Let’s assume that you bear enough foolish pride to try your hand at betting this weekend’s Run for the Roses, along with the other 1.5 billion of Earth’s citizens who also have convinced themselves that they have that essential moxie. You might even be so bold as to think you have a special way of thinking about handicapping racehorses. But there’s another way to think about this, or any other, very tough field of thoroughbred racehorses, and that is, to think like a stable owner.
This isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t pop on over to Louisville, or that you shouldn’t engage in the immensely enjoyable project of picking and betting the contenders.
LOUISVILLE, KY – APRIL 29: American Pharoah runs on the track during the morning training for the kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 29, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
We highly recommend all of that. Including consuming the traditional flagons of the well-iced, mint-laced local distillate. This is America, darn it. By all means, do it, dive into the barrel, and have fun. Juleps in frosted silver Jefferson cups all ’round.
But if you’re the sort of player who likes to sit back and scratch your head while mulling the arcana of the Racing Form, we have a hot line to a deep barnside Derby source who prefers to remain anonymous – let’s call him The Bluegrass Wise Man. The Wise Man is an owner and longtime horseman who has much valuable advice. (Full Disclosure: He has no runners in this year’s Derby.) The important thing about The Bluegrass Wise Man—BWM for short—is that he has won, and perhaps more importantly, he has lost a lot of races with a lot of trainers and a lot of jockeys and a lot of horses. His answers to our Derby questions below in italics.
Basically, as a mere bettor, this year one is faced with several big questions. The first is: Does Todd Pletcher’s godlike trainer status – four-time Eclipse Award winner – automatically mean that Materiality is gonna just stand up and kick the crap out of everybody, including the Pletcher-trained Carpe Diem, or the highly touted other favorites, American Pharoah and Dortmund?
The BWM says: Todd Pletcher is obviously very good, but he has only won one Derby with Super Saver. Materiality is three for three, and did of course win the Florida Derby. He is not getting a ton of chatter. The inside three post, which he drew, could be tough for him because he seems to like the lead. He is going to have run from the gate like a scalded dog to beat the crush of horses from the outside that may have more speed and a desire to get to the lead before he does. He better have his boxing gloves on because he is going to be in a fist fight from that post.
Okay, so, this time around, is Bob Baffert, the trainer with the number one and two picks in American Pharaoh and Dortmund, God instead?
says: Both Baffert and Pletcher get a lot of two-year-olds each year to train simply because owners want to go there because they consistently are in the big races. Clearly you have to still give them a good horse but they seem to be only ones presently that can deliver most horses on the first Saturday in May. To me, while most of the horses they train come from auctions, Baffert gets more horses for his clients that don’t have as much pedigree. He likes to buy athletes first and pedigree second. Pletcher buys athletes first also but they need pedigree too. Carpe Diem is owned by one of the biggest stallion farms in WinStar.
The other owner in him, Stonestreet, produced Curlin who is a leading sire and a wonderful breeder and stallion producer. Stanford is also owned by Stonestreet and the Irish group from Coolmore Stud. They are in the business of making stallions. Carpe Diem cost $1,600,000. Stanford cost $550,000. Athletes with pedigree. Dortmund cost $140,000. Firing Line cost $240,000. Both by sires that are not considered to be at the top of the heap and not considered to get to the top of the heap.
LOUISVILLE, KY – APRIL 30: Materiality walks off of the track during the morning training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 30, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Alright, so, don’t bet the pedigree. So, what’s the thinking on Dortmund being so ‘closely inbred’ to supersire Danzig — good thing or bad thing?
The BWM says: Dortmund’s breeding is interesting. He has many lines to Northern Dancer through Nureyev and Storm Bird as well as Danzig. This type of line breeding has mostly been popular in Europe. Physically he is a big, rugged colt which may come from his female side and third dam Lakeville Miss. She was the dam of Mogambo who was a bruiser of a colt.
Tell us how to read the workouts over the last couple of weeks.
The BWM says: The times are significant, but more than anything you want to know how the horse earned his workout time. Did he do it on his own, how much urging did he have from the jock, did he gallop out well past the wire with good energy and momentum. The works mean something but sometimes they just may not be a good workhorse. Some kids are lazy in practice but on game day they can bring it. Sometimes it’s the same with horses.
The BWM says: The faves are the faves for good reason. They have won the tough races. Dortmund won the Santa Anita Derby. American Pharaoh won the Arkansas Derby. That race always seems to matter. Having said the above, luck in this race is big. The horse and rider have to have a great trip and a good path. Dortmund is a big horse, so if he gets stopped, can he regain his momentum. The jockeys in this race are going to be huge. Experience and calm will be crucial.