by Jon White
November 22, 2018
My horse racing fantasy league held its annual draft this past Monday. Daily Racing Form handicapper Michael Hammersly started this league in 1986. I joined it in 1990 when I also was working for the Racing Form. I have been the league’s commissioner since 2000.
This fantasy league consists of nine members. Each member drafts eight horses. Our league begins each year on Thanksgiving and continues through the final Breeders’ Cup race the following year. Only races in the United States, Canada and on the Dubai World Cup card count. This is how the scoring system works:
--A Grade I race is worth 12, 6 and 4 points for first, second and third.
--A Grade II race is worth 8, 4 and 2 for first, second and third.
--A Grade III race is worth 6, 3 and 1 for first, second and third.
--An ungraded stakes race is worth 4 for first.
--All other races are worth 2 for first.
--All Canadian races are downgraded one level, except the Woodbine Mile, Northern Dancer Turf, Canadian International and E.P. Taylor.
--The most valuable bonus races are the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (36, 18, 12). The other bonus races (24, 12, 8) are the Apple Blossom, Kentucky Oaks, Met Mile, Beverly D., Arlington Million and all of the other Breeders’ Cup races.
Each league member can make two claims per month along with two “super claims.” When someone makes a claim, they must drop one horse from their stable.
One “super claim,” which is simply an additional claim to the two each month, can be used through the day of the Belmont Stakes. The other “super claim” can be used anytime following the day of the Belmont Stakes.
DRF handicapper Byron King won the 2018 title in our league. He became the first person to win the title five times. King in 2018 won the title for the third consecutive year. King in 2019 will try to become the first person to win the title in four straight years. Fellow DRF handicapper Brad Free is the only other one to have achieved a three-peat in our league.
As for the draft held this past Monday, Chad Brown led all trainers with 12 horses conditioned by him among the 72 drafted. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert was next best with 11.
Though Brown had the most horses taken in the draft for 2019, all 11 of Baffert’s horses were taken somewhere from No. 1 to No. 38, whereas only three of Brown’s 12 horses were taken earlier than No. 38.
Baffert led all trainers for the 2018 draft when 11 horses conditioned by him were drafted. Chad Brown was next best with nine.
Brown led all trainers for the 2017 draft when 11 of his horses were drafted. Baffert was next best with eight.
Brown also led all trainers for the 2016 draft when nine of his horses were taken. Todd Pletcher was next best with seven, followed by Baffert with five.
The leading sire for the draft this past Monday was More Than Ready with four horses. In alphabetical order, they were Catholic Boy, Roy H, Rushing Fall and Uni.
Medaglia d’Oro (five horses) was the leading sire for the 2018 draft. Tapit (six horses) was the leading sire for the 2017 draft. Bernardini (six horses) was the leading sire for the 2016 draft.
The order for the draft held this past Monday was determined by the reverse order of this year’s final standings.
Here, in order, are the 72 Thoroughbreds who were drafted Monday (my selections are capitalized):
1. Game Winner. This year’s undefeated Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner at Churchill Downs was the No. 1 pick in the draft. The previous No. 1 picks in the draft since I became commissioner have been General Challenge for 2000, Tiznow for 2001, Monarchos for 2002, Vindication for 2003, Halfbrided for 2004, Ghostzapper for 2005, Stevie Wonderboy for 2006, Discreet Cat for 2007, Curlin for 2008, Zenyatta for 2009, Lookin at Lucky for 2010, Blind Luck for 2011, Havre de Grace for 2012, Wise Dan for 2013, Honor Code for 2014, California Chrome for 2015, Songbird for 2016, Arrogate for 2017 and Good Magic for 2018.
2. MONOMOY GIRL. She won the Grade I BC Distaff at Churchill in her first start against older rivals. Her first goal in 2019 is the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. The Apple Blossom is the first bonus race in our league, worth double Grade I points. I expected Game Winner probably would be taken at No. 1, which is what happened. I considered taking Improbable or Coliseum at No. 2. But my battle plan was to take Monomoy Girl instead of a Kentucky Derby prospect at No. 2 because I felt that there probably would be a good Kentucky Derby prospect available when I made my second pick at No. 17. The Kentucky Derby and the BC Classic are the only two triple-bonus races in our league, each worth triple Grade I points.
3. City of Light. Winner of the Grade I BC Dirt Mile, he is scheduled to run in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26 in his final career start before beginning his stud career.
4. Improbable. I think so much of this 2-year-old colt that I seriously considered taking him at No. 2. After Improbable won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by a neck at Santa Anita on Sept. 29 in his career debut, he took Churchill’s Street Sense Stakes by 7 1/4 lengths at one mile on Nov. 2 for Baffert. Improbable will make his next start in the Grade I Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 8, according to Baffert.
5. Coliseum. As with Improbable, I think so much of this 2-year-old colt that I thought seriously of taking him at No. 2. Coliseum won a seven-furlong maiden special weight race in dominant fashion by 6 3/4 lengths when unveiled at Del Mar last Saturday for Baffert.
6. Jaywalk. She won the Grade I Frizette Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park on Oct. 7, followed by an equally emphatic 5 1/2-length victory in the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies at Churchill on Nov. 2. Jaywalk is the early favorite at this point for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks next spring, a bonus race in our league.
7. Analyze It. He held his own against older foes when finishing third (behind Expert Eye and Catapult) in the Grade I BC Mile at Churchill. This was the first horse taken in the draft trained by Brown.
8. Code of Honor. He’s headed for Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen Stakes on Dec. 1 after missing the Grade I BC Juvenile when he spiked a temperature the morning of the race. Code of Honor rallied to finish second in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 6 after a terrible start. In his only other start, he won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by 1 1/2 lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 18.
9. Seeking the Soul. The final selection in the first round, he ran second in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile at Churchill. Seeking the Soul is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Friday’s Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill, a race he won in 2017.
10. Restless Rider. Winner of the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland on Oct. 5, she finished second in the BC Juvenile Fillies at Churchill. She is entered in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill this Saturday. (Monomoy Girl was the No. 10 pick in the draft for 2018.)
11. Battle of Midway. He won the Grade I BC Dirt Mile at Del Mar in 2017. Most recently, Battle of Midway won this year’s Comma to the Top Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita on Oct. 28. He is scheduled to run in Del Mar’s Grade III Native Diver Stakes this Sunday.
12. Midnight Bisou. She ran third (behind Monomoy Girl and Wow Cat) in the Grade I BC Distaff at Churchill in her first start vs. older rivals. She has never finished worse than third in 11 lifetime starts.
13. Maximus Mischief. I was hoping maybe he would still be available for me at No. 17. Nope. Maximus Mischief, undefeated in two starts, is scheduled to run in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct on Dec. 1. With a pair of Parx victories by 8 3/4 and six lengths to his credit, some are wondering if Maximus Mischief is another Smarty Jones.
14. Audible. He won the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park before finishing a respectable third in the Grade I Kentucky Derby. Justify won the Run for the Roses while on his way to a Triple Crown sweep. Audible was sidelined after the Kentucky Derby, then returned to win Churchill’s Cherokee Run Stakes by two lengths on Nov. 3. He is scheduled to run in Gulfstream’s Grade III Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on Dec. 15.
15. Nero. A talented albeit quirky individual, he won an allowance/optional claiming sprint by 1 1/2 lengths without being under a drive at Del Mar last Sunday. The Baffert trainee is a candidate for Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.
16. Newspaperofrecord. I was surprised this supremely talented 2-year-old filly had slipped this far to be drafted at No. 16. If she had slipped just a little bit more, I would have gone ahead and taken her at No. 17. Undefeated and untested in three starts, Newspaperofrecord won the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill by 6 3/4 lengths in a stellar performance. As I wrote in my BC recap, Newspaperofrecord appears to me to be a 2018 version on the grass of Landaluce in 1982 on the dirt.
17. INSTAGRAND. How good is he? I certainly hope he will be one of the leading 3-year-old males in 2019. It looked like the sky was the limit when he made two starts during the summer. Instagrand won a five-furlong maiden special weight race by 10 lengths at Los Alamitos on June 29 in his debut, then won Del Mar’s Grade II Best Pal Stakes by 10 1/4 lengths at six furlongs on Aug. 11. The decision then was made that he would not race again in 2018. He returned to Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn at Santa Anita this week. Instagrand sold for $1.2 million at public auction last March. Who knows? Maybe Hollendorfer finally can get his first Kentucky Derby victory with this colt.
18. Vasilika. Talk about a win machine. She is, without question, the best claim of 2018 in the nation. After being claimed for $40,000 at Santa Anita on Feb. 11, Vasilika finished second on March 4. She then rattled off eight straight victories for Hollendorfer. Vasilika is expected to run in Del Mar’s Grade I Matriarch Stakes on Dec. 2.
19. Bravazo. He finished third (behind City of Light and Seeking the Soul) in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile at Churchill. Bravazo is entered in this Friday’s Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill.
20. CATALINA CRUISER. I am hoping that this big 4-year-old colt can rebound next year from his BC Dirt debacle when he finished sixth as the 4-5 favorite. Prior to that, he had won all four of his career starts by margins of 2 1/4, 2 1/4, 5 3/4 and 7 1/4 lengths. Looking way down the road, I could see him winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar next summer. The Pacific Classic is one of our bonus races. And Catalina Cruiser would not have to leave California for next year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be held at Santa Anita. I did consider taking Mucho Gusto or McKinzie with this pick, but chose to go with Catalina Cruiser. It was a difficult decision.
21. Magic On Tap. He has not started since he won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race by 2 1/2 lengths at Del Mar on Sept. 1. Baffert trains him.
22. Mucho Gusto. A four-length winner of a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Los Alamitos on Sept. 20 in his debut, he missed Santa Anita’s Grade I American Pharoah Stakes on Sept. 29 because he got sick, according to Baffert. Mucho Gusto won Del Mar’s Grade III Bob Hope Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths at seven furlongs last Saturday. Next for him, Baffert said, is the Grade I Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 8.
23. Chasing Yesterday. This half-sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won Santa Anita’s Anoakia Stakes on Oct. 14 and Del Mar’s Desi Arnaz Stakes on Nov. 12. Baffert trained American Pharoah. Baffert also conditions this Tapit filly. Chasing Yesterday is scheduled to run in the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 8.
24. Vibrance. She finished third (behind Jaywalk and Restless Rider) in the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies at Churchill. Vibrance is a candidate for the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 8.
25. Roy H. He won the Grade I BC Sprint at Del Mar in 2017 and Grade I BC Sprint at Churchill in 2018. Will he win a third straight Grade I BC Sprint in 2019 at Santa Anita?
26. Catholic Boy. He demonstrated the class and versatility to become a Grade I winner this year on both turf and dirt. Catholic Boy won the Grade I Belmont Derby on the grass and Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga on the dirt before finishing 13th at 5-1 in the BC Classic on the dirt at Churchill.