Beginning to Smell Roses Yet?


The road is winding quickly towards Churchill Downs, and this weekend leads to the final round of “major” preps for the big race.  The Bluegrass and the Arkansas Derby have had opposite influence in recent times (NONE as opposed to a Preakness winner factory) but Keeneland’s premier race for three year olds should regain its prominence with a return to dirt next year.  It’s been run on a synthetic surface since 2007, and that was the last year the Derby winner emerged from Lexington.  It’s hosted its share of nice horses, but many ended up being specialists or turf horses in the long run and didn’t garner much attention at the windows on the first Saturday in May.

The brief history on the current surface does point out two big things though:  Winners don’t go wire to wire and they are NOT favored.  The favorite has a penchant for taking runner-up honors in the Bluegrass so don’t fear long odds on your contest choice – This is one of the preps they do quite well in and could make a major dent in contest score-land.  With that in mind, they also tend to ship up from Florida.  Dominican was the last horse to hail from Kentucky in 2007 when he took the Bluegrass over eventual KD Winner Street Sense, and since that time every winner has last raced at Gulfstream or Tampa Bay.  Of course much of that relates to the vast pool of three year olds that begin their year in Florida, but shippers from elsewhere do take money and don’t usually deliver.  Now then, with the race tendencies on the table let’s get to this year’s field:

If there was a race I’d love to take ALL in, this is it.  There’s plenty of speed lined up in here and nobody really excels in this situation….Todd Pletcher’s monopolized the outside of the gate with his Vinceremos, Gala Award and AE Divine Oath.  Assuming the last doesn’t get in, I’d prefer Gala Award over Vinceremos but the two are hard to separate.  They should both be fair odds (for Pletcher) but a lot will be up to the riders as it seems they both like to come from the same spot.  A wide journey is not uncommon for the winner of the Bluegrass and both should see such a trip on Saturday.  In the past couple years Velazquez and Pletcher have been doing better with their three year old stake horses at Keeneland as well, and with the sharp form this one’s in leave him off your ticket at your own risk.  They all have to pass Bobby’s Kitten of course but with Chad Brown’s weak record in Synthetic Graded Stakes (0-13 in the past five years) he’s worth taking a shot against.  Want to shoot the moon?  So Lonesome adds blinkers for the small but sharp Thomas Bush barn and comes off a dull rust-buster in the Palm Beach won by Gala Award.  He hung with the pack for a good part of the race before becoming one paced in the lane, but that was the New-York bred’s first race since the fall and he dove right in with the big boys.  This trainer has only entered one horse in graded stakes at Keeneland in recent times, and his Get Stormy did a little damage in winning a couple of races and finishing second in another.  One horse can’t solidify a reputation but with that kind of conservative record, one has to take a second look at a horse stepping up in class off a BUM race like he ran last time.  He’s worth a short glance at 50-1 right?

Onto the Arkansas Derby!  As hinted at in recent weeks, I am going to recommend a slightly biased play and stand firmly behind Bayern.  He drew well in the nine horse field, and will be able to track anyone inside of him going for the lead and keep gobs of dirt out of his face.  His ability to maintain his cruising speed is a weapon he should be able to use against this group from that post….without more than one horse to cut over on him (and that’s not likely), he can settle into that deadly rhythm that led to a smashing 15-length victory in start number two.  He actually gave up the lead that day to a very rank Brother Soldier without getting headstrong, but burst through again when Stevens moved his hands a touch to draw away.  Yes, he beat very little that day in hindsight but can he help that?  He can click off 12 second furlongs for at least a mile, and at least his pedigree sets him well to tackle more ground.  With his injury behind him and the extra week to prepare, he should be set for another huge effort.  See the Rebel entry for Bob Baffert’s stupid-high percentage at Oaklawn Park, and see plenty of random horse racing blogs for his “Kinda” comparison to Bodemeister after that second win.  In breaking his maiden he blew away two of his stablemates, and one of those is named Hoppertunity.  If he can invade and scoop up the cash, why can’t Bayern?  The sloppy racetrack threw in a major monkey wrench that day but all of the main contenders in the Arkansas Derby seemed to handle it just fine.  I have changed my attitude on shipping the son of Offlee Wild to Arkansas, as it should provide valuable experience for him in shipping, surface, etc. that he simply wouldn’t get in the Santa Anita Derby.   Californian shippers have held their own and then some in the Arkansas Derby lately – Bodemeister, Line of David, Papa Clem and Gayego have blazed a trail – No matter who wins though, they shouldn’t be a gaudy price and they will have EARNED their way into the Derby over tough customers.

Remember, the contest track this week is the setting for said race, and Oaklawn’s closing day card begins at 12:10 PM with a great card from start to finish to cap off their Festival of Racing.  We will have a pretty clear picture of the field after this weekend – Best of luck!

Angela Hermann


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