Friday, June 5, 2015

The Company You Keep

Just about everyone has given their two cents on American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes.

The "experts" have already spent three weeks dissecting Pharoah's past efforts, pedigree and chances, but the one thing I have yet to find is an analysis of the company that Saturday's 8 horses have kept in the lead-up to a mile and a half on "the Big Sandy" and how that could play into handicapping, and so I delved a little deeper to conclude that, yes, American Pharoah will become the first Triple Crown winner in nearly 40 years.

Readers will note, based on my front-page heading, that I generally look for long-shot value.

Pharoah beat better
I just do not see it in the 2015 Belmont Stakes.

One can talk about pace, track conditions and so forth until blue in the face, but in the end my position is that Pharoah is simply the highest-quality horse in the field that, perhaps, is simply not that great a quality by historical standards.  Only time will tell.

That said, I will keep in all likelihood to small-ante multi-race "exotics" and perhaps a straight trifecta or exacta, in addition to using Pharoah as my pick in Saturday's NHC qualifying tournament at

In my breakdown, I took a look at each runner's "company lines" for each 3-year-old race in 2015, attempting to evaluate the strength of Saturday's field with the "next out" performances of horses in common races earlier this year.  It may seem unscientific, but in trying to find some "underneath" horses for exacta, trifecta and superfecta, I needed to ascertain whether 20-1 Keen Ice (#7), for instance, is a better play than 12-1 Madefromlucky (#3), which I believe to be the case.

Rather than give picks as a public handicapper would, I will give my 1-8 rating of the field:
  • #5, American Pharoah (3-5): I toss the so-so "speed figures" and focus instead on the ease with which he has won 6 of his last 7 races, noting too that the late rally in the Kentucky Derby proved Pharoah can stalk a bit and deal with slow fractions.  I anticipate him sitting second into the final turn and outlasting the others to the wire.  If he gets beat, it'll be late...and brutal.
  • #6, Frosted (5-1): I thought about him again for tomorrow after Kentucky Derby win and exacta bets atop Pharoah (and Carpe Diem), but I think he's distant second-best in the Belmont who gets a strong-handed rider who could coax Frosted enough to get a share.  The Wood field that Frosted beat was sub-par, with only 1 horse entered next-out (Tiz Shea D was 4th in the Grade 2 Peter Pan); but Frosted in the Derby improved over 3 horses who beat him in the Fountain of Youth: Itsaknockout, Upstart and Frammento, so I give a slight edge.
  • #7, Keen Ice (20-1): I generally ignore Kent Desormeaux horses on dirt, since I think his patience is not conducive to closer-type horses, but Ice's 7th-place Derby finish was sneaky good and he exits a Holy Bull Stakes in January at Gulfstream where 3 of the 9 runners won stakes races (Upstart - Florida Derby, Frosted - Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Singer - PARX Derby) and Frammento participated.  Ice's 3rd- and 4th-place finishes in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby were against International Star, a legit one who scratched from the Derby.
  • #4, Frammento (30-1): This is where I think the field gets really bad.  I'll give a pass for all of the bumping he took in the Kentucky Derby and figure he'll maybe sit midpack, perhaps holding on for a piece of the purse.  I just think he's a cut below the top 3, but the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at least had four other Derby runners and a fifth horse, Classy Class, who came back to win an allowance next out and is in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Saturday.
  • #8, Materiality (6-1): I am not as enamored with his Derby effort as others and anticipate he will be the rabbit for the rest before fading into the stretch.  In line with what I have seen others write, I think Pletcher picks easy spots, as borne out in Materiality's company lines.  In Materiality's 3 wins, only 2 horses boast wins since -- at the optional claiming ranks.
  • #3, Madefromlucky (12-1): In my opinion, he would have lost the Peter Pan if not for a poor ride from Shaun Bridgmohan on runner-up Conquest Curlinate.  Two wins against only 4 other horses, including a $75,000 optional claimer at Gulfstream, have me passing on this one.
  • #1, Mubtaahij (10-1): The gaudy $1.5 million of lifetime winnings is inflated by big-money stakes in Dubai, and the Derby effort was nothing to write home about.  I might have given this one a break, having shipped from Dubai just 6 weeks prior to the Derby and perhaps jet-lagged, but Mubtaahij beat up on a South American horse (Ajwad) in his prior two, while the other rival (Maftool) finished 14th in his next out in a Grade 1 in Longchamp.  Pass.
  • #2, Tale of Verve (15-1): Maybe Gary Stevens pulls off a shocker as he did in the Preakness two years ago, but for my money, Tale of Verve's second-place in the Preakness (7-plus lengths behind Pharoah) was smoke and mirrors.  Verve passed a bunch of tiring Derby horses in mud and still has yet to win outside the maiden level.  Two fast works do not obscure the fact that the five horses Verve beat in his maiden breaker are 0-for-30 lifetime.  Pass.
If anyone wants the full spreadsheet of each horse's company lines for 2015, please include your email address in the comment field and I'll have no problem sharing. 

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