KENTUCKY DERBY MUSINGS IN FEBRUARY

The last three winners of the Kentucky Derby were trained in California and four of the last five winners came to Kentucky from the Golden State:  Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome, and I’ll Have Another.  Is this a sign of dominance from the West Coast?

Hardly.

Prior to I’ll Have Another winning the Kentucky Derby in 2012, horses trained in the eastern United States won the race from 2001 through 2011.  War Emblem, winner in 2002, was sold shortly before the Kentucky Derby and his new trainer was California-based Bob Baffert, but the colt prepped for the Kentucky Derby in the Illinois Derby.

Before 2001, California horses won the Kentucky Derby for four straight years, from 1997-2000.

So, in recent history, there has been no dominant trend in western U. S. or eastern U. S. horses winning the Kentucky Derby, although there have been mini-trends wherein horses from one or the other geographical location won the race for several years in a row.

NTRA, the Blood-Horse magazine, and other racing organizations periodically publish their list of leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby.  NTRA, for example, polls members of the horse-racing media.

I have always been more attentive to what people do than what they say.  Accordingly, I consult the betting action, whether it is a sporting event or a political campaign.  Following are the current twelve top contenders for the 2017 Kentucky Derby, as determined by betting odds in Las Vegas.

Irish War Cry 2/1
Classic Empire 3/1
Uncontested 7/2
McCracken 4/1
El Areeb 5/1
Mastery 5/1
Unique Bella 6/1
Gunnevera 7/1
Running Mate 7/1
Squadron 7/1
Fact Finding 10/1
Gormley 11/1

Uncontested (the current third betting favorite), Running Mate, Squadron, and Fact Finding are not on the current NTRA list of top contenders.  NTRA has Mo Town, Practical Jute, and Royal Mo on its list, but none of them are in the top-12 betting interests in Las Vegas.

I’ll be posting occasionally on the Kentucky Derby as the big event approaches on the first Saturday in May.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

AMERICAN PHAROAH VS. ARROGATE

Whether Arrogate could beat American Pharoah at 10 furlongs on their best days is like asking how Secretariat would have fared against Man ‘o War in their primes.  While the former matchup is possible, it is not going to happen because 5-year-old American Pharoah is not going back into training.

Another debatable issue is this:  If Arrogate wins the Dubai World Cup in March 2017 will he have achieved a feat more difficult than American Pharoah completing the American Triple Crown?  The view here is that the answer is “yes.”

Arrogate won the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 4, 2016 in California at 1 ¼ miles and subsequently traveled across country and two time zones to Florida to win the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 28, 2017 at 9 furlongs.  If he contests and wins the Dubai World Cup at 10 furlongs on March 25, 2017, he will have traveled another eight thousand miles plus and run in a time zone 12 hours different than in his home base in California.

In addition, the winner of the unofficial World Cup triumvirate must compete against the best dirt specialists in training anywhere in the world, whereas the winner of the American Triple Crown has to take on mostly U. S.-based 3-year-olds.  Winning the American Triple Crown is certainly an arduous task over five weeks, but it requires limited travel and the three races all take place in the Eastern time zone.

A final provocative question that is likely to be answered in time:  Will American Pharoah or Arrogate prove to be a better sire?  The guess here is that Arrogate will be because he is manifestly in the same class as American Pharoah as a racehorse and has a much stronger female side to his pedigree.  Whereas American Pharoah’s dam was unplaced in two starts, Arrogate’s dam won six races in nine starts and over $200,000 and his champion 2-year-old and Grade I stakes-winning granddam (Meadow Star) won close to $1.5 million in the early 1990s in 11 wins from 20 starts. Moreover, Arrogate’s 4 X 4 inbreeding to Mr. Prospector is compelling.
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If the Pegasus World Cup Invitational becomes an annual success, the combination of the Breeders’ Cup, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, and the Dubai World Cup could be coordinated to form an official World Cup Triple Crown or Grand Slam that would entice owners of outstanding 3-year-old dirt horses to keep them in training as older horses.  Winning the three races would net the owner about $16 million and owners of well-placed but non-winning horses would also have the opportunity to substantially cash in.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

A BIZARRE 7 MONTHS FOR BETTORS

Every longtime horse bettor knows the sinking feeling when a horse he or she has wagered on looks to be a lock to win in the stretch only to be caught at the wire by a late-closer.  That is how the individual who bet $1 million on the Atlanta Falcons must have felt in spades when the New England Patriots not only won Super Bowl 51 in overtime but also covered the 3-point spread.

This got me thinking about the truly unprecedented 2016-2017 year for bettors.  I’ve never seen a seven-month period of time—beginning in mid-June 2016 and ending in early February 2017–when so much wagered money was lost by unusual and shocking outcomes in premier sporting and political events.

Consider what transpired in the championships of the three major American professional sports leagues.

In June 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers staged the greatest comeback in NBA championship history by beating the Golden State Warriors.  No team had ever recovered from a 3-games-to-1 deficit.  Even more unique is that two of the last three games in the 7-game series were on the Warriors’ home court, where they were supposedly all but unbeatable.

In October, the Chicago Cubs were down three games to one in the MLB World Series and rallied to win games five, six, and seven against the Cleveland Indians, even though two of the last three games were played in Cleveland.

The 2016-2017 NFL season ended in spectacular fashion with the New England Patriots clawing back from a 28-3 deficit to win in overtime.  No team in Super Bowl history had come back from even a 14-point differential.  What’s more remarkable is that the Patriots were behind 28-9 at the start of the fourth quarter, missed an extra point, and muffed an onside kick.

The Cavaliers and Patriots’ heroics come close to falling into the category of what statisticians refer to as “tail events,” meaning that the teams were in such a hole that they were virtually assured of losing.  A tail event is one that lies beyond 3 standard deviations from the mean, which is 99.7%.  At one point in the Super Bowl, ESPN analytics estimated the Patriots’ chances of winning at about one percent.

Betting on politics in 2016 also provided very unexpected outcomes.  In June, the BREXIT vote in Great Britain was heavily bet on the side of Great Britain staying in the European Union, which was a losing bet on the opinion polls being accurate.  Similarly, in November, wagering on the U. S. presidential election was heavily on the losing side in a monumental upset and more erroneous polling.

Serious horse-race bettors certainly can empathize with “in the bag” wagers gone bad.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business