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LEARNING FROM THE PAST

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 4/27/2010 10:39:50 AM

The thing that makes the Kentucky Derby odds a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma is that most of these horses will be trying to go a furlong farther than they ever had in their career. You don’t want a horse to peak at 2 if you want to win the Derby. You don’t want him to peak in March either. You want him just to be scratching the surface of his talent in Louisville while leaving enough in the tank to continue on the trail.

Before we get into what has produced recent Derby success, a review of last week’s preps are in order.

In the Gotham at the Big A Awesome Act overcame a traffic jam to prove the prompt 5-2 choice while winning his first race on dirt in his career. Between horses early, he rallied 4 wide and held sway under a hand ride. He also has a right to get the classic trip as his dam won thrice including a mile and a quarter turf fray in Europe.

The 98 Beyer Awesome posted paled in comparison to the figure I Want Revenge rang up in 2009. That son of Stephen Got Even recorded a 113 Gotham number, parlayed to a 103 figure winning the Wood and was the Kentucky Derby chalk before he had to scratch very late.

Act’s trainer, Jeremy Nosada, had this to say: Nosada: “I believed in this horse today. It was a good, solid race, but there were no graded stakes winners. It’s the first hurdle out of the way, so the dream lives on.”

Alphie’s Bet was not quite as impressive taking the Sham at Santa Anita. Trained by Alexis Barba, who learned her craft under the 1981 Kentucky Derby winning trainer Eddie Gregson, has been very patient with her star and has a runner that figures to get better with more distance. The bad news is he only posted a 86 Sham Beyer.

Paddy O’Prado did something rare last weekend: he broke his maiden in a 9-furlong Grade 3 stakes, the Palm Beach at Gulfstream on turf. He showed very good speed sitting just off a 1:10 and change pace while recording a 93 Beyer.

Paddy is another that figures to be able to run all day. His sire El Prado was a champion that sired BC Mile winner Artie Schiller, champ Kitten’s Joy and Pacific Classic hero Borrego. His dam was a Grade 2 winner going a mile and she was kin to a runner that was only beaten a half going 9 furlongs.

With those facts in mind, lets examine some historical trends that have produced Kentucky Derby winners.

Last season a son of Birdstone put a new definition to giving them ‘the bird’ as Mine That Bird, off two losses at Sunland Park, the last with an 80 Beyer, improved 25 Beyer digits to win the Derby going away by almost 7 lengths with a 105 figure.

Two years ago proved some trends could be thrown right out the window. Big Brown was so lightly raced as he came into the Derby 3 for 3 career and fresh from a 106 Beyer in the Florida Derby. He showed a new wrinkle in the Derby coming from sixth for his highest career Beyer of 109.

In 2007 Street Sense became the first runner that won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was able to parlay the win to a Kentucky Derby success. He had only 2 preps in 2007, a win and a loss both by a nose the last prior to the first Saturday in May in a controversial slow-paced race on the Polytrack at Keeneland.

The ever-gallant Barbaro became the first horse in 50 years to win off a 5-week vacation but his trainer, Michael Matz, knew his horse and he was determined not to squeeze the lemon dry.

Giacomo had only won a maiden race before his Derby coming out party but he has only won once since and that was by a head at 9-2 against only 6 rivals.

The fact 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones made it to the races at all is a tale of a survivor. Early in his career while schooling at Philly Park, the horse reared in the starting gate. He hit his head hard, fractured his skull, broke bones near the left eye, was lucky to keep the eye and had to spend weeks in an equine hospital. But he did all the laughing to the bank. And despite the posturing of Smarty’s connections about racing him as a 4-year-old after his length beat in the Belmont Stakes, he was forced to hang up the racing shoes.

In 2003 Funny Cide became the first New York bred to win and the first gelding to succeed since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.

In War Emblem’s case, he was a horse that just got good in a hurry. He had won 4 of his first 7 starts and was coming off a 112 Beyer before taking the Derby in rare wire-to-wire fashion.

Monarchos was educated in his 2 losses as a juvenile, was unbeaten at 3 before losing in the Wood Memorial then rebounded at Churchill when the money was down.

Fusiachi Pegasus was a neck away from being unbeaten going into the Derby after winning 4 straight including the Wood and the way he overcame post 15 and weaved his way through traffic was truly poetry in motion under Gary Stevens.

The last winner of the 1990s was an old-school hero. Charismatic was battle-scarred, a former claimer and he entered the Derby off 13 races and he only finished first in one of those. Yet his seasoning carried the day and he came within a length and a half of taking the Triple Crown.

How tough can it be to sniff out a Derby winner? Just check out the winning mutuels of late. Mine That Bird blew up the tote at 50-1, logical speedball Big Brown still paid a fat 2-1 while Street Sense popped at 9-2.

Barbaro now looks like a bargain at 6-1. Giacomo was 50-1, Smarty Jones hit at 4-1, Funny Cide in 2003 was over 12-1, War Emblem in 2002 hit at 20-1, Monarchos the year before popped at 10 and a half to one, in 2000 Fusaichi Pegasus scored for the chalk eaters and Charismatic blew up the board at 31-1.

When post time comes around don’t be so fast to throw history out the window but still highly concentrate on the way the race figures to set up pace-wise, visualize the trip of each entrant, and then pray to the racing gods to get lucky.

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