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Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby Thoughts - The Day After

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It was a wild day of 2011 Kentucky Derby prep action on Saturday.  Uncle Mo goes down in the Wood Memorial at 1/10 odds, while a recent maiden-breaker trained by (who else) Bob Baffert takes home the Santa Anita Derby.

Updated Triple Crown Excel file: 2011 Triple Crown

(The original Ragozin figure I had for the FL Derby was wrong as I used the Holy Bull number by mistake; Dialed In earned a 7, not a 4.)

Below are some day after thoughts on the Wood and SA Derby:

  • The question of whether or not Uncle Mo injured himself before or during the Wood is pretty much irrelevant to me.  If he was injured, then you've got a Kentucky Derby contender with a foot injury four weeks before the biggest and hardest race of his life.  If he's not injured, he just ran one the most lackluster Derby prep in the last 40-years by a Derby favorite. Neither of those options are very encouraging when considering Uncle Mo's chances in the Kentucky Derby.
  • Following Uncle Mo's demise in the Wood, the immediate question was 'now who will be the Derby favorite?'.  If The Factor runs as well in the Arkansas Derby as he did in the Rebel, I think he'll clearly be the betting choice in Louisville (depending on post draw).  Dialed In is going to get a lot of love, but The Factor will likely be the high figure horse in the Derby, and people love to be the high figure horse.

    As for Uncle Mo, what does his loss in the Wood do to him going forward? I think it's premature to write that this result destroys his Derby chances, although I think, at a minimum, it makes him an incredibly risky bet unless the odds are extremely fat.  In the end, yesterday Uncle Mo looked like a horse that hadn't faced any serious competition for almost half a year, and that's a difficult way to prepare for the Kentucky Derby. 
  • The light racing schedule for Uncle Mo was reminiscent of Quality Road's preparation for last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, a race he trained up to during the previous two months, rather than run in a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup.  It's the "less is more" philosophy that we see so often with all horses across the country.  Part of that is due to the fragile nature of today's thoroughbred - nobody thinks they can train or race hard for consecutive months so the top horses are raced sporadically throughout the year. 

    The excuse that horses are too fragile to race at a high level consistently has some truth to it, I think, but it also seems a bit peculiar.  Go out to any claiming track across the country and you'll find $10k and $20k horses that race somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 times a year.  Some race more than that.  How is it that cheap claiming horses are fit enough to race that many times a year (usually encompassing a race every two or three weeks for months on end), and graded stakes horses (the best of the best) have to take five to six months off after a big win?  Is it really a physical issue or Is the fear of losing that creates the inactivity?

    For Uncle Mo's part, the Wood Memorial was his first competitive race since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on the first Saturday in November.  That's a five-month layoff between races, unless you consider the Timely Writer a race, which is really hard to do right now.  This isn't a case of hindsight being 20/20 - there were plenty of people who believed the light training schedule for Uncle Mo leading up the Derby was a risky move. 
  • One final thought on the Wood: Toby's Corner ran a pretty good race to win the Wood yesterday, and by 'pretty good' I mean in compared to all the other preps this spring.  His final 1/8th of a mile of 11.97 is the fastest closing split in a route race by a three-year-old colt this winter/spring.  So while Uncle Mo's effort was disappointing, it wasn't as bad as, say, Brethren's in the Tampa Bay Derby, or Soldat and To Honor and Serve's in the Florida Derby.
  • The Santa Anita Derby, despite being won by a recent maiden-breaker, Midnight Interlude, was a pretty decent race, both in time and visually.  Comma to the Top drifted out into the winner's path in deep stretch, causing Midnight Interlude to switch out a bit and then re-rallying to the wire.  Combine that with the trouble that Midnight Interlude got into as he raced into the first turn and it's pretty clear he was the best horse yesterday.

    It's tough to assess Midnight Interlude's true Derby chances at this point because on the one hand, the depth of this year's three-year-old crop appears worse and worse with every passing weekend; you don't need to be Secretariat to beat this group.  On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine a horse that broke it's maiden in late March winning the toughest race in the country.  Curlin tried to do that and, while he ran well in the Derby, he was no where near actually winning the race.  On the positive side, Midnight Interlude looks like a very nice colt and he got a ton of education during the Santa Anita Derby. 
  • Pedigree-wide, Midnight Interlude is an interesting mix.  His sire, War Chant, a Breeders' Cup Mile winner, provides a decent amount of speed on the top half, while the bottom half of his pedigree suggests that he'll do just fine when stretched out further.   His broodmare sire, Groom Dancer, won several Group-level races in France, including the Group 3 Prix de Conde (9 furlongs), the Group 3 Prix de Guiceh (9 furlongs), Prix Lupin (10.5 furlongs), Prix Daphis (9 furlongs), and G3 Prix du Prince d'Orange (10 furlongs).  Just based on pedigree, Midnight Interlude should be just fine in the Derby.
  • I think Comma to the Top's connections are making the absolutely right move by skipping the Kentucky Derby; his trainer stated before the SA Derby that he didn't think he wanted 10 furlongs and the end of that race seemed to perfectly illustrate that point.  I do believe he could be a nice horse in middle-distance stakes in SoCal all summer long but there's no reason to take a shot at the Derby when they know he doesn't want to run that far.
  • The preliminary Beyer figures are out for yesterday's three preps and they paint the same picture that almost every other prep this spring has painted: everybody is pretty much in the same ballpark.

    95 - Midnight Interlude (Santa Anita Derby)
    94 - Toby's Corner (Wood Memorial)
    93 - Joe Vann (Illinois Derby)

    92 - Uncle Mo (Wood Memorial)

    I haven't written anything about the Illinois Derby due to the fact that the purse cut to $300,000 greatly reduced its impact on the graded earnings list.  Joe Vann, even after his win, doesn't have enough dough to get him to Louisville, and we've still got two major prep races left.
  • Speaking of graded earnings, below is your current Top 20 after yesterday's results:
Rank Horse Earnings
1 Uncle Mo 1,360,000
2 Dialed In 840,000
3 Toby's Corner 671,000
4 Pants On Fire 623,000
5 Midnight Interlude 600,000
6 J P's Gusto 541,500
7 Soldat 540,000
8 Master of Hounds 441,884
9 Twice the Appeal 400,000
10 Mucho Macho Man 370,000
11 Decisive Moment 301,000
12 Animal Kingdom 285,000
13 Astrology 281,893
14 The Factor 270,000
15 Stay Thirsty 260,000
16 Jaycito 250,000
17 Santiva 240,254
18 Shackleford 212,000
19 Arthur's Tale 200,000
Nehro 200,000

On the outside looking in:

Silver Medallion (184,334)
Anthony's Cross (182,000)
Archarcharch (180,000)
Brethren (155,000)
Riveting Reason (147,500)
Flashpoint (140,000)