Kentucky Derby points will be up for grabs this Saturday in both Florida and California when the Holy Bull Stakes is presented at Gulfstream Park and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes is run at Santa Anita Park.
The Holy Bull is a Grade III race at 1 1/16 miles, as is the Lewis. Nine are entered in the Holy Bull. The Lewis has drawn a field of eight.
My Holy Bull selections are below:
- Greatest Honour
- Prime Factor
Greatest Honour, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, lost his first three career starts before winning a Dec. 26 maiden race by 1 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream. The colt is a Kentucky-bred son of Tapit and Tiffany’s Honour.
Tiffany’s Honour, a daughter of Street Cry (sire of the great Zenyatta), is a half-sister to a pair of winners of the Grade I Belmont Stakes in Jazil and Rags to Riches. One can only hope that Rags to Riches, who was voted a 2007 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly, takes her rightful place in the Hall of Fame this year. Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Rags to Riches, is a cinch to go into the Hall of Fame this year in his first year of eligibility.
Speaking of Pletcher, he trains Prime Factor, who turned a six-furlong maiden contest into no contest with his 8 3/4-length triumph when unveiled Dec. 12 at Gulfstream. The Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt is being asked to race around two turns for the first time this Saturday.
Pletcher also has Amount entered in the Holy Bull. The Kentucky-bred Curlin colt won a maiden race by 5 3/4 lengths at first asking Dec. 26 at Gulfstream.
Papetu is coming off a second in Gulfstream’s Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 2 for trainer Antonio Sano. The Mucho Macho Man winner, Mutasaabeq, was supposed to have run in the Holy Bull, but he must miss the race after he emerged from his sharp four-furlong workout in :47.37 last Saturday at Palm Beach Downs with what Pletcher has characterized as a setback.
My Lewis selections are below:
- Medina Spirit
- Hot Rod Charlie
- Roman Centurian
Medina Spirit’s 99 is the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure by far of the Lewis entrants. The Florida-bred Protonico colt recorded that figure when he finished second, three-quarters of a length behind Life Is Good, in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 2. In his only previous start, Medina Spirit won a Dec. 11 maiden race by three lengths at Los Alamitos when receiving a 76 Beyer.
I like Hot Rod Charlie’s improved form since blinkers were added to his equipment. In his first three starts, all losses, Hot Rod Charlie’s Beyer Speed Figures were 51, 56 and 57. With blinkers, Hot Rod Charlie won an Oct. 2 maiden race at Santa Anita and recorded a 78 Beyer, then ran second at odds of 94-1 in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 6. His BC Juvenile figure was a 94.
Doug O’Neill trains Hot Rod Charlie, a Kentucky-bred son of 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow. O’Neill has won the Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016.
O’Neill also is represented in the Lewis by Wipe the Slate. In his career debut, the Kentucky-bred Nyquist colt finished a distant second to Life Is Good in a Nov. 22 maiden race at Del Mar. Wipe the Slate then won a maiden race by 3 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.
When Life Is Good and Wipe the Slate ran one-two on Nov. 22, Roman Centurian finished fourth. Roman Centurian then improved dramatically to win a Jan. 3 maiden race at 1 1/16 miles by 3 3/4 lengths at Santa Anita for trainer Simon Callaghan. As good as Roman Centurian looked in his maiden victory, he could make a lot of noise in the Lewis.
Spielberg, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, is coming off a nose victory in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity. That performance subsequently was flattered when the runner-up, The Great One, won a maiden race by 14 lengths at Santa Anita last Saturday.
CADDO RIVER MAKES A SPLASH ON DERBY TOP 10
Caddo River debuts on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week all the way up at No. 3 following his dominant victory last Friday in which he won Oaklawn Park’s one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes by 10 1/4 lengths as the 3-5 favorite.
Trained by Brad Cox, Caddo River recorded a 77 Beyer when second at first asking in a maiden sprint last Sept. 5 at Saratoga. That was followed by an 87 Beyer when the runner-up at Belmont Park on Oct. 11 in another maiden sprint.
In Caddo River’s final 2020 start, he posted an 83 Beyer when he won a one-mile maiden race Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs by 9 1/2 lengths. He was credited with a 92 Beyer for his Smarty Jones tour de force.
According to Cox, Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 13 is likely to be Caddo River’s next start, followed by Oaklawn’s Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 10, then the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1.
Caddo River races for John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable. When racing as Loblolly Stable, Anthony won the Arkansas Derby in 1980 with Temperence Hill and in 1992 with Pine Bluff.
Hard Spun, runner-up to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, is Caddo River’s sire.
Lecomte winner Midnight Bourbon exits my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week to make room for Caddo River.
This is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
- Essential Quality
- Life Is Good
- Caddo River
- Concert Tour
- Prime Factor
- Hot Rod Charlie
- Medina Spirit
- Senor Buscador
- Jackie’s Warrior
AN EARLY 2021 THOROUGHBRED TOP 10
The first polls of 2021 conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) are not far away. A final determination has not been made yet, but the first NTRA polls of 2021 likely will be on Feb. 17, according to Alicia Hughes, director of NTRA communications.
The NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll will end on the Monday following the Breeders’ Cup. That means this year the final poll will be on Nov. 7 following the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6.
The NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll will end on the Monday following the Grade I Belmont Stakes. That means this year the final poll is scheduled for June 7 following the June 5 Belmont Stakes.
These rankings are indicative of who might be crowned a divisional champion and, moreover, Horse of the Year. The rankings are based on votes cast by members of the media who regularly cover Thoroughbred racing. The voters select their Top 10 choices on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points basis.
Horses are to have raced at least once in North America. A horse who may have retired during the current calendar year remains eligible. Additionally, a horse can receive a vote even though the horse has not made a start in the new calendar year so long as the said horse is scheduled to race in the new calendar year.
As a longtime voter in the NTRA polls, I went ahead and decided how I would have voted in the Top Thoroughbred Poll if there had been one this week. Here is my Top 10:
- Knicks Go
- Monomoy Girl
- Swiss Skydiver
- Essential Quality
- Channel Maker
- Colonel Liam
- Jesus’ Team
Below was the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for 2020:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
- 355 Authentic (34)
- 311 Improbable (2)
- 309 Monomoy Girl (1)
- 132 Vekoma
- 111 Swiss Yodeler
- 107 Tiz the Law
- 104 Gamine
- 100 Rushing Fall
- 97 Whitmore
- 82 Maximum Security
Also receiving votes: Knicks Go (76 points), Global Campaign (59), Tom’s d’Etat (41), Midnight Bisou (31), Channel Maker (22), By My Standards (20), Essential Quality (10), Code of Honor (9), Serengeti Empress (9), Tacitus (8), Glass Slippers (7), Happy Saver (6), Vequist (5), Volatile (5), Tarnawa (5), Uni (3), United (2), Nashville (2), C Z Rocket (2), Mo Forza (2), Mystic Guide (1), Starship Jubilee (1), Golden Pal (1).
FAVORED KNICKS GO WINS PEGASUS WORLD CUP
Seizing the lead at once, 6-5 favorite Knicks Go essentially told his 11 foes in last Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park to “catch me if you can.”
They could not.
When Knicks Go reached the eighth pole with a three-length advantage, it was evident that his gas tank was nowhere close to empty. Maintaining a clear lead throughout the final furlong, he prevailed by 2 3/4 lengths while being asked to race farther than he ever had before. Jesus’ Team came in second at odds of 11-1. Independence Hall, off at odds of 27-1, finished third, a neck behind Jesus’ Team.
Code of Honor, the 4-1 second choice in the wagering, raced ninth early, never threatened and ended up fifth. Tax, at 5-1 the only starter under 10-1 besides the winner and Code of Honor, raced in contention through the early furlongs to the stretch, faltered and finished 10th.
When trained by Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go won two of his first 14 starts. At 2 in 2018, the Maryland-bred son of Paynter was good enough to win the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and finish second to Game Winner in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
In Knicks Go’s final start at 3, the gray/roan son of Paynter finished next-to-last among 11 participants in the Grade III Commonwealth Turf at Churchill on Nov. 9, 2019. Brad Cox subsequently took over the training duties.
For Cox, Knicks Go has been unbeatable so far, winning four races by 7 1/2, 10 1/4, 3 1/2 and 2 3/4 lengths. He’s now been victorious in back-to-back Grade I events, the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and 2021 Pegasus World Cup.
When conditioned by Colebrook, Knicks Go had a top Beyer Speed Figure of 93. For Cox, Knicks Go has reeled off Beyers of 100, 107, 108, then another 108 for his performance last Saturday.
At the end of the first quarter of this year’s Pegasus, Knicks Go led by just a half-length over Last Judgment. At the end of the first half, Knicks Go’s lead was 1 1/2 lengths.
In four of the past five editions of the Pegasus, the winner had the lead with three furlongs left to run, then remained in front the rest of the way.
Knicks Go sported a 1 1/2-length lead with three furlongs left to run. He remained in front the rest of the way.
NBC’s Randy Moss, a keen student of pace, admitted that when he saw the early fractions, he thought Knicks Go might be going too fast too early.
“This was not a perfect trip by any stretch of the imagination for Knicks Go when Last Judgment went out there and ran with him like that in the early part of the race,” Moss said. “You just look at the fractional times. The first quarter in :22.90, the half :46.16, 1:09.91 for three quarters of a mile. Going a mile and an eighth at Gulfstream Park, when you look at the history of those races, that is scorching.”
In fact, Knicks Go actually ran the fastest opening quarter by quite a bit in the brief history of the Pegasus. Prior to Knicks Go’s :22.90, the quickest initial quarter clocking was Collected’s :23.41 in 2018. Collected went on to finish seventh, 16 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Gun Runner.
Knicks Go not only has led past every pole in each of his last four starts, he has done so in all six of his career victories. No doubt many therefore will jump to the conclusion that he would be vulnerable if he ever does not get the early lead. Maybe. Or maybe not.
I think there is a chance that Knicks Go does not need the early lead in order to win. I say that because he has not been the least bit rank or headstrong when setting the pace. It appears to me that he might well be able to sit off the pace and still win. Of course, one never knows until they actually do it.
Going into Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes, many questioned whether Charlatan could win if he did not get the early lead. I thought there was a good chance that he would be able to win from off the pace because, again, he was not the sort who had been rank early in his races.
In the Malibu, Charlatan did not get the early lead for the first time in his career. Nashville dashed immediately to the front and set the early pace. Charlatan was content to cruise along in the early stages while sitting one to 1 1/2 lengths off Nashville.
Charlatan ranged up to reach even terms with Nashville turning into the stretch. And then Charlatan burst away from Nashville in upper stretch to open a four-length lead at the eighth pole while on his way to a 4 1/2-length victory to prove he could win from off the pace. Nashville finished fourth, 8 1/4 lengths behind Charlatan.
Somewhere down the line, I will not be surprise if Knicks Go likewise shows that he can win from off the pace.
Charlatan and Knicks Go might clash in the $20 million Saudi Cup at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) on Feb. 20. It’s the world’s richest horse race. Charlatan, who worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 on Wednesday at Santa Anita, is scheduled to make his next start in the Saudi Cup. The opulent event also is under consideration for Knicks Go, according to Cox.
As for Jesus’ Team, he once again hit the board at a nice price in the betting last Saturday. Sent away at 12-1, he came home well enough to defeat everyone but Knicks Go. Jesus’ Team finished third at 40-1 in last year’s Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and second at an even bigger 62-1 in the BC Dirt Mile.
The $1 Knicks Go-Jesus’ Team exacta in the BC Dirt Mile paid $109.80. The $1 exacta combining the same two horses in the same order last Saturday returned $21.50.
LIFE IS GOOD FAVORED IN CHURCHILL’S FUTURE WAGER
Undefeated Life Is Good was backed down to 7-1 favoritism among the 23 individual horses in Churchill Downs’ KDFW Pool 2 that closed last Sunday. Essential Quality, also yet to taste defeat, was a close second choice at 8-1.
The actual 9-5 favorite in Pool 2 was the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option.
Life Is Good is two for two after winning Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 2 for Baffert. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt recorded a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. Life Is Good is expected to make his next start in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 6.
Essential Quality is three for three after winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 6 for Cox. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt also won Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity on Oct. 3. According to Cox, Essential Quality will make his 2021 debut in Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 15, Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh reported Tuesday.
Below are the final odds for Pool 2 of the 2021 KDFW:
9-5 “All Other 3-Year-Old Males”
7-1 Life Is Good
8-1 Essential Quality
13-1 Caddo River
16-1 Concert Tour
21-1 Prime Factor
23-1 Jackie’s Warrior
24-1 Highly Motivated
24-1 Medina Spirit
26-1 Midnight Bourbon
34-1 Senor Buscador
40-1 Greatest Honour
40-1 Hot Rod Charlie
45-1 Fire At Will
66-1 Capo Kane
87-1 Wipe the Slate
POPULAR TALK SHOW HOST LARRY KING DIES
Radio, television and internet talk show host Larry King died last Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87.
In a statement, the production company Orca Media said King had been hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.
“In a career that spanned half a century, King became one of the most famous talk show hosts and opinion shapers in the world with his breezy, rarely confrontational style of banter, leading his guests this way and that, where his curiosity took him,” said King’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times.
“King ended his long-running CNN program in 2010 but returned to television again and again as a moderator and, occasionally, pitchman. During his 25 years presiding over ‘Larry King Live,’ the first international live phone-in TV talk show, King was variously dubbed in the press ‘America’s yak-master,’ the ‘pope of talk’ and the ‘top banana of talk-show hosts.’ ”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., King was a huge Dodgers fan. For a time he worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He often could be spotted on television sitting behind home plate at Dodger Stadium.
King also was a horse racing fan.
In his autobiography, “My Remarkable Journey,” King wrote about a trip to Calder Race Course in 1971 at the age of 37. At the time, King was out of a job and a couple of thousand dollars in debt.
A filly named Lady Forli caught King’s attention. Lady Forli was running against males. She was 70-1. King figured that because Lady Forli had won in more or less the same company three races back, she should have been more like 20-1.
King wrote: “When the race began, I had two dollars left to my name — and that was for the valet.”
Yes, Lady Forli won. King not only bet $10 to win on her, he hit the exacta and trifecta.
“I collected nearly eight thousand dollars. Eight thousand dollars! It had to be one of the happiest moments of my life — certainly the most exciting,” King wrote.
A few years later, King worked in public relations for a time at Louisiana Downs.
In 1978, King’s broadcasting career took off when the “Larry King Show” was launched on radio stations from coast to coast by the Mutual Broadcasting System. That radio program debuted on 28 stations. By the early 1980s, the show was being carried on nearly 250 Mutual affiliates in all 50 states.
I remember listening to King’s radio show one evening in the 1970s when the subject was horse racing and the guests were a couple of handicappers, Andy Beyer and Clem Florio. Back then, I was working for the Daily Racing Form at tracks in the Pacific Northwest. I later would get know both Beyer and Florio.
King’s radio show led to CNN’s popular “Larry King Live,” which began in 1985 and ended on Dec. 16, 2010. “Larry King Live” became CNN’s longest-running program.
One day in the 1980s, I met King in the Santa Anita press box. We had a nice chat. I told him that I had listened to and enjoyed his radio program, especially whenever Beyer and Florio were the guests. I also mentioned that I too had worked at Louisiana Downs in 1970s.
Rest in peace, Larry King.
ECLIPSE AWARD PREDICTIONS
The Eclipse Awards were established 50 years ago to recognize excellence in Thoroughbred racing. The 2020 finalists were revealed earlier this month. The winners will be announced Thursday on TVG, Racetrack Television Network and various streaming outlets.
The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for Xpressbet.com was for racing that was conducted in 2011. Now including 2019, my Eclipse Award predictions have proven to be correct 92.2% of the time:
2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
2016: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2017: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2018: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2019: 15 correct, 2 wrong
Total: 141 correct, 12 wrong
Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.
And now here are my predictions for the 2020 Eclipse Awards:
Finalists (alphabetically): Essential Quality, Fire At Will, Jackie’s Warrior
Predicted Winner: Essential Quality
Finalists: Aunt Pearl, Dayoutoftheoffice, Vequist
Predicted Winner: Vequist
Finalists: Authentic, Nadal, Tiz the Law
Predicted Winner: Authentic
Finalists: Gamine, Shedaresthedevil, Swiss Skydiver
Predicted Winner: Swiss Skydiver
OLDER DIRT MALE
Finalists: Improbable, Maximum Security, Vekoma
Predicted Winner: Improbable
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
Finalists: Midnight Bisou, Monomoy Girl, Serengeti Empress
Predicted Winner: Monomoy Girl
Finalists: Vekoma, Volatile, Whitmore
Predicted Winner: Whitmore
Finalists: Gamine, Glass Slippers, Serengeti Empress
Predicted Winner: Gamine
Finalists: Channel Maker, Order of Australia, Zulu Alpha
Predicted Winner: Channel Maker
Finalists: Audarya, Rushing Fall, Tarnawa
Predicted Winner: Rushing Fall
Finalists: Moscato, Rashaan, Snap Decision
Predicted Winner: Moscato
Finalists: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Brad Cox
Predicted Winner: Brad Cox
Finalists: Irad Ortiz Jr., Joel Rosario, John Velazquez
Predicted Winner: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Finalists: Luis Cardenas, Yarmarie Correa, Alexander Crispin
Predicted Winner: Luis Cardenas
Finalists: Godolphin Racing; Klaravich Stables; Spendthrift Farm, MyRacehorse Stable, Madaket Stables and Starlight Racing
Predicted Winner: Spendthrift Farm, MyRacehorse Stable, Madaket Stables and Starlight Racing
Finalists: Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds, Calumet Farm, WinStar Farm
Predicted Winner: WinStar Farm
HORSE OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Authentic, Improbable, Monomoy Girl
Predicted Winner: Authentic