THE TIP-OF-THE-WEEK

March 29, 2018: Speed Racers

This week’s Kentucky Derby prep race is the Florida Derby. You may see the same well-known trainers, jockeys, and owners having entries in this race that had runners in the Louisiana Derby. The difference is that these connections aren’t shipping into the track, most of them are based in Southern Florida for the winter. Does that fact make it earlier or harder to handicap the race then?

 

One thing we have going for us Gut Handicapping-wise is that we have been following the meet at Gulfstream Park all winter. As in every winter there, a track bias for front-end, need-to-lead types is obvious. We saw it in the preps for the Florida Derby, where Promises Fulfilled went wire-to-wire to win the Fountain of Youth and Audible, won the Holy Bull bounding to the lead around the far turn and never looking back. Both horses didn’t have a lot taken out of them because of their convincing wins on a track that is more conducive to drag races than horse races.

 

Doing our Head Handicapping, we still need to look over the entries for any upset possibilities. If there is any one thing, we learned while on this year’s Derby trail, it is never just give it up to an overwhelming favorite. So, if Promises Fulfilled and Audible are going to be on the front for most of the race, we have to look and find any horse that might challenge them. One horse that can’t be overlooked is Hofburg. He is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Jose Ortiz. Those two names will draw plenty of betting dollars though, thereby, lowering his odds. Sure, he is coming into the race with only a maiden win included in two life starts, but do some Pedigree Handicapping on him. Clearly, his trainer is looking to the future and maybe not the Derby. However, if things fall apart up front with the two favorites, then this horse may be the one to pick up the pieces. The same comment applies to most of the field, who seem to have closer tendencies.

 

Another horse making his stakes debut is Mississippi. He is in very good form for 2018 winning his two starts this year. The trainer and rider may be familiar to you, as they sent Empire Maker out last year. Unlike that champion, Mississippi has less expected of him.

Another item to look at in your handicapping is to watch or read the chart of last year’s race. As we have found, Eye Handicapping can be a powerful tool. The eventual Derby winner, Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby last year. If nothing else, it will give you something to compare with this year’s race outcome. Does it mean the winner in this year’s running will go on to win the Derby? Who knows, but every speck of information we can gather at this point will help us for all those future three-year-old stakes lining up on the 2018-racing calendar. 

March 22, 2018: And Down the Stretch....

Believe it or not, we are coming down the home stretch on the Derby trail. Here it is the start of the final Derby preps and we really don’t know much more about the three-year-old crop than we did at the end of last year. Or do we?

 

As Saturday’s running of the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds marks the start of all those final preps, like the Florida Derby, the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, and Blue Grass, we do know some things about those pointed to the ultimate Derby in Kentucky. For example, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes run at Churchill Downs last fall was full of horses doing well on the Derby trail in 2018. Bravazo, who was up the track in the Kentucky Jockey Club race, has gone two-for-two in wins for 2018, which indicates very good form, as compared to many of his competitors. However, when we speak of competitors, it is only natural to ask about any winner of a Derby prep so far: whom did they beat? Hence the importance of these final Derby preps.

 

The problem for the race fan is: when you have a million dollar purse on the line like in the Louisiana Derby, the field will draw some very accomplished connections with trainers like Pletcher, Asmussen, and Lukas, as well as, the top jocks like Velazquez, Castellano, Ortiz, and Geroux. With that cast in place, it gets confusing as to which horse or horses are at the top of their respective barns. As for the jockeys, when they ride a different Derby prospect every week, you have to wonder if they are just shopping around for the horse they think they can ride to a Derby win.

 

Such items upset our Gut Handicapping. The horses shipping in will certainly overshadow the locally based ones. The ones with improving form in 2018 will certainly attract the bettors more than those running well and winning as two-year-olds. We still have our Head Handicapping where we try and figure out how the races will unfold. However, with many lightly raced entries, we don’t know if they have matured enough to establish a running style.

 

So, what’s a handicapper to do? One thing to look at is how the horses performed as the distances of the Derby preps got longer. Who has the pedigree to go a mile and a quarter? Trainers don’t want their horses going all out in the Derby preps because they want them peaking on that first Saturday in May. Watch to see which horses need encouragement coming down the stretch. Their pedigrees may look good on paper, but the proof is in the training. Can the trainer get them ready?

 

There’s a great deal of Eye Handicapping to do with these final Derby preps, so, after you do your Head, Gut, and Pedigree Handicapping, watch all the entries. Who looked the part? Even if you picked the winner of the prep, do yourself a favor and watch how the others performed. Did any of them fit the profile of a Derby contender, specifically, a horse that can meet his competitors at a mile and a quarter in front of over 100,000 screaming fans?

 

There are many handicapping tools for you to use in these final preps and the more comfortable you get using them now, the better prepared you will be for Triple Crown season.

March 15, 2018: You Put it All Together....

We have been talking, downright whining, about these heavy favorites in the Derby preps not offering us any value in our wagers when they win a Derby prep race, and not being able to pick the long-shots when they win. So, how do you find the longshots in fields with heavy favorites? Last Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby had the 19-1 shot, Quip win. Actually, if you tossed out the heavy favorite World of Trouble landing on Quip wasn’t that difficult. “Come on!” you scoff. Seriously, at first glance his connections might not be jumping out at you when the field had runners connected with names like Pletcher, Motion, and Servis among the trainers and Johnny Velazquez and the Ortiz brothers among the jockeys.

 

Of course, you may have remembered Quip’s jockey was the rider of Horse of the Year Gun Runner, and if you did a little reading, you may have discovered his trainer was one of Hall of Famer Bill Mott’s top assistants. That’s as far as your Gut Handicapping of the race may have led you, because most of the field shipped into the track just for this race.

 

What about your Head Handicapping then? Well, if you glanced over Quip’s races, you may have overlooked him because he had only three starts prior to the Tampa Bay Derby. The last of those races was a seventh place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club in the fall, so, the Tamps Bay Derby was his 2018 debut. Looking at the race results of the Kentucky Jockey Club you would have found the first place winner, Enticed finished first in the Derby prep Gotham Stakes run last Saturday too. The third-place finisher was Promises Fulfilled, who went on to win the Fountain of Youth a couple of weeks ago. Then there was the Risen Star Stakes winner Bravazo, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Tiz Mischief ran in both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Jockey Club, where he finished fifth and second respectively, so, you may have also included him with your contenders for the Tampa Bay Derby.

 

With the scratches of both Enticed and Free Drop Billy in the Tampa Bay Derby as their connections opted to run in the Gotham, your Pedigree Handicapping might have you picking Quip as well, if only because many of those entered had turf pedigrees like Untamed Domain and Flameaway. While Quip on the other hand has Distorted Humor as his sire, a stallion who also was the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide. His dam is by Indian Charlie, a prolific sire of precocious two-year-olds and sprint and distance champions too.

 

The bottom line is that we need to combine all of the findings of your handicapping: Gut, Head, and Pedigree. If you did so, then Quip was the choice and rewarded your handicapping nicely.

This weekend’s Derby prep is at Oaklawn Park with the Rebel Stakes. Use as many handicapping tools as possible to land upon another long-shot. It can be done, as we have shown here. If you keep coming back to the heavy favorite though, then just watch the race to see if any of the runners appear to be improving as they continue to run on the Derby trail, and store that intel until the next Derby prep.

 

March 8,2018: Too Good to be True?

Well, we waited until March before we got to see last year’s two-year-old champ, Good Magic make his mediocre 2018 debut. It certainly looked like he was just out for a workout much to dismay of the fans who bet him down to an amount not worth the bet. In their defense, he would have to be the heavy favorite after he won the Eclipse award for top two-year-old, his jockey winning an Eclipse, and his trainer likewise for top trainer in 2017.

 

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise though when he got beat by a horse going the whole race on the lead, even with Good Magic’s credentials. You may have thought when handicapping the race to take the easy way and just go with the favorite, thereby, not even giving the others a glance. Given the outcome, doing the opposite may have landed you on the long-shot winner. Handicapping with your Gut would have had you looking at betting angles, in particular, the track bias. We have been watching races at Gulfstream Park all winter (ah, those palms trees, sigh) and should know by now how the track favors speed. It is like a highway. You could have also remembered how last year, Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming found success in the Derby preps at Gulfstream Park taking advantage of being on the lead on a speed-favoring surface.

 

This weekend we have two Derby preps with which to redeem our handicapping skills, the San Felipe at Santa Anita and the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the little track across the State from Gulfstream Park. The San Felipe features the 2018 debut of Bolt d’Oro. He was the heavy favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall after going three-for-three in his races prior to that first defeat. You maybe be saying: “Here we go again with another heavy favorite in their 2018 debut.” It will be difficult to get around him in your handicapping, especially with those connections, but try to look at his competitors, if for no other reason than to get some handicapping practice.

 

The Tampa Bay Derby features Flameaway, who is in great form right now going two-for-two in 2018, after a so-so 2017. The race also has Free Drop Billy entered. You may have soured on this horse because of his habit of coming in second, but maybe we should look at those results as a sign of consistency and not an indication his form has trailed off in 2018.

 

Above all else, both races will provide us with more information about the Derby prospects at this point in the year. Let’s not write anyone off right now, as there are many preps yet to be run, and run at longer distances too. Go through the races on each card because they are loaded with stakes, so, you might find some heart picks running making their 2018 debuts. If there is anything that keeps a race fan’s interest throughout a sometimes frustrating Derby prep season, it’s those heart horses from prior years still in action.

March 1, 2018: Back to the Future

After a couple of weeks of incredible human athletic performances in the Winter Olympics, we turn our attention to hopefully what will be incredible performances by our equine athletes. As the calendar turned to March, the stars of the two-year-old crop from last year are making their 2018 debuts on their way to the Kentucky Derby. The highlight of this weekend’s racing is the Fountain of Youth, if only because the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, Good Magic is making his three-year-old debut in it.

 

There are a few things we can look for in these three-year-old debuts, one being if the horse matured any over the winter. This is important factor because the horses he may have been defeating as a two-year-old may have grown also, to the point where they are no longer pushovers. That is where our Eye Handicapping comes in handy.

 

To refresh our memories of who is who in the three-year-old crop, the Kentucky Derby web site is a good way to start. The horses are ranked by the points leaderboard, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the leading horses in the crop aren’t any good as three-year-olds, they just haven’t run this year to garner those points.

 

The Fountain of Youth Stakes is the last race on a 14-race card at Gulfstream Park on Saturday and there are five other graded stakes on it. With such an extended card, it is a good idea to look over the entries in each race before even handicapping. If a race interests you, then handicap it. Also, keep in mind your bankroll. With that many races, plus races run at other tracks, we need not to go broke early in the day.

After looking over the entries at Gulfstream, you might want to do the same for other tracks to look for races that match your handicapping skills. This once over the card tactic is a quick way of keeping your interest and not being overloaded.

 

Remember, it is all about having fun at the track, not getting a headache. If it is one thing we learned from watching the Olympians, it is appreciating the joy of competition (even in Curling of all things!)

 

 

February 22, 2018: Hearts of Gold

We have been watching the Olympic events the past couple of weeks, marveling at the human athletes in much the same way we cheer our equine ones. Did you notice how the Olympic events where there are groups of athletes competing like cross-country skiing, short-track skating or snowboard cross are very much like the horse races we watch. What comes to mind right away are the strategies being employed. With the equines, their human-athlete jockeys steer their way, but the horse has to have the ability and training to respond to the commands.

 

Looking back at the two Derby preps run last weekend, the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds and the Southwest at Oaklawn Park. The Risen Star winner, Bravazo took advantage of the pace being set by waiting until the stretch to use his saved energy to catch the leader. Tactics also played a part in the Southwest Stakes. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeax kept his charge My Boy Jack along the rail to run less of a distance to the finish line.

 

In the Southwest, the muddy track may have not been to the liking of the other runners, so, we will have to wait until the next prep run on a dry track to find out how much of a factor it was. Many times during this Olympics, we have heard commentators mention that the athlete, whether skier, ice skater, etc. just didn’t look comfortable on the surface they were competing on. The same is true of our equine athletes. If they don’t like track conditions or even a track surface, it will be reflected in their performance.

 

One difference between the Olympians and the equine athletes is how we use pedigrees to handicap the races. It is an important tool to use when evaluating lightly raced horses. One providing us with some idea if the horse was bred for sprint races, distance races, or turf ones. Of course, we don’t get into pedigrees per se with the Olympians, although you’ll often hear how someone’s mother or grandfather were Olympic athletes too. Come to think of it, the Olympic events tend to draw their athletes on conformation too. How many 6’5” figure skaters are there or 110-pound hockey players?

 

What about the winners of the two Derby preps then? What do their pedigrees tell us? If you looked up Bravazo’s lineage you’d find two Hall of Fame names. His sire is the great Awesome Again and his dam’s father is Cee’s Tizzy. Now, Cee’s Tizzy may not be as familiar a name as Awesome Again; but you may recall the name Tiznow, who is also a son of Cee’s Tizzy. He is the only horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice and he has sired champions like Colonel John, Tourist, and Tizway.

 

Overall, there were so many similarities that we noted between the Olympians and the equine athletes. The majority of the sports in the Olympics are as dangerous as horse racing. Did you hear the commentators giving lists of the injuries suffered by the Olympians in their careers? How many equine champions retire early because of injuries? It was also said often that the Olympians train to peak at the right time. How many times do we race fans note how trainers want their charges peaking for the Derby or the Breeders’ Cup?

 

One commonality we couldn’t measure is heart. The heart of a champion exists and we saw it throughout the Olympic Games and see it continually in horseracing. Lady Eli the great turf miler came back from near-death to win another Breeders’ Cup race. How many Olympians have done the same going for the gold? When we can’t figure out why a horse strives with its last once of energy to beat another to the finish line, we say that it was heart. In very much the same way, the humans give their all to come back every four years, working through injuries and other personal trials, and that is called heart too. So, if your Head, Eye, Gut, and Pedigree Handicapping aren’t working, try the Heart kind. You may not win, but you’ll still have that warm feeling only a heart can provide.

 

February 15, 2018: Going for the Gold (and pats too)

Look up the definition of athlete in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, actually any dictionary, and it will tell you an athlete is one “who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.” As most sports are taking a backseat for a couple of weeks right now for the Winter Olympics, we got to wondering: when watching the Olympians compete, did you ever notice the similarities of the human athletes with the equine ones?

 

Think about it. The horses are trained and skilled. They have physical strength, agility, and stamina in order to race competitively. How many times have we cheered horses coming down the stretch running neck-and-neck, ears pinned back, totally focused on beating each other. Being herd animals, the competitiveness is thought to equate to one horse establishing himself as their leader. Whatever the reasoning, we know most Thoroughbreds love to run against each other and get those pats for winning. Those of us employing Eye Handicapping look at conformation. Do they look like racehorses? Do they look like athletes?

 

One of the best arguments for equines being athletes on par with the human ones is the explanation given to golf legend Jack Nicklaus, when he was moved to tears after watching Secretariat’s historic Belmont Stakes performance in garnering the Triple Crown. Nicklaus didn’t understand why he had that strong a reaction. Sports commentator Heywood Hale Broun gave him the reason: “All of your life, in your game, you’ve been striving for perfection. At the end of the Belmont, you saw it.”

 

This weekend being a three-day holiday one, we will have many stakes races to watch and handicap. After the race day is over, we will have the Olympic athletes to watch. So, let’s have some fun and compare the performances of each type of athlete, if for no other reason than to think about how you pick your contenders in a race. Do your thoughts follow the same patterns as they do when watching the human athletes? Wow, look how fast, high, agile, strong, graceful, etc.

 

No, you aren’t going to “handicap” the Olympians, but they may provide you clues on what to look for when handicapping or just watching the equine athletes we admire so much.

Febuary 8, 2018: Handicapping Three-Year-Olds Stakes, the Winter Edition

So, did we learn anything from handicapping, or even watching, those three-year-old graded stakes run last weekend? One thing we learned is how important Gut Handicapping is for these type of races. Three examples really stand out. The first was in the Forward Gal Stakes for the three-year-old fillies going seven furlongs. Seven furlongs is a tricky distance, it’s not really a sprint nor is it a distance race. It should have been no surprise when Take Charge Paula won because of her trainer Kiaran McLaughlin being so successful at Gulfstream Park this time of year with the three-year-olds of either sex. She also would have made a good pick based on pedigree as well being the daughter of Take Charge Indy. We also had the benefit of looking at her past performances, which included seven lifetime starts. Looking over these races through either the race charts, or watching replays, we can see what good form she rounded into having won two straight races, after a terrible trip in the highly regarded Pocahontas stakes for two-year-olds last fall.

 

Another example of utilizing our Gut Handicapping tools was found in the featured race on the Gulfstream Park card Saturday, the Holy Bull. Trainer Todd Pletcher owns three-year-old maiden and stakes races at the meet. So, it was no surprise when Audible won easily at the mile and one-sixteenth distance. It didn’t hurt that the horse was bred by WinStar farms either, a fact that would have jumped out at you if doing Pedigree Handicapping in conjunction with your Gut Handicapping.

 

The final example of Gut Handicapping was in the Las Virgenes for the three-year-old fillies run last Sunday at Santa Anita. Dream Tree was the deserving favorite having won the Grade 1 Starlet last December for Bob Baffert. It is not surprising she is a perfect four-for-four. Having ruled the west, it is our job to figure out which filly in the east will emerge that might compete against Dream Tree in the Kentucky Oaks.

One last race that caught our attention this past weekend was the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Yes, it was a turf race for three-year-olds, and it wasn’t the winner that interested us, but the runner-up, Gido. In his three lifetime starts, it is pretty obvious that he just goes to the lead running as fast as he can for as long as he can. This style if it can be called that, is indicative of a green race horse. His pedigree is amazing being the son of the great Frankel, a turf mile champion in Europe and his dam being a daughter of Unbridled’s Song. We already talked this year about the Fappiano lineage, but we also told the story of Frankel in our book A Year in the Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Volume 3. If you read that entry from the book, you would know how much interest there is in Frankel’s offspring worldwide.

 

So, that’s what we learned last week, and we get to do it all over again this coming weekend, as there are more stakes for the three-year-olds, as well as, the older horses. Keep plugging away with the handicapping tools, if only to use them for learning how to use them. Most importantly, keep having fun on the Derby trail.

February 1, 2018: "Tackling" Handicapping for Derby Season

Last week, we were treated to a graded stakes card at Gulfstream Park consisting of nothing but older horses capped off by Gun Runner’s final performance, that was nothing less than spectacular for the current Horse of the Year. This week, the focus returns to the three-year-olds with a Gulfstream card loaded with stakes for them, as well as, two important three-year-old stakes in Santa Anita.

What does this mean for our handicapping? Should we use the tools that we did for the older horse stakes with the three-year-old ones? Do we use all of our handicapping tools no matter what the status of the race? The bottom-line is you can use whatever handicapping tools you would like for whatever race you are handicapping. If you need to Eye Handicap the fields, then do so, but experiment wth some other tools as well. Here’s what we mean. With veteran runners, there are numerous past performances to look at in order to figure out how the race will unfold. Contrary, the three-year-olds might just have that maiden special weight win going into a graded stakes, so, we rely on pedigree handicapping to supplement our eye handicapping with them.

 

This pedigree handicapping provides us with information as to whether the three-year-old can go a longer distance or if they have turf-running genes. The eye handicapping gives us an idea of how they raced in their prior races when watching the replays or reading the race charts. We are looking for how professionally they ran. Did they just shoot out of the gate going as fast as they could as long as they could? Did they get into trouble that was no cause of their own? You have to figure out where they are in their learning.

 

Having watched races from both Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita all of January, we should have a pretty good idea of how the tracks play and what bias exist. This experience will benefit our Gut Handicapping. With less learning to be done concerning that tool, we can concentrate on the others at our disposal. It may seem like a great deal of work which will force us into falling back into old habits, but the more practice we get now using all the handicapping tools available to us, the more prepared we will be to tackle the rest of Derby season and those BIG days of racing ahead of us.

January 25, 2018: Handicapping BIG

Our first BIG day of racing in 2018 is upon us. However, it’s not your usual BIG day in that the feature BIG race of the BIG day isn’t for the three-year-olds. All of the graded stakes on the Gulfstream Park card Saturday are for older horses. Typically, this time of year, we have the Derby preps each weekend, where our handicapping centers on Eye and, gulp, Pedigree handicapping tools. With the race being for veteran runners, we can take out those other tools like the Head and Gut handicapping ones.

 

Veteran horses have a good sample of past performances, so, we can figure out their preferred running style. Do they like to be speed on the lead early In a race or do they like to stalk the early speed. Perhaps they like to come from the back of the pack turning for home. Horses have other preferences too, like running covered up on the inside, or maybe the opposite, where they are doing the herding of others inside by running outside other horses. It’s all there in the past performances and race charts allowing us to determine how a race will unfold. When it comes to looking at numbers like these kinds, we are doing Head Handicapping, a very powerful tool, but not the only one we can rely upon.

 

Our other handicapping tool for this BIG day of racing concerns the Gut. What type of trends have developed at the Champions’ meet at Gulfstream Park? Do we have horses for the course? Do we have trainers aiming for this BIG day? Which horses do well on the fast dirt surface there or the stubby grass on their turf course? These items are the type of things we listen for in the pre-race chat of the racing analysts or can simply look them up on the track’s web site.

 

Of course, the feature race is the second running of the Pegasus Cup, the world’s richest horse race. Last year, we had California Chrome in his last race going up against Arrogate. Unfortunately, the race didn’t live up to the hype as Chrome had his worse finish ever. At least, the Chromies got to see their hero run one last time, which highlights the attraction of having a race for older horses this time of year. There was also the performance of Arrogate, who by winning the Pegasus had at the time a three Grade 1 win streak established going into the Dubai World Cup. It looked like Arrogate was the second coming of Pegasus, as he had us all wondering just how great he could become.

 

What we don’t know is the place in history this year’s favorite in the race, Gun Runner will have if he wins. This year’s edition has a most interesting field, which goes to show how the world’s biggest purse will draw such an eclectic group. For example, the field includes Sharp Azteca, a sprint champion for sure, but he has never run the distance. Then there’s the champion mare Stellar Wind, who is making her swan song in the race. Look over the field carefully using all of your handicapping tools, or if you are feeling unready to tackle such a handicapping challenge so early in the year, there’s nothing wrong with just watching. Overall, this BIG day gives us an opportunity to get our handicapping tools out of the tool box, and given that it is still January, what race fan can ask for anything more?

 

January 18, 2018: The Making of an Eclipse Champion

Had enough Eye Handicapping the past few weeks watching those palm trees in Southern California and Florida? While it is still early days to do some serious handicapping of the three-year-old stakes, this week, why not drag out another handicapping tool, this one we call Handicapping the Blood. Sure it sounds gross, but it has to do with the pedigrees. Now, before you start moaning about pedigree charts, there is a fun way to look at a horse’s family tree. This Thursday, the Eclipse Awards will be presented to the champion horses of 2017 and we can learn a lot about the pedigrees of this year’s Derby hopefuls by looking at the pedigrees of the Eclipse Award nominees.

 

Why not start at the top with the Horse of the Year nominees. Likely winner, Gun Runner’s father was Candy Ride making him a grandson of Cryptoclearance. His mother (Dam) is a daughter of Giant’s Causeway, and going along that female side, you’ll see the name Quiet American. Both of these relatives, Cryptoclearance and Quiet American make Gun Runner inbred to a horse named Fappiano. Remember that name above all others when looking over the pedigrees of the three-year-old crop pointing to the Triple Crown races. No, Gun Runner didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, he finished third, but that’s a discussion for another time. We are talking pedigrees now, so, check out another Eclipse nominee for Horse of the Year, Arrogate. No, he didn’t finish the year well, but he did win the world’s two richest races in 2017. Remember, we are just keeping our focus on the pedigree, not past performances. Recognize any names in his pedigree?

 

The third Horse of the Year candidate is World Approval, a turf runner. His pedigree should give you some great turf champion names. If some of these names appear in the pedigree of a three-year-old entered in a stakes on the Derby trail, just don’t dismiss it as being more suited to the turf. Many a three-year-old has found success on turf before switching to dirt for the Derby preps and the Derby itself. Big Brown and Animal Kingdom are just two Derby winners who started being very good turf horses.

 

You don’t have to do any serious studying of pedigrees here, Just pick a few of the Eclipse nominees that you might be a fan of and look at their pedigrees. If you see some names more than others in these pedigrees, then maybe you’ll remember them when looking up the pedigree of some three-year-old on the Derby trail. We don’t have much in the way of past performances with most of the three-year-olds running in the Derby preps, so, looking at their pedigrees when they are entered is a valuable handicapping tool.

January 4, 2018: Watching a New Year

Happy New Year! All Thoroughbreds had a birthday on New Year’s Day, so, it’s time to follow those newly proclaimed three-year-olds on the Derby trail. Of course, these early stakes restricted to the crop are run at distances shorter than the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby. Like us, the trainers aren’t really sure of what their charges are capable of running. Those doing well as two-year-olds are now faced with competitors that may have caught up with them growth-wise. Then there are those still waiting for the light to go off in their heads about what this racing stuff is all about.

 

We need to be as patient with these young horses, as their trainers. Sure, we can dive into the dreaded pedigrees, but those can wait. Our Head Handicapping might wait as well, since the past performances on these horses are sparse in some cases, and inconsistent in others. So, how do we handicap these stakes that appear on the racing calendar every weekend until the Derby? Right now, we watch them, before, during, and after their races. Do they get nervous before the race? Do they look like they know what they are doing during a race? Then after a race, do they look like they could go around again?

 

That’s Eye Handicapping folks, plain and simple. Combine that with some of the Gut Handicapping, we have been doing concerning the major race meets of the winter and you’ve got your handicapping tools for these early stakes for the three-year-olds. Actually, there’s another reason to watch these races. If you live in any part of the country that isn’t Southern California or South Florida, then you can dream about the warmth and sun as you are watching the races at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. Even if they aren’t having heat waves, anything above freezing will do for those of us suffering in the seventh ring of frozen hell. So, watch the horses run around the swaying palm trees and enjoy.