Picks and Ponderings: Belmont Point/Counterpoint!

A little race called the Belmont Stakes is coming up on Saturday, and there’s just a Triple Crown on the line.  Small stuff, right?

Of course not!  And, with such a big race ahead, Paul Mazur and I went horse-for-horse through the Belmont Stakes field to discuss who we like, who we don’t like, and who we are hitching our fortunes to when the dust settles.  Check it out for a little bit of levity, and a lot of analysis!

fantasy stable update: week 19

We are nineteen weeks into the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league, and the day of reckoning is near.  There’s just one more day of points races left, this Saturday, and then the league is over.  Just in time for this final day of points races, there are a few new faces in my stable, who I introduced last week.  As Murphy’s Law would suggest, however, I made what may possibly be a crucial mistake in my claiming strategy.  I stand behind all three horses I claimed last week.  However, I set up my drops based on the best information I had — and the best information I had included absolutely no scuttlebutt that General a Rod would be headed to the Belmont.  He was fairly late in declaring that he would go to the Preakness, but at least there were people whispering about whether he would be headed out there or not.  I heard no rumours, and I saw no works back since the Preakness, so I assumed he would not be Belmont-bound.  Saturday?  He worked a five-furlong bullet in 1:00.20 over the Churchill training track, and his connections proclaim him Belmont-bound.


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fantasy stable: week 18.5 update

The final claiming date has come and gone, and it was the toughest claim of all to plan.  I had $295 of my $500 worth of funny money, more than any other stable, and I needed to figure out how to maximize it in light of the four points races remaining: the Belmont Stakes, the Acorn Stakes, the Woody Stephens, and the Easy Goer.  Last month was a bit easier since the Derby Trial draw was out.  I could handicap the Derby trial, and try to grab a free horse with a chance.  That was exactly what I did, and I was handsomely rewarded when Embellishing Bob won.  On top of that, the Derby field was pretty well set, so I knew who to focus on there.

However, this time around, the only race of the four with a particularly set field was the Belmont.  A few Belmont horses were open for claiming: contender Wicked Strong, and longshots Matterhorn and Matuszak.  We had nominations out for the Acorn, Woody Stephens, and Easy Goer, but I wasn’t privy to much good scuttlebutt about who was going to run in those.  So, I had to make my best guesses.

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fantasy stable: week 18 update

This has been another fairly slow week for my fantasy stable in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league.  We’re making it down the home stretch, though — the final claiming day is this Thursday, and the final points races (the Belmont Stakes, the Acorn Stakes, the Woody Stephens, and the Easy Goer) all unfold on June 7th.  Nominations for the three-year-old Belmont undercard races (Acorn, Woody Stephens, and Easy Goer) came out today, and most of my stable appeared in at least one of those nominations lists.  With the next claim coming up this week, though, I am hoping they proceed from “nominated” to something more definite shortly.  Even a definite “no” would be useful, since I still have a good amount of claiming budget in order to try for some horses who are running in the big Belmont races and not yet owned by any of my competitors.

Let’s see how my stable is doing!

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fantasy stable: week 17 update

This past week was a huge one for my stable in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league.  Three of my horses raced for points: Stopchargingmaria was in the Black-Eyed Susan, and both Ride On Curlin and General a Rod ran the Preakness.  All three of them ran big, and two of the three of them brought my stable points.  Alas, that only puts my stable back to about mid-pack after a dreadful mid-season stretch, but there’s still a chance I can hit the board if I have some horses run big Belmont weekend.

Without further ado, let’s see how my horses are doing!

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Preakness weekend stakes recap

This was an exciting weekend of racing, headlined by an exciting running of the Preakness Stakes.  California Chrome kept his Triple Crown dreams alive, and even more excitingly for this Curlin-loving corner of the Internet, Ride On Curlin ran a big race!  The hard-knocking colt finished a clear second, gaining on Chrome late.

All of the contests I played this weekend focused on Black-Eyed Susan day and Preakness day at Pimlico; it added up to nine of the stakes races over the two days.  Some of the races didn’t go as well as I hoped, and I did have a few second place finishes (looking at you, Class Leader, for getting your head in front of Life In Shambles just in time!), but all in all this wasn’t the handicapping debacle that Derby weekend was for me.  Onward and upward, right?

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Preakness day picks!

Tomorrow, we move into the second leg of the Triple Crown.  It’s a smaller field than the Derby: ten horses instead of the nineteen who headed postward in Louisville two weeks ago.  It is also full of new shooters.  In addition to Derby winner California Chrome, only two other horses decided to wheel back in two weeks to take a crack at the Preakness: Ride On Curlin and General a Rod, two horses who have been covered extensively at Blinkers Off since January due to their presence in my Fantasy Stable.  The rest of the field are new shooters, including Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact as well as Private Terms hero Kid Cruz.

In addition to the Preakness, I attacked a few more races on the Pimlico card as well.  Between the races for the Danonymous Racing contest and the Public Handicapper contest, there are a total of five races that I handicapped for these contests.

Let’s dive into the races and see how they may unfold!

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fantasy stable: week 16 update

This past week was a relatively quiet one for my stable in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league.  After so many of my horses raced Derby weekend, none of them hit the track this week.  However, this weekend will be a big one, with not one but two of my colts headed to the Preakness Stakes, and one of my fillies resurfacing in the Black-Eyed Susan on Friday.

Without further ado, let’s see what the horses of Iron Bard are up to:

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fantasy stable: week 15 update

This was a huge week for my stable in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league, in that there were five of my horses running.  This was a less-than-huge week for my fantasy stable, in that no one from my stable hit the board, and one of my fearsome fivesome didn’t even start her race — though she provided us with the scariest moment of the weekend.

With that, let’s see how it all unfolded.

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fantasy stable: week 14 (Derby week!) update

It’s finally here: Derby week!  In a sense, the entire Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league has been building up to this season.  There have been tons of points races over the last few months, but the biggest ones are still to come.  The horses in my stable have changed a bit since my last update, though they’re ready to hit the ground running: one of my new horses has already won a race, and two more are in the starting gate for the Kentucky Oaks this Friday.

I am still stressing out about how I ordered Please Explain, Stopchargingmaria, and Conquest Titan in my drops, which ended up meaning something because I only ended up getting three of my five claims.  I kept Stopchargingmaria and Conquest Titan, since I am so leery of Please Explain after the medication violation and then the poor run in the Fantasy that I thought Stopchargingmaria and Conquest Titan were less of a risk should either point to a minor race for the league.  I knew Please Explain was working at Churchill Downs.  However, I misunderstood how the points system worked, and thought points were required to enter a horse in the Derby or Oaks.  However, that isn’t the case: they’re preferred.  If not enough horses with points enter the race, anyone can.  If I had understood that, I’d have interpreted Please Explain’s Churchill works for what they ended up being: crumbs leading toward a surprise entry in the Kentucky Oaks.

For Please Explain’s sake, I’m still worried about this move.  I hope whatever was hurting her, whatever led to her being medicated, has been healed.  I hope she runs well, and strikes a long-shot blow for the awesomeness of Curlin babies.  For my fantasy stable’s stake, I feel really dumb for not understanding the points rule correctly, and may have ranked differently had I understood the rule.  That said, I feel I made the best ranking decision I could have at the time, given my assessment of the situation.

With that out of the way, let’s check in on my stable:

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fantasy stable: week 13.5 update

We had a claiming day this Thursday, and I had to get busy, since so many of my horses were off the Derby or Oaks trails.  I had Ride On Curlin and General a Rod who are in the Derby starting gate, and She’s a Tiger pointing toward the Eight Belles, but that was it as far as horses of mine who were clearly pointing toward races that could advance my standing.  I had to get my hands on at least a few horses who would be in some more points races, since my current point total in the league is nothing if not middling.  Fortunately, I had the most money left out of anyone: $468 out of the $500 in Monopoly money that we got at the beginning of the season for claims.

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fantasy stable: week 13 postmortem

Things were a little slow for my stable in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league, but it’s the calm before the storm.  The big Derby and Oaks preps have wound down, and everyone is bearing down for the Derby and the Oaks in a week and a half.  Still, big things are afoot, and the April claiming date is this Thursday.  So, here’s one last look at how my stable stands, before a probable personnel (horsonnel?) shake-up later this week.

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fantasy stable: week 12 postmortem

We are now 12 weeks into the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league, and the pictures for the Derby and the Oaks are getting clearer and clearer.  There are still a few points available in the Lexington Stakes this Saturday at Keeneland, though so far it does not sound like any of the horses on the Kentucky Derby bubble within ten points of Cairo Prince’s 24 will be running in it.  Even if they did, it would not change whether any of the horses in my stable were in or out of the Derby starting gate.

That said, let’s dive in and see how my horses are doing.  There is a hodgepodge of good news, bad news, and confusing news.

  • Ride On Curlin – Ride On Curlin needed to finish at least fourth in the Arkansas Derby to keep his Derby dreams realistically alive, and this consistent Curlin baby did not disappoint.  Jockey Jon Court kept him off the pace set by Bayern and Thundergram — exactly what I was hoping to see.  He made a wide move to get around the leaders and Tapiture, the same time as Danza was coming through on the inside.  He couldn’t catch Danza (who finished 4 3/4 lengths in front), but he came down the middle of the track and caught everyone else to claim second.  This put him at 55 points — more than good enough to punch his ticket to Kentucky!  In fact, he has already shipped to Kentucky, and will get some works over the Churchill track.  However, there is one slightly less exciting bit of news to go along with this.  Today, trainer Billy Gowan announced that Calvin Borel was getting the mount on Ride On Curlin.  It’s logical in a sense, since Borel has ridden him in five of his nine career starts, including both career wins.  However, after the nice ride Jon Court gave him in Hot Springs, it’s a disappointment that he will not maintain the mount in Louisville.
  • Conquest Titan – Conquest Titan needed at least a third place finish to advance on the road to the Kentucky Derby, but sadly, it did not happen for him.  He settled in the rear early, as he normally does, and tried to make a run coming into the stretch.  He improved his position approaching the stretch, passing Commissioner as well as the tiring Thundergram and Strong Mandate.  He couldn’t sustain his run, though, and finished fifth beaten 10 1/4 lengths.  There is no clear indication about where (if anywhere) he is heading next, but it will not be the Kentucky Derby.
  • General a Rod – General a Rod did not race last weekend.  General a Rod did not hit the worktab last week.  However, there is still news about him, and it’s the best news possible: he is officially Derby bound!  He sits at 40 points, seventeenth in the standings.  Even if the horses immediately below him were to actually run in the Lexington Stakes and claim points, he is still a mathematical lock for the starting gate.
  • Please Explain – The news about Conquest Titan was disappointing.  The news about Please Explain was even more disappointing.  Last week, Please Explain was disqualified from third place in the Honeybee, and her trainer Tom Proctor fined $1,000 for a medication positive.  The medication involved was methylprednisolone, a synthesized adrenal steroid.  This information posted by Robert Yates, the horse racing reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is all I know.  There seems to be a dearth of information about this, which is distressing since it involves a drug violation in a significant Oaks prep.  I feel awful for Please Explain, I’m disappointed in the barn, and I hope my further efforts to find information about this don’t come up empty.
  • Stopchargingmaria – Stopchargingmaria ended the Oaks prep season with 22 points, after her fourth place finish in the Fantasy Stakes.  This would not be enough to qualify her outright for the Oaks, but would place her in eighteenth place.  Since fourteen horses get into the Oaks gate, only four ahead of her would have to scratch (or decide they were not pointing for the Oaks) for her not to get in.  However, she is stricken through in the official Oaks standings list.  This came as a surprise, as I had not seen any announcements or even scuttlebutt that she was being taken off the Oaks trail, officially.  Hopefully, information will come out soon as to why she is off the list, and where (if anywhere) she is pointing next.
  • She’s a Tiger – On April 10, She’s a Tiger fired a bullet at Santa Anita, working six furlongs in 1:13.20 in the Santa Anita dirt.  There hasn’t been any news over the last week to contradict previous reports that she is pointing toward the Eight Belles Stakes (GIII), which is on the Kentucky Oaks undercard this year.
  • Tamarando – On April 12, Tamarando returned to the worktab.  He’s still at Santa Anita, and he worked five furlongs in 1:01.80.  However, this was on dirt.  His last workout, on April 6, was on turf.  This leaves me a bit confused.  The Derby is almost certainly out, since his twelve points put him thirty-first on the list, and I doubt Hollendorfer will be shipping him to Churchill in case of an opening like Giant Finish had last year.  There’s no good word on where he is heading next, and the workout pattern is puzzling.
  • Shared BeliefLast Friday, Jerry Hollendorfer said that Shared Belief will work at Golden Gate Fields on Tuesday, for the first time since January 3rd.  He also stated that a comeback race in June or July was a possible time frame.  However, this is not the first time that Hollendorfer has said Shared Belief would work, so I am not holding my breath until I actually see him on the worktab.  I’m looking forward to his return — Shared Belief was my #1 draft pick for a reason.  His two-year-old season was dazzling, and I just want to see him running again if he is sound.

At this point, there is a lot to think about between now and April 24, which is the next claiming date.  I can guarantee there will be claiming attempts, though their structure will of course depend on what information I can glean between now and then about who is pointed where, and how I can get the best Derby-month bang for my buck.

fantasy stable: week 11 postmortem

Week 11 of the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league has come and gone, and it was a tough one on the distaff side for Iron Bard Stable, with two horses — and two off-the-board finishes.  Despite there being six league points races this past Saturday, they were the only two horses in my stable running, and my stable’s status has plummeted as a result.

Things are looking a bit more promising at the moment on the colts’ side, with a couple of promising works leading to the Arkansas Derby.  No matter what, I’m going to have a lot to think about in a couple of weeks, come the April claiming day.  It’ll be the last claim before the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby, the Black Eyed Susan, and the Preakness, so I’ll have to use my bankroll to score some late-emerging stars if I’m to have any shot at sniping my competition.

Here’s how my stable is doing as of this week:

  • Please Explain – The Fantasy was not what I was hoping to see from Please Explain, simple as that.  She started far back early, and she never made up much.  She was eighth of eight most of it, and only managed to overtake the fading, straggling Haveyougoneaway to finish seventh.  There was no clear excuse for this, especially since she hadn’t shipped out for the race or even raced all that recently.  I am not sure whether she needs a new jockey or easier company.  Either way, she failed to get any much-needed points, and my hopes of seeing her there come Oaks day are pretty well dashed.  I haven’t given up on her, since maybe she will improve late like her sire Curlin or her sire’s currently most prominent offspring, the excellent Palace Malice, but things aren’t looking good for the spring segment of her three-year-old year.
  • Stopchargingmaria – Her Fantasy was slightly better than Please Explain’s, but not particularly good.  She was fairly far back early, though not quite as far as Please Explain was, and steadily made up some ground.  Stopchargingmaria broke slowly, and was wide the whole way through.  That said, she was not so far wide that she couldn’t (or shouldn’t have been able to) make a move.  Stopchargingmaria just never fired much, though, and crossed the wire fourth.  I am still a bit confused that she didn’t run the Gazelle instead, given her love for the New York tracks (including Aqueduct!), but what’s done is done, and Repole and Pletcher sent her to Oaklawn.  We’ll see what she does next.
  • Ride On CurlinAs expected based on Billy Gowan’s previous comments, Ride On Curlin returned to the worktab for a long one this week.  On April 6, he worked 7 furlongs in 1:26.80 at Oaklawn.  Other than that, there has been nothing new, which looks to be for the best.  All systems are go for the Arkansas Derby.  Ride On Curlin currently sits at 15 Kentucky Derby points, 23rd in the standings.  First or second place will get him in the starting gate.  Third will give him a good chance.  Fourth place will mean a few things will have to fall his way to get him in.  Off the board, and he has to hope he’s as lucky as Golden Soul and Giant Finish were last year.
  • Conquest Titan – Conquest Titan is still pointing toward the Arkansas Derby.  He shipped out to Kentucky, and on April 7th worked a bullet 4 furlongs in 47.40 at his dearly beloved Churchill Downs.  Today it was confirmed by Mary Rampellini of the Daily Racing Form that he has shipped down to Oaklawn for the race.  He will need a big effort there, since he’s still sitting in 36th place with only nine points.  First or second gets him in the Derby.  Third, he hopes.  Fourth, he hopes against hope.  Fifth or worse?  He’s out.
  • Tamarando – Tamarando has shown back up on the worktab for the first time since his disappointing finish in the Spiral.  He has shipped back to California, and worked five furlongs on April 6 in 1:02.40.  What’s interesting about this work is that, for the first time since I’ve been following him closely (in other words, since January), the work happened over the turf.  This suggests Hollendorfer may be considering Tamarando for the green stuff, and suggests he is probably not going to run in any further points races for the league.
  • She’s a Tiger -April 3, She’s a Tiger returned to the worktab with an honest, long workout: 6 furlongs in 1:12.80 along the Santa Anita dirt.  There was some suggestion that she may run in this Friday’s Santa Paula Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs over the Santa Anita dirt, and the official press feed from Santa Anita noted that she was nominated, but the draw came out without her in there.  There has been no further word about what prep, if any, she may be running before the Eight Belles.
  • General a Rod – General a Rod still hasn’t returned to the worktab yet after his third-place finish in the Florida Derby.  The General hasn’t lost any ground practically speaking; Wicked Strong leapfrogged ahead of him on the points list, but Toast of New York declared himself off the Derby trail for sure, so he’s still sitting at 14th on the official list.  Other than Wicked Strong, the other big-point horses from the weekend already sat ahead of him on the standings: California Chrome, Hoppertunity, and Samraat.  Barring an injury or a freakish amount of new horses who leapfrog him (combined with no drops from the Derby trail), The General should be in the starting gate on Derby day.
  • Shared Belief – The biggest news about Shared Belief this week is that Derbyologist will offload his future wager ticket to one lucky sap on Twitter who makes him an offer.  I offered him a song for it.  He still hasn’t responded.  I’m pretty sure that’s the best offer he’s going to get for that slip of scratch paper, since Shared Belief still hasn’t shown up on the worktab yet.

That’s how things are going for my horses this week.  So ends this week’s recap — and good luck to Ride On Curlin and Conquest Titan in the Arkansas Derby!

Dubai and Fair Grounds and Gulfstream: what happened?

Last weekend was a huge one of Derby preps, stakes races, and handicapping contests.  I played Public Handicapper, as I do every week, and also played the contest that Danonymous Racing hosted.  I’m also playing in @horseracing4beg’s Derby Prep Betting Challenge, which covers all the 100 point Derby preps.  Across these contests, it meant I handicapped a total of nine stakes races: four at Gulfstream, three at Fair Grounds, and two at Meydan.  Some went well, some less so…though, when all is said and done, no day on which Palace Malice wins can be a bad one.


Appleton Stakes (GIII, 1 mile on the turf)

In this race, Mr. Online was my first choice, and Kharafa was my second.  Since he raced, Mr. Online was my contest horse.  Especially for a win/place contest, it was hard to do better than him — his statistics compared favourably with the field, and he came into this race with nine straight win or place finishes, including two seconds in graded stakes.

A speed horse, Mr. Online did not disappoint, and he bolted near the lead early.  Midnight Cello faded fast, and Mr. Online led the way until the shadow of the wire.  Hey Leroy, a closing type horse on a big class jump into this race, very much fired in this race.  He was squeezed back to last early, but unfazed.  He gradually made up a little ground down the backstretch, but not a ton.  Still about four lengths off coming into the stretch, he came through wide and hit his best stride.  That stride had him barreling past horses — and got his neck in front of Mr. Online’s to snatch the win.  Salto, who had hit the board (but not won) in three straight stakes appearances coming into the Appleton looked primed on paper to do that again.  Sure enough, he stalked along the rail, but didn’t have enough late to catch either Hey Leroy or Mr. Online.  He checked in third.

My second choice, Kharafa, did not get the early speed he probably wanted.  He made a run at the pack, and was less than two lengths off the pace in the far turn, but then lost his drive.  He faded badly down the stretch, and checked in 8th beaten 12 1/2 lengths.

Skip Away Stakes (GIII, 1 3/16 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had War Dancer as my first choice, and Nikki’s Sandcastle as my second.  Since he raced, War Dancer was my contest horse.

I had never, ever seen quite a glaring example of betting  down a supposed price horse as I saw in the Skip Away.  There were a few horses I liked decently enough here: War Dancer, Nikki’s Sandcastle, Nevada Kid, maybe Norumbega.  The 15-1 morning line on War Dancer sounded like an overlay, so I thought I could get a decent horse for a decent price, even if he was bet down.  (To compare, I tossed out Norumbega as a contest horse in significant part because I thought the McGaughey/Velazquez connections would be bet down hard, and I didn’t like him more than other horses.)  It turned out that many people must have had the same idea as I did; War Dancer actually went off as the 3.1-1 betting favourite!  Oops.

One horse in this field proved clearly best, and that horse was Micromanage.  He got a good stalking place early, a couple lengths off, and then kicked down the stretch to run away with it.  He checked in 4 1/4 lengths in front of Norumbega: a horse I expected to go off favoured or close to it, but who ended up going off as the fourth choice, at just shy of 5-1!  Norumbega was off the pace early and made a wide closing move into the stretch, but didn’t have enough to match the last boost of Micromanage.  Sr. Quisqueyano, battling Nevada Kid for the lead early, faded less badly than his early rival and held on for third.

My first choice, War Dancer, started slowly and never recovered.  He got in about seven lengths off, but lost ground late — finishing seventh, only ahead of three significantly tired horses.  My second choice, Nikki’s Sandcastle, fared a little bit better than that, though not extremely well.  He stayed near the back of the chasing pack early, though not relegated to the stragglers despite having checked on the clubhouse turn.  He turned wide and made a slight move, but never really threatened the leaders.  Nikki’s Sandcastle held on for fourth, though, mainly because he faded less profoundly than most of the rest of the pack.

Pan American Stakes (GII, 1 ½ miles on the turf)

Here my first choice was Amira’s Prince, my second was Suntracer, and my third was Admiral Kitten.  Amira’s Prince scratched out of the Pan American to run the Muniz at Fair Grounds instead, so Suntracer was my contest horse.

What can I say about my two contest horses remaining in the race, other than that they did just about the same thing, only Suntracer at a better price?  They’re both closers.  They both were back early.  Neither of them fired a bit.  At least Suntracer failed to fire at 11.5-1, whereas Admiral Kitten failed to fire at 2.2-1.

It was Newsdad who ended up carrying the day.  I thought he may hit the board, but didn’t think he’d be the same horse who scored in the Pan American in 2012.  His last race was his first after an almost yearlong lay, and he was rusty and fading late.  I underestimated Newsdad: extremely far back early, he proved that closing win in the 2012 Fayette (GII) was no fluke.  He made up ground, swung outside during that second trip through the far turn, and got his neck in front of Vertiformer for the win.  Vertiformer, who stalked near the rail a few lengths back most of the race, made a good closing run but finished with just less than Newsdad.  Slumber, who spent much of the race only a handful of lengths ahead of Newsdad, also closed well; he crossed the wire 3/4 length behind Newsdad in third.  The 4th place finisher, Joes Blazing Aaron, is worth mentioning here only because of how badly I underestimated him.  He was alone on the lead through most of the race, but I thought he was outclasses, and served no useful purpose in this race other than as a rabbit for Admiral Kitten and Charming Kitten.  Turns out, he doggedly held his own, and only grudgingly surrendered his lead in the final sixteenth.  He was tougher than I expected, and finished in front of both horses for whom I suspected him to be rabbiting.

Florida Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had General a Rod as my first selection, Wildcat Red as my second, and Constitution as my third.  Since he raced, General a Rod was my contest horse.  For once, even though I had them in the wrong order, my contest horses all had a pretty decent run at things, and all hit the board.

As expected, Wildcat Red got the lead near the rail, and set the fractions.  General a Rod tracked just off in second, a length or so bad early, but closing up a bit to get right next to him near the far turn.  Constitution stalked along the rail in third.  As the far turn straightened out into the stretch, Wildcat Red got just far enough off the rail  that a charging horse could fit through.  Javier Castellano saw that, and figured that was all he needed to get Constitution through.  He was right.  Constitution slipped through, dueled with Wildcat Red down the stretch, and got forward ever-so-slightly to win by a neck.  I caught myself loving Wildcat Red so much going into this race, but once again I let the fact that he’s by D’Wildcat give me pause.  He is by the Miner’s Mark mare Racene, and that dam-side stamina carried him nine furlongs better than I wanted to let myself expect.  Wildcat Red is one game horse.  General a Rod checked in third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Constitution.  The stretch run wasn’t a train wreck, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping to see.  I hoped he’d at least be able to fight head-bob for head-bob with Constititution and Wildcat Red, but it was clear pretty early in the stretch that the best the General was going to muster was third.

Constitution and Wildcat Red are in the Derby, barring any kind of injury between now and then.  General a Rod is hopefully good with the 40 points he has now, but it’s not a slam dunk yet.  Hopefully there will be just enough repeat winners and placers in the remaining preps to leave room in the gate, and hopefully this performance was either a one-shot regression or a question of learning to rate a little better.  I only hope it’s not a dislike for nine furlongs, since that little race in Kentucky is ten.

Fair Grounds

Crescent City Derby Stakes (three-year-olds, Louisiana-bred, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had Youve Got a Friend as my first choice, and Gold Appointment as my second.  Since he ran, Youve Got a Friend was my contest horse.

One of my choices ran away with this race; to the detriment of my contest performance, it was not my first-choice horse.  Gold Appointment, in his first race back from a maiden win, was just the live longshot I hoped to see.  His maiden win was his first attempt on the dirt, and he continued to show his love of dirt here.  He ran a bit differently than expected, though.  He had won his maiden race from a stalking place.  This time he broke alertly, shot to the lead, and left the field eating his dust.  Hot Zapper, the favourite, made enough of a closing run to finish eight lengths in front of the rest of the field, but that was still four lengths behind Gold Appointment.  Longshot Blue Forty Two, who along with Grand Isle was within a length or two of Gold Appointment early, held on for a well-beaten third, a dozen lengths back.

Youve Got a Friend, my primary choice for the race, did not get anywhere near the early speed.  That boded poorly for him, since he does his best from a stalking place.  He was right in the back of the pack early, and would have needed a big closing run to do anything in this race.  That’s clearly not his style.  He passed enough tiring horses to finish 6th beaten 19 1/4 lengths, but never seriously contended for the win, much less a spot on the board.

New Orleans Handicap (GII, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had Palace Malice as my first choice, Mister Marti Gras as my second choice, and Normandy Invasion as my third.  Mister Marti Gras scratched.  However, that didn’t change my contest horse; Palace Malice ran, so I had him.

As should be abundantly clear by now, Blinkers Off will never complain about throwing their lot in with Palace Malice.

I have already discussed this race here, so there’s no use repeating myself too much.  Palace Malice showed yet again that he’s up to run a big race on fairly short rest, and showed that he’s a true route horse.  Normandy Invasion may have been half a dozen lengths clear of the rest of the field, but Palace Malice hit his stride down the stretch and finished a widening 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Normandy Invasion.  He found another way to prove that he is a force to be reckoned with in the older dirt horse division this year.

Louisiana Derby (GII, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had In Trouble as my first choice, Intense Holiday as my second, and Vicar’s In Trouble as my third.  Since he raced, In Trouble was my contest horse.  The good news about this race was that horses in my group of selections filled out the exacta.  The bad news was that In Trouble was the horse left out in the cold.

Vicar’s In Trouble broke sharply, and contended with Louies Flower early for the lead.  Louies Flower faded, but the Vicar stayed on.  He never got too loose on the lead down the backstretch, but he was clearly the one who got to dictate the pace.  Rise Up, far back early, made it up within a length of him coming into the far turn, and In Trouble and Intense Holiday were in the mix there as well.  However, come the stretch, Vicar’s In Trouble pulled a few lengths in front, and no one seriously challenged late.  He crossed the wire 3 1/2 lengths in front of Intense Holiday, who drove well enough not to lose ground down the stretch — but couldn’t gain any, either.  Commanding Curve, last early, made up enough ground to pass the tiring field and come in third.  The early pace wasn’t fast enough to set up for a closer like him, but he at least showed that he could stand a chance in a route where pace does fall apart.

In Trouble, my top choice, had no answer to Vicar’s In Trouble.  He found a stalking place early, whih should have boded well, but ran a flat race with no clearly apparent excuse.  He faded off through the far turn, and crossed the wire fourth: 8 3/4 lengths behind Vicar’s In Trouble.  However, he had gone out into Albano on the backstretch, hard enough to disqualify him from fourth.  Albano, who had finished a length and a half behind In Trouble, was elevated to fourth, and given the ten Derby points.  In Trouble was placed fifth, for none.


Dubai World Cup (GI UAE, 2000 metres (about 1 ¼ miles) on the Tapeta)

In this race, Prince Bishop was my first choice, and Red Cadeaux was my second.  Since he raced, Prince Bishop was my contest horse.  This was my first time even attempting to handicap Dubai, I was very unfamiliar with the horses, and I didn’t feel like I had as much to go on as usual.  I liked Prince Bishop because he had experience with the Meydan course, and had run well in his preps.  I picked Red Cadeaux because he had run well in last year’s Dubai World Cup, and had shown from his performance in the Melbourne Cup that he could race well from a brutal post position.

It turns out my instinct to like horses who had raced at Meydan before wasn’t a terrible angle to take.  African Story, the victor, had raced almost exclusively at Meydan over the last few years; he had won the Godolphin Mile in 2012, and was fifth in the World Cup last year.  He got a nice stalking place, and overtook the frontrunning Mukhadram late.  I was also right that there may be some horses who overcame terrible post positions: both the second and the third place horses came from double-digit gates.  However, it was the horses on either side of Red Cadeaux, and not Red Cadeaux himself.  Mukhadram, breaking from the 13 gate, came here first off a layoff since October (and in his first career start on any surface other than turf!) to finish just 2 3/4 lengths behind African Story.  Cat O’Mountain, the third place horse, overcame the 15 gate; after three preps at Meydan (including a win at 1 3/8 miles in January) he closed big enough to finish third, seven lengths behind African Story.

Prince Bishop, who had been racing so well at Meydan, regressed.  He fell to last early despite the inner gate.  He closed well enough to finish 9th, but was no serious threat to the horses on the board.  Red Cadeaux, second-t0-last through most of the race, fared somewhat better.  He managed to make a move, and crossed the wire in 6th — just a length behind the third-place Cat O’Mountain.

What did I learn most from this race?  Pay a bit more attention to Meydan, because it’s going to come up in handicapping contests — and the betting payouts are juicy if you know what you’re doing!

UAE Derby (GII UAE, three-year-olds, 1900 metres (about 1 3/16 miles) on the Tapeta)

In this race, I was torn between Giovanni Boldini and Asmar.  I thought they both had decent chances to do well — Giovanni Boldini I thought was more likely to do better, though Asmar at a better price.  So, where the goal was to amass betting dollars I wanted Asmar, but where the goal was to amass Derby points I wanted Giovanni Boldini.  I ended up messing up royally here: thinking that @horseracing4beg’s contest was a points contest, I sent Giovanni Boldini as my primary pick, and Asmar my alternate.  Of course, that was in error — it’s a price contest, and I should have sent Asmar as my primary.

I paid for this dearly, of course.  Had I sent the right horse in, I’d be sitting on his nice little place payout instead of being squarely on the duck.

Toast of New York, the winner, had a great race.  I underestimate the surface factor with him; his only really bad race was on turf, and his last two times out were wins by double-digit lengths over the synthetic.  However, they were against maiden and allowance company, and at distances shorter than this.  He proved his mettle here.  He stalked the frontrunning Safety Check, got his neck in front about two furlongs from the finish, and powered to a 2 1/2 length victory over Asmar.  Asmar, my second choice in the race, was mid-pack early, but able to get into a stalking place.  He didn’t have as much late as Toast of New York did, but had enough staying power to finish second.  Emirates Flyer, at least, did about what I expected him to do.  He had no stakes victories but a ton of close seconds — and on that, I saw him as a good bet to hit the board but an awful bet to win.  He nosed out Giovanni Boldini for third.

Giovanni Boldini didn’t have the race hoped for, plain and simple.  He was very far back early, and didn’t really catch until the last five or six hundred meters.  He closed up ground decently enough once he got going, but still only managed to get within 3 3/4 lengths of the lead by the time the wire fell.  Whether it was the layoff or the synthetic surface, it wasn’t quite enough.