Sunday, May 5, 2024

Kentucky Derby Recap, Look Back and Look Ahead

The Kentucky Derby finish was awesome but quite the opposite from a wagering perspective with zero return on my customary $150 bankroll for the races in the Derby Pick 5 sequence. 

The worst beat involved #3 Lagynos in the American Turf Stakes -- a third-place finish at 36-1. Lagynos got a great rail-skimming ride but simply got stuck behind foes, including #2 Trikari, who got a better trip and at 47-1 beat a third giant longshot (24-1) to the finish to win. The opening that I had hoped for in Thursday's blog post never came to fruition, as short check and late shift to the outside were belated and I did not use #4 Formidable Man on any tickets. So pretty good handicapping went to waste. 

Top play Who Dey in the Pat Day Mile (race 8) ran gamely but was a cut below the winner, finishing fourth; about 40% of my bankroll involved him hitting the board. No dice. 

Track Mate (CD Stakes) did little of note after early bumping from the gate, while Turf Classic top choice Naval Power lost by a head.  

Derby analysis was fairly positive but I played Track Phantom too prominently and paid the price as he established an easy-ish and not heavily contested lead but looked to be standing still when winner Mystik Dan bullied past him along the rail and held on for dear life to win the Run for the Roses by a nose vs. Sierra Leone and Forever Young in a blanket finish. One more jump and Sierra Leone wins. No bumping and maybe it's Forever Young wearing the roses.

I wrote and maintain that Sierra Leone is the best three-year-old and will be heard from again. Credit to fellow handicapper Steve Fitzpatrick for stating to me at MJ's in Tinton Falls right after the Derby that trainer Chad Brown would skip the Preakness and target the Belmont at his home track in Saratoga; Brown confirmed that today. I'm fairly confident without knowing that he'll be a prohibitive favorite. 

As for the Preakness, a report about Mystik Dan's post-race appetite raises questions about his participation, and were I the trainer Ken McPeek, I would instead target the Belmont as well or a later Grade 1 as I just do not see him as a Triple Crown type. Winning the Derby requires a great ride and luck and Mystik Dan benefited from both. Forever Young, meanwhile, is reportedly returning to Japan due to quarantine issues; so figure he's not in the mix on May 18 at Pimlico vs. a Baffert-heavy field.

I'll try to be more disciplined about coverage of the Preakness and the big races here, so stay tuned. 

In the meantime, after rewatching the trip for all 20 runners, here's a rundown of my pre-Derby best-to-worst commentaries and results for each along with speculativecommentary; outside of Forever Young, fairly solid in distinguishing much wheat from the chaff. 

Win Contenders

Sierra Leone - 2nd by a nose; nearly perfect ride by Tyler Gafflione from difficult inside position; sat 17th much of the way, made strong wide move into and through far turn yet could not stay straight and one could argue cost Forever Young second if not first place. 

Track Phantom - 11th; folded after carving out quick but not 2023-blazing Derby fractions; concern about failure to get the distance proved true yet no regret playing since thesis on getting the lead vs. the other supposed "speed" horses came to fruition. Could see using on Belmont day undercard if the connections downgrade to 7-furlong or 1-mile sprint. To Thursday's post, he failed to stink it up but ran to his 42-1 odds.

Fierceness - 15th; slightly missed the gate break but emerged cleanly and among the three pacesetters but folded like a cheap suit before the stretch; a top horse would have blown by Track Phantom and Just Steel out of the final turn; could see trainer Todd Pletcher sitting out Preakness and Belmont with this one and prepping for easier Grade 1s like the Haskell, Pennsylvania Derby and WV Derby. Maybe akin to Track Phantom and better saved for 1-mile sprint type races.

Catching Freedom - 4th; identified as fourth best in field and ran to that placement; very slight checks passing clubhouse first time around but otherwise a clean, ground-saving trip yet never quite gained on Mystik Dan, which is the alarming part about using him bullishly down the road when the second- and third-place runners had wider trips and more gas in the tank late; still, completing superfecta in a 20-horse field nothing to knock.

Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta Consideration

Mystik Dan - 1st; listed as my fifth best, outran his odds and pedigree; could see Belmont Stakes if race is shortened to Derby distance of a mile and a quarter but maintain he's meant more for a mile or a shade more and speculate connections will find more winnable spots and middle distances. No Triple Crown.

Dornach - 10th; never let anyone tell you a Derby rail horse can win; brutal trip with numerous checks and much bumping but I will elevate this guy off the effort and hope he tries the Belmont; showed a ton of heart, kept running late (passed Track Phantom late to finish Top 10) despite the circumstances and will be one to watch on the New York circuit this summer and fall for trainer Danny Gargan.

Honor Marie - 8th; pinballed badly from the gate, impeded into the first turn and ran last before meeting more trouble in the far turn but showed amazing turn of foot and ran courageously; was just three spots below my projected ceiling; wonder if jockey Ben Curtis' inexperience was a factor as he rode well but almost broke too alertly for a deep closer; will keep an eye in future.

Resilience - 6th; clean trip from post 19, sat sixth much of the race before aggressive, sweeping move into the stretch and looked poised to pass but merely ran by the faders and flattened; proved point about Aqueduct preps as among the worst; not saying he's a bad horse, just not Triple Crown quality. 

Stronghold - 7th; prerace analysis spot on as jockey Antonio Fresu positioned fourth through midpoint of backstretch and made similar move to Resilience but proved to be California B-teamer; doubt he was good enough to win this once if they ran it 20x; figure he can go back West and compete in 5- and 6-horse stakes vs. way lesser foes on a deteriorating circuit.

Epic Ride - 14th; mentioned as potential play to spice up tri and super tickets and was forwardly placed but then ridden hard toward the stretch home and wilted; figure he'll be off the trail.

Not Getting My Money

Just a Touch - 20th; never got the allure nor the morning line; also-ran the whole way through who fortunately was wrapped up in the stretch by the jockey; expect next race would be vs. lesser company and not sure which distance he's best suited.

Just Steel - 17th; very happy for octogenarian legend D. Wayne Lukas winning a Grade 1 earlier in the card but prerace view was correct about early placement, green jockey and no chance to win; will keep an eye if shortened to races between 6-8 furlongs.

Endlessly - 9th; grass horse who broke well, avoided trouble and sat back last before making decent run to get inside the Top 10; watch this one in upcoming turf stakes and jockey Umberto Rispoli, who will one day get a Kentucky Derby win...strong rider had no realistic chance with this horse.

Forever Young - 3rd - and T. O. Password - 5th; was dead wrong about global travel weighing on the Japanese horses' chances; Forever Young got the second-worst trip and ran a monster race and arguably the jostling and herding by Sierra Leone in the stretch cost him the win; immense respect for the horse, jockey and connections, who might have been cheated out of the nation's first Kentucky Derby win; T. O.'s effort was Top 5 but never threatening; no idea where these two race next.

Society Man - 16th; second of Gargan runners never had chance before or during the race.

Catalytic - 19th; dropped anchor about the halfway point.

Domestic Product - 13th; my unscientific eye found the horse was either over-restrained toward the start or really hated the kickback (dirt in the face from others); 9-wide finish would support the latter as he ran a little late but in a no-chance effort.

West Saratoga - 12th; gave his best early and was swallowed up as the field turned for home but kept trying and held off wealthy connections entrant Domestic Product toward the wire. 

Grand Mo The First - 18th; squarely toward back of pack throughout. 

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