Secretariat

Derby Rankings Handicapping & Analysis – “Law and Order…Finally”


This column marks the end of the wildest, wackiest, and most perplexing Triple Crown trail ever. Hopefully, next year we will return to a sense of normality. I want to take this time to thank all those who made the transition from Derby Dozen and Hangin’ With Haskin to
Secretariat.com and have continued to provide their comments, opinions and in depth analysis. And I want to welcome all the Secretariat fans and followers and newcomers who have joined us in this new endeavor. We will see you again in January, when we will begin what we hope will be the beginning of the traditional Derby Trail. In the meantime, please stick around for the weekly Askin’ Haskin columns, where we will continue to talk racing, both past and present, and provide more behind the scenes back stories of racing’s greats.~ Steve Haskin

Look, it doesn’t take a genius or even a novice handicapper to realize that, from the standpoint of talent, pedigree, accomplishments, and running style, there is a wide chasm that separates Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. from the rest of the horses. And there very well may be a wide chasm that separates Tiz the Law from Honor A. P. Some might put Authentic close up there as well with Art Collector dropping out, but as I have been saying, he still has to show that his pedigree and running style can get the job done. No one is doubting his talent, and his chances definitely improve now that the classy and versatile Art Collector is no longer around to possibly look him in the eye early on.

So, where does that leave you when it comes to betting on this year’s Labor Day weekend Derby, especially when so many handicapping tools are not at your disposal as in past years? Remember, we are now dealing with far more mature and experienced Derby horses, yet so many are coming off long layoffs we have no way of assessing them.

Even the overwhelming favorite, Tiz the Law, will be attempting something that has never been attempted before – winning the Derby coming off a mile and a quarter race. Will that hurt him or help him or have no affect on him at all? Unlike with your typical Derby, Tiz the Law will looking for a peak effort after having remained in peak form for seven months, with Barclay Tagg doing an excellent job spacing his races and keeping him fresh. But can he keep it going and deliver yet another bravura performance, his first being back in February in the Holy Bull Stakes? I have always referred to him as “The Machine,” and now we will see if new threats like Honor A. P., Authentic, Ny Traffic, and King Guillermo can turn him off or at least slow him down. So far, no one has been able to do either.

And then there is Honor A. P., who had his schedule disrupted early in the year, yet still would have been a leading contender for the Derby after his impressive score in the Santa Anita Derby. Now, after being cloistered away in California since then, with not many opportunities to race, he will be going into the Derby off a defeat in the non-graded mile and a sixteenth Shared Belief Stakes, which will be his only start in 13 weeks. Hardly the way trainer John Shirreffs mapped it out. But his last three works indicate he is sharp, fit, and ready to fire his best shot. Forget the Shared Belief. He was nowhere near fully cranked for that race and he made a big premature move on the first turn that I believe cost him the race. With his humongous stride, the last thing you want to do is make two moves with him. Breaking from post 16, he better break sharply and stay well clear of traffic.

With all that said, both these horses seem to tower over the others, many of whom have numerous question marks themselves. And there is an excellent chance that Tiz the Law towers over them all. His fastest Brisnet and Beyer speed figures are much faster than anything else in the race and he is the only horse who has run three negative Thoro-graph figures. So not only is he fast, he is consistently fast. And he was in a common gallop the last sixteenth of a mile in the Travers and was still drawing away.

So if you’re a big fan of Tiz the Law, who I have had ranked No. 1 for 17 straight weeks, and feel he can’t lose, you don’t want to bet him straight at odds-on, so pick three or four bombs and play them underneath or back end them on the trifecta and superfecta if you want to put Honor A. P. second.

And now we come to the post position draw, which, of course, turned out as wacky as the rest of the year with the three favorites, Honor A.P., Tiz the Law, and Authentic, drawing posts 16, 17, and 18, respectively. And remember what happened to Authentic when he broke from the outside post in the Santa Anita Derby and ducked out badly at the break. If he does that in the Derby he is cooked. As it is he will have to break very sharply and gun for the lead, as he has not shown he can win from off the pace. He has to do all that and not take too much out of himself, which means he is going to have get very lucky and have everything break perfectly for him. Fortunately, he has John Velazquez on his back, and there is no one I would rather have more under these circumstances.

Tiz the Law, who could wind up as the shortest-priced Derby favorite ever or certainly close to it, drew post 17, the only post that has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner. I don’t see this post hurting him one bit and he should get a good outside stalking position. And how about Finnick the Fierce of all horses drawing the rail? He has 17 horses outside him and is blind in his right eye. To further demonstrate what a screwball race this is, 12 of the 18 starters are listed at 30-1 or higher on the morning line.

I believe, Storm the Court, breaking from post 4 with three closers inside him, will be the first to strike the front before Authentic comes charging up from the far outside along with Ny Traffic. A fresh and sharp King Guillermo and Thousand Words will also be right up there with Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. tracking them on the outside.

With Art Collector out, watch out for King Guillermo and Ny Traffic to become the two wise guy horses, which means horses who will take a great deal of money in the wagering and get bet way down from their 20-1 morning line odds. They also will benefit from Art Collector’s absence from a strategy standpoint, as they can now sit right off the pace without having to contend with him occupying the same space. And both horses drew well with King Guillermo breaking from post 6 and Ny Traffic from post 15, where he can show his customary early speed and try to keep at least two of the three favorites parked outside him going into the first turn. Ny Traffic is the one who could be the proverbial thorn in Authentic’s side, because of his stalking style and the fact that he never goes away. He is like the terrier who grabs your pant leg and doesn’t let go. Like Authentic, it’s just a question of how far his pedigree will carry him, but he is always running hard at the wire, and having Dr. Fager in his sire’s pedigree twice doesn’t hurt when it comes to carrying your speed. I just fear he is going to be overbet.

THE LONGSHOTS

I know none of the longshots can match the top choices in ability, and on paper should not beat them. But one thing I have learned about the Derby is that longshots have won on occasion and finished in the money on numerous occasions. Very few thought anyone could beat Bellamy Road, Afleet Alex, and Bandini, all spectacular winners of their final prep, in 2005, but somehow 50-1 shot Giacomo managed to run by them all.

That probably won’t happen this year, but in a field this large you never know. Trying to pick out longshots, with so many who look similar and are fairly slow on speed ratings, is not easy, so I am going to make it simple. I am sticking with the horses I have been high on all year and who have been prominent in previous columns.

With that said, the horse who ranks way at the top of that list is SOLE VOLANTE, who was ranked in the top six 16 times, and as high as No. 2 six times. I am not crazy about his lack of racing and not having run a meaningful race since June 10, but here is what I wrote about him on Feb. 11 when he made his debut at No. 2:

“The reason he debuts so high on the rankings is because this is what a Derby horse is supposed to look like. He has a devastating closing kick on dirt and grass, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes he blew right on by an undefeated dual stakes winner and one of the leading Derby contenders and won going away with his ears pricked, with a gap of 11 1/4 lengths to Remsen runner-up Ajaaweed in third. To show what a spectacular move he made, he ran his third quarter in an eye-catching :23.26, according to Trakus, making up 13 lengths, then just kept going, coming home the final sixteenth in :06 flat. What makes his story so great is that you had to go through 3,493 yearlings at the Keeneland September sale to get him for a paltry $6,000. He was pinhooked at the OBS April 2-year-old sale and went for only $20,000 to Biancone.”

He has run back-to-back 108 Brisnet late pace figures, which at the time was the fastest late pace figure by a 3-year-old, and I trust Patrick Biancone to put a lot of bottom in him with those two-minute licks on grass, his pair of mile works on grass, and a blazing five-furlong work in :57 4/5, also on grass. I feel he will appreciate going back to the dirt and Churchill Downs dirt has always been conducive to grass horses. Of all the closers, he has the quickest turn of foot and can get into the race in a flash, and I know he will relish every inch of the mile and a quarter.

The longshot who is starting to really intrigue me is ATTACHMENT RATE, who was ranked in the top 12 four times and was taken off mainly because he refused to change leads and was grossly underachieving. But there was always something about him I liked, including his pedigree, and I was very impressed with his maiden victory. Then came the Ellis Park Derby and it was like watching a totally different horse, who had suddenly come into his own, doing everything the right way, and wound up finishing a strong second Art Collector, with his Thoro-Graph number jumping from “4s” and “5s” to a “1/2,” which puts him right in the mix. This is now the horse I thought he’d be and why I catapulted him all the way up to No. 4. And remember, his trainer Dale Romans has already finished third in the Derby with a two longshot grass horses. Normally one to talk his horses up, he appears to be sneaking in this time holding his cards close to the vest. In short, I just feel this new, improved Attachment Rate could be sitting on a big race, especially with the turn of foot he displayed in the Ellis Park Derby and how strongly he galloped out past the wire. And wouldn’t this be a good time for the Derby gods to take over, with Romans having been born a just a few miles from Churchill Downs and in the same barn since he was a kid working for his father.

The final longshot with whom I have had a history this year is MAJOR FED, who I admit does not have the speed figures to compete with the top horses and is another who is coming into the Derby off a long layoff, but I feel he is going to love the mile and a quarter and has proven versatile enough to run well from mid-pack or from far back. But with a pair of fast bullet works at Churchill Downs recently and drawing post 5, I expect to see him closer to the pace, racing in mid-pack. But he needs to break cleanly.

Here is what I wrote about him on his in the March 24 Derby Dozen, one of his seven times ranked in the top 12: “I am looking for a horse who has the turn of foot, the pedigree, and the class to launch a bid from mid-pack. A bad start in the Louisiana Derby, in which he had his head turned at the break, cost him all position, but he still closed from 14th to finish fourth after being forced eight-wide turning for home. What I loved was the explosive move he made after being taken off the rail on the far turn, losing so much ground and shrugging off two solid bumps from Shake Some Action and then Enforceable in the stretch. The reason he couldn’t get closer than 4 3/4 lengths was because Wells Bayou was loose on an easy lead in :48 and 1:12.42 and came home his final three-sixteenths in a rapid :18.86. In his two races at two turns, Major Fed was two to three lengths off the lead and now he found himself a dozen lengths back in 14th and last. So this was a promising effort and he will be a lot more formidable when allowed to run his race, especially at 1 1/4 miles. He has a pedigree inundated with European staying power, he will run all day, and his last two races indicate there is a great deal of improvement still to come.”

So these are the three longshots I was originally going to be focusing on, considering the impression they made on me earlier in the year, with the hope they can move up and utilize their strengths going a mile and a quarter.

And then came the monkey wrench thrown into the mix at the last minute. I am referring to SOUTH BEND, who has a powerful late kick and whose pedigree has always had me drooling. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why he was not being considered for the Derby, as I have always felt he was a Derby horse, despite his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Travers Stakes, in which he was beaten over nine lengths, and according to Bill Mott had no excuses. He sure looked like Derby material when he won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last year. But after a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a deep sloppy track, he went to the grass for six races, racing well on occasion but never winning. Finally he was returned to the dirt and was flying at the end of the Ohio Derby, finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length. Then came the Travers, and if you’re willing to forgive that effort, even though he still finished on the board, then he could be an enticing prospect trying a mile and a quarter for the second time. Yes, his broodmare sire, Old Trieste, was a speedball, but you won’t find a stronger pedigree. In his first four generations he has seven different classic winners (Bernardini, A.P. Indy, St. Jovite, Seattle Slew, Avatar, Pleasant Colony, and Majestic Prince), two of them twice. So of the 15 sires in his first four generations, nine of them were classic winners. And if you go to his fifth generation, you can add Secretariat twice, Spectacular Bid, and Nashua. So now I have to throw another longshot in there.

Although I likely will have no room for him unless I really stretch my bets, I will mention ENFORCEABLE, only because he has been the horse all along I was predicting could be the typical Derby longshot who rallies for second at a big price. But you can only play so many, and I have had closer ties to those mentioned above. But I know I’m going to pressure myself to add him to the exotics right before the race when I see his monster odds, which always costs me more money and adds to my losses. I could be successful if I only knew how to bet. So, let’s include him as one of the longshots, but a lesser one along with South Bend. Because of my previous comments I have to at least bet a Tiz the Law — Enforceable exacta.

I am going to mention one more horse, who, as I said earlier, likely will be lower odds than his 20-1 morning line, and about whom I am totally perplexed. I have no idea what I am going to do with him and probably will wait until race day to see what his odds are. That horse is KING GUILLERMO, who is attempting the unthinkable, which is coming into the Kentucky Derby off a four-month layoff. Normally, I would toss him, but I am a big fan of Venezuelan horsemen and there is that nagging feeling that his trainer Juan Avila might just be able to pull this off, as unlikely as it sounds. But the main reason I moved him up to No. 5 on my Derby Rankings this week is because I believe this horse is exceptionally gifted, he has that proverbial look of eagles, and his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby was too impressive to ignore.

He has already shown he can run huge (Tampa Bay Derby) off little racing, and as I wrote on my Derby Rankings, his :58 1/5 work at Churchill Downs last week may have been the best Derby work I have seen since Smarty Jones in 2004. Also, in his all-important tail-female family you will find Irish Derby winner El Gran Senor, who was beaten a nose in the English Derby, and Stage Door Johnny, winner of the Belmont Stakes and one of my favorite classic and stamina influences. I just don’t want a horse with his talent and sheer brilliance to beat me, so I likely will play him to win if his odds are enticing enough or throw him into a few exotics with the favorites. It’s just too soon to commit to anything with him.

So, as of this writing (and it could change on race day) I will be making win bets on longshots Sole Volante, Attachment Rate, and Major Fed, and lesser bets on Enforceable and South Bend, and will play them underneath Tiz the Law and Honor A.P. in the exactas and trifectas, and possibly underneath King Guillermo as well if he continues to look great in the morning. Check my Facebook page for any late changes and how I am keying the horses.

One thing I have to mention, if you are looking for the one horse who is as fast as Tiz the Law on Thoro-Graph it is Ny Traffic. So, excluding the longshots, he is the one horse at a half decent price who possibly could beat the three favorites on his best effort

So, the one bet I know I am making is a $1 trifecta box with Tiz the Law, Attachment Rate, Sole Volante, Major Fed, and Enforceable, as well as Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Attachment Rate, Sole Volante, and Major Fed.

Last year, I had a big win bet on Country House and had him underneath Maximum Security in the exactas, so I was in good shape either way. I can’t imagine getting that lucky again, but it’s fun trying.

RED IN THE PED

With this column appearing on Secretariat.com, we must pay homage to our founding father by devoting some space to his influence on this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Of the 18 entrants, 13 have Secretariat in their pedigree, including the top three choices – Tiz the Law, Honor A. P., and Authentic. It would have been the top four choices had Art Collector not been withdrawn. Of course, 12 come from Secretariat’s Tremendous Trio — daughters Weekend Surprise, Terlingua, and Secrettame, with the other coming from his daughter Sister Dot, the dam of Dehere.

Weekend Surprise has been one of the most powerful female influences in the sport through her prolific son A.P. Indy, while Terlingua is pretty close through her son Storm Cat. And right behind those two is Secrettame through her son Gone West.

Here are the Derby entrants who trace to Secretariat at least once – Tiz the Law (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy), Ny Traffic (Sister Dot—Dehere), Sole Volante (Terlingua—Storm Cat), Enforceable (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy), Necker Island (Secrettame—Gone West), Money Moves (Secrettame—Gone West), Mr. Big News (Terlingua—Storm Cat).

Those with a double dose of Big Red include Honor A. P. (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Authentic (Secrettame—Gone West and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Max Player (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Finnick the Fierce (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), and South Bend (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy twice).

As for all the Meadow Stable fans, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Storm the Court has both Secretariat (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy) and Riva Ridge, his Kentucky Derby winning barnmate in his fourth generation.