May 8, 2011
With plenty of reasons to be excited about the chances for Oaklawn-raced horses to experience great moments on Kentucky Derby weekend, things turned sour on Friday and even worse on Saturday.
No wins were recorded in the big stakes, Nehro did run a game second in the Kentucky Derby, but that was overshadowed by injury to Archarcharch and the disappointing races from the likes of Arienza, Joyful Victory and Smiling Tiger in other key spots.
From a handicapping standpoint, our record of five winners from 17 picks for Saturday was a trace below what we shoot for. There were four seconds, meaning that we were better than 50% either first or second, but we are tallying up our ability to provide you with winners, so second is a bridesmaid thing. No one needs to know that better than the Asmussen barn which has seen Nehro finish second in three consecutive races with purses at the $1 million or higher. He's getting to be the modern-day Alydar, but has no Affirmed to hold responsible as his nemesis. Instead in the Kentucky Derby he beat two who had edged him before in Archarcharch and Mucho Macho Man. Now he has a new goal, to top Animal Kingdom.
Tallying up our score for the Simulcast season, we have given 53 selections and seen them score for a total of $144.90 on a $2 win ticket. That is still a 36% profit. From the 53 picks there have been 16 winners. That's just over the .300 batting average we thought was good for a public handicappers. But we admit that is a lame excuse, since we can cherry-pick the best on Saturday cards, which bring out the best horses. On the other hand, oftentimes those turn into the most competitive races.
I think Kentucky Derby weekend and Breeders' Cup weekends, which both occur at Churchill Downs this year, are the toughest places to pick winners. The races are so competitive that many top horses lose simply because of bad trips. Case in point is Smiling Tiger. In the Churchill Downs stakes, I suspect jockey Joel Rosario has never had a worse trip. He was on the inside and totally indecisive where to go with his mount which was ready to run big. The good news is that the horse came back well and might be a bigger price for his next race. The bad news is that he was ready for another big race, like the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn, but never got a decent chance to show his stuff.
Of course we are concerned about Archarcharch and the wonderful people who surround him. From the Yagos family of Jacksonville, Arkansas, to the Fires family of Riverdale and the Court family, tied directly to the Fires family, this horse had Arkansas written all over him. At the moment when his name was the last drawn on post position draw day in Louisville, it appeared that there was a big cloud hanging over his head. It proved worse than one could imagine when he had to be vanned off after the race. The good news is that he was not in distress. He may never race again, but might be able to produce some young babies down the line. Still, it took much of the excitement of the day away from the good crowd at Oaklawn on a lovely Saturday afternoon.
That the fillies Arienza and Joyful Victory did not run to their best abilities on Friday only set the stage for the dismal outcomes on Saturday. There will be better days for most all of the Oaklawn-raced horses, but Friday and Saturday will have to be forgotten and forgiven.
One bright note: The Arkansas-bred four-year-old Comadero won the open Vincent Moscarelli Stakes at Delaware. Comadero is turning into the greatest Arkansas-bred of all times and, as long as they write six and seven furlongs stakes, he will always be a factor. He has pretty much shown that he doesn't want more distance, but he is a joy to watch competing against first-rate competition as a pure sprinter. A salute to the McDowell Farm in Sparkman, Arkansas, for breeding that wonderful horse and for trainer Mike Stidham for placing him so well.
Even with the disappointing results for the Oaklawn-raced horses in general, we had to say that the weekend has been fun at Oaklawn. Good crowds in good spirits enjoyed the days for the most part and Oaklawn still comes across as the greatest tourist destination in the state.
Now it's time to get ready for the remainder of the Simulcast Season. Kentucky Derby weekend always seems like the kick-off to Simulcast Season. But there will be many more big moments to the season and we'll be following them closely each week. I pray, for the sake of the wonderful horses, owners and trainers who made the Oaklawn meet so special, that the results in coming weeks will allow us to black out the disappointments of the past two days.