2019 Florida Derby: Analysis and Selections

My favorite part of the final round of Kentucky Derby preps is that we begin to get answers (or at least glimpses of possible answers) to the questions that always surround the class of three-year-olds pointing for the most prestigious race in the country, and this year’s edition of the G1 Florida Derby is no exception. Hopefully, by the time the 11 three-year-old colts finish contesting the mile and an eighth distance of Gulfstream Park’s 14th race on Saturday, the puzzle that is the Kentucky Derby will begin to come into even sharper focus.

The morning line favorite, and the horse that may have the most to prove, is #1 Hidden Scroll. The Bill Mott-trained son of Hard Spun posted a 104 Beyer when winning his January 24th debut wire-to-wire by 14 lengths over a sloppy mile trip at Gulfstream Park, but faded to finish fourth after rushing up to get the lead in the Fountain of Youth as the favorite. I’ll choose to take a stand against this colt, although watching his most recent Payson Park work has made me a bit less secure in my convictions, as Hidden Scroll relaxed beautifully behind a workmate and was able to overtake that rival at will and move away easily. However, I am not yet convinced that this horse is as freakishly good as that debut number incidates. I think it’s very likely that he moved up on the wet track, and I think the rail draw is likely to compromise the chances of a horse with such little experience. Rating behind a single workmate is a bit different from rating not only behind, but also inside of a full field of horses. If he goes to the lead, I think he will have to contend with the likes of Maximum Security on the front end, and there are enough tactical horses in the race to keep him from getting clear. That said, Bill Mott is an excellent conditioner and this colt clearly has a wealth of raw ability, and he could very well prove me wrong but I’m willing to make him do so at a short price.

#9 Code of Honor won the Fountain of Youth last time out, redeeming his disappointing odds-on loss in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes back in January, and I think he’s a major contender again today. The chestnut son of Noble Mission has posted two consecutive bullet works since the Fountain of Youth, and I think he will take another step forward in the Florida Derby. He is versatile enough that jockey John Velazquez should be able to work out a good mid-pack trip from the nine post position. I think that the Fountain of Youth was the strongest Derby prep we’ve seen to date, and I feel as though the top 7 finishers who separated themselves from the three trailers are all very legitimate horses.

Gaining quickly on Code of Honor in the final strides of the Fountain of Youth was #4 Bourbon War. He’s a horse that I think demands respect in here and moving forward to the Kentucky Derby, as he has shown the ability to overcome adversity and navigate traffic. He came from far out of it in the Fountain of Youth, but can be reasonably tactical, as he proved in his allowance win over recent Sunland Park Derby winner Cutting Humor back in January, where he was toward the back of the pack but less than four lengths off of reasonable splits of :23.8 and :47.4.

#7 Maximum Security is the new shooter in this race. He has the best last-out Beyer speed figure of any horse in the field, posting a 102 when he dominated a 7 furlong allowance by over 18 lengths on February 20th. This will be the first start around two turns for the son of Breeders Cup Juvenile winner New Years Day, but I don’t think 1 1/8 will be out of his wheelhouse, as his dam is very closely related to multiple G1 winner Flat Out, a two-time winner of the 10f Jockey Club Gold Cup. I think it’s possible this horse improves with distance, which could catapult him into the Derby picture despite the fact he debuted for a claiming tag of $16,000. He showed the ability to relax slightly off the pace in his second career start, and I think he’s likely to either get the lead or be able to sit just off of Hidden Scroll in this race. Trainer Jason Servis is winning at a ridiculous 45%, and this colt is going to be very interesting to watch in here.

One horse that presents a major handicapping conundrum is #2 Current. This son of Curlin has never run on a fast dirt track, but he was a very good juvenile on the turf last year, and he has the excuse of a poor start to excuse his two sub-par performances (one of which was his only dirt effort, when there was a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes). This colt is out of a daughter of Kentucky Oaks winner Flute, and he’s a half-brother to Ashland Stakes winner Weep No More. Todd Pletcher , who strikes at 24% when switching horses from turf to dirt, sees fit to place this colt here off a bullet work at Payson on March 22nd, and if he gets out of the gate, I think this colt could make some noise. With all the other talent in this race, he’s a horse that I’ll reluctantly leave out of my top contenders, but it’s not hard to imagine this horse improving on the dirt and leaving everyone feeling a bit stupid for counting out a talented Todd Pletcher colt who cost $725,000 as a yearling.

Despite the deep field of contenders, my top pick in the Florida Derby will be #3 Harvey Wallbanger. I thought he had a chance in the Holy Bull, and he outran my expectations in there, and while I don’t think that field was particularly deep, I love the rail move he made in there. This little colt has never run a bad race, and watching back his maiden efforts shows a horse that looked a bit immature but clearly naturally talented and absolutely fearless. I think this is the kind of horse that will make his own trip from the back of the pack and is capable of taking advantage of the slightest opening without losing momentum. This son of Congrats is also bred on my favorite pattern – that of crossing a stallion from La Troienne’s family 1-x with a mare from that same line (in Harvey Wallbanger’s case, the branch of the family stemming from champion Numbered Account, which also includes champion Rhythm, multiple G1 winner Private Account, and Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, among others). Even if this colt does not win today, I think he will run a credible race and I think he fits the profile for the kind of horse that could end up thriving in a 20-horse field at Churchill Downs (which happens to be the track over which he broke his maiden).

I wouldn’t talk anyone off of using #10 Union’s Destiny in exotics, as he’s another horse who is a bit of a question mark. He did not embarrass himself in finishing 6th after getting fanned very wide on the first turn, which led to him being much further back than he had been in his previous starts. This son of Union Rags is on the improve, and while he has not yet proven he’s as good as some of the others in here, I don’t think he’s an impossibility to round out trifectas or superfectas. #11 Garter and Tie is another horse that I think could bring home a paycheck, although I don’t see him figuring in the trifecta. He’s a colt who showed a lot of ability as a two-year-old in Florida, and Ralph Nicks is taking the blinkers off this Florida-bred for the first time, a move that I like on a horse that showed some heart and tenacity back in 2018.

Overall, this year’s Florida Derby is an excellent betting race and should be a very interesting addition to the Kentucky Derby picture. This is a race where I believe as many as six of these horses have a chance at winning, but at 15-1 on the morning line, I think Harvey Wallbanger presents the best value of any of the major contenders and I will make him my top selection as a result.

Selections

My top pick is #3 Harvey Wallbanger, followed by #4 Bourbon War, #7 Maximum Security, and #9 Code of Honor.

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Smart Strike x Deputy Minister: A Theory

Smart Strike has proven to be very successful with mares carrying Deputy Minister, with eight G1 winners by Smart Strike or one of his sons and out of mares with Deputy Minister in their first three generations. The best example of this pattern is 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin (by Smart Strike and out of a Deputy Minister mare), but it can also be seen in the pedigree of the likes of G1 Hollywood Starlet winner Streaming, a filly by Smart Strike whose second dam was by Deputy Minister, and G1 Travers Stakes winner V.E. Day (by Smart Strike’s son English Channel and out of a Deputy Minster mare).

Since January of 2011, there have been 34 stakes winners from 218 runners (15.6%) representing the cross of Smart Strike and Deputy Minister, including seven (3.21%) G1 winners. Smart Strike and his sons English Channel, Curlin, and Dominus all show TrueNicks ratings of “A” or better. Interestingly, one son at stud, Lookin at Lucky, has not done as well with Deputy Minister, with 20 winners and 2 stakes winners from 33 starters out of mares by Deputy Minister or his sons or grandsons (61% and 6%, respectively), compared to 67 winners and 11 stakes winners from 87 starters (77% and 13%) by Smart Strike and his sons out of mares by Deputy Minister.

In addition to being a classic example of the seemingly omnipresent cross of Mr. Prospector with Northern Dancer, I think this pair of stallions work exceptionally well together because of the linebreeding opportunities to key female families, particularly family 23-b, the tail-female line of Smart Strike, and family 10-a, the tail-female line of Deputy Minister. The foundation mares of the families in play would be 23-b’s Gallopade and 10-a’s Queen Mary.

Smart Strike x Deputy Minister

We’ll begin by taking a look at Deputy Minister’s pedigree in a bit more depth. He’s a son of Vice Regent, whose 9th dam is Queen Mary, the cornerstone of family 10-a. Vice Regent descends from Queen Mary’s daughter Bonnie Doon, the matriarch of family 10-c. Vice Regent was by Northern Dancer, whose third dam was by Peace Chance, another tail-female descendent of Queen Mary.

Deputy Minister

Deputy Minister is inbred 5×3 to the Canadian Hall of Famer Bunty Lawless, whose sixth dam is the blue hen mare Lizzie G of family 23-b, perhaps best known as the second dam of the great Domino, who appears twice in the fifth generation of Bunty Lawless’ pedigree via his grandsons Celt and Peter Pan. Interestingly, Lizzie G, her sire War Dance, and her damsire Lecomte all trace tail-female to Gallopade, making her inbred 3x4x5 to that matriarch. Family 23-b can also be found in Deputy Minister’s damsire Bunty’s Flight, as the son of Bunty Lawless was out of the mare Broomflight, by Deil (whose sire Diavolo was inbred 5×5 to Domino’s dam Mannie Gray). Her dam, Air Post, was by Ariel, whose second dam was a full sister to Domino and whose grandsire, Sweep, was out of a Domino mare. Bunty Lawless was by the stallion Ladder, who was out of family 10-a’s Panoply – the 6th dam of Deputy Minister.

 

Panoply’s second dam was a mare named Court Dress, the U.S. champion 2yo filly of 1906. Queen Mary appears four times in her pedigree – as the third dam of her sire, Disguise; as the fourth dam of her damsire Hampton (whose second dam was Queen Mary’s daughter Haricot); as the granddam of Breadalbane, the sire of Court Dress’ second dam; and as the sixth dam of Court Dress (whose fifth dam was also Haricot). Hampton was out of Haricot’s daughter Lady Langden, by Kettledrum. Kettledrum is also the sire of Court Dress’ third dam, The Pet, who was out of a half-sister to Lady Langden.

 

Smart Strike, meanwhile, also traces tail-female to family 23-b’s Gallopade, although it takes a bit of digging to find where he ties into family 10-a and Deputy Minister. His 10th dam is Adriana, who was inbred to her own tail-female line via her sire Hamburg, whose third dam is Lizzie G. Hamburg’s sire Hanover was out of a mare by Queen Mary’s son Bonnie Scotland (family 10-a). Family 23-b also appears in Smart Strike’s pedigree via Discovery, the damsire of Smart Strike’s great-grandsire Native Dancer. Discovery’s 10th dam was Gallopade, and his third dam was by the stallion His Majesty (whose 8th dam was Gallopade). His Majesty was out of a mare by His Highness, whose grandsire Breadalbane was a maternal grandson of Queen Mary.

Smart Strike

Smart Strike’s fifth dam, Tonga, was by Polynesian, who Deputy Minister has 5×4 via both a son and a daughter. Polynesian’s third dam was by Black Toney, who traced tail-female to Domino and tail-male to Queen Mary. His dam, Belgravia, was inbred 4×3 to the latter mare. Additionally, both Deputy Minister and Smart Strike carry the stallion Beau Pere in their fifth generation, who shares an ancestor with his damsire Polymelus, making him inbred 4×4 to family 3-e’s Quiver. Polymelus, of course, would sire Phalaris, the tail-male ancestor of almost every Thoroughbred in the modern era. Polynesian was inbred 4×3 to Polymelus as the tail-male ancestor of his sire Unbreakable and damsire Polymelian.

 

Despite all of these distant similarities, this direct cross shows no inbreeding in the first five generations, which I think represents a good balance of linebreeding and outcrossing. Looking at the pedigrees of past champions shows that linebreeding to quality females has proven successful time and again, and I believe the Smart Strike x Deputy Minister nick is an interesting example of how history has a tendency of repeating itself.

 

Here are a few historical examples of the success of the cross between Queen Mary and Lizzie G

 

  • The highly influential stallion and champion 2- and 3-year-old champion of 1897-1898 Hamburg was an example of this female family cross, as his third dam was Lizzie G and his sire, Hanover, was out of a mare by a son of Queen Mary.
  • Another leading stallion who repeated that championship feat in 1909 and 1910, Sweep was by Ben Brush (whose grandsire was out of Queen Mary), and out of a mare by Domino (a maternal grandson of Lizzie G).

Hamburg vs Sweep

  • The champion 2- and 3- year-old filly of 1908-1909, Maskette was a brilliant racehorse who was undefeated against her own sex in three seasons of racing, and she’s a perfect example of the kind of linebreeding I gravitate toward being proliferated in multiple generations of a breeding operation. Maskette was out of a Hamburg mare and by the stallion Disguise, a successful stakes horse in Great Britain who stood at James Keene’s Castleton Stud in the early 1900s, following in the footsteps of his sire Domino (who was raced by James Keene but sired only twenty foals before his sudden death in 1897). He was bred on a reversed version of this cross to Hamburg, as Disguise’s third dam was Queen Mary and his sire’s second dam was Lizzie G.
  • Castleton Stud also bred the great stallion Black Toney, who was by Domino’s grandson Peter Pan and out of a Ben Brush mare who was inbred 4×3 to Queen Mary (via her tail-female line, and as the dam of Ben Brush’s grandsire Bonnie Scotland). Black Toney was a useful racehorse but a better stallion, providing the foundation for Colonel E. R. Bradley’s Idle Hour Farm and siring Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold (who, notably, was out of a mare by the stallion Bonnie Joe; Bonnie Joe was by Faustus, a full brother to the dam of Black Toney’s great-grandsire Domino, and out of a mare by Bonnie Scotland).

Horse Racing Hipster: Global Campaign

Saturday’s third race at Gulfstream Park is a maiden special weight affair for newly-turned three-year-olds going seven furlongs. The morning line favorite in the race at 7/5 is the debuting Global Campaign for trainer Stanley Hough and owners Sagamore Racing and WinStar Farm. This $250,000 yearling is by Curlin and out of the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot, and this watchlister of mine will be the subject of today’s Horse Racing Hipster.

Continue reading “Horse Racing Hipster: Global Campaign”

Broodmare Watch: Clem Gem

For over a year now, I’ve casually perused claiming races with an eye on the pedigrees of claiming-level mares that I think have broodmare potential. I’ve decided to share these mares with the public, along with a few hypothetical matings that I find interesting. The first edition of this will be focusing on the mare Clem Gem: a Maryland-bred mare who has earned over $100,000 competing in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Yesterday, her 4th dam Lady Winborne had another descendant become a graded stakes winner with Fashion Business’ impressive win in the G2 Del Mar Handicap.

Continue reading “Broodmare Watch: Clem Gem”

Kentucky Derby Day 2018 – Pick 6 Sequence Analysis (races 6-11)

Race 7: The Churchill Distaff Turf Mile – 11-2-9

This race is #11 La Coronel’s race to lose. She’s winless in three starts since the Queen Elizabeth II at the Keeneland fall meet, but has not embarrassed herself in those races, finishing second by four lengths, third by 3/4 of a length, and fourth by three lengths. Even so, her speed figures are the best in the field and she is a classy filly with the tactical speed to position herself well behind expected pacesetter #10 Psycho Sister. However, she’s far from invincible in a race with plenty of other talented fillies and mares, and my top pick to upset her is #2 Thundering Sky. She hasn’t been off the board in her three 2018 starts so far, and is another filly in this race with enough speed to secure decent position in the early stages of this mile on the turf. In her first race of the year, she finished third behind Madame Stripes and Insta Erma in the G3 Megahertz Stakes. She will be facing both of those rivals again in here, but she was most recently seen getting the better of Madame Stripes by half a length when finishing second in the G2 Royal Heroine at Santa Anita, despite being in tight quarters and steadying at the eighth pole. #9 On Leave, for Stuart Janney and Shug McGaughey, is coming off a close defeat in the G3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park behind Lull and Res Ipsa. She has never been off the board at the distance of one mile. She’s an incredibly consistent five-year-old daughter of War Front, and can be counted on to run her race. She won’t let the speed get too far away from her, and Jose Ortiz will have options from the nine post.

Race 8: The Churchill Downs Stakes – 10-3-1

#10 Awesome Slew ran his first race off a five-month layoff on April 7th, 2018, following up his third-place finish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with a runner-up effort behind budding star Army Mule in the G1 Carter Handicap. While his closing style may not be condusive to the way the Churchill Downs main track has been playing the last two days, I believe that he is the best horse in the race and the horse that everyone will need to be looking out for late. He’s never been worse than second in five tries at seven furlongs, a distance that should suit this son of Awesome Again beautifully. #3 Imperial Hint is the 9-5 morning line favorite, and with the way that speed has been holding over this track, he deserves favoritism. He is wickedly fast, and even if he is outsprinted to the early lead by the speedball #2 Chief Cicatriz, he has shown the ability to rate and close in the past, though it hasn’t been necessary as of late. Imperial Hint’s only loss since December 17th, 2016 came in the G1 Breeders Cup Sprint where he was second defeated only a length by Roy H. He won a $100k race for Florida-breds at Tampa Bay Downs in his comeback, receiving a rather inferior Beyer of 92 compared to his six straight triple digit Beyer figures, but the race was so easy for him that it’s hard to gauge what, if anything, he got out of the race. He has two quick works since, though – a bullet four furlongs in :47 1/5 at Tampa Bay Downs and five furlongs in :59 2/5 over this track on April 26th, a move that was the second fastest of 32 on the day. He is the most likely winner of this race due to his style and the way the track has been playing, but I’m willing to give the edge to the classy Awesome Slew in the hopes that a fairly fresh Imperial Hint gets at least a little weakened by the other speed in the race. #1 Whitmore has been off the board only once since cutting back to sprint races following a 19th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. That single poor effort came in the Breeders Cup Sprint, but he has been victories in both of his 2018 starts, posting Beyer figures of 102 in each. He is as consistent as they come at the sprint distance, and while he is known for his big finishing moves, he is plenty capable of getting involved in the race and not allowing the early speed to get away from him.

Race 9: The American Turf Stakes – 1-6-11-3

#1 Speed Franco should be the controlling speed in here, something I think is often underestimated in turf races. His last three Beyer figures have been 90-88-89, and no other horse has posted anything over an 88. I don’t think there’s a horse in here with more talent than him, and the fact that he will likely get an easy lead make him doubly tough in this race. If he is anywhere near the 6-1 morning line price, he is a must-play across the board. Next to him, I think the most likely winner is #6 River Boyne, another horse that I believe has a big future. After three unsuccessful starts in Europe, he ran second in his American racing debut to Blended Citizen, and while he was only an also-eligible in the Derby field, I believe he is a colt with a lot of potential. Following that, River Boyne broke his maiden by five lengths in December of his two-year-old career. He hasn’t lost in his two starts since, including his most recent win in a $200k stakes race at Santa Anita.

#11 Untamed Domain was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Speed Franco in his most recent turf race on February 3rd – he most recently tried the dirt to no avail in the Tampa Bay Derby. However, he was beaten only a length when finishing second to Mendelssohn in his race prior to that. I’m willing to believe that this colt has improved for Graham Motion since February, and even the slightest improvement puts him right there in this race. #3 Threeandfourpence is making his first start in the United States for trainer Aiden O’Brien, and this colt was only beaten 3/4 of a length by Mendelssohn two starts back on a synthetic surface (he, like Untamed Domain, experimented with dirt in his most recent start; for Threeandfourpence, that was in the UAE Derby, where he was never involved). This son of War Front was fourth behind U S Navy Flag and Mendelssohn in the G1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes, which was his last turf effort. He is a horse to be taken seriously, but a major unknown factor in here.

Race 10: The Pat Day Mile – 7-1-8-3

This race promises to be a competitive affair, and I think it’s a tough race to handicap. I ended up with #7 Madison’s Luna on top. I am looking forward to seeing this 2-for-2 son of Tapit go two turns for the first time. He’s a half brother to two G1 winners and he was very impressive in his score in the G3 Hutcheson last time out, receiving a 92 Beyer in the process. #1 National Flag is another horse that must be respected. After an uninspiring debut as an odds-on favorite, National Flag broke his maiden in his second start in a race where he showed some courage after getting bumped around some in the stretch. He was disappointing in the G1 Hopeful, but returned as a three-year-old to win an Allowance at Gulfstream Park – where he got an exceptional 100 Beyer, – and then took the Bay Shore at Aqueduct in his most recent race. He showed a new dimension in that race, being forced to rate after getting squeezed at the start but making a big move to win by a widening four lengths. He’s by Speightstown, who was himself a sprinter but whose offspring prove exceptionally versatile time and time again, and his dam is by Bernardini and a half-sister to Eddington, who was competitive in graded stakes at up to ten furlongs, so I think the added distance will only help him.

#8 Mask is a very exciting Chad Brown trainee making only his third start after a debut win by 3 and a win in the mile $100k Mucho Macho Man Stakes by over 6 lengths. He is another son of Tapit whose ceiling we have yet to see, and he also comes from a strong female family – while his dam was a stakes winner at 5 1/2 furlongs and is by sprinter Yonaguska, a mile shouldn’t be out of his wheelhouse thanks to the influence of his sire. His dams siblings include Bullsbay (a G1 winner at 9f) and Our Khrysty (a G3 winner at 8.5f). He’s another horse in here who could be any kind, and he showed in his 6 1/2 furlong debut that he is fully capable of rating if another horse wants to gun for the lead, but Javier Castellano will be able to keep him close. It’s worth noting that, while I don’t give him a big shot at the win, there is another well-bred Tapit colt in the race – #3 New York Central for Todd Pletcher is a half-brother to Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar, and if you throw out his Sunland Park Derby at 1 1/8 miles, he fits perfectly with these. This is a horse with a 12-1 shot at winning this race, not a 30-1 shot (as he is on the morning line), and is worth using underneath in exotics.

Race 11: The Turf Classic – 10-7-2-1

I like #10 Beach Patrol on top in this race. He was last seen being defeated only half a length in the G1 Breeders Cup Turf, and he was second in this race last year. Between then, he has been off the board only once – when he was beaten 1 1/2 lengths finishing fourth in the G1 Manhattan. He has run seven consecutive 100+ Beyer speed figures, and as long as he can relax in his first race since last November, I think he’ll be hard to beat in here. #7 Synchrony is two-for-two in 2018 after knocking on the door in stakes company at the end of last year, and while this is a bit of a step up in class after winning in G3 and G2 company in his first two starts of the year, I think he’s the “now” horse, and his Beyers of 102 and 103 in 2018 put him right in this mix. If Beach Patrol doesn’t relax though, the horse that will give him the most trouble is #2 Shining Copper, a horse who used to be simply a rabbit for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, but has really come into his own in his own right. #1 Deauville was beaten 3/4 of a length by Beach Patrol in the Arlington Million last year. In his most recent start on April 18th, he was beaten only half a length in a G3 race in Europe. He needs to have improved since last August, as I believe Beach Patrol has, but he does have the edge of a start in 2018. He’s a very good horse but I think he is likely to be overbet as a European contender.