There was a lesson to be learned Friday when Shedaresthedevil defied long odds to win the Kentucky Oaks. And in record time, by the way.
She taught bettors that class – or a lack of it – is often an overrated angle in betting. That is why contrarians or value hunters or anyone who makes fun of chalk-eating weasels can go against the grain and beat favorites. At least once in a while.
Returning to Churchill Downs where she was already 2-for-2, Shedaresthedevil (15-1) came in with a résumé that included two Grade 3 wins, including one in something called the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. She also won the Indiana Oaks at a seasonal racing outpost a half-hour out of Indianapolis.
What was the best horse she faced before Friday? Certainly nothing that showed up in her past performances. It might as well have been a workout partner from Brad Cox’s barn.
Wait a minute. It turns out that it was a stable mate. But let’s not spoil the plot and disrespect the reader who does not skip to the last paragraphs before the notes and opinions.
Anyone who looked down a lofty nose at those old results in Arkansas and Indiana and pooh-poohed that five-length victory last time out at that track in Shelbyville – yes, Shelbyville – deserved to tear up his or her ill-conceived tickets.
If this sounds cocky, yes, I had Shedaresthedevil. I looked past the tepid Beyer Speed Figures and saw that little “5” next to the big “1.” I saw all the pace that I thought would come from Gamine (7-10) and Swiss Skydiver (5-2) and thought that 20-1 on a horse that could get first run in the stretch would be an overlay.
Well, it was an overlay. Because this $280,000 Daredevil filly supposedly faced a whole bunch of no ones before she went against the smallest Oaks field since 2005. But she had Florent Géroux riding her. And Cox training her. And all that pace ahead of her.
Wait a second. 47.92? 1:12.12? What pace?
“Honestly, I didn’t think the pace was quite as hot as we expected,” Cox said. “I thought Swiss Skydiver may be right there with Gamine. Our filly broke extremely sharp and put some pressure on Gamine, and it worked out extremely well. It was a big effort.”
Big? How does 1:48.28 sound for the 1⅛ miles? Running the last three furlongs in 36.10 seconds, according to Trakus, Shedaresthedevil produced the fastest Oaks ever in the 61 times that it has been run at this distance.
The Beyer Speed Figures team may throw water on this, especially since the track was kind although not completely biased to early pace Friday. But that is the point. Shedaresthedevil was not the speed horse. Gamine was. The same Gamine that looked like a filly that had never gone nine furlongs before. Oh, that’s right. She had not. She wilted to third behind the late charge of runner-up Swiss Skydiver.
“She just didn’t have it,” Gamine’s trainer Bob Baffert said. “I don’t know if she just got tired or whatever. She didn’t want to switch leads or anything. She hadn’t gone long before, and we can always second-guess ourselves. But the winner was tough; you have to give her credit.”
If Gamine with her 110 best Beyer – best this year for any 3-year-old of either gender – and her previous dominance can fail, why can’t it happen Saturday to Tiz The Law and the 109 he takes into the Kentucky Derby?
Early money made Tiz The Law an even-money favorite, but by 8:30 p.m. EDT Friday there were only about $500,000 in the win pool. If last year was any indication, there will be 500 times that by post time, so he may yet be odds-on. His best price in Las Vegas is minus 140 at Station Casinos.
With four Grade 1 wins including the Belmont and Travers, Tiz The Law certainly has the class to make him a meritorious favorite. Is there a Shedaresthedevil in the Derby field? There must be a horse or two to humble class snobs who ignore horses that have not faced supposedly top competition.
Maybe it is Money Moves (14-1 at Churchill Downs, 32-1 best Nevada futures price), the late entry from Todd Pletcher’s stable that is making his stakes debut in America’s biggest race. Should handicappers take him more seriously after he overcame nothing but trouble and still finished a close second in a Saratoga allowance race this summer?
Considering how deep Pletcher’s barn is, Money Moves must have faced some tough competition in the mornings. Maybe Halladay or even Belmont runner-up Dr Post.
Come to think of it, couldn’t the same question be posed about Shedaresthedevil?
Bruno De Julio, one of the most respected workout analysts in the country, pointed out that the Cox barn includes Monomoy Girl, the 2018 champion 3-year-old filly and the winner of Friday’s Grade 1 La Troienne at Churchill Downs. De Julio looked it up in his notes and confirmed it. Monomoy Girl and Shedaresthedevil worked in tandem Aug. 15. They were each clocked at 1:00.2 for five furlongs. So much not facing classy horses.
If that sends horseplayers back to their past performances to pore over workouts, my work is done here.
Kentucky Derby notes and opinions
The scratch early Friday of one-eyed Finnick The Fierce (50-1 morning line, 110-1 best Nevada futures price) would not appear to have had much impact on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. But it led Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards to change the original plan for the new 20-horse starting gate at Churchill Downs. The 16 remaining starters will fill gates 2-17 instead of 3-18 as originally announced. Storm The Court could be most affected. Of the horses drawn toward the inside he is most likely to want part of the early pace. Instead of being in stall 5, though, he will be in stall 4 with two horses inside him. That gives him less room to scoot past outside traffic that could veer in on him if he does not get out in a hurry. Finnick The Fierce was taken out of the Derby after a Kentucky state veterinarian expressed concern about his right front leg. Owner Dr. Arnaldo Monge begged to differ but decided not to enter so as not to be the victim of a gate scratch.
If there are no other exit, the field of 16 will be the smallest for the Derby since 2003. That was when Funny Cide won for owner Sackatoga Stable and trainer Barclay Tagg, the same connections as Tiz The Law.
There were some complications for Nevada casinos that were forced to book the Oaks on their own after they were unable as a collective to make a pari-mutuel deal with Churchill Downs. Hopes to have Oaks-Derby doubles on offer were scotched, apparently because of software challenges. After first saying that it expected to book Derby head-to-head props, the Westgate Superbook had to retreat because of what it said was were unexpected but unspecified added costs. Circa Sports and William Hill appear to be the only Las Vegas shops booking Derby matchups. Most books put strict limits on their limits and betting menus, because they are obliged to pay mutuel prices posted at Churchill. That is despite a 10-month negotiating freeze between the racetrack and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association over how to split the takeout. The same terms of engagement will be in place for bets on the Kentucky Derby. Namely, there are no multi-race bets and limited exotics with no other Saturday race at Churchill Downs available for wagering through Nevada racebooks.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. He hosts “Road to the Derby” on Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT on VSiN and on demand at VSiN.com. You may also hear two current episodes of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. The annual Kentucky Derby pop-up features Las Vegas bookmakers/handicappers Chris Andrews, Johnny Avello, Duane Colucci and Vinny Magliulo. The regular Friday episode includes NBC Sports race caller Larry Collmus, trainers Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs and Tiz The Law’s lead owner Jack Knowlton. The RFRP is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.