KENTUCKY DERBY 2016 – AFTER THOUGHTS
When I handicapped this year’s Derby, I came close to nailing my Superfecta.
That is, I picked Nyquist, Exaggerator, Mor Spirit & Gun Runner to go across the finish line, in that order.
My Twitter posting:
In reality, Nyquist, Exaggerator, Gun Runner & Mohaymen finished 1, 2, 3, & 4.
|3||Gun Runner||4 1/2||10-1|
|7||Brody’s Cause||9 1/4||24-1|
|10||Mor Spirit||14 1/4||12-1|
|11||My Man Sam||14 1/4||18-1|
|12||Tom’s Ready||16 3/4||46-1|
|15||Danzing Candy||19 3/4||27-1|
|16||Trojan Nation||27 1/2||39-1|
|17||Oscar Nominated||33 1/4||40-1|
Now that I see the actual results, I have some regret that I didn’t have more confidence in putting Mohaymen in my top picks at the Derby.
After all, he is a colt of Tapit and great grandson of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew (endurance in his genes), had a veteran trainer in McLaughlin, and went 5 for 5 before the Florida Derby on April 2.
But like many others, I lost confidence in Mohaymen after the Florida Derby when he came in 4th after being set the favorite to win vs. Nyquist.
It was unsettling to see him peter-out down the stretch when he was neck & neck with Nyquist just short of the finish line.
Was he bored? Why did he just stop putting in the effort?
With this performance, I couldn’t have confidence that he would be able to withstand the long 1.25 miles at Churchill Downs a month later.
And, with so many deep closers on the outside, I couldn’t see how Mohaymen could compete at the Derby where speed is key since he has never hit 100 on the Beyer Speed Figure Scale.
What I especially didn’t like about this horse was that his jockey (Junior Alvarez) was a Derby rookie. (43 of 45 past Derby winners had jockeys with experience.)
So I chose Mor Spirit instead, another with 12-1 odds.
There seemed to be so many upsides for this horse – on paper that is.
He is also the great grandson of Seattle Slew, had Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens on his back (3 Kentucky Derby wins), and the trainer was Bob Baffert (ala American Pharoah fame).
Mor Spirit has also never finished worse than second with 3 wins and 4 places.
With all of these assets, I thought the horse was going to do better than 10th place, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, I did not heed the statistic that no one has ever won the Kentucky Derby from the 17th post.
(Superstitions aside, American Pharoah actually won from the 18th post last year after a scratch on the outside, putting him in 17…)
In the end, Mor Spirit could not seem to generate enough speed to compete at the Derby and wound up as the horse with the best odds finishing the worst.
Like the handicapper for Churchill Downs, I seem to have given the horse too much credit.
Or, we became drunk on the idea of Baffert… and Gary Stevens…
Alas, neither Mohaymen nor Mor Spirit will likely race in the Triple Crown races and face Nyquist again.
At least, the word is that they are both out of the upcoming Preakness Stakes on May 21.
The fifth place finishing horse at the Derby is one we should take a quick look at: Suddenbreakingnews.
On my handicap sheet, I noted that that this horse “finished either 1st or 2nd in 7 of his 8 career races…” And, he was “[A] stretch runner and could make a move late”.
His win at last month’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by rallying from last to first in a 14 horse field was a definite spark.
However, I also put on my sheet “No horse has won on the rail since Affirmed in ‘78”. (Suddenbreakingnews was on post 2 at the Derby this year.)
Actually, that’s a better stat than no horse ever winning from 17.
So, obviously, I would have had better luck with this one than Mor Spirit, if we go with history!
Looking deeper at his Derby run, Suddenbreakingnews did indeed get hurt from having that deep inside post. He seemed to get caught inside and had to work his way out of traffic and really moved down the track towards the end to finish so well.
Essentially, he had insane late speed and pounced on a tired field in that long race.
Not bad for a horse with 24-1 odds…
It will certainly be interesting to see what he will do at the Belmont Stakes, if they race him there (which they should) – at 1.5 miles long (a quarter mile longer than the Derby).
And, actually, it would have been nice to see them run him at the Preakness from a better post in a field of only 12.
Crash and Burn
So, what about my long-shot pick – Shagaf?
Embarrassingly, the horse did not even finish.
My first defense includes the fact that Shagaf comes from gorgeous pedigree: Seattle Slew, Secretariat, and Fappiano (a successful stallion who fathered many bigger than average colts with speed).
Also, word from Shagaf’s trainer was that the horse was big, strong & improving.
Finally, the horse had 20-1 odds the morning of the Derby when I picked him and the track was projected to be dry.
Little did I know that thunderstorms would come in on Derby Day, because I certainly would not have picked Shagaf for anything under those circumstances.
According to my handicap sheet, Shagaf: “Doesn’t like wet tracks.”
Churchill Downs’ handicappers must have known that too, as during the day this horse’s odds went to 56-1, the worst of the field…
An early look at the Preakness field includes Nyquist, Exaggerator, Gun Runner and 3 other weaker horses from the Kentucky Derby, among others.
Also, the Preakness is a slightly shorter race than the Derby at 1 & 3/16 miles.
From this, my early take is that this shorter distance should not really make a difference to Nyquist even with the speedy Exaggerator in the race.
At the San Vicente Stakes in February, Nyquist beat out Exaggerator by 1 & ½ lengths at a short distance of 7/8 mile:
I will take a closer look at the Preakness Stakes next week before the race (Sat, May 21), but preliminarily, Nyquist should be the favorite again.
As for the Triple Crown possibilities, yes, I can see that.
However, Belmont will be Nyquist’s biggest Triple Crown Challenge since the race is 1 & ½ miles long and we should see better competition from more Kentucky Derby horses (hopefully).
If not, well then this could possibly be a back to back Triple Crown year since Nyquist is clearly the best thoroughbred in the world.
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