Kentucky Derby 143: Top Picks

KYDerby143

It is (almost) every Kentuckian’s favorite time of year once agian, it’s Derby week! In three days, twenty of the best three-year-old colts will battle it out in the most famous horse race in the world. Of course there is the fashion and the drinks and everyone faking their way through “My Old Kentucky Home,” but it all comes down to the most exciting two minutes in sports. This year feels a lot more of a wide open race compared to the past two years, a lot of handicappers are poised for an upset. I’m going to give you my top picks for the big race, but I don’t have the best track record so do with this info what you will.

Top Pick

15 – McCraken

McCraken
Courtesy of the Bloodhorse

My top pick to win the roses is McCraken. This Ghostzapper colt won all of his juvenile starts at Churchill Downs. He then returned this year to take the Sam F. Davis Stakes before a layoff due to injury. He came off the layoff and ran 3rd in the Blue Grass Stakes, his only defeat. His sire, Ghostzapper won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so he has the pedigree to win the race. He also has an ideal running style for the Kentucky Derby, he can come off the pace. He won’t lead the pack but he isn’t going to be too far back to make a move. He is trained by Ian Wilkes who also trained Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. Brian Hernandez Jr. will be riding McCraken, he had the choice between him and Girvin and he chose McCraken. The sticking point for me on this horse is his experience at Churchill Downs. He excels at this track, he’s never lost on it and has plenty of experience on it. Many trainers think the track can be tricky, so if you have a horse that does well on it, you are ahead of the game. Ian and Brian are also very familiar with Churchill. They both consistantly train and ride there during every meet. And it is important to note that Brian picked him over Girvin, who is the leading points earner going into the Derby, he has faith in this horse. McCraken’s only loss was after a layoff, he still hit the board and Ian said he wasn’t 100% that day but he is now, and his works prove it.

17-Irish War Cry

Irish War Cry.jpg
Courtesy of TDN

I’m kind of in love with Irish War Cry. He is absolutley gorgeous and I am a huge fan of trainer Graham Motion. He is out of classic winner and two-time horse of the year Curlin, so he should do well at this distance. He has a lot of experience for his age. He has won three stakes, two of them graded, from five starts. He has been tested agianst his competition. He has beat Gunnevera and Classic Empire, two powerhouses in this field. He lost the Fountain of Youth but bounced back nicely in the Wood Memorial. Motion has an interesting work schedule for him, but says he got the “perfect work” he is looking for going into the race. I think he is maturing very well and I think he’ll put in a new performance. Even if he doesn’t pull out a win, I think we will see big things from him this year.

14-Classic Empire

Classic Empire
Courtesy of the Bloodhorse

 

This colt can’t be ignored. Classic Empire is the 4-1 Morning Line favorite, and if this year shakes out like 2016 or 2015 – he will be the next Derby winner. He was the juvenile champion last year with wins the Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. You know who else took home juvenile champion honors? American Pharoah and Nyquist. He shares the same sire as Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah, PioneeroftheNile. He is owned by industry staple John Oxley and he is trained by Mark Casse with Julien Leparoux aboard. He began 2017  by dissapointing in the Fountain of Youth stakes, but it was discovered that he was injured. He returned in the Arkansas Derby and won impressively. Who else came out of the Arkansas Derby to win the Kentucky Derby? American Pharoah. He also has a win over the Churchill surface. See why he is the favorite? There is just one problem. His attitude. Classic Empire acts his age and it isn’t a good thing. He is known for prerace antics and has dropped his jockey. He also has refused to work in the mornings on occasion. The crowds can get him amped up, and unfortunatley he is about to face the biggest and wildest crowd in racing. If he can overcome his jitters, he should take this race no problem.

Honorable mention to Girvin, the points leader. This colt has won the Risen Star and Louisana Derby. He lost his jockey to McCraken but he picks up the pro, Mike Smith. But he is suffering from a quarter crack. His trainer insists he is all good, but any issue this close to Derby is cause for concern. And honorable mention to Always Dreaming. He is running for the famed Todd Pletcher who always fills the KY Derby field with an arsenal of horses, but he only has one Derby win. This colt ran an impressive Florida Derby, the fastest time since Alydar in 1978. He is 3 for 3 this year but the Florida Derby was his first race in stakes company so I am hesistant due to lack of experience.

Good Luck and Pick a Winner!

Talk Derby To Me: 142nd Kentucky Derby

Just this week I had the honor of meeting the only living Triple Crown Winner, American Pharaoh. Last year, history was made and he accomplished a feat that hadn’t been achieved in 37 years. Many thought we would never see it be done again. Needless to say, the popular question is will another horse win the Triple Crown this year? Before that can be analyzed, we have to get our next Kentucky Derby winner.

derbypostposistionsTwenty horses will vie for the title of Kentucky Derby winner on Saturday, but only one will come out on top. No amount of handicapping, analyzing, or film watching can give the answer but plenty of people out there will certainly try. If you want analysis from experts, which I highly suggest, head over to Keeneland Select and take a look at their comprehensive Derby coverage. There you can find picks from Tom Leach, Katie Gensler, Jim Goodman, and Jonathan Fowler-all of which are very seasoned handicappers and have a ton more knowledge. With that being said, here are the horses I think have a shot at the roses.

nyquist13 – Nyquist

The morning line favorite for the Derby is undefeated two-year-old champion Nyquist. There are plenty of Nyquist-haters out there but I can’t leave this horse out of my picks. His critics focus on his pedigree, specifically that he wasn’t bred to get this distance. I think that is a weak argument and it’s been disproven in the past. Case and point: California Chrome, he was bred to be a cheap sprinter. Not only did he win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but he just won the richest race in the world- The Dubai World Cup. Nyquist has won every race he’s ever ran, and he is training beautifully. He drew post 13 which would be considered a bit negative, but he won from the same post in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so post position won’t be an issue. I think Nyquist is as brilliant as he seems and I expect he will do quite well in the race.

Louisiana Derby Day
NEW ORLEANS, LA – MARCH 26: Gun Runner #1 ridden by Florent Geroux wins the 103rd Louisiana Derby at Fairgrounds Race Course on March 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Steve Dalmado/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)

5- Gun Runner

Gun Runner is my underlay horse. I think he has a huge shot to win this race and he isn’t getting near enough consideration which means good things at the betting window. Though Nyquist is the favorite, Gun Runner comes into the Derby with the most points. His only loss was on wet dirt, and it looks to be a fast track so that doesn’t concern me. He put on a great performance in the Risen Star but was incredibly not the favorite in the Louisiana Derby which he won by 4 1/2 lengths. He seems to always be underestimated. His connections are experienced as well, trained by Hall of Fame inductee Steve Asmussen and owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds. This team also races Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable among many others. Gun Runner also drew the 5th post which will set him up perfectly with closers to the inside, he can pull forward on the rail.

mohaymen

14 – Mohaymen

If the Florida Derby would have ended differently, Mohaymen would be the favorite going into this race. This son of leading sire Tapit won four stakes in a row before facing Nyquist and coming in a disappointing fourth. Since that race all the buzz has died down on this colt, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to toss him out. As impressive as an undefeated record is, I also believe that every horse just like most athletes are bound to throw in a “clunker”. It is just a matter of when that is. Even American Pharoah lost twice in his career. With his “clunker” behind him, I think Mohaymen is ready to bounce back and give a big performance.

Ricardo Santana Jr, Creator
Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. celebrates as Creator wins the Arkansas Derby horse race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., Saturday, April 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

3 – Creator

Creator got a late start, it took him awhile to break his maiden but he seems to be peaking at the right moment. This colt ran third to his half-brother in the Rebel Stakes but turned around and beat that brother in the Arkansas Derby in impressive fashion. He doesn’t have the experience and the back class that a lot of these contenders have but he is improving and looks ready to run a heck of a race. He is also trained by Hall of Fame inductee Steve Asmussen and he is owned by WinStar Farm who also owns 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. And he certainly has the pedigree (if you’re into that sort of thing).

One thing is for certain, it is going to be one heck of a race!

~Lauren

Lilies for the Fillies: 142 Kentucky Oaks

I find it a bit appalling that I’ve never written down my Kentucky Oaks and Derby picks other than the random Twitter comment. But that all stops this year, not only have I created my own platform to spew my thoughts via WordPress, but as a Keeneland employee, I am right in the thick of Derby-mania. Before I get to any Derby talk, I have to talk about the Oaks, ladies first!

KYOaksdraw

This year’s race is full of very talented fillies, and it is wide open. Originally, the race was thought to be dominated by a filly named Songbird. This undefeated filly dominated every race she has run and there was even talk that she was better competition for the boys in the Kentucky Derby versus the Oaks. But she spiked a fever after her last race and was pulled from consideration for the Oaks. While it is sad that Songbird won’t get to add the most famous filly race to her resume, it does make the Oaks a lot more interesting. I have three top horses in this race.

Rachel's Valentina - Morning Workout - Keeneland Race Course - 1
Rachel’s Valentina – Morning Workout – Keeneland Race Course – 102315

Top Pick: 11- Rachel’s Valentina

Though she is the morning line favorite, I have to pick this filly. Rachel’s Valentina is the only daughter of the famous Rachel Alexandria who won the Kentucky Oaks in 2009. On her legacy alone, I have to root for her. Aside from her amazing heritage, this filly is incredibly talented. She won her debut and was immediatley entered into the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes and won that race. Her next start was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies where she finished second to superstar filly Songbird. She had a long layoff before her sole three-year-old start in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland where she faced undefeated Cathryn Sophia. Both of them engaged in an intense stretch duel and right as Rachel’s Valentina pulled past Cathyrn Sophia, longshot Weep No More beat her by a neck at the wire. Every performance of her career, she gives a brilliant performance, she has never finished worse than second and she has ran in Grade 1 company since her second race. She has the experience, and obviously the pedigree to win this race.

Louisiana Derby Day
NEW ORLEANS, LA – MARCH 26: Land Over Sea #8 ridden by John R. Velazquez wins the Fair Grounds Oaks during the Louisiana Derby at Fairgrounds Race Course on March 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Steve Dalmado/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 – Land Over Sea

My next pick is Land Over Sea. This filly ran second to Songbird five times! Talk about bad luck, she raced agianst the best three-year-old filly in the country for the better part of her short racing career. She finally escaped Songbird with a run in the Fair Grounds Oaks and she easily won the race. Without Songbird to compete with her, I think Land Over Sea has a real shot to beat this field. She is obviously a great racehorse who has just often faced a better one.

 

WEEP-NO-MORE
Weep No More winning the G1 Ashland Stakes. Photo courtesy of Keeneland.

2 – Weep No More

Though my heart loves Rachel’s Valentina, I had to be impressed by Weep No More’s win in the Ashland. This filly wasn’t even in consideration as a contender in that five-horse field, and she shocked everyone when she came out of nowhere to steal the race. She has an interesting back class, her first start in a MSW 55000, she didn’t hit the board. Then she won her next start, a MSW 23000. She then won an ungraded stakes at Tampa Bay before winning the Ashland. She made her case as a brilliant closer and Corey Lanerie made a brilliant move. With Lanerie taking the mount agian, I could see her ‘stealing’ the Oaks in a similar fashion.

I’ll post my Derby Picks tomorrow!

~Lauren

 

Moving On

Today was my last day working as a Marketing Coordinator for the United States Dressage Federation. USDF was my first “big girl” job, so leaving it is definitely a big deal, and I am not a fan of change. I have learned so much in my year and a half of employment at USDF, I know a bit more about dressage now but I’m still by no means an expert. I have learned plenty about sponsorship, event vendors, and inventory among other things. More exciting: I am one badass bag stuffer and box builder.

I have known for awhile that I wanted to move on. I felt stuck without any forward movement. With an hour and a half commute, and an uncertain future, I was mentally unsettled. By mentally unsettled I mean that my anxiety and depression were ramping up big time. It is crazy how much difference one week can make. Just one application submitted, I had no expectations. Before I knew it, I had a new job offer on the table from my dream company, Keeneland.

Keeneland is a racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky and it is one of my favorite places on earth. The track is gorgeous, and from a marketing geek standpoint, they are the top of the heap in the racing industry. Keeneland knows exactly who they are, they sell an experience that attracts outside the general racing demographic. To be a part of their team would be a dream. And I am so proud and excited to say that I get to join this team.

I knew I would miss USDF, but today I realized how much I connected with the people I worked with. I honestly didn’t expect to be missed very much, but the outpouring of well wishes from my colleagues warmed my heart. I spent 40 hours a week (sometimes more) with these people for almost two years, in a way they feel like family. I can’t help but think about the projects they have on the table and feel sad that I won’t be a part of that. I am ready for the next step but I won’t forget USDF or the people I worked with everyday.

This also marks the end of my time at the Kentucky Horse Park. Straight out of college I was given the amazing opportunity to work at the world famous Kentucky Horse Park for the Director of Marketing and Public Relations. The park feels like home to me. I remember my parents taking me there when I was six and I felt like that was where I belonged. I loved horses and this was my Disneyland. If you would have told six-year-old me that I would work there one day, I wouldn’t have believed it. Leaving employment at the park I was lucky to be able to stay on-site at the USDF office.

I am going to miss driving into this beautiful establishment everyday. On my lunch breaks I could walk through the park and see horses everywhere. I could visit Kentucky Derby Winner Funny Cide anytime I wanted. I got to go to  the Rolex 3-Day-Event, BreyerFest, Pony Finals etc. I will never get this opportunity right outside my office ever again. It is bittersweet. The park will always have a piece of my heart.

As sad as I am to leave, I know this is the right move for me. I am excited to work at such an iconic establishment, I know I can learn so much and I hope my skills can benefit Keeneland. I don’t know what my future is going to hold but I am elated with how it is going so far. I am ready for a new job at a new company and a new home, Lexington, Kentucky.

~Lauren

Drugs and the Equine Industry: The Calming Debate

If you are a horse person, you know that drugs are as big in show horses and race horses as they are in human athletes. The horse industry can be big business, and when money is on the line, people will always be looking for a way to gain an edge in competition. There are plenty of drugs that will do just about everything: hop your horse up, slow your horse down, cover up injuries etc. The United States Equestrian Federation is the regulating body over equine sports and they set the rules on drugs and enforce them.

The reason I am sounding off about this topic is because a headline caught my eye last week and ever since I have been fascinated with the subject. The story was this: Brigid Colvin, the mother of teenage riding prodigy Tori Colvin was suspended and fined after Tori’s mount Inclusive tested positive for GABA after the Hunter Derby Finals. GABA stands for Gamma Aminobuytric Acid, a non-protein amino acid that controls the way neurons fire in the brain. The purpose of GABA is as a calming supplement.

I ended up reading the full transcript of Brigid Colvin’s hearing with USEF and it was shocking. Colvin was suspended and fined because she was listed as Inclusive’s trainer. The trainer and the owners usually get fined or suspended but not the rider, I’ll get to that later. Colvin argued that she shouldn’t be punished because even though she was listed as the trainer, she was unclear on who to list as the trainer so she just listed herself. There was never any denial that the horse was given the drug, she just said she didn’t do it and shouldn’t be held responsible. GABA is a very fast acting substance, when used it is usually given as an injection right before the horse goes into the ring.

Why would owners and trainers use a calming agent? Well in the Hunter ring, horses are judged on how well they jump. They are expected to be slow, quiet, and well-mannered. The calming agent helps prevent the horse from getting too quick or spooking. Especially at the upper levels it can be difficult to keep a horse quiet while jumping 3′ and higher.

Why would USEF ban the use of the substance? USEF tested the substance on horses and observed that horses would shake after receiving the injection and that if it was given the incorrect way, the horse could die. It is also does provide an unfair advantage to the competition, and gets rid of an even playing field.

The argument from supporters of the drug say that it keeps inexperienced riders safe and helps green horses that aren’t used to competing. I have a friend that works at the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) and she said that calming agents were a given at Pony Finals. No one wants their kid getting hurt.

I personally feel that a problem with the industry is that we are so focused on competing and winning without putting the proper training methods and practice time in. There are too many riders on horses that they don’t have the ability to handle. I think that if you need a calming agent to compete a horse, then I think the horse isn’t ready or the rider isn’t ready. I think calming supplements are a quick fix, instead of putting time and effort in. As for green horses, I think that is what schooling shows are for. There isn’t enough emphasis on training for not only the classes at the show but also the experience of the show itself.

The other issue is the judging. The calm, slow, well-mannered horses win the classes. So that is what the competitors strive for. While yes, those traits are ideal, sticking solely to those traits perpetuate the problem. I think the judging needs to get more realistic, and be more forgiving for speed and energy and a head toss. The trends have become practically comatose horses plodding around the Hunter ring that pick up their feet at the jumps. If judges stop rewarding that behavior, then competitors will stop trying to achieve it. I would go as far as to say that if a horse looks clearly drugged, so slow and calm, they should penalized in the judging. They should have some life to them.

I also think that to stop competitors from violating the rules, the punishments have to be harsher. As it stands, trainers, owners, and horses are affected in suspensions. Owners and trainers also get fined. The rider usually gets no punishment on a drug charge. The idea behind this is that many riders ‘catch ride’ at shows. Catch Ride means that they will show up at an event and meet owners/trainers and jump on their horses to ride the classes without any prior relationship. So these riders often have no affiliation with the horse other than a warm-up and the class they ride in, they have no idea what the horse may or may not have been given. I understand that, and I  think it would be unfair to punish catch riders for drug violations. But, in cases like Tori Colvin, I think she should get punished.

Tori is only 17, but she is a rising star. She was won anything and everything in the Hunter/Jumper world. Even her mother said in her hearing transcript that Tori didn’t need a trainer, she trains herself. She has multi-million dollar mounts in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings from various owners. I fully believe that Tori knew that Inclusive was given GABA. She rode the horse and competed with him often, I think her thoughts would’ve been taken into account before anyone decided to give the drug. If Tori were suspended for 6 months or more, I think it would send a message. She is such a high profile rider, her presence would be missed. She may get replaced as a rider for some of her high profile horses, and she would be taken out of her profession. Even though she is only 17, this is her profession. If riders could get suspended for drug use, I believe they would find their voice to be aware of what their horses are being given. They need to be responsible for the horse they are taking into the show ring, just as much as the owners and the trainers.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Tori Colvin. She is an amazing rider, I’ve rooted for her many times. And I think the ‘punishment’ I’m suggesting would be very harsh, and possibly undeserved. But I think the message to the industry is more important. I think making high profile riders take more responsibility for the horses they compete on will help curb this drugging epidemic.

If you want more info on this check out this article from The Chronicle of the Horse: http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/sunshine-false-fairytales-calming

-Lauren