Monday, April 27, 2015

Derby Draws Battle-Tested Contenders to Churchill Downs

Sports Media America welcomes back Los Angeles-based actor, horse-racing personality and handicapper Steve Brady for his entertaining and (hopefully) profitable take on the 141st running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby. For the third consecutive year, a tiered point system in select stakes races determines who qualifies for America’s greatest racing showcase, with 20 thoroughbreds making "The Run for the Roses."   



Steve Brady
The Kentucky Derby is less than a week away, and part of a significant day of sports, followed later in the evening by the long-awaited Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight.

This confluence is the premise of my five-part parody video series for America’s Best Racing (ABR). Here’s the link: 
(Watch all five videos, tweet and share!)      

American Pharoah
The battle for favoritism at Churchill Downs will go through Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita barn, his two entries being presumptive favorite American Pharoah and close second favorite Dortmund

American Pharoah was the two-year-old champion before a minor injury forced him to the bench in late October. In his absence, Dortmund rose to prominence, winning six straight races. Dortmund looked to have taken over the top spot, until AmPhar proved he was back at full strength in the Arkansas Derby, dusting the field at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. Both horses have won impressively—they’ve maintained a fast pace and kept going.

Far Right
Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to get past Baffert’s dynamic duo, and it's certainly possible that they could match-race each other all the way to a 1-2 finish. But there are other factors to consider. For one, AmPhar and Dortmund set fast fractions in their recent preps, and you'd have expected the horses running right behind them to end up sucking wind and dropping out of the money, but that's not what happened.  

Despite the pace, the horses near the lead ran pretty much in order. Other than Bolo moving up into third, the Santa Anita Derby was just a merry-go-round—and the Arkansas Derby wasn’t much different. In the latter, Far Right made up a lot of ground to finish second, but everyone else maintained their relative positions. Were the best horses maintaining the pace, or were the tracks souped-up for speed on those big race days?

Furthermore, there are a lot of frontrunners in this year's Derby. Over half the field likes to set the pace or be close to it, and there are several others who will be right behind it. Derbies lend themselves to fast fractions as it is—and the speed merchants look ready to dominate the early action. When this happens, horses often burn out, with only one surviving the pace struggle—and leaving room for closers to fill out the exotics. 

Although there are other frontrunners I fear (Firing Line, Materiality, El Kabeir), I’m going to stick with either Dortmund or AmPhar in the exacta, and then figure out which of the closers will run up to the wire for second.  

International Star
I’ve narrowed it down to five closers with better-than-looked races on their resumes. My top turtle is International Star. He’s won three straight races, and two of his last six races were won on speed-favoring tracks. Far Right (as mentioned above) closed into the exacta against American Pharoah in his last race, and also came late impressively in the Delta Downs Jackpot in November, later winning the Smarty Jones running similarly against the race flow. 

Danzig Moon

Danzig Moon didn’t break his maiden until February, which didn’t leave him much time to rack up impressive runs, but the Malibu Moon colt did run well for 2nd in the G-1 Bluegrass Stakes and seems to have the right breeding to make the 10 furlongs. (He's also worked well in the morning at Churchill.) I am also giving Upstart a chance to finish in the exacta. Although he is not a closer per se, he has some races where he’s run mid-pack and then up into the money. 

Keen Ice
I have one final horse I’m using here: Keen Ice, trained by Dale Romans. I’ve been following this horse since October and had him pegged as my early Derby selection. I kept marking his races as "better than looked" and thought he would only get better as the distances got longer. But there’s only so many fourth-place finishes you can accept before you finally get off a horse. Still, he ekes into the race due to a last-minute defection, and he’ll be a huge price. Do I really want to dump him now? What if he does finally shine with that extra eighth of a mile? It’s only a few extra bucks, so I’m throwing him in.

The play: Dortmund and American Pharoah WITH International Star, Far Right, Danzig Moon, Upstart and Keen Ice. Then do the reverse with the five horses on top of the two Bafferts.

***NOTE: Post positions for the Derby will be determined by draw at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, April 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET.

WHAT: 141st Kentucky Derby

WHEN:  Saturday, May 2

WHERE: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky

TV COVERAGE: 4:00-7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports

[Catch more of Steve Brady at “Sh*t Horseplayers Say”:]


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