While the focus at this time of the year understandably is on 3-year-olds with designs on the Kentucky Derby, it was a breathtaking victory at Santa Anita Park last Saturday by a 3-year-old filly headed to the Kentucky Oaks that had many racing enthusiasts buzzing.
Irish War Cry, Irap and Gormley now head to the May 6 Kentucky Derby following victories in important stakes events last Saturday. Irish War Cry won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Irap graduated from the maiden ranks via his victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Gormley took the Santa Anita Derby at the Great Race Place.
Also last Saturday, Miss Sky Warrior won the Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies at the Big A by 13 lengths. She was assigned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure while registering her fifth consecutive victory. Next up for Miss Sky Warrior is the May 5 Kentucky Oaks.
But while Miss Sky Warrior was quite impressive in the Gazelle, last Saturday’s most outstanding performance on the national racing stage occurred in the Santa Anita Oaks, a Grade I affair in which the lightly raced Paradise Woods annihilated a half-dozen opponents.
Ridden by Flavien Prat and trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, Paradise Woods seized the lead at once and bowled along smoothly while setting the pace. She clicked off preliminary fractions of :23.46, :47.35, 1:11.48.
At the five-sixteenths pole midway on the far turn, Paradise Woods led by 1 1/2 lengths. They would not be able to get anywhere close to her after that. Paradise Woods drew off, with her advantage ballooning to 10 lengths at the eighth pole. That means Paradise Woods’ lead increased by 8 1/2 lengths in just the matter of three-sixteenths of a mile.
Paradise Woods received some left-handed encouragement during the stretch run, with Prat then taking his foot completely off the gas pedal toward the end. Completing her 1 1/16-mile journey in 1:42.53, Paradise Woods was all alone at the finish. She won by 11 1/4 lengths.
“She looked like she was just cruising out there,” Mandella was quoted as saying after the race by Santa Anita publicity. “She took my breath away.”
Owned by Steven Sarkowsky and Marty Wygod, Paradise Woods was sent away at 8-1, a price that now looks ridiculously generous. Abel Tasman finished second as the 4-5 favorite. It Tiz Well ended up third, followed in order by Mopotism, Majestic Quality, Bernina Star and Princess Karen.
Paradise Woods made the vanquished appear as if they all are riffraff, but they certainly are not. Abel Tasman is a Grade I winner. It Tiz Well is a Grade III winner. Mopotism is a stakes winner. Majestic Quality finished second in this year’s Grade II Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds.
What made Paradise Woods’ performance all the more remarkable is she was taking a giant class leap to the Grade I level off a maiden victory. Not only that, the Kentucky-bred Union Rags filly was stretching out to 1 1/16 miles off a 5 1/2-furlong race. These would have been significant hurdles for most horses, but not for the Paradise Woods, who obviously is extraordinarily talented.
What Paradise Woods did in the Santa Anita Oaks while making her stakes debut in only her third lifetime start reminded me of what Arrogate did in last year’s Travers in his stakes debut with just four races under his belt. Arrogate won the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths and set a track record. That was a tip-off to subsequent victories by Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup.
According to Santa Anita publicity, Paradise Woods’ margin of victory was the biggest in the history of the Santa Anita Oaks. Paradise Woods broke the record of 10 1/2 lengths set by Silver Spoon in 1959. Silver Spoon then beat the boys to win the Santa Anita Derby by 2 1/2 lengths before finishing fifth in Tomy Lee’s Kentucky Derby. Royal Orbit, who finished second to Silver Spoon in the Santa Anita Derby, won the Preakness Stakes that year. Silver Spoon was inducted into the national Hall of Fame in 1978.
In 1988, Winning Colors won the Santa Anita Oaks by eight lengths before running away to a 7 1/2-length triumph in the Santa Anita Derby. Winning Colors then joined Regret (1915) and Genuine Risk (1980) as the only fillies to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Winning Colors was inducted into the national Hall of Fame in 2000.
Beyer Speed Figures for the Santa Anita Oaks go back to 1990. Paradise Woods recorded a 107 Beyer, highest in the history of the race. The previous top Beyer posted by a Santa Anita Oaks winner was 106 by Serena’s Song in 1995. Serena’s Song was inducted into the national Hall of Fame in 2002.
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Santa Anita Oaks going back to 1990:
2017 Paradise Woods (107)
2016 Songbird (93)
2015 Stellar Wind (95)
2014 Fashion Plate (87)
2013 Beholder (96)
2012 Willa B Awesome (88)
2011 Turbulent Descent (89)
2010 Crisp (82)
2009 Stardom Bound (86)
2008 Ariege (86)
2007 Rags to Riches (96)
2006 Balance (91)
2005 Sweet Catomine (96)
2004 Silent Sighs (96)
2003 Composure (102)
2002 You (99)
2001 Golden Ballet (101)
2000 Surfside (95)
1999 Excellent Meeting (96)
1998 Hedonist (95)
1997 Sharp Cat (101)
1996 Antespend (99)
1995 Serena’s Song (106)
1994 Lakeway (101)
1993 Eliza (99)
1992 Golden Trust (90)
1991 Lite Light (100)
1990 Hail Atlantis (97)
With Paradise Woods, Miss Sky Warrior, Fair Grounds Oaks winner Farrell and Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Salty scheduled to clash in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks, I am really looking forward to that race. But from what I saw last Saturday, I will be surprised if Paradise Woods does not win the Lillies for the Fillies.
UP-TO-DATE DERBY STRIKES SITUATION
In terms of strikes, this year’s Kentucky Derby is quite fascinating in that the winner of the Florida Derby (Always Dreaming), Wood Memorial (Irish War Cry) and Santa Anita Derby (Gormley) each have two strikes.
When I developed my Derby Strikes System back in 1999, the goal was to ascertain the chances of a horse to win the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives.
The system consists of nine key factors. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. It is not until a horse has made his or her final start before the Kentucky Derby that one can determine a horse’s number of strikes. The nine key factors are explained at the end of this column.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10, with the number of strikes for each horse in parenthesis if now known:
- Thunder Snow (0)
- Irish War Cry (2)
- Gunnevera (0)
- McCraken (2)
- Girvin (1)
- Always Dreaming (2)
- Classic Empire (strikes still to be determined)
- Royal Mo (1)
- Hence (1)
- Tapwrit (1)
According to the Derby Strikes System, a horse with zero strikes or one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes. That’s because 38 of the last 44 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike.
If a horse has two strikes, it’s not impossible for a horse to win the roses, but it is unlikely. Only five of the last 44 have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003) and Giacomo (2005).
According to the strikes system, any horse with three or more strikes has only a remote chance of winning the Kentucky Derby. Of the last 44 horses to win the Run for the Roses, the only one to have more than two strikes was Mine That Bird, who had four.
Considering how wide open the Kentucky Derby appears to be at this point, it does seem that this is a year just begging for a two-strike horse to win the roses, someone like Always Dreaming, Irish War Cry or McCraken. Always Dreaming is No. 1, Irish War Cry is No. 2 and McCraken is No. 3 on Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch rankings this week. Always Dreaming is No. 1, Irish War Cry is No. 2 and McCraken is No. 4 on this week’s Derby Dozen rankings by the BloodHorse’s Steve Haskin.
Because the race looks so wide open, I really think this just might be a year in which a foreign horse wins the Kentucky Derby. That’s why Thunder Snow current tops my Kentucky Derby list. He has class (a Group I winner in France), good dirt form (two for two) and zero strikes.
John Shirreffs, the last trainer to execute a Kentucky Derby with a two-strike horse, will be attempting to do so again 12 years later with two-strike Gormley. Shirreffs sent out two-strike Giacomo to win the roses in 2005.
Giacomo was 50-1 when he won the Kentucky Derby. My pick to win was Closing Argument. One reason I liked Closing Argument is he had zero strikes. The strikes system also suggested he had a good chance to possibly be first or second with a furlong to go in the Kentucky Derby, putting him in a prime position to win the race. Dismissed at 71-1 in the Run for the Roses, Closing Argument did have the lead with a furlong left to run, but had to settle for second, losing by just a half-length. Closing Argument paid $70 to place. That’s still the highest place payoff in the history of the Kentucky Derby.
Gormley’s two strikes come in different categories than Giacomo’s two strikes. Gormley’s strikes come in Category 3 (“the eighth pole factor”) and Category 4 (“the gameness factor”), whereas Giacomo’s were in Category 2 (“the win in a graded stakes factor”) and Category 5 (“the distance foundation factor”).
According to the strikes system, an interesting aspect to Shirreff’s Kentucky Derby situation is that another horse he trains, Royal Mo, has a much better chance than Gormley to win the roses. Royal Mo, who finished third in the Santa Anita Derby, has only one strike. His lone strike is in Category 4.
Right now, however, Royal Mo is on the bubble in terms of having enough points to start in the Kentucky Derby. He has 30 points. The leading 20 point earners get into the race. Royal Mo currently ranks 22nd. On the other hand, Gormley is safely in the race. He ranks second with 135 points, topped only by Girvin’s 150.
These are the number of strikes for 19 Kentucky Derby candidates who are not scheduled to race again before the first Saturday in May:
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE (The prime group)
Fast and Accurate (0 strikes)
Girvin (Category 6)
Gunnevera (0 strikes)
Hence (Category 4)
Irap (Category 7)
J Boys Echo (0 strikes)
Practical Joke (0 strikes)
Royal Mo (Category 4)
Thunder Snow (0 strikes)
TWO STRIKES (The victory is possible though it’s unlikely group)
Always Dreaming (Categories 1 and 6)
Irish War Cry (Categories 4 and 6)
Gormley (Categories 3 and 4)
McCraken (Categories 3 and 6)
State of Honor (Categories 2 and 7)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES (The victory is almost impossible group)
Battalion Runner (Categories 1, 2, 4, 6)
Battle of Midway (Categories 2, 4, 6, 8)
Cloud Computing (Categories 2, 6 and 8)
Local Hero (Categories 2, 4, 6)
Patch (Categories 1, 2, 6 and 8)
Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6
2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:
- THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race as a 3-year-old before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition early in the year at 3 and not just at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and Mine That Bird in 2009 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 3 before March 31.)
- THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
- THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 51 of the last 54 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
- THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
- THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
- THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012 and American Pharoah in 2015. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another and American Pharoah each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
- THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
- THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 is the only Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. There now have been 133 straight Kentucky Derby winners who raced as a 2-year-old. Through 2016, the score is 140-1 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 0 for 59 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to even place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; and Bodemeister, second in 2012.)
- THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)