Derby Details 2020 Edition 10
Preview of “Fantasy Kentucky Derby”, May 2, 2020
by Tom Carley
To get us all through “Derby deprivation” this year, the guys at Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) have proposed a Fantasy Kentucky Derby consisting of 20 randomly-selected, previous Kentucky Derby winners. http://www.horseracingradio.net/fantasyderby
I thought for my weekly Derby Details 2020 column that I might handicap this “virtual” race as I would normally look at any other “real life” thoroughbred horse race. Just for fun.
The analysis I am doing is based on what the named Kentucky Derby winner’s morning report would have looked like the day each one was about to warm up and head into the gate to compete in the coveted “Run for the Roses” the year they won it. By that, I mean that I closely examined the statistics as (s)he went was saddled and entered their post position in their historic year (does not include their actual KY Derby performance, but the body of workouts, losses and victories leading up to the Derby). By the way, actual post position is not considered here for our virtual Derby day. Horses are listed in alphabetical order, and the “fantasy” track is expected to be fast. So, strap in because here we go:
Fantasy Kentucky Derby Churchill Downs 1-1/4 Miles May 2, 2020
Hope you enjoy my “virtual handicapping”, and make adjustments for the following fantasy contenders:
A. The horses who ran years ago have many more prep races and this should provide a more detailed foundation.
B. Even though the Florida Derby is considered one of the leading prep races over the years, only a handful of horses have used the Florida Derby as a prep to this race.
C. The HRRN guys have done a great job making this as virtual online event as “real” as possible, only allowing each jockey to ride one horse. Therefore, Whirlaway does not get Eddie Arcaro, and instead has George Wolff in his saddle. California Chrome gets Willie Shoemaker.
Not many Derby winners are purse “speed horses”. The pace, while expected to be honest, will not be super-fast— with this group of horses it is almost impossible to take each one gate-to-wire. Consequently, a deep closer will have way too much traffic to navigate through. I give the advantage to a horse that lies close to the lead. And, can make one run. So, let’s look at our virtual reality field of previous Derby wonners:
1 Affirmed This one has put together one of the strongest resumes of the group. Has run 13 times before Derby day, winning 11 of them. Won 5 Gr 1 stakes as a 2-year-old, including 2 wins at 9 furlongs. This champion 2-year-old of 1977 is well travelled, winning 5 times at Belmont, 3 times at Santa Anita, and twice a Hollywood Park. Likes to be close to the action, but can navigate from farther back if necessary. Steve Cauthen is a young teenager and does not have a Derby win, but has not done anything to get the horse in a spot this one’s talent could not make up for. The tactical style should help this one, but I wish he had a more experienced rider.
2 Alysheba Only has won a maiden race in 10 prior starts coming into the Derby. The barn has told anyone that would listen that the cause is an entrapped epiglottis and surgery has gotten this corrected. This horse does not know how to win and is not fast enough to make me think he can overcome this today. Hard to believe a horse that only has a maiden win can elevate his game to win against this group of the sport’s best of all time.
3 American Pharaoh Started career with a poor effort, but rebounded nicely with back-to-back wins in California races. An injury kept him out of the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. Only has two 3-year-old prep races, winning both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Regular rider Victor Espinoza opts to keep the mount here over another rival. A concern is that he has faced smaller fields in all his career races. Will have to put in a career effort today to overcome the lack of foundation.
4 Animal Kingdom On paper this one does not belong for a variety of reasons. He has never run on dirt with his prior races being divided between turf and poly-track races. He has only 4 prep races leading up to the Derby. He is truly a wildcard in a race loaded with proven horses.
5 Barbaro Undefeated in 5 career starts. The first 3 were on turf. What catches the eye is the win from the wide, outside post in the Florida Derby. Very difficult to do on the unique Gulfstream Park 9 furlong layout. Has never run a race at less than a mile. The tactical style fits in with the pace setup. Early Derby morning the owner’s other talented 3-year-old, George Washington, won the 2,000 Guineas in England. Trainer is an equestrian who won a gold medal in the Olympics. This one could be a super horse.
6 California Chrome One of the weakest bred horses in the field. Had a very tough start to his career as a 2-year-old. A speed horse who will not set up well with this group. Trainer is not experienced in triple crown races. This horse had many behavioral issues and has gone through riders such as Delgado, Cory Nakatani, and has appeared to settle down with Espinoza. The switch to Shoemaker is yet one more question this one has to answer today. Appears to have matured and is good form winning the San Felipe & Santa Anita Derby. Still a lot of questions to answer for this one today.
7 Citation This one is owned by historic Calumet Farm. This one has done many things that has caught my eye. In his 3rd career start he broke the track record at 5 furlongs. Won 8 of 9 races as a 2-year-old. Started his 3 -year-old season by taking on older horses and defeating well regarded Armed. This is almost unheard of so early in his 3-year-old season. A unique jockey story as Eddie Arcaro took over the mount on this horse after the drowning death during a fishing trip of Al Snider. Arcaro has vowed to share his jockey earnings with Snider’s widow should this one wears the roses. Arcaro needed a race to get used to this horse’s style and after a rare loss in Arcaro’s first mount, it is now game on as rider and horse head into Louisville.
8 Count Fleet This one lost his first 2 races as a 2-year-old. The losses can be blamed on erroneous actions rather than a lack of talent. Did win 10 of 15 races as a 2-year-old, giving him a great foundation to tackle 10 furlongs today. Set the record for a mile as a 2-year-old. Has come back and is undefeated as a 3-year-old. However, this one enters the race today with a huge question mark because he suffered a 3-inch cut on the coronet band of his hoof in the Wood Memorial victory. Would like him a lot more without the injury. An ironic fact is that he is owned by Frannie Hertz of Hertz Rent-a-Car fame. He was forced to spend his winter at Oaklawn instead of going to Florida due to war time travel restrictions. Will want to see how he looks warming up on the track before I get over my concerns about the injury.
9 Funny Cide A New York bred gelding who tries to be the first gelding to win the race in over 40 years. He started his career by breaking his maiden by 14 lengths. However, he is winless as a 3-year-old, finshing 5th in the Holy Bull, running 3rd in the Louisiana Derby (promoted to 2nd after a DQ), then lost to Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial. This one appears to be headed in the wrong direction: he is winless in his 3-year-old preps. Even at 40 to 1 odds, I am not considering him.
10 Justify Tries to break a long standing curse of horses who win this race without a 2-year-old prep. Started his career on February 18 of his 3-year-old year. Has had gate problems in the past and the lack of foundation has me looking elsewhere.
11 Mine that Bird This gelding has been seen in New Mexico spending his 3-year-old year running 2nd and 4th in the Sunland Park prep races. He was 4 of 6 in his 2-year-old starts in Canada. Tried the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile and ran last of 12. While this one moves up if it rains, (with apologies to Frank Sinatra) if he can’t “make it there” (in New Mexico), he probably won’t win anywhere against this talented group of the sport’s best all time.
12 Northern Dancer As a 2-year-old he won twice in 5 days. A 2-year-old season record of 7 wins in 9 starts, with one of his losses being in a “mud bog”, as his rider called it. He does bring some concerns forward to this race. He ran a very slow Florida Derby and he has a history of quarter cracks. He is a very small horse and might get bumped in this big field. A jockey change was made in the Blue Grass to Bill Hartack– and the horse responded with a nice effort.
13 Seattle Slew This one started his career rather awkwardly, but won all 3 of his 2-year-old races. He is lightly raced because the barn believes he puts so much effort into each of his races and workouts. This horse brings excitement each time he comes to the track. He is the first horse who comes into the Derby with only 3 prep races as a 3-year-old. He is lightly raced and his speed style will be a challenge for him today as he tries to take this talented group gate to wire.
14 Secretariat This one comes in here with a lot of fanfare and a decidedly split group of followers. Some believe he is a superstar. And yet some others believe there is something dramatically wrong with him after his defeat in the Wood Memorial. Noted handicapper Jimmy the Greek is taking a huge stand against this one. “Horse of the Year” as a 2-year-old after winning 7 of 9 races after a rough career debut in which he was bumped like a rodeo participant. The connections have faced pressure on and off the track. Won in a historic coin flip and trained by the winner of the prior year’s Derby, the human connections might be a bigger story than the horse. The owners faced tax issues and after considering selling him, syndicated him for $6.08 million in January of his 3-year-old season. This provided additional scrutiny on the horse and barn as he entered his 3-year-old season. All was going well until he could not overcome a slow pace in the Wood Memorial and lost to a barn mate. He gets into traffic trouble frequently , but has the ability to make “dazzling moves” to find running room. This should prove advantageous in such a large field. Handicapper Jimmy the Greek has deemed him not a threat here. I am not joining him on that bandwagon.
15 Spectacular Bid Started his career in Maryland at Pimlico and broke the track record for 1 1/16 mile as a 2-year-old. As a 2-year-old, he won 7 of 9 races. He followed that up by going 5 of 5 in his Derby prep races. Hard to find anything wrong with this one and he has proven he can run well in traffic and when he is given little racing room. The trainer has talked this one up and says he is the best horse to ever look through a bridle.
16 Sunday Silence Started his career late in his 2-year-old year, winning a race and running 2nd in 3 starts. In his 3-year-old year he is undefeated in 3 starts winning an allowance race, the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby. This Charlie Whittingham trainee has overcome adversity with a severe injury as a 2-year-old, as well as overcoming a van accident in which his horse van flipped after the driver had a cardiac incident. While he has done little wrong, this one simply has not done anything to make me think he belongs in this crew.
17 Swale Another one that comes in here with questions. Won 5 of 6 races as a 2-year-old. Recovered from a displaced palate to win the Florida Derby. However, he suffered an unexplained loss in the Blue Grass stakes in the mud. Will need to put in a career effort today to defeat this field.
18 War Admiral A speed horse who won 3 of 6 as a 2-year-old. He lost to Pompoon, who was the class of the division. The owner historically does not run outside of New York or Maryland (he even did this with Man O’War), but he thinks so highly of this one that he makes the exception. Distance is a major question, as he has only ran farther than 6 furlongs once in his 8 start career– and that was only a t 1 1/16 miles. It is tough for me to envision a scenario in which he gets 10 furlongs against this crowd running on the front end.
19 Whirlaway Started his career bearing out in the stretch and this behavior cost him races. Trainer Ben Jones fit this one with a special blinkers that kept him closer to the rail. Recovered to win the Hopeful and Saratoga Special going around one turn. Eddie Arcaro opts to ride Citation. Has matured as a 3-year-old– and one of those in here with a chance.
20 Winning Colors The only filly in the field. Has demonstrated a need to take the field gate to wire and that will be much tougher today than when she won the Santa Anita Handicap. Trainer Wayne Lukas has a history of winning races. It appears he does not have a chance, but to win today he and jockey Gary Stevens will have to put forward career efforts. Depending on where she draws, she might not even be able to get the lead against War Admiral and Seattle Slew. Even at 60 to 1 odds I must look elsewhere.
I have my predicted odds on a speadsheet…
As soon as we can figure out how to post an Excel Spread sheet on this post, I shall be sharing it with you…
Would love your feedback as well, as we all try to “switch gears” to navigate from disappointments of March Madness NBAA cancellations, and look to the longheld “Sport of Kings” for diversion though these most challenging of times…