Prepping For The Derby - The Wood & Santa Anita Derby

PREPPING FOR THE DERBY - 2014

Volume V...Number 14
Monday, April 7, 2014


PUNDITS DECLARE CALIFORNIA CHROME KENTUCKY DERBY FAVORITE AND HORSE TO BEAT - WOOD MEMORIAL WINNER WICKED STRONG CONSIDERED ONE MORE EMERGING CONTENDER...NATURALLY WE SAY, HOLD ON A MINUTE

California Chrome Turns Santa Anita Derby Into One Horse Race

This past Saturday a few more pieces were placed into the 2014 Kentucky Derby jigsaw puzzle and the biggest, brightest and squared off edged piece of all is the brilliant colt California Chrome.

Anyone who watched the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday probably doesn't even need to go to the numbers...the eye-ball conclusion of his dominant victory over a number of legitimate contenders had to leave a vivid impression.

When he began his 3-year old career in the mile and a sixteenth furlong career in the restricted Cal Cup Derby on January he was sent off well-regarded at 5-2 following a 6 ¼ length win in the 7 furlong restricted King Glorious Stakes over the Hollywood synthetic on 12/22. In the Cal Cup he tracked the early pace in third, moved 3 wide when asked and easily vanquished his 9 rivals in an impressive display of speed once he took control off the final turn. Despite the fact that there were a number of analysts that still questioned whether he could do it again, especially facing open company in the Grade II San Felipe, he was sent off as the 7-5 favorite and was ridden out in wire-to-wire fashion, triumphing by 7 ½ lengths.

After the San Felipe performance the band-wagon grew (we've had him in the Top Spot on our Derby Contender Top 10 since the day after the San Felipe) and he answered the challenge with another dominant win as he obviously left contenders Hopportunity (last out Rebel Stakes winner) and Candy Boy (last out Robert B Lewis winner) in his wake as tie prohibitive 7-10 favorite. And if a burnishing of his reputation was needed he won off by 5 ¼ lengths after getting off to a slow start and getting crowded and bumped a bit in the early going before Victor Espinoza gave him his head after the aggressive colt began pulling to get to the lead entering the far turn. Just that quickly the son of Lucky Pulpit made it a one horse race.

There is little doubt that anything will happen in either the Grade I Arkansas Derby or Grade I Blue Grass Stakes this Saturday or anything short of an injury that takes him out of the running could change California Chrome's status as Kentucky Derby favorite.

So the question becomes, has California Chrome been so dominant that he eliminates much of the drama usually built up around the Kentucky Derby contenders? Perhaps. But as we'll speculate below, nothing is ever that easy.

Wicked Strong Reverses Form...Upsets Wood Memorial

On Saturday at Aqueduct the stage was set. Well-regarded New York breds Samraat and Uncle Sigh, who had done valiant battle in their own Affirmed and Alydar battles with Samraat winning both the Grade III Withers and Grade II Gotham by the smallest of margins over Uncle Sigh set to resume their rivalry with emerging colt of the day Social Inclusion, off a pair of romps at Gulfstream Park, the latest almost equaling the track record for the distance expected by many to knock off the pair. Of course "they" forgot to tell Wicked Strong.

Wicked Strong's trainer James Jerkens was high on his colt leading into the Wood. Of course if one was to bet every horse that a trainer is high on, the word bankroll would have vanished from the lexicon long ago. Nonetheless, Jerkens said that the son of Hard Spun out of the Charismatic (Derby winner) mare Moyne Abbey (a multiple stakes winner) hadn't come close to approaching his top and that in his last race, a three wide closing fourth in an allowance race at Gulfstream won by subsequent Florida Derby winner Constitution, his charge never had a chance to run his race over the speed favoring surface.

However, as well as the colt was working at Palm Meadows following the February 22 allowance race he still entered the Wood Memorial with only one career win and as the legitimate 9-1 he went off as.

Based on what the past performances of the participants indicated the race got off to an unsuspected start when Uncle Sigh had a staggered early start that left him in an uncustomary position at the back of the pack and Samraat being schooled a bit was taken off the pace set by the 8-5 favorite Social Inclusion, who rocketed to the lead from the far outside and longshot Schivarelli. As those two continued to battle, Samraat joined the fray in mid-stretch while Uncle Sigh was forced 4 wide on both turns after his tardy beginning and never joined the battle.

As the three continued to contend for position at the furlong market Wicked Strong began to resolutely move up on the outside. The colt had been kindly rated on the inside around both turns by jockey Rajiv Maragh and once the late running began he pulled away with a final 3 furlongs in a good :37 2/5 over what should probably described as a glib surface.

So now the question that needs to be answered is whether or not Wicked Strong beat good opponents in the Wood Memorial in Samraat, who battle back to edge Social Inclusion for the place and the unfortunate Uncle Sigh or the group itself is a cut below many of the other top contenders that will emerge out of different preps. Perhaps the best answer for that is to view the Wood Memorial itself and how it has played as an influential or non-influential prep in recent years. That we shall also discuss below.

The Santa Anita Derby And Wood Memorial...How Have They Played On Derby Day

It is obvious to say, but nonetheless worth beginning with, that the single most difficult dimension of handicapping the Kentucky Derby is how to evaluate what each and every one of the important final Derby prep races run by the contenders tells us.

Beyond attempting to decipher the mind of the trainer and how each race was used, one has to approximate the overall competing talent in each race.
Taking Saturday's Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial for instance a number of assumptions could be considered.

In the Santa Anita Derby for instance, Hopportunity and Candy Boy likely entered the race with two distinctly different goals. Hopportunity's win in the Rebel Stakes in his previous effort had given him more than enough qualifying points for Kentucky Derby inclusion so his connections didn't need to go all out to win the race and had the option of using it as a true final work that left something in the tank for Louisville. On the other hand Candy Boy was much in need of points and that might have led to him being shoved on early to keep pace with the speed. It was a necessary tactic that might have left him wobbly-legged in the late going as he dropped back to a well-beaten third.

In New York there was little doubt that Wicked Strong, who had but 2 points entering the Wood needed a win (100 points) or at least a second place finish (40 points) to have any chance of moving forward to Louisville. Likewise Social Inclusion, who was pointless and in need of a win or second probably explained his gun-to-the-lead move from his far outside 10 post. Wicked Strong could wind up having now run his top which could cause him to bounce on Derby day whereas Social Inclusion's 20 points gathered from his third place finish leaves him on the outside looking in. On the other hand, it could be argued that Samraat got the most of all of them in the Wood. He already had more than enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby and the way he rated early on could have been a directed schooling in which trainer Richard Violette and jockey Jose Ortiz used the race as a true prep. It is encouraging that the colt dug in gamely to poke a head in front of Social Inclusion in the final strides while not being pressured so much that he left it on the track in attempting to match the late ruin of Wicked Strong.

That being said there is one more way to evaluate the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial and their impact as the final prep leading into the Kentucky Derby.

With that in mind...let's go to the "Past Performances."

Below are the performances of the horses that made their final prep in the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial and how they fared in the Kentucky Derby. Taking into consideration that in creating a Derby contender short list come wagering time it is just as important to have legitimate reasons to exclude horses as include them we've put together the following.

The data below includes the last 10 Santa Anita Derbies and Wood Memorials. We've listed all those horses that ran in each of the final preps and in the Kentucky Derby, where they finished in the prep and where they finished and at what odds in the Kentucky Derby.

SANTA ANITA DERBY

  • 2013
    Golden Cents - 1st...17th (8-1)
  • 2012
    I'll Have Another - 1st...1st (15-1)
    Creative Cause - 2nd...5th (12-1)
    Liaison - 6th...6th (54-1)
  • 2011
    Midnight Interlude - 1st...16th (10-1)
    Comma To the Top - 2nd...19th (36-1)
  • 2010
    Lookin At Lucky - 3rd...6th (6-1)
    Sidney's Candy - 1st...17th...(9-1)
  • 2009
    Pioneerof The Nile - 1st...2nd (6-1)
    Chocolate Candy - 2nd...5th (10-1)
    Mr. Hot Stuff - 3rd...15th (28-1)
  • 2008
    Colonel John - 1st...6th (9-2)
    Bob Black Jack - 2nd...16th (29-1)
  • 2007
    Tiago - 1st...7th (15-1)
    Sam P. 3rd...9th (44-1)
    Liquidity - 4th...14th (40-1)
    Bwana Bull - 5th...15th (50-1)
  • 2006
    Brother Derek - 1st...DH 4th (8-1)
    Point Determined - 2nd...9th (9-1)
    A.P. Warrior - 3rd...18th (14-1
  • 2005
    Giacomo - 4th...1st (50-1)
    Buzzard's Bay - 1st...5th (46-1)
    Wilko - 3rd...6th (22-1)
  • 2004
    Imperialism - 2nd...3rd (11-1)
    Castledale - 1st...14th (22-1)

KEY NOTES:

  • Two of the last ten Kentucky Derby winners have exited the Santa Anita Derby
  • The two winners, I'll Have Another and Giacomo were each resolute closers who duplicated that form in the Derby.
  • Conversely, those Santa Anita Derby winners and placed horse who were resolute speed horses fared poorly in the Kentucky Derby, among them, Goldencents, Comma To The Top, Sidney's Candy, Bob Black Jack, Sam P., Brother Derek and Buzzard's Bay. Only Pioneerof The Nile (second in the Derby in 2009) carried his speed.
  • This last NOTE might give one pause as to automatically jumping on the "speedy" California Chrome's "unquestioned" Derby favoritism.
  • The total past performance for the Santa Anita Derby produced...2 winners, 1 second, 1 third and 1 fourth from 25 starters. The average finish was a little over ninth and the average off-odds were 23-1.


WOOD MEMORIAL

  • 2013
    Normandy Invasion - 2nd...4th (9-1)
    Verrazano - 1st...14th (9-1)
    Vyjack - 3rd...18th (19-1)
  • 2012
    Alpha - 2nd...12th (20-1)
    Gemologist - 1st...16th (9-1)
  • 2011 - No Wood Starters In Derby
  • 2010
    Jackson Bend - 2nd...12th (23-1)
    Awesome Act - 19th (12-1)
  • 2009
    West Side Bernie - 2nd...9th (32-1)
    Atomic Rain - 4th...16th (55-1)
  • 2008
    Tale Of Ekati - 1st...4th (37-1
    Anak Nakal - 5th...7th (54-1)
    Court Vision - 3rd...13th (18-1)
  • 2007
    Any Given Saturday - 3rd...8th (14-1)
    Nobiz Like Shobiz - 1st...10th (10-1)
  • 2006
    Jazil - 2nd...DH 4th (24-1)
    Deputy Glitters - 6th...8th (61-1)
    Bob And John - 1st...17th (13-1)
    Keyed Entry - 3rd...20th (29-1)
  • 2005
    Bellamy Road - 1st...7th (5-2)
  • 2004
    Tapit - 1st...9th (6-1)
    Master David - 2nd...12th (11-1)

KEY NOTES:

  • In the last 10 years there has not been a single Kentucky Derby winner that exited the Wood Memorial.
  • What is interesting is that prior to 2004 the Wood Memorial was the seminal prep for the Kentucky Derby. In 2003 Wood Memorial runner-up Funny Cide won the Derby and paid $27.60 while Wood winner Empire Maker ran second and completed a $97.00 exacta. In 2001 Wood Memorial runner-up Monarchos won the Kentucky Derby and paid $23.00 while in 2000 Wood winner Fusaichi Pegasus won the Derby ($6.60) and Wood third place finisher Aptitude ran second and completed the $66.00 exacta. Whether or not it is the performance in the Derby decision maker or not it is worth also noting that in 2000, 2001 and 2003 the Wood was run 3 weeks prior to the Derby whereas the recent failure of production has been from a race run four weeks before the Derby.
  • The total past performance for the Wood Memorial over the last ten years produced at best a trio of fourth place finishers from 22 starters. The average finish was slightly less than 11th and the average off-odds were 21-1.
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