by Jon White
April 22, 2020
The 2020 Kentucky Derby originally was scheduled to be held on May 2. But due to the insidious coronavirus that has wreaked havoc on millions of lives, this year’s Run for the Roses has been shifted to Sept. 5.
The Arkansas Derby initially was to have been run on April 11. But after the May 2 Kentucky Derby was moved to Sept. 5, Oaklawn Park decided to change the date of its Arkansas Derby from April 11 to May 2.
It turns out that, in addition to the Arkansas Derby, there will be another “Derby” on May 2.
Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) has announced that on May 2 it will have a special one-hour broadcast of the Fantasy Derby, a “race” in which 20 Kentucky Derby winners will do battle.
The Fantasy Derby will air from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on Sirius 219 and XM 201, plus on select terrestrial affiliates such as ESPN 680 Louisville. Live streaming will be provided on HRRN’s website: www.horseracingradio.net.
HRRN president Mike Penna will anchor the May 2 Fantasy Derby radio program. Several commentators will be part of the broadcast. NBC announcer Larry Collmus will call the “race.”
“As racing fans, our hearts and minds are always at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May,” Penna said in a recent press release. “Since we won’t be on-site to broadcast the Kentucky Derby on this day, our team thought it would be fun to offer this special piece of programming to help listeners’ minds escape the everyday concerns over COVID-19.”
The 20-horse Fantasy Derby field was determined by a voting process asking listeners to select their Top 5 Kentucky Derby winners. The order of finish also was based on these votes.
Back in March, HRNN provided a list of “potential starters.” The list consisted of the Kentucky Derby winners from 1970 to present and all Triple Crown winners, a process that explains why a horse like 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps is not in the 20-horse field while Mine That Bird is in it.
I submitted my Top 5 Fantasy Derby choices via email in March. In order, I chose Secretariat, Citation, Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew and Count Fleet.
A special post-position draw and announcement of morning-line odds for the Fantasy Derby will air as part of HRRN’s Equine Forum show this Saturday morning. If there ever were a race in which post positions are irrelevant, this is it. Unlike the Kentucky Derby, it certainly won’t matter if a horse gets, say, post 1 or post 20.
Jude Feld, a member of the HRRN broadcast team and a former trainer, will set the morning-line odds for the Fantasy Derby, according to Penna.
I decided to formulate my own Fantasy Derby odds. I did so as someone who has been making the morning line at Santa Anita since 2009. I have made the official morning lines for six Breeders’ Cups (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019).
In terms of coming up with morning-line prices, keep in mind odds have a corresponding percentage. To cite a number of examples, 4-5 is 55%, even money is 50%, 6-5 is 55%, 7-5 is 41%, 8-5 is 38%, 9-5 is 35%, 2-1 is 33%, 5-2 is 28%, 6-1 is 14%, 8-1 is 11%, 10-1 is 9%, 15-1 is 6%, 20-1 is 4%, 30-1 is 3% and 50-1 is 1%.
Why is it called in a morning line? Back in the day, such as when I made the morning line at Playfair Race Course in the 1970s, the morning line was submitted in the MORNING on race day. In those days, my percentages for a race typically would add up to anywhere from 123% to 126%.
However, a morning line these days is not submitted on race day, but rather at least two days in advance of race day. This is so the morning-line odds are done early enough so they can appear in the Daily Racing Form.
For the Breeders’ Cup last year, my morning lines were submitted on Monday for races that would be held later in the week on Friday and Saturday.
Russell Hudak currently makes the morning line at Del Mar and for the Thoroughbred meets at Los Alamitos after having done so for many years at Hollywood Park. He once said to me, these really aren’t “morning lines” anymore.
“They’re really advance lines nowadays,” Hudak said.
And he is right. But it’s still called the “morning line” because it is what it’s always been called.
Due to a morning line now having to be turned in at least two days before race day, my percentages almost always now add up to 127% or 128%.
As for the Fantasy Derby, good luck to Feld in trying to keep his total percentage down to 128% or lower.
When I first assigned odds to the 20 Fantasy Derby horses, it added up to a whopping 179%. Consequently, I then had to keep raising and raising and raising the odds on various horses to finally get the total percentage down to 128%. This was, to say the least, an extremely difficult task.
I started off making Secretariat 4-5. Look, if wagering actually was offered on this race, I think he would get bet heavily. After all, Secretariat’s 1973 Kentucky Derby victory was one for the ages, launching him on a magical sweep of the Triple Crown.
In the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat broke Northern Dancer’s track record by three-fifths of a second. In the book “Big Red of Meadow Stable: Secretariat, the Making of a Champion,” Bill Nack noted that Secretariat “raced every quarter mile in the Kentucky Derby faster than the preceding quarter. His splits were :25 1/5, :24, :23 4/5, :23 2/5, and :23. No one could remember when a horse had ever done that over a distance of 1 1/4 miles. Secretariat literally went faster and faster from start to finish.”
Here it is 47 years later and still no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont in faster time than Secretariat. His fantastic 31-length Belmont Stakes victory is widely regarded as the greatest performance ever seen in this country. Secretariat’s final time of 2:24 obliterated Gallant Man’s 1 1/2-mile track record by 2 3/5 seconds.
When my original percentage for the Fantasy Derby added up to 179%, I immediately realized I had to raise Secretariat’s odds. I upped him to even money, then to 6-5, then to 7-5, then finally to 8-5.
I felt that I just could not go any higher than 8-5 on Secretariat. I had to draw the line at 8-5 as for how high I would go. Not only do I believe Secretariat would win this race if it actually were run, I expect a large number of voters in this exercise will feel likewise. I think Secretariat is as close to a sure thing to win the Fantasy Derby by receiving the most votes.
Besides, in a way, I feel it is fitting to make Secretariat an 8-5 favorite for the Fantasy Derby. That’s because his actual price was slightly lower than 8-5 and slightly higher than 7-5 (his odds were 3-2) when he ran in the Kentucky Derby (though keep in mind he was coupled in the wagering with Angle Light).
Because of still having a total of 162% even after I upped Secretariat’s price from 4-5 to 8-5, it meant that I also would have to raise the odds on a slew of horses in order to get down to 128%.
For instance, my original price for Citation was 4-1. I then bumped him up to 9-2, then to 5-1, then finally to 6-1. I initially had Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid both at 6-1, then raised them to 8-1, then ultimately to 10-1.
I really did not want to make Citation higher than 4-1. But even though I made Citation a bigger price than I would have liked at 6-1, he gets respect he deserves as the only horse I have under 10-1 other than Secretariat.
One reason I feel obliged to make Citation a clear second favorite at 6-1 is a number of savvy people have told me that they believe he was better than even Secretariat. The late Jack Wilson was one such individual.
Many consider Wilson to be the best chart-caller of all time. He called the official chart of Secretariat’s 31-length Belmont Stakes victory.
Years ago, when I asked Wilson to name the best racehorse he ever saw, I expected that he would say Secretariat. But without the slightest hesitation, he said it was Citation. When I asked Wilson why, he said that when Citation was a 3-year-old, he saw him win the 1948 Seminole Handicap. In the seven-furlong Seminole on Feb. 11, Citation won by one length. Armed finished third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Citation. Armed had been the 1947 Horse of the Year at the age of 6.
“You just don’t see a 3-year-old beating the reigning Horse of the Year so early in the year like that,” Wilson said. “That’s how great Citation was.”
Citation swept the Triple Crown in 1948. How dominant was he? He won the Kentucky Derby by 3 1/2 lengths, the Preakness by 5 1/2 lengths and the Belmont by eight lengths. Not only that, in between the Preakness and Belmont, he won the Jersey Stakes by 11 lengths at Garden State Park.
“I was at Garden State the day Citation won there between the Preakness and Belmont,” Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally once told me. “When Citation won that race, it was one of the most impressive races I ever saw a horse run.”
There would not be another Triple Crown winner until Secretariat a quarter of a century later. Citation won 19 of 20 starts as a 3-year-old. I seriously doubt that we will ever see another 3-year-old win 19 races in one year.
Citation ranked No. 3 on The Blood-Horse’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century, behind only No. 1 Man o’ War and No. 2 Secretariat.
I think that because there is a possibility too many contemporary racing fans don’t appreciate just how great Citation was because he raced so long ago, he might not finish in the Fantasy Derby “exacta,” as I strongly believe he should.
Below are my odds for HRRN’s Fantasy Derby:
15-1 American Pharoah
50-1 Animal Kingdom
20-1 California Chrome
12-1 Count Fleet
50-1 Funny Cide
50-1 Mine That Bird
30-1 Northern Dancer
10-1 Seattle Slew
10-1 Spectacular Bid
20-1 Sunday Silence
20-1 War Admiral
50-1 Winning Colors
SOCAL SHIPPERS ONE-TWO IN THE APPLE BLOSSOM
The exciting conclusion to last Saturday’s Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park normally would have been accompanied by a roar from a crowd of thousands. But in these non-normal coronavirus times, the Grade I event was contested without patrons permitted on the premises.
The 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom came down to a photo finish for the win between Southern California shippers Ce Ce and Ollie’s Candy. They both ran a terrific race.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza and trained by Michael McCarthy, Ce Ce broke from post 14. Overcoming the unenviable post position, Hall of Famer Espinoza managed to work out a good trip for Ce Ce, who raced about three paths wide into the first turn while not far off the lead.
Ce Ce was fifth early while racing about five lengths off a hot pace (:22.20, :45.51) through the initial half-mile. This was farther behind early than she had been in any of her five previous career starts.
“The idea was to break sharp,” Espinoza said. “I had to use my brains a little to not go into the first turn too wide. I thought if I could hit the turn four or five wide, then I’m in good shape. I knew if she was good enough, she’d win the race. So I encouraged her out of the gate and put her in a good position. I hit the first turn three or four wide and it was perfect. I was smiling because it was exactly what I wanted. Down the backside I had to put her in the race because I didn’t want the speed to get away from me.”
Ollie’s Candy, a pace factor from the beginning, sported a 2 1/2-length advantage with a furlong to go. Ce Ce rallied to loom the main threat at the eighth pole when second and well clear of everyone except Ollie’s Candy.
Resolutely keeping to her task in the final furlong, Ce Ce just got up in the last jump to win by a head in 1:43.14, giving her back-to-back Grade I victories. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Elusive Quality and Grade I winner Miss Houdini previously won Santa Anita’s Grade I Beholder Mile on March 14.
As I wrote last week, Ce Ce was my pick to win the Apple Blossom. She paid $9.80 for each $2 win ticket.
Owned and bred by Bo Hirsch, Ce Ce now is three for three this year and four for six overall. She’s a half-sister to Papa Clem, who won the Grade II Arkansas Derby in 2009 for Hirsch, the last year before that race was appropriately upgraded to Grade I status. Elusive Quality sired 2004 Arkansas Derby winner Smarty Jones.
According to McCarthy, the next goal for Ce Ce is a race named for Hirsch’s late father, the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes in the summer at Del Mar.
Ollie’s Candy (off at odds of 7-1) ran too good to lose last Saturday. She deserved praise for losing a close decision after zipping the first half-mile in :45 and change. She was the only Apple Blossom starter to race on or near the early pace who still was around at the finish.
Cookie Dough (37-1), Ollie’s Candy, Serengeti Empress (the 2-1 favorite) and Come Dancing (8-1) were first, second, third and fourth early, in that order.
Serengeti Empress finished 11th, Come Dancing 12th and Cookie Dough 14th.
Ce Ce was credited with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure, down from her career-best 100 in her Beholder Mile triumph.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Apple Blossom going back to 1990:
2020 Ce Ce (98)
2019 Midnight Bisou (101)
2018 Unbridled Mo (95)
2017 Stellar Wind (94)
2016 Forever Unbridled (99)
2015 Untapable (98)
2014 Close Hatches (100)
2013 On Fire Baby (102)
2012 Plum Pretty (103)
2011 Havre de Grace (108)
2010 Zenyatta (95)
2009 Seventh Street (100)
2008 Zenyatta (104)
2007 Ermine (101)
2006 Spun Sugar (103)
2005 Dream of Summer (98)
2004 Azeri (112)
2003 Azeri (105)
2002 Azeri (110)
2000 Gourmet Girl (110)
1999 Banshee Breeze (114)
1998 Escene (113)
1997 Halo America (114)
1996 Twice the Vice (104)
1995 Heavenly Prize (104)
1994 Nine Keys (102)
1993 Paseana (107)
1992 Paseana (114)
1991 Degenerate Gal (108)
1990 Gorgeous (119)
CE CE, WHITMORE CRACK NTRA POLL
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) resumed its national polls this week after they had been on hiatus since March 30 due to the paucity of racing stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Ce Ce, who ranked 32nd on March 30, vaulted all the way up to No. 4 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week following her Apple Blossom victory.
I have heard some say that Ce Ce now is at the top of the older female dirt division. I strongly disagree with that assertion. I don’t think there is any doubt that the divisional leader is Midnight Bisou.
Midnight Bisou was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion older dirt female. In her only 2020 start so far, she faced males and finished second to Maximum Security in the world’s richest horse race, the $20 million Saudi Cup.
While Ce Ce deserves credit for her wins in the Beholder Mile and Apple Blossom, I think Midnight Bisou’s performance to finish second against males in the Saudi Cup (when outrunning the likes of Benbatl, Mucho Gusto, Tacitus, Magic Wand, Gronkowski and McKinzie) was a better performance than Ce Ce’s in her two Grade I victories this year.
Whitmore is No. 10 on the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week after being No. 23 on March 30. He won last Saturday’s Grade III Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn. Whitmore now has won three of the last four renewals of the Count Fleet. He finished second to Mitole in the 2019 Count Fleet. Mitole went on to be voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 360 Midnight Bisou (28)
2. 283 Mucho Gusto
3. 181 Zulu Alpha
4. 163 Ce Ce
5. 157 Mr Freeze
6. 121 Maximum Security (7)
7. 95 By My Standards
8. 89 Tom’s d’Etat
9. 88 Combatant
10. 87 Whitmore
Tiz the Law, who ranks in a tie for 13th, received two first-place votes in the Top Thoroughbred Poll. He is No. 1 in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll this week.
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 360 Tiz the Law (32)
2. 312 Authentic (2)
3. 291 Nadal
4. 211 Charlatan (2)
5. 172 Honor A.P.
6. 164 Wells Bayou
7. 124 Ete Indien
8. 107 Sole Volante
9. 66 King Guillermo
10. 64 Maxfield
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Here is my Top 10 this week for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby:
3. Tiz the Law
4. Honor A.P.
7. Sole Volante
8. Ete Indien
9. King Guillermo
10. Wells Bayou
RECALLING A DAY OF DISAPPOINTMENT
This Sunday will mark the 50th anniversary of a racing day that I will never forget, one of tremendous disappointment for yours truly.
After Turbulator won seven straight races at Playfair Race Course in 1969 from Aug. 22 to Oct. 26 at distances from six furlongs to two miles, I had become a huge fan of his.
Week after week early in 1970, I eagerly looked forward to Turbulator’s first start of the year. Finally, he was entered in a race at Yakima Meadows on April 19. However, he was scratched.
Just a week later, Turbulator did make his first 1970 start in Yakima’s Baze Handicap at 5 1/2 furlongs. I was so excited to see him race again.
Turbulator was sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the field of eight. When he trailed early, I was not worried one bit. That’s because his running style was to come from well off the pace. But when he remained last all the way to the finish, I was absolutely crushed. I could not believe he ran such a clunker.
I have never left a track after a day of racing more depressed than I did that day. But what now is a fond memory of that day is how my late father tried so hard to cheer me up during our 3 1/2-hour or so drive home to Spokane that evening.
“I’m sorry he didn’t run better,” I remember my dad saying at one point. “And I am sorry that you’re so down in the dumps. But you need to remember it was only his first race of the year. He still has the whole rest of the year ahead of him. This was just one race.”
Well, after finishing last in his first 1970 start, Turbulator went on to have one of the finest campaigns in Pacific Northwest racing history. He won seven stakes races that year while breaking a world record and two track records.
And now, half a century later, I still appreciate just how nice it was of my dad to console me during the long drive home after Turbulator finished dead last in his 1970 debut.