Photo: Betfair Hollywood Park
From the conclusion of the Breeders’ Cup during the first weekend in November through the end of the year, thoroughbred horse racing, as far as national coverage, goes into hibernation. With the new year, every horse turns a year older, and with that every owner who had a 2-year-old colt that showed promise in 2013 begins to dream of being at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May for the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
Getting a 3-year-old into the starting gate for the Run for the Roses took on a new twist last year. The Churchill Downs Corporation formed a committee which developed a “point system” to determine the pecking order for entry to the Kentucky Derby. The committee designated specific races across the country as official Derby Preps in which horses earned points based on how they finished. Some races are worth more points than others.
For the entire list of Derby “point system” races, click HERE.
So, trainers needed to map out a plan for their 3-year-olds to insure they compete in the races that offer the valuable points versus the biggest purses.
With that being said, last week at Aqueduct the Jerome Stakes was the first test in 2014 for 3-years-olds who may have Derby aspirations where they can earn valuable points for entry into the Derby. Noble Moon (4-5) came away with the victory and 10 Derby points, while the Classic Giacnroll (7-2), Scotland (6-1) and Matuszak (16-1) earned 4, 2 and 1 points for their 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishes, respectively.
The next up is the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Saturday (Jan. 11th). Though it only offers a $100,000 purse, it is a Derby “point system” race. Run at 1 mile, a field of 6 is scheduled to go postward for the 5thrace at “The Great Race Place”.
Note: Odds indicated below are not Jon White’s official M/L, rather my predicted Post Time odds.
Trainer Bob Baffert has entered #6 - Midnight Hawk (2-1) won by 6 1/4 lengths on December 13 going 7 1/2 furlongs despite a slow start over the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park. The early fractions will likely be set by #1 - Kristo (8-5) with Rafael Bejarano in the irons with no other threat to press him. Therefore, I’ll trust that Bejarano can nurse this son of Distorted Humor through easy splits and take this field from gate to wire.
Assessing the chances of the other runners…
#2 - I’ll Wrap It Up (10-1) best efforts in 6 lifetime starts have been on synthetic surfaces.
#3 - Life Is a Joy (30-1) is a CA-bred who has been an Also-Ran in restricted company.
#4 - Ontology (6-1) just broke his maiden last out. It was his 8th career start, but only 2nd in MSW. The other 6 were in stakes races, some graded but on the turf. Could be a Sleeper.
#5 - Top Fortitude (9-2) is 1 for 1, but are you willing to trust that an AZ-bred and Kayla Stra can win a graded stakes at Santa Anita?
Throughout the LAUREL PARK winter meeting, I handicap and post my opinions for Saturday races here.
Due to weather conditions races at Laurel Park for Saturday January 11th have been cancelled. Several inches of rain and a spike in temperatures from sub-freezing to mid-50's, causing the track to start to thaw unevenly, posing a safety issue for both horse and rider.
Recapping my previous blog posted selections at Laurel Park selections from Saturday, January 4th had 7 winners from 9 races (2 Top Selections; payoffs in BOLD) having $2 WIN pay-offs of $10.40 (1st race), $14.80 (2nd), $4.40 (3rd), $3.00 (4th), $8.00 (5th), $5.80 (6th) and $20.80 (7th).
The BEST BET of the Day (1: 0-0-1) Jonesin for Jerry (4th race: 9-2 M/L; 5-2 PT) didn’t get the quickest of breaks and was rushed up to engage the eventual winner (1-2 PT favorite; Gracer) in a speed duel. The slow start did her in as she weakened in the final sixteenth, only good enough for a SHOW returning $2.20.
The LONGSHOT PICK (1: 1-0-0) Germaniac (2nd race: 10-1 M/L; 6-1 PT) was quick from the gate, unchallenged by rivals in the early going and had plenty left in the tank when entering the stretch, easily pulling away to score a gate to wire victory by 6½ lengths, returning $14.80 to WIN, $3.60 to PLACE and $3.00 to SHOW.
FYI – the BEST BET of the Day selection will never be a M/L favorite and the LONGSHOT PICK will simply be the runner having the highest M/L odds among my top picks for an entire card.
PLEASE NOTE: Statistics provided for the BEST BET and LONGSHOT PICK in parentheses represent the Number of Picks: Wins-Places-Shows. For example, the BEST BET (10: 1-2-3) was picked 10 times resulting in 1 winner, 2 places and 3 shows. In the past, I would reset these numbers at the start of each meet. For 2014, I reset these numbers on Jan. 1st in order to chart results on a yearly basis.