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Derby Prep Exacta
Couple of ideas to consider for the First Saturday in March
Doesn’t feel like Kentucky Derby weather this morning in Massachusetts but here we are. Just two months out from Derby 149.
Looking forward to being back at Mohegan Sun for the First Saturday in May alongside the great “Big A” Anthony Stabile. Best Derby party in New England.
As we make our way towards Derby Day, we’ll try and highlight the big prep races here on Saturdays. Today we’ll focus on two.
This is different from our usual posts here. If you like the Friday Four-Pack and want more handicapping posts, help spread the word.
There are four Derby preps across the country today. Three “big” preps - The Gotham at Aqueduct, Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Those are all worth 50 Derby Qualifying points to the winner.
The John Battaglia at Turfway gets the winner 20 Derby points and is also on synthetic, not dirt. Looks like a fun betting race there at Turfway but my ROI on the syth races is abysmal so I won’t be spending a lot of time on it.
Handicapping races is hard enough. Now for the second straight year you have the added weirdness of Bob Baffert being barred from running horses at Churchill Downs.
Last year Tim Yakteen was the listed trainer for Messier and Tabia in the Derby - those horses did not fare well as Rich Strike shocked the world.
Without getting off the rails here…Tim Yakteen is a good trainer. He does not have the eye-popping stats and results of Baffert. Who might be the best dirt trainer ever.
So yeah the San Felipe has a bunch of Baffert horses listed for Yakteen so, well, good luck if you’re playing. It will be a watch race for me.
That leaves of two other major prep races to discuss here. The first one we’ll discuss feels like it has a much better chance to produce meaningful three-year-olds for the Derby Trail. But the second is an evenly matched group that should be fun to bet and watch.
The Fountain of Youth (5:43 EST)
This one headlines by the much-anticipated return of the Breeders Cup Juvenile winner Forte (#4). The clear horse to beat. Listed at 7/5 on the ML and probably goes off close to that. Best Beyer figures, Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz. If he’s cranked up for his first race since last fall he’s the most likely winner by far.
He also has the highest TimeForm US speed figure in the field. But Mage (#7) is right there with him on those numbers (117 vs 113). Mage is stepping up big time in class and that’s represented in the 8-1 listed price. There does not appear to be a lot of pace in the race on paper. I want horses near the lead at Gulfstream going this distance. Mage figures to go right to the front and may have control early. At anything near 8-1 he’s my pick.
Blazing Sevens (#6) is very interesting. I’m willing upgrade his Juvenile after he got off to a sluggish start. He was okay from there. Not close to Forte last summer in the Hopeful. But Chad Brown shows up against the big favorite Forte. Have to like that confidence. And the works say he ready - reportedly working well with Chad’s star Jack Christopher.
My dumb idea of the race of Cyclone Mischief (#9). He’s 12-1 and likely to go off higher than that. Cyclone Mischief ran big two back and was the 6/5 favorite in the Holy Bull…where he did no running late. The trainer Dale Romans could not make any excuses.
“We’re just putting a line through the Holy Bull,” Romans said. “This is his chance to redeem himself.”
I’ll make an excuse for Cyclone Mischief - he was between horses and on a tight hold the entire backstretch. Never got a real breather. I’m a little worried that good race two-back was on Lasix and he won’t get that medication today.
But at that price I’m going to use in exactas and trifectas.
8-1 Mage (#7)
7/5 Forte (#4)
7/2 Blazing Sevens (#6)
12-1 Cyclone Mischief (#9)
The Gotham (4:56 EST)
No Forte in this field but a hell of a handicapping puzzle.
The ML favorite at 4-1 is Eyeing Clover (#13). Big speed at Fairgrounds last time going six furlongs and now trying to stretch out to a mile. I guess…but boy it does look like there is some other pace in this race. Mr. Swagger (#3) and Recruiter (#14) both feel like they want to be on the front with the favorite. If the favorite can clear he will be tough…but at a short price I’m not rushing to bet that he will.
I’m probably outsmarting myself but I’ll try the other Brad Cox horse Slip Mahoney (#11). Ran well against a good Todd Pletcher horse two races back. Took advantage of the right part of track in his maiden win. But I like the two races at a today’s mile distance. Like that he’s been based here at Aqueduct. The hope is he’s able to rate off the speed, stay close and make his run.
My goofy horse has never tried dirt. Transect (#7) has two wins over synthetics. He was able to close in his first race. Then showed more speed next time out. Versatile running styles as this age are something I look for. This son of Gun Runner is bred to run well on the dirt. At 15-1 in a wide open race he’s one I will be using for sure.
Carmel Road (#5) is one of the Baffert horses we talked about now running under another listed trainer. Don’t love the jockey and the Baffert situation adds to my confusion but he would not be a huge surprise.
Chad Brown’s Uncorrelated (#4) is stepping up in class and is slow on paper. But will likely take some money thanks to connections. Too much pedigree and too good a trainer to overlook.
Track condition - Rain overnight makes the track sloppy/sealed to start the day. I’ll be watching for any bias as far as speed as well as the inside part of he track.
5-1 Slip Mahoney (#11)
15-1 Transect (#7)
10-1 Uncorrelated (#4)
5-1 Carmel Road (#5)
As a group the three-year-olds have not looked like killers so far. Hopefully we see a few of these step forward today.
Good luck if you’re playing today. Comments below are open to leave your picks.
I’ll be watching from Costello Athletic Center as UMass-Lowell takes on Maine in the America East Quarterfinals. Go River Hawks.