Derby Top Ten Plus Five Keys To Winning at Gulfstream


By Jim Hurley:

Although the Kentucky Derby is still 12 Saturday's away it is definitely time to begin my ANNUAL DERBY DOINGS.

With so many solid performances by youngsters looking to seize the day, from upstarts to those placed on the firing line early to those yet to be heard from outfits that know the ultimate decisions are far from over there is much to be considered and much to be discussed.

Over the course of the next 12 weeks I will be constantly updating these pages with previews and reviews of the Derby Prep Races (the list of upcoming preps with qualifying Derby points awarded is below) as well as taking a look at how past paths to the Derby, two-year old development, standards and trends apply to the 2015 contender list.

Today is the first DERBY DOINGS of the year and as I traditionally do I open with my DERBY TOP 10.

Obviously this list is created to be changed as the Prep Road opens and closes each week as unforeseen contenders jump on the trail and others drop off. And what is slightly different about my DERBY TOP 10 is that I split it into two sections of five horses each. The first are the Top Six logical contenders based on their resumes to date while the Next Six are horses that I consider to be "outliers," horses that have been brought along under the radar to date but have shown me something that indicates they are worth speculating upon until further notice.

With that in mind let's begin.


(ONE) - UPSTART...Obviously in constructing these kind of lists you could, as the cliche alludes, throw a blanket over the Top 5, but by virtue of his four race juvenile campaign, troubled trip third in the BC Juvenile when beaten just a nose by Carpe Diem and jump start on the 3-year old campaign with his runaway victory in the Grade II Holy Bull at Gulfstream on January 24. After winning a pair of sprints at Saratoga, a career debut MSW test and the 200K Funny Side Stakes the Richard Violette trained son of Flatter was a bang up second in the slop despite being 5 wide in the one turn mile seminal Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont before shipping to Santa Anita for the BC Juvenile. In that race he was a step slow at the break, settled off the pace, moved 4 wide into contention before being bumped again and still was beaten just a nose by Carpe Diem. He returned to training on December 23 at Palm Meadows and his final two preps before the Holy Bull tore up the track with a 5 furlong drill in 1:00 4/5 breezing followed by a 6 furlong work in 1:12 1/5 breezing 6 days before the victory. Perhaps even more impressive is his easy return to the work tab 10 days after the race for a sharp half mile breeze on February 4. Sire Flatter is not a name that immediately comes to the forefront in breeding conversations but that one is a son of champion A.P. Indy and out of a the Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold mare Party Silk so you don't have to go very deep to be comfortable with potential staying power. With time for two more foundational preps, if he remains healthy he should be well meant by Derby day. We'll know even more after his next projected start in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes.

(TWO) - CARPE DIEM...Although last seen checking in a 6.5 lengths beaten second in the BC Juvenile behind the jump up freak performance by Texas Red I am of a mind that this incredibly bred $1.6 Million yearling purchase colt has exhibited the type of running style made for the Derby in his three career races to date. The son of Giant's Causeway (Storm cat) out of the Unbridled's Song mare Rebridled Dream is bred mile speed and foundation on both sides and in his last three generations. He has not worked since the BC Juvenile but is set to make his 3-year old debut for team Winstar-Stonestreet/Pletcher in the Tampa bay Derby on March 7. He has had four works since returning to training on January 17, which culminated in a very sharp :59 2/5 five furlong breeze on February 7. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the youngster's three race career was winning his debut at Saratoga in wire-to-wire fashion at 5.5 furlongs and stretching out to 1 1/16th miles in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity 5 weeks later and winning off by 6.25 lengths over a solid field before placing in the BC Juvenile. That three race cycle in 9 weeks should give Pletcher plenty of options beginning with the Tampa Bay Derby and indicate that the conditioner could use close to the same sequence and go from the Tampa race to the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes or Santa Anita Derby on April 4 followed by the Derby four weeks after that. If everything goes to plan, the resume, breeding, tactical cruising speed and connections potentially make Carpe Diem a serious player.

(THREE) - AMERICAN PHAROAH - Yes there are many questions regarding the prospects of this son of Pioneer of the Nile. He missed training and the BC Juvenile due to injury, his breeding is a bit soft on the female side, the side that has been more dominant than the male side in recent Derby's and like a number of this year's 3-year olds will likely (if he gets there) race in the Kentucky Derby with only a pair of 2015 preps as trainer Bob Baffert has him pointed for his sophomore debut in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 14. That being said, there is no denying his freakishly displayed talent once the conditioner removed the hood the colt wore in his debut. After that MSW debut failure the colt got his initial win by destroying his rivals in the Grade Del Mar Futurity at 7 furlongs and followed up with a similarly dominant win in the Grade I Front Runner Stakes (a BC win and you are in test) that left no less than Texas Red (who is on the top of many Top 10 Lists) and Calculator, who won the Sham Stakes on January 10 before an injury forced him off the Triple Crown trail. Sidelined by injury prior to the BC Juvenile the colt returned to training with a pair of lively 3 furlong drills at Santa Anita on February 2nd and 9th. He still has much to prove but his two wins juvenile wins have legitimately placed him on the list.

(FOUR) - OCEAN KNIGHT - Admittedly I've been a fan of the sons (as this one is) and daughters of Curlin but even without that push, the way in which this colt has won his first two career races and the manner in which trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has so far gotten the Stonestreet Stable youngster on schedule to have three almost perfectly spaced preps for the Derby places him solidly on this initial list. Curlin progeny have tended to need a bit of time to develop so McLaughlin patiently waited until mid-December to debut the colt and he promptly dispatched a field of 7 MSW opponents by 4.5 lengths while geared down despite a 4 wide trip at 6 furlongs over the Inner Dirt Track at Aqueduct as the well-meant 2-1 favorite. During a 7 week break, in which he continued to work forwardly and sharply every 7-9 days he returned in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay on January 31 and rallied wide to get up in the final strides in that race. I have stated earlier that the female line has been very influential in recent Kentucky Derby success and although the dam Ocean Goddess (Stormy Atlantic) might not get the blood boiling and be questioned as closer to mile turf speed than stamina, that line does trace back to the likes of Native Dancer, Gallant Man and Tom Fool. Getting back to that schedule, plans call for the next stop to be the Tampa Bay Derby on March 7, which means McLaughlin can bring him back 4 weeks later in either the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes or Santa Anita Derby, although staying on the east coast is most likely, and then racing in the Kentucky derby 4 weeks after that. So far so good.

(FIVE) - TEXAS RED - I'm sure most creators of a Kentucky Derby Top 10 or 12 List will have this BC Juvenile winner much higher than number 5...and it is difficult to dissuade anyone from that position. Obviously that he is the Top 5 is a measure of my consideration but his small setback due to the abscessed foot that has caused him to miss his projected engagement in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds next week after a sharp rallying second in his 2015 debut in the 7 furlong San Vicente and means that his one and only prep before the Derby would be the Santa Anita Derby (April 4) or Arkansas Derby (April 11) Santa Anita Derby which could be foundationally problematic. Trainer Keith Desormeaux has been publically nonplussed by the setback and the colt has earned the trainer's confidence after a solid juvenile campaign that saw a quartet of races prior to his 14-1 upset win in the BC Juvenile with a visually stunning 5 wide sweep to victory. At least the 2-year old foundation is there and his BC win does give him credibility. But for now we will keep others in front of him as they will either move forward or fall back before Texas Red runs his next and likely final Derby prep plus remain aware that the BC Juvenile winner has not won the Kentucky Derby.


(SIX) THE GREAT WAR - This stamina and championship bred colt had already plenty of built in plenty of juvenile foundation with 7 turf sprints in Great Britain and Ireland before brought to the states by Aiden O'Brien to run in the BC Juvenile. That the son of War Front, ran such a bang up race in that championship race his first try on dirt and first try beyond 6 furlongs, speaks volumes. The colt rated close up early as he tracked within 2 lengths of the pace at first and second call, moved evenly through the lane and continued through evenly run quartet miles to finish 4th, beaten 1.75 lengths total by Carpe Diem and Upstart. So he has already proven he belongs and after returning to training on December 27 he turned in 4 straight breezes at Turfway Park, including a best of 21 five furlong breeze in :59 1/5 on January 17 and in his return race absolutely blitzed his rivals in the 6.5 furlong 96Rock Stakes on January 31. Now owned by the Tabor-Smith-Mangier partnership (Coolmore) after originally being purchased by John Magnier for $1 Million from Claiborne at the Keeneland September yearling sale the colt will tell us more after his likely next start in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 21. Although his career has been mainly spent on turf and Polytrack at Turfway the fact that he transitioned so well to Santa Anita's main track and that Santa Anita prepped runners have done well at Churchill in recent years removes surface concern.

(SEVEN) BOLO - The son of temple City is not particularly bred to be more than an mile to mile and a sixteenth speed horse and has already shown how comfortable he is on grass with his three career races to date on that surface. He is also conditioned by long time Southern California fixture Carla Gaines. Although successful on the west coast, Gaines is not necessarily a name you would associate with Kentucky Derby stock. That being said, please remember that this category is in search of the "outliers" and despite the fact that as mentioned, all three career races have been on the grass at Del Mar and Santa Anita the colt has considerably improved his speed numbers in each of his races, culminating with a 102 BRIS speed number in winning the Eddie Logan Stakes on December 27. And if one wants to reach a conclusion that the colt can transfer to dirt you need only look to the fact that his works for his turf wins have all been on the SA main track and have been increasingly impressive. In preparing for his 2015 debut he has turned in a trio of improving drills, a second best of 48 half mile breezing in :48 flat on January 13...a best of 11 six furlong work handily in 1:12 3/5...and a second best of 11 six furlong work handily from the gate in 1:13 3/5 on January 19. School is still out on the plans for this colt but if Gaines decides to find out if the Derby Trail is open to him...there are worse prospective longshots.

(EIGHT) INTERNATIONAL STAR - There are a few directions to go regarding this three time winning son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. The colt is in good hands under the care of trainer Mike Maker, has run in five straight graded stakes, all at two turns, on grass and dirt and at three different distances. Obviously he is a versatile race horse. In addition to Fusaichi on the male side he is out of the French Deputy mare Parlez so stamina should not be a concern. Despite finishing 9th in the BC Juvenile Turf he wasn't that embarrassed as he was fanned 6 wide and only beaten 3.75 lengths for it all and was in hand enough to run back a month later in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on November 29. He remained in training after that and made his 3-year old debut a winning one when he handled 10 rivals in a convincing 2 length win in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds. He has shown flashes and will next go in the Risen Star where he will face better than he has to date...after which we should know more. And of course there is the outside the box angle I like to look at. In 2013 Golden Soul ran at CD in November and then went through the Fair Grounds prep schedule before finishing second in the Kentucky Derby at 34-1. In 2014 Commanding Curve ran at CD in November and then went to the Derby after competing in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and finished second at 38-1. So how crazy would it be if this guy stayed at Fair Grounds and went on to the Derby from there? Speculating in February can be so much fun.

(NINE) - FAR FROM OVER - I will admit to being perhaps a bit over-impressed by his amazing performance in his Withers victory over the Inner Dirt Track at Aqueduct on February 7 when the son of Blame overcame a horrendous start and rallied from Nassau County to beat odds-on El Kabeir and 7-2 second choice Classy Class. Even more impressive than what he exhibited on the race track as after stumbling at the start dropped 11 lengths off the pace in a 6 horse field...something that is not recommended over the speed favoring IDT. But he not only got untracked but while racing greenly ducked in and out and finished his final quarter mile in an amazing :23 4/5. Seeing that his only previous race was a gritty nose win in his debut and that he raced greenly in that race as well there is no telling what trainer Todd Pletcher has on his hands. Of course Pletcher is, as usual, loaded with Kentucky Derby prospects so this one is down the line both experience wise and maturity wise and the Withers, Gotham and Wood memorial (the New York Derby prep trio) has not been a prolific Derby producer in recent years...but in two races this guy has shown one thing that is a positive for Derby contention. He is a warrior.

(TEN) - WAR DISPATCH - Who knows if the War Front colt will even come to the states for a prep race or two in order to get qualifying points for a spot in the Kentucky Derby? But if he does and if he shows well remember you heard it here first. The Jean-Claude Roget trained youngster has raced 5 times in his career in listed stakes races over synthetic surfaces in France and is already more foundationed than any 3-year old in North America. He has won 4 of 5 lifetime. He finished second at 6.5 furlongs in a listed race in his career debut and has since won 4 straight...ranging in distance from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter, which isn't all that surprising seeing that in addition to War Front (Danzig) on the male side he is out of the Unbridled's Song mare Photograph. Here's hoping he does show up and runs well so I can refer back to my first DERBY TOP 10 of 2015.

There you have first TOP 10 of the year.

I'll be paying close attention as we move week by week through the preps. And speaking of the Derby prep races the schedule is below.

February 14, 2015 - El Camino Real Derby - 1 1/8 Miles (S) - Golden Gate...10-4-2-1
February 16, 2015 - Southwest -1 1/16 Miles - Oaklawn Park...10-4-2-1
February 21, 2015 - Fountain of Youth - 1 1/16 Miles - Gulfstream Park...50-20-10-5
February 21, 2015 - Risen Star - 1 1/16 Miles - Fair Grounds...50-20-10-5
March 7, 2015 - Gotham - 1 1/16 Miles - Aqueduct...50-20-10-5
March 7, 2015 - San Felipe - 1 1/16 Miles - Santa Anita Park...50-20-10-5
March 7, 2015 - Tampa Bay Derby - 1 1/16 Miles - Tampa Bay...50-20-10-5
March 14, 2015 - Rebel - 1 1/16 Miles - Oaklawn Park...50-20-10-5
March 21, 2015 - Spiral - 1 1/8 Miles (S) - Turfway Park...50-20-10-5
March 22, 2015 - Sunland Derby - 1 1/8 Miles - Sunland Park...50-20-10-5
March 28, 2015 - UAE Derby - 1 3/16 Miles (S) - Meydan...100-40-20-10
March 28, 2015 - Florida Derby - 1 1/8 Miles - Gulfstream Park...100-40-20-10
March 28, 2015 - Louisiana Derby - 1 1/8 Miles - Fair Grounds...100-40-20-10
April 4, 2015 - Wood Memorial - 1 1/8 Miles - Aqueduct...100-40-20-10
April 4, 2015 - Santa Anita Derby - 1 1/8 Miles - Santa Anita Park...100-40-20-10
April 4, 2015 - Blue Grass - 1 1/8 Miles - Keeneland...100-40-20-10
April 11, 2015 - Arkansas Derby - 1 1/8 Miles - Oaklawn Park...100-40-20-10
April 11, 2015 - Lexington - 1 1/16 Miles - Keeneland...10-4-2-1



By Noel Michaels -

A lot of focus is on racing at Gulfstream Park this time of the season with the track in the midst of its best racing of the year in the heart of the meat-and-potatoes portion of the winter championship meet.

The road to the Kentucky Derby starts early at Gulfstream Park with races such as the Holy Bull Stakes, the Hutcheson Stakes, and a slew of other important allowance races all a part of Gulfstream Park's schedule so far. Next up will be a pair of particularly important races for 3-year-olds, with the Fountain of Youth set for Saturday, Feb. 21 and the Florida Derby ahead on March 28. When you look at the daily race cards at Gulfstream this season, you can always notice the big, competitive fields and high quality competition amongst the east's top trainers, jockeys, and horses. Plus, with Aqueduct suffering through such a bad winter this year, Gulfstream's terrific betting affairs should keep attracting even more attention than usual from simulcast players from coast to coast.

Here are some keys to successful betting at Gulfstream Park, based on information and statistics compiled through recent years and the first couple months of the 2014-15 meet.

1) Stick With the Top Jockeys

The Gulfstream jockey colony is deep and competitive again this year, with stalwarts like John Velazquez, and Javier Castellano competing for mounts against Paco Lopez and the newer guard of Gulfstream riders who have been strong this season including Edgard Zayas and Luis Saez. In total, the top seven riders in the Gulfstream jockey standings, also including Joel Rosario and Rafael Hernandez have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, with the majority of wins being earned by just that small group. Any of those top jockeys can be bet interchangeably and with confidence, and if you are stuck between betting two or more contenders in a race, it usually has proven wise to go with a horse ridden by one of the above-named jockeys over any of the numerous other riders in the jock's room.

There have also been a few trainer/jockey combinations worth mentioning so far at the Gulfstream meet. Some top jockey/trainer combinations to watch, include:

Trainer/Jockey ComboStartsWinsWin %
Jorge Navarro / Edgard Zayas16850%
Todd Pletcher / Javier Castellano361336%
Kirk Ziadie / Edgard Zayas21733%

The first interesting note worth pointing out from these three combos are that two of them involve Edgard Zayas, who has earned many of his first 39 wins riding for Jorge Navarro (50% combo), and Kirk Ziadie (33% combo). The second interesting note is that many handicappers automatically assume that John Velazquez gets all the first-call Todd Pletcher horses, but this stat along with Javier Castellano (36% combo) indicates otherwise.

This is the toughest part of the Gulfstream meet where the competition is fiercest and the quality of the racing is highest. During this prime stretch of the Gulfstream meet, it is imperative to place your bets on horses ridden by top jockeys.

If you need further food for thought, consider that during the last 10 racing days, jockeys Lanerie, Prado, Contreras, Vasquez, Rios, Bravo, and Maragh have gone a combined 5-for-151 in the win column.

2) Bet Inside Posts in Dirt Routes

The post position bias against outside posts in two-turn races on Gulfstream's main track remains a solid handicapping factor. Not only can't you bet outside posts with that short run to the first turn, but apparently you can't even bet middle posts, either, based on the horrible numbers from the meet thru Feb. 14.

In 25 dirt route races run on Gulfstream's main track ranging from 1 1/16 miles and upward, 16 have been won from the four inside posts. All other posts have yielded only 9 wins from a combined 119 starts. Only 2 wins have been recorded from outside post 8 in those races. The remaining four wins were all one win each from posts 5 through 8. Posts 9 and out accounted for zero wins from a total of 32 starters.

GP dirt route winning posts

Posts 1-416 wins100 starters
Posts 5-87 wins88 starters
Posts 9-142 wins32 starters

If this graphic illustration isn't enough to scare you away from betting anything except the inside posts in Gulfstream routes, then you will be doomed to defeat in those dirt routes much more often than not. Pass on those outside-drawn horses when you see them, take note, and bet them back next time as live overlays assuming they get a better draw.

One final note on dirt route posts: The rail has been great in these races, winning 6-for-25 for 24%.

3) Avoid Front Runners on the Grass Unless the Rails are Way Out

Gulfstream's turf course is generally not friendly to early speed horses, and through the last few years it has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to go wire-to-wire on the grass.

Interestingly, outside post positions have not been as much of a detriment for horses on the turf as they've been on the dirt, which is opposite to the way most tracks play where inside draws are key factors in turf routes. As a matter of fact, all posts in turf routes have been fair and have relatively even win percentages. There have even been several times at this meet - including notably the weekend of Feb. 7-8 - where outside posts ruled on the GP turf. So far at this year's Gulfstream meet, running style - not post draw - has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, make sure 1) it's the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) the horse has an enormous class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) Look and see if the turf rails are moved far out from the hedge. The Gulfstream turf course is extremely wide, and the track superintendent has been known to move the rails out over 80 feet and sometimes over 100 feet in order to preserve the course conditions for big race days and weekends. Traditionally, turf rails out is a handicapping factor that favors front runners on the turf, and even Gulfstream Park is no exception.

4) The Old Bias Against Inside Posts in One Turn Races is Gone This Season

The long-time winning track profile in the longer sprint races at 7F, 7 1/2F, and 1 mile has been an advantage toward outside horses and a disadvantage for inside posts - particularly the rail post. That winning profile has disappeared this season, however, with fair chances for all horses, and, if anything, perhaps a slight preference for inside draws.

Most stunning has been how good the rail has done this season from the previously terrible one post in one mile races. Horses breaking from that post have won 13-of-80 races for 16% - very good indeed.

Seven furlongs still offers outside horses their best advantage on the main track, and no advantage at all can be gained at that distance from an inside post versus an outside one.

In shorter sprints, the inside and middle posts are the best places to be, but that is no surprise because the old bias against inside posts never really affected races at 6F or shorter on the main track.

5) Turf Races at 7.5 Furlongs Have Nothing to Do With 5 Furlong Turf Sprints

From a purely technical standpoint, both Gulfstream's 5 furlong turf races and 7.5 furlong turf races are all turf sprints. But really for all intents and purposes, races at the two distances have nothing in common and should not be regarded as similar by handicappers in any way.

Turf sprints at 5 furlongs are true turf dashes of pure speed, while 7.5 furlong races, while technically sprints, are run around two turns and must really be classified more like one mile turf races because that is the way they tend to be contested - as routes and not like sprints at all (remember, they're two-turn races!).

Some statistical outlets lump these two races into the same category (i.e. "turf sprints"), thereby messing up the accuracy of the stats. These two kinds of races must be broken down individually from the other.
When handicapping 5 furlong turf sprints at Gulfstream, speed is the key word and it is usually difficult to rally from too far back off the pace in these races. They are usually won by "the speed of the speed," or by a close-up presser or stalker who can pass tired front runners late. Also, it should be noted that unlike turf sprints at a lot of other venues, like Saratoga and Santa Anita, there is not a bias against horses drawn inside in these GP turf sprints. All post positions yield fair results all the way on out to post 9. Outside post nine has proven to be a near death sentence.

Horses breaking from posts 10-14 in 5 furlong turf sprints this season have gone a combined 1-for-62. Ouch, that's brutal!

As for the 7.5 furlong turf races at Gulfstream, two things are surprising to note. First, horses can effectively close from behind at this distance (this shouldn't be surprising based on #3 from earlier in this article, stating that front runners always have difficulty in Gulfstream two-turn turf races), and second, the outside posts are not a disadvantage like you would think due to the short run into the first turn. Outside horses have been winning these races, and that is true all the way out to post 12 which has posted 4 wins from 20 starters for a 20% win percentage so far.

Use these five tips to your advantage, and cash more tickets at Gulfstream Park as a result. Good luck, and enjoy racing and wagering from Gulfstream!


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