Picks and Ponderings: 2015 Kentucky Derby Preview

Historically, Picks and Ponderings has done a point-counterpoint for the Kentucky Derby, with Paul Mazur and Chris Hernandez duking it out over the Derby field.  However, since I joined Picks and Ponderings in the time since the last Derby, that point-counterpoint has become a roundtable.

A few horses we agree on.  Others, less so.  However, a field as contentious as the Derby provides fertile ground for a friendly little argument.

In our Derby preview, the three of us have our say on every horse in the field as well as provide our selections for who looks best set to take home the roses on Saturday afternoon.  Head on over there, see who we like, and leave us a comment if you have anything to say!

Also, if the fillies are more your thing, or you are still handicapping Friday?  We have also taken a dive into both the Kentucky Oaks and the La Troienne, the pair of Grade I races set for Churchill Downs on Friday.  Make sure to read our previews, and let us know what you think!

Keen Ice: he’s in!

I have been following Keen Ice since before he debuted.  He finished fourth in his first race, a five and a half furlong maiden race at Ellis.  He was well-beaten that day, and starting to run late.  I hardly worried, though.  Curlin babies tend to develop with age, and five and a half furlongs seemed far too short given both sides of his pedigree.

Keen Ice wowed me on September 6.  That day he stretched to a mile, and looked hopeless turning for home.  Starbound and Tiznow R J had pulled so far in front that they were in a race of their own.  Keen Ice finally figured out that it was time to go — and go, he did!  He motored home to nail them just in time.  Welcome to my Derby radar, Keen Ice.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 11 postmortem

Another week, more tough cookies.

Two of my horses raced last weekend.  One of them looked, at least from my handicapping perspective, like he would bring some points.  One I did not like given the field, but I sat back and hoped for the best.

Neither hit the board.

However, a once-familiar face did.  Frosted, who I drafted first overall.  Frosted, who went from “sure winner of the Fountain of Youth” to “surely off the Derby trail” in the matter of a moment.  Frosted, who Kieran McLaughlin figured out how to get right and get to the winner’s circle in the Wood.  The Derby remains a question, since his best efforts have come from the Big A so far.  No matter what, his dominance of the Wood made me look a little silly, and my decision seem a bit questionable.  I stand by it, since horse racing is a game of opinions; I disliked his Fountain of Youth enough that I decided he had to go.  It may have been rash, but I can do nothing about it now.

Here is hoping none of my other decisions end up being as questionable as that one.  To be fair, there is very little in the way of decision making that can happen in the short term; the next claiming day is just before the Derby.  At this point, I wait to see which horses are pointing toward points races, be they Classics or others.

With that known, let’s check in with my stable.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 10 postmortem

All season, I have had a problem with most of my horses actually getting into the gate for fantasy stable points races.  Last week, I finally had something that qualified as a big week.  Four of my eight horses saw the starter: Ami’s Flatter in the Florida Derby, Ekati’s Phaeton in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, and both Keen Ice and St. Joe Bay in the Louisiana Derby.

Out of those four, just one actually hit the board.

This week, two of my horses will be racing in points races.  A third, who I had claimed because he was possible for the Wood or the Blue Grass, had been scheduled to race Friday at Keeneland: though not in a points race, and the race itself was cancelled due to inclement weather.

At this point, there is not another claiming day until April 27.  I am set with who I have, and hopefully there will be a big claiming move to make before Derby day.  Between now and then, though, it looks like slim pickings for my stable.

With that said, let’s visit with my horses.

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final preps for a pair of Curlin babies

The weekend was a busy one for racing in general, and it was no exception for the sons and daughters of Curlin.  A pair of Curlin babies tried to take another step toward the Classics on March 28, and their roads took them both through the Big Easy.

Danette (Sugar Britches, by Dixieland Band)  scratched out of a maiden special weight at Santa Anita to instead ship east and try New Orleans on for size.  She remains a maiden, but had proven her class before.  She was third in the Chandelier (GI) at Santa Anita last fall, and finished a late-running fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on a day with a fairly strong speed bias.  Though the race looked less than auspicious to start, she hardly disgraced herself with her performance in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).

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2015 fantasy stable: week 9 postmortem

Last week was yet another claiming week in the Derbyologist Triple Crown Fantasy League.  Again, I had some thinking to do.

Instant Replay was quite an easy toss; as much as I liked his Oaklawn allowance win, his spotty presence on the worktab and his failure to turn up in either the Southwest or the Rebel meant I needed to move on and find someone else to take the spot he had occupied since the first claiming period.

Other decisions required a bit more thought.  I had spent the biggest chunk of my claiming budget to date (a whole $37!) on Kentuckian, and he was back to burning up the worktab at Golden Gate, but his connections had made it quite clear that he was heading to an allowance next.  That left precious little time for him to point to a stakes race during the term of the league; asking him to win an allowance race and then ship east for a points race seemed like more than The Dorf was likely to do with him between now and June.  The 7.4% of my season’s budget I spent on Kentuckian was a sunk cost, and I was not going to gain anything by keeping him there instead of looking for a horse more likely to be in a points race.  Where’s the Moon also found himself on the chopping block, albeit for different reasons.  I claimed him specifically because he had won the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland, and had a shot to hit the board in the Sunland Derby (GIII).  He did as much as I could expect him to do; he won the race for second behind Firing Line.  He is a solid Sunland horse, but his class is questionable to take him any further down the Derby trail.  With some more class-proven horses still available, I had to do the same thing with Where’s the Moon as I had to with Kentuckian: turn an eye toward the future.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 8 postmortem

The last two weeks of fantasy stable action have brought us back to a familiar refrain: a significant lack of on-track action by my horses.

Among the horses in my stable entering that claiming period, only three of my horses were clear keepers.  Keen Ice has been actively training for the Louisiana Derby, and the longer races for which he is best suited still lie ahead.  Ekati’s Phaeton has punched her ticket to the Kentucky Oaks, and though distance limitations remain a possibility, her gameness and her affinity for the Gulfstream track make her a must-keep.  Ami’s Flatter improved with blinkers and Lasix in the Tampa Bay Derby last out, and could threaten in another prep down the road.

The rest of my stable was on the chopping block leading into the March 9 claim.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 6 postmortem

Last week was a quiet one for my stable.  Curlin’s Fox had been entered in the Santa Ysabel (GIII), but she scratched.  Instead, she is staying on the grass, and appearing this coming Saturday in the China Doll.  That race is a strong spot for her, since she should love the added distance, but a suboptimal placement as far as the fantasy league is concerned.

This week is full of Derby and Oaks preps, with a total of four points races slated for Saturday.  Unfortunately, out of all of those races, my stable has a grand total of one horse drawn into any of those.  With that, this weekend should end up being more about watching and identifying promising runners to draft this coming Monday than it likely will be about making much headway on the leaderboard.  Fortunately, I have $497 of my $500 claiming budget remaining, but I will likely have to make some more aggressive moves soon if I want to improve the prognosis for my stable.

Without further ado, let’s check in with my stable.  Very little happened this week, so this update will be a short one.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 5 postmortem

This weekend featured some exciting races, some disappointment, and a bumper crop of draft anxiety.

Three of my horses raced over the course of the weekend.  One of them, Ekati’s Phaeton, sprung a wire-to-wire surprise that netted my stable a healthy injection of points.  Another, Keen Ice, bolstered the cause.  A third, Frosted, looked like an easy eight points turning for home in the Fountain of Youth…but sputtered and finished fourth.

Going into the last claim, I was left with some tough decisions.

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Keen Ice, with another step down the trail…

Keen Ice made his three-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII) last month.  It was his first race since finishing third in the Remsen on November 29.  He crossed the wire fifth, ten and a half lengths behind Upstart.  He did show some signs of life in that race: he was the only one who actually kept pace with Upstart in that final sixteenth, suggesting he returned at three with his desire to go a route of ground fully intact.

Instead of staying at notoriously speed-friendly Gulfstream, Keen Ice shipped out to Fair Grounds to give the Risen Star (GII) a try.  The race had been on the radar since before the decision to go to the Fountain of Youth, something that instilled some confidence.  Even with the scratch of J S Bach, there was still some speed on paper: Hero of Humor, St. Joe Bay, Big Big Easy, and Tiznow R J had shown some tendency to send in previous races, suggesting that Keen Ice would have something at which to run late.  Though the concern remained that the race would be too short for Keen Ice, that issue would exist no matter where Keen Ice turned back up on the Derby trail.

In the balance, the Risen Star looked like an eminently logical spot.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 4 postmortem

With as many Derby and Oaks preps as are on the horizon for this weekend, there is some action on the horizon.  Unfortunately, there is a bit less action than I hoped there would be: with six points races on the schedule, I have a grand total of three horses drawn into a race this weekend.

Once I see what happens this weekend, big decisions await.  The second claiming date is February 23.  My stable has had a slow start so far, and if most or all of my runners over the weekend fail to fire, this will be a particularly critical draft.  It is still early enough in the prep season that it is feasible to get in on the ground floor with a runner without blowing my entire claiming budget…though it will require some luck both in spotting such runners and in not getting outbid for them.  With several horses looking questionable at best after disappointing performances, there may be some changes afoot after this week’s preps conclude.

Without further ado, let’s check in with my stable.

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2015 fantasy stable: week 3 postmortem

After the claims, this week was a mostly quiet week for my fantasy stable.  It was quiet in the sense that most of my horses did not race…and also quiet in the sense that the one horse who did run crossed the wire not with a bang, but with a whimper.  Most of the horses who did not race at least returned to the worktab.  This week contains a bit more watching worktabs and nomination lists than bracing for races, but with another claiming day on February 23, I remain on the lookout for the upside in my current horses…as well as potential additions to make.

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2015 fantasy stable: claim 1 postmortem

The second week of the Derbyologist Triple Crown Fantasy League has come to an end, and the first claiming deadline has passed.  It has been a busy few days.

The only points races this week were the Las Virgenes and the Martha Washington, neither of which featured any of my horses.  Ami’s Flatter raced in the Sam F. Davis (GIII), which was not a points race.  It was not an earth-shattering performance, but it also was not the sort of disaster that would get me to turn on him, especially given that it was only his third start.

From the perspective of who to keep versus who to release, I had to figure out who had a chance in Triple Crown or Oaks Prep races going forward, versus who would not likely score me points.  Read More »

2015 fantasy stable: week 1 postmortem

Week 1 of this year’s Derbyologist Triple Crown Fantasy League is in the books, and there have been a few more downs than ups so far.

Five of my horses ran this week, four in points races.  The week started with Lucky Player in the Smarty Jones: a race with no fantasy points at stake, but which served as the beginning of the Oaklawn series of Kentucky Derby preps.  Then, four of my horses raced in points races at Gulfstream over the weekend: Frosted and Keen Ice in the Holy Bull (GII), and By the Moon and Ekati’s Phaeton in the Forward Gal.

Among those five runners, just one of them even hit the board.

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Picks and Ponderings: 2015 Holy Bull Day Stakes Preview

The Derby and Oaks Trails fly south for the weekend, as the first of Gulfstream’s official prep races are run this Saturday.  Kentucky Derby points are at stake in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII); the fillies vie for Oaks points in the Forward Gal (GII).  Three other stakes races, all restricted to three-year-olds, appear on the card as well.  Sprinting colts take the spotlight in the Hutcheson (GIII), grass fillies run the Sweetest Chant (GIII), and the turf males have a counterpart in the Kitten’s Joy to round out the card.  All in all, Gulfstream’s Saturday card promises a competitive day of racing.

Picks and Ponderings is there with selections and analysis for all five of those races.  I looked at the three colts’ races: the Holy Bull, the Hutcheson, and the Kitten’s Joy.  Paul Mazur analysed the fillies’ races: the Forward Gal and the Sweetest Chant.

For those who follow a couple of particular spots of interest, the card holds a few points of interest.  For fans of the Curlin babies, the Holy Bull features one of his most promising three-year-old sons: Keen Ice, who starts for the first time since his late-running third in the Remsen (GII).  For followers of Illinois-bred runners, two-time Hawthorne stakes winner Dom the Bomb tries open stakes company for the first time this weekend.  He is currently cross-entered in the Holy Bull and the Hutcheson, though the Hutcheson looks more likely at this point.