Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Breeders' Cup International Playbook -- Juvenile Fillies Turf


The Mackem Bullet
Society Rock - Elkmait, by Trade Fair
-- Dam Elkmait finished last in her only attempt over ground labeled worse than good
-- Sire Society Rock never had a GB/IRE winner over heavy going and his progeny won 7% (3-from-45) over soft going

A high-profile private purchase for leading Japanese owner Katsumi Yoshida, The Mackem Bullet has already far exceeded her relatively inexpensive initial purchase price. On a positive note, she's genuinely improved for each run in her career thus far. In the past, she's had issues getting out of the gates on time and while she appears to have put that behind her, it's worth noting given an American style race will put that ability of hers under more pressure than ever before. Her performances in England have been good, but this crop of two-year-old fillies has appeared below par from the start, which has to leave a slight pause for concern, as does the possibility of a rain affected track given she's thrived over firm going to date.

Lily's Candle
Style Vendome - Golden Lily, by Dolphin Street
-- This will be jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot's third start in the US (best finish 5th)
-- Sire Style Vendome never won over a surface listed worse than "good to soft"

Lily's Candle has done well for the most part, having won three of her five career starts to date and justifying her decently priced purchase at the Arc sale earlier this year. Now owned by Martin Schwartz -- who is one of the best in the business at spotting French talent (fillies and mares specifically) whose form will transfer to the US -- she warrants respect off of that alone. We detailed in the Juvenile Turf version of the playbook, however, that the Prix La Rochette rarely turns out to be a strong race formwise and she was soundly defeated there. Her G1 Marcel Boussac victory was nice, but she'd have to be ridden for luck in a large field to replicate that performance and even then, it's still probably not good enough to best this group.

Just Wonderful
Dansili - Wading, by Montjeu
-- Sire Dansili has had 21 Breeders' Cup starters and two of them won (Dank, Queen's Trust)
-- Trainer Aidan O'Brien has an 11: 0-2-1 record in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf
-- Just Wonderful's dam Wading also won the G2 Rockfel Stakes (2011)

Progeny of Dansili have had well documented success in America, but that's typically because they want firm turf which she's unlikely to get here. Just Wonderful has loads of ability, but has been as green as the grass she's been running on. She often wanders and looks quite lost when asked to quicken and her head carriage while under a drive can be very high. Add that to the fact she'll likely be an underlaid price given her connections (who've historically struggled in this race) and we'll look elsewhere for now. Once her quirks are sorted, she'll be a force to be reckoned with, but her lack of professionalism is unlikely to be sorted this quickly.

Frankel - Vital Statistics, by Indian Ridge
-- Trainer Kevin Ryan has had two US starters and neither hit the board.
-- Progeny of Frankel in GB/IRE have won 51% (53-of-104) of their races from 7f-9f. 

On brief glance, she looks a bargain buy as far as Frankels go, but a deeper dive shows East was not only the Goresbridge Breeze-Ups topper, but she set the record as the highest priced purchase ever out of the sale (see breeze here). Typically, I'd have slight concern about a Frankel over soft ground (it was well documented he was best over good ground), but she won her debut over soft albeit in a modest event at Hamilton. In only her second start, however, she stepped right into G3 company and soundly defeated a field which included listed winner Pure Zen. Generally speaking, I think the western European two-year-old fillies have been underwhelming this year, but she won that like a good horse should. Her 20-1 morning line price is a pipe dream to put it mildly, but her price should nevertheless be big enough to justify any form queries. It's rare that a European with this much upside winds up at the Breeders' Cup and she should be taken very seriously despite the tricky gate.
VERDICT: Use in all multi-race wagers, key in verticals

Monday, October 29, 2018

Breeders' Cup International Playbook: Juvenile Turf


Camelot - Ceiling Kitty, by Red Clubs
--Trainer Tom Dascombe has had two BC runners and is yet to hit the board
--Dam Ceiling Kitty was 5th (of 5) behind Hightail in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint 
--Progeny of Camelot 14% (5-of-36) over soft, 29% (6-of-21) on heavy ground

Trainer Tom Dascombe trained his dam and both siblings who've raced to-date from what has proven to be a precocious, sprinting family. His first two starts -- including a victory at Royal Ascot -- were very good and he finished off those races like a horse who would appreciate longer distances. Arguably, his best run to date was when he finished second behind the undefeated Too Darn Hot, whose form is so well respected that he currently sits as 6-4 favorite for the G1 2000 Guineas next year. Had his campaign thus far ended there, he would be single digit odds for this race, but his most recent start in the G2 Royal Lodge was a complete no-show. Despite his female family comprising mostly of sprinters, he has a superior stamina influence in Camelot than his siblings did and more importantly, he always finished his races like a horse who would see out a mile just fine. Maybe he didn't handle Newmarket? Maybe it was a just a bad day? I don't know and really don't care because his odds should justify the risk involved. While many will write off his chances citing him a non-stayer over a mile, four lengths second behind Too Darn Hot (over seven furlongs no less) is plenty good enough to win this.
VERDICT: Include in multirace wagers, win bet if 10-1+

Galileo - Jacqueline Quest, by Rock of Gibraltar
--Trainer Charlie Appleby has had three BC runners. All three of them were 2yos and two of the three won.
--Dam Jacqueline Quest was first past the post in the 2010 G1 1000 Guineas before being disqualified and placed second behind Special Duty

Line of Duty boasts a quality pedigree and thus far has lived up to it having never finished outside the top two and most recently taking the G3 Prix de Conde in impressive fashion. His female family is made up of strong staying blood and full brother Hibiscus was best over 10 furlongs and another full brother World War has been tried over hurdles. With that in mind, the cutback to a mile is a genuine concern. The talent is clearly there, but his trip troubles last out combined with him being by Galileo and outfitted by Godolphin will see him being overbet over a trip that's short of his best at this stage. It's worth noting he should thrive over a course that is genuinely soft, but that's the only way he figures in my book.
VERDICT: Include in multirace wagers if ground listed as soft or worse, otherwise pass

Wootton Bassett - Model Black, by Trade Fair
--This is the first US runner for trainer Jane Soubagne. 
--Wootton Bassett's highest rated victory (2010 G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere) came over ground listed as "very soft." 

The Black Album won three unremarkable races at La Teste De Buch before taking the G3 Prix La Rochette in start five when tried at the group level for the first time and sent off as the rogue outsider of the field. Karakontie won the Prix La Rochette in 2013, but more often than not, it does not tend to produce top flight individuals. Privately purchased by Team Valor following that victory, the Breeders' Cup was going to be the goal from thereon and these connections should be respected for their savvy ability to spot under the radar talent abroad. He hasn't run a race remotely close enough to challenge the top international horses in this race, however, and his pedigree reads as a precocious one. To the eye, he's a horse who has outperformed initial expectations and thus earned his spot in the field versus others who appear to have more improvement possible.

Footstepsinthesand - Sindiyma, by Kalanisi
--Trainer Mark Johnston has had one previous BC runner (2000 Turf, Fruits of Love finished 11th).
--Female family is an Aga Khan family which traces back to Sinndar. 

Marie's Diamond is about as heavily raced as they come for this race having been tried on nine occasions. His win the G3 Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh was good, but his best performance was arguably his fourth in the G1 Middle Park Stakes. He was four and a half lengths behind the well regarded Ten Sovereigns on that occasion and he held on well enough in a race that he entered off a lengthy layoff by his previous standards (41 days) and against competition that was far too good for him. Johnston often runs his horses -- especially his youngsters -- so the hit and miss nature of his performances isn't as worrisome as it would be otherwise. He's also owned by a syndicate who haven't shied away from traveling their horses, so this spot makes sense. What is suspect, however, is why he's been kept over six furlongs or less this many runs into this juvenile season when he's clearly bred for further. A wet track would undoubtedly move him up, but he's much more exposed than his European counterparts and to this stage has not shown himself to be good enough to win.

Galileo - Believe'N'Succeed, by Exceed And Excel
--Trainer Aidan O'Brien is 4-from-15 (8-from-15 in the top 2) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. 
--Half-brother Bounding won the G1 Railway in New Zealand.

Aidan O'Brien's record in this race speaks for itself and the fact that he only enters this horse can be taken as a sign of confidence. His form through Too Darn Hot, however, just doesn't read a ton better than these especially considering his likely short price. On the flip side, he probably boasts the most potential improvement of the Europeans in this event as he's still overcoming some remaining shades of greenness and he clearly wants to go over further. Should he improve as expected, he'd be thought of as a genuine Derby (Epsom) contender, but these connections don't run Derby contenders in this spot so the optics indicate he's not as good as advertised. Not to mention a large field is going to test him mentally, which to date has failed him on occasion in the past.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pulling Back The Curtain

Looking back on the 2017 that was, it’s safe to say it’s been a testing one for the sport of horse racing.

Takeout rates were once again at the forefront with notable rises resulting in vociferous responses from horseplayers. Now, it isn’t surprising to see business entities attempt to take a bigger slice of the pie and not publicize it. That’s part of the game. It’s also not surprising to see a tight-knit community of horseplayers be vocal about why they disagreed with said changes and call for a boycott.

But, the sobering reality of horse racing in its current state is that instead of calling for changes which would benefit the sport as a whole, we waste our time making a barrage of excuses.

“Bad weather. That’s why handle was down.”

“The field sizes were smaller this year, so there was less wagering.”

Or the latest evolution, which involved media members receiving flat out incorrect, inflated figures from management bodies.

Facts are facts. There’s no need for the song and dance.

And yet, with every bump in the road which the sport of horse racing had to traverse this year, the excuses grew more fervent.

Trainers around the country winning at alarmingly high percentages? They get the best bloodstock.

Horses testing positive for performance enhancing substances? Food contamination.

Injuries to horses during race meetings? Fluke.

The issue at hand is not whether any or all of these explanations are true, but the fact that we as a community are so afraid to face these questions that we respond by giving  a benign explanation and sweeping the mess under the rug.

“Talking about sad or negative things doesn’t bring new fans to the sport” is a popular response, but one that in today’s digital age certainly isn’t true. With websites and features dedicated to the cruelties of horse racing or the dark side of gambling easily accessible on the internet, the gig is up.

The questions are being asked and accusations are being made by the sport’s customers and onlookers. The party line, which essentially tells us to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” is not only insulting, but also disregards actual opportunities to grow racing’s fanbase through education.

Have there been cases of trainers giving their horses performance enhancing substances? Yes, but strides have been made in recent years to create stricter testing, including out-of-competition testing for Breeders’ Cup horses.

Do some tracks raise the takeout on their wagers? Yes, but in America we have nearly a hundred racing facilities, so you can choose to wager on which product best suits your needs.

Do people become addicted to gambling? Unfortunately, yes, but there are programs in place to aid those who are struggling.

What’s good about horse racing, you say?

Watching some of the most athletic individuals in the world.

The sense of community and excitement you feel in the stands when you and the people sitting behind you that you met five minutes ago hit a winner together.

The thrill of an epic stretch dual or a dominating ten-length victory.

The intellectual puzzle analyzing the races brings to the table.

Witnessing fairytale stories become reality in only two minutes’ time.

Spending a day out at the track, making friends and eating lunch off the top of a trash can as you run from the paddock to the starting gate between races...okay, maybe that one is just me.

Nevertheless, there are endless reasons why each and every person who loves, is a fan of or wagers on horse racing. None of those reasons involve holding an oblivious attitude towards negative aspects of the sport.

It’s time to bring in Toto, open up that curtain and see that horse racing is facing the same pressures as every major sport around the world. It’s when we admit the flaws and vocalize the steps that we are already making toward change  that we’ll take the sport from a leftover of America’s past to a living game poised to garner new fans in the future.

Thanks to Nicolle Neulist for grammatical edits. Her work can be found at Blinkers Off.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Slow Into Stride

Five months ago, Arrogate -- a son of prolific stallion Unbridled’s Song -- had the world at his feet. He’d taken the summer’s marquee race for three-year-olds in record time, twice beaten champion California Chrome in Grade 1 company and had just completed a dramatic last to first drubbing abroad in Dubai. Now, following two consecutive losses, the calls for his retirement are stunningly loud.

“He’s not the same horse,” some say.

“It’s the dreaded Dubai curse,” yell others.

While it’s been shown on many an occasion the “Dubai curse” -- or the perception that horses who travel to the Dubai World Cup meeting underperform upon returning stateside -- is a complete farce, Arrogate’s run in Dubai does shed some light on his performances of late.

The narrative of Arrogate’s Dubai World Cup victory revolved around him missing the start. Upon review, however, Arrogate didn’t actually break all that badly, but it was his inability to muster any sort of speed after the break which left him out the back. In fact, Furia Cruzada to his inside broke slightly worse than the big grey and zipped past him like he was standing still, while Keen Ice -- a horse not exactly known for his gate speed -- to his outside was able to cross in front of him without too much effort. Arrogate was hampered as a result, but based on the gate speed he displayed in races like the Travers and Pegasus World Cup Invitational, he should have been able to maintain his position between them without much fret.

Arrogate was able to overcome that tactical disadvantage to win in Dubai, a race which -- Gun Runner aside -- featured opposition well below the level of the biggest US G1s. While Gun Runner has comfortably won both of his races since the Dubai World Cup, he has yet to win over the 10-furlong trip they traversed that day; Gun Runner not truly seeing out that distance over what is a testing surface at Meydan is very much a possibility.

Down to G2 level in the San Diego Handicap, Arrogate -- a horse who has been near the lead in the bulk of his races at the highest level -- found himself beaten for speed once again. While better overall in the Pacific Classic, Arrogate was being urged before they reached the ½-mile pole despite a dawdling early tempo.

In fact, even removing the aberration that was Arrogate’s troubled start in the Dubai World Cup, in his five other attempts in graded stakes company, his first quarter times have starkly slowed.


Of course, there are differences in times between surfaces, but what remains clear in his American races is that he is producing slower first quarter times than he did 12 months ago and he’s doing so in races which are being run at a slower early tempo than ever before. It’s a double whammy of sorts in that he’s suddenly beaten for speed in the early stages of his races and is simultaneously catching races which on tempo alone would favor leaders.

This was more apparent than ever in the Pacific Classic when he was urged mightily by Mike Smith out of the gate and still could not wrest the lead from Collected, who by no means was going fast for the level. The tactics were sound -- try to get him to the lead. When you have the superior stayer in the field by a long way, the most suitable tactic is nearly always to ping the horse out in front and never look back. Unfortunately for Arrogate, his large frame and stride have left him seemingly unable to do that these days.  

Arrogate has never been the fastest horse per se, but he produces much more consistent sectionals than his peers. Below is the peak speed (in miles per hour) reached in each of his runs to date, with those runs in which his top speed was the fastest (or joint fastest) in the field highlighted:

Peak Speed
4/17 Maiden (LRC)
6/5 Maiden (SA)
6/24 Allowance (SA)
8/4 Allowance (DMR)
Travers (SAR)
Breeders' Cup Classic (SA)
Pegasus World Cup (GP)
Dubai World Cup (MEYDAN)
TVG San Diego (DMR)
TVG Pacific Classic (DMR)

Rarely -- especially in the races thought to be among the best of his career -- has Arrogate reached the fastest peak speed of the field. Instead, the difference between Arrogate’s top speed and his average speed has historically been much less than his peers. In the Dubai World Cup, for example, Arrogate’s peak speed was over two miles per hour slower than top rival Gun Runner. In the final 1/16th of the race, however, Arrogate was averaging only 1.24 mph off his peak speed of 41 mph whereas Gun Runner was averaging 5.7 mph off of his peak speed of 43 mph. In the world of dirt routes, which is known for races finishing far more slowly than they begin, Arrogate’s ability to merely stay on at the end of his races has earned him several victories.

On some level, he’s similar to former Hong Kong galloper Designs On Rome. Named horse of the year during his illustrious career, the son of Holy Roman Emperor was brilliant when everything went his way as he -- similarly to Arrogate -- was the king of outstaying his middle distance counterparts. Routinely struggling to keep up in the early stages of his races, Designs On Rome regularly had to be ridden in patches mid-race in order to maintain his focus. He was best suited by races which were run at a fast early-slow middle tempo as to soften up the leaders and allow him to swoop around a compact field.

Nobody will argue that the Arrogate we saw in the Pacific Classic performed at the same level that he did at his peak, but could the answer be that at this stage of his career, Arrogate has simply become a more dour individual who would be better suited by further or at the very least by a quicker tempo which would turn the race into a true stamina test?

These horses aren’t machines, as they say, and even Arrogate and his lofty speed figures are no exception. He may not be one of “the greats” -- not a Dr Fager who set the dirt mile record while carrying 132 lbs or Seattle Slew winning against top flight competition following a life-threatening physical setback. When all the cylinders are firing, there’s a brilliance about Arrogate which is unmatched by any other horse in America. Unfortunately these days, without his past gate speed on his side, it appears he’ll need everything to go his way in running in order for us to see the best of him again.

Friday, May 27, 2016

5/27 Canterbury Park Play of the Day

Race 7 (Post Time 10:32pm ET)
$17,000 Starter Allowance ($10,000 - $7,500) 
For 3yo and older fillies and mares who have started for a claiming price of $7,500 or less in 2015-2016 or claiming price $10,000

A competitive field of seven going six furlongs over what will likely be a wet main track provides opportunity for value in not only the win pool, but the horizontal wagers as well. 

Morning line favorite Sammie's Touch enters this off the back of a $20k Starter Allowance win at Fair Grounds over five and a half furlongs. She benefited from coasting just behind soft fractions that day, however, and the form lines from that race have come back poor for the level. Sammie's Touch feasted at Canterbury Park last year winning three of her four runs with her only loss being a runner-up finish in tougher company than she faces today. She does appear to be slightly better going 5.5 furlongs, but even more importantly she's unlikely to get an easy time of things from a pace perspective this time around. 

My Place Or Yours looks the controlling speed first off the claim for the in-form Nevada Litfin barn. Three times a placegetter locally last season, My Place Or Yours hasn't won in her past 20 starts and repeatedly failed at short prices during that time frame. For those reasons, is one to take on in this spot with nothing new suggesting she will see it through to the finish this time around. 

More intriguing is Maddymax who enters this off the back of a poor showing in a $23k allowance at Tampa Bay. On the surface it's easy to blame that performance on the sloppy conditions she faced, but she has a good record over downgraded dirt surfaces so we'll instead bank the stretchout to a mile was too far for her liking. Her record and pedigree (Munnings o/o a Mineshaft mare) speak for itself with regards to the drying wet surface she's likely to face today and her early speed will be an asset over the cutback in trip she desperately needs. Shippers from Tampa have done well in the early stages of the meet and trainer Bernell Rhone's opening weekend was a good one with two winners and two additional placings from eight total starters. 

#3 Maddymax looks a potential overlay in win pools in what appears a wide open affair on paper, so we'll play her to win and key her in the middle leg of the late pick-3. 

Available wagers for this race: 15% takeout win, place and show + 18% takeout exacta, trifecta, superfecta and daily double

Friday, April 22, 2016

QEII Cup Preview and Picks

Sha Tin
Sunday, April 24   4:35 am ET
Race 8 The Audemars Piguet QEII Cup

Carded as the eighth race of the day on Sunday at Sha Tin, the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup marks the return of Group 1 caliber international runners to what appears to be a dark and gloomy scene in Hong Kong.

Wet weather aside, a 13-strong field has been compiled, including Hong Kong Vase winner Highland Reel and the strong Japanese contingent of Lovely Day, Satono Crown and Nuovo Record. Rising Romance represents Australia while Ertijaal joins the fray for top trainer Mike de Kock and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Shadwell Racing.

Lovely Day -- a son of King Kamehameha out of Listed stakes placegetter Popcorn Jazz -- boasts the strongest credentials of the away team thanks to wins in last year's G1 Takarazuka Kinena and G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn). Named Japan's best Older Horse or Colt for 2015, Lovely Day was the most consistent runner in what was an older division lacking a star after a flurry of retirements and injuries. His form through compatriots Staphanos and Nuovo Record -- both of whom are G1 placegetters in Hong Kong -- reflects favorably on Lovely Day's chances in what will be his first run abroad. 

Kyoto Kinen winner Satono Crown is clearly a progressive type and of the Japanese contingent, he is the one to upgrade should the forecast rain result in a rare downgraded Sha Tin turf surface. His form suggests he may be best over further, however. He is an intriguing prospect exiting solid efforts against what appears was a strong three-year-old crop, including leading Arc hopeful Duramente, Dubai Turf winner Real Steel and Arima Kinen placegetter Kitasan Black. There is every possibility the three-year-olds were classier than their older counterparts last season in Japan and if so, expect Satono Crown to give the older statesman Lovely Day a run for his money. 

Lost in the shuffle of the strong Japanese contingent, however, is the strength of the home team. Defending champion Blazing Speed returns with the hope of keeping his crown. He is a horse who needs everything his own way in running, however, and his last three runs have not been particularly encouraging despite two of those coming over a distance short of his best. 

Hong Kong's main hope instead lies with this year's G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup winner Designs On Rome. Named Hong Kong's Horse of the Year in 2014, Designs On Rome has won three of his past six starts over 2000m locally. One of those losses, a fourth in the 2015 Longines Hong Kong Cup, was actually a fantastic effort when facing a far from ideal steady pace scenario in what was only his second start after arthroscopic surgery to both front fetlocks.

Designs On Rome's performances on track and his appearances in the mornings have not been of the consistently high level which has become standard for him. His past two runs have been outstanding, however, and he clocked two solid works this week, the best of which came when seen working in company on April 21 over the dirt. 

The pace of this race would be against him should it be slowly run throughout seeing as he will likely drop to last from the inside barrier. This is a race which features several horses who go forward -- just not at quick tempos -- and for that reason, a more moderate tempo is expected. Helene Super Star drawn wide or Rising Romance pushing forward midrace would not surprise, either. 

Nevertheless, Designs On Rome looks likely to get an adequate pace scenario. He will be once again partnered with Tommy Berry, with whom he has had great success in the past. Any significant rain will only help the son of Holy Roman Emperor's case as well, having a win over soft ground at Naas and a runner-up finish over soft to heavy ground at Tipperary on his resume. Additionally, his best Irish run before arriving in Hong Kong came on a similar surface to what he is likely to face Sunday, with his fast-finishing second to Dawn Approach in the National Stakes on a yielding track.

With the hype centered around the Japanese, who have top locally based jockeys Joao Moreira and Zac Purton on their side, they are expected to take the bulk of the betting.

Picks and Play:

#4 Designs On Rome
#7 Satono Crown
#3 Lovely Day

Play: 4-3 and 4-7 quinellas              4 / 3,7 / 2,3,5,7,10,12 trifecta

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Showdown In The Sunshine State

We’ve reached the most eagerly anticipated week along the Kentucky Derby trail with the heavyweight battle of Mohaymen v Nyquist getting top billing at Gulfstream Park.

On the surface, Mohaymen brings the credentials of a potential Kentucky Derby favorite to the table. Undefeated in five starts, he has taken both of the major Florida Derby preps stylishly. Proven locally in addition to owning a win over this nine furlong distance, he is being touted as the favorite in what is essentially a match race between the two heavy hitters.

Believe the narratives being publicized and you would think Nyquist is the new kid on the block, not the reigning two-year-old champion; but alas, he has been marked as the one “with something to prove” in this bout. Rest assured however, win or lose, an undefeated juvenile champion with a Breeders’ Cup win to his name doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone. He has proven himself on the track already and a Florida Derby win would be another highlight to add to an already glittering resume.

With two very different individuals taking each other on in a match race of sorts -- if that is even possible in a ten horse field -- we ask the all important question: who wins?

Who Have They Beaten?
This is the category where the similarities between Mohaymen and Nyquist start...and end. They are both undefeated multiple graded stakes winners with Nyquist having had one start more (six in total) than Mohaymen. Nyquist, who debuted last June, has a trio of juvenile G1 wins to his name while Mohaymen has yet to contest a race at the highest level.

At one point, Mohaymen’s formlines appeared bombproof with Seymourdini breaking his maiden in his next start and Aqueduct rival Flexibility winning the Jerome Stakes. That form burst into flames when Flexibility was off the board in the Withers as a heavy favorite, however, and both Adventist and Sunny Ridge subsequently did that form no favors when they could only muster third and fourth in a short field Gotham Stakes, finishing behind a maiden in the process. Greenpointcrusader was nowhere to be found in the Louisiana Derby after finishing second to Mohaymen in the Holy Bull. Sure, Donegal Moon won an allowance at Parx after failing to hit the board in the Jerome and the Withers, but as always, Parx form should be taken with a grain of salt.

Perhaps in Nyquist’s favor in this category is that chief rival Swipe has yet to run in 2016 after a setback left him sidelined. Up until that point, however, Swipe served as a solid gauge of the strength of the Southern California crop. Second to Nyquist three times in the Golden State, the duo once again made up the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile which furthered the already developing belief that the best two-year-olds were in California.

Denman’s Call defeated now Rebel Stakes winner Cupid on debut before being easily handled by Nyquist and once again tamely going down to Iron Rob in the San Pedro. But how one really rates Nyquist’s form lies in his opinion of Exaggerator. Seeing as I believe Exaggerator showed in the San Felipe that he is best as a one-turn miler, I upgrade Nyquist’s form because under that set of circumstances, he beat Exaggerator -- a solid horse in his own right -- at his own game, which is never an easy task. Since I do not believe Exaggerator stayed the trip in the San Felipe, his third place finish is not viewed as disappointing in my opinion, especially considering he made an eye-catching move entering the far turn before flattening out late.
Advantage: Nyquist

Style Points
While he may have beaten better horses to date, Nyquist’s wins are far from stylish. The gritty nature of his runs leads to him being in a slugfest nearly every time he turns for home. Kudos to him for having always gotten his nose in front to this point, but it definitely has not been easy. He also has a tendency to drift when pressured. He drifted in towards the rail in the Frontrunner, nearly hindering runner-up Swipe and he drifted out late in both the Del Mar Futurity and the San Vicente. While often viewed as the behavior of a tired horse, it is worth noting that each of these instances occurred while he was under a drive and being pressured by a horse to his outside. When he was the one on the outside throughout the far turn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he kept to task nicely, so we’ll chalk this up to more likely being a quirk of his rather than the sign of fatigue.

If this were the old days of gymnastics, Mohaymen’s score in this category would be a 10 out of 10. He does not simply beat the horses he faces, he obliterates them. He takes horses who appeared to be trending upwards and crushes them, geared down and drawing off late. While he is strolling home under a hand ride, his opponents are being hard ridden heading into the far turn, leaving the viewer to watch a powerful display of true dominance. He is professional in every way -- an unusual trait for a Tapit -- but he showed it prior to the Fountain of Youth when nearly every other horse acted up, he was cool as a cucumber.
Advantage: Mohaymen

Nyquist’s is a bear to pass down the lane. In his debut, he fought off Annie’s Candy not once, but twice. That was a sign of what was to come because in nearly every race he has ran since, someone looked like he would blow by him late only for Nyquist to prevail. Some horses find their best when they’re in a fight and Nyquist appears to be one of these types. As soon as he lulls one into thinking he can win, he crushes his spirit by slamming the door shut. If there is a horse in this crop who destroys the confidence of his opponents, it is Nyquist.

Mohaymen’s strength is his mind. He clearly is an intelligent individual who is able to adapt to a variety of situations. A key trait to have come Kentucky Derby time, Mohaymen has never appeared flustered or stressed despite situations not always panning out in his favor. When unforeseen circumstances arise in race, he is the one who is able to best cope, regather himself and press on. In the Fountain of Youth stakes, for example, Mohaymen was roused early when wide in order to get into a striking position in what had not been a quickly run race to that point. He was wide at points and in a race which saw a fair amount of chaos affect those around him in running, he kept to task throughout.
Advantage: Mohaymen

There is mention of Mohaymen’s tactical speed often, but I don’t see it. Every time he has routed, he has encountered a pace on the slower side and every single time he has sat off the pace. In the Nashua, Remsen and Fountain of Youth stakes, they were far from flying out front and yet he was multiple lengths off the lead at the first call. Get Mohaymen in a race with true early speed and I doubt he can be placed prominently without being used up out of the gate.

What Nyquist lacks is the potent turn of foot which Mohaymen possesses. While he does not need the lead, Nyquist could struggle should he be shuffled back in running or be steadied at any point because he has a fairly one-paced, grinding style. Without that burst of acceleration, maintaining his momentum in running is paramount. What is his weakness can turn into his strength if he is ridden aggressively, however. By making his move into the far turn as is his norm, he draws out the turn of foot of the deeper closers, often leaving them with too much to do late if they weren’t already forced to make an early move in order to keep up. His knockout move is a one-dimensional one in that sense, but it is potent and will flat out win races.
Advantage: Nyquist

Will They Stay The Trip?
It’s short and sweet on the Mohaymen front on this category since he already won the Remsen Stakes over nine furlongs.

Whether or not Nyquist will stay the Florida Derby trip is a much different story, however, but one which should be a completely separate topic from whether or not he will stay the trip in the Kentucky Derby. Nine furlongs is a different kettle of fish than 10 and with that in mind, he did win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over eight and a half furlongs, so he only needs to stay a half furlong further this time around. While it is true that Nyquist was treading water late in that affair with the second, third and fourth place finishers all finishing their final sixteenth of a mile more quickly, that stat does come with an asterisk. From the three quarter pole to the finish, Nyquist was actually the second fastest finisher with only Swipe besting him in that category. Also, bear in mind Nyquist had to be used some out of the gate in order to be best positioned from the wide draw and even still he travelled significantly further than the entire field. All things considered, he stayed on well in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and half a furlong should be within his realm. The real distance concerns come into play for the Kentucky Derby depending on his showing here.
Advantage: Mohaymen

Is This Just A Prep?
Much has been spoken about this race being “only a prep” for Mohaymen whereas Nyquist will be cranked for a big effort in this spot, which is probably being a bit overblown.

Mohaymen is a son of leading sire Tapit, after all, and a G1 win to his name could mean big bucks in the breeding shed, so rest assured connections would love to win this race. By all accounts, the screws were tightened on Mohaymen prior to the Fountain of Youth, however, so it wouldn’t surprised if he were to be freshened a tad coming into what will be his final Kentucky Derby prep in order to avoid him going over the top before the first Saturday in May.

Nyquist, on the other hand, comes into this race having only raced once since last October. With a million dollar bonus for being a Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale graduate on the line and him travelling across the country specifically for this race, this camp is clearly going all in. Trainer Doug O’Neill is great at aiming a quality horse for a specific race. That combined with him being lightly raced as a three-year-old (and in general for that matter) could result in him running the best race of his career, something he will need to do in order to defeat Mohaymen should he run to form. Nevertheless, team Nyquist clearly has more to gain in this situation so while the connections of Mohaymen are most definitely trying to win this race as well, special consideration may be taken with the goal of having him peak on Kentucky Derby day in mind. As far as Nyquist is concerned, however, this is his Kentucky Derby.
Advantage: Nyquist

And The Winner Is…
Mohaymen and Nyquist are ridiculously evenly matched at this state of their careers. With Mohaymen having home field advantage in his favor and already being proven over the distance, however, it is reasonable to believe he is more likely to be the shorter price of the two at post time. Nyquist has proven himself a good traveller, however, and Gulfstream Park is a course which should play kindly to his running style. With a larger field than previously expected on tap, Nyquist could be aided, as it could easily lead to Mohaymen being further back than most expect given his lack of early foot. Drawing post nine of ten does Mohaymen no favors, either. Should he break well, Nyquist is positioned as the inside speed in post four which should see him working out a forwardly placed, ground saving trip. It’s a tactical advantage which he will not relinquish easily. At the likely prices, he’s the pick.
The pick: Nyquist