Three major Derby prep races take place on Saturday April 7th — the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita, and the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. All three tracks have stellar under cards chocked full of additional graded stakes which makes it the biggest race day of 2018 so far!
A free handicapping contest will take place at the Buckets Bar & Grill OTB in Chesapeake on Saturday with $500 in cash prizes up for grabs! All three Derby preps will be included in the contest races. Whether you are participating, playing on line (via TVG, XpressBet, TwinSpires or NYRABets) or at an OTB in Richmond (Ponies & Pints), Henrico (Breakers Sports Grille) or Collinsville/Martinsville (The Windmill Sports Grill), here is some interesting insight into the three. Enjoy the race on Saturday!
Wood Memorial contenders and analysis:
Old Time Revival appears to have a pace edge in this year’s Wood Memorial as he can use his early speed to get to the rail and control the tempo from the start. Heartfullofstars showed some early speed last month in California, but that was on a sloppy track and in a highly restricted maiden race. King Zachary also showed some speed early last month, in his two turn debut, and Catch Twenty Two adds blinkers, but Old Time Revival has a positional edge on all of them except Heartfullofstars. Last month in the one-turn Gotham Stakes, Old Time Revival had to battle head and head for the lead for the opening half-mile in 46.4 yet still was clearly second by four lengths over the next horse as Enticed drew off. There can be a significant difference in how a one-turn race is run compared to a two-turn race and that is why I think Old Time Revival can improve off his last race career best 108 Equibase Figure effort to win the Wood.
There’s nothing bad I can say about Enticed, except he has 63 Road to the Derby points and doesn’t need to win to go to Louisville next month. He won the two-turn Jockey Club Stakes in November, ran horribly in his three year old debut in the Holy Bull, then rebounded to win the Gotham with a career best 113 figure effort. He can sit behind the leaders and pounce just as he did last month and would be no surprise if winning, but from a betting perspective there’s little profit to be made if he does.
King Zachary is an improving type who was ridden out to a near eight length win in his first route and can improve but would need more than logical improvement to go from the 96 figure effort last month to the 110 figure effort the winner of this race is likely to put in. Restoring Hope is shipped east by Baffert to avoid his stablemate Justify and he won easily in his 2nd route and last start with a 108 figure. However, he’s been off since that February 2 race and one has to wonder why when others have run since.
My Derby Dollars contest play in the Wood Memorial will be Old Time Revival
Toyota Blue Grass Stakes contenders and analysis:
Kanthaka is already proven in a graded stakes for three year olds as he won the San Vicente Stakes in February. That wasn’t a points race because it was a sprint (7 furlongs) but he proved very capable in drawing off by three lengths and earning a 114 Equibase figure which is the BEST figure of any horse in this field. Trying two turns for the first time one month later in the San Felipe Stakes, Kanthaka broke awkwardly and immediately went down to one knee, nearly losing his jockey. Having lost all chance, Kanthaka relaxed in fifth in the field of seven and as the top two drew off in the stretch by six lengths, showed interest and rallied.
With a hot early pace likely consisting of California Night, Sporting Chance as well as perhaps Good Magic and Flameaway, Kanthaka can drop in and watch as all the pace manifestations take place in front of him, something jockey Prat was unable to do with Kanthaka in the San Felipe because of the bad start. From there, if the pacesetters begin to tire, Kanthaka can grab the lead in the stretch and hold off the deeper closers such as Blended Citizen and Arawak.
Blended Citizen will be ignored by many bettors because his win in the Jeff Ruby Steaks last month was on an all-weather surface rather than dirt, and he ran poorly in his three dirt races. However, those were at the beginning of his career and he is a DIFFERENT HORSE now. The addition of blinkers for the Jeff Ruby was the key to a strong finish with a 109 figure and we must recall trainer O’Neill won the 2017 Blue Grass with Irap at 30 to 1 so I will believe this colt has what it takes to win. He’s bred for dirt as well, being a half-brother (same dam) to 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee.
Good Magic will be favored by bettors as the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall. He had been off for four months when he finished a non-threatening third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes last month and he can improve, but there is no guarantee of it as some horses just aren’t the same at three as they are at two. With 34 points to date, Good Magic also needs to finish first or second to or he may not be able to enter the Derby.
Arawak is the wild card, recently purchased privately and sent to the barn of Doug O’Neill (trainer of Blended Citizen) after finishing third in the Jeff Ruby. This will be his third start of the year, often a peak effort in a horse’s form cycle, and he adds blinkers which notably helped his stablemate win the Jeff Ruby last month. As such, and with starting odds of 30/1, I will be at least wagering a few bucks on him to win, place and show so I have no regrets if he pulls off an “Irap” and wins the race at 30/1 as happened last year.
My Derby Dollars contest play in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes will be Kanthaka. However, depending on the points needed to move up in the standings, I would not hesitate to play either Blended Citizen or Arawak.
Santa Anita Derby contenders and analysis:
I am going to pick Core Beliefs to post the upset in the Santa Anita Derby and, at the least, to run a lot better than his odds will suggest he can run. After two third place finishes in sprints in January and February, Core Beliefs stretched out to two turns and improved tremendously, drawing off by three lengths with a 109 Equibase Speed Figure. This was on par with the 108 figure Justify earned winning a two-turn race three days later. Although the 109 figure effort Core Beliefs put forth last month is well short of the 118 figure Bolt d’Oro earned in the San Felipe, the colt has potential to improve markedly off the effort in his second route and he will have to do just that because he needs to finish first or second to get the points required to run in the Kentucky Derby. Using his early speed as he did when victorious over the track last month and with the only other horse likely to be on or near the early lead being Justify, Core Beliefs should be in the thick of the action from start to finish.
Except for an exceptionally wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall when finishing third, Bolt d’Oro has made no mistakes, winning all four of his other races. In last month’s San Felipe Stakes, Bolt d’Oro showed his battle- hardened nature once again when battling head-and-head the length of the stretch with McKinzie before losing by a head, then getting placed first via the disqualification of McKinzie. Being as he had been away from the races for four months prior to that, the 118 figure earned was exceptional. With a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby is virtually assured (as he has 64 points) so Bolt d’Oro may only need a good effort but in his current form, even his “B” level race may be good enough to win.
Justify has been impressive in both his races to date. He won his debut by almost 10 lengths and then by six and one-half lengths last month in his second career start and in spite of coming out of the gate a bit tardily. Like Core Beliefs, this will be the second two-turn start for Justify and improvement off his 108 figure last out can be expected. Justify was sired by Scat Daddy, who may have three horses in the starting gate in Louisville next month if Justify finishes first or second to gain his first points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard. The other two Scat Daddy colts include Flameaway and the most impressive winner of the U.A.E. Derby last weekend, Mendelssohn. Certainly, if the hype surrounding how big, strong and fast Justify may be is warranted, he will win the Santa Anita Derby and create a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
My Derby Dollars contest play in the Santa Anita Derby will be Core Beliefs
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