As I have in years past, I will be posting my 2016 Breeders’ Cup selections in the format of a $2 win bet, a $1 3-horse exacta box, and a $2 W/P/S bet. As I’m not much of a gambler, this isn’t exactly how I will be playing the races (my actual bets will likely be on Twitter), but I’ve found it’s a useful way to gauge my own handicapping success in the Breeders’ Cup.
In 1931, a small, nondescript bay mare arrived at Colonel Edward Riley Bradley’s Idle Hour Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, one of two purchases from the Newmarket December Sale of the prior year. The filly had failed to win in her 7 starts in France and England, but had nonetheless been purchased, in foal to the mighty Gainsborough, by Dick Thompson on behalf of Bradley. The name of this mare was La Troienne, and she would become one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century as the foundation mare of Bruce Lowe’s family 1x – and her influence is still apparent today.
Of the ten horses entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, four of them have a direct tail-female descendant of La Troienne within the first 5 generations of their pedigree, and only two are without any trace of her in their lineage.
The overwhelming favorite in the race is California Chrome, whose modest breeding has often been highlighted by the media. Personally, however, I believe that his success could be due, in part, to the influence of La Troienne in his dam, Love The Chase. Though an unsuccessful racehorse, Love The Chase’s sire, Not For Love, and damsire, Polish Numbers, both hail from family 1-x – and both from 1971 Champion 2yo Filly Numbered Account, who is the dam of Polish Numbers and the second dam of Not For Love. Interestingly, Numbered Account herself is bred on the same pattern, being by Buckpasser (a great-grandson of La Troienne).
California Chrome is by the stallion Lucky Pulpit, grandson of 1991 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. While A.P. Indy is not a direct descendant of La Troienne, she does appear three times in his bloodlines. His sire, Seattle Slew, whose dam My Charmer is inbred 6×6 to La Troienne – her sire, Poker, and damsire, Jet Action, both trace tail-female to the great matriarch (sound familiar?). A.P. Indy’s second dam is a daughter of Buckpasser.
Win The Space, by contrast, is a longshot in this year’s event. He is out of a mare by Mutakddim, a stakes winner in England and sire of multiple champions. Mutakddim is a fascinating example of linebreeding to La Troienne. He is by Seeking the Gold, whose damsire Buckpasser is one of La Troienne’s nine direct tail-female descendants in the North American Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. Buckpasser is also the sire of Mutakddim’s third dam, the aforementioned Numbered Account, whose 5th dam is La Troienne. The dam of Mutakddim, Oscillate, is by Seattle Slew. Mutakddim, therefore, contains five crosses of La Troienne (6x8x8x6x8 ).
The ever-consistent Hoppertunity introduces another example of Numbered Account’s role in carrying on the legacy of her family. He is out of a mare by Unnacounted For, a G1-winning son of Numbered Account’s son Private Account. Additionally, Hoppertunity’s sire Any Given Saturday is out of an A.P. Indy mare, which gives Hoppertunity five total crosses of La Troienne.
Effinex is by Mineshaft, one of the exemplaries of family 1-x. Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year in 2003, and is inbred 8x8x8 to La Troienne. Perhaps also worth noting is that Effinex’s 5th dam, Stolen Hour, is by Mr. Busher, himself a grandson of La Troienne.
The horse that most proclaim to be California Chrome’s biggest threat is the three-year-old Arrogate, winner of the Travers in track and stakes record time. While most of his pedigree is free of La Troienne, he is a grandson of Unbridled, whose pedigree is intriguing on a few levels. Unbridled, as we all know, won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990. A quick glance at his pedigree immediately shows a doubling-up of the great broodmare Aspidistra, who produced two Hall of Fame champions in Dr. Fager and Ta Wee. Aspidistra is a daughter of Better Self, winner of the Saratoga Special, Carter Handicap, and Discovery Handicap, among many others. Better Self is by La Troienne’s Hall of Fame son Bimelech, champion at both two and three and winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes of 1940. Aspidistra is the 4th dam of Unbridled, via her daughter Magic, who was by Buckpasser. Magic is a slightly different take on the prolific sire x damsire cross demonstrated by the likes of Numbered Account and Love The Chase demonstrate, as she is by a stallion from family 1-x, but her damsire is instead a paternal grandson of La Troienne.
Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin does not have an excessive influence of La Troienne, but he is inbred 6×4 to the great broodmare Ballade, whose broodmare sire Cohoes was a direct grandson of La Troienne. Similarly, War Story has distant influences of La Troienne via his damsire Pulpit (a son of A.P. Indy), and also via Quadrangle, who appears in the 5th generation of his pedigree and is a son of Cohoes.
Dominant Met Mile winner Frosted is by Tapit, a grandson of A.P. Indy who is out of a mare by Unbridled. Seattle Slew appears again in his pedigree via Avenue of Flags, the sire of Frosted’s 2nd dam. While the influence is distant, this does mean that La Troienne appears eight times in his pedigree.
With the Breeders’ Cup on the horizon, we are likely to see the legacy of La Troienne continue to grow. While there are no direct representatives of family 1-x in this year’s Classic, her presence will certainly be felt in the bloodlines of some of the breed’s greatest, as it has and inevitably will be for generations to come.
It is hard to pinpoint the qualities that make a great broodmare. Some claim that great race mares aren’t generally inclined to be great broodmares, though there are plenty of mares out there that may disagree with that assessment. It is generally accepted, however, that not all great broodmares showed exceptional ability on the track. The immortal matriarch La Troienne, for instance, was winless in three starts. Love the Chase was a claiming mare with one win to her name, but she later became the dam of California Chrome, North America’s richest racehorse of all time. It is in this same vein that you can find Roberta Grump, a mare whose offspring have dominated West Virginia-bred stakes races for over a decade. With the recent retirement of Russell Road, this year looks to be the first since 2000 that she will not have at least one foal running in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics, where her offspring have racked up five victories (not to mention a sixth win, by a grandson, in 2015).
Roberta Grump was a daughter of Florida stakes winner Verification, and out of the mare Blue Spring, by Ambehaving. When Roberta Grump was foaled in 1991, Blue Spring had already produced two stakes horses. Ten years prior, Blue Spring foaled the Noholme II filly Spring Loose, who placed 3rd in the G1 Hollywood Starlet at age two. Her 1980 foal, Spring to Victory (by Inverness Drive), won Keystone Race Track’s New Hope Stakes in 1983. In 1988, Blue Spring sold at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December Mixed Sale for $2,300 in foal to Nepal. The result of that breeding was a filly named Royal Chitwan, Blue Spring’s first West Virginia bred foal. Royal Chitwan didn’t amount to much, earning just $2,628 in 8 starts. The mare didn’t foal in 1990, but she produced Roberta Grump the following year.
Roberta Grump was no factor in her first and only start, finishing 9th of 10 in a Maiden Special Weight at Charles Town on September 18, 1993. She produced her first foal two years later, a filly by Jeloso appropriately named Grumps First. That foal was 8-for-48 lifetime and earned $62,598 while racing exclusively at Charles Town, mostly in claiming races. She was then covered by stakes winner Oh Say for a 1997 foal. The filly, Sweet Annuity, was the beginning of Roberta Grump’s reign.
Sweet Annuity broke her maiden in her 4th career start, a victory she followed up with an allowance win and a stakes score in Charles Town’s Ruth C. Funkhouser Stakes. She was the first foal from Roberta Grump to compete in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics, finishing 2nd as the odds-on choice in the West Virginia Division of Tourism Breeders’ Classic Stakes for three-year-old fillies. She won three of her first five races in 2001, including two stakes wins and two stakes placings, before finishing a disappointing 6th in the West Virginia Cavada Breeders’ Classic Stakes for older mares. She would make another attempt the following year, once again finishing off the board as the favorite.
Despite Sweet Annuity’s defeat, it was still a good 2002 Breeders’ Classics night for the family of Roberta Grump, Her three-year-old daughter Shesanothergrump (by Weshaam) had already taken the West Virginia Division of Tourism Breeders’ Classic Stakes as the favorite, after hitting the board in five other stakes that year without a win. In one of those races, the $35,000 Sadie Hawkins Handicap, Shesanothergrump finished ahead of Sweet Annuity, defeating her older sister by over 7 lengths.
The next year, 2003, would be the first – though not the last – time that two of Roberta Grump’s foals raced against one another in the Breeders Classics, as Sweet Annuity and Shesanothergrump raced again as a coupled entry for owner Kenneth Pitta and trainer Karen Duke in the West Virginia Cavada Breeders’ Classic Stakes. This time, Sweet Annuity refused to lose. Despite being headed by favored Fancy Buckles in the stretch, the 6-year-old veteran mare came again to finally take down a race on Breeders Classics night. Her entrymate finished up in third. Sweet Annuity was retired following four poor starts in 2004, but Shesanothergrump was still around to carry the torch, although she failed to win a race that year and was a lackluster 7th in the Cavada.
Come 2005, there was a new grump in town. Shesagrumptoo, by Luftikus, broke her maiden in her second start for Mark Russell and James Casey. She finished 4th in her first stakes attempt, and finished 4th once more in the West Virginia Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders Classics Stakes, for two-year-old fillies. After a third-place finish in the Tri-State Futurity, Shesagrumptoo won the West Virginia Futurity against males.
Meanwhile, Shesanothergrump had another winless year and finished 8th in the Cavada. On December 1st, 2005, she dropped in to a $6,000 claiming race at Charles Town, where she was claimed off a second-place effort by Tina Malgarini-Mawing for owner Garvis Williamson. She made seven starts for her new connections without success, and retired following a last-place finish in the West Virginia Distaff Stakes in May of 2006.
Roberta Grump’s offspring in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics
With that, Shesagrumptoo was left to carry on the family tradition of success at Charles Town. She won two allowance races in the summer of 2006 before running 2nd in the Ruth B. Funkhouser to odds-on favorite Julie B, and was beaten 3/4 of a length as the favorite in the West Virginia Division of Tourism Breeders’ Classic Stakes, just failing to catch Malibu Sue. She finished out the year with a 3rd-place effort in the Syvlia Bishop Memorial Stakes behind those two fillies.
She continued to chase Julie B in 2007, finishing 4th behind her in a June allowance race, and 2nd to her in the Roger Van Hoozer Memorial Stakes, and then running 3rd in the Cavada when Julie B was defeated by Carnival Chrome.
In 2007, a three-year-old daughter of Roberta Grump named Natures Annuity broke her maiden by over 7 lengths in her April debut. The following year, she won three straight Allowance races and then finished 4th in her final prep for the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics.
Shesagrumptoo was claimed for $32,000 on September 5th, 2008, and entered the Cavada for new connections – owner Scuderia Montese Stables and trainer Raimondo Schiano-Dicola. She finished 2nd to Julie B in the Cavada, with Natures Annuity closing to finish another 3 1/4 lengths back in 3rd.
It was also in 2008 that the most successful of Roberta Grump’s offspring hit the track and started making some serious noise on the local racing circuit. Russell Road was beaten half a length in his debut for Mark Russell and James Casey, but he rebounded to romp in a maiden race by over 12 lengths in his following start. He won the Dr Ernest Benner Stakes at the end of September, then added a 2 1/2-length allowance victory, won the Tri-State Futurity by 8 1/4 lengths under wraps, and the West Virginia Futurity by 8 1/2 in similar fashion.
Russell Road started off the new year by winning Laurel Park’s Dancing Count Stakes, and then ventured to Aqueduct to try G3 company in the Gotham, where he finished 5th behind I Want Revenge. He returned to Charles Town and won the April 18th Blue and Gold Stakes by a neck over Bunker Hill, who defeated him in the Red Legend Stakes. Both horses, however, were soundly defeated by eventual G1 winner Big Drama, who romped by 7 lengths. Russell Road won three straight stakes races going into the Breeders’ Classics, where he kept the winning streak in tact, taking the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic Stakes by 8 lengths.
In the 2009 Cavada Stakes, Nature’s Annuity turned the tables on her older sister, missing the victory by a nose but finishing 7 1/4 lengths in front of Shesagrumptoo in third. It was the fourth stakes placing that year for Shesagrumptoo, though she hadn’t won a since the race that Scuderia Montese Stables claimed her out of. She finished up the track in an allowance optional claiming race about a month after the Cavada, and was claimed for $20,000 by William Campbell and Jack Gordon.
Nature’s Annuity romped in an allowance race in her first start of 2010, then finished 2nd in the Fancy Buckles Stakes, with Shesagrumptoo, now under the care of trainer John Robb, back in 5th. They would meet two months later in the Sadie Hawkins Stakes, where the now 7-year-old Shesagrumptoo pulled off a 28-1 upset. Nature’s Annuity was 4th.
Russell Road began his 4-year-old season with a disappointing last-place effort in an allowance at Laurel Park. He showed an improved effort in his second start of the year, finishing 2nd although well defeated by 2-time Charles Town Classic winner Researcher. He won the Springtime Handicap and an allowance in his two subsequent starts, added another stakes-placing in the Wild and Wonderful Stakes, finished off the board in the Frank Gall Memorial, and won another allowance prior to an attempt to defend his Breeders’ Classics title. He finished fourth.
In the Cavada, Nature’s Annuity finished 2nd at 16-1. Shesagrumptoo couldn’t reproduce her Sadie Hawkins effort, and finished 9th that year. She raced six times in 2011, and even after another trainer switch to Michael Beck, she failed to hit the board that year, retiring after a claiming race in June. Natures Annuity had a solid 2011 campaign, failing to win but never finishing worse than 4th in 7 starts, with three more black-type placings on her resume, among them another 3rd in the Cavada. She retired after one more start in an allowance race, where she finished 4th.
Russell Road started off 2011 with two Charles Town stakes wins, then hit the board in three additional stakes prior to winning his second West Virginia Breeders’ Classic Stakes. He won the same two stakes to start off 2012, lost the Wild and Wonderful Stakes, then reprised his 2009 win in the Frank Gall Memorial. He was sent off as the favorite in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic, but was defeated by the up-and-coming three-year-old Lucy’s Bob Boy, marking the beginning of a WV-bred rivalry for the ages. Their finishing positions were reversed in the A Huevo Stakes a month later.
Russell Road raced primarily at Mountaineer in 2013, winning an allowance and two stakes there prior to a September 21st return to Charles Town, where he was defeated by Fred High in a handicap. In the Breeders’ Classic, he grudgingly gave way to that same foe in the final strides.
Russell Road returned in May of 2014 after a 6-month layoff, winning an allowance race at Mountaineer. After that, however, the eight-year-old, while still competitive, appeared to be showing signs of slowing down. He finished 4th in another allowance at Mountaineer and proceeded to chase Lucy’s Bob Boy home in three consecutive starts, running third behind him in a Charles Town allowance, then finishing three lengths behind him in the Robert Gall Memorial and 7 1/4 lengths back in another allowance. Consequently, Lucy’s Bob Boy was 1-2 in the West Virginia Breeders Classic, but when the two hooked up at the 3/8ths pole, it was Russell Road who prevailed in a thrilling stretch duel. With that victory, he became only the second horse to win three West Virginia Breeders’ Classics (2009, 2011, 2014). In a race named for the only other horse to accomplish that feat, Russell Road defeated Lucy’s Bob Boy by 4 1/2 lengths in the 2015 Confucius Say Stakes.
Russell Road in the 2015 Confucius Say
Owner Mark Russell and trainer James Casey had another budding superstar in the barn, though, and on February 26th, 2016, the 3-year-old gelding Charitable Annuity broke his maiden in his second start. The son of Charitable Man was the first foal of Early Annuity, a full sister to Shesagrumptoo who won only once in her five lifetime starts for Russell and Casey. Charitable Annuity won five of his first eight starts, including the Robert Leavitt Stakes, and was highly thought of enough to earn a chance in the West Virginia Breeders Classic.
Lucy’s Bob Boy and Russell Road were once more the 1-2 choices in the race, with the former being a slight favorite. Neither hit the board, and in fact Russell Road was eased in the race, but perhaps it was a symbolic passing of the torch, as Charitable Annuity won impressively by 2 3/4 lengths.
Russell Road was disappointing in his next two starts, now at the age of ten, but he won an allowance on June 18th, 2016, defeating favorite In The Fairway along with his longtime rival Lucy’s Bob Boy. In The Fairway rebounded in Mountaineer’s Northern Panhandle Stakes, defeating Russell Road by 6 1/2 lengths. The 10-year-old gelding came out of the race with a minor ankle injury, and his connections decided to retire him. His career earnings of $2,001,586 make him the second-richest West Virginia-bred in history behind Soul of the Matter.
Of 11 foals to race out of Roberta Grump, all were winners, 4 were stakes winners, and one additional foal was stakes placed. Her legacy as a broodmare will be carried on through her grandsons and granddaughters, headed at the moment by WV Breeders Classics winner Charitable Annuity.
The sales ring is a place where horsemen and -women try to predict the future of racing, trying to find the next great champion or champion producer. They look at pedigree, conformation, and any other information they can in order to divine which horses have the potential they’re looking for.
Some of the top competitors in our sport have sold at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds In Training Sale in the past, including recent graded stakes winners such as Dortmund, Materiality, Kaigun, and Tiz Shea D. On May 23rd and 24th, 337 two-year-old Thoroughbreds sold for a record total of $23,136,400 at Fasig-Tipton’s annual Timonium sale.
I have my eye on a few horses that went through the ring at the sale this year; some of them sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others went unsold as RNAs. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these young Thoroughbreds mature into top caliber racehorses.
I only attended the first day of the breeze sale, and as a result all of my selections will be from hip numbers 1-200.
Hip #196 – Bay Colt by Majesticperfection, out of Score Four (by Grand Slam)
I really liked the way this colt breezed, he reaches out well and almost leaps with every stride he takes. He breezed a furlong in 10.1 seconds, one of the quicker times of the day (the fastest time of 10 seconds was achieved by two horses on the day, while twelve of the first 200 hips breezed in 10.1 seconds). He has a very sprint-oriented pedigree, being a son of the brilliantly quick Majesticperfection and out of a Grand Slam mare. His second dam is a half-sister to multiple G1 winner Affirmed Success, whose 17 lifetime victories included the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) and Cigar Mile (G1). This colt sold for $175,000 to HND Bloodstock.
Hip #187 – Chestnut Filly by Drosselmeyer, out of Sandi’s Ready (by More Than Ready)
This rangy daughter of Drosselmeyer breezed in 10.2 seconds with very mild urging, and galloped out full of energy. As a daughter of Drosselmeyer, you wouldn’t expect her to be at her best breezing an eighth of a mile anyway, and despite that she breezed fairly quickly and I think it’s fair to assume she had more to give. She comes from a solid, if not spectacular, female family; her dam is stakes placed, and her granddam has produced an additional stakes placed runner as well as a multiple G3 placed runner. This filly was purchased by Dennis O’Neill for $45,000.
Hip #179 – Chestnut Filly by Caleb’s Posse, out of Royal Embassy (by Royal Anthem)
This filly sold privately for only $10,000, but I think she could have a bit of potential. She breezed in 11 seconds, but galloped out to a full mile with good energy before pulling up. She comes from a very interesting family – her second dam is Denmark-bred Swedish Horse of the Year Rossard. This makes the dam of this filly a half-sister to Unusual Heat. I’m very interested in Caleb’s Posse as a sire – he was a game miler and a good-looking stallion that has already had his first winner on April 28th at Gulfstream Park.
Hip #170 – Bay Colt by Ice Box, out of Rey Lake (by Meadowlake)
This powerful-looking colt breezed a quarter in 21.3, and was a handful to pull up afterwards. He cornered very well, even with a few hits left-handed, and switched leads beautifully. He is a half brother to three foals to race, all winners, including Tremont Stakes winner Bessie’s Boy. He sold for $200,000 to Hillwood Stables LLC.
Hip #84 – Primal; Bay Colt by Flatter, out of Molly (by Coronado’s Quest)
Despite going unsold with a reserve of $80,000, this colt was probably my top pick of the sale. He caught my eye coming onto the track, very much on his toes and looking excited to be out there. Interestingly, he was the only horse I saw at the sale that breezed without blinkers. Despite that and how excitable he seemed when coming onto the track, he was exceptionally focused when he was set down to breeze. He got a couple of taps on the shoulder, but aside from that his rider gave him very little urging, just letting him do things under his own power. He is a little on the small side, but was born in late May. His second dam is Canadian Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Primaly. In addition to that filly, his 3rd dam Primarily, a listed stakes winner at Woodbine, also produced Canadian Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Poetically, by Silver Deputy; G1 Gamely Stakes winner Citronnade, by Lemon Drop Kid; Fayette Stakes(G3) winner Whiskey Wisdom, by Wild Again; as well as the dams of New Zealand Trophy(G2) winner Sunrise Prince and multiple G3 winner Twilight Meteor.
Hip #58 – United Del Coco; Dk Bay/Brown colt by United States, out of Macho La Papa (by Macho Uno)
I have to give this colt a lot of credit for the amount of professionalism he showed in what could have been a very dangerous situation. His martingale strap broke before he began his breeze, leading to the entire thing ending up flapping around underneath of him a few strides from the wire. Despite that distraction, he kept to task very nicely, and has quite a smooth, long stride on him. His breeze time was relatively slow, covering a furlong in 11.1 seconds, but I think that could be forgiven considering the circumstances, and the fact that by a stallion that isn’t likely to draw any attention at the sales. That stallion, United States, sold for $2 million at the 2007 Keeneland September Yearling sale, which likely reflected not only his good looks but also his pedigree, being a son of A.P. Indy out of a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. United States ended up disappointing on the racetrack, winning only once in nine lifetime starts (all at age four) before retiring to stud in Florida. The female family of this colt has some interesting connections if you go back far enough – his fourth dam is Lyphard’s Dancer, dam of 5 winners from 5 foals to race and half-sister to the immortal Storm Cat. United Del Coco ended up selling privately for $20,000, which I think is a very reasonable price for a colt that may be better than “son of a NW2L” might suggest.
Hip #35 – Dk Bay/Brown Filly by Aikenite, out of Lajitana (by Tiznow)
I think this filly could end up being another bargain missed out on from this sale. She was an RNA at $14,000, and I think that could be due at least in part to her slow breeze time of 11.1 seconds. Despite that, I think there are some positives here for the future. First off, her pedigree is very interesting. Her third dam is Sweet Damsel, the dam of 10 winners from 10 starters, including multiple G1 winner Colonel John and G1-placed/G1 steeplechaser Mr. Hot Stuff. Both of those foals were by Tiznow, the dam of Lajitana. In addition to that, I don’t think this filly’s breeze was as bad as it may have seemed at first glance. She had a very fluid, long stride until losing her action around the 16th pole, a few strides after changing leads. I’m not certain what caused the few goofy strides she took there, though I wonder if it may have been the whip, but I’m willing to chalk it up to greenness in a filly that otherwise looks to be fairly athletic.
Hip #32 – Bay Filly by Into Mischief, out of Lady in Ermine (by Honour and Glory)
I really liked the way this filly breezed, and apparently I wasn’t the only one, since she sold for $150,000. She’s a very nice mover, breezing a quarter in 21.4 and galloping out strongly. She had a lot of energy in her gallop and appears to cover a lot of ground with each stride. Her female family is solid, if not particularly flashy, with a stakes winner and producer under her second dam. Into Mischief has already proven to be a very good sire, with the likes of Goldencents, Vicar’s in Trouble, and Vyjack all graded stakes winners, and I think this filly has the potential to add on to her sire’s count of 13 black type winners.
“Who’s your Derby horse?”
The question is on everyone’s lips (and fingers) this time of year, with prep season complete and only a few short weeks left until the big dance. Obviously, most horseplayers have a shortlist of contenders that they think could win the Kentucky Derby; by the time the race runs on May 7th many of us will have determined which horses to use in multi-race wagers, which horses have a chance to round out exactas and trifectas, and which horses to take a stand against. Yet, despite the fact that most handicappers will have money on more than one of the twenty three-year-olds in the 142nd running of the historic classic, it’s nearly mandatory that racing fans have one horse they deem their Derby selection. Listening to Jason Beem discuss his five worst Kentucky Derby picks got me to thinking about my Derby selections during my time as a horse racing fan, which I’d like to recount here today.
My first ever “Derby horse” was Sinister Minister in 2006, and I can’t help but laugh at my 12-year-old self for thinking he had any sort of legitimate chance. I had seen his Bluegrass and was immediately on the bandwagon. I THINK he had hit the rail in one of his prior preps and that I decided that was a sign he was maturing at the right time, since he ran straight in the Bluegrass. I was oblivious to the notorious speed bias of Keeneland’s surface at the time. Needless to say, I believe he finished 16th and it was back to the drawing board for me.
I did better in 2007, I suppose, since my pick finished 6th that year. I had been on the Circular Quay bandwagon since he was a 2-year-old, and I guess leading up to the Derby he performed “okay” enough to keep me from jumping ship. Who knows, either way, it was another off the board finish.
In 2008, I was all about Pyro. I threw out the Bluegrass because I figured it was irrelevant to the Derby, and I was adamantly against Big Brown because he had never been tested in a race – a common angle in my Derby handicapping, and one that has served me well since, but one that doesn’t apply when the competition is just THAT inferior. Pyro finished 10th, while Big Brown went on to dominate in the Derby, Preakness, and Haskell.
I made a list of Derby horses, rating them from top to bottom in 2009, with a comment for each. My #20 was Mine That Bird, with the comment “doesn’t belong.” Strangely, I don’t remember who my #1 was. I know I liked Dunkirk going into the race because of the tenacity he showed versus Quality Road in the Florida Derby, but felt he might be too immature. My big long shot pick was probably my worst since Sinister Minister – although he actually did finish ninth – in West Side Bernie, another horse I had liked since he was two and somehow convinced myself was still logical. I think I ended up going with the public on Friesian Fire as my top pick because of his freaky off track performances in Louisiana. I’m pretty sure he was last.
16-year-old Jess at Belmont Super Saturday in 2010… because that’s the most relevant photo I have
I honestly don’t remember a whole lot of what I thought going into the 2010 Derby – I had to look up the chart just to remember who ran. I know that Super Saver was on my short list because of his potential to love a wet track, but he definitely wasn’t my top pick that year. I think that role went to the filly Devil May Care. I do remember my “residual 2yo choice” was Backtalk, although I had by that point wised up to my tendencies and didn’t actually think he would win. Good thing, too, since he was last. The one thing I do remember is being devastated when Uncle Mo scratched, because I was so excited to bet against him in the Kentucky Derby. He was the untested “super horse” type that I was always so keen to play against, and when he defected from the Derby, he took with him the only valid opinion I had that year.
I could have never had Animal Kingdom in the Derby, although I was firmly on the Shackleford bandwagon after what I thought was a valiant effort that day, an opinion that paid off two weeks later. 2011 was the first time my Derby pick hit the board, however, as I was all about Mucho Macho Man going into the race. Ironically, I would go on bet against Mucho Macho Man in pretty much every race he ran afterwards, often to my detriment.
I will admit that up until May 5th, 2012, I liked Gemologist. I was wary of him until his Wood Memorial, which I thought was a super gutsy and impressive effort. It was only at the last minute, when it came time to actually bet the race, that I switched trains. I’ll Have Another looked like a million bucks in the paddock and post parade, and I couldn’t believe the 15-1 odds on a horse that had done nothing wrong in his career. Even in defeat, he had always made a good showing of himself, and I felt that his style would suit the Kentucky Derby far more than the style of a horse like Bodemeister – who I didn’t even think would GET the lead with the likes of Trinniberg and Hansen in the race, much less hold on to get beaten less than two lengths. Despite being wrong about the runner-up, however, I had finally picked my first Kentucky Derby winner.
The 2013 Kentucky Derby was particularly thrilling for me. I spent the summer of 2012 as a press box intern for NYRA at Saratoga, an experience I will forever cherish. On the afternoon of August 18th, I was handicapping as usual, and, as usual, my interest went first and foremost to the two-year-old races on the card. As a pedigree nut, I love delving into the bloodlines of promising youngsters and picking out the particularly interesting ones to keep an eye on. I had already dialed in on a first time starter for Shug McGaughey. The Malibu Moon colt was out of Lady Liberty, who traces tail-female to Laughter, a 3/4 sibling and the only sister to the immortal Ruffian. With Laughter’s other descendants including the likes of Private Terms and Coronado’s Quest, the colt’s breeding was promising. I kept a keen eye as the Phipps/Janney owned colt broke awkwardly but recovered to rally strongly for 3rd.
“That Shug colt could be a good one once he figures out what he’s doing,” I remarked to my fellow interns following the race, and promptly added “Orb” to my Equibase watchlist. Of course, I didn’t really think I had just seen the next Derby winner, but perhaps a nice stakes winner somewhere down the line. Fast forward to the following spring, and Orb winning the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, and I was firmly on board, convinced this wasn’t another Circular Quay or West Side Bernie, but a legitimate Derby contender. Sure enough, Orb pulled through as both my logical and sentimental selection in the race. The story would come full circle – no pun intended – when I got to see him at Saratoga multiple times that summer.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb galloping at Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track in 2013
While handicapping the 2014 Kentucky Derby, I did everything in my power to find an alternative to California Chrome. I watched back tapes of every one of his races, trying to find a chink in the proverbial armor of the prohibitive favorite, but the more I watched, the more convinced I was that he was the real deal. I actually had to look up the race chart just to remember who else ran in that Kentucky Derby, and I do recall liking Samraat a little bit, and was curious about Danza, but in the end I landed on the chalk, and he won the way he had been expected to.
Last year was a similar story, although I was less skeptical of American Pharoah than I had been of California Chrome. The way that horse moved just blew me away from the time he first burst onto the scene in the Del Mar Futurity, and it seemed that everywhere you looked, horses he had soundly defeated were coming back and winning big races. Dortmund was the one horse I thought might be able to give Pharoah a run for it, with the tenacity he had proven but that his stablemate had yet to need. I managed to hit my first Kentucky Derby trifecta in 2015, keying the Bob Baffert duo on top with Firing Line and Upstart (who was last…) underneath.
Now here we are, ten years after naive little Jess watched Sinister Minister set the pace and fade badly, and the pressure is on to pick my 5th consecutive Derby winner. At this point in time, I am firmly in the Nyquist camp. As much as I felt Uncle Mo was overrated, I feel his son is the real deal. Many people are citing distance limitations as a reason to be wary of Nyquist, but I see no such problem. Uncle Mo was a speed horse who used a lot of mental and physical energy in his races, whereas Nyquist has the mind of an absolute professional. He has proven that he can be flexible in his running style without freaking out or exerting any more energy than necessary. He’s overcome difficult trips and various pace scenarios, and emerged victorious every time.
Of course, there’s still plenty of time for things to change, and Derby week workouts are always a useful handicapping tool, but as things stand now, I’m expecting a fourth straight Kentucky Derby favorite to take the roses.
Now that the Breeders’ Cup behind us, I’ve totaled up my hypothetical winnings across the two days (ROI rounded to the nearest whole percentage).
Breeders’ Cup Friday
Investment: $46 (due to the late scratch of Lady Zuzu, the total is lower than it’d be otherwise)
Breeders’ Cup Saturday
Breeders’ Cup Totals
Overall, I am pretty pleased with my handicapping over the weekend – and unbelievably frustrated that I failed to make any kind of profit off of it in real life. Clearly, the Classic was the one race where I was just completely wrong. Despite the controversial break (which I believe certainly cost Moreno – the horse expected to go with Bayern early – all chance), Bayern really proved himself to me in his Classic victory. I hadn’t had much respect for him until this victory, where he managed to dig in and hold off Toast of New York and California Chrome late. He strikes me as a very similar horse to the recently retired Baffert trainee Game on Dude – if he gets the lead, he’s going to be nearly impossible to run down, but I think it’s pretty apparent that getting an early lead is vital to Bayern. It would be interesting to see what may have transpired had Moreno been able to get a clean trip, but regardless, I didn’t think Bayern had the quality or stamina to win the Classic, and he proved me wrong. It was nice to see California Chrome get back to the form he’d shown in the spring, with a very impressive third-place effort. He proved he really is the real deal, even if he didn’t win.
Horse of the Year award has been seriously muddled by the Classic. I still believe Shared Belief is probably the most talented horse in the country, but I also believe Horse of the Year is about the campaign a horse had through the year, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, Bayern deserves that honor. In my mind, Shared Belief needed to win the Classic in order to warrant Horse of the Year honors, despite his two impressive victories over older horses. California Chrome is also in the discussion, having won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes earlier in the year. With such a top-heavy campaign, though, I’m inclined to look elsewhere. The wild card for Horse of the Year has become Main Sequence, who has yet to be defeated since coming to the United States. His 4-race win streak consists solely of G1 races, including a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. To compare, California Chrome has three G1 wins this year, while Bayern and Shared Belief have only two G1 wins each. Honestly, I don’t have a strong enough opinion to give a selection or personal vote for the title. I believe any of those four horses would be completely deserving of the award, and I’m intrigued to see what the voters end up doing.
Race 5 – Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf
#3 Dank looks tough to beat. She is the best horse in the race and reportedly looks great in the flesh. Provided the long layoff hasn’t affected her, she should win. If she gets beat, however, #2 Just the Judge could be the horse to do it. The Irish G1 winner won the G1 EP Taylor in her last race and proved she fits with the Americans when she was beaten only a neck by Stephanie’s Kitten in the Beverly D (G1). #6 Fiesolana showed an impressive turn of foot in her Matron Stakes (G1) win two races back, and is another potential upsetter.
$2 Win: #3 Dank
$1 Exacta Box: #2 Just The Judge / #3 Dank / #6 Fiesolana
$2 WPS: #2 Just The Judge
Race 6 – Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
#6 Leigh Court is in career form, and while she’s quick, she proved that she can rate in her TCA (G2) win last time out over #10 Southern Honey and #3 Stonetastic. She’s undefeated in three starts at the distance and her versatility will make her tough. #5 Artemis Agrotera has won all three of her races since a disappointing 3yo debut in the Acorn (G1) . This distance seems to be ideal for her, and she may simply be the most talented horse in the race. #3 Stonetastic was brilliant in winning the Prioress Stakes (G2) and looked well in her Santa Anita work on the 25th. She seems to be the probable pacesetter in the race, and could simply wire the field.
$2 Win: #6 Leigh Court
$1 Exacta Box: #3 Stonetastic / #5 Artemis Agrotera / #6 Leigh Court
$2 WPS: #3 Stonetastic
Race 7- Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
I believe this race is all about #1 Reneesgotzip, who was 3rd in this race in 2012 and dead-heated for second in last year’s running. She appears to be the most talented horse in the field and seems to be the quickest in a race surprisingly low on early speed. #14 No Nay Never is probably her main competition. A G1 winner in France, he was impressive when winning the Woodward in his last start and has been highly regarded throughout his brief career. #6 Bobby’s Kitten has shown some speed and ability running at a mile and I believe he’ll appreciate the downhill turf course. His best races are his shortest ones, and he could be a live mid-priced horse to spice up exotics.
$2 Win: #1 Reneesgotzip
$1 Exacta Box: #1 Reneesgotzip / #6 Bobby’s Kitten / #14 No Nay Never
$2 WPS: #6 Bobby’s Kitten
Race 8 – Breeders Cup Juvenile
With the defection of American Pharoah, #12 Daredevil appears to be the horse to beat. He was brilliant in both career starts, but has yet to run on a fast racetrack. While that shouldn’t be an issue, it is nonetheless a question he has to answer in this race. #9 Carpe Diem is the “other Pletcher” here and has nothing wrong in his 2-for-2 career that includes a dazzling win in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity in his last start. His Beyer numbers are slower than his stablemates, but 2yos progress rapidly and he could prove to be better. #10 Mr Z has made his last four starts in stakes races, and has held his own in all of them except a disappointing 5th in the Iroquois Stakes (G3). He has not proven to be better than the best of the group, and needs a career-best effort to win, but he adds blinkers and has consistently proven to be all heart when it comes to competition. He could certainly come out with a check today. #7 Texas Red is probably the best west coast colt after American Pharoah and Calculator scratched, and if a few horses mix it up on the front end, he could be the one to pick up the pieces and post a significant upset. He improved dramatically when trying conventional dirt for the first time in the G1 Frontrunner, and further improvement makes him a live longshot in this spot.
$2 Win: #12 Daredevil
$1 Exacta Box: #12 Daredevil / #9 Carpe Diem / #10 Mr Z
$2 WPS: #7 Texas Red
Race 9 – Breeders’ Cup Turf
As usual, the Euro imports look best in the Turf. #7 Flintshire was second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) and has been consistently competitive with the best horses in Europe. He looks like the best horse and is hard to look past in this spot. #1 Telescope is another contender from overseas, he adds Lasix for this race and comes in off a tough race behind Australia and The Grey Gatsby. He’s a multiple G2 winner and his last three Racing Post Ratings have been over 120. #3 Imagining is the one longshot I could see making some noise here. This consistent turf runner is in the best form of his career, and he appears to be the lone speed in this race. If Joel Rosario takes advantage of that, he could end up stealing the race on the front end. #12 Main Sequence is probably the best American runner, with three straight wins since coming to the States. He will need to run big here to win, but there’s no reason to doubt he is capable of doing just that.
$2 Win: #1 Telescope
$1 Exacta Box: #1 Telescope / #7 Flintshire / #12 Main Sequence
$2 WPS: #3 Imagining
Race 10 – Breeders Cup Sprint
I found this race pretty tough to handicap after #6 Rich Tapestry. The hero of Hong Kong was supremely impressive with his game win over Goldencents in his US debut, and looks to be the most talented horse in the race. After him, though, the race looks wide open. #12 Fast Anna puts blinkers back on after a runner-up finish in the Gallant Bob (G3) without them. Despite the less-than-impressive visual performance, he still posted a career-best Beyer of 97 in that race. With only four career starts, he’s still a bit of an unknown but the brilliance he’s shown so far indicates he could be pretty special. #2 Indianapolis is similar in the sense that we can’t be sure how good he is. He’s undefeated in three starts, but this is a tough spot for the graded stakes debut of the Baffert trainee. #4 Secret Circle won this race last year and will probably take some play, but I don’t foresee him turning the tables on Rich Tapestry, who beat him by 1 3/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1). In addition, #8 Palace has led the division in New York all year, and though he was a bit disappointing in his last race, there’s no reason he can’t get back to his best form here. He’s honest and consistent, and can’t be overlooked. #9 Salutos Amigos returns just six days after his impressive score in the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3). Trainer David Jacobson is plenty capable of the quick turnaround, but never in a spot like this. Salutos Amigos is in the best form of his life, though, and that could make him dangerous. I think the most intriguing longshot in this wide-open race is #14 Bourbon Courage. After a long losing streak while competing primarily in graded stakes races, he finally returned to the winner’s circle in his last race, a 6 1/2 furlong allowance at Keeneland. He is two-for-two at today’s distance and maybe the confidence booster was enough to get the five-year-old back into top form. The 14 post is disadvantageous, but you’re sure to get a price and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit the board.
$2 Win: #6 Rich Tapestry
$1 Exacta Box: #6 Rich Tapestry / #8 Palace / #9 Salutos Amigos
$2 WPS: #14 Bourbon Courage
Race 11 – Breeders’ Cup Mile
I don’t have a strong opinion in this race, but think that #5 Toronado is the deserving favorite. He adds Lasix for this race and is competitive with the best milers in Europe. I see nothing to fault. #9 Anodin was only beaten two lengths by Toronado in the Queen Anne Stakes (G1), and has not embarrassed himself in two races since, including a runner-up to the talented Kingman. Of the Americans, #2 Obviously seems the most likely. He’ll be the one they all have to catch late, and while I don’t see him holding off the likes of Toronado, he should be able to hang in there for a piece of the purse.
$2 Win: #5 Toronado
$1 Exacta Box: #2 Obviously / #5 Toronado / #9 Anodin
$2 WPS: #9 Anodin
Race 12 – Breeders’ Cup Classic
#6 Shared Belief is the deserving favorite here, but I can’t take a short price on this horse in this race, so I’m going with #8 Zivo as my top selection. He’s the best closer in the race and has been steadily improving throughout this year. The 1 1/4 mile distance should be right up his alley, and I think he’ll be overlooked in a race where the 3yos are taking the spotlight. The pace looks to be hot in this race, with the likes of #4 Moreno and #7 Bayern both being need-the-lead types of runners. I don’t think Bayern wants 1 1/4, and from the outside I expect him to force Moreno to go early and will sit just off of him. I foresee Bayern folding at the top of the stretch, leaving Moreno to fight off the closers. Moreno has proven that he doesn’t quit once he’s been passed, but I don’t think he’ll have the energy left to fend off horses of this quality. Additionally, #2 Cigar Street has shown speed in most of his races, and while he’s not as fast as the other two front-runners, he will be a part of the early mix and add to that hot pace. #1 Prayer For Relief has been competitive against the best of the best for a long time, and reports are that he’s looking great in the flesh right now. Don’t be surprised if he hits the board at a big price, especially if the pace falls apart. #5 V.E. Day is something of an “X factor” in this race. The upset winner of the Travers (G1) was flat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), and is tough to get a read on, talent-wise. James Jerkens can’t be counted out, though, making this horse a scary contender that could run big but is hard to back with confidence.Similarly, #9 Toast of New York has a huge question mark when it comes to the surface of this race. He’s never run on conventional dirt, and while he was second to Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic (G1), that was over Del Mar’s synthetic track. I’m choosing to leave him out, but he could prove me wrong and I wouldn’t be shocked. The two horses that would shock me are #3 Imperative, who is a solid and good-looking horse but doesn’t seem to be up to this level of competition, and #10 Footbridge, who was third in the Awesome Again (G1) and should appreciate ten furlongs but just seems to be in over his head against these. #14 Majestic Harbor is intriguing. The Gold Cup (G1) winner hasn’t done a whole lot in his two starts since, but as one was on synthetic he could have an excuse. He looked good in his October 26th work, and a return to the form he showed this spring and summer could make him a player. #12 Candy Boy has been chasing the best of his crop all year, but has been competitive and gets his first chance at running 1 1/4 miles since he was taken out of contention early on in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Three-year-olds are going to be getting most of the attention in here, with Derby and Preakness winner #13 California Chrome in the race. He was disappointing in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2), where he was beaten 7 1/4 lengths by Bayern, but if he returns to his spring form he certainly has a shot, and drawing to the outside should help this colt, who doesn’t like to be inside of other horses. It will be his first time facing #11 Tonalist since the latter defeated him in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Since that race, Tonalist has continued to do well, most recently winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) over a number of horses in this race. He’s done nothing wrong in his career and has to be considered a major threat.
$2 Win: #8 Zivo
$1 Exacta Box: #6 Shared Belief / #8 Zivo / #11 Tonalist
$2 WPS: #14 Majestic Harbor