Orb’s Kryptonite

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There are two kinds of weakness, that which breaks and that which bends

James Russell Lowell

We all have our weakness; even super heroes in comic books. Superman would get weak in the presence of Kryptonite, Manhunter’s weakness was fire, and Wonder Woman rendered helpless by tying her bracelets together, but only if her bracelets were tied together by a man.

Like super heroes, horses have weaknesses of their own. Some are challenged by the conditions of a track – was it too fast, too deep, or too sloppy? A soft or fast pace can either result in a victorious win, or the agony of a defeat. In the Preakness Stakes Orb’s abilities were hindered by what appeared to be his greatest weakness.

Breaking from post-position 1 may be the kiss of death for any horse. Most trainer or owners cringe after finding out their horse drew post-position 1. The value of statistics and information gathered while handicapping can leave you questioning your choice of winners. In the back of your mind, you are wondering how powerful is this information in picking a winner? In my previous blog, ITS BEEN 19 YEARS my research found that the last winner out of post position 1 for the Preakness Stakes was Tabasco Cat in 1994. That’s a lot of years since that post produced a winner; prior to 1994 go back to Aching Bally in 1960. Not to mention that post-position 6 has produced the most winners; adding this year’s Preakness winner Oxbow to the list.

Orb had a couple of things obviously against him even before the start of the race:

1.   Post Postion #1 – The kiss of death

2.   As the day wore on at Pimlico, the track started to work well with closers “down the middle” and the inside was probably the worse part of the track

But the biggest and I’m going to say biggest factor against Orb and any closer in the race was the PACE. The pace was too slow for any horse to catch a fast horse in the lead. Closers had really no chance at all. Oxbow had run one “full second” slower than the slowest Preakness in the 19 years preceding with fractions of:

¼ mile                        ½ mile                         ¾ mile                        1 mile

23 4/5                            48 3/5                           1:13 1/5                         1:38

(Courtesy of Super Screener)

I love the theory of, “Pace Makes the Race” as this race was clearly not set up for a closer. As quoted by Super Screener, “Gary Stevens, aboard Oxbow, had stolen the race, or it had been given to him when other speed horses did not push him. If a fast horse in the front is not going fast enough to be tired, then they are not going to stop.”

I couldn’t have said that any better.

Other things I’d like to mention after watching Orb’s last 7 races which I’m sure as a race fan you already know:

1.  Although Orb was already victorious out of post-position 1 in the Fountain of Youth he was also ridden by another jockey at this time, JR Velazquez who also rode Orb to Victory in his 2 previous wins prior to the Kentucky Derby. Joel Rosorio picked up the mount of Orb when JR Velazquez chose to stay aboard Kentucky Derby contender Verrazano.  A Different race, with a different driver.

2. Like a Fashion Model that develops a signature walk, Orb developed his own signature running-style. In all of Orb’s races (except for the Preakness Stakes) he had the exact tendency as a cruiser-closer style to run out wide on the track. In the Kentucky Derby, Orb was out of post-position 16 so he already at an outside post. When he made his move in the race–  he went out 6 wide into full-throttle to the finish line with tag line strapped to his saddle: Catch me if you can. In the Florida Derby, he was 4 wide as he flew past Itsmyluckyday to the finish line, and in the Fountain of Youth he was also 4 wide as he triumphed past Violence for the win. Prior to these big races back in January, Orb had the exact running style going wide. If you went back even further and watched Orb’s races as a 2 year old (I went back 3 more races to November of 2012) you would see that even at two, he still had the same tendencies to go wide. The one thing that stood out to me in watching his past races was that when Orb would make his move for a clear run to the finish line, he NEVER had horses to the right of him. He is not the type of horse that you would find weaving himself through traffic. Instead, Orb’s signature run is to go wide, claim his presence – with those to his left, and switch to full throttle gear.

At the break it looked like the path alongside the rail opened up, but instead of full steam ahead Joel Rosorio decided to hold back. The choice to take him back, but keeping him on the inside and not being able to get out, sealed his fate and with the slow pace, there was no real chance. If there was any chance whatsoever, Orb needed to go wide.  At the ¾ pole to the 1/8 pole, Orb and Joel Rosorio started putting pieces together as he made up 9 lengths and was finally able to split horses to catch, and pass Departing and Goldencents, by then — it was too late, and Orb was able to rally for 4th.

Bloodhorse has a great visual sequence of where each horse was positioned throughout the race

With Titletown Five and Goldencents in the race, I was not the only one who anticipated a faster pace, but with the slowest Preakness fractions Orb’s chances were compromised. Then add all the other factors that I shared; end result was exactly how the race unfolded. Orb was never in a position to shift gears. His energy was off; ears pinned back, and at one point looked like he had no gas in his tank. Orb clearly exposed his weakness like Superman with Kyptonite and there was no running off with the second jewel to the Triple Crown. Kudos to Gary Stevens and Oxbow!

So our hopes once again are shattered; as there will be no Triple Crown winner on the line. With 16 days to go until the Belmont Stakes (June 8th); this will be the toughest race in the Triple Crown trail.  This is the race that will unveil the horse that possesses not only speed, but also stamina. It’s been called the, “Test of the Champion”, and the first time many of these horses will run a 1 ½ . There is no rest for the weary as new shooters will come into the race. They will be fresh with a full tank of gas and ready to face some of the toughest 3 year olds around. The horses that started this journey with the Kentucky Derby, then to run two weeks later in the Preakness will have to dig deep as they will be tested. Will there be a horse that will persevere and handle the back to back races, or will a new shooter declare victory?

Wide, wide turns at the “Big Sandy” and that last turn for home will be killer!  It’s the longest stretch to the finish line that many horses will ever encounter, and TIMING will be the key.

Lets  hope Shug McGaughey will decide to run Orb in the Belmont Stakes. It will be a full field, and he’ll be back at his home track.  Orb will have an opportunity to show us that he is still the best 3-year old out there, and the last time a Kentucky Derby winner won the Belmont Stakes was Thunder Gulch in 1995. 18 years and counting, LETS GIT ER DONE!

Best of luck to everyone!

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Pace Makes the Race…Second Jewel Of The Triple Crown…

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With 5 returning foes, and 3 new shooters in the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes will Orb triumph in victory and run away with the second jewel or the Triple Crown, or will there be a horse that shatters our hopes of breaking this 35 year drought?  So many questions and uncertainties are on all of our minds, but the one thing we are certain of is Orb will clearly have target on his back on Saturday.

With only a day to go, post positions were drawn on Wednesday with a field of 9.

#1 Orb ( Kentucy Derby winner, ML 1-1 favorite in the Preakness)

#2 Goldencents (17th in the Kentucky Derby, ML 8-1 in the Preakness)

#3 Titletown Five (New shooter, 4th in the Derby Trail-G3, ML 30-1 in the Preakness)

#4 Departing (New shooter, won the Illinois Derby-G3, ML 6-1 in the Preakness)

#5 Mylute (5th in the Kentucky Derby, ML 5-1 in the Preakness)

#6 Oxbow 6th in the Kentucky Derby, ML 15-1 in the Preakness)

#7 Will Take Charge (8th in the Kentucky Derby, ML 12-1 in the Preakness)

#8 Govenor Charlie (New shooter, won the Sunland Derby-G3, ML 12-1 in the Preakness

#9 Itsmyluckyday (15th in the Kentucky Derby, ML 10-1 in the Preakness)

There is always a concern with getting the infamous “rail position” as your maneuverability is restricted since you really can’t go left.  You obviously have to run right, or look for a clearing to run straight ahead. With immediate speed sitting right next to Orb I don’t foresee post position being a factor since there will surely be a pace presence. Let’s not forget Orb has already triumphed in the #1 post position when he won the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.

So the question is, will pace make the race once again?  We all had seen what happened with the torrid pace that was set by Palace Malice in this year’s Kentucky Derby opening at 45.1: 1:09.4 — Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids! D. Wayne Lukas commented in an interview to not expect Titletown Five to be in the lead for this race. Well…we’ll try, but in my opinion this is a naturally fast horse and Julian Leparoux will have a difficult time settling him down and hindering him from what he does naturally… run!  In his last couple of races, he had an opening of 45 and 46’and change; this is a really fast colt!  So expect the pace to be aggressive, and quick decisions will have to be made by the Jockeys from the break, to the first turn.

Goldencents in the Santa Anita Derby was aggressive with an opening of 45.2: 1:10.2 and Titletown Five in the Louisiana Derby was just as aggressive with fractions of 46.1: 1:11.4. We’ll see what decisions Kevin Krigger makes for Goldencents as the horse seems to run his best when he is clearly in the lead.  Other speed presence in the race should be Govenor Charlie and Oxbow nearby.

Joel Rosario will also have to make some quick decisions on how he will maneuver Orb. Will be drop him further back than usual—to get Orb on the outside for a clear run?  Or will he let Orb just run his race?

Let’s also note that with all four of Orb wins in 2013, he has gone out wide for a clear run to the finish line so I’m anticipating this is what Rosorio will do. Let’s hope whatever is decided Orb will not be too far back since the mile and 3/16 is the shortest race in the Triple Crown trail.

Orb is an extremely versatile horse so whether Rosorio drops him back to go wide, or choose to skim the rail; I’m sure as methodical of a horse that Orb is he will handle whatever comes his way.

He’ll run his own race… he’ll be in control… and the next stop will be at the “Big Sandy” on June the 8th as we crown our next Triple Crown winner!

If you look at my previous blog “Pace Makes the Race” for the Kentucky Derby, I will stick to my previous Derby picks, but I am going to use Goldencents in my trifecta’s and superfecta’s only.

Best of Luck to Everyone!

Ready…Set…Go…

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The post positions have been drawn and the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby is set. Mike Battaglia’s celebrating his 40th anniversary kept his morning lines unchanged and has set Orb as the morning line favorite at 7-2, followed by Verrazano at 4-1 and third, Goldencents at 5-1.

During the live coverage I’m sure every trainer and owner was hoping for an ideal post. Not the 1, or the 20 please! Let the “Racing Gods” be on our side.  Back in 1986, Ferdinand was the last colt to win from post position 1, a race remembered as the “miracle run”. Unfortunately, Black Onyx drew this dreaded post and although, it is the shortest distance around the track, horses tend to get pinched and trapped in the first turn as every horse is trying to settle in. Post 20 has produced 1 winner in the entire history of the Kentucky Derby, and his name was Big Brown. Can Vyjack be the second in what seems to be an impossible feat? He’ll need to use a lot of energy to make up ground from the 20. 

Here’s a great article that provides advantages and disadvantages of  specific post positions.

Now with post positions set, trainers and owners can come up with a game plan for Derby day, and we can each take the next few days to pick our Derby horse! Remember when choosing your horse, don’t only consider your post position, but it’s also important to be aware of your colt’s running style. Try to anticipate how the race will unfold. Start to separate the pretenders from the true contenders by understanding whether your horse’s pedigree can handle the distance, and the track. This is the first time that your colt will run a mile and a quarter, and this will be difficult task if there is no stamina in their pedigree.  How about your jockey? Do you have a seasoned jockey that can handle the pressure? This is a race with 20 horses that will be flying at the same time trying to set their positions early in the race. There will be a lot of shuffling going on, and you will need both a fearless horse, and a fearless jockey. Timing will be everything, and you will need a jockey who can make the right decisions; at the right time. Also, don’t forget about the weather. If it rains (which rain is in the forecast) it will throw a wrench in the works! Lots to think about in a field that has legitimate contenders.

Good luck to the connections involved, and here’s hoping you have a Happy Derby!          

PP #1: Black Onyx (50-1)

PP #2: Oxbow (30-1)

PP #3: Revolutionary (10-1)

PP #4: Golden Soul (50-1)

PP #5: Normandy Invasion (12-1)

PP #6: Mylute (15-1)

PP #7: Giant Finish (50-1)

PP #8: Goldencents (5-1)

PP #9: Overanalyze (15-1)

PP #10: Palace Malice (20-1)

PP #11: Lines of Battle (30-1)

PP #12: Itsmyluckyday (15-1)

PP #13: Falling Sky (50-1)

PP #14: Verrazano (4-1)

PP #15: Charming Kitten (20-1)

PP #16: Orb (7-2)

PP #17: Will Take Charge (20-1)

PP #18: Frac Daddy (50-1)

PP #19: Java’s War (15-1)

PP #20: Vyjack (15-1)

Pace Makes The Race…

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For Every horse racing fan out there, the Kentucky Derby is known in the United States as, “The most exciting two minutes in sports”. The countdown is quickly approaching, and everyone who loves the sport now claims to have derby fever. Yes, it is highly contagious and if you don’t know much about the sport this is the perfect time of the year to find a new love in thoroughbred horse racing. 
It’s the sport of kings, and if the sport itself does not intrigue you; the beauty of a thoroughbred horse should!  Its’ grace and power will take your breath away as they blitz by you with speed and finesses.  I wish I had enough time to captivate you with all the information you need to love the sport as much as I do, but for now let me entertain you with some great information for this year’s race.
It’s the 139th, Run for the Roses, and the question is who will adorn the blanket of sweet Kentucky roses? Out of 40,000 foals born each year, only 20 will make it to the gate on the first Saturday in May. Mixed with talent and a bit of luck, it’s every owner’s and trainer’s dream to make it to the gate and hear those magical words, “And they’re off…” It is like music to every owner’s/trainer’s ears.
In my opinion, this year’s field appears to be wide open. There are several stand-outs that we can all give legitimate reasons for strong contenders within the race. A good post position, an honest pace, a good trip and let’s not forget “luck” from the ‘Racing Gods’, anyone of these stand-outs could win or definitely come in the money.
I’m a firm believer that pace makes the race and with that said one of my top 3 contenders is GOLDENCENTS. I saw this magnificent colt run in the Santa Anita Derby and I said to myself, “I just may have seen the Kentucky Derby winner” again…  With a moderate pace anticipated in his year’s race; he will definitely be a pace presence.  Falling Sky and Lucas’s rabbit – Oxbow will be part of the pace along with Verrazano.  While several others will be just off the pace; I am also hoping Goldencents will do the same. Let’s hope he sits comfortably off the pace as he did in the Santa Anita without burning the candle too early, too soon.  None of these 3-year olds have run 10f, so this will be test to see who will triumph the “Classic Mile”. Goldencents  will be dangerous with his high cruising speed and I’m hoping his jockey Kevin Krigger will be able to control the needed pace and let him ride through the top of the stretch holding off the closers that will be charging late from the rear.  Patience and timing will set up the perfect trip for the winner.  This is a talented colt that has proven that he is tough beyond his pedigree; which does not scream distance. 
REVOLUTIONARY has a very classy pedigree with stamina influence from his Dam’s Sire A.P. Indy.  Javas War also shares the same Sire, War Pass – who favors speed over stamina and still unsure whether his offspring can handle 10f. This is a colt that has extreme talent and has the ability to overcome a bad trip which gives him the tactical edge against other horses in this race that have not had to deal with traffic problems. He has the ability to come from anywhere on the track which indicates intelligence, and you also can’t go wrong with having Calvin Borel (Mr. Churchill Downs himself), as your jockey.  I see this colt as a major threat, and with the perfect trip he might just skim the rail to victory.
It’s difficult not to like ORB. He is a major threat with outstanding pedigree that will suit the distance for the Triple Crown races. Both his Sire and Damsire has produces multiple winners beyond 10f. Orb’s Sire Malibu Moon is the son of stamina influence A.P. Indy, and his Dam Sire Unbridled was 3 year old of the year and captured both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. He has been improving in each race and has proven in the Florida Derby that he can sit much closer to the front as his closing style had previously indicated.
I’m going to have to leave VERRAZANO off my list, a bit risky…I know. He obviously a very strong contender, but as with GOVERNOR CHARLIE both did not race prior to January and I’ll have to go with the thought that the last Kentucky Derby winner who “did not” race as a 2 year old was Apollo back in 1882, and history continues to repeat itself.  He is large and muscular and the only undefeated horse in the field, but I’m going to have to stick to my gut and believe he will probably finish mid-pack rather than in the money. Lets’ also not forget the “Wood Memorial Curse”. Silly you think? To put it lightly, colts coming out of this race have not had the best of luck. Will Verrazano be the first to break this curse?
Finally every handicapper must have a few dark horses to win the derby. I am going to include into my exactas and trifectas Will Take Charge, MyLute and Normandy Invasion.  Not unrealistic; especially for MyLute who has been improving with each race. What can I say about Will Take Charge? He has improved since his last race and achieved one of the highest Brisnet speed scores which is close to the speed par of the Kentucky Derby, (Courtesy of Brisnet.com). He also had two works at a mile (4/12 at Oaklawn Park, and at Churchill on 4/21); unlike any colt (except for Itsmyluckday who also had a mile work on 4/18). He’s a longshot in my eyes. I have also been a Normandy Invasion fan since the Remsen Stakes back in November, each time he as let me down but why jump off the wagon now? In his last race in the Wood, he finished 3/4 back from Verrazano. I’ve also noticed he was more forwardly placed in the race which I believe he will also be in the Derby. Maybe he’s finally coming around, and ready for a big win? He had a sharp workout on April 21st, he went 4f in :48, breezed 7/81 (he was 7th out of 81 runners in that workout). He is also 30% off the layoff which is a high percentage (Courtesy of Brisnet.com). 
So to recap who I like in this race, my choices right now are:  Goldencents, Orb Revolutionary. My longshots are: Will Take Charge, Mylute and Normandy Invasion. I will probably trim this down to 4 colts within the next few days.
We still have 5 more days to ponder on who will be draped with the beautiful blanket of roses. There is still much to consider with post positions still unknown.  Weather will also be a strong factor since there are other’s within the group what will relish the mud.  There is much to consider if you are lucky enough to pick the Kentucky Derby winner, but remember pace will make the race!