Fool’s Gold in the Florida Derby

To pay attention to the result of the Florida Derby, or not to pay attention to the result of the Florida Derby, that is the question. 

I mean no disrespect to the winner, Take Charge Indy, or the runner-up, Reveron, for that matter, as both horses ran big races. It was a coming out party for Take Charge Indy, who has been long suspected to be on the verge of something big, and cashed in on those beliefs with a game front-running win in one of the most important Derby preps of the season. Reveron, meanwhile, continued to do what he does, in running another solid race. It is however, the 3rd and 4th place finishers in the Florida Derby that still most interest me.

Union Rags was heavily favored in the Florida Derby, and deservedly so. Sure, you can say that he was bet lower then he should have been, but whether he was bet down to 2-5 or was let go at a more palatable even money, he was clearly the best horse coming into the race. And then you have the heavy second choice, El Padrino. A horse that was coming off a determined win in the Risen Star Stakes, and before that a powerful allowance score over none other than Take Charge Indy. Neither horse would run to their odds though, and this disappointment would come in their last race before the Kentucky Derby. Surely this would spell pure disaster for any hopes at a win under the twin spires of Churchill Downs, because we all know that Kentucky Derby winners come in to the race off glorious winning performances propelling them to Louisville. Not even close.
In fact, guess what *Alysheba, Unbridled, Lil E. Tee, Sea Hero, Go for Gin, Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, Monarchos, Funny Cide, Giacomo, Street Sense, Mine that Bird, and Super Saver all have in common? If you said they are all Kentucky Derby winners, you are correct. They are also horses who came into the Kentucky Derby off a loss, and these are only the examples of the last quarter-century. A quick count shows that this group accounts for 13 of the last 25 Kentucky Derbies, or better than 50%. This shocking revelation is not exclusive to thoroughbred horse racing either.

Last night while watching the national championship game between Kentucky and Kansas, I could not help but relate the respective teams to race horses. I wonder how many basketball fans gave up on each squad before the NCAA tournament. After all, both the Wildcats and the Jayhawks had been beaten in their conference tournaments, sending them to March Madness off a loss.

So while many will look at the one-length loss of Union Rags, and the 2 ¾ length defeat of El Padrino in the Florida Derby as proof that they are not as good as people thought, and sure-tell signs that they won’t get it done on the First Saturday in May, I would caution you that history has taught us a different lesson. Whether or not you believe that Union Rags would have won if he was not hemmed in for much of the race, or that both horses were the victim of a moderate pace on a speed favoring, and inside biased racetrack, it is entirely possible that neither Union Rags nor El Padrino will prove to be the best of their generation, but to assume that, after their final prep for the Derby, is hasty. There is a reason the Florida Derby is called a prep.

Much like it was the job of coaches John Calipari and Bill Self to have their teams at their very best for the NCAA tournament and the Final Four, rather than the conference tournament games lost by Kentucky and Kansas, it is the job of trainers Michael Matz and Todd Pletcher to have their horses at their best on May 5 (and hopefully May 19 and June 9), rather than this past Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

I liked both Union Rags and El Padrino for the Kentucky Derby before the Florida Derby, and I still do. I liked Union Rags because I believe he is as good or better than anyone in this crop, and I still do. I liked El Padrino because I believe he is a horse that will really appreciate the ten furlongs at Churchill Downs, and I still do. If you liked them like I did, now is no time to give up on either one.
*- Alysheba did finish first in a three-horse photo in the Blue Grass, but was disqualified for interference. 


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Older Comments about Fool’s Gold in the Florida Derby...

Wonderfully said. People seem to be quick to jump on and off bandwagons based on small bits of information. I'm still very, very high on Rags. Not to mention he is one of the best looking horses around!
T_vic, that was a good explanation of pace. Explain Zenyatta a bit, never stalking or mid herd, almost like she had her own race in some ways.
too many people turn into horse racing lemmings this time of year- jumping on/off the flavour of the weekend. while i have nothig against rags, he is overhyped and people are simply willing him to win because of their futures' bets. the "best" of the crop has not yet emerged-it is simply too soon to tell. but i do not believe it will be rags.
It's not so much that Union Rags was held back. He wasn't asked to run hard. I could see no use of a whip. It looked like a training trip to me.
  • pomdeterre · why would you whip a horse that's boxed in due to pilot error? what is he supposed to do- leap the rail and finish on the infield? · 2053 days ago
Well said travel_vic. I like to see 1 run horses come from nowhere to win a race but they do have a disadvantage and more obstacles to overcome especially in a crowded field such as the Kentucky Derby.
closers have three things to overcome that pace horses do not: THey have to take what is given to them pace wise without ever actually having an effect on the pace, the rider has to time his move perfecftly not knowing how much the pace horses have left, and WORST of all, they have to negotiate a field of horse slowing down in front of them to get through traffic that may or may not block thier run
ANY TIME a horse alone on the lead gets no pressure, and slows the pace down, that one has a big boost to its performance.....Alone on the lead is the best angle in the game today, yeterday and tomorrow. Spend A Buck and War Emblem used it all the time
strange just about EVERY reliable commentator who saw the FLA Derby commented the same way: leparoux repeatedly go the colt in trouble and his late charge, done earlier, would have been more than enough to hit the wire on top
The only thing that scares me about Union Rags is the jockey if it's Leparoux. I think he is a good jockey but with the big field and all the bumping and jostling for position his cautious style could cost Union Rags the victory. He looks hesitant to take many chances in tight spots and that could be the difference in the Derby.
  • tonyzag · Hesitant, that's putting it politely. He is just plain scared. He's afraid of the inside. Julian will need to workout his own issues. But, I don't think they should be at the expense of a horse who has the ability to win the Triple Crown. · 2054 days ago
Leparoux isn't why UR lost, it is Borel. Borel out foxed him, UR didn't have enough distance to make up his lost ground.
My biggest concern about El Padrino is that he may not have sufficient earnings to make the race. He's certainly capable of bouncing back if he gets in, but $250,000 may not do it.
Lokks like in the last 20 years 4 horses have come to the derby off of poor performances(4th) and won it. While 7 horses have won the derby off of a win, that means 13 off of a lose. . Of those 7 that came in off a win, only 4 had won their last 3 preps. So we could say their have only been 4 dominate horses that won the derby in the last 20 years that on paper looked "hot." So the only thing I can take from these statistics is that if a horse finished 5th or worse in the final prep, they are NOT winning the derby. So this eliminates.........??? None.
I'm not overly impressed with El Padrino, even after his Risen Star win. Union Rags is still the best of this crop so far.
Alysheba actually finished 1st by a head in the 1987 Blue Grass but was disqualified and placed 3rd for ducking out in the stretch. That's when the Blue Grass was still only 9 days before the KY Derby. He finished the race a head in front of War. It was another head back to Loe Castelli. It was the first time McCarron ever rode Alysheba. The final time was 1:48 2/5.
Unbridled, Alysheba, Swale and several others like Gaicomo had less than stellar performances the race before Chruchill
Could be. He was never Mr. Acceleration. And at a really big price...
Railbird, that's a good angle (three fig Beyers) to an extent, but fillies generally go off at longer odds. Even Devil May Care, in the wake of Rachel and Zenyatta's greatness, was sent off at almost 11-1. JC put in a good race strategy wise, and Leparoux was hard pressed to get UR out that tight spot. To me, the FL Derby is a throw-out race. UR and Leparoux learned an invaluable lesson and will be ready to go come May.
I think he was not helped by Javy holding him back to race ride Union Rags, Ernie. Combine that with the track bias of Gulfstream, and that he actually ran farther than Take Charge Indy by more than the 2 3/4 lengths he was beaten by, and I think you have the makings of a horse very eligible to bounce back in the Derby. This year's Thunder Gulch???
After Empire Maker beat Funny Cide in the Wood, and Frankel all but guarenteed a win in the KY Derby, they matched up again with a different out come. I believe a more important handicapping tool is a three figure Beyers speed ratings. Eight Belles came in with three under her belt, yet she got off at I believe 15 to 1. We'll see if any FL Derby horses hit the board.
El Padrino's performance perplexed me. I was SO worried about him. Any idea?

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