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Blog - RACING

Intense Holiday (outside) and We Miss Artie (inside) have been the subject of two different kinds of buzz on the Churchill Downs backside over the last few days. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Every year, there is a buzz horse or two during Kentucky Derby week who catches the eye of just about every member of the media and the clockers during morning exercise. Sometimes, like with Barbaro in 2006 and Animal Kingdom in 2011, knowing who is coming into the race in peak form and appears to move well on the main track at Churchill Downs can provide the extra detail that leads to a nice Kentucky Derby score.

This final edition of Three Rising, Three Trending Down takes aims to provide some insight as to which horses are doing well leading into the big race and which ones might not appear to be adjusting to the new, action-packed environment as well.

California Chrome, at this point, looks like a lock to be the favorite for this year’s race and rightfully so as the fastest horse in the race by speed figures and with four dominant wins in a row. All reports indicate that California Chrome is coming into the race exceptionally well, but at this point he’s been atop my list for several week and has no room to rise. He’s the horse to beat.

This list below highlights three horses who look like they could be in position to take home the garland of roses should California Chrome falter and three contenders whose morning performance has not inspired a boost in confidence. Among those not included for consideration were horses who are no longer in the mix for the Kentucky Derby, such as Bayern, Constitution and Ring Weekend. Note: Hoppertunity was scratched on Thursday.

Heating Up

1. Intense Holiday 

Intense Holiday 3Up

Eclipse Sportswire

The buzz horse this week at Churchill Downs has undoubtedly been Louisiana Derby runner-up Intense Holiday, who from all reports has made a fantastic appearance and on Sunday thoroughly outworked stablemate We Miss Artie.  That definitely helped land him the top spot this week, but perhaps even more importantly was that he seems to have matured a bit, at least in the morning, compared with his Louisiana Derby performance. Intense Holiday landed on my cooling off list after that race because he had trouble changing leads in the stretch. That means switching from leading with his inside leg on the turn to the outside leg in the stretch in a switch that helps a horse accelerate. In this workout, under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez for the first time, Intense Holiday was much more professional. Said Velazquez: “I didn’t have to help him (change leads). He handled it real well. He responded very well to what I asked him to do. I was very impressed and he worked really, really well. He gave me a lot of confidence.” Me, too.
Click here to watch the workout.

2. Candy Boy

Candy Boy Eclipse 3up

Eclipse Sportswire

The dirt main track at Churchill Downs can be a bit tricky. Some horses just seem to glide over it, while others look like they are running in quicksand. Candy Boy was the former in his final workout on April 27 for the Kentucky Derby. At one point, this colt was on top of my Derby Top 10 and I’m elevating him back near the top despite a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby in his most recent start. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens expressed his pleasure after the workout: “He skipped over [the track]. It was very smooth; picture-perfect work.” Now there are times to be skeptical of jockey and trainer speak leading up to the Derby, but I think in this case you just have to watch the workout to see the proof when he coasted by an older workmate with no encouragement from Stevens. Plus, you can see real excitement in the Stevens’ eyes when he talks about Candy Boy. I think this will most likely be my key horse for the Derby to pair with and under California Chrome.
Click here to watch the workout.
Hear what Stevens had to say.

3. Medal Count

Medal Count 3Up

Eclipse Sportswire

There were a number of candidates for the third spot – Arkansas Derby winner Danza also looks very good – as generally trainers have their horses in remarkable condition for the race, but I landed on Medal Count. This is another 3-year-old who has generated some buzz not just this week but leading up to his second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes as well. At this point in the Triple Crown season, a three-quarters of a mile workout in 1:13 isn’t going to sway me one way or the other. I’ve seen all I need to have an opinion on who can or can’t win the Kentucky Derby. But after a couple of disappointing races in his two most recent starts on dirt (Medal Count did win his career debut in dominant fashion on dirt), I was very happy to see Medal Count look very comfortable on the main track at Churchill Downs. If you like Medal Count, which I do, I thought his workout on April 26 made it pretty clear that if he gets beat in the Derby on May 3 it won’t be because he disliked the dirt track at Churchill Downs. He appears to be an improving 3-year-old and I think he has a very good shot to finish in the top three at a nice price.
Click here to watch the workout.

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Cooling Off

1. We Miss Artie

Artie 3Down

Eclipse Sportswire

I’m no expert when it comes to analyzing morning workouts, far from it. But I do know that when a trainer says, on the record, after a Kentucky Derby contender’s final pre-Derby workout that he plans to discuss with the owner the possibility of not starting the horse in the race it is not a promising sign. Spiral Stakes winner We Miss Artie’s final Derby tune-up in company with Louisiana Derby runner-up Intense Holiday (see above) did not inspire confidence as he was soundly outworked by his stablemate. Said We Miss Artie's trainer Todd Pletcher: “I wasn’t that happy with [his] effort. It might have been a combination of how he handled the [dirt] track and how well Intense Holiday worked alongside him. I just expected more from [We Miss Artie]. I’m not sure at all if he should be running in the Derby.” For a horse who is winless in three races on dirt, nothing so far has convinced me that he will be a factor on May 3.
Click here to watch the workout.

2. Wildcat Red

Wildcat Red 3Down

Eclipse Sportswire

I disliked very much putting Wildcat Red on this list. He is a gutsy little colt who doesn’t ever quit, but he just did not look at home on the Churchill Downs main track in his final pre-Kentucky Derby workout. He looked like he was getting some urging from his exercise rider but still wasn’t moving any faster. It could be that he is still getting acclimated to the track and will improve in the coming days or it’s possible that maybe he’s a little gassed from two dogfights in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby, but Wildcat Red did not look like he had much in the tank in the stretch for this workout. Going 1 ¼ miles with a very good chance that he’ll have to go faster early than he did in the Florida Derby to control the pace, I’m going to have to look elsewhere on May 3.
Click here to watch the workout.

3. Vicar's in Trouble

Vi T3Down

Eclipse Sportswire 

It sounds like Vicar's in Trouble is a small colt who is never very flashy in the mornings, but in order for me to include him in my Kentucky Derby bets he would have needed to look really special in the mornings for me to consider him as a major threat. He’s proven me wrong a couple of times before and he’s certainly capable of doing so again, but his workout on April 26 – five-eighths of a mile in 1:03.80 – didn’t provide the vote of confidence I was looking for from him. The Louisiana Derby winner is extremely talented, but for me the 1 ¼-mile distance is a big concern. I’m going to let him beat me on Derby day. Good luck to everyone!

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Curry's Derby Top 10

1. California Chrome 

Dominant Santa Anita Derby winner is clear number one. It's not close.

2. Candy Boy 

Third to California Chrome in Santa Anita Derby. Think he hits the board.

3. Wicked Strong

Might be the only one who has run fast enough to beat California Chrome.

4. Intense Holiday

Has generated plenty of buzz leading into Derby. Needs more mature effort.

5. Samraat

Very good but probably not fast enough to win; maybe top three.

6. Medal Count

Another horse who has been a buzz source. Improving at right time.

7. Danza

The more I watch the Arkansas Derby, the more I like him. Fresh and ready.

8. General a Rod

Not jumping off his bandwagon now. Has a shot at top 3 at huge price.

9. Dance With Fate   

Has looked great at Churchill; should be finishing well in Derby stretch. 

10. Tapiture

Another who has made a nice impression this week; loves Churchill.

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Racing Terms

Allowance race – A race for which the racing secretary drafts certain conditions to determine weights to be carried based on the horse’s age, sex and/or past performance.

Also-eligible – A horse officially entered for a race, but not permitted to start unless the field is reduced by scratches below a specified number.

Apprentice – A rider who has not ridden a certain number of winners within a specified period of time. Also known as a “bug,” from the asterisk used to denote the weight allowance such riders receive.

Blinkers – A cup-shaped device that limits a horse’s vision. Blinkers, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus, come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary.

Bullet – The fastest workout of the day at a track at a particular distance.

Claiming race – A race in which each horse entered is eligible to be purchased at a set price.

Closer – A horse that runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.

Connections – Persons identified with a horse, such as owner, trainer, jockey and stable employees.

Disqualification – Change in order of finish by stewards for an infraction of the rules.

Dam – The mother of a horse.

Entry – Two or more horses with common ownership that are paired as a single betting unit in one race.

Front-runner – A horse whose running style is to attempt to get on or near the lead at the start of the race and to continue there as long as possible.

Furlong – An eighth of a mile.

Graded race – A non-restricted race with added money or guaranteed purse value of $100,000 or more which has been run at least twice under similar conditions and on the same surface and has been assigned graded status for the year contested by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Handicap – This race type refers to a race where the weights are assigned by the track’s racing secretary or handicapper based upon past performances.

Length – A measurement approximating the length of a horse, used to denote distance between horses in a race.

Off track – A track that has a wet surface and isn’t labeled as “fast”.

Pacesetter – The horse that is running in front (on the lead).

Past performances – A horse’s racing record, earnings, bloodlines and other data, presented in composite form.

Prep – A workout (or race) used to prepare a horse for a future engagement.

Post Parade – Horses going from paddock to starting gate past the stands. The post parade provides spectators with a chance to get a final look at the horse before the race.

Post Position – Position of stall in starting gate from which a horse begins a race.

Rabbit – A speed horse running as an entry with another, usually a come-from-behind horse. The rabbit is expected to set a fast pace to help the chances of its stablemate.

Rank – A horse that refuses to settle under a jockey’s handling in a race, running in a headstrong manner without respect to pace.

Scratch – To be taken out of a race before it starts.

Silks – Jacket and cap worn by jockeys.

Sire – Father of a foal.

Stakes – A race for which the owner usually must pay a fee to run a horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, to which the track adds more money to make up the total purse. Some stakes races are by invitation and require no payment or fee.

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Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

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