Category Archives: Triple Crown

Preaking Out – Part 1: The Beginning

The days of Lookin At Lucky's colors adorning the Pimlico Race Course weather vane were numbered in the days prior to the Preakness Stakes.

If “The Hangover” series of films taught the world anything, it’s that the best parties are the ones that take weeks to get your life back together afterward.

As arguably the biggest party on the racing calendar, the events surrounding the 2011 Preakness Stakes could definitely find themselves in that conversation.

This is the excuse I’m going with to explain my dithering in writing my Preakness weekend retrospective. When you’re running with the Wolfpack, there isn’t always time to write.

It took a grand total of 17 hours on the road to get from Michigan to Baltimore, factoring in a detour to Lexington to carpool the rest of the way with Thoroughbred Times editor Ed DeRosa. I was working as something of a utility man for the publication during the Preakness and the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale that followed.

After a trip through eastern Kentucky, West Virginia (which reminds me of Montana if everyone was really into pollution) and western Maryland, we arrived in Baltimore a few hours before the Preakness post position draw.

This trip marked my first visit to Pimlico Race Course, and Maryland in general, so the track layout was uncharted territory on my internal map. Fortunately, the first sight that fell before me as I walked on the property was the Preakness stakes barn. All of the horses shipping in to run in the Preakness were under one roof. After spending the aftermath of last year’s Kentucky Derby roaming Churchill Downs’ expansive backstretch seeking quotes from connections, a barn like this was a boon for a lazy journalist such as myself. What a beautiful building it was.

The plant itself was not quite as beautiful. Pimlico has typically gotten a bad rap for not aging well, and it is not entirely unwarranted. The facilities had definitely seen better days, even after the obligatory “Preakness Cleanup”.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of this was the media elevator, which used technology that probably pre-dated anyone on the grounds. It didn’t smell the best, either, but employees seemed to blame a fresh coat of paint for that. Personally, I have never experienced a paint with that particular odor, but it made me feel sorry for the elevator attendant.

The elevator led to the press box on the top floor. More so than Churchill Downs or Keeneland Race Course (I haven’t worked in a lot of press boxes, okay?), the Pimlico box is the closest I have come to what the average person might imagine a racetrack press box to be – rows upon rows of desks pointing toward nothing in particular, where everybody is within shouting distance and nothing is shiny. If one removed the HDTVs from the walls and replaced the laptops with typewriters, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume the reporters were covering a race decades ago instead of in the present day.

Initially, I was a little turned off by the press box. Mind you, I am a small track guy, so it was not that it wasn’t “nice” enough. Where I come from, we don’t even have press boxes. I was just underwhelmed for a track hosting one of the world’s most important races. However, once I figured out what parts of the desks to avoid, lest I get splinters, I eventually learned to embrace the Pimlico media room. By the end of the weekend, I even grew to like it a bit. Further proof that I should never trust my first impression on anything.

Prior to the Preakness draw, I headed back to the stakes barn to film any potential contenders that should arrive as they exit their trailers. The best I could find was the trailer of D. Wayne Lukas, who had fringe contender Saratoga Red. Barring some kind of major surprise, the horse wasn’t going to draw into the race, so he wasn’t a terribly high priority.

As the Lukas horses unloaded, the trainer came over and chatted with the members of the media waiting outside his barn. He spun a tale to them about a time when he was not allowed in the paddock of a major racetrack (which I choose to remain unnamed to protect everyone involved) after handing out all of his paddock passes. Apparently, some security guards don’t recognize a hall-of-fame trainer when they see one.

After Lukas headed on his way, I checked my phone and saw that the draw was about to start, so I hi-tailed it to the infield.

I had my camera in tow from this point on, so I’m going to let the pictures do the talking. The rest of the story can be found behind the jump…

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Filed under Racetrack Visits, Story Time, Triple Crown

The Haiku Handicapper: 2011 Belmont Stakes

#1 – Master Of Hounds
Derby trip got buzz
Transatlantic trips bring pause
Not buying the hype

#2 – Stay Thirsty
Sidekick did little
To kick Uncle Mo’s shadow
Best will come later

#3 – Ruler On Ice
Mid-tier near-misses
Give him ho-hum resume
Doesn’t inspire

#4 – Santiva
In Derby’s top half
Shows solid dirt form at three
Has wild card chops

#5 – Brilliant Speed
A turf, synth standout
Didn’t bomb in dirt return
Keep on your radar

#6 – Nehro
The Derby bridesmaid
Stricken with seconditis
Threat to hit the board

#7 – Monzon
Mid-Atlantic steed
Class jumps were a disaster
Stick to overnights

#8 – Prime Cut
Making breakthrough start
From decent second-tier tries
Deep gimmicks at best

#9 – Animal Kingdom
Crown campaign fell short
Has the tools for 12 panels
Two for three ain’t bad

#10 – Mucho Macho Man
Hard-luck campaigner
Preakness trip was traumatic
What does he have left?

#11 – Isn’t He Perfect
Preakness afterthought
Homecoming doesn’t mean much
Isn’t he a toss?

#12 – Shackleford
Held strong in Preakness
Blistering pace is rare here
Lots more ground to keep

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Who wins the Belmont?
Animal Kingdom’s a beast
Four and five follow

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The Haiku Handicapper: 2011 Preakness Stakes

I am on-site in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes, so this site might get neglected for a bit, but until then, here is something to fill the gap. Enjoy the race!

#1 – Astrology
Runs in memory
Of late owner Jess Jackson
Could sneak on tickets

#2 – Norman Asbjornson
Penn-bred new shooter
Enters with field’s coolest name
And that’s about it

#3 – King Congie
Sentimental name
Faces same synth-to-dirt doubts
Derby winner quashed

#4 – Flashpoint
Quick starting’s the theme
Didn’t handle two turns great
Wait for summer sprints

#5 – Shackleford
Nearly wired ’em
In a crawling-paced Derby
Hard to follow up

#6 – Sway Away
Derby’s last horse out
His best work came at one turn
Hold for state derbies

#7 – Midnight Interlude
A big Derby dud
Bouncing back’s his biggest test
Should take some money

#8 – Dance City
A fresh challenger
Sambaed up the class ladder
Poised for big effort

#9 – Mucho Macho Man
Third in the Derby
Yet to turn in a clunker
Is a bounce looming?

#10 – Dialed In
Added incentive
5.5 million bones is
A spicy meatball

#11 – Animal Kingdom
The Derby winner
Becomes even scarier
With dirt questions dashed

#12 – Isn’t He Perfect
New Yorker ships down
Non-factor against real foes
He’s an afterthought

#13 – Concealed Identity
Took the local prep
This isn’t an overnight
He’s up against it

#14 – Mr. Commons
Rising West Coaster
Takes class, distance jumps in stride
Live for exotics

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Which runner Preaks out?
Dialed In cashes the check
Eight and eleven

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Rave Reviews? – Animal Kingdom

Back in 2009, I put together a highlight reel of quotes and prognostications about Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird leading up to his upset victory at odds of 50-1. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty.

This year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, was not nearly the monumental shock Mine That Bird was, but at post time odds of 20-1, he clearly was not on the radar of many bettors.

With that in mind, I decided to again comb the prediction columns of some of the racing media’s most notable figures to see where they stood on Animal Kingdom prior to the big race.

Like the movie Avatar, Animal Kingdom received mixed reviews, but ended up making all the money. In the end, that’s all that matters.

As usual, I will start the proceedings with my own analysis of Animal Kingdom, so as not to give the impression that I am just taking potshots at everyone else.

#16 – Animal Kingdom
Won the Spiral Stakes
Even connections seem tense
About his dirt form

That is what we call a good, old-fashioned swing and a miss.

But it gets worse. Have a look at this post to my Twitter feed just hours before the race…

“Triumph The Insult Comic Dog’s “No Rules In The Animal Kingdom” came on my shuffle on the way to the track. Choosing to ignore that sign.”

That’s not only a swing and a miss, that’s a swing and a miss from a tee-ball stand, then whacking yourself in the face with the bat on the backswing.

Now, let’s take a look at how some of the other members of the turf writing community saw Animal Kingdom. Just for kicks, I have arranged the analyses in a rough order by how favorably they projected the horse’s performance, from non-factor to win threat.

Let’s start at the bottom…

“Bottom line: Can dismiss.”
– Tom Pedulla, USA Today

“Another complete mystery on dirt.”
– Steven Crist, Daily Racing Form

“Still has considerable upside, but didn’t beat much in the Spiral, and that race was six weeks ago.”
– Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form

“Animal Kingdom is bred to run all day long so the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby isn’t a concern. His pedigree is geared mostly to turf racing, however, so it’s questionable if he’ll take to the dirt at Churchill Downs.”
– Dan Illman, Daily Racing Form

“Brilliant Speed and Animal Kingdom are synthetic/turf horses who may or may not relish the track…Animal Kingdom could be any kind of horse but has trained well and has yet to miss the board.”
– Jason Shandler, Blood-Horse

“Given the dirt question and the fact his major victory came in a Grade 3 race, Animal Kingdom deserves to be 25-1 in a 20-horse field. Animal Kingdom, however, seems to be generating favorable buzz, and he might not offer great value in the win pool. But given his consistency, stamina, and impressive last race, he should at least be an attractive exotic-wager proposition.”
– Marcus Hersh, Daily Racing Form

“Worth using in exotics, for sure.”
– Jay Privman, Daily Racing Form

Exotics Contenders: ANIMAL KINGDOM: In Graham We Trust. The horse looks outstanding in the flesh and should have no trouble with the Derby distance. There’s not a ton to like on past performances to be honest, but there’s an infinite amount of respect for trainer Graham Motion and I love the grassy pedigree on the dam side, so key in past Derby success stories.”
– Jeremy Plonk, ESPN

“I’m certainly going to use him in the trifecta, because people I respect say no horse had a better work than Animal Kingdom at Churchill.”
– Jennie Rees, Louisville Courier-Journal

“Yes, the dirt is a big question mark, and he’s bred for the turf, but he looked good winning the Spiral, and the horse he beat by 6 lengths came back to be beaten a nose in the Blue Grass. He made an impressive early move in the Spiral, so you know he has a turn of foot. And he’s bred to run forever, so you just have to take the chance that he’ll be as effective on dirt. In this kind of year, it’s a chance worth taking if the price is right.”
– Steve Haskin, Blood-Horse

“Trained by the very capable Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom would not be a surprise to hit the board at a big price.”
– Gene Menez, Sports Illustrated

“Love the way he won the Spiral. Watch out if he likes the dirt.”
– Andy Andrews, Kentucky Confidential

“Watch out for Animal Kingdom, especially now that John Velazquez is aboard. After all his bad luck with horses going out of the race, this is one man who is hungry for a Derby win.”
– Deirdre Biles, Blood-Horse

“Animal Kingdom is a beast of a horse who caught our eye last fall. He is long and lanky with a humongous quickening stride.”
– Bruno DeJulio, The Rail Blog – New York Times

“Roared mightily through Spiral field. Worked well on Churchill dirt. Trust in Motion and love the price.”
– John Scheinman, Kentucky Confidential

“Animal Kingdom is capable of a sustained drive for second.”
– Frank Angst, Thoroughbred Times

“I’ve got many questions about Animal Kingdom’s ability to transfer his form onto dirt, but the bottom line is that he’s improved as a 3-year-old, has the pedigree for the distance and seems adaptable to any kind of pace based on his limited starts. If he’s anywhere as good on dirt as he’s been on synthetic, he’ll be a factor in the Derby and that’s a leap of faith I’m willing to make.”
– Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans

“Animal Kingdom will win the Kentucky Derby. I know this because I didn’t write a feature about him.”
– Claire Novak, Everything (this particular quote in ESPN)

Congratulations to everyone that cashed tickets on Animal Kingdom. To everyone else, the Preakness Stakes is only a couple weeks away. There is always time for redemption.

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The Haiku Handicapper: 2011 Kentucky Derby

First and foremost, if you would like a more detailed analysis of the Kentucky Derby field, I wrote 5,000 words on the race over on ThoroFan.com for its “Handicapper’s Corner”. If you can find a more detailed breakdown of the Kentucky Derby field, you read it.

Please note, the ThoroFan analysis was written prior to Friday’s scratch of Uncle Mo, who factored into my exotic tickets, thus my picks are a little outdated. For the sake of discussion, let’s replace him with another horse who might have an advantage in the second wave of front-runners, Pants on Fire.

If you prefer a short, punchy breakdown of the field in a 5-7-5-syllabled parameter, you have come to the right place. Best of luck on all of your wagers today.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

#1 – Archarcharch
Arkansas leader
Snuck up on folks at Oaklawn
Must overcome post

#2 – Brilliant Speed
Turf, synth specialist
Dirt efforts not so brilliant
Nice horse, not his spot

#3 – Twice The Appeal
Has the Borel bump
Super ticket needs longshots
He fits the profile

#4 – Stay Thirsty
Mo’s tag-team partner
Has shown tendencies to wilt
When placed in big spots

#5 – Decisive Moment
Got in the gate with
Minor checks in rich races
Decide against him

#6 – Comma To The Top
Derby Fever strikes
Wobbles coming down the stretch
Not the spot for him

#7 – Pants On Fire
Rosie’s rose runner
Earns his keep out on the lead
That’s a tall task here

#8 – Dialed In
Mud-in-face closer
Lone big horse to deliver
In his last big prep

#9 – Derby Kitten
Late to the party
Distance, surface, class concerns
They’re asking a lot

#10 – Twinspired
Another synth horse
Improving, but still outmatched
Not inspiring

#11 – Master Of Hounds
Foreign invader
Prior form offers few hints
On how he’ll perform

#12 – Santiva
Light soph schedule
History does not bode well
For last-prep clunkers

#13 – Mucho Macho Man
Well-traveled and tough
Qualities you like to see
In a Derby horse

#14 – Shackleford
None saw him coming
In Florida Derby scrape
Won’t go unchallenged

#15 – Midnight Interlude
Raw, rising talent
First start out of comfort zone
Hard place to have it

#16 – Animal Kingdom
Won the Spiral Stakes
Even connections seem tense
About his dirt form

#17 – Soldat
Went from chalk to dust
After dull Gulfstream effort
Needs to prove his grit

#19 – Nehro
Standing room only
On deep closer’s bandwagon
Can he find the line?

#20 – Watch Me Go
Tampa Bay shocker
Barely sparked in Illinois
Hard to expect much

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Glory’s on the line
Can you hear Dialed In now?
One, seven and three

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The Kentucky Derby costume party

The Kentucky Derby may be known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, but it also owns the reputation as one of its biggest party days.

Fans from the infield to Millionaire’s Row take the opportunity to wear outlandish get-ups at the Derby that would draw confused looks in just about any other setting – loud-colored suits for the guys, and elaborate hats of all shapes and sizes for the gals. Along with the mint juleps and the slurred renditions of “My Old Kentucky Home” that they inevitably cause, the Kentucky Derby wardrobe is almost as much a part of the tradition as the race itself.

But what if the outfits had a little meaning behind them?

If done right, the Kentucky Derby holds the potential for a killer costume party. Instead of dull buttons or boring t-shirts, fans could show who they are backing in the big race by wearing a related disguise. It’s an automatic conversation starter, and just imagine the fun NBC’s announcers would have scanning the crowd during lulls in the action for creative outfits.

The ideas for some horses practically write themselves from their name or circumstances. Others require deeper thought to find the right look. To help save time, I have done the legwork and come up with costume ideas for fans of the current top 20 horses on the graded earnings list, according to KentuckyDerby.com. The top 20 will assuredly change between now and the first Saturday in May, so I have also included a few ideas for some horses on the earnings bubble. Better safe than sorry.

Behind the jump are a few ideas for the key players on the Kentucky Derby trail, listed in order of graded earnings. If anyone has ideas of their own, feel free to suggest them in the comments.

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The Haiku Handicapper: 2011 Tampa Bay Derby

Ho-hum installment
Of Tampa’s signature race
Earnings up for grabs

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

#1 – Striding Ahead
A Juddmonte prospect
Huge score off a rank debut
Worth spots on tickets

#2 – Economic Summit
A New York snowbird
Hasn’t shown graded stakes chops
Needs a big debut

#3 – Beamer
Finished behind three
That he will face Saturday
Doesn’t jump off page

#4 – Uncle Mo
Chose to face cupcakes
In lieu of graded debut
Cross his number out

#5 – Too Experience
A local fixture
Progressing nicely, hot jock
There’s plenty to like

#6 – Crimson Knight
Wins came in claimers
The air starts to get thinner
Climbing the mountain

#7 – Free Entry
Moving up the ranks
Lone loss is to Uncle Mo
Overlay hazard

#8 – Moonhanger
Big maiden winner
Other efforts are shaky
Hopes are not sky high

#9 – Watch Me Go
Sunshine stakes mainstay
Best efforts came a class down
Nice allowance horse

#10 – Brethren
Derby pedigree
Plowed through shaky opponents
Still seeking first test

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Predictable tilt
No one touches number ten
Five, one and seven

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Deal or No Deal: 2011 Kentucky Derby Future Wager

Soldat could end up being worth a look in the first pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

There are few things that please a horse racing fan more than being the first in his or her group to pick the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.

The first opportunity to put some money behind that boasting will come this weekend when betting opens for the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool.

The first of three pools opens Friday, Feb. 18 at noon and closes Sunday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.. There are 23 horses listed as individual betting interests, with the rest lumped together as “The Field”.

A lot can happen between now and the first Saturday in May. Horses can emerge from obscurity just as easily as they can be knocked off the Derby trail. The future pools allow bettors to do some long-term speculating and hopefully catch a horse at odds higher than they might be on Derby day.

Of course, these bets come at a time when no horse, even with enough earnings, is guaranteed to be in the gate for the big race. Like all long-term investments, those are just the accepted risks of the game. The trick is finding the horses with the best chance to reward that risk.

Each year, I take a look at the horses offered in the first pool and try to single out a few who might be worthy of such a ludicrous wager and others who will probably offer more value on Derby day.

The whole situation can feel like staring down the banker’s offer on the game show “Deal or No Deal”. A horse may look tempting at the odds it gives in this pool, but that price could change drastically depending on the twists and turns of the Derby trail, just like the banker’s offer can fluctuate depending on which suitcases are opened. Some horses are worth taking the banker’s deal at the odds you’ll see this weekend. Others should be held on to until the final suitcase is opened.

The question is…Deal or No Deal?

A verdict of “Deal” means a horse should be considered for a bet in this particular pool and could give a higher price now than it will later. “No Deal” means bettors should pass for now.

Please keep in mind these speculations are based solely on the morning line odds set by Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battagalia. The odds can, and will, fluctuate according to the action in the pari-mutuel pools, which could negate some of my statements – especially if a horse is entered to race this weekend.

Also, unless otherwise noted, this is not an analysis of talent, but a projection of betting value. Just because a horse is labeled a “No Deal” does not mean I do not think it is capable of winning the Kentucky Derby, and vice versa.

For a full list of the future pool horses, along with free Daily Racing Form past performances, click here.

Deal

Anthony’s Cross
Odds: 30-1

Anthony’s Cross showed gritty determination edging out Riveting Reason for the win in last Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. The Indian Charlie colt has improved with added distance and appears to have overcome early difficulties with leaving the starting gate.

Above all, there is one reason to take a chance on this horse – He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs under Calvin Borel. Three wins out of the last four Derbies, including 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, means that any horse Borel chooses to ride in the race automatically becomes live. If Anthony’s Cross continues to improve throughout the spring, their past experience together could lead the rider to take a good, long look at riding this horse.

On that same note, any horse Borel chooses to ride will likely be bet into the ground on Derby day. It will take a long string of “No Factor” mounts for him to sneak in with another high-priced horse, just because every bettor in America knows what he’s capable of in that race. There are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” in the equation, but if Anthony’s Cross makes it to the Churchill Downs gate and Calvin Borel decides to ride him, he won’t give anything close to what he’ll give this weekend.

No Deal

Decisive Moment
Odds: 50-1

A son of With Distinction, Decisive Moment kicked off his 2011 campaign with a win in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. You know who took a detour through Southwest Louisiana on the Derby trail last year? Last place finisher Backtalk. That’s not the kind of company a Kentucky Derby winner tends to keep. Scheduling fashion faux pas aside, that race was Decisive Moment’s first victory since a narrow maiden score five starts prior, and he stepped back in class and distance to earn it. A second place finish in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) will keep him on the earnings bubble, but if Decisive Moment does manage to sneak in with a resume consistent to what he has shown so far, he should give one of the longest prices on the board on race day.

Decisive Moment also figures to be one of the most volatile propositions in the first pool by virtue of his start in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. His status as a viable future wager option and Derby contender could shift drastically in that race. Hold off on making too big of a judgement on him until we see what he is made of.

More keepers and tosses from the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool can be found behind the jump.

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Valient Tenobob nominated to Triple Crown

Michigan-bred Valient Tenobob is one of 364 early nominees for the prestigious Triple Crown races.

The series for three-year-old Thoroughbreds includes the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course and the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.

The dark bay or brown Service Stripe colt is trained by James Jackson for owners Red Riding Hood Stable (George & Chrissy Kutlenios) and Laura Jackson. Valient Tenobob was also bred by James and Laura Jackson.

Valient Tenobob is the first Triple Crown nominee born in Michigan since Hot Chili, another Jackson trainee, was made eligible for the races in 2008.

Valient Tenobob went three-for-three in 2010 for earnings of $48,222.

He broke his maiden on Sept. 4 at Pinnacle Race Course with a five-wide rally to prevail by a length. Valient Tenobob then traveled to West Virginia to follow up with a 2 3/4-length allowance score at Mountaineer.

After that race, Valient Tenobob was nominated to the Oct. 31 Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, but instead returned to Pinnacle to compete in the Oct. 30 Michigan Futurity. Despite an erratic trip, Valient Tenobob exploded in the stretch to win by seven lengths.

Valient Tenobob has not raced since the Michigan Futurity and, according to Equibase, he has not posted a workout in the last 60 days. Check back for further updates on Valient Tenobob’s journey down the Derby trail.

For a complete list of the 2011 Triple Crown nominees, click here.

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Holy Bull Stakes preview for ThoroFan

Once again, I have been called into duty by the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance to pontificate my handicapping wisdom on the ThoroFan website for this Sunday’s Holy Bull Stakes (G3).

My analysis is often long-winded (this one is 2,514 words long), but I went three for four picking winners in ThoroFan’s Handicapper’s Corner last year, including a dead-on call of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) stretch drive and the giving out of 20-1 shot Exhi in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G2). Eventually, it seems I get to some good stuff.

So as not to give away any spoilers, I will not reveal here who I picked to win Gulfstream Park’s first graded Kentucky Derby prep of 2011, but I will say that if it all goes as planned, it should cash a nice ticket or two.

To read my picks and analysis for the Holy Bull Stakes, click here.

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