Oaks Analysis & Derby Updates
Now, Joyful Victory is the 5-2 morning line favorite and has crushed the opposition in both of her starts — the Grade 3 Honeybee and Grade 2 Fantasy — this year, so some of you may be wondering what it is I have against her. Well, it is simply this: I don’t think the Larry Jones-trained filly is as good as she looks on paper.
To begin with, she was pulling in the early stages of her last race (the aforementioned Fantasy), which is OK in a four-horse field over a speed-favoring strip like Oaklawn Park, but definitely not OK against 12 rivals at Churchill Downs on the first Friday in May.
What’s more, her recent late speed rations (LSRs) have all been relatively weak. Again, lacking a closing punch at Oaklawn is no big deal — typically, the race is over by the 1/8-pole — but it’s a completely different story at the home of the Twin Spires.
Lastly, I’m just not convinced that the 111 Brisnet speed figure that Joyful Victory earned in the Honeybee is legit. That number is so much bigger than anything the daughter of Tapit had garnered previously, yet the final time and fractions of that race are nearly identical to those recorded in the Fantasy, which earned a 93 fig. Note too that Holy Heavens was beaten by a nearly identical margin in both races — and she also earned a career-best Brisnet speed figure in the Honeybee.
So, who do I like in the Oaks? Well, there are several others that one can make a case for — and I will probably spread a bit given that I’ve tossed the likely race favorite — but if I were forced to settle on just a single entrant, I would cast my lot with Daisy Devine.
Not only does “Daisy” rate highly on my Win Factor (computerized fair odds) line, but she appears to be improving as well. I also like the fact that trainer Andrew McKeever is repeating the same training pattern that led to the daughter of Kafwain’s success in the Fair Grounds Oaks, a track that, from a pace standpoint, is somewhat similar to Churchill Downs.
The Derby Dish on Derby Kitten
As seems to be the case every year, my best-laid plans have gone awry. Last year, on the eve of releasing my 2010 Kentucky Derby Guide, a last-minute change became necessary when pre-Derby favorite — and Guide cover boy — Eskendereya scratched just days prior to the big race.
This year, I thought I covered all my bases by including commentary and analysis on several horses that were well below the graded earnings cutoff point (to be eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby, a horse’s graded earnings must rank in the top 20 among interested participants).
Alas, the late withdrawal of Toby’s Corner foiled my plans. So, without further ado, here are my pro’s and con’s for Derby Kitten, the latest Kentucky Derby hopeful:
Pros: He’s got an awesome late kick, as evidenced by the zero LSR he earned in winning the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington last time (the same race that Charismatic used as a Kentucky Derby springboard).
Cons: Like so many others in this field — Animal Kingdom, Brilliant Speed, Twinspired, et al. — Derby Kitten has yet to prove his mettle on dirt. Worse, his only try on the brown (in an off-the-turf affair at Belmont Park on Oct. 2) resulted in a 27 ½-length whooping.
Most Recent Pace Figures
ESR: +3 (very soft)
LSR: 0 (excellent)
When the Going Gets Tough
The other potential wrench in the works every Derby spring is the weather. And although present forecasts seem to indicate that the Churchill Downs dirt will be dry on the first Saturday in May, I took a look at Derbies past to see if I could find any useful wagering tidbits for Derby present.
What I discovered surprised me.
Contrary, perhaps, to popular opinion, wet or drying-out tracks distinctly favor frontrunners — at least historically. Take a look:
Notice that the rate of wire-to-wire winners jumps from 26.8 percent on a fast track to 31.3 percent on a wet track, or 43.5 percent on tracks not listed as “fast” or “good” (or “dusty,” a condition that doesn’t exist anymore).
Other Derby Doings
Be sure to tune into a special edition of the “SimonSays Racing Podcast” on THURSDAY, MAY 5 (live at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern). In addition to offering my usual analysis of all the main Derby contenders, I will also talk to a young handicapper and Facebook friend that has presented me with a challenge.