by Jon White
April 10, 2019
Bob Baffert now can breathe easy regarding Roadster’s Kentucky Derby status after the colt’s victory in last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.
It’s also a good thing for Baffert that, while he now can breathe easy, throat surgery was not required for him to do so, as was the case with Roadster.
Prior to Roadster’s first appearance under silks last summer at Del Mar, he was being touted as a special colt. Hammered down to 4-5 favoritism at first asking on July 29, he raced third early and drew away in the stretch to win a six-furlong maiden special weight race by 4 1/4 lengths.
Because of all the hype and his impressive debut, Roadster was sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3. But he lost that seven-furlong race by two lengths, finishing third behind 8-5 Game Winner and 7-1 Rowayton.
Game Winner became Baffert’s 14th Del Mar Futurity winner. No other trainer has dominated any of this country’s current Grade I races to such an extent.
After the Del Mar Futurity, Game Winner won the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
As for Roadster, he was found to have had a throat obstruction when he ran in the Del Mar Futurity. Consequently, he underwent throat surgery.
On March 1 at Santa Anita, Roadster returned to the races. He won a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race by 2 1/2 lengths at odds of 4-5. The runner-up in the field of five was 3-5 favorite Nolo Contesto.
Roadster then turned the tables on Game Winner when they had their rematch in the Santa Anita Derby. Yes, Game Winner now has lost both of his starts this year. Nevertheless, he remains a serious win candidate for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.
In Game Winner’s first 2019 start, he lost a division of Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes by the slimmest of margins to Omaha Beach on March 16. That certainly was a fine effort by Game Winner in defeat from the standpoint that he had not raced since the Nov. 2 BC Juvenile.
Game Winner subsequently lost the Santa Anita Derby by a half-length, but a case can be made he might well have won if not for a wide trip. Indeed, according to Trakus info, he traveled 38 feet, or approximately four lengths, farther than Roadster.
Baffert now has won the Santa Anita Derby nine times. But keep in mind that two of his five Kentucky Derby winners – Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998 -- ran second in the Santa Anita Derby, like Game Winner.
Actually, only one of Baffert’s nine Santa Anita Derby winners has gone on to capture the Kentucky Derby. That was Justify last year.
These are Baffert’s nine Santa Anita Derby winners, with their Beyer Speed figure in parentheses:
2019 Roadster (98)
2018 Justify (107)
2015 Dortmund (106)
2011 Midnight Interlude (97)
2009 Pioneerof the Nile (97)
2001 Point Given (110)
1999 General Challenge (108)
1998 Indian Charlie (111)
1996 Cavonnier (104)
Roadster had zero Kentucky Derby points going into last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. Fortunately for him, the Santa Anita Derby essentially is a “win and you’re in” race for the Kentucky Derby due to the fact that the Santa Anita Derby winner earns 100 Kentucky Derby points.
Justify was in the same boat last year. He likewise had zero Kentucky Derby points going into the Santa Anita Derby. When Justify won the Santa Anita Derby by three lengths, he punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby. Justify then became Hall of Famer Baffert’s second Triple Crown winner, along with American Pharoah in 2015.
On the backstretch during last Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, Roadster dropped back. It looked like maybe he was not going to fire. But it turned out that his Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, simply was in no hurry.
When Smith decided the time had come to ask Roadster to make his move, the Quality Road colt readily did so. Roadster produced a sustained rally in the final quarter to prevail by a half-length in 1:51.28 on a racing surface not producing anything close to fast times during the entire afternoon.
Justify’s final time in last year’s Santa Anita Derby was 1:49.72. As I wrote last year, that clocking would have been faster if not for what Baffert and others described as a very deep and tiring surface, a view supported by Justify being assigned a 107 Beyer, a figure positively impacted by the slower-than-usual surface as quantified by the track variant.
While the track for the 2018 Santa Anita Derby was considered by many to be very deep and tiring, it seems the surface for this year’s renewal was even slower. Roadster was credited with a 98 Beyer for his Santa Anita Derby performance. Some feel a 98 is too high vis-a-vis the 1:51.28 final time.
Vekoma won Keeneland’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday for trainer George Weaver. Vekoma was assigned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure, even though his 1:50.93 Blue Grass clocking was faster than Roadster’s 1:51.28.
Andrew Beyer, the father of Beyer Speed Figures, explained in the Daily Racing Form why Roadster’s Santa Anita Derby 98 figure is higher than Vekoma’s 94 Blue Grass figure despite Vekoma having a faster final time.
“Different tracks may have very different racing surfaces,” Beyer wrote. “And the inherent speed of a racing surface can change from day to day. That is why the most important part of making speed figures is to determine the speed of the track.
“The racing surface for the Santa Anita was slower than the Keeneland track was for the Blue Grass. That’s the simple reason that Roadster earned a higher figure for running 1:51.28 than Vekoma did for running 1:50.93.”
MY KENTUCKY DERBY RANKINGS
Roadster moves up to No. 4 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week after being No. 8 last week. I am keeping him a notch below Game Winner due mainly to the champ’s wider trip last Saturday.
1. Omaha Beach
2. Maximum Security
3. Game Winner
5. War of Will
7. Long Range Toddy
No 1 Omaha Beach, No. 6 Improbable and No. 7 Long Range Toddy clash this Saturday in Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles. They are part of a field of 10 vying for 170 qualifying points (100-40-20-10) for the Kentucky Derby.
Improbable is the Arkansas Derby morning-line favorite at 8-5. He drew the inside post position in the field of 11. Omaha Beach, post 3, is 2-1. Long Range Toddy, post 11, is 5-1.
No. 8 Anothertwistafate is entered in Keeneland's Grade III Lexington Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile race has 10 entered.
No. 9 Tacitus overcame severe early trouble to win Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial by 1 1/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday. He was credited with a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure. Tacitus, a son of premier sire Tapit and multiple Grade I winner Close Hatches, previously won the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
War of Will moves back onto my Top 10 this week following his four-furlong workout in :48.80 at Keeneland last Saturday morning for trainer Mark Casse. I had taken War of Will off my Top 10 after he finished ninth as the 4-5 favorite in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 23.
In what has to be considered a quirky incident, War of Will abruptly lost his footing behind in the first few strides of the Louisiana Derby. He came out of the race with a strained patellar ligament, according to Casse. But in War of Will’s four-furlong drill last Saturday with jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the saddle, the colt suggested it might be unwise to disregard him in the Run for the Roses because of what occurred in the Louisiana Derby.
“Tyler came out and said he never felt better, and that made my day,” Casse said to BloodHorse’s Claire Crosby following War of Will’s workout. “I told Tyler I wanted him to go between :48 and :49. He said about the top of the lane, he reached up and grabbed (War of Will) and he took off. He was like, ‘Whoa, big boy!’ And he galloped out strong. It’s a small miracle.”
Prior to War of Will’s Louisiana Derby debacle, he had won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes by four lengths and Grade II Risen Star Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths. On more than one occasion, Casse has called War of Will “a superstar.”
BETTORS FAVORED ROADSTER IN FUTURE WAGER
Roadster was a slight 6-1 favorite in Pool Four of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) that closed last Sunday. This was the final of the four future wager pools for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. The previous three pools closed on Nov. 25, Feb. 10 and March 10.
Game Winner and Grade I Florida Derby winner Maximum Security were each 7-1. Improbable and Tacitus were each 8-1. Omaha Beach was 10-1.
War of Will closed at 23-1. I think that is a terrific price. No matter what happens, I see it as tremendous value. That’s because if War of Will had won the Louisiana Derby, as many had expected him to, he almost certainly would have been 10-1 or lower instead of 23-1 in the KDFW.
A prime example of just how much one defeat can skew a price significantly upward occurred in 1995. Thunder Gulch won the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes and Grade I Florida Derby, but then finished fourth as a 6-5 favorite in the Grade II Blue Grass.
If Thunder Gulch had won the Blue Grass, he probably would have been 10-1 or lower in the Kentucky Derby. But after his defeat in the Blue Grass, Thunder Gulch was allowed to get away at 24-1 in the Kentucky Derby. He paid $51 for each $2 win ticket. Interestingly, that 24-1 price for Thunder Gulch is almost identical to War of Will’s 23-1 in the KDFW.
By the way, in Pool Four of the 2018 KDFW, Justify closed as the 3-1 favorite. When he succeeded in the Kentucky Derby, Justify went off at slightly under 3-1, paying $7.80 for a $2 win ticket.
Here were the final odds for Pool Four of the 2019 KDFW:
7-1 Game Winner
7-1 Maximum Security
10-1 Omaha Beach
19-1 All Others
20-1 Code of Honor
21-1 Win Win Win
23-1 Long Range Toddy
23-1 War of Will
32-1 Bourbon War
32-1 By My Standards
50-1 Cutting Humor
55-1 Plus Que Parfait
CURRENT STRIKES SITUATION
In terms of my Derby Strikes System, Wood winner Tacitus and Blue Grass victor Vekoma each have one strike. Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster has two.
I introduced my Derby Strikes System in 1999. The system consists of nine key factors. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors (or categories) are explained at the end of this column.
According to the Derby Strikes System, a horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. Going back to 1973, 38 of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike.
Six of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
It’s not impossible, but it is a tall task for a horse with more than two strikes to win the Kentucky Derby. Of the last 46 horses to win the Run for the Roses, only two horses have won with more than two strikes, Mine That Bird and Justify.
Tacitus and Vekoma each get a strike in Category 6, the “racing experience” category. One of Roadster’s two strikes also comes in Category 6. I consider Category 6 to be by far the least important of the nine categories because horses just do not race as much nowadays as they did back in the day.
From 1973 through 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was the only horse to get a strike in Category 6.
But from 2001 through 2018, seven horses -- Barbaro, Big Brown, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah, Always Dreaming and Justify -- got a strike in Category 6 for making fewer than six starts before the Kentucky Derby.
Put another way, only 3.5% of the Kentucky Derby winners in the 28 years from 1973 through 2000 had a strike in Category 6. But 36.8% of the winners in the last 18 years from 2001 through 2018 had a strike in that category.
In terms of the Derby Strikes System, it’s not until a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby that a horse’s number of strikes can be determined. These are the strikes for a number of the leading Kentucky Derby point earners as listed by Churchill Downs when the leaderboard was updated on April 6, plus Master Fencer, who gets a spot in the field for having the most points in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby:
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE
By My Standards (Category 6)
Code of Honor (Category 6)
Cutting Humor (Category 6)
Game Winner (0 stikes)
Maximum Security (Category 6)
Plus Que Parfait (Category 7)
Somelikeithotbrown (Category 4)
Tacitus (Category 6)
Vekoma (Category 6)
War of Will (Category 5)
Bodexpress (Categories 2 and 6)
Gray Magician (Categories 2 and 3)
Haikal (Categories 3 and 6)
Roadster (Categories 1 and 6)
Signalman (Categories 3 and 4)
Tax (Categories 6 and 9)
Win Win Win (Categories 2 and 3)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES
Bourbon War (Categories 2, 3, 5 and 6)
Master Fencer (Categories 1, 2 and 3)
Spinoff (Categories 2, 4 and 6)
TO BE DETERMINED
Long Range Toddy
WINNER’S STRIKES FROM 1973 THROUGH 2018
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)
2017 Always Dreaming (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 6
2018 Justify (3 strikes) Categories 1, 6 and 8
WINX’S RACING CAREER TO END SATURDAY
Australia’s super mare Winx is scheduled to race for the final time Saturday against eight rivals in the Group I Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick. She will be bidding for her 33rd straight victory. The streak began on May 16, 2015.
Winx holds the world record of 23 Group/Grade I wins. The Irish hurdler Hurricane Fly recorded 22 such victories in Europe from 2008-15. America’s legendary gelding John Henry ranks third in terms of all-time Group/Grade I wins with 16.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 313 Bricks and Mortar (5)
2. 300 Gift Box (7)
3. 266 Monomoy Girl (10)
4. 244 McKinzie (1)
5. 202 City of Light (14)
6. 187 Roy H (1)
7. 164 Midnight Bisou
8. 123 X Y Jet (1)
9. 121 Thunder Snow (6)
10 105 World of Trouble
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 364 Roadster (14)
2. 346 Tacitus (8)
3. 340 Game Winner (8)
4. 327 Omaha Beach (5)
5. 270 Improbable (7)
6. 165 Vekoma
6. 152 Maximum Security (1)
8. 110 Long Range Toddy (1)
9. 75 Code of Honor
10. 44 War of Will
DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:
1. 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 at 3 prior to March 31 rather than 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, Mine That Bird in 2009, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 3 before March 31.)
2. 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.)
3. 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 53 of the last 56 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.)
4. 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.)
5. 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.)
6. 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 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, American Pharoah in 2015, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown and Justify had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. 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.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 are the only Kentucky Derby winners who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. Through 2018, the score is 142-2 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to win, 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; Bodemeister, second in 2012; Battle of Midway, third in 2017; and Justify, first in 2018.)
9. 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.)