by Jon White
November 28, 2019
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 DRF. 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, in Canada, on the Dubai World Cup card and now the Saudi Cup count. I added the lucrative Saudi Cup, new in 2020, to our list of races in which points can be earned. The Saudi Cup is considered a Grade I race for our point-earning purposes.
This is how our 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 made through the day of the Belmont Stakes. The other “super claim” can be made anytime following the day of the Belmont Stakes.
Hammersly, the “father of our league,” won the 2019 title, thanks in large measure to having Midnight Bisou and Bricks and Mortar.
As for the draft held this past Monday, Chad Brown again led all trainers with 11 of his trainees among the 72 drafted. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert was next best with seven, followed by Brad Cox with six.
These have been the two leading trainers in terms of horses drafted going back to 2016:
Year Trainer (Horses Drafted)
2020 Chad Brown (11)
Bob Baffert (7)
2019 Chad Brown (12)
Bob Baffert (11)
2018 Bob Baffert (11)
Chad Brown (9)
2017 Chad Brown (11)
Bob Baffert (8)
2016 Chad Brown (9)
Todd Pletcher (7)
The leading sire for the 2019 draft was More Than Ready with four horses taken. What a difference a year makes. No sons or daughters of More Than Ready were drafted for 2020.
The leading sire for the 2020 draft was a five-way tie with three each:
--Hard Spun (Hidden Scroll, Lucullan and Spun to Run)
--Into Mischief (Authentic, Covfefe and Major Cabbie)
--Scat Daddy (Daddy Is a Legend, Toinette and Valid Point)
--Tapit (Lake Avenue, Maedean and Tacitus)
--Uncle Mo (Bast, Donna Veloce and Mo Forza)
The order for the draft held this past Monday was determined by the reverse order of this year’s final standings. This meant that I had the No. 4 pick in the first round.
Here, in order, were the 72 Thoroughbreds drafted Monday (my selections are capitalized):
1. Maximum Security
2. Tiz the Law
3. Honor A.P.
4. DONNA VELOCE
I debated long and hard between Donna Veloce and Dennis’ Moment. There were two primary reasons why I opted for Donna Veloce. One, the 2-year-old Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo filly is scheduled to run in an upcoming Grade I race, the Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 7 for trainer Simon Callaghan. It would seem Donna Veloce has an excellent chance to earn me 12 points in that race. Two, while I think Dennis’ Moment is extremely talented and a definite Kentucky Derby contender, my thinking in the draft was that even if I did not take Dennis’ Moment in the first round, I still might be able to get a good 2-year-old colt in the second or third round. I was not surprised when Dennis’ Moment was the very next pick in the draft.
5. Dennis’ Moment
6. Got Stormy
7. Code of Honor
8. Independence Hall
9. Omaha Beach
11. Midnight Bisou
12. Spun to Run
13. Anneau d’Or
As I had hoped there still were good 2-year-old colts available here in the second round. I seriously considered taking either Thousand Words or Maxfield. But then I thought that maybe one of those two still would be available in the third round. So instead of taking a 2-year-old colt, I selected Bellafina. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Quality Road filly is headed to Santa Anita’s Grade I La Brea Stakes on Dec. 26 for trainer Simon Callaghan.
Bellafina ran a giant race in defeat when she finished second, three-quarters of a length behind the outstanding sprinter Covfefe, in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Bellafina recorded a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure at the Breeders’ Cup. She has a stellar record on Santa Anita’s main track (five starts, four wins and a second). It would seem she has a very good chance to earn me 12 points in the La Brea. Interestingly, the aforementioned Covfefe was the very next pick in the draft.
17. Thousand Words
19. Three Technique
20. Eight Rings
21. Tom’s d’Etat
Well, the bad news for me at this point in the draft was Thousand Words had been taken. But the good news was Maxfield still was available. So it turned out that I was right that I could get a good 2-year-old in the third round. Maxfield is two for two. I thought the Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt was very impressive when he won the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland by 5 1/2 widening lengths on Oct. 5.
When all was not well with Maxfield prior to the the Grade I BC Juvenile, he was withdrawn from the Nov. 2 race. BloodHorse recently reported that Godolphin’s Maxfield “is expected to return to racing in early 2020 after having surgery Nov. 18 to remove a mildly displaced chip from an ankle, according to Godolphin.” Jimmy Bell, president and director of racing for Godolphin in the U.S., said Maxfield is expected to return to training in about 60 days at Palm Meadows with trainer Brendan Walsh. I am hoping that I have a big threat for the Kentucky Derby with Maxfield.
23. South Bend
25. First Star
26. Cleopatra’s Strike
27. British Idiom
28. Monomoy Girl
29. Mo Forza
30. Storm the Court
31. Valid Point
32. Answer In
I was disappointed when Valid Point, one of Brown’s trainees, was taken at No. 31. I really thought I might get him here for Saturday’s Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.
But it turns out that I already have had some very good luck in this draft. That’s because two days after our draft, the DRF’s Brad Free reported that Valid Point would not be entered in the Hollywood Derby.
Valid Point “was a late defection,” Brown told Free. “He didn’t come out of his last work 100 percent, and I’m going to have him checked out and just point to next year. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but he just wasn’t 100 percent.”
Thank goodness Valid Point already had been taken before it was time for me to make my fourth-round pick.
Even though I already had drafted a 2-year-old filly in Donna Veloce, I chose Finite, another 2-year-old filly, here in the fourth round. She is one of eight entered in this Saturday’s Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill.
Finite, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Munnings, won the Rags to Riches Stakes by six lengths at Churchill on Oct. 27 for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Between Donna Veloce and Finite, I’m hoping that I have the winner of the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, one of our bonus races.
I gave serious consideration to taking New and Improved instead of Finite here at No. 33. New and Improved is entered in Friday’s Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs. She also reportedly is a candidate for the Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita on Dec. 28. New and Improved was the next pick in the draft.
34. New and Improved
35. Street Band
36. Serengeti Empress
37. Significant Form
40. HIGH VELOCITY
Considering Maxfield underwent ankle surgery Nov. 18, I thought it might be prudent to take another 2-year-old colt here in the fifth round at No. 40. I selected High Velocity. I thought he might still be available later, but I decided not to take any chances and went ahead and took him here. It is my understanding that trainer Bob Baffert thinks a lot of High Velocity, who is two for two. The Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt won the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths on Nov. 16.
41. Analyze It
43. Major Cabbie
45. Juliet Foxtrot
46. Looking At Bikinis
48. Baja Sur
51. SEEKING THE SOUL
Man, oh, man. I really did not know what to do at this point. To be perfectly frank, I am not a Seeking the Soul fan. Nevertheless, I decided to roll the dice and take a chance on him in Friday’s Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill. His last three races leave a lot to be desired, but perhaps a Nov. 21 bullet drill is a sign that the 6-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Perfect Soul will perk up Friday.
Another reason I chose Seeking the Soul at No. 51 is he has done well at Churchill Downs. He won the Grade I Stephen Foster Stakes last June 15 at Churchill when Tom’s d’Etat finished third. Tom’s d’Etat was the 21st pick in the draft.
Seeking the Soul won the Clark in 2017. He finished third in the 2018 renewal. We shall see if he can hit the board and get me some fantasy points in the 2019 Clark. He is listed at 12-1 on the morning line, while Tom’s d’Etat is the 8-5 favorite.
52. Starship Jubilee
53. Without Parole
55. Higher Power
56. Princesa Caroline
57. Imperial Hint
I confess that this, my penultimate pick in the draft, was something of a sentimental selection on my part. I once had Tacitus’ dam, Close Hatches, on my team in this fantasy league. Even though Close Hatches let me down when she finished seventh in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, she really was one of my favorites. While I was unable to get Tacitus in this league for 2019, I decided to take him here at No. 58 for 2020.
Tacitus disappointed many horseplayers on a number of occasions last year, such as when he lost the Grade I Kentucky Derby at 5-1, Grade I Belmont Stakes as the 9-5 favorite, Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes as the 8-5 favorite, Grade I Travers Stakes as the 2-1 favorite and Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at 5-2. But the 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Tapit colt did run in all of those races. He finished fourth and was moved up to third via Maximum Security’s disqualification in the Kentucky Derby, then ran second in the Belmont, second in Jim Dandy, second in the Travers and third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
I’m hoping that with maturity, Tacitus might become a terrific 4-year-old for trainer Bill Mott in 2020.
59. Hidden Scroll
61. Country Grammer
62. Lake Avenue
64. Sacred Life
68. Sally’s Curlin
69. DADDY IS A LEGEND
Even though this Sunday’s Grade I Matriarch Stakes at Del Mar is shaping up to be a salty race topped by Grade I winner and No. 6 draft pick Got Stormy, I elected to take Daddy Is a Legend with my final pick in the draft. Daddy Is a Legend won an allowance affair by 2 3/4 lengths at Keeneland on Oct. 24. I am hoping that Oct. 24 effort will serve as a springboard to a good performance by her in the Matriarch.
George Weaver trains Daddy Is a Legend, a 4-year-old Pennsylvania-bred Scat Daddy filly. Daddy Is a Legend finished second to the explosive Uni in the 2018 Matriarch. Uni won this year’s Grade I BC Mile, a race in which Got Stormy finished second.
71. Mr. Freeze