RETURN OF THE BLOG

14 Mar

with Lucky Kalanges

RETURN OF THE BLOG
What sounds like a horror movie sequel has now become my passion side-project, writing about horse racing like I did in 1999 when you could start your own webpage on a site called Geo-Cities. At that time, I had recently begun working for start-up tech company called Youbet.com that was about to revolutionize horse racing by bringing “everything but the dirt” directly to your PC.

Just insert the CD and you were off to the races, or at least Golden Gate Fields and Oaklawn Park, which were some of the few tracks offered to our beta-testers back in the day. Maybe you got one of those CDs in the mail many years ago and it’s buried in your garage somewhere, or better yet, serving as a coaster in your man cave.

Wherever it may be, it’s a relic from a magical time during which I was brimming with optimism about my “side-hustle” betting the horses, and my future with a publicly traded company with a .com tacked to the end of its name that PAID ME TO WATCH HORSERACING!

Two decades later, I’m still getting paid to watch horse racing and I can write a little about it without having to downsize my Word doc when the boss walks by. Join me each week as I attempt to offer poignant notes, opinions and occasional insight into the world of racing and off-track betting.

Remember this isn’t a one-way street. Feel free to hit us up with your comments, questions and suggestions along the way using the Leave Comments feature at the bottom of the page.

 

TRIPLE CROWN TRAIL HEATS UP
(Click the links for Race Replays)
Three horses vaulted into the top 5 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard over past two weekends, and served as a reminder of how these prep races can really fill our wallets if we can just land on the right horse. Two weeks ago, that horse was Code of Honor, who rallied from off the pace to defeat Bill Mott’s highly-touted and heavily-favored maiden winner, Hidden Scroll, to post the upset at nearly 10-1 odds in the Fountain of Youth. Fellow late-runner Bourbon War was also impressive in defeat, just running out of ground in the shortened stretch of the 1 1/16 miles trip at Gulfstream, and should be in line to improve as the distances increase on the Derby road. While the loss at 6/5 odds doesn’t completely eliminate his chances to get to the Derby, Hidden Scroll must prove he can ration his speed and perhaps rate behind horses if he’s going to make hay on the Derby trail moving forward.

Next up was Haikal, who used similar come-from-behind tactics to sweep past a three-way duel late in the one-turn mile Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct last Saturday, returning $10.80 to win in the process. This race featured the three-year-old debut of the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee, Instagrand, who hadn’t been seen since Del Mar. While Instagrand battled admirably to finish third by only a length and a half, it wasn’t exactly the tour-de-force his backers were expecting at even money odds.

Both the FOY and Gotham proved fertile ground for bettors who had serious doubts about the favorites, who had started a combined three times in their respective careers. Hidden Scroll was bet down to 6/5 odds off an impressive, triple-digit Beyer maiden victory over the slop at Gulfstream. The problem I’ve seen with most triple-digit maiden winners is they seldom improve of those efforts. It’s as if they’ve already hit their speed figure ceiling and there’s just nowhere to go but down. Throw in the fact that his maiden win came over the slop, and there was another reason for doubters to look elsewhere for the FOY winner.

And in the case of Instagrand in the Gotham, he had every right to come up short at even-money odds, having not raced in over six months, and having shipped across the country to compete over a surface he was unfamiliar with. In each case, both favorites fell victim to their more experienced, seasoned foes. This  serves as a good reminder as any to treat impressive maiden winners and horses coming off long layoffs to compete in stakes races with a healthy dose skepticism, especially before swallowing short odds at the windows.

Last but not least, Bill Mott’s second stringer, Tacitus, got the job done at nearly 9/1 odds in the Tampa Bay Derby. I say second stringer because much has been made of Hidden Scroll beating up on Tacitus in morning workouts, but the latter looked like the more seasoned animal at this point in their careers. Like the other two winners, Tacitus rallied from off the pace, courageously splitting horses and pulling away late after a 45 and change half-mile. The favored Win Win Win battled admirably after a 5-wide trip to get third, but like the other favorites, he was trying something new for the first time. In his case, two turns proved to be his undoing at 7/5 odds.

Of the these three preps, I was most impressed by Code of Honor and Bourbon War, the top two finishers in the Fountain of Youth, and would elevate their chances on the Derby trail. I am not sure any of the horses coming out of the Gotham really want two turns. While Tacitus displayed the kind of courage you need to compete in a 20-horse Derby, I have some doubts about the quality of the Tampa field overall. I will say that the final time of 1:41.95 looked legit, being only a tenth and a half off the track record of 1:41.75 for 1 1/16 miles set by Stanford in 2017.  It will be interesting to see the paths taken by the horses exiting Tampa in about a month’s time.

Lastly, I did catch the Jeff Ruby Steaks from Turfway Park at the OTB and didn’t see a lot of meat on the bones there. After dominating the race on the front end through a 47 half, the heavily-favored Somelikeithotbrown looked ready to give up the lead late, shortening stride and drifting in and out. Still, nobody was able to run him down, leaving me with the impression there is little to no quality behind him. It was a nice win by a logical favorite who definitely could make his presence felt in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but I can’t see him winning a Triple Crown race.

REBEL REBEL
For all of the Kentucky Derby preps we’ve seen to this point, it doesn’t really feel like Derby season has begun until the big guns from the Baffert barn are unleashed. And we’ll finally get to see that this Saturday when the Rebel Stakes is contested at Oaklawn Park. With the unfortunate and untimely cancellation of racing at Santa Anita, the traditional Southern California path to the Derby has been rerouted to Hot Springs, Arkansas where Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Game Winner and the much-hyped Improbable will make their three-year-old debuts. And since Oaklawn has announced it’s splitting the race into two divisions with 9 and 10 horses each, it looks like we’ll be getting a pair of races with big Baffert favorites in each of them. I’ll return with an update on Friday to discuss my thoughts on the two divisions of Rebel once I’ve had a chance to dive into the past performances.

Speaking of Santa Anita, it resumed light training over the main track this week. While I had read that its possible racing could resume in a week or two, word of another fatal breakdown came from the DRF’s Brad Free just this morning. I would expect this puts the resumption of live racing squarely on the back burner until the track can assure the safety of its horses and riders during workouts.

Needless to say, California racing isn’t the same without the GRP (Great Race Place).

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