What we learned: Wait for Known Agenda in Belmont

What we learned: Wait for Known Agenda in Belmont
Photo: Carson Dennis/Eclipse Sportswire

Known Agenda threw a career best effort to capture the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Saturday for Todd Pletcher and St. Elias Stables. The blog choice paid a generous $12.80 to win and $6.60 to place.

The exacta with favored Greatest Honour did not connect, as Soup and Sandwich held second in the stretch.

Based on the Florida Derby and past races, the question is whether any of these three runners are viable Kentucky Derby contenders.

[RELATED: Who's in, out and on 2021 Kentucky Derby points bubble?]

With Known Agenda, the answer leans towards no.

While he put all his talent together to win the Florida Derby, Known Agenda did not give the visual impression of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Once Known Agenda tipped outside on the far turn, he leaned into Soup and Sandwich and then drifted a few paths outside under left-handed whip use.  

If Irad Ortiz Jr. steered him to the middle on purpose, then the reason is unclear as Greatest Honour still had four or five lengths to make up.

Known Agenda straightened out enough to secure his advantage over Soup and Sandwich and win by 2 3/4 lengths with a 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure and 94 Beyer Speed Figure. Those two speed figures are nothing special.

Likewise, Known Agenda's final time of 1:49.45 is not fast in comparison with the 1:48.83 run by Eye of the Jedi in the nine-furlong Ghostzapper Stakes (G3) for older horses earlier in the card. Eye of the Jedi is a consistent local runner who can run well on his best day, but he is not exactly a standout in figures.

As a final point, Todd Pletcher’s last Derby winner, Always Dreaming, either set the lead or took up a close pressing position. Known Agenda has been a stalker or mid-pack horse in most of his races, minus the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) flop where he gave up several lengths while traveling in a deep closing position. In the points era, Always Dreaming’s style works better.

With that said, it is not hard to envision Known Agenda as a major threat in the Belmont Stakes, especially with his preference for running longer routes. All three of his wins came at nine furlongs, and his one loss at the distance came over slop. This son of Curlin gives the visual impression of being able to run all day.

From a stalking position at Belmont, Known Agenda could grind his way to a marathon win. In terms of the Derby, his turn of foot is not quick enough.

Now to discuss Soup and Sandwich’s Kentucky Derby chances.

Soup and Sandwich refuses to switch leads in the stretch, which is a negative at 1 1/4 miles as switching leads gives horses a second wind. Although some horses can get away with not doing it, one with proper mechanics usually will prevail in the stretch run. In this case, Known Agenda was able to switch leads and straighten out just in time to win.

To Soup and Sandwich’s credit, he set the pace. In his two starts before this, Soup and Sandwich took up a close stalking position and pressing role. He owns the speed to stay close to the Derby pace, which is important.

The name of Soup and Sandwich is a turnoff though from a betting standpoint. Because it is cute and fans love making puns with Soup and Sandwich, he will not offer fair value. Do not underestimate how a horse’s name could play on the emotions and cause him to become overbet. Remember the absurd price on My Boy Jack from a few years ago?

Odds and value aside, this Derby is coming up too soon for Soup and Sandwich to take him as a serious win threat when handicapping. Maybe Soup and Sandwich could hit the board on pure talent alone after showing important speed, but he is one that needs time to develop.

Greatest Honour disappointed a ton of supporters with his third-place finish, especially at 4-5. For those who want to excuse the effort, there is an explanation.

After the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), trainer Shug McGaughey said that Greatest Honour does not like running behind horses and taking dirt. Well, Greatest Honour ran on the inside for most of the race and took dirt. 

Greatest Honour did progress well enough to follow Known Agenda on the backside. But by the time Known Agenda made his move to tip outside the leaders on the far turn, Greatest Honour had trouble keeping up.

Then in the stretch run, Greatest Honour gave little response under left-handed urging from Jose Ortiz. Although he made enough of a move forward to pass Nova Rags for third, the late burst of speed was missing. Perhaps a cloud of dirt from Known Agenda's drifting bothered his run.

In any case, needing a clean trip as a closer is a big flaw in a 20-horse field. Ortiz could attempt to keep Greatest Honour wide on purpose, similar to Tiz the Law last year, although Greatest Honour’s lack of speed makes the strategy tricky. He cannot clear into a stalker role because he lacks the proper speed. 

Given his distaste for taking dirt and the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, Greatest Honour seems like a better fit underneath in vertical wagers. He is likely not going to “pull an Orb,” although the Kentucky Derby is due for another deep closer to win at some point.  

As a horseplayer, it is easy to become attached to top selections that win at decent odds, such as in this case with Known Agenda. For better gamblers, though, loyalty comes and goes as the situation dictates.

Known Agenda ran well and could go on to become the next Vino Rosso for Pletcher, but ultimately he beat an inexperienced horse that failed to switch leads by only 2 3/4 lengths and a flawed closer who needs a clean trip.

Expect the next Kentucky Derby winner to run in the next two weeks.

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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