – Part I

There’s only 10 days to go until the first Saturday in May, the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2014.  A Game of Skill is going to take a close look at the probable KY Derby starters as we approach racing’s most important horse race.  Today we start with Grade 1 winner and longshot Dance With Fate, as well as the Todd Pletcher trained We Miss Artie.

Dance with Fate
copyright 2014 Brisnet.com and Equibase

DANCE WITH FATE (Closer, 50/1)

The Peter Eurton trained runner has certainly outrun his pedigree.  There is little to speak of under the first dam (mother), and sire Two Step Salsa is not a stallion one would expect to see a classic runner hail from.  This colt looked great winning the G1 Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface, but that race does not translate to the Kentucky Derby which is run over a traditional dirt surface. This colt is still a maiden (non-winner) over that type of surface, and needless to say, that is a big negative.  He did run a good 2nd to Bond Holder in the G1 Front Runner at Santa Anita last year but then followed that up with a very poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup over the same dirt surface.  He simply looks better over turf or synthetic, neither of which helps him much on the first Saturday in May.

Form: Sharp

Status: Throwout

Value line: 50/1

KYD We Miss Artie

WE MISS ARTIE (Closer, 75/1)

This is another very talented synthetic runner.  The son of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Shiller benefited from a hot pace and got up by a nose to score in the G3 Spiral Stakes, a race that is a shell of itself despite Animal Kingdom winning a few years ago.  In three starts over the dirt, this colt has shown little to no talent over that surface. This sophomore runner has the ability and traits to be one of the better turf horses in the country this year, so this handicapper would like to see the connections go that route instead.  Pass on Derby Day.

Form: Questionable (off since March 22)

Status: Throwout

Value line: 75/1