California Chrome: Your 2014 Kentucky Derby Winner

May 5, 2014

Dylan and California Chrome

After an exciting and eventful Derby weekend that did not disappoint, there is a lot to discuss so let’s get right to it.

One of the things I love about this game is that I am always learning and trying to improve. I always try to use both wins and losses to learn from. What did I miss? What could I have done differently? How could I have capitalized even more on being right? This is essential in horse racing if you wish to be the best you can be and beat the game. Remember there is only one benchmark.

Immediately after California Chrome waltzed across the wire at Churchill Downs on Saturday I asked myself ok what did you miss here causing you to be so wrong? After all it is well chronicled I thought Chrome would regress or bounce in the Derby. Why after riding a three Derby win streak could I not zero in on anybody this year? Anyone who knows or follows me knows I am not afraid to admit when wrong with as much candor as I use when right. I immediately tweeted this was not the first horse that has humbled me. Not so fast, no pun intended.

One of the things I do differently than most handicappers is not drawing conclusions immediately following what appears to be a huge race. I am slow to declare a horse a “freak” which is a term used way too frequently for my liking. I like to go back and study the race and all that transpired surrounding it. With that let’s look at the Derby and California Chrome’s Run for the Roses.

I thought the track was honest on Derby day. The times were fast but you could come from off the pace or win on the lead. Throughout the day the times remained fast and the track played a bit speedy but honest. California Chrome had run fast before and if you liked him Saturday there was nothing track wise indicating he would not run fast again. He didn’t.

While I do think I underestimated California Chrome, I do not at this juncture think I was entirely wrong. He did bounce somewhat, he just won anyway. His prior four Thorograph numbers were 1’2, 0’2,1,1 and while I haven’t seen the Derby number yet, if it isn’t inflated I bet it is higher. I’d bet the Rags number is up as well. In identifying where I was wrong I think I expected someone to jump up and emerge and nobody has yet leaving California Chrome the best of the current lot.

I take nothing away from the Kentucky Derby winner and his connections and applaud and congratulate their great win. I’m happy for the Shermans, all of them, as they are great horse people and seem so deserving. I love the small guy winning on the biggest stage after turning down a hefty offer for 51% of their horse. The race was slow however, the number regressed, and the race probably constitutes a rare instance where a horse bounces and wins. This doesn’t seem to be the fastest and most consistent crop of three year olds and California Chrome seems at this point the best of them.

I saw a lot on social media stating the time doesn’t matter, it was windy and the track changed between the last dirt race and the Derby. To quote Joe Isuzu for those who remember him to that I say “Okaaay”

The track produced fast times all day. To think “they” slowed it down for the Kentucky Derby, well “Okaaay”. If anything the track is quickened or tightened for the Derby. To further demonstrate how baseless that is, the race after the Derby was run in 9 and change and the last race that day, a maiden event was run with similar fractions to the Derby. It wasn’t the track.

So much of our game is subjective, time and some figures are not. They are fact based not opinion and should be given their due. End all be all no but their just due. It was factually a slow Derby with no excuse. That takes nothing away from the winner who deserves his roses and all that go with them.

What as a handicapper you have to ask yourself now is the regression Chrome showed a sign of tailing off or was it the other factors associated with that grueling race at Churchill Downs. We’ll find out soon enough. His trainer has already said he would not work prior to the Preakness and that running back in two weeks was not his preference. I would not fault him or be shocked if he skipped that dance if the horse doesn’t bounce back quickly, again no pun intended.

That brings us to the next topic of the weekend. I have never understood all the critique of Zenyatta’s campaign or that of Wise Dan. Exactly when did it become a negative to campaign your horse smartly where they have the best chance of winning, as opposed to satisfying hoards of people on social media telling you how to run your stable? A smart and clever campaign used to be a credit to a crafty trainer. It still should be. What can you say about Wise Dan? What an animal who in part as a result of his horrible campaigning dodging every race the social media masses want him to run in has managed back to back Horse of the Year titles and to not have lost a step at 7 years of age. Is there even a Breeders’ Cup race on any surface at any distance Wise Dan would not at the least be a contender in? There are not a lot of horses you can say that about. On Saturday despite a not so hall of fame ride by John Velasquez we saw the true will to win in a racehorse and the definition of class as it applies to horses on display. The horse that finished second Seek Again is no slouch either and he went to his knees at the start. I thought that was the best race of the weekend.

Getting back to the Derby and some of the aftermath, Danza showed he is a nice horse with a future. He had a pretty rough trip not the least of which involved getting slammed into the rail during the run to the first turn. Medal Count was moving nicely in the lane when shut off. Candy Boy had trouble in the first turn which his rider Gary Stevens was not shy about following the race. Those paying attention to odds noted at the last second Candy Boy went from 16-1 down to 9-1 prompting California Chrome to go from 2-1 to 5-2. That is significant movement given the pool size in the Derby. It was later reported someone made a one million dollar bet on Candy Boy in Las Vegas as they entered the gate. It surely didn’t look like he could have won but seeing your horse check hard into the first turn with a bet like that must have hurt.

There was a lot of criticism of the bet on both Twitter and Facebook. None by me and the criticism is evidence of how few people understand that benchmark we talk about and strive for. Do you beat the game or are you an also ran. Let’s just say this person makes that bet the four or five times a year the pools permit it without creating havoc or betting against yourself, then you tell me how many times they have to be right? At 9-1 do the math. I’ll go one out of five all day long, two and what a year. Horrible bet, “Okaaay”.

Untapable looked like a standout in the Oaks and ran like one. She was awesome and just too fast for the competition.

Midnight Lucky came back just as fast and classy as she had left.

High 5

Well it’s Derby week so the high fives are a little more rampant than usual. The first goes to the Derby winner and his connections, Congratulations on a great win and campaign to the Run for the Roses. Sheldon Russell an excellent rider who is still, but not for long, under the radar gets one for moving his tack to Arlington Park and winning his first race there on Forest King. He had to use some expert horsemanship to get this done and if you want to see some riding watch the replay. The last one goes to C A Avila for what may be the biggest score of the weekend. Just check out the third race at Churchill Downs on Saturday and tell me why they brought that Cal bred Masochistic there and how much they bet. Salut’. Thank you kindly for telegraphing it to those who pay attention.

Low 5

No question about this one. It’s the Daily Racing Form. Formulator did not work properly Derby weekend and the print function was totally useless. Updates were sketchy and misleading and there was obviously no anticipation or preparation for an increase in activity. They seem more concerned with charging for articles and DRF Bets pop ups. They hold Formulator out as the best tool in the game but if it doesn’t work when you need it to and your customer service is non-existent what good is it? Brisnet worked fine as did Timeform US.

Horse to Watch

Seek Again, went to his knees at the start off a six month layoff against the best in the game. This is a serious racehorse.


@jonathanstettin who's the man? @jonathanstettin is THE man!!!!

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