by Jon White
November 25, 2020
Our horse racing fantasy league held its annual draft this past Monday. It’s called the Fantasy Stable League (FSL). Daily Racing Form handicapper Michael Hammersly started this league all the way back in 1986. I joined it in 1990 when I was working for the DRF. I have been the league’s commissioner since 2000.
How long did Monday’s draft take? It began at 6 a.m. PT and concluded about nine hours later.
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.
With nine members, there were nine horses drafted in the first round. Even though Tiz the Law finished sixth as the 3-1 favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 7, he was first pick in the first round.
No. 1 pick Tiz the Law is a four-time graded stakes winner in 2020 (Grade III Holy Bull Stakes, Grade I Florida Derby, Grade I Belmont Stakes and Grade I Travers Stakes).
In terms of the nine horses drafted in the first round of Monday’s draft, they have won 35 of 43 races combined.
Only races in the United States, in Canada, on the Dubai World Cup card and the Saudi Cup count. 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, Sword Dancer Stakes, Diana Stakes and all of the other Breeders’ Cup races. Since the beginning of this league, the Arlington Million and Beverly D. were bonus races. But they were not run this year. With Arlington Park’s situation rather shaky these days, I made the decision to make the Sword Dancer and Diana bonus races in 2021 rather than the Arlington Million and Beverly D.
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 traditional day of the Belmont Stakes in June. The other “super claim” can be made after that.
BloodHorse’s Byron King won the 2019 FSL title. This was his sixth FSL title and fourth in the last five years.
King won the 2020 FSL title without winning any of the bonus races. Sophomore stars Tiz the Law and Swiss Skydiver were major contributors to King’s title. Tiz the Law earned 60 FSL points after he was taken in the draft at No. 2. (Maximum Security was the No. 1 pick.) On May 17 this year, King claimed Swiss Skydiver, who went on to earn 37 FSL points.
As for the draft held this past Monday, for the first time the trainer who had the most horses taken was Brad Cox. There were 10 Cox-trained horses drafted, followed by Chad Brown with eight and Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen with seven apiece.
These have been the leading trainers in terms of horses drafted going back to 2016:
Year Trainer (Horses Drafted)
2021 Brad Cox (10), Chad Brown (8)
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 2021 draft was Speightstown. He sired five horses taken (Charlatan, Nashville, Astute, Performer and Sharing). Four of the first 11 horses drafted are by Speightstown.
Speightstown also is the paternal grandsire of six horses drafted (Red Flag, Firenze Fire, Finite, Bonny South, Sun Path and Jaxon Traveler).
Two sires each had four horses drafted: Into Mischief (Life Is Good, Highly Motivated, Gamine and Dayoutoftheoffice) and Munnings (Finite, Bonny South, Sun Path and Jaxon Traveler).
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. 5 pick in the first round.
Here, in order, were the 72 Thoroughbreds drafted Monday (my selections are capitalized):
1. Tiz the Law
2. Life Is Good
3. Monomoy Girl
5. ESSENTIAL QUALITY
I was thrilled to get Essential Quality at No. 5. I claimed him prior to his win in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 3. He then remained undefeated in three starts by capturing the Grade I BC Juvenile at that same venue on Nov. 6.
I thought that I did not have any chance to get Essential Quality at No. 5. I was thinking I’d take Life Is Good if he happened to be available. If Life Is Good was gone, I’d probably take Nashville.
But, by gosh, Essential Quality was still there on the board when the draft got to me at No. 5. I did mull it over whether to take Essential Quality or Gamine. But the mulling last only a few seconds before I snapped up Essential Quality.
No doubt what helped me get Essential Quality at No. 5 was the 9 1/2-length victory by the Baffert-trained Life Is Good at Del Mar the day before our draft. Off that dazzling debut, Life Is Good was taken at No. 2.
As I said, after having Essential Quality in my FSL stable this year, I did not think I would be able to get him back for 2021. So, welcome home, Essential Quality!
Essential Quality is the 8-1 favorite in William Hill’s odds for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He also is the 10-1 morning-line favorite among individual horses for this week’s Pool 1 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW).
Life Is Good is the 12-1 second favorite at William Hill. Life Is Good is the 15-1 co-second favorite with Highly Motivated in the KDFW. Wagering for Pool 1 of the KDFW opens Thursday and closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
7. Highly Motivated
9. Simply Ravishing
10. Princess Noor
12. Red Flag
13. Swiss Skydiver
I was beyond ecstatic to get Gamine at No. 14. This is the 32nd year that I have been drafting horses in this fantasy league. No matter how it turns out, I would say that getting Gamine at No 14 is the best draft pick I have ever made in the 32 years.
I thought Gamine would be taken somewhere from No. 1 to No. 5. If Essential Quality had not been available at No. 5, I definitely would have taken Gamine.
When the draft had reached No. 13 and Gamine had not been taken yet, I thought how horrible it was going to be to come within one spot of getting her. When Swiss Skydiver was taken at No. 13 (which, by the way, is what I feel was a darn good selection at that point in the draft), I was overjoyed.
Baffert has called Gamine “a superstar.” I think we’ve only scratched the surface as to what this filly can accomplish. It’s been said that she is a possibility for Santa Anita’s Grade I La Brea Stakes on Dec. 26. Needless to say, I would love to see her run in that race. But even if she does not go in the La Brea, to say that I am excited about Gamine’s future would be a gigantic understatement.
15. Code of Honor
20. Jolie Olimpica
22. Jackie’s Warrior
23. BY MY STANDARDS
Essential Quality won’t be running anytime soon. Neither will Gamine, unless she does go in the La Brea. Consequently, my strategy here was to draft someone who could possibly get me some points right away. I’ve learned the hard way that one can dig oneself into a great big early hole if too many horses drafted do not run right away.
In terms of horses running right away at this spot in the draft, I opted for By My Standards in Friday’s Clark Handicap. This is a Grade I race that’s worth 12-6-4 points.
Sure, I would have preferred to have Code of Honor. Yes, I could have taken Code of Honor at No. 14. But there is no way I would take Code of Honor instead of Gamine. Code of Honor then was taken at No. 15. He is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the Clark. By My Standards is the 4-1 second choice. I am hoping that By My Standards can hit the board and possibly even win.
Looking beyond the Clark, I think that By My Standards is the sort who could be a pretty good point earner throughout 2021. Though he finished a disappointing eighth in the BC Classic, I like the fact that he was able to reel off four consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures this year (102, 102, 103, 102).
24. Happy Saver
25. Smooth Like Strait
28. Firenze Fire
30. King Guillermo
32. BONNY SOUTH
Here again, my strategy was to draft someone to possibly get some points right away. Our league commences Thursday. Bonny South is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Thursday’s Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs. By taking her, two of my first four draft picks are trained by Cox. Long-term, Bonny South looks like someone who could possibly be in our first bonus race of 2021, the Apple Blossom Stakes. Another possibility is Bonny South runs a disappointing race Thursday and soon gets replaced. We shall see.
36. Speaker’s Corner
39. Independence Hall
40. Domestic Spending
41. MUCHO GUSTO
I debated between Mucho Gusto, Decorated Invader, Dayoutoftheoffice and Girl Daddy. What made me go for Mucho Gusto is I think there’s a good chance that he will use Santa Anita’s Grade II San Antonio Stakes on Dec. 26 as a springboard to Gulfstream Park’s Grade I Pegasus Stakes on Jan. 23. He is a quality horse who is fresh, plus I don’t think there will be much in the San Antonio.
Mucho Gusto won this year’s Pegasus by 4 1/2 lengths in the best performance of his career, which shows he likes that track. The downside is his main goal is to again run in the Group I, $20 million Saudi Cup next year. He finished fourth in the inaugural Saudi Cup this year. But the main thing right now is I’m hoping he can get me points in the San Antonio and Pegasus.
I thought maybe, just maybe, Decorated Invader and/or Dayoutoftheoffice and/or Girl Daddy would still be available when I made my next pick at No. 50. I really had my eye on Dayoutoftheoffice to get a 2-year-old filly. If not her, I was hoping to get Girl Daddy. Unfortunately, Decorated Invader, Dayoutoftheoffice and Girl Daddy all would be taken before I picked at No. 50. Ouch!
42. Decorated Invader
43. Girl Daddy
45. Hot Rod Charlie
46. Fire At Will
48. One Bad Boy
Well, that really hurt when Dayoutoftheoffice was taken at No. 49, especially with Decorated Invader and Girl Daddy also off the board. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes when one is drafting.
So, now what to do? I took another Cox-trained runner here, Shedaresthedevil. Thus, three of my first six draft picks are trained by Cox.
Why did I choose Shedaresthedevil? I picked her mainly because the bonus-race Apple Blossom is on her agenda. Heck, I don’t think it’s too bad at No. 50 to get a filly who was good enough to win the Grade I Kentucky Oaks by defeating both Swiss Skydiver (the No. 13 pick in the draft) and Gamine (the No. 14 pick in the draft).
51. Sun Path
53. Aunt Pearl
54. Ten for Ten
55. Spirit Animal
I was looking to pick up a horse for either of Del Mar’s Grade I races this weekend, Saturday’s Hollywood Derby or Sunday’s Matriarch.
When we were drafting Monday, post positions already had been drawn for the Hollywood Derby, which meant I knew the 14 horses entered in it. But anybody I wanted for that race already was gone by this point.
Post positions for the Matriarch would not be drawn until Thursday. I took a chance and drafted Blowout at No. 59, hoping that she will be one of Brown’s Matriarch runners. If I guessed wrong, I can go ahead and use a claim soon to replace her.
60. Caddo River
61. Jaxon Traveler
62. Travel Column
63. Shared Sense
66. Say the Word
I never did get a 2-year-old filly. I just have to hope that I will be able to claim a good one on down the road. I was planning to go ahead and take Envoutante here, even though I already have Bonny South. They both are entered in Thursday’s Grade II Falls City Handicap. Envoutante is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line. But this plan went out the window when Envoutante was taken at No. 64.
I decided to take a shot here in the eighth and final round with Shancelot. He has not raced since finishing second to Mitole in the Grade I BC Sprint at Santa Anita in 2019. Now trained by Asmussen, Mitole has had three recent workouts in New Orleans.
Shancelot once posted a 121 Beyer Speed Figure. He recorded a 110 Beyer when runner-up to Mitole in the BC Sprint. In the 32 years of fantasy drafts I’ve been in, I have drafted 256 horses. Of the 32 horses I’ve ever taken in the final round, Shancelot is the first to have recorded a Beyer Speed Figure as high as 121. In other words, regardless of how it turns out, I’ve made a lot worse final round selections than this one!
69. Mind Control
70. Aurelius Maximus
71. Thousand Words
72. Dennis’ Moment