Only two preps are left, but Derby form is emerging

Improbable-OP-Arrival-040918_-001
Improbable was escorted this week into his temporary home on arrival at Oaklawn Park, where he is the favorite to win Saturday's Arkansas Derby. (Oaklawn Park photo)

Las Vegas

 

With only this weekend’s pair of points preps left, Kentucky Derby analytics are falling into place, including the one set that has become a favorite in recent years.

 

The problem, though, is too many horses may still be live contenders in a process that does not do enough eliminating.

 

Yes, the Final Fractions Theory is back to try and make sense of the nine-furlong preps in which most Derby horses make their last impressions before May 4.

 

Although explaining it is like listening to Drew Carey describe the rules of The Check Game on “The Price Is Right,” it is pretty easy to apply once it is understood. Pioneered over the years by longtime racing journalist turned publicist Jennie Rees, it simply measures which horses are running fastest at the end of their 1⅛-mile preps, thereby offering clues about how they will do adding another eighth of a mile in the Kentucky Derby.

 

In the last 29 runnings of the Derby, 26 winners covered the last furlong of their final 1⅛-mile prep in no more than 13 seconds or the last three furlongs in no more than 38.

 

Then comes the best-Beyer factor. In the last 27 runnings of the Derby, 25 winners had come in with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of at least 95.

 

With only the Arkansas Derby left among those 1⅛-mile qualifiers, 10 horses that could be Derby-bound meet both the Final Fractions Theory and best-Beyer criteria. They include:

 

12.18   37.01     95 Cutting Humor

12.49  37.79    97 By My Standards

12.52  35.96  102 Maximum Security

12.75  36.53    96 Bodexpress

12.78  36.79    95 Code Of Honor

12.84  37.94    99 Spinoff

12.69 (38.98) 99 Win Win Win

12.79 (38.27)  98 Roadster

12.99 (39.13)  97 Game Winner

 

Two others that are ticketed for the Derby – UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait and Fukuryu Stakes runner-up Master Fencer – qualify under the Final Fractions Theory. But the UAE Derby was 9½ furlongs, not nine, and there are no Beyer Speed Figures posted for Japanese horses like Master Fencer.

 

In short, the list is clearly long. But any list that has more than one horse requires further handicapping.

 

Right away it is clear that the slowly run Florida Derby, which taxed the energy of bettors more than horses, stoked almost all the closing times. Despite what the clock said, Cutting Humor looked like he was spent at the end of his win on what may have been a cooked-up track in the Sunland Derby. And I do not know any serious handicapper who will take more than a fleeting glance at the still winless Bodexpress.

 

The final pace scenario for the Kentucky Derby is still yet to be determined. If Omaha Beach splashes to a front-running victory in a rainy Arkansas Derby, that could change the entire complexion of what we see in 22 days at Churchill Downs.

 

But at least the puzzle pieces are falling into place. Now if only we could figure out how they fit before this weekend.

 

Racing notes and opinions

 

Improbable gets changes for Arkansas. Only a neck separates Improbable from being 4-for-4 in his career. That neck was a loss to Long Range Toddy in one of the two divisions of last month’s Rebel Stakes. Now trainer Bob Baffert has ditched jockey Drayden Van Dyke, replaced him with José Ortiz and added blinkers to Improbable (8-5), the morning-line favorite for the $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Saturday’s race at 7:43 p.m. EDT will cover 1⅛ miles on what is forecast to be rain-soaked dirt at Oaklawn Park. Improbable drew the rail for Baffert, who said, “Unbelievable. I think I’ve drawn the rail seven out of eight times in the last week.” Omaha Beach (2-1) has been a buzz horse since he beat Baffert’s 2018 juvenile champion Game Winner last month in other division of the Rebel. Stalking an honest pace in his win last month, Long Range Toddy (5-1) is the best of four Steve Asmussen horses in the field of 11. Gray Attempt (8-1) may be overmatched past a mile in the slop, but he figures to set the pace, and his backers will be encouraged by his bullet workout last week in the Oaklawn mud. Third to Long Range Toddy and Improbable last month, Galilean (10-1) might have been a candidate to challenge the early pace, but he will have his blinkers taken off by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The weather holds an influence on my bets keyed by Omaha Beach with Long Range Toddy, Improbable, Galilean and Country House filling out the exotics.

 

Anothertwistafate is Lexington favorite. After an impressive runner-up finish last month in the Sunland Derby, Anothertwistafate (2-1) gets one last chance to qualify for the Kentucky Derby when he takes on nine other 3-year-olds in the $200,000 Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. The 9½-furlong race on what is expected to be a dry, fast, main track is scheduled for Saturday at 5:34 p.m. EDT. Trainer Blaine Wright has called on Javier Castellano to take over the ride on Anothertwistafate from Juan Hernández. Holy Bull winner Harvey Wallbanger (7-2) will want a faster pace than he got finishing eighth in the Florida Derby, where he was unable to close late. Sueño (5-1) has hit the board in three Derby preps this year without winning. Zenden (6-1) was fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby and gets Tyler Gaffalione, his third different jockey in as many races. With this race worth only 20 points to the winner, only Anothertwistafate and Sueño have a realistic shot at qualifying for the Derby with a victory. I will try to beat both of them with Hawaiian Noises (10-1), a Super Saver colt that John Velázquez will ride for Wesley Ward, and Shang (10-1), an Asmussen runner that has won four in a row against state-breds in Louisiana. Harvey Wallbanger will fill out my exacta and trifecta boxes.

 

Friday’s Santa Anita drama is called off. By last week at this time the California Horse Racing Board and the Jockeys’ Guild had scripted melodramatic scenes to play out Friday at Santa Anita, where they were responding to the deaths of 23 horses during the current meet as a result of racetrack injuries. Within a matter of days, both canceled these performances. The CHRB had scheduled a one-item meeting to consider moving the last 2½ months of racing dates this spring and summer out of Santa Anita. The Guild had declared that its jockeys would put away their whips for Friday’s races, admirably daring racing authorities to stand by their plans to ban them. By the middle of this week, both threats were idled. Frankly, it is a good thing that someone blinked before these plans turned into high-noon staring contests. But the fact that supposedly responsible parties used the public as pawns in all this was embarrassing at best and puerile at worst. No wonder I hear so many horseplayers turning their backs on Santa Anita.

 

A farewell weekend in Australia for Winx. At age 7, Winx is ready to be retired to a highly anticipated breeding career in Australia. But before she literally goes off to pasture, she will race one last time Saturday at 1:05 a.m. EDT (Friday at 10:05 p.m. PDT), seeking her 33rd consecutive victory and her 24th in a Group 1 race. Winx (1-14) is the odds-on favorite to win the $2.85 million Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at The Championships being held at Royal Randwick, Sydney. A victory would bring Winx’s earnings to $18,795,000 under the current rate of exchange, passing Orfèvre as the generally recognized career leader among thoroughbreds. She also won four consecutive runnings of the Cox Plate, the best weight-for-age race in the Southern Hemisphere. Although she will go down in history for her streak and her two years atop the world thoroughbred rankings, Winx never raced outside Australia, and her competition lately has been nothing better than inferior. But consider this. Winx finished last October’s 1¼-mile Turnbull Stakes with furlong times of 10.8, 10.4 and 10.4 seconds. Those times are unassailable – as is the impression Winx made with her trademark closes to victory. Make that victories.

 

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The final weekend of Kentucky Derby preps and some 21st century racing issues are discussed. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert talks about Improbable’s run Saturday in the Arkansas Derby and about Roadster and Game Winner already making it to May 4 at Churchill Downs. National Thoroughbred Racing Association president/CEO Alex Waldrop fields questions about rules for equine medication and how racing has been affected by the nationwide legalization of sports gambling. The Arkansas Derby and the Lexington Stakes are previewed as is Winx’s final race, which fits right into the Racehorses by the Letters feature looking at the best ever starting with “W.” The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available at Apple, Google, Stitcher and VSiN.com/podcasts.

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