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Focus on the prize

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 3/22/2010 3:59:52 PM
FOCUS ON THE PRIZE The Kentucky Derby experience can be overwhelming at times, not only for the connections and horses but the fans actually trying to sniff out a winner. Before we get into a key element to keeping your head during the Triple Crown, the question is who came out of last week’s Florida Derby smelling like a rose? Well, it wasn’t the first two finishers but the runner that just crushed that pair in the Fountain of Youth. Eskendereya destroyed that Youth field by over 8 recording a 106. Ice Box, fifth in the aforementioned race, and Pleasantly Prince, 4th that day, ran down early leader and eventual third Rule in the Florida Derby in a way that suggest they will improve with more real estate. Ice Box, who received a 99 Beyer, is in the right hands of Nick Zito while Prince hails from the potent Wesley Ward barn. Last year Quality Road nailed down a 111 Beyer and the year before Big Brown popped with a 106 figure in the same race. Zito won the Run for the Roses in 1991 and ’94 and the trainer gave praise to Ice Box’s rider Jose Lezcano. The conditioner put the kid in the same sentence with Braulio Baeza and Laffit Pincay Jr. in his post-race remarks. That is lofty company. Meanwhile, if Eskendereya runs well in the Wood on April 3, he will stamp his name as one of the Kentucky Derby chalks along with Lookin at Lucky. The first 3 finishers in the Florida Derby are all heading to Kentucky and will work up to the Derby. There is generally so much information out there for the Derby by the time they draw the race the Wednesday before the big event, what appeared to be a puzzle coming together days or weeks before, takes over the view of a total scramble. That is when one has to go back to basics. This entire game is about what happened in the past. How much speed a horse showed last time, if the runner can get the distance, what the style of runner he is, etc. etc. Pace is the game, believe it or not and it gets lost sometimes in the hype of the day, whether it is the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup. The distance limitations going into the Derby make the guessing game a lot tougher and the pace of the Derby is always crazy because of the grand stage it is on. The importance of how a race sets up, who is going to the front, whom is going to be far back, and who figures to be midpack, was never more evident than in the 2000 Belmont Stakes. But the reality is pace is one of the most important, if not the most important, aspect of handicapping. If a player truly understands pace and the why of pace, he is well on his way to handicapping heaven. There appeared to be a lack of speed in the third leg of the 2000 Triple Crown. Hugh Hefner figured to go to the front of the Belmont States that day. He had no other real option and he did make the lead. The eventual winner, Commendable, figured to be close up, probably sitting second or third. Globalized figured to be up close early, right with Commendable, and slightly behind Hugh Hefner. But when Globalize broke in the air and was forced to steady, the race took on an entire different complexion. Hugh Hefner was still able to get the lead and his rider, Jorge Chavez, did a good job of slowing down the pace to a crawl. But Commendable is the horse that really benefited by Globalize’s mishap. Instead of being among a trio of horses with intentions on the lead, Commendable was now able to sit comfortably off the leader, who had questionable pedigree limitations and was unlikely to get the 1 ½ miles successfully under any circumstance. Pat Day on Commendable did not have to worry about any other speed. He could be content with going slow early, knowing that when the leader was ready to throw in the towel, his horse would likely just inherit this slow pace.  Often times in big races, the betting public overlooks the pace. There is the media hype of big events. There is the talk of workouts and all the subplots that can come to the surface when speaking of a major event. Granted nobody could have predicted that Globalize would not break right and be forced to lose many lengths and, in reality, lose all chance at the start. But there is no way Commendable should have been 18-1 when winning the Belmont. Sure he got beat 17 lengths in the Derby, but had been a consistent, though unspectacular, performer in his short career. Add the fact that the race came up lacking in speed and the fact that traditionally horses with tactical speed do very well in the Belmont. In retrospect, handicappers must figure they just let a golden opportunity slip away. This year know that the pace of the Derby will likely be hectic as usual although last year Mine that Bird closed into relatively moderate splits of :47.23, 1:12,09 and 1:37.49 for the mile. In 2008 Big Brown sat about 2 and a half-lengths off a :47.04, 1:11.14 and a 1:36.56 set up. It’s not easy, but if players approach huge races like the Triple Crown events and the Breeders’ Cup with a cool, collected style, it figures to be rewarding at the end.

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