AP DERBY TOP 10: It’s still Nyquist, of course

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NEW YORK — And now, a few words about undefeated horses running in the Kentucky Derby – Nyquist, specifically.

After the 3-year-old colt blew away now once-beaten Mohaymen in winning the Florida Derby on Saturday, Nyquist boosted his record to 7-for-7.

The son of Uncle Mo again proved more than worthy of his No. 1 spot on the AP’s Top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders. He’s also the 3-1 favorite in the Derby’s final future wager odds.

As for becoming an unbeaten Derby winner, Nyquist will be bucking longer odds. Of the 26 unbeatens that entered the Derby starting gate in the past 100 years, seven were still undefeated after the Run for the Roses. That would put Nyquist’s odds of winning a little better than 4-1.

Nyquist, though, will be the first horse taking a 7-0 or better record into the Derby in 26 years – since Mister Frisky ran eighth in 1990 after winning 16 in a row (the first 13 in Puerto Rico). Big Brown in 2008, Barbaro in 2006 and Smarty Jones in 2004 all won the Derby, but came into the race with six or fewer wins.

Seattle Slew remains the only undefeated Triple Crown winner, coming into the races at 6-0 and then sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1977.

The other unbeaten Derby winners are Majestic Prince (1969), Morvich (1922) and Regret (1915).

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

Onward to May 7.

Even with a fourth-place finish, Mohaymen still has five wins in six starts and doesn’t lose much ground this week, dropping one spot to No. 3. Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner moves up to No. 2, and Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert has No. 4 Cupid and No. 7 Mor Spirit.

Huge changes are likely after Saturday’s trio of Derby preps – Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

All three carry a total of 180 Derby qualifying points – 100 for first, 50 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. Finish first or second – maybe even third – and a spot in a full 20-horse field is all but set.

-The Wood features undefeated Shagaf (3-0) in a field that could total 10.

-The Santa Anita Derby will have a small but deep field in Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. Danzing Candy beat Mor Spirit in the San Felipe last month.

-The Blue Grass field keeps growing, with as many as 13 starters possible. Among them are Zulu, Brody’s Cause and American Dubai.

Wrapping up last weekend’s preps:

-The rare pre-Derby duel between best in the East (Mohaymen) and best in the West (Nyquist) was brief – and decisive. A brilliant ride by Nyquist jockey Mario Gutierrez appeared the big reason.

With Mohaymen racing outside of Nyquist, Gutierrez allowed Nyquist to drift further out coming around the far turn. That forced Junior Alvarado aboard Mohaymen even further outside toward the center of the track. At that point, Nyquist pulled away and beat Majesto by 3 1/4 lengths.

“I saw the gray horse (Mohaymen) coming and I decided if he was going to pass me,” Gutierrez said, “he was going to do it running wide.”

-At Turfway Park, 23-1 shot Oscar Nominated prevailed in the Spiral Stakes to earn 50 Derby qualifying points. Problem is he’ still not Triple Crown nominated. However, owner Ken Ramsey says the supplemental entry fee of $200,000 will be paid. He now tells the Courier-Journal that someone has accepted his offer and stepped forward to pay the fee for a chance to split any earnings the horse gets from Triple Crown races.

Here’s our Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Won Florida Derby with ease over chief rival Mohaymen. … Will be first Derby starter unbeaten in seven or more starts since Mister Frisky in 1990. … Arrived at Keeneland to train. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds (final future wager): 3-1.

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Louisiana Derby winner may have what it takes to deal with big Derby field. … Worked 4 furlongs in 50.60 under Geroux at Churchill Downs on Monday. … Has four wins in five races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 25-1.

3. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Don’t give up on this talented gray colt. … Just didn’t kick in when taking on Nyquist in Florida Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

4. Cupid (Bob Baffert, Martin Garcia): Rebel winner loving Santa Anita before return to Arkansas. … Won last two starts after two career-opening losses. … Next start: Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, April 16. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): San Felipe winner has chance to move up with win this weekend. .. Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at Santa Anita on Saturday. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Park, Saturday. … Odds: 16-1.

6. Shagaf (Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.): A Wood win and colt would come into Derby with 4-0 record. … Gotham winner worked 4 furlongs in 48.40 at Belmont on Saturday. … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, Saturday. … Odds: 17-1.

7. Mor Spirit (Baffert, Gary Stevens): Looking to avenge San Felipe loss. … With Cupid and Mor Spirit, Baffert could have another 1-2 Derby punch. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

8. Lani (Mikio Matsunaga, Yutaka Take): UAE Derby winner settling in at Churchill Downs. … Bred in Kentucky, races in Japan. Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 25-1.

9. Destin (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Tampa Bay Derby winner looking to make it three in a row with win in final Derby prep. … Next start: Arkansas Derby … Odds: 16-1.

10. Zulu (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Fountain of Youth runner-up worked 4 furlongs in 49.07 at Palm Beach Downs on Saturday. … Next start: Blue Grass, Keeneland, Saturday. … Odds: 34-1.

**Keep an eye on: Brody’s Cause, Exaggerator, Mo Tom, Outwork, Whitmore.**

 

Royal silks return as King Charles III’s horse finishes 2nd

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SALISBURY, England – The famous royal silks returned to British horse racing with the first runner under the ownership of King Charles III finishing a distant second at Salisbury.

Educator was the first horse to wear the purple, red and gold silks since the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8.

Her oldest son and heir, Charles, has taken on the royal stable and Educator was sent off as the 11-10 favorite under jockey Tom Marquand for the Radcliffe & Co Handicap.

Okeechobee won by 4 \ lengths in the four-horse race.

The queen’s last runner was Improvise, who was beaten narrowly at Epsom on the day the monarch died at her Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!