FOUNDATION AND EXPERIENCE CLAIM THE DAY IN REBEL

FOUNDATION AND EXPERIENCE CLAIM THE DAY IN REBEL
Lukas Longshot Takes Charge Late – Stable Mate Holds Place

There is lots to look back on regarding Saturday’s Grade II Rebel Stakes from Oaklawn and even more to recount, but perhaps the best lead in would be…that’s horse racing.

Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas each had an uncoupled entry In the Rebel Stakes with Baffert sending out favored Super Ninety Nine and Den’s Legacy while Lukas saddled Oxbow and Will Take Charge. Based on his daylight victory in the slop over the same surface when he trounced the Grade III Southwest field by 11 lengths, Super Ninety Nine was sent off as the 6-5 favorite while Den’s Legacy left the gate at 14-1. As for the Lukas pair, based on two strong efforts at the Fair Grounds Oxbow was sent off as the 3.8-1 second favorite while Will Take Charge, who was beaten 18 lengths by Super Ninety Nine in the sloppy Southwest was ignored at 28-1 and came on strongly from about 5 lengths tracking lengths back at the 9/16ths pole with a sustained drive that saw him catch entry mate Oxbow in the last few jumps and return $58.00 while combining for a $275.80 Exacta.

As I said, that’s horse racing. Den’s Legacy outpaced his favored entry mate and Will Take Charge out-closed his well-regarded stable mate. However, it was the Lukas entry that ran one-two while the best Baffert could do was check in third with Den’s Legacy.

First off, we haven’t seen this kind of visibility regarding the 3-year old Kentucky Derby lineup from Hall Of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas in many a moon. Sure, he’s had a few runners that have pulled an upset or two on the Derby Trail but few if any have shown enough consistency to merit the attention that both Will Take Charge and Oxbow should now command. Nonetheless, knowing Lukas’s penchant for racing them into condition regardless of the previous outcomes, we are likely to see both 3-year olds in another prep before the Derby. Therefore it is worth reflecting on the fact that since 2005 Lukas has managed to get just 4 horses to Louisville on the first Saturday in May. However, running 1-2 in the Rebel are by far his most promising results since 2005

Here is how Lukas’ last 4 runners to make it to the Derby fared in their final two Derby preps and the Derby:

2012 – Optimizer – (3/17) 2nd in the Rebel Stakes at 28-1…(4/14) 9th in the Arkansas Derby at 5-1…11th in the Kentucky Derby.
2010 – Dublin – (3/13) 3rd in the Rebel as the 7-5 second choice…(4/10) 3rd in the Arkansas Derby at 5-2…7th in the Kentucky Derby.
2009 – Flying Private – (3/21) 2nd in the Lane’s End at Turfway at 25-1…(4/11) 5th in the Arkansas Derby at 13-1…Last of 20 in the Kentucky Derby
2005 – Going Wild – (4/9) 7th in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as the 5-2 second choice…(4/23) 5th in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland at 9-2…18th in the Kentucky Derby.

This means that there are two ways to look at the two Lukas runners. By the time (if they should) Oxbow and/or Will Take Charge reach the Kentucky Derby they will be cooked or given how much better they have performed in their preps, their foundation and confidence might have Lukas with live runner(s) for the first time in years.

Speaking Of Live Runners…Will The Recent Trend Of “Fresh” Horses Conquering The Derby Hold Out Again In 2013?

If it did nothing else, the Rebel Stakes gave hope to those connections that still believe there is a place for foundation and experience and stamina as a factor in performing well in the Kentucky Derby.

Both Will Take Charge and Oxbow went into the Rebel as well-seasoned runners. Will Take Charge was making his seventh career start and his fifth at a mile or longer. He had already faced graded company as a two-year old and finished second in the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park and won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn. Runner-up Oxbow was making his eight career start that already included three races at a mile and seventy yards or longer that includes a win in the Grade III Lecomte and a tough trip quarter-length beaten fourth in the Grade II Risen Star.

Even third place finisher Den’s Legacy, who ran a good race along the rail entered with a resume of ten starts, with six coming at a mile or longer. The Bob Baffert trainee has now hit the board in five straight graded stakes and has shown no signs of slowing down. In a side note, in years past he would certainly have earned enough graded stakes money to qualify for the Kentucky derby, but with the new points system his second and third place finishes might not afford him enough to become qualified.

Favored Super Ninety Nine certainly has had enough foundation, with five races heading in, but as a speed horse he either didn’t respond from a tough cross over trip from the outside (if not, why did Oxbow race so well from just inside him?) or didn’t like the fast surface after freaking in the slop in the Grade 3 Southwest over the same oval 4 weeks earlier.

As for the lightly raced horses, Todd Pletcher’s Delhomme was dreadful in his three-year old debut following a successful three race juvenile campaign that saw him break his maiden in start number two and finish third in the Grade II Remsen Stakes and neither Carve or Treasury Bill, both lightly raced, had anything to offer.

I only mention this in order to suggest that there are a multitude of reflections that must be considered when delving through the entire Derby Prep scheme of things, but given the fact that for at least 5 decades Derby starters who didn’t run at least three sophomore races prior to their Run For the Roses fared very poorly before Street Sense broke the trend by winning with only a pair of races in 2007. That feat seemed to break the ice with a number of conditioners as after only a single Derby winner with less than three prep races in over twenty five years (Sunny’s Halo in 1983…although he ran eight times as a juvenile) the last six Derby winners have had only two 3-year old preps…and if you include Barbaro’s first of three Derby preps in 2006 coming on New Year’s Day you could make it seven years in a row.

Of course there are many factors that could play into this. After all, as the breeding lines become thinner and thinner with 5 by 5 and 4 by 5 in breeding, young horses are a lot more fragile and collectively the entire group is lightly raced. But those kinds of training trends have always been made to be broken so who knows if the better conditioned runners will hold sway this year. In addition to the aforementioned Rebel Stakes, the recent Gotham also favored more recently seasoned runners as Vyjack, (longshot) West Hills Giant and plodder Siete D’Oro finished in front of the well regarded and favored Overanalyze, who was making his sophomore debut. Again, none of this in any way declares a reversal of the recent trend, but it does make one want to carefully reflect.

Next Two Weekends Will Tell Us Much More

We’ll be able to measure the more seasoned vs the less seasoned three-year olds much more closely and get a better idea if trainers are beginning a reverse trend over the course of the next two weekends with a loaded Derby Prep Lineup.

Saturday 3/23 – Spiral Stakes – Turfway Park…2011 Derby Winner Animal Kingdom exited the Spiral
Sunday 3/24 – Sunland Derby – Sunland Park…2009 Derby Longshot Winner Mine That Bird ran in this race.
Saturday 3/30 – Florida Derby – Gulfstream Park…2010 Kentucky Derby runner up won this race as did 2008 and 2006 Kentucky Derby winners Bog Brown and Barbaro respectively>
Saturday 3/30 – Louisiana Derby – Fair Grounds…While not many of this prep’s graduates have fared well, Mucho Macho Man did run third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and this race always draws a deep and competitive field.
Saturday 3/30 – United Arab Emirates Derby – Meyden Race Course – After a number of tries, most European based outfits, particularly those of Darley Stables, Godolphin (Saeed bin Suroor), Shadwell and Coolmore (Aiden O’Brien) have seemed to shy away from the Derby to the desert trek in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that one of this year’s graduates won’t make the attempt, and the race itself always draws a full field and deep contention.

So make sure to keep it right here on these pages…check back this Friday for the Spiral Stakes and Sunland Derby previews.

GULFSTREAM MEET SAVES ITS BEST FOR THE HOME STRETCH

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs.com

The Gulfstream Park meet almost over as we are approaching the centerpiece of the South Florida season - Florida Derby Day - on Saturday, March 30.  There are still three great weeks of racing left in the marquee East Coast winter meet, and we have seen more than enough racing by now to give us plenty of valuable information to provide for a profitable home stretch at the Gulfstream meet on Florida Derby Day and beyond.

This season, there will be one week of the Gulfstream Park meet remaining after the Florida Derby, but instead of an anti-climax, it looks as though that final week will be highly anticipated thanks to the Rainbow 6 - Gulfstream's jackpot version of the Pick 6 - which has built up another big carryover of $898,574 as of March 20.

The Rainbow 6 is a 10-cent Pick 6 jackpot that can only be hit by a single winner, and has already been hit once earlier this season for in excess of $3.5 million. If there is more than one winning ticket on any day, the jackpot carries over. At this stage of the season, the pot is likely to carry over to the final day of the meet. By then, the carryover should be back up to around $2 million, and with a mandatory payout at the end of the season, another $4 million could be bet into the pool on closing day making for a $6 million Pick 6 gold rush on 10-cent tickets on April 7.

And so, there is still plenty to look forward to in the waning days of the Gulfstream meet, and still so much good racing and wagering to shoot for.

Gulfstream offers the East's top winter stakes program, headlined by Florida Derby Day and its 6 graded stakes races including the featured Grade 1, $1,00,000 Florida Derby, which will be the final Kentucky Derby prep race for several promising Derby hopefuls. The Florida Derby will top a star-studded card that will also include renewals of the G2- Gulfstream Oaks, the G3-Skip Away Stakes for older horses, the G3 Rampart Stakes for older fillies & mares, the G3 Orchid for female turfers going 1 1/2 miles, as well as the Grade 3 Appleton Stakes at a mile on the grass.

Needless to say, the Florida Derby remains one of the most important stepping stones on the road to the Kentucky Derby now more than ever. In the decade of the 2000s, three Florida Derby winners went on to win the Kentucky Derby including 2001 winner Monarchos, 2006 winner Barbaro, and 2008 champion Big Brown.

Last year, Florida Derby horses didn't make much of an impact in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but Union Rags did go on to win the Belmont Stakes after disappointing on the first Saturday in May. Two years ago, Shackleford came out of the Florida Derby to run a respectable fourth in the Kentucky Derby before going on to take the Preakness two weeks later. Three years ago, Nick Zito's Ice Box exited the Florida Derby to finish second in a tough-luck trip in his next start in the Kentucky Derby

This year, a star-studded field of 3-year-olds is probable for the 2013 running of the Florida Derby. The lineup will include Itsmyluckyday, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes, Orb, the winner of the Fountain of Youth, 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby, who was second in the Fountain of Youth, Revolutionary, winner of the G3 Withers at Aqueduct, plus other solid contenders including Bern Identity, Frac Daddy, Speak Logistics, and Swale Stakes winner Clearly Now.

Itsmyluckyday, trained by Eddie Plesa, will be the horse to beat coming off back-to-back stakes wins at Gulfstream including the Gulfstream Park Derby to start the season. He owns five wins - four in stakes - and already has victories over Shanghai Bobby and Clearly Now. His main competition should come from Revolutionary, Todd Pletcher's flashy contender who is loaded with potential and overcame a horrific trip to win last time at Aqueduct.

After the Florida Derby, as mentioned, the focus at Gulfstream meet will likely turn to the last big event of the meet - the conclusion of the Rainbow 6 pick 6 bet, scheduled either for the final day (perhaps more likely to be moved to the final Saturday of the meet, on April 6). Hopefully the party won't be ruined between now and then by someone hitting the jackpot carryover. If not, that bet will attract more national attention than anything else from now until Derby Day.

Any big day of racing - whether it be Florida Derby Day or taking a big shot at the Rainbow 6 payout - is always a lot better from a horseplayer's point of view when you are winning races and cashing tickets, and the best way to accomplish that task is to carefully comb the past performances for trainer angles and to pay attention to certain other meet-specific handicapping tips that have proven themselves to be profitable. At Gulfstream this includes running-style and post position biases that tend to prevail on a fairly consistent basis dating all the way back to 2005 when the main track was reconfigured to its current mile-and-an-eighth layout.

Here are some Gulfstream handicapping tips, not only to help you win on Florida Derby Day and in the end-of-the-meet Rainbow 6, but also to come in handy for every other day the rest of the Gulfstream meet.

GULFSTREAM PREVAILING BIASES AND TRACK TRENDS

In Gulfstream dirt races, the prevailing track bias tends to favor horses with early speed, or at least tactical speed, at all distances. Stalkers and mid-pack horses sometimes run well, but deep closers are generally not the best plays at Gulfstream Park, except on days when a temporary bias may help out closers and work against speed.

Since deep closers generally don't do well on this main track, and inside posts and rail-skimming trips are usually not an advantage, the two prevailing track biases on Gulfstream Park's main track are, 1) Gulfstream's dirt track favors horses with speed and tactical speed, and; 2) Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts - except for, perhaps, the rail post #1.

Much to the adulation of both horsemen and bettors this season, Gulfstream added the 1 1/16-mile distance on the main track two years ago. The distance has been a giant success, and has greatly increased the number of two-turn races being run at Gulfstream the past two seasons. Just by utilizing a new alternate finish line further up the stretch, Gulfstream has been able to card this distance that has been overlooked for the first six years since the track was re-configured by Frank Stronach.

The 1 1/16-mile route distance plays much like the 1/18-mile route races play, except there is slightly less emphasis on the need for inside posts at 1 1/16 miles. Also, front-runners and pace pressures do better at 1 1/16 miles than at 1 1/8 miles, where the closers have more of a stretch run to work with.

Beyond just the prevailing biases, don't overlook those important daily track biases when handicapping Gulfstream, which can be filled with a variety of track biases that end up affecting the outcomes of the races in several different ways. Keeping track of biases can lead you to some interesting overlays that offer good value, while at the same time helping you steer clear of horses that have been aided by track biases in recent good efforts. Handicappers should not underestimate the impact that these biases can have on the race results. This bias information can be invaluable when it comes to evaluating the relative strength or weakness of the contenders in future races in cases where horses are exiting races where they ran with, or against, a noticeable track bias.

Below are my personal main track bias notes for Gulfstream Park's 2012-13 season, up through March 17:

Gulfstream Track Biases, 2012-13 Meet
Mar. 8 - Speed bias
Mar. 7 - Speed bias
Mar. 6 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Mar. 2 - Anti-speed advantage
Mar. 1 - Speed bias
Feb. 24 - Front-end bias; had to be on or close to the pace
Feb. 21 - Prevailing outside bias
Feb. 18 - Off the pace advantage
Feb. 17 - Had to be on or close to the pace and off the inside
Feb. 16 - Helped to be on or close to the pace on a sloppy track
Feb. 15 - Outside bias on sloppy track
Feb. 14 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Feb. 3 - Rail horse won 4 of 6 dirt races
Feb. 2 - Speed good, helped to be on or close to the pace
Feb. 1 - Helped to be on or close and off the inside
Jan. 30 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Jan. 26 - Anti-speed advantage
Jan. 20 - Speed bias on good drying out track
Jan. 12 - Outside rally wide trips preferred
Jan. 10 - Had to be on or close
Jan. 1 - Had to be on or close to the pace
Dec. 15 - Inside bias; had to be on or close on fast-to-good track
Dec. 9 - Outside advantage

The other primary Gulfstream prevailing track bias revolves around post positions.  Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside posts and paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts.  When you are stuck between two or more contenders in a race and can't make up your mind based on any other information, let these two rules be your guide to making your final decision and you probably will seldom go wrong.  This particularly pertains to all horses breaking from the rail post position in longer Gulfstream sprints from 7F to one mile, and to horses breaking outside post 6 in two-turn dirt routes.

In the Gulfstream one-turn races on the main track, the overall post position win percentages this season don't show as big of a preference toward outside posts and against inside posts as in past years, but nevertheless, when just longer one-turn races between 7F and 1 mile are considered, the outside posts and especially outside running paths are still the places to be. The inside, and the rail in particular, isn't that bad at 6 furlongs, but inside paths get worse and worse as the sprint distances increase to 7 furlongs, 7 ½ furlongs, and one mile.

GULFSTREAM TURF TRENDS

Interestingly, unlike in Gulfstream's two-turn dirt races, outside post positions have never been much of a detriment for horses in two-turn turf races. This is opposite to the way most tracks play where inside draws are key factors in winning turf routes. This year's turf route post position figures have shown a good favoritism towards inside posts 2-3, however, more often than not at it is running style - not post draw - that has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn.

On the grass, in terms of biases, it is always very difficult for horses to go wire-to-wire at Gulfstream. For whatever reason, the Gulfstream grass course almost always favors stalkers or closers, or perhaps even pressers, and this has been the case consistently since the track changed configurations in 2005.  However, this is not to say that speed horses and early pace horses cannot win at Gulfstream. There are three instances when pace horses tend to perform well on these GP turf courses: 1) The horse is the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) The horse has a large class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) When the turf rails are moved out from the hedge - the farther the better.

Gulfstream Park possesses much less of an inside favoritism than most other turf courses - in part because speed is certainly not a big asset here as opposed to off-the-pace moves that seem to work the best on the Gulfstream green (except in cases when the turf rail is moved far out from the hedge).

In Gulfstream's increasing number of short turf sprints the inside posts are no advantage, and if anything have proven to be a disadvantage at this season's race meet. The two inside posts 1-2 have amassed winning percentages of only 10% and 6% in 5 furlong turf sprints.  In those races, the preferred gates have been posts 5-6 in particular, with both of those berths winning at 15% and 16% win percentages, respectively.

SUMMARY

All the handicapping angles in this article are for a horseplayer's general information and are intended to help bettors identify which of their selections might be in a better position to perform optimally, as opposed to others that may not be in quite as good of a situation due to either their running style, their post position, and whether or not their recent past performances were earned with or against the help of any track biases.

Good luck on Florida Derby Day, and throughout the last three weeks of the Gulfstream meet. I hope you enjoy a profitable homestretch of action at Gulfstream Park.
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