Handicapping Notebook


Todd Pletcher shipped UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie) to Churchill Downs to complete his final preparations for this year's Kentucky Derby (G1) on Monday. Last year's juvenile champion has settled down in his stall and will probably only have two timed workouts before the first Saturday in May.

Pletcher cautioned at the time that Uncle Mo will have to have 19 good days for him to enter the starting gate. In other words, he's on the grounds but everything will have to go perfectly for him to run. If there are any missteps, it looks like he won't enter.

While Uncle Mo might need 19 good days to be ready, I don't know if 19 days are enough time for us to finish our handicapping of this year's Run for the Roses. It's going to be that difficult. But, lucky for us, help is on the way.

Throughout the spring, Brisnet.com has had Kentucky Derby Ultimate Past Performances available for the leading contenders or the horses listed as starters in the three pools of future wagering. Right now, if you download the file under the heading "Kentucky Derby Only," you will get 53 pages of past performances of the horses that are still being pointed for the Triple Crown.

What I really like is that the 28 most likely Derby starters have been separated into one group. It makes it easy to makes comparisons of how horses have been working.

The first thing that sticks out is how evenly matched these horses are. Using any number of categories, very few horses have separated themselves from the pack and the pack is amazingly even and large.

When you look at the average of each horse's last three BRIS Speed ratings, DIALED IN (Mineshaft) has a 101 and SOLDAT (War Front) and Uncle Mo have 100 as their averages. The rest of the field is in the 90s. Each horse's BRIS Speed ratings are listed for their starts in the mud and only Soldat, PANTS ON FIRE (Jump Start) and TOBY'S CORNER (Bellamy Road) have any experience on it. It also lists the sires of each horse and how many starts their offspring have had on wet tracks and what the percentage of starters winning on it is.

The Kentucky Derby is the first time these horses are going to try 10 furlongs. The Race Summary page conveniently provides the average winning distance in furlongs of each horse's sire and damsire. Since nearly all races run in America are less than 10 furlongs, the average winning distance is much lower but anything over 7 furlongs is good and a number higher than 8 is a sure sign of stamina.

Running styles are always important and all the horses' early speed points are listed. The early speed points range from 1 to 8, with 1 being a one-dimensional closer and 8 being a stone-cold speed horse. What this year's field shows is an almost even distribution with very few 1s and 8s. Every running style is accounted for and there does not appear to any one running style that is more numerous than the others.

What the Race Summary page of this year's Kentucky Derby probable starters confirms is what we knew already -- this year's Derby is wide open.

One reason this year's Derby is still wide open is last weekend's Arkansas Derby (G1). The race was marred at the load when Dance City (City Zip) acted up behind the starting gate and took about six minutes to load into post 9. The horses on the inside already loaded and they had to wait patiently for the race to go. Even though The Factor (War Front) was 4-5 in the betting off his terrific win in the Rebel S. (G2) last out, you just had the feeling that it was not going to be his day.

From post 11, Cliff Berry sent J P's Gusto (Successful Appeal) to the front and he crossed over to the rail going into the first turn. Javier Castellano had Dance City away in good order and with J P's Gusto taking on the role of rabbit, Castellano moved him over onto The Factor and herded him over to the rail. At this point, The Factor was in third place and was forced to chase a very fast pace.

Martin Garcia moved him out three wide to stalk the fractions which were :22.54 and :46.53. Castellano carried The Factor even wider as Dance City raced far off the rail. The Factor went up to challenge going into the far turn but was quickly joined on his outside by Sway Away (Afleet Alex). With pressure on the outside, Garcia was forced to keep going with The Factor instead of waiting for the top of the stretch, and he finally paid the price for his early efforts and came up empty. After the race, there were reports that he flipped his palate during the race and his status for the Derby remains up in the air.

Sway Away continued his run around the far turn and took the lead at the top of the stretch. Dance City hung on grimly and Sway Away lugged in approaching the eighth pole and brushed with Dance City. While all this was going on, Jon Court had ARCHARCHARCH (Arch) in a big drive around the far turn and caught the leaders with about 100 yards to go. Just when it looked like Archarcharch was home free, here came Nehro (Mineshaft) with a dramatic late rally that fell a neck short.

Archarcharch earned a BRIS Speed rating of 99, which is a career best for him. Nehro replicated his second in the Louisiana Derby and has shown an ability to make up a lot of ground even when the track is speed favoring. With $1 million purses available in his last two starts, he has more than enough graded stakes earnings to be a starter this year which is pretty good considering he was only a maiden winner before his race in Louisiana.

from brisnet.com


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