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Breeders' Cup 2017

It's Derby Season: Time to sharpen your tools

By: J. M. Chodkowski 


Tools, you shout? Now, we gotta learn about tools to do our Derby handicapping? Relax. We already went over some of the tools we can use in building our Derby prospect list in our blog from a couple of weeks ago. Got the hang of that yet? You don't think you're doing it right, you answer. Well, there's no right way. So what if you just put the winners of the ten-point getting races on your list, but what do you do with Shanghai Bobby? He was on your list and now you feel like you have to drop him because he lost the Holy Bull Stakes last Saturday. Did you watch the race replays? Not just watch them, but really watch what was going on? If you watched the head-on replay, when eventual winner Itsmyluckyday and Bobby were fighting down the stretch, you may have gotten some key information to use in your future Derby Season handicapping. Yes, Itsmyluckyday set a track record for the mile and 1/16th distance, thereby, earning a much-coveted triple-digit Beyer's speed figure. However, Bobby also earned one of those, his best yet.


Now if you used another one of our tools, the pedigree chart, you know that Itsmyluckyday is a very nicely bred individual, so, we aren't trying to diminish his achievement. However, did you also notice how far out Itsmyluckyday was drifting through the stretch?  If you read our book, The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping, you'd know that horses tend to drift out as they get tired. If Bobby drifted too, you probably wouldn't have noticed how far Itsmyluckyday drifted because the distance between the two would have looked the same. Instead, Bobby finished running in the same lane and then past the winner after they both crossed the finish line. So what, you're wondering, it didn't change the outcome. No, it did not, but it raises the question of whether Itsmyluckyday can go longer distances like the mile and 1/8th of the Florida Derby, which his connections say is his next start. Another thing you may have noticed is how far back the rest of the field looked from the head-on replay. What that information means is you are going to need a reason why the others did so poorly, especially, if they are to remain on your Derby list. For example, if you saw the start, then you saw Bern Identity having all sorts of problems getting bumped around. Then you may have heard that Frac Daddy grabbed a quarter. So, there may be an excuse acceptable to you in keeping the also-rans on your list.


Of course, the replays are just one tool in building our Derby prospect lists. What other tools would have helped when handicapping this race? Well, knowing how many points the race was worth could have come in handy. The favorite, Shanghai Bobby was coming off a layoff, not having run since his win in the BC Juvenile back in November, while Itsmyluckyday was coming off a win in the year's first Derby, the Gulfstream Park Derby, on New Year's Day. If you looked up the chart for that race or watched the replay, you would have noticed that Itsmyluckyday won by almost 7 lengths after taking the lead near the 3/4 pole. He also drifted out in that race, as the race comments note, by five lanes. So, that's a key race, you say. Well, not really, but it is an effort we should have keyed in on when handicapping the Holy Bull, because it would have shown us how fit he was, sitting on a big race, is the jargon usual used in such cases.


You may not have taken the time to look over the Gulfstream Park Derby, because if you looked at the past performances of those entered in the Holy Bull, you would have noticed a couple of entries ran in the Kentucky Jockey Club at CD last Fall, so, looked over the chart for that race instead. Yes, Frac Daddy and Dewey Square finished second and third in that race respectively, but the funny thing is, the last place finisher in that race was Will Take Charge. Sound familiar? We hope so, since he won the LeComte on the 19th and got ten points for it, which probably landed him on your Derby prospect list too! Oh right, you're saying, there he is, on your list. You probably didn't remember because you've got every three-year-old in training on your list, huh?  Remember there are no rules to this list thing, so, feel free to put in or throw out whatever horses you want, as long as the process helps with your handicapping and you're having fun!


We still have a few more weeks of these 10 point races or preps for the preps for the Derby prep races. So, you can keep trying out these tools in handicapping this weekend's races like the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita; the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and the Withers at Aqueduct. The racing experts are all hyped up about the entries in these races, but don't let them influence you. They probably will be touting the horses on their Derby prospect lists too, so, watch out because they have a tendency to rank their lists, to which we say - Why? Beware of those flaunting their prospects, as it's far too early in the Derby Season. Best to keep an open mind at this point and keep learning how to use all the handicapping tools available to us non-experts.


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