What we learned: Instagrand questionable as Derby prospect

March 11, 2019 09:59am
Handicapping 101 states to overlook Instagrand’s disappointing return in the Gotham Stakes (G3), as he came off a seven-month layoff Saturday at Aqueduct. But he ran poor enough to warrant some criticism, at least in relation to his chances to qualifying for and contending in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

To recap, speedsters Much Better and Knicks Go initially took off in the opening quarter, while Instagrand settled into a nice position a few lengths behind in third. Eventually, Much Better put away Knicks Go and began to zoom clear on the turn, but it was clear he went too fast for the distance, setting the stage for a stalker or closer.

With Instagrand getting first run on the tired pacesetter, he only needed to show a mild stretch kick to put away Much Better and hold off Mind Control.

Unfortunately, it took Instagrand the entire stretch to pass Much Better.



Meanwhile, Mind Control pushed his way through the inside in an all-out effort to out-duel the other two horses, and the closer Haikal delivered a big late kick to swallow up all three of them.

Horses who show brilliance at shorter distances and hang when stretching out generally do not want to route. Instagrand was spectacular at six furlongs last year.

After the lightning-quick fractions thrown down, Instagrand had a right to feel tired as ran somewhat close to the pace. In contrast, Haikal settled all the way at the back along with Family Biz. But for Instagrand to need the entire stretch to pass a softened Much Better made the return effort appear weak, as Instagrand took dead aim at him.

Much Better ran the best race out of the first four finishers, looking like a major threat around one turn this year, while Haikal received the best scenario for his position and took advantage of the setup.

Of course, Instagrand probably needed the race and deserves one last shot -- that is, if owner Larry Best is even interested in pursuing the Kentucky Derby anymore. He does not sound like an owner who would lose sleep over skipping the big race, while most connections are desperate to qualify and participate. In that sense, Best’s untraditional style as an owner may work in the long-term interests of Instagrand in the long run.

Hidden Scroll flattered in Tampa Bay Derby

Similar to the Gotham, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) also featured an unusually fast pace as the speedy Zenden made it a mission to secure the lead over Well Defined. In this case, Zenden took up the role of Much Better by running fast early and putting up a fight late, while the heartless Well Defined folded in roughly the same fashion as Knicks Go.

The race also featured Win Win Win, a hyped-up colt coming off a flashy sprint win. He took up the role of Instagrand and noticeably hung in the stretch when making his late rally from behind. 

Outshine’s early position was actually more akin to Instagrand in the Gotham, as he sat in third behind the dueling pacesetters and took dead aim on the far turn. Like Instagrand and Win Win Win, Outshine’s biggest win came in a weaker sprint race.

Unfortunately, Outshine resembled those two horses by hanging slightly as well, while the regally-bred Tacitus took advantage on the inside and gained the victory.

Off since November, Tacitus is known in more recent times for getting drilled by stablemate Hidden Scroll in a Feb. 22 workout. Given Tacitus’ win and the insane pace Hidden Scroll faced in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) last weekend, it feels fair to give Hidden Scroll another chance, although he might not be playable as a popular horse.  

Somelikeithotbrown posed for more on the trail

Bettors pounded Somelikeithotbrown to 3-5 in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), and he ran to those odds. The son of Big Brown contested the early pace set by Five Star General and put him away by the far turn, before holding off Dynamic Racer. The runner-up ran well given the circumstances, but he is not in the same class.

As for the second choice Skywire, he never got into a good rhythm after bumping on the first turn. It proved a tough day for trainer Mark Casse, who also flopped in the Tampa Bay Derby with the wise-guy pick Dream Maker (who this writer liked).

Considering Somelikeithotbrown’s third dam, Heat Lightning, produced 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Stevie Wonderboy, dirt should pose no problem.

Vino Rosso shows new dynamic as miler

Fans who love to see familiar faces run well had a good day, as Whitmore and Vino Rosso kicked off their 2019 campaigns with wins at Oaklawn and Aqueduct.  

Whitmore took the Hot Springs Stakes by only a little over a length, but it served as a good starting point for another long campaign of top sprint and mile races.

With all the past talk of Vino Rosso appreciating longer distances, it is interesting his return win came in the one-mile Stymie Stakes over Title Ready. Both 4-year-olds gave some spark to an often criticized 3-year-old crop from last year. Good job from those two horses. 

Perhaps Vino Rosso returned in sharp form as opposed to improving at the shorter distance. His dam is a half-sister to 2014 Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner, which means Vino Rosso’s future still likely lies in longer races. At the same time, the connections might want to consider the important Metropolitan Handicap (G1).

 

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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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