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Kentucky Derby 146 – Analyzing the Favorite

Churchill Downs finishBy ART PARKER for “Racing’s Best Kept Secret” BetPTC.com.

Not long ago a friend of mine that pays a small amount of attention to horse racing asked me, “Who will win the Derby?” I learned long before the turn of the century that answering that question is tough, if not impossible, for any good horseplayer. So, I answered with my usual smarty pants response of, “The one that crosses the line first.”

My friend would have none of that and responded with, “That’s what you said last year but that guy got disqualified,” referring to Maximum Security being the first Derby winner in 145 years to be disqualified for a racing violation during the running of the race. My next comeback was a simple, “I don’t know.” Then I came up with a verbal guarantee and proclaimed, “But I can guarantee who the favorite will be!”

Well, I didn’t say I was brave and going out on a limb with that prediction.

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Tiz the Law will be the favorite if he goes to the post, and as of this moment, there is no reason to believe he will be left out of the proceedings. There is no doubt in my mind and the mind of anyone who knows anything about horse racing in 2020.

The New York bred has won six of seven, four of which are Grade Ones. You rarely see that with any horse that is Derby bound. As a three-year-old he has won almost all of the big races. His victories include the Florida Derby, the Travers, and the Belmont Stakes (at a changed distance of nine furlongs). As a juvenile, he notched his first Grade One with a victory in the Champagne Stakes – one of the most important races for the two-year-olds.

In the Derby points standing he has not only accumulated more points than anyone in history (372 points), his closest rival in the standings is a very good colt named Authentic with only 200 points.

He is beautifully bred. His nicely bred sire, Constitution, was a Florida Derby winner that never had a complete chance to show how good he was. That means that Tiz the Law is a grandson of Tapit, the world’s top stallion. His dam is Tiz Fiz by Tiz Now. We all know that Tiznow is the only two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Need I say more about the breeding of Tiz the Law?

His races have been impressive. He is quick from the gate but doesn’t need the lead. He has a good tactical speed to be close to the pace and stalk leaders. Tiz the Law is the epitome of class in my book because he appears to do the most important thing a racehorse can do – he follows orders and does what he is told to do. I saw this when he won the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. He was up close and in good position but pinned on the rail and had to take up down the backstretch. His rider, Manny Franco, checked his mount slightly, moved him outside of horses for a clear run, and asked him to advance. About the time Tiz the Law regained position, Franco said “Enough for now” and Tiz the Law went back to cruising instead of attacking. When it came time to attack Franco encouraged him slightly to go and he went into semi-assault mode. Once clear in the stretch Franco suggested a total attack and it quickly became a bad day for the rest of the field.

This appears to be his normal race. Get position, advance quietly to challenge then pounce – and take no prisoners.

In watching his races I have only seen one potential problem for Tiz the Law. He sometimes appears to have a little trouble in the turns. The difficulty is probably not enough to not cause concern, but in the Derby and a big field, anything can cost even the best horse the race. Franco has won over 1,000 races and is not viewed as one the classic riders, but I think Tiz the Law is in good hands and thus far Franco has been a great partner.

Others may believe that Churchill Downs may be a problem for him because that is the venue of his only loss, the Kentucky Jockey Club last November. I have a hard time buying that. Tiz the Law bobbled some leaving the gate and was in good position on the rail, but never had anywhere to go and was throttled back on a couple of occasions. He finally found a hole but the odds were stacked against him by that time. The track was off that day, and some may think that was an issue in the race. The rough trip was the downfall for Tiz the Law in his only loss.

I’m not touting Tiz the Law simply because I don’t like favorites from a wagering standpoint. However, if Tiz the Law is healthy, if weather and track condition are not an issue, and if he has a fair trip, then I will be shocked if he doesn’t win.

I don’t consider this three-year-old crop to be all that great. I’ve seen almost forty Derbies, and Tiz the Law is probably good enough to have won several of them. He is not Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Man o’ War or Affirmed, but when one combines his talent with the weak competition he seems invincible in 2020.

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Horse Racing Without Fans. Let’s Make it Work Everywhere!

Oaklawn RacingAbout a month ago I whined about so many tracks not following the lead set by Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream, and especially Oaklawn Park regarding the coronavirus. These tracks and a couple of smaller ones carried on racing without spectators. My complaint was simple. If we race without patrons very little will be different than the days when there is no racing at all. Open the doors, be diligent with all precautions regarding the coronavirus, let the patrons play online, and let’s run.

Part of my reasoning is that we already have 85%-90% of our handle from online wagering, or so I am told by several experts. There is no doubt in my mind that this percentage will only increase in the future. One thing for sure, right now, relying upon online wagering is the only option.

Just consider the following two excerpts I read the other day. First from America’s Best Racing: “Records shattered-On April 18, Oaklawn’s handle was $19 million, breaking the record set last year on Rebel Stakes day. Arkansas Derby day more than doubled that record, with $41,007,201 wagered.”

From The Blood Horse: “Fonner Park, while conducting spectator-less racing since that date in a state that does not permit ADW wagering, —all handle is coming from out-of-state—wagering has averaged $2.43 million. Those figures do not include the phenomenal $7.26 million bet Tuesday, April 5 when the track’s popular Dinsdale Pick 5 Jackpot wager featured a mandatory payout pool of $4.2 million. In short, wagering is about 10 times the previous norm.”

The bottom line is that most places missed the boat, and, generally speaking, it was because of terrible government decisions. I could only imagine how well Woodbine could have done with their normal mid-April opening since reasonably nearby markets New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago were closed (especially New York).

Oaklawn is not necessarily one of the real big boys but they are far from one of the little guys. I salute them for stepping up to the plate, and I imagine they feel good about it when reviewing their handle figures.

I’m happy for a little track like Fonner Park. The Nebraska bullring stepped up and provided a product to the overall market and knocked it out of the park with handle.

As I have said before, we missed a generation or so when the thoroughbred industry shied away from television. COVID-19 provided the industry an opportunity to go into every home and office (and cell phone) in North America and expand its share of the sports and entertainment market. I can hear it now, “There’s nothing to do since the concert has been canceled.” “Oh yeah? I’m staying home so I can play the Pick Four at Woodbine.”

How could the tracks that have raced without spectators make it work so well when others ran into the corner with fear?

I just looked over my list of tracks that say they will open within thirty days. I’m glad to hear it. I hope they do open and others follow suit.

The time is now. We really missed a chance to get ahead and make up for lost ground in the last couple of months.

Now, as many areas begin to open up we have to try and survive, again.  ~ Art Parker

A Salute to Oaklawn

By ART PARKER for BetPTC.com, “Racing’s Best Kept Secret”

Oaklawn saved the day and the weekend.

The Kentucky Derby, originally scheduled for the first Saturday in May, has been moved to September because of the corona virus. The original day for the Derby was May 2.

Oaklawn RacingAs usual it was going to be a big weekend for me. Just a little more important than other Derby weekends. I will be 65 years old on May 1. Horseplayers always have excuses to play the races but at this time of year I always had the best excuse available since my birthday came about the same time as the Derby. And since I have my Medicare card I was going to have a big time Derby weekend 2020.

The normal Derby weekend would begin by a reminder I would give my wife. She was forbidden to ask me to do anything – cut the grass, take out the garbage – you name it. I always tell her it is her job to take care of the food for the weekend. Most importantly she must appeal to my southern taste and heritage by making my favorite thing – peanut butter pie. My wife makes the best one in the world. She has learned that the weekend always starts on Thursday night, the eve of the Kentucky Oaks, which has been postponed also. Plus, I tell my office not to call me and simply leave me alone until the Monday after the Derby.

You can only imagine the disappointment I felt when this Derby was postponed and since it was my 65th birthday – but that doesn’t mean I have surrendered to the circumstances.

Just a couple of days ago my wife began to tell me she thought we should do this and that (she also mentioned yard work – ugh!) since I would not be occupied with “The Derby.” At that moment I knew I had to summon all of my mental powers and think of a way out of the impending doom. And then I remembered.

“No, no, no,” I responded to her. “They are running the Derby the weekend of my birthday.”

She looked at me funny and asked, “When did this happen?” I quickly came back with, “Just a few weeks ago. And they will run the big handicap race that weekend also,” I exclaimed with excitement.

“Hmm. Okay,” she said.

Whew…I dodged the bullet. Of course she doesn’t know I’m talking about the Arkansas Derby and all the other races Oaklawn will have. It was a great idea by Oaklawn to pounce on that date when Churchill Downs delayed the Kentucky Derby. They saved a lot of us from being in a state of deep depression. They saved my 65th birthday plans. I will get to have my big weekend thanks to Oaklawn Park.

Just don’t tell Mrs. Parker the truth. If you do, I will be in serious trouble. I won’t get to play the races that weekend – and I’ll not get my peanut butter pie.

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Early Trainer Strikes at Woodbine

Woodbine Opens April 21


It is often hard to gauge trainer effectiveness at the beginning of a long meeting. Some trainers come with runners ready to go and others are more patient to strike. Trying to determine what trainers show up with fit horses and good intentions makes things hard for a horseplayer.

Woodbine is no different. The long meet at Canada’s premier track starts April 21 and lasts until December 16. The Toronto track doesn’t swing into a full week schedule with four days of racing per week until mid-May.

Wager on Woodbine at BetPTC.comThe very early part of the meet, which some may view as a workout meet. The first few days offers almost nothing but sprint races, most of which are short at 5 furlongs or 5 ½ furlongs. I suppose there are several reasons for this, but I imagine the track gives trainers a chance to get a work into some of their horses coming off the winter months. Also, several trainers have a reduced amount of stock on hand since they are camped out at Keeneland, Gulfstream or other southern venues.

So the question at Woodbine is who shows up and of those who has the guns loaded?

I examined the first five days of the last three meets (2015, 2016 and 2017). There were some not so surprising revelations but some others that got my attention. The first thing I wanted to find out is consistency. Which trainers actually had a winner in the first five days of the meet each year for the three years selected? Here is the list and total winners including maiden wins (number of maiden wins in parenthesis)

Mike Depaulo – 10 wins (2)

Mark Casse – 8 wins (1)

Nick Gonzalez – 8 wins (5)

Norm McKnight -7 wins (4)

Bob Tiller – 6 wins (4)

John Ross – 4 wins (1)

Roger Attfield – 3 wins (1)

Kevin Attard – 3 wins (2)

These eight trainers are the only ones that meet the specifications. During the time period Woodbine held 140 races. These trainers won 49 races, or 35%. Of the 51 maiden races, this group won 20, or 39%.  Noteworthy stats, to say the least.

Here are the other trainers in the same time period that averaged at least one winner per year but failed to score in all years:

Vito Armata – 4 wins (1)

Josie Carroll – 3 wins (2)

Dave Cotey – 3 wins (2)

Denise McClachrie – 4 wins (3)

Nick Noswenko – 4 wins

William Tharennos – 5 wins (3)

Wesley Ward – 4 wins (2)

Add the two groups together and 15 trainers collectively won 76 races, or 54%. The same two groups won 33 of 51 maiden races, or 65%.

All trainers do some things better than others. That is true with the Woodbine trainers mentioned. Casse, Depaulo, Ross, Armata and Noswenko seem to have greater success with their horses who are winners, where Gonzalez, McKnight, Tiller, McClachrie, Tharennos (and others to a lesser degree) have demonstrated that their maidens are ready for battle.

The Final Chapter is Not Enough


I try not to get involved in the Derby and Triple Crown hoopla prior to May for many reasons. I do admit that if I find a sophomore that impresses me early in the year then I may throw a couple of bucks on his nose-if his name shows up in the future pool.

That happened this year with a couple of horses. The first was Oxbow. The competition he faced was not considered world beaters in the LeComte Stakes (G3) in New Orleans, but Oxbow still got my attention. I looked at his breeding and saw Breeders’ Cup Classic written all over the Calumet runner. Oxbow was sired by Awesome Again, who won the Classic, and then Awesome Again sired Ghostzapper, another winner of the Classic. On the mare side I saw Cee’s Tizzy the sire of Tiznow, who won the Classic in two consecutive years. Oxbow was at 26-1 in the future pool and I couldn’t resist him with all of that going for the Wayne Lukas trainee.

Revolutionary was the other horse. Many of you will remember the moment Revolutionary became a Derby contender. It was his unbelievable win in the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. With a clean trip that day Revolutionary may have won by a dozen without breaking a sweat. I knew he would be bet in the future pool, but when he came up at 13-1, I thought that would be the highest price I would ever see on the beautifully bred son of War Pass out of an A.P. Indy mare.

As you know I didn’t cash a ticket on either of those two in the Derby. Revolutionary ran a good third and Oxbow, although far from the winner, was respectable in finishing sixth. A smaller field, a dry track and it could have been different. Who knows?

This year’s Derby confirmed what most of us know. It is hard to pick a winner in that race and so many good horses are immediately forgotten after an unimpressive finish in the Derby.

Then the Preakness confirmed something we should know. Too much focus is given to the Derby winner, those that finished real close to the Derby winner and any horse that is new to the scene with even a moderate amount of qualifications. Revolutionary passed the Preakness party in Baltimore and Oxbow was pretty much forgotten at 15-1.

The first two legs of the Triple Crown also confirm that many horseplayers place too much value in or fail to analyze a runner beyond his last race. The Preakness wagering is clear on this. Orb was a monster favorite and Oxbow was dismissed, and I am certain it is because of the results of one race – the Kentucky Derby.

I suppose that’s why they print up to ten races for each horse in the past performances. It makes sense to review as much of the past as possible before predicting the future. After all, none of us would catch ourselves reading a book by ignoring all chapters except the last. We would never know the whole story.

The Problems Teenagers Cause



Shortly before the Breeders’ Cup last year, a nice colt named Uncaptured invaded Kentucky from Canada and won the Iroquis Stakes (Grade III) at Churchill Downs, defeating the future Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze in the process. Overanalyze went on to run in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Uncaptured bypassed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park, but stuck around Kentucky and once again proved his fondness for Churchill Downs by winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II) defeating Frac Daddy, the future runner up in the Arkansas Derby and a participant in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.


While Uncaptured was making a name for himself, Shanghai Bobby was winning everything in sight including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Shanghai Bobby, who is trained by America’s top conditioner Todd Pletcher, was named the two year old champion for 2013. Uncaptured was named Canada’s Horse of the Year for 2012 and the first two year old to be voted Canada’s Horse of the Year since 1986.


The 2013 season started with defeats for what many thought to be the best colts in North America. Shanghai Bobby lost in late January in Florida and then lost in the Florida Derby. A few days after the Florida Derby, a press release from the Bobby camp said the colt would miss the Triple Crown and may be back in late summer or in the fall. Uncaptured lost in his 2013 debut at Turfway Park to a 15-1 shot named Black Onyx, a horse he should have run down in the stretch. Three weeks after that Uncaptured ran terribly in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a performance that took him off the Triple Crown trail.


The day after the 2013 Kentucky Derby, Uncaptured was back home at Woodbine in Toronto in the Wando Stakes, a listed stakes event that seemed to be beneath Canada’s Horse of the Year and a Kentucky Derby hopeful. Uncaptured was defeated by a one time winner and barely managed second place.


What happened to these two colts? I don’t believe you can blame it on training. After all, Pletcher is good enough to have five run in the Kentucky Derby. He had so many horses in America’s premier race that the media referred to them as “Todd’s Squad.” Yes, Pletcher is that good. And Uncaptured is trained by the King of Canada, Mark Casse. In the last four years Casse has won almost 400 races just at Woodbine.


When horses are injured, a reversal of form is expected. But it is difficult to understand how some horses go in the wrong direction when they are not injured. It is even more difficult to understand when the horses in question are top notch stakes horses.


I have the answer and the answer is, I don’t know. And none of us should pretend to know the answer. After decades of playing the horses and being a dedicated student of the game, I can tell you that this happens all of the time and it always will. Every year I see some great prospects become also rans. Just like we see some that can’t run a lick and then, late in their three year old year or early in their four year old year, they start running and winning. I’m sure breeding may have something to do with some of thi,s but we can only predict the impact of breeding on an individual horse just so far.


I’ve been told that a thoroughbred is not fully grown until sometime between four and five years old. If that is true (or near the truth) then the difference between ages two and three, and the difference between ages three and four, is like a rapidly changing cycle. It is like dealing with a human from age 12-17. For those of you that are parents and your kids are this age or older, you know that dealing with kids is a near impossible task! Don’t get upset if you are one of those that bet on Verrazano or Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby. Remember, you placed your faith in an irresponsible teenager that cannot decide what to do with his life. What else can you expect?


On the other hand, the challenge of predicting form can play to our advantage. If one horse doesn’t run, it doesn’t mean they all stop. As one horse decides to loaf around there is another that decides to get going. There must be a winner in every race, and it is our job to find that winner. And there is a good chance that later this year or sometime next year, you analyze a race and may decide to bet on a horse that is “rounding into top form.” Don’t be surprised if his name is Shanghai Bobby or Uncaptured. Sometimes teenagers grow up and act responsible.  

Early Thoughts on the 2013 KY Derby


If it were not for the obligation to write about Kentucky Derby 139,  I probably would not be considering the race this far in advance (today is April 24, 2013). I do my best, as I have previously written, to avoid concentration on a race so far away. Oh sure, I always buy a few tickets in the future pools mainly for sport but never invest time into the practice. I guess it’s about time to take a look at Derby 139, and without making a specific selection, which would be truly foolish, let’s see what the future holds for the first Saturday in May. I must say this year’s field looks to be one of the better I’ve seen and the race, based upon my limited research, seems to be abnormally competitive compared to the many, many Derbies that have flashed before my rapidly aging eyes.

Before I go further please note that the final Derby field is yet to be determined. Some horses mentioned here may not make it to the post position draw. For purposes of today’s discussion, I have looked at the current top 25 in the Derby point standings. 

Nothing is a replacement of sound historical data, especially when one is considering making an investment, be it real estate, the shares of a corporation, or a pari-mutuel wager on a thoroughbred. Of the many considerations when analyzing the Derby in search of a winner is to investigate where winners come from. For that answer we look to the Derby prep season, which reminds me a presidential campaign. First there are primaries and eventually a convention. The deal with the Derby is similar; we have prep races and then we have a race at a big venue called Churchill Downs. In the presidential primaries so much is made of winning certain primaries because of the number of delegates available. The same is true of the Derby preps especially since points have been awarded to the highest ranking finishers, and the points mean you get more delegates that can get you to the big dance at Churchill Downs. Without getting into the specifics of the point system, let’s just look at the most important piece of pre-Derby history.

In the last several decades over 80% of the Derby winners finished either first or second in one of the following major prep races: Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Spiral Stakes, Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby, Santa Anita Derby or the Blue Grass. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, most of these races serve as the last “big prep” before the Derby and almost all serious contenders will run in one of these, plus the purses of these races are very appealing. Secondly, the cream of the crop shows up at these races, which are generally held four to five weeks before the Derby making these races the best indicator of current form.

Here are the winners and second place finishers in the critical prep races in 2013:

Florida Derby: Orb (Winner) Itsmyluckyday (second)

Wood Memorial: Verrazano (Winner) Normandy Invasion (Second)

Spiral: Black Onyx (Winner) Uncaptured (Second, but taken off the Derby Trail)

Arkansas Derby: Overanalyze (Winner)  Frac Daddy (Second)

Louisiana Derby: Revolutionary (Winner) Mylute (Second)

Santa Anita Derby:  Goldencents (Winner) Flashback (Second, but taken off the Derby Trail)

Blue Grass: Java’s War (Winner) Palace Malice (Second)

A total of 14 different horses finished first or second in these preps but only a dozen are on track to run in Louisville since Uncaptured and Flashback have changed their plans. A dozen of the twenty 20 runners that can leave the gate hold a major historical advantage over the balance of the field. If you want to look in the direction of high probability when selecting a Derby winner then I can’t think of a better place than those that ran first or second in these select races.

Now to a “bunch of thoughts”…

For those of you that still pay attention to the “Dosage Index” it looks like all but one horse qualified as a Derby winner, which means a Dosage Index of 4.00 or less. The only horse that does not qualify is Super Ninety Nine with a DI of 4.09. Revolutionary has points in all five classifications; Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Solid and Professional, which is a big plus. Winning Cause has 29 points in the Classic category, the only horse with more than 20 in that important dosage category.

Continuing on the dosage conversation it is appropriate to mention the old rule of thumb. That is to be a Derby winner a horse must qualify with a DI of 4.00 or less AND be assigned within 10 points on the Experimental Free Handicap (EFH) as a two year old. To have a qualifying DI and a qualifying assignment on the EFH makes a horse a Dual Qualifier (DQ). Last year’s two year old champ, Shanghai Bobby (he is off the Derby trail), was the high weight on the EFH with 126 pounds. Only three runners on track to be in Louisville are Dual Qualifiers: Overanalyze (120 pounds), Frac Daddy (118 Pounds) and Normandy Invasion (118). It is interesting to note that all three of those qualify as a Derby contender with a win or second in the big Derby preps. Also, Overanalyze and Frac Daddy ran one-two in the Arkansas Derby.

On the subject of breeding we can only find two horses that have a sire that has previously produced the winner of a Triple Crown race. I did find that a bit strange since we have an impressive list of sires for the prospective Derby field. Overanalyze (that name keeps popping up) was sired by Dixie Union, who sired last year’s Belmont winner Union Rags. And Den’s Legacy, who is on the bubble on the points list, was sired by Medaglia ‘d Oro, the sire of the great Rachel Alexandra, the remarkable filly that whipped the boys in the Preakness in 2009.

The Florida Derby has as much impact on the Kentucky Derby scene as any other prep race. The winner of 2013 Florida Derby is Orb, who could be the favorite in the Derby this year. Orb is trained by Shug McGaughey, one of the best ever, and is owned by one of racing’s big name families, the Janneys. John Velasquez rode Orb in his last two wins, the last being the Florida Derby but jumped ship to ride Verrazano for trainer Todd Pletcher. That may seem to be a negative, but Shug just named Joel Rosario as Orb’s new pilot. Now, that could be a plus since Rosario is the hottest rider on the planet. But what is not hot about Orb is the Florida Derby race time. The following were the fractions and final time for the 9 furlong Florida Derby that was sent off at 5:43 in the afternoon:

24.24  48.56  1:12.89  1:37.79  1:50.87

The Gulfstream Oaks, which was won easily by Dreaming of Julia, was sent off at 4:01 the same beautiful afternoon. Here are the fractions and final time for the 9 furlong Oaks:

23.43  47.18  1:11.16  1:36.12  1:48.97

To add more believability to the Oaks, a filly name Emollient ran fifth at Gulfstream and then went to Keeneland for the Grade One Ashland. Emollient embarrassed the field in the Ashland taking the race coast to coast from post 13 in a super impressive performance.

Now this could mean that Dreaming of Julia is a super filly and should easily win the Kentucky Oaks, or, it means that Orb beat nothing and was damn slow about it to boot. The horse that ran second to Orb in the Florida Derby is Itsmyluckyday, a colt that many people still like.

Goldencents defeated all foes in the Santa Anita Derby. Only one other horse may get to the Kentucky Derby post that was part of the Santa Anita field and that is Super Ninety Nine, who is extremely suspect as a Derby contender. Trained by the Derby winning conditioner of 2012 Doug O’Neill, Goldencents is owned in part by Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach that seized a national championship this year. Goldencents figures to be part of the early pace in the big dance in Louisville. Also from the west is Govenor Charlie trained by Bob Baffert, and may be the only horse Baffert has in Louisville. Govenor Charlie (which appears to be misspelled but isn’t) garnered enough Derby points by winning the Sunland Derby on the New Mexico side of El Paso. I’m not impressed with that, but I’m going to pass on making any judgment. After all, Mine That Bird couldn’t even win that race and then vanned to Louisville to win the Derby in 2009 (may that never happen again).

Up in New York Vyjack won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Overanalyze was in that field and he came back to win the Arkansas Derby with Frac Daddy running second. The Gotham was the first race as a 3 year old for Overanalyze and he obviously needed the race. As a two year old the only races he lost were to the champ Shanghi Bobby and Uncaptured the top 2 Year Old in Canada, who also won twice at Churchill in the fall. Vyjack did not run well in the Wood Memorial being defeated by Verrazano. But it turned out that Vyjack had some sort of an infection on Gotham Day and has been resting and recovery nicely. Don’t know where that leaves Vyjack, who looks to be a closing sprinter or miler to me. In the Wood Memorial Verrazano established himself as either the Derby favorite or second choice. He has tactical speed and has shown courage under fire. He is Todd Pletcher’s biggest gun in the holster and Pletcher’s top rider, Johnny Velasquez, has decided to take the big dark horse on Derby Day. The horse that ran second in the Wood with a good closing effort is Normandy Invasion. He has yet to win a graded stakes, which is a big negative from a handicapping point of view, but he did finish second by a nose to Overanalyze in last year’s Remsem Stakes. Since Vyjack was ill and Normandy Invasion has yet to win a graded stakes the question must be asked, “Who has Verrazano beat?” The only other horse to note is Java’s Gold, who beat a weak Blue Grass field after Verrazano whipped him in the Tampa Bay Derby.

The Arkansas Derby may produce as many as four Kentucky Derby runners: Overanalyze, Oxbow, Falling Sky and Frac Daddy. But before the Arkansas Derby there was the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Ever hear of D. Wayne Lukas? Lukas’ Will Take Charge won the Rebel by narrowly defeating stablemate Oxbow, a horse that is also participating in the Derby dance. The Rebel may produce a couple of Derby runners in Will Take Charge and Oxbow. For some reason or another Lukas decided to train Will Take Charge up to the Derby instead of finding a race for him the last couple of months before the Derby. It makes Will Take Charge harder to read, but it is hard to argue with a man that has a career better than just about anyone else in the business. The Arkansas Derby made us aware of Overanalyze once again. But the race also rejuvenated Frac Daddy and made it apparent that he simply didn’t like Gulfstream Park in his first pair of 2013 races. The other thing the Arkansas Derby did was expose Oxbow to another running style. The talented Lukas trainee will show up in Louisville with good breeding and a ton of experiences. A review of the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby and the action in New Orleans may prove to be beneficial in selecting a Derby horse.

Way down south where the food is divine and the people talk funny, the legend of Revolutionary continues to grow. The beautifully bred son of War Pass won the Louisiana Derby after another eventful trip, just not as adventurous as he had in New York when he won the Withers Stakes. Revolutionary may be a strong force to deal with in Louisville, but his future looks brighter even beyond that destination. This is a colt that is obviously maturing fast and has as much potential or more than anyone in the Derby field. The Louisiana Derby could produce five Derby runners:  Revolutionary, Code West, Palace Malice, Mylute and Golden Soul.

In Kentucky we first look at Turfway Park and Spiral Stakes winner Black Onyx. The only horse in that race with big credentials was Uncaptured, who has now left the Derby trail after a pair of disappointing races in 2013. The rest of the Spiral field was, and remains, virtually unheard of. Black Onyx may turn out to be a longshot winner like Giacomo or Mine That Bird in the Derby, but as for now there doesn’t seem to be reason to look his way again.

Java’s War ridden by Julien Leparoux, won the Blue Grass after walking out of the starting gate and then running down the field late for the big prize at Keeneland. Palace Malice and Charming Kitten may exit the Blue Grass and make it to the Derby, but a close analysis of the Blue Grass field does not support the notion that Java’s War is a Derby winner. In the Lexington Stakes last weekend, Winning Cause, also ridden Leparoux, showed he is a late bloomer for trainer Todd Pletcher. He may not make it to the Derby but if I was Pletcher I would have my sights set on the Belmont with Winning Cause. He is bred to run all day long without breathing hard.

Plenty of time remains before the gates open on May 4. There could be an injury and someone will make a change of plans. The final Derby field will not be determined until the draw is complete. Many things must be considered. I don’t have firm recommendations now and may never develop a strong conviction about Derby 139. I do hope that this exercise will stimulate your imagination and/or provide you with information you did not have. Whatever road you take to the Derby, I hope it is a profitable one. Good luck!