Derby Trail Race Review: Jerome

After originally attempting to run the race on New Year’s Day, Aqueduct was finally able to card and run the Jerome on January 13th. Firenze Fire, who won the Sanford and Champagne last year, was the short-priced winner for trainer Jason Servis.

Previously: Mucho Macho Man, Sham

Fractions: 25.01, 50.81, 1:16.72, 1:42.88
Race Flow: Very slow pace
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 85 (downgraded from 90)

Pace Note: The Aqueduct track was very slow on Saturday (just look at the final time for the one-mile Jerome). The fractions set by Seven Trumpets are not as slow as they look on paper, but make no mistake, that was a slow pace and if he was a major contender going forward, he would have won that race.

On The Winner: Firenze Fire ran a very nice race. He was taken back by Paco Lopez, which hurt him as Seven Trumpets walked on the lead. Firenze Fire had to move wide from the back of the pack and after coming wide into the lane, he was straightened out and ran down the leader. He has a very strong kick in one-turn races and didn’t run especially well in the two-turn Breeders Cup Juvenile. He was reportedly sick before the Breeders Cup last year, so you can probably forgive that race, but even so, he does feel like a horse that will be better going one-turn as a late-runner than he does as as Derby horse.

On The OthersSeven Trumpets had every chance to win this race. He set a very slow pace and was simply out-finished. He’s one to oppose in his next start. We weren’t big fans of Coltandmississippi coming into this race but he got a curious ride. He broke better than Seven Trumpets but was wrangled back off the slow pace and he was never really in good position thereafter. He had a mild late run without threatening and you shouldn’t totally dismiss him off this race next time (though again, we weren’t sure how good he was to begin with). Factor This, who was our longshot use underneath the winner, came from the back into position but had little in the lane.

What’s Next: Aqueduct runs the Withers on February 3rd before a five-week gap to the Gotham on March 10th and the Wood Memorial on April 7th. The Withers is at a mile-and-an-eighth while the Gotham is back at a one-turn mile before they stretch back out to nine furlongs in the Wood.

Firenze Fire is skipping the Withers for the Gotham and we’re curious to see who ends up in the Withers. Remember, because this race was delayed 12 days, it was run just three weeks before the Withers. Between the timing and the nine furlong distance (it’s a little early for trainers to typically stretch out to nine furlongs), the composition of that field will be interesting. Steve Asmussen said he wanted to see Lecomte fourth-place finisher Zing Zang stretch out and I wonder if the Withers could be an option for that horse.

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Derby Trail Race Review: Sham Stakes

The Sham Stakes was run at Santa Anita on January 6th and won by McKinzie for trainer Bob Baffert.

Previously: Mucho Macho Man

Fractions: 23.69, 47.74, 1:12.17, 1:36.58
Race Flow: Moderate pace
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 97

On The Winner: McKinzie was improved in this race taking blinkers off. He was a little headstrong in his previous start, the Los Alamitos Futurity in which he finished second but was placed first (we should note that Instilled Regard, who was third in the Los Al Futurity, came back to win the Risen Star on January 13th at Fair Grounds). Today though, he was calm and restrained sitting off the moderate pace, he moved easily to the lead, and drew off comfortably. There was some tail-swishing at the top of the lane, which is not ideal, but there was nothing seriously wrong with his effort. It did come back fast, though he beat a suspect group (here, the form from his Los Al Futurity is strong).

We prefer Mask to McKinzie at this stage largely off Mask’s impressive debut and remember this was McKinzie’s third start (Mask just made his second). But clearly, this is a very talented horse for a trainer in Bob Baffert that knows what to do with a good three year old.

On The OthersShivermetimbers was very disappointing. He had some things to like coming in, sat a perfect trip pressing the moderate pace, and had nothing in the lane. All Out Blitz set the moderate pace, and had every chance. He ran fine, but likely has distance limitations and looks likely to turn back to sprint races. My Boy Jack had a good trip but little run and seems likely to return to the grass.

What’s Next: The next Southern California prep is the Lewis on February 3rd, but that won’t have McKinzie (more below). The series continues with the San Felipe on March 10th and the Santa Anita Derby on April 7th.

Baffert is going to “ease off” McKinzie a little now, getting a break which will see him skip the Lewis next month. The San Felipe in March seems like a logical next spot for him.

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Derby Trail Race Review: Mucho Macho Man

There were five Derby preps run over the 10 day period between January 6th and 15th. We’ll begin reviewing them here by going over the Mucho Macho Man run on January 6th at Gulfstream. The race was won by Mask for trainer Chad Brown.

Fractions: 24.43, 48.13, 1:12.92, 1:37.65
Race Flow: Slow pace controlled up front
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 91

On The Winner: Mask was impressive in wiring this field, but he obviously benefited from setting a pedestrian pace. Normally, he would be a horse that we’d be quick to downgrade moving forward, and perhaps he will be overbet next time out. But Mask was a horse that showed legitimate promise when winning on debut in October at Belmont Park. He broke slowly, sat off a fast pace, professionally waited for running room around the turn, and burst through nicely to win going away. It was a very good performance and we make him a major Derby contender from here.

Here are Derby future odds from the Wynn in Las Vegas. These are dated on January 8th, so they are only relevant to this race and the Sham, also run on January 6th. They do put Mask at 25-1 and Sham winner McKinzie, who we’ll get to in our next post, at 10-1. We’d much prefer Mask of those two at those prices.

On The OthersDak Attack hadn’t been out since August, but he was nudged at a bit early on and wasn’t that far off of Mask’s slow pace. He deserves another shot out of respect for trainer Dale Romans, who knows what he’s doing with a good three year old, but we’d need to see a lot more moving forward. Bal Harbour was compromised by the very slow pace but had a nice inside clear run and had nothing in the lane. Santamien made a seemingly meaningful wide, off-the-pace run around the far turn before flattening out late. He could be interesting to hit the board at a big price if he gets some more pace and can settle, making a late run instead of being forced to move early.

What’s Next: The next leg of the Triple Crown preps in Florida is the February 3rd Holy Bull. We don’t expect to see Mask there, but we will see Tiz Mischief, who was runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Other possibles include Kentucky Jockey Club winner Enticed and Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Untamed Domain, among others.

Mask could be off to New Orleans and the Risen Star on February 17th. This would give him six weeks between races and he would still have another six or sven weeks until other preps like the Florida Derby (March 31st), Wood Memorial or Blue Grass Stakes (April 7th).

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Saturday Spot Plays

Looking around the country for a few spot plays on Saturday.

Previously – Derby preview races of the Jerome and the Lecomte.

Gulfstram Race 9 (Marshua’s River) – #8 Dream Dancing (8-5) is the favorite but she’s a deep closer in a race without a ton of speed and she’s facing older horses for the first time. We’ll try #4 Abbreviate (4-1) for Chad Brown and Joel Rosario. She might be a little slow but we’ve always liked her. The six furlongs from last time was probably a bit short for her and they’ve found a pretty soft G3 field.

Gulfstream Race 10 (Fort Lauderdale) – With One Go All Go, Heart to Heart, Shining Copper, and Shakhimat, there has to be at least an honest pace. Heart to Heart is the one to beat and loves this track, but he’ll have to work. We’ll try #7 Team Colors (15-1) as our preferred closer. He faced some stakes caliber horses at Belmont and then last time had gate trouble and a wide journey when beaten two lengths (albeit in fifth) by Shining Copper at Churchill.

Gulfstream Race 12 – We’re going to try #3 Lone Sentry (20-1) again. He was good breaking his maiden at Parx and had legit trouble at Belmont in the Awad on October 28th. Last time out, he broke a step slow and was too far back. It feels like there’s a forward move for him and he’ll be another huge price.

Aqueduct Race 5 (Say Florida Sandy) – My Boy Tate has been very good in his last two races and stands out in here on figures but he’ll be a short price and might have to deal with some other speed. We’ll take a small shot with #5 Gold for the King (5-1) who is circling back into form for trainer Charlton Baker. First off, he has two figures from last year that are good enough to compete with My Boy Tate, if he can get back there. He might have needed the October 21st race and while he beat a weaker field, he was impressive in his November 29th win. Remember, this horse was 7-1 in the Woody Stephens in June. He has ability and maybe today’s the day he shows it.

Fair Grounds Race 6 (Krantz) – #8 Mom’s On Strike (4-1) has run some big races when she gets pace or when she gets a non-firm course. She could get both in this race. The concern is coming back on relatively short rest but she did win at Churchill on three weeks rest and is in excellent form.

Fair Grounds Race 7 (Silverbulletday) – #7 Heavenly Love (3-1) was our pick in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies but she had no chance in there after drawing the inside and racing the whole way on the dead rail at Del Mar. Her Alcibiades was really good, where she blitzed the field with a quick move on the far turn. We’ll try to beat Wonder Gadot, who was the easy winner, albeit against a suspect field, in the Demoiselle, and Blonde Bomber, who was third in the Breeders Cup race but was aided by the fast pace and the wide trip, well off the dead rail.

Fair Ground Race 8 (Bradley) – #4 Monster Bea (6-1) ran well last time, pressing the pace, putting away the longshot pace rival, and was run down in the last furlong by a perfect trip Shug runner in a race that came up pretty quick. A repeat would likely win this race.

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Derby Trail: Lecomte (G3)

Let’s head to the Fair Grounds for the G3 Lecomte Stakes, the first of the Derby preps in New Orleans this winter. Principe Guilherme, perfect in two starts for trainer Steve Asmussen, heads the field.

Previously – Preview of today’s Jerome at Aqueduct.

There are likely a few changes from the original group drawn last week.

#1 Lone Sailor (15-1) – He adds blinkers for trainer Tom Amoss which might help as he’s been too far back in two of his last three races. He also should get a pretty strong pace to attack in this spot. That being said, he’s been in some faster-paced races already and his best speed figure was earned in a sloppy-track off-the-turf race. He should be a big price that gets some pace though, so he’ll be a part of the play.

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Derby Trail: Jerome

Editor’s Note – We’ll have previews today of the Jerome and Lecomte and Monday of the Smarty Jones. Next week, we’ll review the first five races on this year’s Derby Trail. 

Aqueduct intended to run the Jerome on New Year’s Day but then Mother Nature intervened. They’ll finally run the race today, a race that kicks off Aqueduct’s series of Derby preps. The Withers, Gotham, and Wood Memorial will follow over the next three months.

Let’s take a look at the field, which is headed by Sanford and Champagne winner Firenze Fire.

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Derby Trail: Mucho Macho Man

About an hour before the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, Gulfstream will run the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. Like the Sham earlier, it’s hard to get past a short-priced runner.

Previously: Sham Stakes

Let’s take a look at the field.

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Derby Trail: Sham Stakes

Today at Santa Anita, they run the Sham Stakes, the first Derby points race of 2018, as well as the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream. We’ll look at that race in our next post, but this one focuses on the Sham.

Let’s take a look at the field.

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Setting Up the January Derby Trail

In addition to the College Football Playoff games, including the spectacular Rose Bowl, we were also scheduled to be treated to our first Kentucky Derby points race of 2018: the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Unfortunately, the bitter cold that has struck the Northeast for the past week forced cancellations of cards on Sunday and Monday at Aqueduct.

However, it’s not as simple as re-scheduling the race for this coming weekend, as NYRA’s Martin Panza said (via Bloodhorse).

“At this stage there’s doubt over when we’ll be racing next week,” Panza said. “It looks like 6-7 inches of snow on Thursday with 35 mile-per-hour winds, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are supposed to be colder than this week. It doesn’t make sense to say we’re going to run the Jerome on Saturday and then have to cancel it. The last thing I want to do is cancel stakes two or three times. It’s the same with the other stakes. It’s not fair to anyone to cancel them several times.”

NYRA, however, does have one thing going for them: they wisely scheduled their Derby preps this spring, leading into the April 7th Wood Memorial, with time extra in between the legs. This should help them now.

Here’s the original schedule of NYRA’s Derby points races:

Date Days Between Race Name Distance
1-Jan N/A Jerome 1 mile
3-Feb 33 Withers 1 1/8 miles
10-Mar 35 Gotham 1 mile
7-Apr 28 Wood 1 1/8 miles

(The varying distances are the byproduct of the winterization of the main track and subsequent removal of the inner track. Because of these changes, which created a second turf course of substantial benefit to the overall program, they can’t run 1 1/16th races at Aqueduct. They’re experimenting with this grouping of distances this year.)

The extra time between the Jerome and the Withers, and between the Withers and the Gotham should benefit NYRA. Here’s the proposed adjustment:

Date Days Between Race Name Distance
13-Jan N/A (re-scheduled) Jerome 1 mile
10-Feb 28 (back one week) Withers 1 1/8 miles
10-Mar 28 Gotham 1 mile
7-Apr 28 Wood 1 1/8 miles

Even if they can’t run the Jerome until next week, which seems likely (it’s supposed to be 14, and 25 degrees on Saturday and Sunday), they can run it next weekend, bump the Withers back one week, and that keeps four weeks between all of their prep races. It’s not perfect, but they should still be able to avoid having to jam races in too close together.

Upcoming Stops On The Derby Trail

Santa Anita runs the Sham, which is a Derby points race, and Gulfstream runs the Mucho Macho Man, which is not a Derby points race, on Saturday.

We’re looking forward to seeing the impressive maiden-breaker Mask, for Chad Brown, in the Mucho Macho Man. Mask, a Tapit, missed the break and split horses nicely to win on debut going 6 1/2 furlongs on October 20th at Belmont.

Fair Grounds and Oaklawn get into the mix next weekend. Fair Grounds will host the Lecomte on January 13th while Oaklawn will host the Southwest Stakes on Martin Luther King Day, January 15th. The Lecomte is headed by Principe Guilherme, 2-2 for trainer Steve Asmussen. He earned a 92 Beyer in a December 17th allowance win at Fair Grounds.

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