Florida Derby and Spiral Stakes Previews

DERBY DOINGS 2016
VOL. 16 - NUMBER 2

Friday 3/31/16

IS THE FLORIDA DERBY REALLY JUST A TWO COLT RACE...
Only 6 Weekends Until The First Saturday In May

There are two Kentucky Derby Qualifying Preps scheduled for Saturday and it is rather safe to make at least one definitive statement about each.

In the Grade I Florida Derby 100 qualifying points will be provided to the winner and 40 points to the second place finisher. And based on the pundits' conversation regarding this key Derby Prep Nyquist and Mohaymen are about to run first and second or second and first respectively, which will leave the eight challengers battling for the 20 and 10 points that go to the third and fourth place finishers.

At Turfway Park fourteen 3-year olds, including a pair of also-eligible runners will look to gain a share of the 50-20-10-5 points awarded to the top four finishers, And if there is a definitive statement to be made about this synthetic surface race it is this...if you look up the term wide open in the dictionary it says, see 2016 Spiral Stakes, Turfway Park.

In today's Part One of this weekend's DERBY DOINGS we'll take a look at the Florida Derby and will return tomorrow with a preview of the Spiral Stakes.

MOHAYMEN GIVEN "EDGE" OVER NYQUIST IN SUPPOSED MATCH RACE

When post positions were drawn for the $1 Million Grade I Florida Derby the other day, the undefeated Mohaymen drew post 4 and was immediately installed as the even-money favorite while the equally undefeated Nyquist drew post 9 and was installed at 6-5 on the morning line.

These short ML estimates make it obvious that the officials who determine such projections are banking on a public that will completely ignore the other eight runners that were set to challenge the undefeated duo.

Admittedly, it is difficult to discover any tarnish on these two well-polished machines so the overwhelming attention paid to a singular meme, that the Mohaymen-Nyquist "match race" is a must watch.

In fact, TVG, which of late has become as much or more of a tout service than a true handicapping venue (every announcer has a pick on every race at every track and continually exhorts you to sign up and wager) is guaranteeing players 3-1 odds on either Mohaymen or Nyquist should either win at whatever price.

Fair enough, but given that it would take an injury or other mishap to keep either out of the Kentucky Derby regardless of "which one wins" an astute handicapper must wonder if indeed there are any tarnished spots.

It is of course difficult to find them. That being said, with the exception of Nyquist's BC Juvenile win, neither of the two has faced a stern challenge in any of their races...and in fact, the rivals they have recently beaten haven't exactly flattered them.

Mohaymen, is likely 1-1 vs 6-5 for Nyquist because he has won twice over the Gulfstream main track while Nyquist will be making his first start over the surface.

Indeed, these two might very well be heads above their challengers but Mohaymen certainly was not flattered by Greenpointcrusader, who ran second to him in the Holy Bull but was far up the track at Fair Grounds in last Saturday's Louisiana Derby.

For his part, Nyquist has had exactly one major challenger in the four races he ran before his return in the 7 furlong San Vicente Stakes and that rival was Swipe, who finished second to Nyquist four straight times, including the BC Juvenile. It is also worth noting that Exaggerator, who finished second to Nyquist in the San Vicente reverted to a non-threatening third in the San Felipe Stakes three weeks back.

Slight tarnish perhaps, but one should always question the invincibility trope. So what about the remaining eight challengers.

SAWYERS MICKEY - O.K., maybe not every one of the eight challengers makes sense. Still a maiden after seven lifetime tries and coming off an even third over the synthetic in the ungraded marginal John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway Park one has to wonder just what trainer Peter Walder is hoping for.

FELLOWSHIP - The Stanley Gold trained son of Awesome Of Course has already outrun his mile speed blood lines with even third place finishes behind Mohaymen in the Holy Bull and the Fountain Of Youth. With the desire to be in the Kentucky derby. If not dream of winning it, a similar third place finish and 20 more points would give this colt enough qualifying points to almost (based on the qualifying numbers of past years) guarantee a spot in the starting gate the first Saturday in May. He has stayed on at a mile and a sixteenth despite slight traffic issues in his two previous so it is reasonable to think the extra sixteenth of a mile will be helpful.

MAJESTO - The Tiznow colt finally broke his maiden in his 5th start on February 27 and has turned in a series of sharp breezes since. The Gustavo Delgado trainee will definitely be testing deeper but it is worth noting that his last 4 races have been around two turns and he has run the 9 furlong distance twice. Also in his favor is that Gulfstream leading jockey Javier Castellano, who jumped aboard the 300K yearling purchase colt for the first time for the maiden breaker returns.

COPINGAWAY - This is the other truly questionable runner whose connections must be looking for a miracle. While the son of Brother Derek has shown decent enough form on the turf to warrant upper level claiming contention, he is 0 for 4 on the main track and 1 for 14 overall lifetime. In addition, as of Wednesday his trainer Jaimie Mejia was looking for his first win at the meet after 48 failed tries.

CHOVANES - This lightly raced Colonel John colt is another going from a maiden win into the Florida Derby. It is likely he will be overlooked by the public, especially since he dropped from a MSW test to 50K maiden claimers to break through in career start number four. This is of course a big step up, but with 30% trainer Jorge Navarro (from about 150 starters at the meet) as the colt's handler, a trainer who wins at 21% in Graded Stakes, improvement isn't completely out of the realm of possibility.

TAKEITTOTHEEDGE - This Broken Vow colt is definitely the one unknown prospect in the race. It took until March 6 for the Dale Romans trainee to make his career debut but it was sure worth the wait. In a 7 furlong MSW test (by consensus the most difficult distance to debut at) he went right up to control the pace and opened up through the lane. He went into that race off a series of very solid drills and has breezed sharply since. He would not be a complete surprise if he hit the board.

FASHIONABLE FREDDY - The Nick Zito trainee has had a trio of attempts going two turns vs entry level allowance foes and is still looking for career win number two. Zito has struggled a bit in important Graded Stakes races in recently years and this guy has an even running style that could pick up pieces if others falter or could be out of the hunt throughout. Those that look to a silver lining will see that in his three allowance tries he was bumped out of the gate, broke slowly prior to that and three back was caught in between rivals while looking for position.

ISOFASS - The son of Rodman will make his fifth career start after finishing a decent enough third in an entry level allowance race over the track in his last. In that race he ran even at mile and an eight distance and stayed on through the lane. On the plus side the colt gets Lasix for the first time and the very capable piloting of Julien Leparoux. On the questionable side he was 5 lengths behind battery in the last race and Battery was a disappointing no show in the Louisiana Derby last Saturday.

Looking at the eight challengers to Mohaymen and Nyquist one can see why the pundits aren't looking beyond the potential match race. And if that is how it turns out finishing the third and fourth place finishers might be the challenge. Especially since the exotics are the advisable wagers given that either or both Mohaymen and Nyquist might go off at "less" than even money and 6-5 respectively.

 

THE SPIRAL...IT IS A DERBY PREP, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY A GREAT BETTING RACE

The Grade III Spiral Stakes, to be run at 9 furlongs over the synthetic surface at Turfway Park was the site of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom's final prep.

It is also a qualifying prep race in which 50 points go to the winner and a somewhat useful 20 points to the runner up.

However, it isn't a stretch to say that the race has not been iconic in sending live runners (other than Animal Kingdom) to Louisville in recent memory.

On  the other hand, given the 14 runners that have been entered for this race (including a pair of also eligible entrants) if one separates Kentucky Derby projection moving forward and looks at this race as a betting opportunity, there is undoubtedly plenty of value to be gained by putting together the right combinations.

That being said, let's take a look from the rail out. (Note) The TC next to the odds means the horse is Triple Crown nominated.

THAT MAKES SENSE (30-1-TC) - What makes sense is that you can't have one of these preps without Wayne Lukas involvement. After opening his career with 5 straight traditional dirt races...the last 4 as a 3-year old and all at Oaklawn this longshot switches to the synthetic surface with the hopes that the son of Street Sense can emulate the move his sire made when parlaying a then synthetic Keeneland run into Kentucky derby success. This is wide open...and who knows...but this guy is not yet his pop.

SURGICAL STRIKE (12-1-TC) - After beginning his career with 6 straight turf races the Ben Colebrook trained son of Red Giant switched to the synthetic here and after rallying for third in the 6 ½ furlong WEBN Stakes then finished his rally at 1 1/16th miles to win the John Battaglia Stakes in his last. The colt likes the surface, is improving and has a legitimate shot at claiming a piece.

JENSEN (6-1) - The lightly raced Haynesfield colt will make his 5th career start and first away from Fair Grounds as Larry Jones ships in. It is not unreasonable to speculate that the connections are looking for a softer spot to get an idea of the runner's ability and despite a first ever synthetic try this could be it. He has improved in each of his four starts with 2 wins and 2 seconds and won his entry level allowance around two turns in last. Might be good enough and leading FG jock Geroux makes the trip.

DON'T BE SALTY (8-1-TC) - Gary Contessa ships in from Gulfstream Park following a grass try in the Grade III Pam Beach Stakes in his last. The son of Tiz Wonderful has shown a propensity for the synthetic, winning an allowance race by daylight at Presque isle Downs as a juvenile and capturing the Display Stakes at Woodbine to conclude his 2-year old campaign. However, it is also worth remembering that in 2011 Animal Kingdom went from a grass race at Gulfstream into this race, won the Spiral and went on to capture the Kentucky Derby. Who knows? He figures to be on the pace under Cornelio Velasquez and adds to the deep contention of this race.

OSCAR NOMINATED (10-1) - The Mike maker trainee is another who has spent his entire career on turf and now switches to the synthetic. With 50 qualifying points available to the winner this is logical spot to find out just how good an otherwise capable 3-year old might be. The son of Kitten's Joy doesn't appear to be of Kentucky Derby level quality but as mentioned in the intro copy above. This race is all about this race alone and this guy might belong here.

TWO STEP TIME (15-1) - The second of four Mike Maker entered runners the son of Two Step Salsa is another who has predominantly raced on grass. But his one synthetic try was also his best lifetime speed number when he ran second in the Ocala Breeders Sales Stakes in late January. His most recent was a turf win at Houston. If he runs to the Ocala speed number he might challenge for a piece but overall his numbers are somewhat soft.

STRIKE UP THE BAND (20-1) - The third Mike Maker entry might be a live longshot. The son of Smart Strike sprinted to a sloppy overnight stakes win and an allowance win on the fast Gulfstream main track and then shipped here for the Battaglia Memorial Stakes in his last. He got away slowly but despite going 7 wide was making up ground late. Like many Ken and Sarah Ramsey runners he was haltered for 30K and has made progress since under Maker's tutelage. There are certainly less worthy longshots.

KASSEOPIA (6-1-TC) - Animal Kingdom was mentioned above and this English bred son of Showcasing is trained by that Kentucky Derby winner's conditioner Graham Motion. And the regimen and history of this guy is just as unconventional by Derby Prep terms as was Animal Kingdom. As a Triple Crown nominee the connections need points and the 50 they'd get here with a win would do it. He comes in here very live after finishing 3rd in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate in mid-February. But he should not be written off as a turf and synthetic specialist because his four recent drills over the Santa Anita main track before shipping here were absolutely fabulous. Obviously first things first but this is one very live runner.

SWAGGER JAGGER (20-1-TC) - The fourth of the Maker runners this son of Crown Of Thorns has run a non-threatening 4th and non-threatening 9th in his last two (the last in the Battaglia) in his two lone synthetic tries. He was bet some in the Battaglia but won't find much support in here and would be a big surprise.

AIROFORCE (3-1-TC) - The Mark Casse trainee looks to regroup after an absolutely disastrous run at the 8-5 favorite in the Grade II Risen Star. The son of Colonel John was brilliant as a juvenile, winning 3 of 4 and finishing second in the other, eclipsing the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and the Bourbon as well as placing in the BC Juvenile Turf. Now he moves to the synthetic after getting roughed up early in the Risen Star and never recovering. The only question is...was that a product of it being his first career start over fast traditional dirt or will he rebound in here? You'll have to find out with him as the likely favorite.

RALIS (6-1-TC) - One can suppose that this California bred son of Square Eddie will get close to the support his ML indicates. After all he is trained by Doug O'Neil and has Corey Nakatani named. The colt has also faced Rebel Stakes winner Cupid, undefeated Nyquist and Champagne Stakes winner Greenpointcrusader in his last three races. But one has to question if that stands on its own given that his sire has been stamped as a sprint influence and in those last three races Ralis was beaten 10, 15 and 15 lengths. He might rediscover some decent juvenile form but he will be the underlay of the day.

AZAR (5-1-TC) - You can't have a Derby Prep without a Todd Pletcher entry and this versatile son of Scat Daddy made the transition from turf to dirt with a solid allowance win going two turns at Gulfstream in his last. After a 5 race (all turf) campaign as a juvenile he opened his 3-year old campaign with a good rallying third in the Kitten's Joy Stakes before his allowance win. Out of a Mineshaft mare the coly should have little trouble going longer and as careful as Pletcher is in keeping his sharp 3-year olds away from each other, this guy looks very well spotted.

(AE) CRESCENT DRIVE (12-1-TC) - The son of Flower Ally will need a scratch to get off the also eligible list but if he does the Tom Amoss trainee wouldn't be impossible to support in a backup roll. In 4 career starts he broke his maiden on synthetic, ran third in the synthetic Display at Woodbine and in his 3-year old debut (his first try in the Amoss barn) last time out ran a closing third in an overnight turf stakes at Houston. The conditioner got a best of 24 five furlongs in :58 1/5 at Fair Grounds and it shouldn't be ignored that Amoss wins with 34% of his shippers, 26% adding blinkers and 38% second time under his care. Should he draw in don't ignore him.

(AE) DIPLODOCUS (20-1-TC) - It might be a favor if this guy doesn't draw in. The Richard Balthus trainee is still eligible for non-winners of two lifetime and other than a turf MSW win has not hit the board on either the grass or synthetic surface in his other 4 career starts, all on the west coast. It doesn't appear promising either to get into the race or do anything if he does.

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